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Thursday, November 5, 2015

#NaNoWriMo gift to my readers

I'm locked in my writer's cave and that means very little Social media. I'm tweeting but I have to stay away from Facebook. That is a time and word suck like no other.

I hope y'all miss me because I miss y'all.

I'm dropping this off for you! The End of Us: Maurice and Kenya


Power couple, Maurice and Kenya Goings, wanted to grow their family. But a medical emergency forces Maurice to make a life saving decision that saves and changes Kenya's life forever. Unable to have another child, Kenya and Maurice turn to a surrogate.
Jaci York seems to be the perfect choice to carry the Goings baby, but she wants something more. Kenya's husband.
When Maurice thwarts her advances, he and Kenya are faced with another tragedy that could tear the couple apart forever.



Kenya Goings woke up to an empty bed -- again.
 Pounding her delicate fist against the pillow, where her wide receiver husband, Maurice Goings, was supposed to be, Kenya unleashed a string of profane words that she wasn’t supposed to know.
This morning was supposed to be about Maurice and Kenya. They had the house to themselves and she’d cleared her calendar at work. Their daughter, Nairobi, was spending the last two weeks of the summer in Georgia with her cousin, Jaden, and her grandparents. Training camp was over and today was an off-day for the Carolina Panthers, which meant Maurice’s ass was supposed to be in bed making love or at least preparing to make love to her.
Kenya had been a patient football wife. She wasn’t always hounding him when he took those end-of-season trips with the offensive linemen who’d protected him all season. She didn’t – at least not anymore – accuse him of sleep with every woman in a tight skirt who walked by him. But something was going on.
She sat up in the bed and swung her legs over the bed and jammed her feet into her slippers. Kenya slowly walked downstairs to the kitchen, hoping Maurice was cooking breakfast, but the smell of nothing was her first hint that he wasn’t. Sighing, she figured out where he was. Kenya stalked into the basement and there he was in the middle of his daily three-hour work out. Standing in the door way, watching him work those rock hard abs she almost forgot that she was pissed off at him. Her eyes focused on a bead of sweat rolling down his sculpted belly. Then he started with his legs, working them as if he were riding a bike.
Kenya remembered the one time she tried to work out with her husband. After thirty minutes, she was drained, covered in sweat and content to hop on the Wii Fit Plus or attend her hot yoga class. But that was neither here nor there. From the way his body looked, he could’ve skipped a morning. Clearing her throat as Maurice flipped onto his stomach, she finally got her husband’s attention.
“Babe,” he said.  “What are you doing down here?”
“Trying to figure out why my husband isn’t in bed.”
Maurice stopped in mid push up. “Kenya, I do this every day.”
Rolling her eyes, she turned to the door and started for the stairs. In a quick motion, Maurice was on his feet and grabbed Kenya’s shoulder.  “OK,” he said, forcing her to turn around and face him. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m tired of being ignored,” she said, figuring there was no need to dance around the issue.
“Ignored?”  Maurice sighed and shook his head. “Kenya, I’m gearing up for what might be my final season and you’re coming at me with this drama?”
“Our marriage is drama? For the last two years you’ve been playing that my final season card and I’m getting pretty damned sick of it. You haven’t had a serious injury, your coaches love you and all you do is bitch and moan about getting traded.”
“Guess what, Kenya, it’s a possibility. I got a call from my agent this morning and my name has come up in a three player trade to New Orleans. So, I’m sorry if I have things on my mind today.”
Traded? she thought. Kenya had always thought that they were lucky. Maurice had played with one team since their wedding. They’d set roots in Charlotte and Kenya had her own career. She refused to be that stereotype, the charity worker depending on the millions her husband brought into the house. Her daughter deserved a better role model and her mother raised her to never depend on a man, no matter how much she loved him.
“So, what happens now?” she asked quietly.
“Wait for the papers and then we’re moving to New Orleans.”
Kenya threw her hand up and shook her head as if she had a swarm of bees buzzing in her brain. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“What?”
“You got traded. The family didn’t. I have a career here and I’m not giving it up because . . .”
Maurice placed his index fingers against his temples. “I don’t know what your problem is, but why in the hell wouldn’t you and my daughter come to New Orleans with me? I’m going to finish my work out uptown at the Panthers’ facility.”
Kenya picked up a towel from the floor, balled it up and tossed it at Maurice’s retreating figure.
Maurice turned around and stalked over to his wife. “What is your problem? For real?”
He balled his fists up at his sides.
“You’re just going to drop that shit on me and walk away? And let’s not even talk about how you haven’t had a meaningful conversation with me in weeks. Maybe I should be asking you what’s your problem and I don’t want to hear a word about your got damned career. We haven’t made love in weeks and I’d like to know why.”
Maurice sighed and reached out for her, but she jerked away. “You haven’t been easy to talk with lately. And let’s stop pretending that your work doesn’t take you away from the family – every day.”
“But I’m home every night,” she said. “Don’t give me that bull about my career because I told you from the beginning that I wasn’t going to sit on my ass and depend on you.”
“Because I’m an asshole for wanting to take care of my wife,” he snapped. “Do you want out of this marriage?”
“Do you?”
“If I did, I would’ve been gone,” he said coolly.
Kenya pushed past him with tears welling up in her eyes. “Then go.”
Maurice sprinted up the stairs after her. “How did we get here?”
“Because when I needed you, Mo, you did what you do. You put your selfish ass first and I’m sick of it and I’m sick of--”
“Guys!” James Goings, Maurice’s brother called from the top of the stairway.
“You!” Kenya blew past James, nearly bowling him over as she reached the top floor. James looked from Maurice to Kenya’s retreating figure.
“What in the hell is going on?” he asked.
Maurice slapped his hand across his forehead. “I wish the hell I knew.”
“Have you two. . .”
Maurice shook his head and held his hand up. “I’ve tried.”
“Sure as hell doesn’t look like it,” James said. Maurice shot him an icy glare. James shrugged his shoulders. “Listen, you two can recover from this . . .”
“She acts like nothing has happened.”
“Have you tried to talk to her about it?” Maurice slowly shook his head as a tear slid down his cheek. Time heals all wounds? Bullshit.
“I don’t want to talk about it myself? I brought that woman into our lives because I wanted to give my wife the one thing she wanted and what does she do? She kidnaps our child and . . .” The words died in his throat.
“Kenya’s not the only one I’m worried about? Both of you lost that baby.”


2.  Eighteen months earlier
Kenya kicked her feet up on her desk and looked out over the Bank of America Stadium practice field. The season was over and she had her husband mostly to herself. She spent football season planted in Charlotte, hoping that this year would be the year the Panthers went all the way again. It didn’t happen. Close, though. The team made it to the NFC divisional playoffs only to be stuffed by the Dallas Cowboys. Shrugging her cardigan off her shoulders, Kenya thought about dinner with her husband and her three and a half year old daughter, Nairobi. Tonight she’d cook meat loaf, since little Robi loved ground beef these days. That little girl had the funniest way with food and Kenya blamed it squarely on her Dad. Nothing could touch on the plate and she hated soup. Rising to her feet, Kenya felt a sharp pain in her abdomen. Groaning as she doubled over in pain, she pressed the intercom button calling for her assistant, Talisha.
“Yes, Mrs. Goings?”
“Umm, call an ambulance,” Kenya groaned before collapsing to the floor. Talisha made the call then rushed into her boss’s office. Kneeling beside her, she checked for a pulse. “Kenya, Kenya?” She grabbed Kenya’s cell phone and searched for Maurice’s number.
“Hey baby,” he said when he answered.
“Mr.-Mr. Goings, this is Talisha,” she stammered.
“What’s going on?” he asked, his voice dripping with dread and concern.
“Something has happened to Mrs. Kenya; she passed out in her office. Hello? Hello?” She looked at the phone and saw that Maurice had disconnected the call. Moments later, the emergency workers came bursting through Kenya’s office door.
As they loaded Kenya on the gurney, Maurice walked in. “What’s wrong with my wife?” he asked, shrugging off the That’s Maurice Goings whispers.
“Sir, we’re not sure,” the head EMS worker said. “She’s non responsive and there seems to be some bleeding.”
“Take her to Presbyterian,” Maurice said. “I’m riding with you.” The EMS worker nodded and Maurice followed them down the stairs trying to touch Kenya to let her know that he was there. “I love you, baby. Don’t leave me. Please, don’t leave me.”
They rushed into the ambulance. Maurice watched helplessly as the medical staff tried to figure out what was going on with Kenya.
“Do you know if she hit her head?”
Maurice shook his head, nearly in tears. He was transported back to the day when his psychotic ex, Lauryn, shot Kenya in the back. Why hadn’t he felt that she needed him this time? One of the EMS workers handed him a dry piece of gauze.
“Mr. Goings, she’s going to be fine,” he said in a low voice. Maurice hadn’t even realized that he was crying. He needed to pull it together. He had to call James and Jade to see if they could pick Robi up from daycare and let her spend the night with them and he had to call her mother, his mother and . . . breathe. He had to breathe.
When they pulled up to the hospital, Maurice hopped out of the back of the ambulance and tried to follow Kenya into an examination area, but a nurse stopped him. “Sir, you can’t go in there,” she said in a calm, yet forceful voice. “When the doctors know what’s going on, they will come out here and tell you.”
“That’s my wife, damn it,” Maurice said. “I have to. . .” His shoulders shook as he sobbed silently. The nurse led him to a private room.
“Sit here and I’ll bring you some water,” she said. “Is there anyone I can call for you?”
Maurice shook his head and pulled out his cell phone. He looked at it as if he’d never seen it before and didn’t know what to do with it. Finally his brain clicked and he dialed James.
“Hey, bro, what’s up?” James said.
“Umm. I-I need you.”
“What’s going on?”
Maurice expelled a deep sigh. “Kenya’s in the hospital, I don’t know what’s wrong and I can’t function right now. Can you and Jade keep Robi tonight?”
“Of course,” he said. “I’ll call Ma for you too. What else do you need?”
“Prayers.”
“You got it. And little bro, whatever you need, call me.”
“All right,” he said. Just as Maurice was about to call his mother in law, Angela Taylor, the nurse and a doctor walked in.
“Mr. Goings, I’m Dr. Fairbanks and I’m working on your wife’s case.”
“What’s wrong with my wife?” Maurice asked, rising to his feet.
“Mrs. Goings suffered a uterine rupture. She was in the very early stages of pregnancy and in order to save her, we’re going to have to perform a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding,” he said.
“A hysterectomy? But she won’t be able to have any more children.”
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Fairbanks said. “But it’s a matter of life and death and we need a decision now.”
“Yes, do it,” Maurice said. Once the doctor left, Maurice dropped down on a bench in the waiting room. Inside, he ached. Their child was gone and the chance of having another child would be gone. But Kenya will be alive, he thought as he lowered his head and closed his eyes. Time ticked away slowly as Maurice sat there waiting for word about Kenya’s condition. He didn’t dare go to sleep; he wanted to see the doctor the moment he walked in the room.
About two hours later, the doctor returned to the waiting area. “She’s being moved to recovery on the sixth floor,” he said. “You can go see her in about fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll take you to her,” the nurse said. Maurice nodded then dialed Angela. He knew Kenya was going to need her mother more than ever now.
An hour later, Kenya had fully awakened from her procedure. Maurice held her hand and kissed it. “Wh-what happened?” she stammered.
“Shh-shh,” he whispered.
“Mo.”
“How are you feeling? Do you need any pain medicine?”
“Where’s the doctor?” She tried to move to a pain ripped through her lower body that rendered her motionless. Maurice didn’t know how to tell his wife the truth that they’d lost their baby and to save her life, she had to have a hysterectomy.
“I’ll get him,” Maurice said, rising to his feet.
“Why can’t you just tell me?” The weakness in her voice made his soul shiver.
“Yo-you had a miscarriage,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “The doctor said you were in the early stages of pregnancy.”
“I lost the baby,” Kenya said with tears welling up in her eyes. “I didn’t even know . . . Where’s Robi?”
“She’s with James and Jade and I called your mom and dad, they’re on their way. . .”
“What aren’t you telling me, Mo?” Kenya asked.  He looked into his wife’s watery eyes and struggled to hold back his own tears.
“You almost died,” he said. Looking at Kenya, bathed in the whiteness of the room, she looked so fragile. She’d come so close to death and Maurice didn’t know what to say or how to break the news to her.
“But. . .”
“Kenya, they had. . .”
Dr. Fairbanks tapped on the open door. “I hear my patient is awake,” he said then crossed over to Kenya’s bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Doctor, what happened?” she asked as he picked up her chart.
“Mrs. Goings, you had a uterine rupture,” he said slowly. Kenya placed her hand on her belly as if she could feel the pressure inside. “We couldn’t save the baby and then you started bleeding and the only way that we could stop it was to perform an emergency hysterectomy.”
“What?” Kenya exclaimed and then burst into tears. Maurice cradled her in his arms as she pounded her fists against his forearm.
“Why didn’t you stop them?” she demanded as she dug her nails into Maurice’s arm then broke into another fit of sobs.
“Mrs. Goings, we had no choice,” Dr. Fairbanks said. “If we didn’t stop the bleeding, you would’ve died.”
“Baby,” Maurice said. “Listen to the doctor. No one made this decision lightly.”
“What about our family? What about another baby?”
Dr. Fairbanks looked from Maurice to Kenya and said, “Should I come back later?”
Maurice nodded. Once he and Kenya were alone, he watched her as she curled into a tight ball and cried. “How did this happen?” she asked after a few moments of crying and silence.
“There isn’t an explanation for it, it just happened.”
Kenya moaned like a wounded cat. “Did I make this happen? Was I working too much and not paying attention to my body again?” Her mind flashed back to the miscarriage she’d suffered in college and she cried silently.
Maurice climbed on the edge of the bed and drew his wife into his arms and rocked her until she fell asleep. He had no idea what to say, how to comfort or to give her back what she’d lost. What they’d both lost.
What seemed like minutes, but was about two hours, Maurice and Kenya were awakened by Angela and Henry Taylor walking into the room. “My baby,” Angela cooed as she crossed over to Kenya’s bedside. She pushed her daughter’s hair back and then hugged her tightly. Maurice eased out of the bed and stretched as he watched his wife and mother-in-law hug tightly. Kenya began crying again and Maurice felt as if he was about to buckle. Henry grabbed his son-in-law’s shoulder. “Mo, you doing all right?” he asked.
He shook his head. “You need to get some air,” Henry said. “Come on.”
As if he was in a trance, Maurice followed the older man out the door.

Kenya normally hated it when her mother stroked her hair, but right now she needed the comfort. “Mama,” she whispered. “I can’t have . . .”
"Kenya, don't worry about what you can't have right now. We have to get you better."
"I lost my baby and I didn't even know that. . ."
Angela held her daughter and kissed her forehead. "But you have a beautiful little girl and there are many ways to . . ."
Kenya turned her head away from her mother. "Why did Maurice let the doctor cut me up like that?"
"What choice did he have? Let you die?"
"Part of me did die," she said.
"But you are still here," Angela said. "You are still here."
"And when Maurice decides he wants a son? How am I going to be able to . . ."
"I wish I could tell you something to make you feel better right now, but I know one thing for sure, Maurice isn't going anywhere. He is hurting, too."
Not as much as I am, she thought. Kenya didn't feel like a whole woman anymore. She felt empty and afraid. Not knowing how to put how she was feeling into the right words, Kenya quietly rested in her mother's arms and listened to Angela hum a soothing tune.
"Kenya," Angela said after a few moments. "I think you and Mo should look into getting some counseling at some point. It helped me and your father."
Kenya closed her eyes. "What do you mean it helped you and Daddy?"
"I dealt with something similar when you were seven," Angela said quietly.
"You lost a baby, but no one took away your ability to have a baby," Kenya replied. Angela stroked Kenya's forehead. "But you have a beautiful and healthy baby to love and take care of," Angela said. "You still have a life to live and . . ."
"Mama, I can't do this right now," Kenya said, her throat dry and scratchy. "I just don't feel like talking anymore."
Angela nodded and held her daughter.

