Highs and Lows

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Ms Hulis Mavruk Black Artwork

I begrudgingly worked for a prominent insurance company for 2 years. It had highs and lows. I was taking a gap year from Stony Brook University.  However, in my twenties we didn’t call it a “gap year.”  There was no cute term for leaving school or taking a break from school.  I was tired of working 3 jobs and being a “broke college student” so I chased the money and I chose the industry that my mother worked in.   I liked the company when I first started but as time passed it became stale.  The main attraction to the position was the money I was making and the annual profit share.  On another note, I was in a relationship and admittedly I was more focused on that. Young and dumb, the man I was with at the time had a driving restriction.  Trying to literally be a “ryde or die,” I would pick him up in the mornings and bring him to work on my way to my job.  Some mornings it was pretty tight trying to get us both to corporate positions that both carried a dependability clause. That basically means…”If you can’t get your ass to work on time, you’re fired.”  I was on a written warning and on a rainy day/snooze my alarm 2-3 times day/traffic/ can’t find a parking space day, I arrived to work a critical 9 minutes late.  Well, it took a few weeks to notice but shortly after presenting me with an award for my call quality and after receiving a congratulatory email from my supervisor for being a “team player” I was called into the main conference  room. I remember feeling incredibly calm.  My supervisor and my manager told me they had no choice but to “part our professional ways.”  They asked if I had any questions and I told them I didn’t. I stood and shook their hands and wished them both an early Happy Mothers Day.

My mother isn’t big on “Hallmark holidays.”  Yet, being fired for the first time seemed more of a failure because it happened the Friday before Mother’s Day.  How in the hell was I going to tell her?  My parents got divorced my freshman year in college. When I left school, I moved back home with my mother and baby sister. We would lean on one another a lot. We sometimes would affectionately call our trio “The Three Musketeers.”  It had highs and lows. This was going to be a low.  My mom was reliable and responsible.  She was learning how to fit into a fairly new role.  I was supposed to be a help and not a hindrance. I felt guilty, careless, and ashamed. So I chose to omit my termination.

This is where there is some pixelation in my memory reel.  I don’t remember how my mother found out I was no longer working but she did. What I do remember is her acceptance.  I remember her reminder that this was a temporary setback and I would quickly find something else.  She didn’t remind me of all the sacrifices she made for my sister and I.  She didn’t shove private school bills in my face.  She definitely didn’t tell me I ruined her Mother’s Day.  She simply moved on.  Many of us can forgive but forgetting is the true challenge.  Many of us try to provide everything our children want and need but we have a cerebral calculation of every dime spent and every minute served. Parenting is about highs and lows. 

Thank you to a mother that came to every concert.  Thank you for buying patterns and sewing Halloween costumes and dance costumes.  Thank you for exposing me to Broadway plays.  Thank you for a standing hair appointment beginning at age 3.  Thank you for the lows too.  You taught me how to survive them.  How to be strong.  How to pray before I speak.  How to think with my heart and ignore the noise. How to ask for help.  How to try to come to terms with the things I cannot change and still don’t fully understand.  Thank you, Mom, every day.

 

By: Shaun Liriano

 

Girl Bye Part IV “Mae”

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She drove a two-tone, 12 year old mini van.  It had one of those “baby on board” signs in the back passenger window.  Sometimes the sign would fall but the suction cup that held it up would remain.  She was middle aged and her children were grown but she said the sign made people drive “sensibly. ”  Her “luxury car” as she sometimes called it,  was dated but it was hers…she owned it. She didn’t have many things that she owned.

Mae pulled right up next to a 2014 Camaro in the parking lot of the local popular pizzeria. They advertised you could get a large pie for $10.95 and that would be enough for Mae.  She could save some for breakfast the following morning with a cup of instant coffee. The Camaro had a confederate flag in the back window.  Mae had a “Obama 2012” sticker in the window.  The two drivers exchanged glances but no pleasantries were made.