Down the hall, Maurice and Henry sipped coffee in silence. Maurice's hand shook as he lifted his coffee cup to his mouth. "Mo, put the cup down," Henry said.
He set the cup on the table and sighed. Tears welled up in his eyes but Maurice refused to let them fall. "Did I do the right thing?" he asked his father-in-law.
"You saved Kenya's life. What else could be done?"
"You didn't see her when I told her about the baby and the fact that we  . . ." Maurice's voice trailed off and Henry nodded.
"But she is alive and with time and some help, I know you and Kenya will get through this."
"How? I know my wife wanted another baby and she. . ."
Henry sipped his coffee, broken up by the pain his son in law felt and wished he knew the right words to say. Kenya was Henry's pride and joy and he couldn't bear seeing her in that bed, suffering.
"Kenya is going to need us to be strong for her. So, if you need to cry, get it out before we go back into her room," Henry said.
Maurice rose to his feet and headed down the hall where he sobbed silently. After a few moments, he pulled himself together and returned to the table where Henry was waiting. "Let's go," he said to his father-in-law. The men entered Kenya's room and found her asleep in her mother's arms.
"How is she?" Maurice asked.
Angela shook her head. "She's hurt. But Maurice, thank you for saving my baby's life."
He crossed over to Angela and kissed her on the forehead. "I love her and I couldn't imagine . . ." Maurice gazed at his sleeping wife and saw the dried tear stains on her cheeks. Stroking her cheek, he silently wished he could take her pain away and make this day disappear. Kenya's eyes fluttered open.
"Sweetie," he whispered.
"Maurice," she said quietly.
"I love you," he replied. "And I'm here for you."
She nodded and took a hold of his hand. "Mo," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. He leaned into her and brought her head to his chest. Angela slowly rose from the bed and crossed over to her husband. Henry drew her into his arms as they watched Maurice and Kenya hold each other. Maurice whispered how he loved Kenya over and over. She felt soothed by his voice, but in the back of her mind, she wondered how long he would love her since she couldn't give him another child. A child that she knew he wanted.
3.
Two days later, Kenya was released from the hospital and Maurice brought her home to an empty house, since he'd asked James and Jade to watch Nairobi for another night. He was worried about his wife and wanted to spend the evening making her comfortable.
"Where's Robi?" she asked as they eased back on the sofa.
"With James and Jade. I thought you could use a quiet night."
"I want my daughter here, Mo," she snapped. Maurice threw his hands up.
"Kenya, calm down. I was just trying to. . ."
"You've made enough decisions for me, don't you think? Please bring my daughter home."
Rising to his feet, Maurice told himself that Kenya wasn't herself and he shouldn't take her attitude personal. He also hoped that she would agree to go to see the counselor who the doctor had recommended. As he grabbed his keys, there was a knock at the front door. When he saw his mother and his in-laws standing there, he'd never been more relieved.
"Hey, guys," he said then hugged his mother, Maryann, tightly.
"Where's Kenya?" Angela asked.
"In the living room, I was on my way to get Robi."
Angela and Henry nodded then made a bee-line for their daughter. Maryann studied her son's face. "Now, how are you holding up?" she asked.
"I hate this and I hate feeling like I made the wrong choice. Kenya is snapping at me and I know it’s coming from her pain, but damn."
"Listen," she began. "You did what you had to do. When she has a chance to process this loss, she will understand that. You can't take anything she says or does right now as the gospel. Go get my grandbaby and tell James and Jade I'll be over tomorrow with cinnamon buns."
"Yes ma'am," he said then dashed out the door.
Maurice didn't hurry to James's place, he needed time to breathe and get his head together. But he knew he had to get back to his wife. Maybe having Nairobi in her arms would allow her to realize what they still had and take her mind off what they’d lost.
Pulling into James's driveway, he sighed then exited the car and used his key to enter the house. The mood at his brother's house was the total opposite of the dark quiet at his place. James and Jade sat together on the sofa, wrapped in each other’s arms while the kids played with blocks on the carpet.
"What's up, Mo?" James asked when he spotted his brother.
"Nothing," he replied as Robi tossed her blocks aside and ran over to her father. He scooped his daughter up and kissed her chubby cheeks. Jaden also dashed over to his uncle and hugged Maurice’s leg.
"How's Kenya?" Jade asked.
Maurice shrugged his broad shoulders. "She wants her daughter home and I don't know what's going through her mind."
"Maurice, you have to know this is hard for her," Jade said.
He glared at his sister-in-law, but held his tongue. Did people take him for a damned idiot? Of course he knew his wife was hurting, but did anyone give a damn about how he felt or how hard it was to see her in such pain? Still, he knew people meant well and he couldn’t take his hurt out on Jade. No one knew what to say in this situation. Hell, Mo didn’t know how to comfort his wife half the time. He’d never felt this helpless and useless in his life.
James noticed it. Saw that his brother was bubbling on the inside. Rising from the sofa, he grabbed his son and nodded for Maurice to follow him in to the kitchen.
"How are you holding up?" he asked once they were alone with the children.
"I feel so damned helpless and useless," he said. "Kenya's angry and hurt. Guess who she blames for this."
"Man, I hope you two plan to get some help. This isn't going to be easy for either of you," he said. "Jade didn't mean any harm and I appreciate you for holding back whatever you were going to say."
"Yeah, no one means any harm," Maurice surly retorted. "Ma is here. She said she'd come by and see you guys tomorrow. I'm going to get Robi's stuff and head out." James closed his hand around his brother's shoulder.
"How about you sit down, Jaden and I will get everything and then you can take this little princess home to her Mommy."
"Mommy," Robi repeated. "Mommy's sick."
"Oh, baby," Maurice said. "Mommy's getting better and she misses you. We're going home to see her and Nana Angela and Nana MaryAnn and Papa."
Robi clapped her little hands and bounced in her father's arms as if he’d told her that Santa was coming tonight. He returned to the living room as James and his son headed upstairs. Jade, who was putting the blocks away, looked at her brother-in-law with a sympathetic smile on her face.
"Maurice, if you want Nairobi to stay another night, it's fine," she said. "I'm sure Kenya needs her rest."
"Thanks, but she wants to see this little girl. With my mother and her mother there she's going to get plenty of rest."
Jade nodded. "I'm so sorry that you guys have to go through this."
Maurice stroked his daughter's head, not knowing what to say or what his response was supposed to be. Hell, the world could be sorry and not a damn thing would change. Moments later, James returned to the living room with Robi's stuff.
"All right, little girl," James said as he handed Maurice the bag and kissed his niece on the cheek. "We have to do this again real soon."
Robi squeezed her uncle’s nose and giggled as Maurice strapped the bag on his shoulder. Jaden pouted as Maurice and Robi headed out the door. "Wanna go with unka!" he cried.
"Next time," Maurice called out.

Kenya quietly watched the clock while her parents and Maryann talked around her. She hadn't bothered trying to join in the conversation because she wanted nothing more than to hug her daughter. What’s taking Maurice so long? she thought as she turned toward the front door. As if on cue, the door opened and Robi rushed into the living room calling out, "Mommy!"
The little girl ran over to her as fast as her chubby legs could carry her. Maurice reached out to try and slow her down, but he was no match for Robi. When she hopped up on the sofa and into Kenya's lap, Maurice braced himself to see if Kenya would be in pain from their active daughter.
His wife simply hugged the little girl tightly and if she was in pain she didn't let it show.
"Anybody hungry?" Maurice asked as he crossed the room.
"You know," Maryann said. "I was about to cook something. You do have something in the fridge for me to cook?"
"Yes," Maurice said then took a seat beside Kenya and Robi, who had seemingly tuned everyone else in the room out. Maryann rose to her feet and headed for the kitchen.
"Do you need some help?" Angela asked as she stood to follow Maryann in the kitchen.
"Sure," Maryann replied. Henry stretched out in the recliner and smiled at his daughter and granddaughter.
"Robi," Kenya said, "go give Papa a big kiss."
"Are you all right?" Maurice asked when Robi hopped into her grandfather's arms.
"Yeah," she said, though she grimaced a bit. "She didn't know about my incisions."
"Can I get anything for you? A pain pill or something?"
Kenya smiled and touched her husband's hand. "Maurice, I'm sorry about earlier."
"It's OK, darling."
Kenya leaned against Maurice's chest. "I just wanted to hold her and make sure she was OK."
"Robi is fine," he said. "I'm worried about you."
Kenya shrugged and nestled closer to her husband. "I'm fine," she said flatly.
He glanced at her and shook his head. "Kenya," he whispered. "I know what you went through was hard."
"Maurice, I don't want to talk about that right now." He nodded, not trying to press the issue. Maurice knew at some point he and his wife would need to talk to a professional about what they'd experienced. If Kenya's mood swings were any indication, that appointment needed to happen soon. Rather than get into it now, Maurice held his wife as they watched Robi play drums on her grandfather's belly. Kenya dropped her hand on her stomach and Maurice saw the tears welling up in her eyes.
"Do you want to go upstairs for a while?" he asked. She nodded, turning her head away from Nairobi so she wouldn't see her tears. Maurice ushered her out of the room and when they made it to the stairs, he scooped her up in his arms. As she started to protest, he put his finger to her lips. "I'm going to take care of you and I don't want to hear your lip, woman," he said. Kenya smiled again, the second time in one day.
"I'm holding you to that," she said as they climbed the stairs. "But you always take such good care of me and I know what you . . . Mo, you saved my life."
He didn't say anything, not knowing what to say. He knew how important another baby was to his wife. Hell, he wanted another child as well and now, it wasn't going to happen. Kissing her forehead as they entered the bedroom, he tucked her in bed, propped her up with a couple of oversized pillows and covered her feet with a blanket. "Are you hungry?" he asked. "Knowing my mama, you're going to be eating whether you want to or not."
"I could eat something," she said. "Anything is better than that hospital food."
"I'll grab you something," he said, then handed her remote to the wall mounted flat screen TV. Kenya nodded. "Thank you," she said. Maurice leaned in and kissed his wife gently on the forehead. They could make it through this and they'd come out stronger, Maurice surmised then headed for the door.

Once she was alone in the bedroom, Kenya broke down and cried. She cried for the baby she'd lost and the children she'd never have. She sobbed for the time she wasted telling Maurice that it wasn't time for another child. She moaned for the fact that she and her husband would never have the son they’d started planning for.  Turning on her side, she closed her eyes and let the tears continue to stream. It wasn't until she felt a little hand on her shoulder that she opened her eyes. Robi had climbed into the bed. "Mommy don't cry," the little girl said through her own tears. Kenya turned over and held her daughter close. "Aww, my sweet girl. Mommy's just sad."
"Mommy's sad?" she parroted. Kenya nodded and kissed her daughter's chubby cheek. "I love you," she said, then smiled at Robi. "You don't have to be sad. I'm going to be OK."
"Yay," Nairobi cheered. Kenya rained kissed on her daughter's face. Then Maurice walked into the room with a plate of grilled chicken, roasted tomatoes and onions and a three-cheese macaroni. "Robi, Mommy has to eat and so do you."
"But Da-Da, Mommy is sad," Robi said, holding tight to her mother.
"Maurice," Kenya said. "She can eat up here with me."
"All right," he sighed as he set Kenya's plate on the nightstand beside the bed. "I'll get a tray for her. Mama made her chicken and rice."
"Your mother is an angel," Kenya said as she leaned over and picked up a piece of tomato and popped it in her mouth. "I'll come down later and thank her."
"Babe, you need your rest. She'll understand."
Kenya sighed and nodded. She really didn't want to move from the bed at all. "You're right."
Maurice nodded and turned toward the door. She saw the pained look on her husband's face. She knew he was tired and she wondered how long it would be before things took a toll on him. Would Maurice view her in the same way going forward?  What was going to happen if he decided that he wanted a bigger family? Blinking her eyes, she tried not to go back to their college days when Mo had sought comfort and sex from another woman. As long as they'd been married, Kenya knew he was the same person he was back then. But this is different. This isn't even about him having an affair. Maurice made it clear that he wanted a big family and I can't give him that. Her hand trembled as she reached for her fork. Robi eyed her mother suspiciously and Kenya flashed a fake smile to keep her little girl calm. Her appetite disappeared and all Kenya wanted to do was retreat into a shell.
Moments later, Maurice walked into the bedroom with his and Robi's plates. "We can't let Mommy eat alone," he said as he set up the TV trays beside the bed. He glanced at Kenya's plate. "Looks like Mommy isn't eating, Robi. I guess I'm going to have to feed both of you." He placed his hand on Kenya's knee and stroked it gently. "I'm always going to take care of my girls."
Kenya's inner turmoil seemed to ease as she locked eyes with her husband. He eased on to the edge of the bed and picked up Kenya's plate. Then he dipped her fork into the mac and cheese. She accepted the food and placed her hand on Maurice's thigh.  "I think she needs your help a little more than I do," Kenya said pointing at Robi, who had more rice on her Mickey Mouse tray than she'd gotten into her mouth.
They laughed as Maurice crossed over to the little girl. Kenya smiled as he lifted Robi from her corner and sat her on the bed. "We're going to switch now," he said as he wiped rice from her chin and picked bits of chicken from her hair. "I'm going to feed you now."
"But who's gonna feed Mommy?" she asked thoughtfully.
 "I can feed myself and Daddy can help you."
"OK," Robi said as Maurice spooned some rice into his mouth. Kenya watched her husband and daughter with a smile on her face. After they finished eating, Robi yawned and snuggled up next to her mother.
"I'll take these plates in the kitchen and bring her PJs," Maurice said.
"Thank you. You don't mind if she sleeps in here with us tonight, do you?" Kenya asked. He leaned over and kissed her forehead.
"Not at all," Maurice replied. "She missed you."
Kenya wrapped her arms around her daughter. "I missed her too."
Smiling, he headed out the door and Kenya soon fell fast asleep just like Robi.

Maurice walked into the kitchen and dropped the dishes in the sink. His mother was loading the leftovers into plastic containers, but when she saw the slump in her son's shoulders and the far off look in his eyes, she stopped what she was doing and crossed over to him. Maryann didn't need to say a word; she just hugged Maurice tightly. "It's going to get better," she said.
"Is it? I don't know what to say or if I'm adding to her pain. Robi’s confused and wants to be up under her mom but Kenya needs her rest and . . ." His voice trailed off and Maryann squeezed his arm.
"You'll know what you need to do," she said.
He shrugged his shoulders. "I hope you're right," he said.
Maryann nodded. "I am. Now get over there and wash those dishes."
Maurice laughed. "Yes, ma'am," he said. Moments later, Angela and Henry walked into the kitchen.
"That was a great meal, Maryann," Angela said. "Can I help you clean up?"
Maryann pointed her thumb at Maurice. "He has KP duty."
Angela smiled at her son-in-law. "I see you tucked Kenya and Robi in bed. They look so peaceful."
"Yeah," he said. "They were tired."
Henry nodded and smiled at his son-in-law. "You're doing a good job of taking care of my girls," he said. "Keep it up."
"I have no choice," Maurice replied. "I love them too much not to."
Angela crossed over to Maurice and hugged him. "We're going to the hotel but I'll bring breakfast by in the morning."
"Don't you dare," Maryann said. "I'm more than happy to cook for all of us."
"I don't want to put you out," Angela said. "I know you're going to want to spend some time with James and Jade."
"And I will, but there's nothing like hot home cooking, especially after waking up in a hotel."
"You're right about that," Henry said.
"Then stay here," Maurice said. "Robi would be in heaven waking up with all of her grandparents here."
Angela shrugged. "I guess you're right. I'd like to be here when Kenya wakes up."
Henry hugged his wife and then said, "I'll go get our things and check out of the hotel."
"Thanks."
"I'll get the other guest room ready for you two," Maurice said as he dried the last dish and placed it on the counter. Today, he wished they had a regular housekeeper. But Kenya had always said she didn't want a household staff and she wanted her daughter to grow up as normal as possible. "Robi will do dishes," Kenya had declared when he broached the subject. Maurice grinned as he thought about their plans, but his heart ached when the thought of a new baby crossed his mind. It wasn't that he had to have another child, but a big family had been important to Kenya. Ever since they were dating back in high school, she'd talked about having three children, hopefully two boys and a girl.  Now, Maurice couldn't help but wonder if he'd robbed her of that chance because he wasted nine years of his life with a gold digging, on-the-down-low psychotic woman who'd only been with him for the fame and fortune.
Get it together, you can't go back and undo the past. All I can do is make sure my wife is happy now, he thought as he headed down the hall to the guest room where his in-laws would spend the night. Still, he wondered how the past had impacted his future.
When Maurice was out of earshot, Angela turned to Maryann and said, "I'm just as worried about him as I am Kenya. Maurice really feels as if he has to handle this alone."
"I know what you mean, Angela," Maryann said. "Right now, everything is so raw with them and they can't see the light at the end of the tunnel."
"I get the feeling that this is going to be a long tunnel, Maryann," Angela said quietly.

After Maurice set up the guest room for Angela and Henry, he headed upstairs to the master bedroom to look in on Kenya and Nairobi. They were still sleeping, looking peaceful as if nothing had happened a few days ago. Easing into the chair across from the bed, he watched his wife and daughter until his eyelids became brick wall heavy and he drifted off to sleep.
4.
The next morning, Kenya woke up to silence and an empty bed. She wondered why Maurice didn't come to bed last night or why he didn't wake her up when Robi got up ready for breakfast. She didn't want to be treated like an invalid. They'd been through worse. When Lauryn shot her and she thought she'd never walk again, she didn't want to be treated like a cripple and she wasn't going to let Maurice do it now. She swung her legs over the bed; anger flowed through her body like blood. But she couldn't put her finger on why she was so mad. Kenya knew she needed to rest. She was still in pain and tired. As much as Kenya loved her mother, father and mother-in-law, the last thing she wanted this morning was to talk. She didn't want to answer the question of how was she feeling. What did they expect she would say? Oh, I'm great? But Kenya also knew it would be long before that bedroom door opened and everyone would flood into her room. She needed to go downstairs and have breakfast with her family.
They only wanted to help her and she needed to accept their help. But how could they help her? No one could reverse what happened and no one could give her another baby. Kenya wrapped up in her pink fleece robe, stuffed her feet in the matching slippers and headed for the door. When she grasped the door knob, the door flung open.
"Kenya," Maryann said as she stepped in the room, carrying a tray of bacon, scrambled eggs and cinnamon buns. "You get back in the bed."
"No," she said, planting a kiss on her mother-in-law's cheek. "I need to get out of this bed and try to get back to a normal life."
"You don't have to rush it," she said.
Kenya smiled, but it didn't reach her brown eyes. "I keep forgetting that Maurice gets his protective nature from you."
"He's just as worried about you as we all are," she said. "At least sit down and eat before you go downstairs."
"Yes, ma'am," Kenya said as she crossed over to the chair near the bed. She allowed her mother-in-law to set the tray in her lap and make a fuss over her eating. Once Maryann was satisfied that Kenya was enjoying her breakfast and not just placating her, she headed back downstairs. As Kenya started to devour her cinnamon bun, Robi burst into the room with Maurice in tow. "Mommy!" she called out. Kenya saw evidence on Robi's face that she had enjoyed her own bun.
"Morning, baby," she replied, placing her bun back on her plate. As she hugged Robi, Kenya looked up at Maurice.
"Did you sleep well?" he asked as they locked eyes.
"Yes, Robi and I did. What about you?"
Maurice nodded toward the chair she was sitting in. "It wasn't the most comfortable spot, but I wanted to watch you sleep."
Kenya felt her anger floating away. "You watched us sleep?"
Nodding, he said, "I couldn't take my eyes off you two. You guys looked so peaceful."
Kenya released Robi and stood up. Maurice took her into his arms and kissed her forehead. "Enjoyed your breakfast?" he asked.
"Yes. Your Mom's cooking always hits the spot," she said.
"Our little one is hooked on the cinnamon buns already," Maurice said. "James and Jade called, they're coming over for breakfast, if that's OK with you."
"That's fine. I'm going to take a shower and I'll be down for coffee."
Maurice planted a light kiss on Kenya's lips. "I'll give Robi a bath."
 "Thank you, darling," she said. Kenya wished she could feel like this toward Maurice all the time but for the last few days, her emotions were either hot or cold when it came to him. Watching him with their daughter made her remember that she loved him more than she could ever be mad at him. She knew he'd had her life in his hands and   he'd only wanted to save her.
Sighing, she decided that maybe she needed to talk to someone — other than family— about what she was feeling. She took a long shower and tried to get her mind ready to deal with her guests.

Maurice shook his head as he tried to pull Robi's hair into a ponytail. The crude result of his work was pure comedy. "Da-Da," Robi said. "I wanna play with Papa."
"All right," he said. "Put your shirt on and we can go downstairs and you can play with Papa."
"Yay! Is Mommy coming?"
"I sure am," Kenya said from the doorway. Maurice looked at his wife in amazement. She looked as if she was her old self, curly hair fluffed out in a stylish afro, no tracks of tears on her butter-rum cheeks. Her full lips glistened with a shimmer of lip gloss. He wanted to do nothing more than kiss her as if they were alone on the world.
"You look beautiful," Maurice whispered as he crossed over to Kenya.
"Thank you, but what did you do to our child's head?" she asked as she crossed over to Robi.
"Mommy!" the little girl called out. "Da-Da fixed my hair."
Kenya tugged at the puffy pony tail. "I see." Maurice's eyes were transfixed on Kenya's legs in her short tunic dress. Long legs. He loved those legs; loved having them wrapped around his waist with his hands on the small of her back.
"I wanna play with Papa!" Robi exclaimed.
"Then let's go downstairs," Kenya said happily. She turned to Maurice. "Wait until your mother sees her grandchild."
He palmed his wife's apple bottom and thankfully she didn't flinch. "You know she's going to redo her hair."
Kenya turned her head upwards and kissed his chin. "If Angela doesn't beat her to the punch."
Tired of waiting for her parents, Robi bounded out of the room and down the stairs. "We'd better go after her," Kenya said, easing out of Maurice's embrace.
He watched the sway of her hips as she climbed down the stairs. He couldn't wait for the moment that he could make love to his wife again.
As Maurice and Kenya made it downstairs, Jade and James were walking through the front door with Jaden in tow. "Morning guys," Jade said. Jaden ran over to his auntie and uncle wrapping his arms around Maurice's legs.
"Unka!"
Maurice bent over and lifted the little boy in his arms, bouncing him like a ball.
"Good morning," Kenya said and Maurice could hear the tug of emotion in her voice. James crossed over to Kenya and hugged her tightly.
"Good to see you, sis," he said when he released her.
"How are you feeling?" Jade asked.
"I'm . . ." Kenya shrugged. Jade patted her shoulder as if to say she understood.
"Does Mom have some cinnamon buns in the kitchen?" James asked as they headed toward the kitchen.
"You know she does," Maurice said as he placed Jaden on the floor. The little boy ran into the living room when he heard Robi laughing.
Kenya glanced at the cousins as they played. Maurice glanced at his wife and he knew what that longing look in her eye meant. She was longing for Robi to have a sibling to play with or were those his thoughts?
"Mo?" James asked. "You OK?"
"Yeah, why?" he lied.
James shook his head. "I'm worried about you."
"Bro, I'm good. My wife is doing better, what more could I ask for?"
James tilted his head to the side and swallowed a curse word. "I know you, fool, and you're not OK."
"Let's not do this now," Maurice said. James nodded and walked into the kitchen.
"Ma," he called out and then crossed over to Maryann, enveloping her in a tight bear hug.
"Boy," she said, smacking him on the shoulder. "Where is my handsome little grandson?"
"Probably running Miss Angela and Mr. Henry crazy in the living room." Jade crossed over to her mother-in-law and gave her a hug once James released her.
"You two sit down and I'll get you two some cinnamon buns — with extra icing."
Jade and James exchanged knowing looks. "Cool," they said in unison.
Maryann shook her head and headed over to the oven to get the buns. Kenya and Maurice joined he couple at the table. "What's up with you two and that icing?" Maurice asked as he grabbed the coffee carafe from the middle of the table. Kenya stood up and got an extra mug from the counter for herself.
"You don't want to know," Jade whispered with a smile. Maurice shook his head and wagged his finger at them.
"You two are nasty."
"What was that?" Maryann asked as Kenya returned to the table.
"Nothing," James said, kicking his brother underneath the table.
"Do I need to get a switch?" Maryann asked, making her sons and daughters-in-law laugh. She pointed the butter knife at her sons. "I'm serious."
"Yes, ma'am," James and Maurice said. Jade and Kenya continued laughing. Maryann loved having her family together and happy. Glancing at Kenya and Jade as they chatted away, Maryann was proud to of the women that her sons had married.
"Mom, you should really consider moving up here," James said as he bit into one of the hot buns she'd placed on the table.
"Not this again," she said. "Jade, tell that son of mine that I have a life in Atlanta."
Jade turned to her husband and shook her head. "Leave your mom alone."
"You could at least come to visit more often," Maurice added.
Kenya popped him on the shoulder. "Ditto to what Jade said."
"Thank you, girls," Maryann said. "Besides, Brandon and I don't want to leave Atlanta."
"Brandon?" James asked.
Jade rolled her eyes. "Yes, my companion and I don't want to hear a word from either of you," Maryann said.
"As long as he treats you right," Maurice said. When he saw the wide smile on his mother's face, he immediately wished he hadn't said a word.
"He does and if you two promise to behave, I'll bring him to Charlotte the next time I visit," she said.
"We'll behave," James said.
"And we'll make sure of it," Kenya said, then took a sip of her coffee.
Maurice wrapped his arm around the back of his wife's chair and kissed her cheek. "Yeah, right."
After breakfast, the family gathered in the living room where Henry and the kids were napping. Angela was focused on the CNN newscast. Even though she'd retired from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she was still a news junkie. She was enthralled by the Eddie Long saga and his impending divorce.
"Miss Angela," James said as he crossed over to her and gave her a hug. "How are you?"
"Oh, James, I’m doing well," she said then turned to Jade. "How are you doing, hon?"
"Good," Jade said, remembering how Angela had kept her abreast of the downfall of her lying ex, Stephen, and his fall from grace in Atlanta. She smiled at her and gave her a hug.
Kenya crossed over to where he father was sitting and lifted Robi from his lap. "I'm going to put her in the bed." Maurice dashed over to her.
"Let me do it," he said. A flash of anger crossed Kenya's face.
"I can take my child upstairs," she snapped. Maurice huffed and shook his head as Kenya turned toward the staircase. Jade picked Jaden up and followed Kenya. "Are you, all right?" she asked once they were out of earshot of the others.
"Jade, I'm fine," Kenya lied.
"Mmm, Kenya, I can't say that I understand what's going on with you," she said. "But, you're not OK."
Tears threatened to spill from Kenya's eyes. "I'm not," she said. "I'm not fine and I don't understand why I keep getting so angry at Maurice."
"He loves you and I'm sure if there was some other way. . ."
Kenya walked into Robi's room and placed the little girl in her bed. A sharp pain cut through her and she understood why Maurice wanted to carry the little girl up the stairs. Sitting on the edge of the bed as Jade placed Jaden on the futon by the window, she realized two things, she needed a pain pill and to talk to someone about the turmoil inside her.

"I'm going to work out," Maurice said. He needed to get away from the house and Kenya. This morning, he’d thought things were getting better. So, he didn't understand what her anger was all about. The doctor's orders said she wasn't supposed to lift anything over five pounds. Robi was definitely over five pounds. Why was it that every time he tried to help her, she lashed out at him?
"Maurice, don't . . ." James said.
He cut his brother off by walking out of the room. Maurice knew Kenya was going through a lot, but damn it, he was too. Dashing out the door, he hopped into the Kenya's Mustang, since his car was blocked in. Revving the engine and backing out faster than he should have, Maurice tore off down the street. He started to go to the Panthers facility, but since his teammates knew about Kenya, he didn't want to accept their condolences or answer questions about how she was doing. He simply wanted to get lost in a weight room.  Maurice ended up at King's Gym in South Charlotte, a high end exercise center that most of the professional athletes in Charlotte frequented. It had the same equipment as the NBA and NFL training facilities. Former Carolina Panther player, Hill Smith, also known as Smitty, opened the gym after he retired three years ago.
The gym was expensive enough to keep the average fan away and so testosterone driven that the only women who showed up were those serious about fitness. In other words, it was the perfect haven for Maurice. Pulling into the parking lot, he sighed and shut the car off.  He sat in the car staring across the parking lot with his mind focused on the happier days with his family. When Kenya had agreed to give him a second chance, the day they'd gotten married and Nairobi's birth. Now, when he looked into her eyes all he saw was hurt, disappointment and anger. Did she hate him for saving her life? Was having another baby that important to her? How could he make that happen and put the sparkle and life back in his wife's eyes?

5.
Jade turned to Kenya, who hadn't risen from the bed since she'd laid Robi down.
"Kenya, are you all right?"
"Just in a little pain," she moaned. "I'll be fine."
"You don't look fine and . . . Oh my God, you're bleeding."
"Get Maurice," Kenya said, and then crumpled to the floor. Jade ran downstairs,
calling out Maurice's name. James met her at the bottom of the staircase. "What's going on?"
"Kenya's bleeding. Where is Maurice?" she asked frantically.
Hearing what Jade said, Angela, Henry and Maryann rushed over. "What's going on?"
"Kenya's bleeding, she wants Maurice," Jade said.
Angela rushed up the stairs, "He's not here, somebody call him. I'm checking on my baby."
She found Kenya on the floor, balled up in pain and her dress soaked in blood. "Oh, God, Kenya! Can you stand up?"
"No, no. Where's Maurice?" she moaned.
 Angela knew she couldn't lift Kenya on her own and she didn't want to wake the kids. The last thing Robi or Jaden needed to see was the blood all over Kenya. Angela rushed downstairs and motioned for James. She pointed at Jade, "Have you gotten in touch with Maurice?"
Jade shook her head. "Voicemail."
"Where in the hell did he say he was going?" Henry barked.
Jade shrugged her shoulders and dialed Maurice again. Once again, her call went to voicemail. Moments later, James and Angela were bringing a semi-conscious Kenya downstairs. "We're going to take her to the hospital," James said to Jade. "Stay here with the kids." Henry followed James and Angela to the car and they sped to the hospital. Angela rubbed her daughter's head. "Stay with me, baby," she whispered.
They pulled into the emergency entrance at Presbyterian Hospital and James hopped out of the car calling out for help. Silently, he prayed that Jade would find Maurice and he'd be there soon.