Mae used to take long drives when she was stressed out. Those days were long gone. There was 123,000 miles on her van. Gas prices went up to 3.78 a gallon. So there was no escape.  Mae used to do hair but she was no longer as easy on the eyes as she once was. Women don’t usually trust you to make them beautiful when you aren’t. So age and a hard life retired her. Mae used to be an escort. She was good at it too. She still unofficially “did favors” as she liked to call it. She would frequently meet new clients at “Biddies. ”

Aniya saved Mae’s ass multiple times. She pulled an old dirty bastard off of Mae once. A brute who had no intention of paying for the “merchandise.” She let Mae sleep on her lazy boy recliner one night when Mae was evicted.  Aniya was the closest thing Mae would have to a friend. 

When Aniya called Mae after 2 years of not speaking,  she knew something was up.  Aniya always said no favor was free.  Mae was a benefit because she had nothing to lose…not even her life.

To be continued

By:Shaun Nickens

*Day 11 I didn’t post but I wrote! #30daywritingchallenge Comment.  Like. Share. 

Girl Bye ( Part II)

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Courtesy of abc news

Aniya danced around her studio apartment in bare feet. She had on her high school track shorts and her bra.  Those shorts were indestructible.  They didn’t quite fit the way they did so many years ago but they “fit.”  She was blasting “Bust the Windows” by Jasmine Sullivan.  The place was spotless.  She cleaned every nook and cranny of the apartment.  It smelled of Ammonia and Febreeze. She loved candles that had water scents like “ocean breeze” or “morning mist.” The candles were strategically placed. She was an old school girl but she had to admit she liked the gritty 90’s Mary J feel of Jasmine Sullivan’s music. A strong voice and beautiful melodies to overshadow really harsh lyrics.

“Yeah I did it/you should know it/I ain’t sorry/you deserved it/After what you did to me it was worth it/I ain’t sorry nooo oooooooo…”

Yea, Jasmine was cut from the same cloth as Aniya. Or she was just an artist who made music for women who made some tough choices.  Reckless and heartless women. Yea, those women need a good song too.

Aniya recently became more than a wife and a exotic dancer.  She had to make DJ pay for the pain and embarrassment.  Sloppy pathetic loser leaving all his mistakes under the bed they lie in every night as a couple.  He was an unbelievable idiot to think she wouldn’t find out. She confiscated everything and she “unofficially divorced” DJ and moved out. She told her friends and loved ones (he didn’t have any loved ones) he was on a business conference in Segal. Who would question that? No one is going to buy a calling card to talk to him in Ecuador!  He wasn’t that important.  It was funny how quickly her emotions dissipated.  As soon as she saw the betrayal,  it was enough to essentially make him disappear. 

For now she was enjoying her new found freedom.  She had 20 minutes before she had to get ready for work.  “Biddies” was 27 minutes away exactly.  She decided to play her song one more time and decide how she would use her talents on the pole to make her “problem” go away. She had a special client of hers who would definitely be interested in the task.

“May God forgive me”, she muttered to herself. 

The song faded while she dove into the company of her conscience.

“You caused me pain/so I did the same…”

~To be continued~

By: Shaun Nickens

*Day 7 of the 30 day writing challenge!

Girl Bye

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Aniya was the color of Jiffy cornbread.  She drove a 2012 Dodge Dart. She was 5’9″ about 190 lbs. She had 14% body fat and it was all in one place. She was proud of her masterpiece. No use in describing her face.  It didn’t matter.  It never would.  Men admired her body. She was well aware of that.  She decided a long time ago she wasn’t working a day job. She was going to work a traditional job though. Nothing was more traditional,  proven,  and no one was more hard working than a stripper. She made about $400-600 a night at “Biddies.” Men and women loved her.

They would watch her “fireman spin” down the poll. They marveled at her “body wave.” You could see her abdominal muscles working and the bruises on her thighs from the pole.  She called them her “battle scars” and she charged clients $50 per leg to kiss or touch them.  She was the most talented at “Biddies” because this was her career.  She wasn’t working her way through school or a single mother supporting her kid. This was what she wanted to be…a fantasy.

Aniya’s husband was 42 years old. He was his wife’s senior by 15 years. He was her anger management counselor when she was mandated by a judge to “get right or go to jail.” He was stereotypically “tall, dark and handsome.” Yet, he was socially awkward and always had trouble keeping a woman. A great smile and pretty lips would draw the women in but then he would speak and stumble all over himself. Goofy behavior is woman repellent and DJ had a lifetime supply of goof.  Aniya was different.  She was self assured and confident enough for the both of them. She would twerk on a one armed handstand at work.  Then she would come home and order dinner (not the domestic type.) She paid for a cleaning service visit once a week.  DJ was happy.  As long as she fell asleep in his lap at least twice a month, he had nothing to complain about. 