"Whoo," Smitty said as he crossed over to Maurice, who was on his second set of leg lifts. "Working hard, brother."
Sweat poured from Maurice's face and his shirt was soaked through and through. "Got a lot on my mind."
"Trade rumors? You know your 'face of the franchise' ass ain't going nowhere," Smitty said.
Maurice dropped the weights and leaned forward. "This has nothing to do with football."
"Aww, shit, you got another stalker? What is it with. . ."
Maurice threw his hand up and glared at Smitty. "If I wanted to talk, I'd go see a therapist."
Smitty backed away. "Look, whatever problems you're having, taking it out on this weight machine won’t solve it."
Maurice wiped sweat from his face with the back of his hand. "You're right -- for a change. Have you ever just felt so helpless that nothing you do seems right?"
"Just go to Tiffany's and buy her the most expensive diamond you can find, get on your knees, grovel and all will be right with the world. Women aren't as complicated as they want us to believe they are."
Maurice expelled a puff of air. "If only it were that simple."
"It is, give Kenya what she wants and all will be right with the world."
"And just what store in SouthPark Mall sells babies?" Maurice mumbled.
"What was that?" Smitty asked.
"Nothing, I got to get out of here," he said as he rose to his feet. Maybe, when the time was right, he could suggest that they have a child with a surrogate.
Maurice headed to the locker room, took a quick shower and grabbed his belongings from the locker. When he pulled his cell phone from his gym bag, he saw five missed calls from Jade. "What’s going on, now?" he mumbled as he called his sister in law back.
"Maurice," she said. "You have to get to the hospital. Kenya's been rushed there."
"Which one?" he asked frantically as he ran to the car.
"Presbyterian. They've been gone for about an hour. She was asking for you."
Maurice dropped the phone and sped to the hospital, not giving a damn about posted speed limits. When he arrived at the hospital, James was waiting in the emergency room. "Where have you been?" James demanded when he spotted his brother.
"Where's my wife?" Maurice asked.
"She's on the fifth floor in surgery right now." Maurice jogged over to the elevator and pressed the button. James was close on his heels.
"Where were you?" James asked again as the doors closed.
"I went to work out because I was . . .How was I supposed to know this was going to happen? Don't look at me as if I did something wrong."
"I'm not saying that you did," James said. "Kenya needed you."
"I'm here now."
"Yeah," James said as the elevator doors opened.
He pointed Maurice toward the room where Kenya and her parents where. When he walked in, he rushed to Kenya's side, taking her hand in his and ignoring the questioning stares from his in-laws.
"Babe," he whispered. "What happened?"
"Maurice," Kenya said then shook her head. "I needed you and you weren't there."
Sighing, he swallowed back the caustic comment that the last time he'd offered her his help she'd told him to get out of his face. "I'm here now. What happened?"
Kenya wiped her hand across her forehead and turned away from him. A heated anger burned his stomach like an ulcer. Inching away from her, Maurice closed his eyes and said a silent prayer. When he opened his eyes, he saw Henry glaring at him. "What?" Maurice snapped, unable to hold back what he was feeling any longer.
"I know damn well you aren't snapping at me," Henry barked.
“I'm sick of . . ."
“Stop it," Angela called out.
Kenya rolled her eyes. "Maurice, why don't you —all of you -- just get out of here? You're sick, Mo? You're sick? I'm the one in this hospital bed and I'm the one who can't have another child. Just what have you lost? I'm tired of all of you acting like I'm about to break."
"Kenya," Angela said.
She threw her hand up, cutting her mother off. "I shouldn't have carried Robi, I pulled my stitches out. I'm not about to die. I'll call a cab to get home."
Maurice shook his head and started for the door. Then he stopped in his tracks. "Kenya, you don't get to do this," he said, turning around to face her. "You're not the only one who's hurting here. I lost just as much as you did. I'm dealing with this with you and it seems that you think you have a monopoly on pain? How the hell do you think I feel when you push me away?"
Kenya sat up in the bed and stared at him coldly as her parents left the room. "What have you lost, Mo?"
"That baby was mine as well, I feel your pain. Every time I try to reach out to you, you push me away as if I'm treating you like a broken doll."
Kenya started to cry and Maurice crossed over to her drawing her into his arms. "We need help, Mo," she said through her sobs. "I don't want to push you away, but I don't know what to do."
"I know, I know," he cooed. "I love you more than anything in this world and all I want is to help you heal."
"How can I heal? Maurice, I'm never going to be able to have another child. I know you. . ."
"It's not about me, baby, it's about we. We wanted another child and when the time is right, we'll have another one. There are many ways that we can make that happen. But before we do any of that, I want my wife to realize she's not alone."
Kenya wrapped her arms around Maurice's neck and buried her face in his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Don't apologize, babe," he said. "We're both in new territory and we're going to have to work through this."
"Mo, I love you and I want you to know that I understand what you did. You had no choice. I don't want to seem as if I don't appreciate the fact that you saved my life."
"Kenya, I understand," he said, though he truly didn't. He didn't understand that his wife was withdrawn and sad one minute, angry and sizzling the next.
"Stay with me until they release me," she said.
"Did you really think I was going to leave? You can tell me to get out until you lose your voice, but I’m not going anywhere," Maurice said then kissed his wife's forehead.
Kenya turned her head upwards and brushed her lips against his. Maurice captured Kenya's mouth, softly kissing her as if he was telling her that everything would work out just fine.
His hands stroked her back and Maurice could've kissed her all day until he heard someone clear his throat behind him. Breaking the kiss, Maurice and Kenya looked up at the doctor.
"Well, looks like you're feeling better, Mrs. Goings," he said awkwardly. "I just need to check Kenya's stitches and then we can release you."
"Great," Maurice said. "I can't wait to take my wife home."
Maurice stepped out of the room as the doctor began to examine Kenya. When he walked outside, he wasn't surprised to see Angela, Henry and James were standing outside the room and looking at him with questions in their eyes.
"What in the hell was that in there?" Henry demanded.
"Mr. Taylor, I meant no disrespect, but Kenya's my wife and I needed to say that to her. To all of you. We have to get through this, our way."
"I don't give a damn if she's your wife, she's still my daughter and when she needed you and was calling out for you — your black ass—wasn’t there!"
"How was I to know that. . .You know what, I've always respected you and I know you mean well, but this is my . . ."
"Stop it," Angela said. "Maurice is right. He and Kenya have to work this out between themselves. However . . ."
"However nothing," Henry said. "Hurt my daughter while she's dealing with this and you will be digging my foot from your ass for the rest of your life." He turned and stalked down the hall with Angela on his heels.
James looked up at his brother and shook his head. "OK, I see what you mean."
"What are you talking about?"
"We have been treating you as if you aren't hurting too. I'm sorry about that."
Maurice shook his head. "I'm glad Kenya and I were able to get things out in the open. Now, we can work on healing."
"Yeah," James said, patting his brother on the shoulder. "I didn't want to tell you this but Jade is pregnant."
Maurice's heart dropped to the bottom of his feet. "Wow. How far along is she?"
"Eight-weeks. We wanted to have a party and invite Ma and you guys but now, we're just going to . . ."
"Listen," Maurice said. "I can't ask you and your wife not to celebrate having another child."
"But I want to . . ."
"Don't worry about me. Tell Jade congratulations and let me know if you need anything. You know how these pregnant women get."
James laughed, but he could hear the pain and longing in his brother's voice. "How about this," he said. "We're going to have each other's backs like we always do. We're going to need each other and I'm here for you always."
Maurice dapped his brother. "Thanks."
"Let me know when you think Kenya will be ready to hear the news."
Before Maurice could respond, the doctor walked out of the room. "Mr. Goings, I'll send the nurse in with the discharge papers and a wheel chair. Everything looks good."
"Thanks," he said. Then he turned to James. "I'm going back to be with Kenya. Why don't you take her parents back to the house?"
"Yeah, I hope Mr. Taylor has calmed down. He would've kicked your ass."
"As any father would about his daughter," Maurice said then headed back into Kenya's room.  
6.
A week later, life seemed to be getting back to normal in the Goings household. Kenya and Maurice were seeing a therapist together and separately. After a joint session, the couple decided to head over to Hometown Delights for a late lunch.
"You know," Kenya said as they pulled into the parking lot. "I think we should have a barbecue next week. Everyone has been so great to us and I want to say thanks."
"And nothing says thank you like steaks," Maurice quipped.
Kenya kissed his cheek as he brought the car to a stop. "You're right," she replied. "And I know you're itching to pull out that grill of yours."
Maurice laughed. "You got that right, babe."
Kenya took Maurice's hand in hers and looked him directly in the eye. "I put you through hell and I'm sorry," she said. "I finally understand and accept that you had no choice when you made that decision."
"Had there been another way, you have to know that I wouldn't have . . ."
"I know," she said, cutting him off. "I could've died and I'm sorry that I made you feel like you did something wrong. It just hurts knowing we won't be able to have that son we wanted."
"I wanted to wait before I suggested this, but do you think we should look at other options for having a baby, if that's what you want?"
Kenya sighed. "I don't know."
"We don't have to talk about it now or make a decision until we're ready. I'm happy with the blessings we have. You and Robi are my world."
Kenya leaned over and kissed her husband with a thankful passion that sent shivers through Maurice's body. Good god, he wanted to make love to his wife. He wanted to take her right there on the leather seats of the Mustang. He wanted to bury himself inside her and forget the world existed. But she was still healing from her surgery and they couldn't make love yet.
Pulling away from her, Maurice took Kenya's face in his hands. "I love you so much."
"And I love you. I know this wait is killing you, because I want you just as much as you want me."
"You read me like a book," he said.
She placed her hand on his crotch. "This is pretty hard to miss."
Maurice laughed. "I guess so."
They exited the car and headed to the restaurant. Maurice kissed Kenya's cheek as they walked in. But when he saw the balloons and banner saying congratulations to Jade on her pregnancy, he regretted bringing Kenya there.
Jade locked eyes with her sister-in-law and immediately felt horrible. She hadn't known that her friends, Serena and Alicia, were throwing her a surprise baby shower and she definitely didn't know Kenya and Maurice were coming by for lunch. She and James had been keeping her pregnancy quiet because of the hell Kenya and Maurice had faced.
"Wow," Kenya whispered, tears welling in her eyes. "I had no idea Jade was pregnant."
"Yeah," he whispered as Jade crossed over to them.
"Guys," she began.
"Congratulations," Kenya said forcing her tears back. "Why didn't you tell us that you and James were expecting?"
"Well," Jade said. "I-I. . ."
Kenya held up her hand. "I know, you were trying to spare my feelings. Jade, this is a happy time for you and you don't have to think about me and my issues. I'm happy for you." She hugged her sister-in-law and while Kenya meant what she said, her heart bled.
"I just didn't know when and how to tell you," she said. "And I didn't know the girls were going to do this today."
"It's all right," Kenya said. "Do you have some cake over there?"
"Yes," Jade said, feeling relieved by Kenya's reaction. "Please come join us."
Maurice looked to Kenya as if her were asking her was it all right. When she nodded, they headed over to join the celebration.
“Hi guys," Serena said as she hugged Kenya and then shook Maurice's hand.
Alicia crossed over to the couple and gave them a hug. "I'm glad to see you guys," she said.
"Had I known," Kenya said. "I would've brought Jade a gift."
"I'm sorry," Alicia said, feeling slightly embarrassed. "We didn't know if. . ."
"It’s fine," Kenya said. "And I'm not going to fall apart because someone else is having a baby."
Serena and Alicia exchanged glances, remembering some of the stories Jade told them about Kenya's mental state as of late. The last thing anyone wanted had been to upset her when she'd seemingly been making progress. "I’m sorry,” Alicia said. “I wasn’t sure that. . .”
Kenya shook her head and quieted Alicia. “Seriously, guys, I don’t need special treatment because I can’t have another baby. I want to celebrate Jade’s good news, too.”
Maurice watched his wife silently, wondering if she was trying too hard to convince everyone that she was in the mood to celebrate. James crossed over to his brother and grabbed his shoulder.
“Everything cool with Kenya?” he asked.
“I hope so,” Maurice replied. “Would’ve been nice to know y’all had this planned.”
“I didn’t even know. Jade’s friends surprised her with the baby shower,” James said.
Maurice nodded. “Kenya seems to be handling it well.” They watched Kenya as she and Jade laughed.
“How are things going with you two?”
“A lot better,” Maurice said, genuinely excited. “We’ve been seeing a therapist and she’s helping us work through a lot of issues.”
“That’s great,” James said. “And you’re dealing with your issues, right?”
Maurice sighed. “Trying. Kenya told me she understands what happened and she isn’t holding it against me. Still, I hold myself responsible for her pain and loss.”
“You know that’s bullshit, right? You would’ve lost Kenya and your unborn child. Could you forgive yourself for that?”
Maurice paused and watched his wife munch on cake and converse with Jade and her friends. “Not at all,” he said quietly. “I would never be able to live without Kenya in my life.”
James nodded. “I know. See what happened when you tried to do that? Remember Lau. . .”
“Let’s not say that name,” Maurice grunted.
“I’m just saying, you and Kenya can get through anything and this isn’t an exception.”
Maurice finally smiled. “You’re right. Did Mama send that cake?”
“She sure did.”
“Then we’d better get over there before it’s gone.”
Maurice walked over to Kenya, pulled her into his arms, took a piece of her cake and then kissed her. “I love you,” he whispered in her ear.
“I love you too,” she replied, moving her cake out of his reach. “But I’m not giving you another piece of this cake. Your mom out did herself with this chocolate cinnamon cake.”
Maurice popped his stolen piece into his mouth and nodded. “This is good.”
“Maybe we need to take a trip to Atlanta, I want to thank your mom and my parents for putting up with me and maybe we can talk her into baking us a cake,” Kenya said with a smile.
“And I really need to talk to your father,” Maurice said.
She shrugged and leaned against him. “Today is the last day of Robi’s camp, we could leave tomorrow.”
“Why not?” Maurice said as he picked up the last slice of cake.
“Really?” James quipped. “You took the last piece?”
“You slow, you blow,” he said laughing at his brother. James grabbed the cake cutter and sliced the cake in half, taking the larger piece for himself.
“Hey!”
Jade shook her head. “James, stop acting like your mother didn’t send two cakes!”
“We’ll be over later to reclaim my slice,” Maurice said as he ate his paltry slice of cake.
“Good idea,” Jade said. “Because if that cake stays in the house, this one will eat it all.”
James shook his head and pinched his wife’s bottom. “Because you sit around and eat carrots all day.”
Kenya glanced at her watch. “Mo, we have to go get Robi. Do you guys want to get together for dinner, though?”
“Yeah,” Jade said, walking over to Kenya and hugging her. “I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you about the baby.”
“It’s OK,” Kenya replied. “I know you were trying to protect my feelings.”
“I feel like I hurt them anyway, though.”
“You didn’t,” she replied and then turned to Maurice. “Ready?”
He nodded and set his plate on the table. “See y’all later,” Maurice said as he and Kenya headed for the door.
“Do you really think they’re all right?” Jade whispered to James as she watched her in-laws leave.
“I think so.”

After Kenya and Maurice picked up their daughter, they headed home to relax before going to see James and Jade for dinner. While they sat on the sofa watching TV and Robi drifted off to sleep in her father’s lap, Kenya turned to Maurice and asked, “Do you really think we should look into having a baby with a surrogate?”
“Do you want to talk about this now? Like I said, I’m not. . .”
“Mo, I’m really getting tired of people treating me like I’m going break if I hear the word baby. I told Dr. Shelly that in our session today. She told me I have to acknowledge the fact that you want another child. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“I do want another child and I didn’t want to make you feel as if I was pressuring you.”
“And you haven’t,” she said, snuggling closer to him. “I want another child as well.”
“Tell me something,” Mo asked quietly.
“What?”
“Did Jade’s pregnancy change your mind?”
Kenya sighed. If she were honest with herself, she would’ve said yes. She tried to hide it at the baby shower, but she still had feelings of being less of a woman because of her surgery. As much as she loved Jade, finding out that she was pregnant messed with her mind. Kenya had never been the jealous kind, but she was jealous of her sister-in-law.
“Maybe. OK, yes. But, I’ve come to grips about the baby we lost. Of course there’s no way to replace that child, still, I want another baby. Maybe a little Maurice with dimples,” she said then stroked her husband’s cheek.
“All right, then when we come back from Atlanta, we’ll get started on the process.” He leaned in and kissed her gently, slipping his tongue inside her mouth enjoying the sweetness of it. Maurice wanted her so bad, he ached for his wife. Robi stirred beneath them and they broke the kiss. “Why don’t I take her upstairs,” Maurice suggested. “There’s something I want to do while she’s sleeping.”
Kenya smile and nodded in agreement. “I think I want to do the same thing,” she replied as her husband rose to his feet. Carrying their sleeping daughter upstairs, Maurice released a sigh of relief. It had been so long since he’d made love to his wife. He knew a lot of it had to do with her healing from the surgery, but he wondered if she was holding back because she felt as if she wouldn’t measure up anymore. A lot of what Kenya shared during their therapy sessions stuck with him and broke his heart. If Kenya wanted another baby, Maurice was going to make damned sure that it happened. Kissing Robi on the forehead and tucking her into her bed, Maurice dashed downstairs. For a moment, he watched Kenya on the sofa. She was still the most beautiful woman in the world to him. Slowly crossing over to her, he said, “Come here.”
She rose to her feet with a sly smile on her face. Maurice drew her into his arms, stroking the small of her back, then captured her lips in a hot lusty kiss. Kenya’s moans filled the air as Maurice explored her mouth slowly with his tongue. She’d missed feeling like this, she’d allowed her mind to trick her into thinking her husband saw her as less than. But his kiss and touches told her what was true. He wanted her just as much as he ever had.
Breaking the kiss, they stared into each other’s eyes. “I need to make love to you,” Maurice intoned, then he ripped Kenya’s shirt open. For a second, she thought about her scar, but as Maurice palmed her breasts, making her nipples rock hard and then covered her nipple with his hot mouth, she pushed all of her doubts aside and gave in to the passion she felt. With his free hand, Maurice slid her skirt off and slipped his hand inside her wet panties. Slowly, gently, he stroked her womanly core. She cooed with desire as his finger split her folds of flesh and found her throbbing pearl. Maurice dropped to his knees and pulled her closer to his mouth, holding her left leg on his shoulder so that he could have a clear path to her sweetness. Licking and sucking her nearly sent Maurice into overdrive. He was harder than a brick and Kenya’s moans were the soundtrack that he needed to bury his mouth into her wetness. She grabbed his head, pressing him deeper into her hot valley.
“Yes, yes,” Kenya cried out. Maurice pulled his mouth away and lifted his wife into his arms.
“Upstairs?” he asked.
“I can’t wait that long,” she groaned. “I need you now.”
Maurice laid Kenya on the sofa where she stripped her remaining clothes off. Maurice peeled his clothing off and joined his wife on the sofa, wrapping her legs around his waist. Diving into her wetness, Maurice felt as if he’d gone to heaven. “You feel so good,” he whispered in her ear as he thrust in and out, slowly touching every spot that made her moan. Kenya grew wetter and wetter with each stroke. But when she closed her lips around his neck, Maurice couldn’t hold back his climax. Kenya clung to her husband, feeling better than she’d felt since her surgery.
“We’d better get dressed before Robi comes down here and catches us,” Maurice whispered. “I really don’t want to, because I could lay here with you all day.”
“And we have to get cleaned up for dinner with your brother,” she said, though neither of them made an effort to move immediately. Maurice stroked Kenya’s cheek then kissed her neck.
“I didn’t hurt you did I? I know we’re a little early. . .”
She placed her finger to his lips. “You would’ve hurt me had you made me wait another week. I really missed you making love to me.”
“Not as much as I did,” he said. “Tonight, I’m going to show you how much I’ve missed being inside of you.”  Maurice rose to his feet and held his hand out to Kenya. “I say we take a shower together.”
“And I don’t think we’re going to get clean in the shower together,” she said.
“Who said I wanted to get clean?” Maurice said with a naughty twinkle in his eye. “Race you up stairs and I’m giving you a head start because I love looking at this.” He squeezed her bottom and Kenya laughed the sauntered off to the staircase.
“You can always come catch me,” she said over her shoulder with a wink. Maurice dashed over to her and lifted his wife in his arms.
“I’m always going to catch you,” he said then carried her up the stairs.
Two weeks later, Maurice and Kenya had returned from Atlanta and were looking into finding a surrogate. The couple made an appointment with a fertility doctor to harvest Kenya’s eggs and inseminate them with Maurice's sperm. Though the procedure was painless, Kenya was a bit off put by the whole thing. Never in a million years had she thought that someone else would carry her child. But if this was the way it had to be done, she and Maurice would do it. Plenty of people did it, Kenya surmised.
"So," Dr. Alma Richards said. "The embryos will be stored for three months before they're no longer viable."
"All right," Maurice said, holding Kenya’s hand as they sat across from the doctor.
"I can refer you two to a service that links potential surrogates with families. I would suggest that you make sure that you and the woman who will carry your child fits in with your family."
"What do you mean?" Kenya asked.
"It's been my experience that these arrangements work better when the surrogate mother feels as if she's a part of the family and not just a rented womb. Some parents move the surrogate into their homes."
Kenya turned to Maurice. "That's a good idea. I want her to be with us so that I can go to her doctor's appointments with her."
Maurice nodded. "Doc, how do we find a surrogate and what should we look for?"
"Well,"" Dr. Richards said as she held out brochure to them, "this group has placed a lot a surrogates with my patients and the results have been amazing. Kenya, you have the right attitude. Even though your surrogate will have given birth before, it always helps to have someone at the doctor’s appointments."
"We'd better get on this," Maurice said as he folded the paper and stuck it in his pocket. Kenya smiled and shook hands with Dr. Richards.
"Thank you," she said.
"I have to warn you," the doctor said. "There are still risks of miscarriages and you may even have to use another surrogate if your first choice can't carry your baby to term. I don't like implanting more than four embryos at once."
Kenya nodded, though she silently prayed that everything would work out on the first try. She couldn't handle the loss of another child, even if she wasn't the one carrying the baby.
"Is there any way to minimize those risks," Maurice asked as if he could read his wife's mind.
"Choose a surrogate who has a history of healthy deliveries and a younger woman," she said.
Maurice nodded and then he and Kenya turned to leave.
Once they were outside, Kenya turned to her husband and sighed. "I knew this wasn't going to be simple," she said as Maurice took her hand in his. "But this is kind of scary."
"I know, that was a lot of information to take in. We don't have to do this if you don't want to."
"I didn't say that," Kenya replied. "I just can't go through losing another baby."
Maurice pulled Kenya into a tight embrace. "I know. Let's make sure that we pick the right woman to have our baby."
Leaning against her husband, Kenya nodded. "Yes. I don't want to tell anyone what we're doing yet," she said. "Not until we know for sure that everything is going to work out."
"All right. We'll call the surrogate group in the morning and line up some interviews," Maurice said. "Tonight, we're going to relax and think about us."
"Sounds good," she said. "I think I'll even cook Robi's favorite meal tonight."
"I'll get some garlic bread to go with the spaghetti," Maurice said with a smile. Kenya kissed Maurice's cheek. "I love you so much," she said as then they climbed into the car.
"I have a good feeling about this," Maurice said.
"I hope you're right," she said as he pulled out of the parking lot.

Over the next two weeks, Kenya and Maurice interviewed fifteen women to be their surrogate and none of them fit the build. One woman was overly impressed with Maurice's NFL fame, three were too old, four had suffered miscarriages and the others wouldn't agree to moving in with the Goings family. Just when they were about to give up, they met Jaci York. She was a 23-year-old divorced mother. Her daughter was eight years old and spent half of the year with her father. She'd wanted to help a family who couldn't have a child of their own. Kenya liked her from the start and Maurice was also taken with Jaci. Especially when she said she wanted to finish her degree at Johnson C. Smith University, Mo's alma mater.
"I like Jaci," Kenya said following their initial meeting with her.
"She was cool, seemed as if had a good head on her shoulders," Maurice said. "We need to look over her psychological profile before we make a decision."
"Yes," Kenya replied. "And I think she should get a physical with Dr. Richards before we decide as well."
Maurice nodded. "You feel good about this one, huh?"
"I do."
"All right, then we need to get her file tomorrow and call Dr. Richards for the appointment," he said.
"And I'll start getting the basement ready for her to move in. She'll be able to have her privacy and she'll still be a part of the family."
Maurice stroked the back of Kenya's hand and smiled at the excitement he heard in his wife's voice. Having this baby was important to both of them and he was going to do everything in his power to make this happen for her.  If Jaci was the one, Maurice was going to be sure that she agreed to all of Kenya's terms. After typing Jaci's number into his cell phone, Maurice headed down the hallway to catch up with Kenya.
After catching up with his wife, Maurice told her there would be no more talk of surrogacy when they arrived home.
“Tonight is for you and me. Consider it Dr. Mo’s orders.”
“Yes, sir,” Kenya said with a mock salute as they arrived at the car.      
That night, the couple did just what Maurice had ordered, relaxed and talked while Robi spent the night at Great Wolf Lodge with James, Jade and Jaden.
"So," Maurice said as he cut a piece of a granny smith apple and held it out to his wife. She took the piece of apple into her mouth and licked his fingertip. "What do you say we go for a swim?"
"A swim?" she asked.
"Yeah, we haven't had a chance to do anything fun in a long time."
"That's true."
"So, take that lovely dress off and meet me at the pool."
"That sounds like skinny dipping to me," Kenya said as she rose from the sofa and unzipped her maxi dress, allowing it to flutter to the floor. Maurice smiled appreciatively at his wife's naked body. Licking his lips, Maurice rose to his feet and pulled her into his arms. "It should be a crime to be this sexy," he whispered against her ear.
"Umm, you think so?" she asked as she pressed her hips into his and licked his earlobe. Maurice's erection sprang forward and he nearly said forget the pool, just allow him to swim in her wetness. "You know what that does to me woman," he moaned as she licked the side of his neck.
"Yes and that's why I did it," she replied before taking another swipe of his neck with her tongue.  Mo's knees shivered and he pulled Kenya closer, running his hands down her sides and resting them on her bottom.
"And I know what this," he said the leaned in and rained feather-soft kisses down on her collarbone. "Does to you."
Kenya shivered and her thighs tightened as Maurice kissed her again. "Yes, you do," she groaned.
He took a step back and stripped out of his clothes. "Let's go the pool," he said.
"Not yet," she replied, her eyes drawn to his erection. Pushing him back on the sofa, Kenya kneeled in front of him and took his hardness in her hands. When he felt the tingle of her warm breath on the head of his penis, anticipation made him moan. Then she took the length of him deep into her mouth, sucking him as if he was offering the most delectable treat in creation. Tossing his head back and moaning in delight as she licked him like a lollypop, Maurice fought the urge to come. He wanted to experience the pleasure of her mouth for as long as he could. Kenya was skilled with her tongue and knew what to do to take Maurice to the brink. No other woman ever had his mind, body and soul and Kenya held all three in her hand. Every time they made love he felt it. Felt that unbreakable connection. "Yes," he exclaimed. "Yes."
Pulling back, she smiled brightly at him for a beat and mounted him. She pulled him into her wetness, riding and rocking back and forth against him until they both came, exploding and declaring their love as they collapsed against each other. Kenya held her husband tightly, expelling a sigh against his ear. "That was amazing," she whispered.
"It always is with you," he replied, nuzzling against her neck. The scent of her body reignited his arousal. "Umm," he said. "Let's get in the pool."
"All right," she said untangling herself from him and rising to her feet. Kenya turned around and looked at him. "But, before we go." She closed the space between them and wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him a slow and hot kiss that made his knees go weak.
"Keep that up," he said once they broke the kiss, "And you're going to keep this up as well." Kenya laughed as he placed her hand on his erection.
"It's going to be real hard for you to swim like that," she quipped.
Maurice lifted her into his arms. "That was your plan, because I'm willing to be you want to race."
She tweaked his nose and squeezed his shoulder. "You got it, boo."
Once they made it outside to the Olympic sized pool, Maurice tossed the floating lounger in the water and jumped in, splashing Kenya in the process.
"Hey!" she called out. Paddling to the edge of the pool, he grabbed her ankles. "Don't do it, Mo!"
"Remember when we were kids and we'd go to Grant Park?"
Kenya narrowed her eyes at him, of course she remembered. All she'd ever said was, "Please don't get my hair wet." But somehow, Maurice would end up dunking Kenya in the pool, snatching her swim cap off or shooting her with a Super Soaker.
"You know what!" she exclaimed. "I should've kicked your. . ."
"I do recall getting kicked in the family jewels a few times," he said with a laugh. "The only reason I did that to you was because you always beat me in the races. Always! And I just loved the way your hair curled up when it was wet."
"And you're telling me this after all of these years, because?"
Maurice didn't say a word, he just pulled his wife into the water. Kenya let out a playful scream as she splashed into the water. She grabbed her husband's shoulders and pinched him. "You got my hair wet, Maurice Goings!"
"I can think of some other things I'd rather get wet," he replied then wrapped his arms around her.
"You've done that several times today," she said then wrapped her legs around his waist. Maurice plunged underneath the water and Kenya laughed again. The sound of her laughter and seeing that smile on her face was worth more than gold to him. He would've traded his Super Bowl ring and all that went along with it if he knew he could keep his wife this happy for the rest of their lives.
That's why he silently prayed that Jaci would be the right woman to give them the child that they wanted.
Maurice and Kenya swam and played for another hour, feeling like the couple of their youth again. By the time they climbed out of the pool and headed back into the house, it was nearly midnight.
"Well," Kenya said. "Can we talk about Jaci now?"
"No," he said as he wrapped Kenya up with a plush towel. "We're still focusing on us."
"Mo," she said seriously. "We have to talk about this."
"Kenya, you like her and she has the characteristics that we're looking for and I'm sure she'll agree to the stipulations of living here and allowing you to go to the doctor’s appointments with her. What more do you need?"
She shrugged and sighed. "I just. . .I can't handle anything else going wrong. I can't lose another child and if she doesn't. . ."
"I'm going to handle this," Maurice said. "Don't you worry about a thing."
"That's easier said than done," Kenya said. "I'm going to worry until that baby is conceived and born."
Maurice took her face into his hands and kissed her lips softly and gently. "Let's go to sleep and deal with this in the morning," he said. "Everything is going to work out just fine."
As the couple climbed into bed, Kenya decided that she would follow Maurice's advice and not worry so much about the surrogate.

The next morning, Maurice woke up before Kenya and dialed Jaci's number.                                                     "Hello?" a female voice said once the phone stopped ringing.
"I'm looking for Jaci York," he said.
"This is Jaci York. Who's calling please?" she asked.
"Maurice Goings. I want to talk you about being a surrogate for my wife and I," he said.
"Well, I received the message from the agency and I have a meeting with my attorney about . . ."
"I understand that is the way to handle this.  I want you to meet with your attorney and sign the legal documents that you need to so that you're protected. But I want to meet with you again and tell you — personally — how important this is to me and wife."
"OK," she said. "I guess a meeting with you and your wife if all right."
"It's just going to be me," he said. "How does lunch at Hometown Delights work for you?"
"I can meet you at noon. Does that work for you, Mr. Goings?"
"Sure, see you then," he said then disconnected the call. Maurice turned to his left and saw Kenya standing near the bathroom doorway.
"What was that all about?" she asked.
"I'm going to meet with Jaci for lunch," he said.
Kenya raised her right eyebrow. "Why?"
"Because I've been doing some research," he said, crossing over to his wife. "Sometimes surrogate mothers don't feel as if the father is involved in the process and I want Jaci to be comfortable with both of us."
She hugged Maurice tightly. "I really do have the best husband in the world," Kenya whispered in his ear. "Are you sure you don't want me to go with you?"
"You can if you want to, but you don't have to and I promise I won't scare Jaci off."
"All right," she said. "I have to go and get Robi anyway. Maybe later tonight we should explain what's going to be going on here."
"That's a great idea. I'll even get a chocolate cake from the restaurant so we can tell her over dessert," Maurice said.
"Have I told you lately how much I love you?"
He glanced at his watch, seeing that it was eight-thirty, he said, "Talk is cheap. Why don't you show me?"
Kenya dropped her robe. "All right, let me show you."

After spending the morning making love to his wife, Maurice reluctantly pulled himself away from Kenya and headed to Hometown Delights. He was about five minutes late and he spotted Jaci sitting at the bar sipping on what looked to be cranberry juice. I hope she isn't a drinker, Maurice thought as he crossed over to her. "Jaci," he said. “Sorry, I’m late.”
She turned and faced him with a smile on her face. "Not a problem." Jaci extended her hand to him.
“Thanks for waiting,” he said then glanced at her glass.
"It's just juice," she said. "I don't drink, it's not only damaging to your liver, but it can limit your chances for conception."
Maurice smiled. "Let's get a table so that we can talk privately."
Jaci looked around the crowded restaurant. "I don't see how we're going to get a seat, this place is packed."
Maurice winked at her and waved for the host. "I know the owners, we'll get a table."
She eyed him with wonderment. "I guess you pretty much get what you want, whenever you want it."
"All I want is for my wife to be happy," he said as the host approached them.
"Mr. Goings," the man said then extended his hand to him. "Your usual table for you and . . ."
"This is Jaci," Maurice said. "And hopefully, you'll be seeing more of her at my table."
The man raised a confused eyebrow. He knew Maurice was married to a different woman and that one of his bosses was his sister-in-law. He couldn't possibly be this stupid, even if he was a football player. Noting the look on the host's face, Maurice shook his head. "It's not what you think," he said.
"I didn't say a word. This way," the host said with relief.
Once Jaci and Maurice were seated, she stared at him, unable to believe that she was sitting across from her favorite Carolina Panthers player. She’d figured that his wife would be the one trying to convince her to be their surrogate. But here she was with Maurice Goings. The man who'd she had fantasies about since she'd seen him in that underwear ad following the Super Bowl. And he wanted her to have his baby?! This was kismet. She was meant to be right here with him. She was going to give him everything that his wife obviously couldn't. One thing she knew was men seemed to like pregnant women and took extra care of them. Would Maurice do that when she was carrying his child?
"Would you like to order first or should we talk about why we're here?" he asked.
"Umm, well, it's up to you, Mr. Goings."
Maurice held his hand up. "Please, call me Maurice."
She smiled and wished they were on a date and he would reach across the table and stroke her hand. Jaci had dressed for a date, a low cut maxi dress showing off her ample bosom and shapely figure. Her hair was pulled back in a conservative bun to show off her hazel eyes and cafe au lait complexion. He had to notice how she looked. How many times have men told her that she was the most beautiful woman they'd ever seen? She'd dated a few NBA players and one Carolina Panthers wide receiver who'd retired, so she knew she could pull a baller. Once she was carrying his child, Jaci was sure that she'd pull Maurice Goings away from his wife. After all, she would be the one giving him a child and not Mrs. Goings. They would have such a bond and connection that it would be easy to ease deeper into his life.
"My wife is very important to me and this baby means a lot to her. We both want you to feel as if you are a part of our family," he said. "Kenya and I value your health and we want to offer you support as we go through this process."
"That's really sweet," she said with a smile. "Why isn't she here?"
"Kenya wanted to come, but I think you already know how she feels about this situation. I wanted you to know that I'm on board and committed to doing whatever it takes to make you comfortable during your pregnancy."
Jaci smiled. "And how are you—guys going to do that?"
Before Maurice could answer, Jade and a waiter walked over to the table. "Hi, brother-in-law," she said as she glanced from Jaci to Maurice. He looked up at his pregnant sister-in-law, a little perturbed by the interruption.
"What's up, Jade?"
She tilted her head toward Jaci, who hadn't taken her eyes off Maurice since she'd approached the table. "You tell me?" Jade asked pointedly.
Maurice shook his head, since he and Kenya hadn't informed the family about their decision to hire a surrogate, he didn't really know how to introduce Jaci.
"This is Jaci York," he said. "Jaci, this is Jade Goings, my sister-in-law."
Jaci finally turned to Jade and extended her hand. "Nice to meet you," she said.
Jade offered her a limp handshake and a fake smile. She was going to call James and see if he knew what was going on and why his brother was having lunch with what looked like a groupie.
"Carl is going to take care of you two," Jade said. "Maurice, we'll talk later."
"I'm sure we will," he said, then shook his head. He could imagine what that conversation would be like.

Jaci decided that she didn't like Jade after she saw the way she and Maurice interacted. But she wondered why he didn't tell her what they were meeting about? Maurice must not have wanted anyone to know that he and Kenya couldn't have a baby together. Did he plan to keep her tucked away like some kind of secret because his wife's womb didn't work? Oh hell. . .wait, that could work in her advantage. "So," she said. "When do I move in?"
"Once we get the paperwork taken care of and everything is signed, we'd like to have you move in the week after the procedure," he said.
She nodded, focused her gaze on his lips and wondered if they were soft and if his tongue tasted minty like his favorite toothpaste. "Does that sound good?" Maurice asked.
"Oh, yes," she said, wishing that she was answering a different question. "Maurice. . ."
Before he could respond to her, his cellphone rang. "Hey babe," he said when he answered. "Yes, I'm with her right now. Really? Well, you tell Robi Daddy is on his way with ice cream. We'll talk when I get home. OK. Love you." Maurice clicked his phone off and turned to Jaci. She hated the way he sounded on the phone with her. It would change, all she had to do was get the baby inside her. Then she could change everything.