One night Aniya came in the house and there was a bit of commotion.  She pranced into the bedroom and DJ was straightening up.

“What are you doing?” she asked in an accusing manner.

“Cleaning”, he said dryly. 

“Why? I pay for that. I pay for your lifestyle.”

“Oh please.  You drive a Dart and you wanna act like a boss! When I met you, you were nothing.  Well I want more, I want something. ”

Aniya took a breath of calm. Ironically,  DJ taught her that in anger management.  Something was up. DJ isn’t stern.  That’s what made him attractive.  He was easily controlled. 
She walked over to the bed and she looked underneath it. She saw a few condom wrappers.  Aniya made a mental note to talk to the cleaning lady about that. No big deal. She knew of DJ’s affairs the same as he knew of her “champagne room” escapades at “Biddies.” That was the dynamic of their relationship.  No judgement. 

It was what she saw beyond the wrappers that took all the air out of her lungs. Her skin turned blue and her fingertips lost feeling.  Her breaths became shallow.  She could no longer hear anything and all she could see was red. She couldn’t even stand up to confront DJ. She could hear her friends chuckling. The conversations they had about her “great relationship” and “unconditional love.” “Girl bye!” is all they would say. She felt stupid.  There was no conversation to be had. She felt like her body was inside out.

“DJ”, she whispered. 

He just stood smiling. 

“What the hell is this?”

-By:Shaun Nickens

Day 3 of the writing challenge.  Let me know what you think or if you want more! For entries like this one, check out my “Chest Naked In The Park” archived category. Tweet your feedback @shutyamouthnow
Thanks!

Unleash

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http://josevrodriguez.squarespace.com/

She opened her eyes and it was the same beaming light from the dream.  Piercing. The light was painful and abrasive.  Blinding. Where was it coming from?  It was relentless.  She tried to rub it away. She tried to blink it away but it was strong and impenetrable. Now she was getting a headache.  Unable to focus,  she stumbled out of bed.

Her legs buckled and she fell to the floor.

She decided to call him. The phone seemed to ring for hours.

He answered.  “Hi.”

She said, “I can’t sleep.  I can’t see. I’ve been blinded. My legs are useless.  Now I am laying here on my white carpet with the blood of my heart spilling out of me. I’m in a pool of blood. A puddle of crimson all around me. I’ve screamed but the neighbors are unmoved. I’m in a cage of vulnerability.  I cannot be released by anyone but you.  I’m alone. I’m getting weaker. I can feel my body getting colder. I’m afraid.  When I bang on the walls with my right hand it slowly disintegrates. I will soon be a pillar of salt encapsulated in a puddle of blood. My heart bleeds for you. Please…please…help me.”

She hears the dial tone after he mutters to himself, “crazy b#!&h.”

The light begins to flicker. “I’m dying”, she definitively states. She begins to imagine what God must look like. She prepares all the questions she has for him. In all her pain, she doesn’t cry.

Then she hears the familiar sound of bongos. She sees something tall, slim, and solid. Most importantly. . .it stands alone. She squints and she can see. It’s a microphone. 

The light is a spotlight. 

She gradually crawled to the stage.

**********

This excerpt is day 1 of a 30 day writing challenge.  Comment,  share, like. Tweet your feedback @shutyamouthnow. Happy holidays!

-Shaun Nickens

“Having My Cake and Eating It Too” (Chest Naked Part 7)

“Whats this I hear about my son being a girlfriend beater?”

Travis’ mother, Tori was speaking musically in a key Travis had never heard before. His mother’s voice was high-pitched and her tonality was a falsetto that could rival Mariah Carey. She was angry and he could tell that the conversation was going to be extremely long.

“Mom, I’m guessing you went to church today?”

“Hell yeah!” she exclaimed. Tori then realized she responded to a church reference with the word “hell.” She quickly whispered, “Lord forgive me.”

“I’ve been out of service for a couple of weeks because of the operation on my hemorrhoids. By the way, why didn’t you come see me in the hospital? Sire came to check on me.” Tori took a thoughtful breath and then when   Travis didn’t respond she continued. “Anyway, why did you abuse that poor girl? I liked Tamara. She did so much for you. Pretty girl too. What’s wrong with you? Where did I go wrong? ” Travis didn’t say anything. Every question was rhetorical. This wasn’t a conversation. It was a dramatic monologue. When he couldn’t take any more badgering and his ears began to ring he decided it was time to interject.

“How did I abuse Tamara?”

“From what I understand from Sister Karen , you threw the girl on the floor, ripped her clothes off and borderline raped her. I’ve already changed your name in my phone to ‘Ike Turner’. Then Sister Tamica said you are with some fast girl named ‘Nice’ or some foolishness like that.”

“Her name is ‘Special’, mommy.”

“They should have named her ‘Speedy’ because she’s fast! Apparently I should have named you ‘Stupid’ because you are embarrassing me to no end!” Tori shrieked.

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about mom. I’m grown. I’m not your responsibility anymore.”

“Oh yes you are! Need I remind you, technically you’re married! Your father left you all that money on one condition…”, Tori said.

“…I must be a married, ‘responsible’, committed and dedicated man. Yes I remember”, Travis finished his mothers thought.

“Yup! That wonderful girl married you knowing you were so …lost. She really believed in you. How do you repay her? You treat her like garbage. I’m glad she busted up your apartment! Glad your brother kicked your -”

“Mom, did you call to say anything positive?”, Travis interrupted.

“Absolutely not,” Tori stated firmly. Then she hung up the phone.

Travis missed his father. They say women with “daddy issues” have trouble in their relationships but what about sons? Travis and his father were buddies and traveled together all the time. They were like brothers. Travis senior supported his son, loved him, and communicated with him. Then when Travis was a junior in high school, his father died of AIDS. Tori told people that it was cancer but the truth was Travis senior was having an affair and contracted it from his lover. Luckily, Tori tested negative. There wasn’t much love-making in their marriage. Besides, Tori insisted on condom use since her handsome husband was always traveling and couldn’t be trusted.

Travis knew Tori was right. He missed Tamara all the time. He didn’t miss her physically but he missed knowing that she would be there if he needed her. She never smothered him. She was patiently waiting to be to be validated. Travis always introduced her with her name and no title.  Despite the lack of respect, Tamara agreed to marry him so he could collect the money his father left for him and avoid the 9-5 rat race.  She never saw a cent.   There was no bells, bows, or ceremony. He didn’t even claim her as his girl. They were married on paper only.

Travis lived a sustainable life at home. It wasn’t cushy comfy but he could survive and that was good enough for him. On the side, he sold his art pieces. That’s when he would splurge on the more lavish things he liked. If Tamara divorced him he would be forced to find a job.  For some reason, his father allocated his money based on his relationship status. Travis assumed it had something to do with his fathers fascination with “The American Dream.” He was always taught you must have family, property, and profession.  Would Tamara divorce him?  He never even thought of that.  He wondered if his brother Sire had begun to plant seeds in her impressionable mind.  He couldn’t stand Sire.  He loved him a little bit but he hated him a little bit more.  Travis was convinced Sire was jealous of him.  Travis was also convinced even though Sire was bigger and buffer…Travis was brighter and looked better.  They were in constant competition.  Travis always won.  He would get Tamara back and keep Special on the side and neither woman would suspect the other.  While he continued calculating, his phone rang again.  Once again, it was his mother Tori.

“Yes maam”, he answered annoyed.

“I forgot to tell you, you need to watch that funky temper of yours.  Keep your hands to yourself and keep your gun in the drawer.  I gave that weapon to you for emergencies only”, she said.

“Ma, I have absolutely no earthly idea what you are referring to. My gun doesn’t leave the drawer and the safety is always on.”

“Boy, you think I’m stupid?!  You shot that poor girls back window out!  According to the rumor mill, her cousin Courtney is working on a retaliation strategy.  You may want to take the safety off that gun, son.”

Travis was alarmed now. Thoughts were swimming in his head. All his previous intentions were quickly overshadowed by concern and obsessiveness. Travis was furious.

“I didn’t do it, mom.”

“Well who did, T?”