Kenya paced the floor waiting for Maurice. She wondered what Jaci’s reaction had been to him. “Mommy, Mommy,” Robi said. “I can’t see TV!”
“Sorry, baby,” Kenya said as she crossed over to her daughter, who was sitting on the sofa watching The Princess and The Frog. Kenya sat down beside Robi and wrapped her arms around her little shoulders. As Robi laid her head in Kenya’s lap, her cellphone rang and Kenya hopped it was Maurice. Instead, it was Jade.
“Hi, Jade,” she said.
“Hey, Kenya, how are you doing?”
“I’m good. What about you and the little one in the oven?” Kenya asked.
“We’re fine, I think it’s another boy,” she replied. “This baby is even more active than Jaden was.”
Kenya closed her eyes and forced herself to feel happiness for her sister-in-law. “Well, Robi was active too. I wouldn’t count out that it’s not a girl just yet.”
“Kenya,” Jade said. “You know I love you and I don’t want seem as if I’m trying to cause a problem in your marriage, but. . .”
“This is about the woman Maurice had lunch with?”
“Oh, you knew?”
Counting backwards from ten, she paused and cleared the harsh words she was about to lay on her sister-in-law from her head. “Jade, do you really think my husband is that stupid? If he was having an affair, he’d come to his brother’s wife’s restaurant with his jump off? Come on, Jade.”
“I was just. . .”
Kenya sighed. “If must know, the woman he was with was a potential surrogate for us.”
Jade went silent on the other end of the phone and Kenya slowly eased from the sofa, gently laying Robi’s head on the cushion. “You know better than anyone else that Maurice and I had every intention of having another child before my. . .I’d appreciate it if you’d show a little more tact and consideration before you start calling me, thinking you’ve uncovered some big scandal in my marriage.”
“Kenya, I wasn’t trying. . .”
“I’m sorry I can’t be like perfect little Jade and have my husband’s baby without someone else’s help!”
“Calm down. . .”
“No, you calm down! I’m sick and tired of people treating me as if I’m some kind of cracked vase. You hid your pregnancy from me, what did you think I was going to do, fall apart and cry in front of you? I thought we were better than that.”
“Wow, Kenya, is there anything else you need to get off your chest?” Jade asked in an even voice. “I didn’t know what to do and I was trying to be considerate. You’ve been through a lot and . . .”
“I’m sorry. I’m a little stressed out and I’m waiting on Maurice to tell me about his meeting with Jaci and if she’s going to be a good surrogate. I didn’t mean to go off on you.”
“It’s not OK, but I understand where you’re coming from,” she replied. “Can I just tell you that the woman who was with Maurice didn’t seem as if she was just trying to carry your child. The way she was looking at Mo, she had groupie written all over her face and that’s the only reason I called you.”
“Thanks for looking out for me,” Kenya said. “But, I trust my husband.”
“All right, then,” Jade said. “I guess I’ll talk to you later.”
After hanging up, Kenya returned to the living room to wait for Maurice. Jade was wrong, she surmised. Maybe Jaci was impressed with Maurice, after all he’d been the face of the Carolina Panthers for years. Kenya had gotten used to women throwing themselves at her husband. Maurice ignored them and Kenya was confident in her husband’s fidelity. At the end of the day, he came home to her every night. Just as she was about to lift Robi from the sofa, the front door opened and Maurice walked in with Jaci.
“Hey, babe,” Maurice said as he crossed over to her and kissed Kenya’s cheek.
“Hi,” Kenya said, looking from him to Jaci.
“Hello, Kenya,” Jaci said. “Maurice wanted to show me the house and introduce me your little girl.”
“I wish he’d told me, I would’ve had some dinner for us,” Kenya said then shot Maurice an admonishing look.
“Sorry, darling,” he said, kissing her again. “It was a last minute idea. Jaci has pretty much agreed to be our surrogate and to your terms.”
Kenya crossed over to Jaci and hugged her. “Thank you so much.”
“It’s my pleasure,” she replied sweetly as she and Kenya released their embrace. “Maurice was so nice to me today and I already feel as if I’m a part of the family.”
 “Well,” Kenya said, “let me show you your room. It’s kind of like an apartment. You will have total privacy.”
“That’s good to know,” Jaci said then glanced at Maurice, who was lifting his sleeping daughter into his arms. Jaci decided that she’d be a good stepmother to the little girl. Nairobi. What a strange name for a child. She looked at Kenya, sizing her up quietly. She was pretty enough. But she couldn’t give Maurice a baby – a son to carry on his name. Every man deserved and wanted a son. Jaci silently prayed that she would have Maurice’s son. Despite the fact that it wouldn’t be biologically her son, when she became Mrs. Goings, she’d treat him as such. Following Kenya into the basement, she wondered if she was one of those football wives who sat at home all day and didn’t want to lose figure by having another baby.
“This is nice,” Jaci said as Kenya flipped the light on revealing the living space. There was a queen sized bed, covered with a rose colored satin comforter and four massive pillows. The sandy colored carpet was soft and plush, like walking on the center of a marshmallow. “Over here,” Kenya said, “is the bathroom.” Jaci followed her, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the bed. All she could think about was having Maurice’s naked body sprawled across the covers waiting for her to climb out of the shower.
“When are you meeting with the attorney to sign the agreement?” Kenya asked, breaking into Jaci’s thoughts.
“Oh. Tomorrow morning,” she said.
“Great,” Kenya said. “Why don’t we have breakfast afterwards and I can introduce you to my sister-in-law, although you’ve already met her.”
“Yes, at Hometown Delights. I think she got the wrong idea about me and Mo,” Jaci said. At least for now anyway.
“Mo?” Kenya said.
“He said that’s his nickname,” Jaci said.
Kenya nodded, telling herself that she and Maurice did tell the girl she was going to be treated like family. Get out of my head, Jade, Kenya thought as she and Jaci headed back upstairs.
7.  A month after the legal agreement had been signed, Jaci, Kenya and Maurice were in the doctor’s office for the in vitro fertilization process. Jaci’s health was good and Dr. Richards was confident that everything would go well. Kenya, on the other hand, was nervous and playing out every worst case scenario in her head. What if something went wrong while the embryos were in storage? Had there been a mix up in the lab and those were someone else’s babies? She rose from her seat and walked over to the window overlooking Lake Wylie. Maurice walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “You’re worrying,” he said against her ear.
“I’m nervous,” she said, leaning against her husband.
“Don’t be, babe.” He stroked her arms gently. “All indications are that she’s healthy and everything will go well.”
Kenya turned around and faced her husband. “Then in nine months, we’ll have a healthy baby.”
He nodded. “So relax, Kenya.”
“OK.”
“Want some coffee?” he asked.
She nodded. “Thank you.” Kenya kissed his cheek and then Maurice headed down the hall to get coffee.
In the silence of the waiting room, Kenya thought about how Maurice had been there for her since her hysterectomy – even when she made it difficult for him. He’d stayed by her side, burying his own pain to take care of her and Robi. Love was an understatement for how she felt about her husband. If there was a real prince charming, she wore his ring. But something nagged at her, deep in her subconscious, what if they couldn’t have another baby? Would Maurice yearn for a woman who could give him a child? Closing her eyes, Kenya tried to push her insecurities away. He loved her and that was enough. Wasn’t it?
“Here you go,” Maurice said when he returned to the waiting room. “Strong, sweet and black, just like me.” Kenya took the coffee he held out to her, set it on the table and pulled him into her arms.
“I love you so much,” she said then kissed him with a smoldering desire that made him go weak with desire.
“Do I need to bring you coffee every day?” he asked once they broke the kiss. “Please tell me what I did to deserve that so that I can do it every day.”
“Well, first you have to wake up in the morning and that’s it. Mo, these last few months have been hell for us and I didn’t make things as easy for you as I could have,” she said. Maurice kissed her lightly on her lips.
“This has been a difficult time for both of us, but things are looking up.”
“Yes, they are,” she replied, hugging him tightly. “I just hope and pray Jaci’s pregnant.”
A few moments later, Dr. Richards entered the waiting room. “Mo, Kenya, everything went well with Jaci and the IVF.”
“Great,” Kenya said excitedly. “Can we go see her?”
Dr. Richards nodded. “She was actually asking for you guys.”
Maurice turned to Kenya. “You go ahead, I’m going to call the cleaning service to make sure Jaci’s room is ready at the house.”
Kenya nodded and headed back into the examination room where Jaci was. When the door opened, Jaci sat up and looked at Kenya, then past her. “Where’s Mo?” she asked.
“He’s taking care of the arrangements for you to move in,” Kenya replied. “How are you feeling?”
Jaci placed her hand on stomach. “Hopefully, I feel pregnant,” she said with a sugary smile. Kenya crossed over to her and touched her shoulder. “I hope so, too. We should celebrate with dinner tonight.”
“Will Mo and the rest of the family be there?”
“Sure,” she said. “Anything you want for dinner, we’ll make it happen.”
“Kenya, I’m not having cravings yet,” Jaci said. “But when I was pregnant before, I’d wake up in the middle of the night wanting pickles and butter pecan ice cream.”
“Really?” Kenya asked.
Jaci nodded and was about to say something else when Maurice walked into the room. She brightened like a lamp when she saw him, but the moment he wrapped his arms around Kenya’s waist, a rumble of jealousy clouded her face. “Everything is set for you to move in, Jaci,” he said. “Do you need anything from you place?”
“Umm, I can pick up some things later,” she said quickly. “I just want to rest right now.”
“All right,” Maurice said. “Dr. Richards said we can leave at any time.”
"Great, " Kenya said as Jaci sat up on the examination table. "I'll go get a wheelchair." Kenya walked out of the room as Maurice crossed over to the table and helped Jaci to her feet.
Alone at last, she thought as she and Maurice stood inches apart from each other. "You guys are really great," she said.
"Well, you're giving us a wonderful gift. Kenya and I really appreciated it."
"I'm glad you chose me to have your baby." She smiled and leaned in to hug Mo. His body felt so good as he wrapped his arms around her. She wanted to stay wrapped in his embrace forever. But Maurice dropped his arms and asked her if she had anything that he needed to carry out for her.
"No, I'm OK. I just have my purse."
Kenya returned to the room with a wheelchair and Dr. Richards. "I'm feeling really good about the IVF," the doctor said. "Jaci, for the rest of the day you should take it easy and sit with your legs elevated."
"OK," Jaci replied.
"We'll take care of her," Maurice said as Kenya wheeled the chair over to them. Jaci sat down and Maurice placed his hands on the handles of the chair. Dr. Richards handed Jaci the discharge papers and instructions. Maurice stole a kiss from Kenya and then they left. Jaci sighed when she saw the looks Maurice and Kenya exchanged as they headed for the car. If he wanted a baby so badly, why wasn't he with a woman who could give him one? A woman like her. Placing her hand on her stomach, she silently prayed that she was pregnant and Maurice would see that he should be with her.
Once they arrived at the house, Kenya helped Jaci into her room, much to Jaci's chagrin. She'd hoped Maurice would've been down there with her. "Do you need anything?" Kenya asked once Jaci was settled in.
"Maybe some cranberry juice," she said. Glancing at Kenya, Jaci wanted nothing more than to see her running out of the house and leaving her alone with Maurice. But she had to play this just right. Getting rid of Kenya would have a lot to do with her being pregnant. Nothing made a woman more insecure than seeing someone else with the one thing she couldn't have.
"I'm going to have to go to the market," Kenya said. "Why don't you give me a list of some of your favorite things and I'll be sure to pick them up."
"You do your own shopping?" Jaci asked incredulously. That would change when she and Maurice were married. She'd also have him hire a household staff. What's the point of having all of that money and living like a normal person? She wanted to shuck off regular and be like those housewives on the reality shows. Hell, once she married Maurice she would join one of those reality shows.
"Why wouldn't I? Maurice and I want our kids to have the same kind of normal upbringing we had."
Jaci nodded, still not understanding. "So, you work too?"
"I'm an attorney. I've taken a leave of absence but once the baby is born, I plan to go back to work."
"Wow," she said. "That's interesting."
"Well," Kenya said. "I want to be a good role model for my daughter. She needs to learn how to be self-sufficient, even if she marries a man with means. It's something that my mother taught me and it was a great lesson."
"I imagine so," Jaci said. "My mother and I weren't really that close."
"Why not?" Kenya asked.
Jaci shrugged. "It's just how things were. She wasn't close to her mother and she wasn't close to me."
Kenya's look of pity enraged Jaci. Was this bitch judging her when she needed her to have a baby? Whatever!
"I'll come get your list before I go, I'm going to check and see if Maurice and Robi need anything." Kenya all but ran up the stairs, quietly questioning her decision to choose Jaci as the surrogate. She wondered what kind of relationship the woman had with her own child. Was she maternal enough to carry her child with love?
"Maurice," she whispered when they met in the kitchen. "Can we talk?"
Maurice, who was fixing sandwiches for himself and Robi, turned around and wiped his hands. "What's wrong?"
"I just had an interesting conversation with Jaci," she said in a low tone.
"About?" he asked as he turned back to Robi's peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
"She's not close to her mother and I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with that," she said.
"Kenya, it's not as if she's going to raise our child," he replied.
Sighing, she nodded. "I'm just tripping. I have to go to Trader Joe's to pick up some cranberry juice, you need anything?"
"Mmm," he said as he cut Robi's sandwich into quarters, "my wife to relax and some trail mix without chocolate."
"Trail mix without chocolate? What's the point of that? OK. And I'll work on your wife calming down," she said then kissed him on the cheek.
"Da-Da! I'm hungry!" Robi called out from the table.
Maurice winked at Kenya and then took his daughter her sandwich as if he were a waiter at a five-star restaurant.

When Jaci heard the front door close, she headed upstairs to see what Maurice was doing. Walking across the living room, she took in the plain look of the place. Brown, tan and rose. It wasn't what she thought a millionaire's house should look like. Crossing the room, she headed into the kitchen, finding Maurice and Robi eating lunch and laughing together. As if he knew she was watching, Maurice's head popped up and their eyes locked.
"Hi," she said with a smile.
"Hey, Jaci. I thought the doctor said you needed to keep your feet elevated?"
"Well, I was getting hungry," she said.
"Why don't you join us?" he asked. "It's peanut butter and jelly and turkey sandwiches."
Jaci walked into the kitchen and took a seat beside Maurice's chair. "Thanks. Where's Kenya?"
"She went to the store."
Robi eyed Jaci but didn't say a word to her. She even moved out of her was as she tried to stroke the little girl's hair. "Da-Da, I want to watch Tiana!"
"Finish eating first and then we can watch Tiana, again."
The little girl clapped her hands and picked up a piece of her sandwich. "You're such a great father," Jaci said. "I really hope everything works out with the IVF so you can give her a little brother or sister."
Maurice shot his eyebrow up, noting how Jaci seemed to be talking about him as if he were simply a single father. "Kenya and I are hoping the same," he replied pointedly.
Before Jaci could say anything else, Robi sang, "I'm finished! Tiana! Tiana! Tiana!"
Maurice rose from his seat, abandoning his half eaten sandwich, and lifted his laughing daughter. "Let's go watch Tiana and the frogs," he said. Jaci watched Maurice and Robi disappear into the living room and imagined the day when she'd be walking into the living room with him as his wife — maybe even carrying their biological child. Obviously, Maurice's sperm and penis still worked. She would put it to good use. Kenya didn't seem like she knew how to handle a man like Maurice. She was probably averse to being a freak in the bed. Jaci assumed she was like a drill sergeant ordering Maurice around while she lay on her back.  I can keep you satisfied in every way, Mo, she thought.  
Jaci walked over to the counter and started preparing a sandwich for herself. A moment later, Maurice returned to the kitchen. "Hey, let me take care of that," he said as he crossed over to her. "You're supposed to be taking it easy. Doctor's orders."
"Well, I didn't want to interrupt your movie time with Robi," Jaci said.
"Oh, once Tiana is on, she forgets all about me," he said with a chuckle.
"I could never forget you were in the room," she said in a low whisper.
"What was that?"
"I said I'm going to take this into my room,” she covered quickly.
"You go downstairs and relax, I'll bring the food to you," he said.
"Thanks, Mo." Jaci slowly walked out of the kitchen, watching him as he put the sandwich together. He was such a good man and soon enough he'd be hers. Once she made it downstairs to her room, Jaci dashed into the bathroom and freshened up, dusting her face with foundation and glossing her lips with a pink gloss. Then she sat in the plush recliner next to the bed, propping her feet up and waited. Maurice knocked on the door, the walked in with a tray filled with fruit, grape juice, the sandwich and potato chips. "I know Kenya went to get cranberry juice, but we have some grape juice."
"Grape juice is fine," she said as she smiled at him. Maurice set the tray on her lap and said he'd be right back. As he headed up the stairs, Jaci heard the front door open and Maurice greeting his wife. Why had she come back so quickly? She'd been hoping for more time alone with Maurice. More time to talk with him outside of Kenya's annoying presence.
"I ran into Jade at the store," Kenya said. "She and James are going to come over later with some dessert."
"I hope your sister-in-law will mind her manners," Maurice said.
When the couple moved away from her door, Jaci wondered what that was that all about. If Maurice didn't like this Jade chick, then she wouldn't either. Family, at least the extended members, were overrated. Once she and Maurice were together, all that would matter would be their children. Sighing, she ate her food and continued building her fantasy life with Maurice.