“A dead man”, Travis answered. He then ended the call. He powered off the phone, took the battery out and put it in his pocket. He put a shirt on, grabbed the 9mm out the drawer, loaded it and tucked it in his pants. He left a note for Special with specific instructions on how to move out and how to return his key.  Then he swiftly exited the apartment without even locking the door.

(To be continued…)

You’re In Good Hands-Chest Naked In The Park (part 6)

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Tamara’s cousin Courtney was reaming into her.

“Why in God’s name would you borrow $10,000 from your ex-boo’s brother?” Courtney screamed

Tamara was looking over her car insurance policy.  The towing company came to the job to take her car to the auto glass repair shop.  She could have called a cab but it  be was second nature for her to call her older cousin.  Her cousins were good to her.  If she needed anything ever, they were there for her.   They may not be there silently but they would be there.

“It wasn’t $10,000, it was $11,300.  Furthermore, I didn’t borrow it.  He gave it to me,” Tamara said defensively.

“That’s stupid.  You sound stupid.  I’m not saying you are stupid but the words that you just released weren’t intelligent,” Courtney badgered.

Tamara was sitting on her cousins couch watching Courtney as she flailed her arms and attempted to cook dinner for her new fiance.  She dropped everything she was doing to come and get Tamara from work and consequently she burned the steak she was making.  Now she was in the kitchen  attempting to save it and make it edible.  Finally, in utter frustration, she threw the steak and the burnt pan in the trash.  She then began to rummage through her junk drawer for a menu for the local BBQ spot.  Courtney then adjusted her cut off jean shorts, ran her hand over her perfectly shaped up short hair cut, checked out her precisely plucked eyebrows in a tablespoon and then she hugged her cousin lovingly and plopped down on the couch next to Tamara.   She knew Tamara was sensitive and she knew that Tamara had been having a tough time with all the drama with Travis.

“Why did you take the money?” Courtney asked inquisitively.

“Sire knew that I was preparing my demo.  I’ve been wanting to do voiceovers for animated cartoons forever. He believed in me.  He handed over the money. Maybe he felt bad about the way his brother treated me.  I don’t know but I was in no position to deliberate.  My dreams were being handed to me in one check.”

“So now what?” Courtney asked

“Now there’s a hole in my back window because my ex thinks I’m banging his brother,” Tamara said.

“Well …are you?!”  Courtney raised her perfect eyebrow

“Courtney???!!!!” Tamara exclaimed.

“I’m just saying. The boy is sexy. I would do it.”

“No,” Tamara whispered while trying to contain her aggravation.

“It has never crossed your mind?”  Courtney sat straight up in her seat.  She couldn’t contain herself.

“No,” Tamara lied.

Courtney stood up immediately.  “Where’s the justice in the world?  Dudes take a woman to Applebees for a 2 for $20 and they get the drawers but this man gives you $11,300 and he gets no nani points?!  That’s insane!”

Tamara didn’t respond.  There was too much on her mind.

Courtney smiled knowingly.  She knew her cousin well and knew she would never admit to such lustful thoughts.  If anything ever happened with Sire and Tamara, Tamara would take it to her grave and into the afterlife.

“Well I think you should get a new car with a great security system and tints” Courtney shared.

“I don’t have that kind of money right now, Courtney.”

“You never have money.  Might as well be happy.  In fact, if my calculations are correct, don’t you have $11,300?”

Tamara rolled her eyes.

“I’m just saying you manage being broke well.  You pay your bills don’t you? I’d rather you in a new car.  You’re not an Egyptian, Nubian Queen.  No one is going to bury you in your crown with your jewels and your cash laying with your embalmed body,” Courtney then giggled while swirling the ice in her glass.

” The money Sire gave me was for my demo, Courtney.  Realistically, it’s not even a lot of money.  It would be ghetto to put a down payment on a car with $32,000 in student loans.”

“So be ghetto, ”  Courtney said matter of factly.

Courtney was in her element.  She was on her second glass of Wray and Nephews on the rocks.

Courtney had a kick ass approach to life.  Shoot first and ask questions later.  She was beautiful and intensely resilient.  She was a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl but when she stepped it up…she was flawless and breathtaking.  Even women would stop and give her props.  She had a simple and direct way of speaking.  For some reason, whenever she gave advice to Tamara, it stuck.  She was street smart.  Courtney always landed on her feet. If she scraped her knees, she had antiseptic and cocoa butter ready in hand.   Tamara respected her because she was a survivor.

“Courtney, I hear everything loud and clear.  I also know that you are trying to divert my attention away from this problem.”

“What problem?” Courtney replied sincerely.

“Travis.”

Courtney stood up so quickly that some of her drink splashed out of her glass.  She licked what she could salvage from her hand and her arm.

“Oh, oh please.  He aint no problem.  All the family we have in law enforcement? All the criminals I’ve dated????! We have friends in high and low places! I got somethin’ for that ass!”

“No I feel like it will dissipate.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” Courtney laughed.

They both laughed infectiously.  Tamara put her hand out while Courtney poured another glass of “happy juice.”  This time they both indulged.  Tamara put her head back and released a heavy sigh.  She blinked and rolled her eyes to keep from crying.

“Uh oh, you have that possessed look that you get every once in a while.  You’re a little overwhelmed aren’t you, Tamara?”

Tamara didn’t answer.  She just sniffled.

“Keep drinking while I look up your horoscope for today. ”  Astrology was big for Courtney.  She used it as a basis for many things.  She gauged all relationships around zodiac signs.  She believed it gave her insight on how to read people.  Tamara had to admit,  her cousin was good at reading people.  She had an understanding for people’s individual needs.  Courtney pulled out her new phone and she proceeded to read Tamara’s horoscope:

“Cancer, if you’re experiencing uncertainty, a level of your life is about to change.  If you feel like you’re living a TV drama…sit back and enjoy the ride!  Try to relax.  Change is the cousin of success.”

Tamara rolled her eyes again. ” Courtney, isn’t that a little vague?  Those things are so general.”

“No they’re not!!!!”  Courtney retorted defiantly.

“Tamara, you feel uncertain.  You’re worried.  You’re concerned about your future.  I’m not feeling uncertain about anything. In the name of impartiality, I’m being honest.”

Courtney sipped again and then continued.

“You are living a TV drama. It doesn’t get any more cinematic than this baby!  How fitting that the horoscope says, ” sit back and enjoy the ride.” Ride?  A car reference?!  Travis shot through your back window!  That is very specific.  Nothing vague about that.”

The more connections Courtney made, the more excited she became.

“Try to relax, ” Courtney re-capped. “I told you to get a car with security.  If you were secure, you would CONSEQUENTLY…eowwwwwwwww big word…..you would relax!”

Courtney applauded herself.  Spun.  Took a bow and then finally after one long exasperated breath, she fell back into the couch.

“Change is the cousin of success.  Come on Tamara!  I’m your cousin. I’m successful.  If you adhere to some necessary changes, you will win. Orrrrrrrrrr….maybe they mean “change” in a money sense.  You now have new money.  Proper use of it will induce success.!”

“You have to admit it!  That was logical, Tamara!”

Tamara stood up suddenly.  She re-read a small paragraph in the insurance policy.  She pounded her fist into the coffee table and the legs simultaneously broke off.

” HEY!!!! What in the seventh circle of hell????!  Slamming your hand into my table!  That was $22.99 at IKEA, Ms. Karate Kid.  What’s wrong with you, T?”

“I just read a clause that I overlooked  in this insurance policy. ” Tamara then sorted through the papers and looked at her umbrella policy.

“What’s that, T?”

“My umbrella policy.  Additional liability insurance to protect my other assets.”

“So why the alarm? What did my table do to your umbrella policy?”

“I wanted to assess my coverage and my ability to sue if Travis keeps destroying my stuff but there seems to be a tort stipulation in my documentation.” Tamara fought back tears.

“What’s the stipulation?” Courtney asked while nursing her broken table.  She was concerned.  Tamara had a troubled look she had never seen before.  As if she had done something irreversible.  Tamara stood up and rushed to the bathroom nearby.  She crouched over the toilet seat and she unleashed all her anxiety.  She approached Courtney slowly and she wiped the side of her mouth.

“I can’t sue my spouse” Tamara mumbled.

Courtney stood up and handed Tamara the rest of the bottle.

…..to be continued

-By: Shaun Nickens