As Kenya and Maurice unloaded the groceries, she glanced at him and asked, "Do you think it's too soon to introduce Jaci to Jade and James?"
"They're going to meet her soon enough. But I don't want Jade to come in here asking a bunch of questions like she's a damned detective."
Kenya nodded in agreement, remembering the conversation they'd had about Jaci a few weeks ago. She didn't tell Maurice about it because he and Jade had their issues.
"I'm sure she's not going to do that," Kenya said as she placed the cranberry juice in the refrigerator. "What do you want for dinner?"
Maurice pressed Kenya against the closed refrigerator door and ran his hands down her sides. "Two breasts, two thighs and a bit of tongue." Leaning in, he kissed Kenya slow and deep. Before they got too carried away, they heard Jaci walk in with her empty tray.
"Sorry," she said as they broke their kiss.
Maurice crossed over to Jaci and took the tray from her hands. "You're kind of hard headed, aren't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You should be resting," Kenya said. "One of us would've gotten this for you."
"Oh, I was thirsty, so I thought I'd bring it up."
Kenya was about to reply to her when her cellphone rang. "Hello?"
"Mrs. Goings, it's Talisha."
"Hey, T. What's going on?"
"I just got a call from the home office in Atlanta, they need you."
Kenya groaned. "For what?"
"Janice said there's been an appeal in the G&C Industries case and since you litigated the initial case, she wants you to come to Georgia and consult on the case," Talisha said.
"I really can't get away right now."
"She didn't leave you the option to say no. Her exact words, 'Tell Kenya to get her ass here in two days.'"
Sighing, Kenya said, "I guess we're going to Atlanta. Since she needs us there quickly, make some flight arrangements and book a hotel. One close to the courthouse."
"Yes, ma'am," she said. Kenya clicked her phone off and turned to Maurice.
"What was that all about?" he asked.
"A case that I was lead attorney on about five years ago is heating up again and one of the senior partners wants me to come down and work on it again."
Jaci cheered inwardly and was tempted to ask Kenya if she needed help packing. She was going to be alone with Maurice. He'd be going to the doctor with her and Kenya would be out of the picture. This was going to be a look into her future.
"What was the case about?" Maurice asked.
Kenya ran her hand across her face. "My goodness, I need to get a copy of the case file and go over it again. It was a land dispute."
Maurice nodded. "You don't have to go, you know. Your firm has other attorneys.”
"Let's not go there," she snapped. "This case is the reason why I run the office in Charlotte. Janice hasn't bothered me the whole time I've been here."
Jaci cleared her throat, alerting them to the fact that she was still there. "I'm going to get some cranberry juice and go watch some TV," she said then crossed over to the refrigerator. Maurice and Kenya watched her and waited until she left the kitchen to continue their conversation.
"You said you wanted to be here while Jaci's carrying the baby."
"We don't even know if she's pregnant yet," Kenya said quietly. "This case won't take up that much time. Besides, this is my job."
"A job you don't need," he said.
"Are we really going there again?"
"Forget it, Kenya. Enjoy Atlanta. Hope you win your case."
She glared at her husband and retorted, "Kiss my ass, Maurice!" Kenya stormed out of the kitchen, stomped upstairs and slammed into the bedroom. She was so sick of this argument with Maurice about her career. As she packed, Maurice entered the room.
"Can we calmly talk about this?" he asked.
"What is there to talk about, Mo? You've been trying to get me to quit my job since we've been married and I thought we'd come to an agreement about this."
"When you're working in Charlotte, I don't have a problem with it."
"Are you kidding me? You're the one who's out of town every other week during football season. You’re gone for a month in the summer during training camp. Do I complain? I can't believe you're spouting this bullshit at me right now."
"You're not working because we need the money."
"I'm doing it because I want to and Maurice, I don't understand why this is an issue today."
He folded his arms across his chest and watched her pull some suits from the closet. "Have you considered that all this unnecessary work you do is why you lost the baby?"
Kenya dropped the clothing item she had in her hand and stalked over to Maurice. "You son of a bitch," she said then slapped him with all her might. "I knew you blamed me. I knew it."
She lifted her hand to hit him again as tears sprang into her eyes. Maurice grabbed her wrist. "I don't blame you. I'm sorry I said that."
Snatching away from him, she said, "I know you're sorry. Why don't you get the hell out of here before we both say something we regret."
"I'm tired of fighting with you, Kenya. Why do you take everything . . ."
"Go!" she yelled. Maurice walked out of the room and the next thing Kenya heard was the front door closing. She headed downstairs to check on Robi, who had thankfully fallen asleep watching her movie. Kenya crossed over to her baby and scooped her up in her arms. She was about to take her up to her room when the front door opened and Maurice walked in.
"We're not going to do this," he whispered as he took Robi from her arms. "I'll admit it, I’ve never liked you working, but I know it's important to you for whatever reason."
"Because I worked hard to become an attorney?" she replied. "Have you ever thought about that?"
"Yeah, you became an attorney because you were getting over us. Why do. . ."
Kenya saw Jaci walking into the living room and placed her hand to Mo's mouth. "Not now," she said.
"Is everything all right?" Jaci asked.
"Yeah," Mo said then turned to the stairs and took Robi to her room. Kenya forced a smile at Jaci, wishing that she would just go back into her room.
"Are you sure you and Maurice are OK?" she asked.
"Just an old argument," she replied.
"About you working? I'm surprised you do work," Jaci said. "Maurice seems as if he wants to take care of home and . . ."
"Wait a minute," Kenya said. "This is none of your damned business and I'd appreciate it if you'd keep your opinions about my life to yourself."
Jaci dropped her head and pretended to cry. "I'm sorry. I just. . ."
"No, I'm sorry," Kenya said wrapping her arms around Jaci's shoulders. "I shouldn't have snapped at you."
That's all right, bitch. Thank you for showing me your weakness. I knew you didn't appreciate this man and I can't wait for you to leave. Then I will show Maurice what it's like to be cherished,  Jaci thought. "I'm going to get some juice," she said.
"All right," Kenya said then turned to the staircase.
Once she was alone in the kitchen, Jaci leaned against the counter and thought about Maurice lifting her up on the edge of it and planting his face between her thighs. Closing her eyes, she moaned as she imagined his tongue touching her most sensitive spot.
"Jaci? Are you all right?" Maurice asked.
She opened her eyes and her cheeks burned from embarrassment. "Oh, yes," she said. "I was just daydreaming, I guess."
Maurice walked over to the refrigerator and grabbed a beer. She inhaled his scent as he passed her. Was that patchouli? He must have showered in it, then smoothed the oil on his muscular body. She’d love to rub him down in that oil before they made love.
“You need something else?” he asked when he noticed Jaci still standing there.
“I’m just a little worried about you.  . .and Kenya. That was a heck of an argument. She even told me off and all I did was ask a question,” she said then sucked her bottom lip in.
“This doesn’t concern you and Kenya shouldn’t have said anything to you. I’m sorry if she upset you.”
“It’s all right. I guess that’s the pressure of being a working mother. Had my ex and I stayed together, I would’ve been a traditional stay at home mom. I think that’s the best way to raise a child. Did your mother stay at home with you and your siblings?”
Maurice opened his beer and took a huge swig. He didn’t like to be reminded of his childhood. An abusive and lazy father, his mother having to work three jobs at times to keep the household running. “She did what she had to do,” he said. “Anyway, have you gotten that list together of what you need from your place?”
“Mmm, no. I haven’t really thought about it,” she said. “I could go over there and pick up what I need and . . .”
“Jaci, I’ll take care of it. You can’t be getting much rest with everything that’s going on in here today.”
She smiled, loving hearing Maurice say that he was going to take care of her. She wanted to tell him that she’d take care of him as well. But she had to play things right. Until she knew for sure that she was pregnant with his child, she wouldn’t show her hand. However, the more time she spent around him, the harder it was getting. Jaci wanted nothing more than to kiss him right then and there. She wanted to feel his body pressed against hers more than she wanted her next breath.
“I’d better order some dinner, I doubt Kenya’s going to be in the mood to cook anything,” he said. “Any requests?”
“Anything you want will be fine with me,” Jaci said, then forced herself to leave the kitchen. Another moment with Maurice and she’d forget about taking things slowly.

As Maurice lifted the cordless phone from the charger and pulled out the Yellow Pages, Kenya walked into the kitchen and took the phone from his hands. What now, he thought as he faced his wife.
“Tell me something,” she said quietly. “The one thing we never talk about is the past. I know what you went through growing up and I know you watched your mother work herself nearly to death. . .”
“Where is this coming from?” he asked.
“It’s just, I don’t want you to let ghosts continue to make me working an issue,” she replied. “Maurice, just know this, I love you.”
He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly. “And I’m a big asshole. I love you too, Kenya. You’re right. I know you’re proud of what you built and you should be. You’re a hell of an attorney. I just want you to relax.”
“And you want the same thing for you mother, but just like Maryann, I’m doing what I love, Mo. I don’t want to keep having this stupid argument.”
“Stupid argument?” he asked. “You know what I’m sick of; you and everybody else thinking my feelings and my thoughts don’t mean shit.”
“Maurice, I didn’t mean it. . .”
He threw his hand up and glared at her. “At some point over the last few months everyone in this gotdamned family has made me feel like shit because I’ve been trying to protect you and what we have. Everyone said, Mo, you have to be strong for Kenya, you have to consider her feelings. Did any of you think that I wasn’t hurting? That watching the hell you were going through and knowing that I caused it didn’t make me feel like a piece of shit?” He slammed his hand against the counter.
“I never. . .Maurice, I’m sorry,” Kenya said on the verge of tears. “I’m so sorry.” She reached out to him and he pushed her away.
“I’m ordering Chinese. Don’t you have to finish packing?”
She stood there, speechless. She hadn’t really thought about Maurice’s feelings, hell in the therapy sessions he’d always wanted to focus on her and what she was dealing with. Had she been so wrapped up in her pain that she’d ignored her husband’s? “Are we OK?” she asked after moments of silence.
Maurice sighed and pulled her into his arms. “We’re OK. We’re better than OK.”
“I’m not going to quit my job, but I’ll cut back on my hours until we deal with your feelings about what we’ve been through. I’ll admit that I’ve been so focused on what I was feeling that I haven’t been fair to you.”
Maurice agreed, but didn’t say it verbally. “Maybe,” he said, “we should sign up for a few more sessions with the counselor.”
Kenya nodded and then asked, “Do you think we moved too fast with Jaci?”
“Why would you say that? I thought this is what you wanted?”
“So did I, but honestly, we still have too many raw emotions. I snapped at that girl today and I feel so awful about it.”
“She does too,” Maurice said. “We’ve already started the process, she might be pregnant right now.”
Kenya leaned against her husband. “When I had that miscarriage in college, I never thought I’d feel lower than I did when I woke up in that hospital bed. Losing that baby told me that was the end of us back then.”
“I wish I could’ve been there for you back then,” he said. “Had I known. . .”
She placed her finger to his lips. “If I had known,” she said, “maybe things would’ve been different. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened. I don’t know. I just know we made a lot of mistakes and we’re still standing here together. Nothing is going to come between us. Nothing. Not my job, not me being a bitch to you at times and–”
“Not me being an asshole either,” Maurice interjected. “You know I would marry you again and not change a thing about us.”
Kenya wiped a tear away. “Well, if folks are coming here to eat, you’d better order that food. And I’d marry you again, too. Besides Robi, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Maurice gave her a full on make-up kiss, sucking her tongue and bottom lip until she moaned. Pulling back from him, Kenya gazed at her husband in a lust filled haze. “If you do that again. . .”
“I plan to, after everyone is asleep and before you go off to the airport, I’m going to kiss you all over, just like that.”
She ran her tongue across his bottom lip. “I like the sound of that.”
Neither of them saw Jaci’s angry glare from the doorway.
8.
Two days later, Kenya had landed in Atlanta. When she walked into her old digs, she couldn’t help but think about the last time Janice had summoned her into her office. She’d been promoted and would be returning to Charlotte. At the time, she’d thought Maurice had married Lauryn Michaels and she’d be faced with watching their marriage play out while she’d tried to build the firm’s Charlotte office. Things worked out in her favor, though she’d hadn’t thought she and Maurice would be married when she’d been offered the job.
“Kenya Taylor. I’m sorry, Kenya Goings,” Wallace Norman said when he spotted her. “I guess I see why you never let me take you out to dinner.”
“Really?” she asked. “You don’t think calling me a lonely lesbian didn’t play a role in that?”
Wallace shrugged his shoulders and laughed. “No one has seen you since you went to Charlotte and became an NFL wife. You cost me a hundred bucks.”
“How did I cost you a hundred dollars?” she asked with her right eyebrow raised.
Wallace laughed, then said, “Some of us thought you were going to resign after you and Mo Goings got married.”
“Oh and have you move to Charlotte and destroy what I built?” she quipped. “Not a chance.”
“Glad to see you’re still the same ball buster you’ve always been,” he said then gave her a quick hug. “Janice is in the conference room waiting for us.”
Kenya turned to Talisha, who was standing behind her, and introduced her to Wallace. “Talisha, watch out for this one. He masquerades as a brilliant attorney, but he’s really a wanna be bad comedian.”
Wallace smiled at Kenya’s assistant. “She wounds me,” he said as he extended his hand to Talisha. “But if you ever want to relocate to Atlanta, I’m a much better looking boss.”
“See, what I mean,” Kenya said. Once they reached the conference room, all jokes were put away and they got down to business reviewing the case and the details of Cobb County’s appeal. As the paralegal wheeled in more boxes of discovery and files, Kenya knew this was going to take longer than she initially expected.
“Now do you see why I needed you here?” Janice asked Kenya after they’d been reviewing files for six hours.
Kenya looked up from her reading. “Yes, and it’s a good thing I came back because I think I just found what will win this case for us,” she said, passing the file with the county charter in it over to Janice and Wallace.

Jaci woke up to a knock on her bedroom door. She’d been having a fabulous dream about Maurice, so good that she’d been touching herself in her sleep.
“Yeah?” she called out.
“Want some breakfast?” Maurice asked through the door.
“I’ll be up in a minute,” she said.
“All right,” he replied.
Waking up and having breakfast with Maurice and Robi without Kenya would be heavenly. Maurice had promised to make her favorites, bacon, waffles with pecans and fried eggs. He didn’t have to cook for her. He could’ve easily told her to fix herself a bowl of cereal and call it a day. But he didn’t. It was only a matter of time before she’d be moving into his bed, Jaci was sure of it.
Today would move her closer to her goal once she found out if she was carrying his child or not. “What time are we due at Dr. Richards’s office today?” Maurice asked as he set Robi’s and Jaci’s plates on the table.
“Noon,” she said as she took her seat at the table.
“Great. Robi, don’t kick the table.”
“I want Mommy!” she cried then kicked Jaci’s leg.
“Oww!” Jaci called out.
Maurice turned around and grabbed his daughter. “Robi, what’s wrong with you?”
The little girl pouted and her bottom lip trembled. “I want Mommy,” she said then burst into tears. Maurice lifted the little girl into his arms and rocked her back and forth.
“Mommy is working and she’ll be home soon. But you know the rules, we don’t kick people.”
“I’m sorry, Da-Da,” Robi said.
Mo pointed at Jaci. “Tell her.”
She shook her head and buried her face in Maurice’s shoulder. “No! No! No!”
That girl is going to boarding school when I marry her father, Jaci thought. “Mo, it’s all right. She’s just a little kid and she misses her mother.”
“Robi, if you don’t say I’m sorry, you’re going to time out,” Mo said.
The little girl rolled her eyes and looked at Jaci and muttered a “sorry.” Then she wiggled out of her father’s arms and ran into the living room. Maurice shook his head. He understood where Robi was coming from. The last time she and Kenya were separated, her mother was in the hospital. Three year olds didn’t understand business trips and the like.
“She didn’t hurt your leg, did she?” Maurice asked when he noticed Jaci rubbing her calf.
“No, not really. I think it’s bruised, though,” Jaci said, stretching her leg out for him to examine. Maurice gave her leg a cursory glance. “Want some ice?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said then finished the remainder of her breakfast. Maurice cleared the dishes and loaded the dishwasher. Jaci didn’t like being ignored, but she knew that would change once she found out if she was pregnant. When Maurice knew that she was having his baby, she’d make her move.
“I’d better get ready for the doctor,” she said as she rose from the table. She waited for a response from Maurice, but got nothing, as he was busy cleaning the kitchen. Again, she didn’t understand why this man didn’t have at least a housekeeper to handle the mundane duties that he and Kenya did all the time.
She headed down to her room and took a long shower. While the water beat down on her, Jaci prayed that she was pregnant with Maurice’s baby.
 
“Well,” Janice said as the attorneys took a break for lunch – at four p.m., “looks like this case is going to be over before it starts.”
Kenya rolled her eyes as she spooned fried rice into her mouth. She could’ve found that information in Charlotte. According to the county charter, since the land that G&C purchased had been out of the possession of the county for five years and the taxes were current, the company was free to do what they wished with it – provided they stuck to the plan filed with the county. It didn’t matter that construction hadn’t started. G&C had faced financial issues because of the economic downturn and the county had tried to capitalize on the company’s misfortunes. Residents of the area didn’t want the low and moderate income housing in their neighborhood, the linchpin of the original case. Kenya had been somewhat surprised that people hadn’t become a little more sympathetic to the plight of others. If people didn’t learn a lesson from the current economy, then they were simply assholes. What if some of them lost everything and needed some place affordable to live? Kenya was willing to bet they wouldn’t fight the housing development then.
“What time do we need to be in court tomorrow?” Kenya asked.
Janice picked up a chicken wing and took a huge bite before saying, “Ten.”
“Then, Talisha and I had better head over to the hotel and check in,” she said. They had been in the office since their plane landed at seven-thirty that morning.
“Need a ride?” Wallace asked, looking at Talisha. “MARTA is no place for you ladies.”
“Boss?” Talisha asked.
“You go ahead and ride with Wallace, I’m going to take the MARTA,” she said, deciding that she would go visit Maryann at the bakery in Sweet Auburn before calling it a night.
“All right.”
Janice wiped her hands and rose to her feet as her associates were about to leave. “Great work today, Kenya. I don’t know how that was missed,” she said then looked pointedly at Wallace as he and Talisha left the room. Once Janice and Kenya were alone, she asked her how she was holding up.
“I really felt bad about dragging you here,” she said.
“Maurice and I are working through it,” Kenya replied.
“That’s good. But, I asked about you. Are you sure you’re going to be able to keep up the pace you were working at before . . .everything?”
“What are you really saying, Janice?” Kenya asked, folding her arms across her chest.
“I’m not saying anything, honestly. I just know you don’t have a reason to be here. When you came into the firm, you were hungry, worked as if you had something to prove. But you’re an NFL wife now. You don’t need the money, you’re doing a lot more pro-bono work than I like and . . .”
“Where is this coming from? The numbers form the Charlotte office . . .”
“Makes goal. When you first went to Charlotte, you were exceeding the goals. I just need to know that Kenya Taylor is still in there.”
“I’m doing my job, I’m bringing in a lot of money and publicity for the firm. What more do you want?”
“Just a commitment,” Janice said. “I don’t want to lose you, but I need a little more from you. Even if you have to delegate more work to your staff. Just be the leader I sent you to Charlotte to be.”
“All right,” she said then left the conference room. Part of her wondered if she should take Maurice’s advice and leave her job. If Janice wasn’t satisfied with the work she’d been doing after all of these years, why hadn’t she said something sooner? Or brought it up in her employee evaluations? Kenya high tailed it over to the MARTA station to take a trip to Maryann’s shop in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood.

“Good news,” Dr. Richards said. “The procedure worked. Jaci is pregnant.”
Maurice grabbed her hand and smiled as brightly as Jaci did. “I can’t wait to call Kenya,” he said. Jaci’s smile dimmed. Kenya wasn’t there, his focus needed to be on her.
“This is really great news,” Jaci said. “I knew I felt pregnant.”
“You’re going to have to be careful,” the doctor cautioned. “You’re very early in your pregnancy and there is a chance that you could have more than one embryo growing inside you right now, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to have multiples. If there’s any bleeding or spotting, contact me immediately.”
Jaci nodded, but she wasn’t averse to having twins or even triplets for Maurice. Kenya probably wouldn’t be able to handle more than one baby.
“Where is Mrs. Goings?” Dr. Richards asked.
“She’s on a business trip,” Maurice said. “I’m sure once she gets this news, I’m sure she’s going to very excited.”
Dr. Richards wrote down Jaci’s next appointment and handed the card to her. “I will see you in two weeks,” she said.
As Maurice and Jaci left the doctor’s office, she couldn’t contain her happiness. “So, how are we going to celebrate?” she asked.
“We can head over to Hometown Delights, but we have to make it quick. I have to pick Robi up.”
“Oh, well, I hope your sister-in-law doesn’t give us a hard time today.”
Maurice smiled. “Now that Jade knows what’s going on, she’ll be fine. Can’t really fault the girl for being protective,” he said.
“Why not? She seems like a busy body to me. She ought to concentrate on her baby and her marriage.”
“She does, but Kenya and Jade are pretty close.”
“Are you a cheater or something?”
“A long time ago,” he said. “I hurt Kenya once and I promised myself – and her – that it would never happen again.”
“Is it hard to stay faithful with all of the women who throw themselves at you?”
“Nope,” Maurice said. “I love my wife and the life we have together. Some cheap one night stand isn’t worth messing up what I have at home.”
“And you and Kenya are truly happy?” she asked as they climbed into the car.
“I really don’t want to talk about my marriage with you,” he said. “If you’re worried about how the baby will be treated, don’t.”
“It’s not that, it’s just you and Kenya were going at it pretty hard and. . .”
“Jaci,” Maurice said forcefully, “that doesn’t concern you.”
“Sorry,” she said, not appreciating his tone. Why was he mad at her? She was saving his boring ass marriage with the child or children growing in her womb.
When they arrived at the restaurant, neither of them felt like celebrating. Maurice was contemplating calling the surrogacy agency so that he could take another look at Jaci’s psychological profile. Something seemed off about her or maybe he was reading too much into her questioning him about his marriage.
Jaci, on the other hand, was trying to figure out how to ease in between Maurice and Kenya. He seemed very committed to his marriage. But she had to make him understand that she was the woman he needed and not Kenya. She wondered what had come between them the first time. Moreover, how could she recreate whatever it was?
When they entered the restaurant and were seated, Jaci leaned across the table and placed her hand on top of Maurice’s. “I’m really sorry if I overstepped my boundaries earlier.”
He slipped his hand from underneath hers. “What was that all about?”
“Well, if we’re really family, I thought we could talk about anything. And at the risk of pissing you off again, I have to say watching you and Kenya fight a few days ago was off putting. This child that I’m bringing into the world needs to be around love and I’m feeling uncomfortable being around the fighting.”
“Jaci, everyday isn’t going to be roses and sunshine, but Kenya and I love each other. We’re going to love this baby and you don’t have to worry.”
“OK,” she said as the waiter approached the table.
They ordered the lunch special, cranberry juice and a beer for Maurice. Her reasoning behind the questions was plausible, but he didn’t like it.
“You’re quiet, I thought we were supposed to be celebrating,” she asked as she sipped her cranberry juice.
“I’d better call Kenya,” he said as he rose from the table. “Excuse me.”
Jaci drained her juice and wished that it was filled with vodka. She’d messed up. Damn it.
“Jaci?” Jade said as she approached the table. “Hi, how are you?”
“Fine.”
“Are you here alone or are Maurice and Kenya with you?”
“Maurice and I are having lunch,” she said with a smile. “Kenya’s out of town.”
“Really?” Jade asked, raising her right eyebrow suspiciously. “So, you two are just kicking it alone?”
“Celebrating, actually,” Jaci said when saw Maurice returning to the table.
“Mo, what’s the celebration all about?” Jade asked.
“Jaci’s pregnant,” he said with a smile. “Kenya and I are going to be parents again.” Jade hugged her brother-in-law tightly.
“I’m so happy for you two,” she said loud enough for Jaci to hear. “Kenya is going to be thrilled.”
“She is. She was with Ma when I called her to give her the news.”
“Good, now James won’t have to break the news, like he loves to do,” Jade said as she waved for the waiter. “Two slices of lemon pound cake and sorbet over here.”
“I don’t like lemon cake,” Jaci said. And I don’t like you.
“Oh,” Jade said, turning her attention to Jaci. “Well, what do you like?”
“I don’t want any dessert. Being pregnant is no reason to let yourself go and eat like a pig, don’t you think?”
Jade nearly bit a hole inside her jaw. “OK,” she finally said. “Maurice, tell Kenya to call me when gets back in town and congratulations again.”
“Thanks, Jade. Hey,” he said following her as she started to walk away. “I need to talk to you for a second.”
“All right,” she said when he caught up with her. “What’s up?”
He glanced back at Jaci then turned his attention back to Jade. “You don’t like Jaci, do you?”
“I don’t want to fight with you. Me and Kenya had this conversation already.”
“You got it wrong, I’m not trying fight with you,” he said. “I think I messed up.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s not who I thought she was and something’s off about her. Or am I overacting?”
Jade sighed and rubbed her belly. “Maurice, I think she wants to do more than this baby for you and Kenya. I could be wrong, but I have eyes and I see how she looks at you. Just be careful. Once the baby is born, cut all ties with her.”
“Maybe I do attract nutty women.”
Jade shrugged her shoulders. “If you want, I can try to make friends with her and see if she’ll let anything slip.”
“I don’t want to put you in the middle of this. You have enough to take care of right now,” he said looking at her pregnant belly. Maurice kissed Jade on the forehead. “But I appreciate you offering to help.”
“Thanks.”
 Maurice returned to the table and forced himself to keep the conversation light and pretend that he wasn’t having misgivings about her.

Kenya was over the moon by the time she returned to the hotel. She and Maurice were going to have the baby they’d longed for. Though she wanted to return to Charlotte right then, she had this damned case to work on. After the conversation she and Janice had, she knew that she couldn’t go home without risking her job. Arriving in her room, she dialed Maurice.
“Hello, beautiful,” he said when he answered.
“How is Jaci?”
“We just got back from lunch and she’s in her room. Robi wants to speak to you,” he said.
“OK.”
“Mommy, come home!” the little girl cried.
“I’ll be home soon, baby. Da-Da’s combing your hair again?” Kenya asked with a laugh.
“Mommy, come home,” Robi said again before she gave the phone back to Maurice.
“What’s wrong with Robi?” she asked.
“She misses you,” Maurice said.
Kenya sighed and hoped Maurice wouldn’t try to lay a guilt trip on her. “So, your mother says hello and that she’s going to send one of those chocolate cakes back with me.”
“All right and don’t worry,” he said, “I’m not going there about why you should quit your job.”
“You kind of did,” she joked. “It’s funny because Janice thinks I should be working harder.”
“To hell with Janice, you work hard enough. Anyway, I’m expecting a whole cake.”
“I make no promises,” she quipped. “She also sent a package for Jade and James.”
“Let me guess, icing for the cinnamon buns?”
“Yeah,” Kenya said with a laugh.
“Those guys,” he said. “So, tell me something.”
“What’s that?”
“What are you wearing?”
Kenya looked down at the black pantsuit she’d had on and said, “Nothing at all.”

The next morning, Maurice woke up and found Jaci standing at the foot of his bed. “Jaci?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she said with a smile. “I just wanted to watch you sleep.”
Maurice sat up in the bed, now fully awake. “Are you out of your damned mind?”
“I’m giving you a gift,” she said. “Don’t you think I should get something in return?” She crossed over to the edge of the bed where he was sitting.
“Get out of my room,” Maurice bellowed.
Jaci untied her robe and dropped it to the floor, revealing her naked body. Then she placed her hands on Maurice’s thighs. “I want to be with you. I’m already carrying your child,” she said. “You know I’m more woman than your wife.” She kneeled down in front of him, moving her left hand to his crotch. Maurice grabbed her wrist then pushed her backwards.
“You will never be the woman my wife is,” Maurice said.
Jaci scrambled to her feet. “But she can’t give you this baby. Just one time, Mo. I just want to give you a baby and pleasure that you’ve never felt before.”
“You have to leave, now. Not just this room, but this house.”
“What about our baby?” she asked as she clutched her stomach. “If I leave, neither you nor that bitch will ever see this child!”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” Maurice leapt from the bed and stood in front of Jaci.
She ran her hand across his bare chest and smiled. “If you want this baby as much as you say you do, then give me what I want. Make love to me, Mo.”
He grabbed her by her shoulders and tossed her on the bed. “You’re not doing this,” he said. “You signed an agreement.”
“I don’t give a damn about that,” she spat back as she grabbed the waistband of his boxers. Maurice slapped her hand away. “Jaci, what’s wrong with you,” he asked again.
“Just make love to me, I know you want me. I’ve dreamed about this moment for years.” She dug her nails into his forearm. He backed away from her and shook his head. “You have to go, now. I’m calling the police.”
“And I’ll tell them you tried to rape me! Maurice, if you don’t give me what I want I’m not giving you and that bitch this child!”
This is a nightmare, he thought as he stared down at her. Jaci took his silence as his acquiescence and wrapped her legs around his waist. Maurice pulled her off him, lifted her off the bed and dashed down the stairs. Once he made it to the bottom stair, he dropped her on her behind. “Get out of my house!”
“You’re going to regret this!” she shouted and sprinted into the basement. Maurice followed her and started packing her belongings as Jaci locked herself in the bathroom.
“I’m putting your things outside and you have twenty minutes to get out of here!” Maurice yelled.
“Damn you, Maurice! All I wanted to do was love you and give you this baby. How can you treat me like this?”
“How did you pass the psychological test? You’re fucking nuts, lady!”
Jaci exited the bathroom, dressed in a bra and a pair of panties. She lunged at Maurice and clawed at his face. He pushed her against the side of the bed. Maurice grabbed the bags that he’d packed and dashed up the stairs with them. As he opened the front door, Jaci pounced on his back and he hip tossed her on the porch. While she was down, Maurice ran inside the house, closed the door, locked it and called 9-1-1.
“Charlotte-Mecklenburg 9-1-1, do you need police, fire or medic?” the operator asked.
Just as Maurice was about to say police, he heard tires squealing and a thud. Running to the front door and snatching the curtain back, he saw Jaci lying in the middle of the street where she’d been hit by a car.
“Police and a medic,” he yelled. “Oh my God.”  Maurice opened the door and sprinted outside, still talking to 9-1-1. “There was an accident, she’s pregnant and was hit by a car.”
The driver, who had hopped out of the car, shook her head frantically. “I tried to stop, I did. But she just stood in the middle of the road. Oh my God. Is she dead?” Maurice dropped to his knees and checked Jaci’s pulse. It was faint, but when he saw a trickle of blood running down her leg and he knew the baby was gone.

Kenya sat behind Wallace in the courtroom and was actually impressed by his tact and skill with the judge. The hearing lasted about fifteen minutes and the judge ruled in G&C’s favor. Talisha leaned in to Kenya and whispered, “Do we get to leave now?”
“I know I’m leaving,” she said.
When the judge adjourned court, Wallace crossed over to Kenya and Talisha. “Ladies, care to join me for a celebratory lunch?”
“I’ve got to get back to Charlotte,” Kenya said. “But Talisha, you’re welcome to stay.”
“What time is our flight?” she asked, smiling at Wallace.
“Five. But I booked an earlier flight for myself, which leaves in about two hours,” Kenya said, as she looked down at her watch.
“I’ll drop you off at the airport and then Talisha and I will have a wonderful lunch at The Pecan.”
“I’m almost jealous,” Kenya said. “Talisha, The Pecan is a wonderful restaurant. Make sure you try the Tybee Island Crab Cake.”
“I will,” she said then turned to Wallace. “Let’s go.”
Once they left the courthouse, Kenya pulled her cell phone from her purse and turned it on. She immediately saw that she had six voicemail messages. What in the world? she thought as she pressed the button to retrieve them.
“Kenya, you need to call me ASAP,” Maurice’s voice frantically played back.
The next message was even more frantic. “Kenya, where are you? There’s been a horrible accident.”
“Kenya. I need you.”
She froze in place and closed her eyes. What happened? What more could she handle?

“Kenya. Breathe,” she heard Maurice say. “Come on, baby, breathe.”
Her eyes fluttered open and she realized where she was. She was in the hospital. “Mo.”
“Yes,” he said.
“What’s going on?”
“Umm, you’re about to give birth.”
“Mrs. Goings, you gave us a scare,” said Dr. Richards.
“Wait,” she gasped as another contraction ripped through her body.
Maurice wiped Kenya’s forehead. “Where did you go?” he asked.
She cried out in pain and Dr. Richards said, “OK, Kenya, push. He’s crowning.” Kenya pushed with all her might and the next sound that filled the air were the baby’s cries.
“Congratulations,” Dr. Richards said as she wrapped the eight pound-five ounce little boy in a blanket and lay him in Kenya’s arms. “He’s a healthy little boy.”
Kenya looked down into her son’s face and cried. “Are you all right?” Maurice asked as he stroked his son’s forehead. “What are the tears about?”
“I-I don’t understand. I had a strange dream,” she said as she looked down at her son. The little boy opened his chestnut brown eyes and Kenya’s heart swelled with joy. It had all been a dream. She hadn’t lost the baby, hadn’t had a hysterectomy or met a surrogate named Jaci. Looking up at her smiling husband, Kenya reached up and stroked his cheek. “I love you more than anything. And if you get traded to New Orleans, I’ll go.”
“What? Traded? I just signed a contract extension. Where did you go when you passed out?”
“To a place I never want to go again,” she said as the nurse walked over to her and took the baby from her arms.
“Want to tell me about, Dorothy?” he quipped.
Kenya expelled a deep breath. “Nope, I just want you to tell me that I’m not dreaming right now.”
Maurice stroked her cheek. “You’re not dreaming.”
Moments later, Angela, Maryann, Henry, Jade – who wasn’t pregnant – and James walked into the room. “Aww, Kenya, my grandson is so handsome,” Angela said. “He looks more like you than Robi did when she was born.”
“But he has a head full of hair like his Daddy had when he was born. There’s the explanation for all of that heartburn,” Maryann said.
Kenya took a deep breath, happy to see her family standing around her smiling and not crying. But more than anything else, she knew she and Maurice still had years of happiness to come.

The End


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