I sit there for another hour, eating and reading on my phone. When Viv comes back, she gives me her address, cell phone number, and a very sweet hug. I leave the diner, get in my car, and head back to Kenton’s. This time when I get there, his car is gone, and I breathe out a sigh of relief that I don’t have to face him for a while.
I wake up to the sound of pounding and the doorbell going off. I roll and look at the clock on my bedside table, seeing that it’s after three in the morning. “What the hell?” I mumble sitting up. My brain is still asleep as I stumble through my bedroom door and down the stairs. When I reach the front door, I look out the peephole and see a beautiful woman with dark hair and sun-kissed skin standing outside.
“I know you’re in there! Open up!” she yells.
I turn off the alarm and open the door, leaving the night latch in place as I peek out the crack. “Can I help you?”
“Can you help me?” She waves her arms around. “Can you help me? Yes, bitch, you can help me by telling me what you’re doing in my man’s house,” she says, pushing on the door, the lock keeping her out.
“Your man?” I repeat, putting my weight against the door.
“Yes, my man.” She shoves the door a little harder and I’m surprised when I hear the sound of wood cracking.
“Look, if you’re Kenton’s girlfriend, then you need to call him. He’s not home,” I tell her, not liking the way my chest feels as the word ‘girlfriend’ leaves my mouth.
“I know he’s not home,” she says, pressing on the door again.
“You should call him or come see him tomorrow when he is here,” I suggest, trying to be reasonable.
“Let me inside.” She takes her shoulder and slams it into the door.
She is really crazy. What the hell?
She stumbles back and then runs at the door again like some kind of football player. This time, the door crashes open. I fall on my ass and she flies into the house, falling onto the floor.
“Are you f**king insane?!” I ask her, standing and feeling a bruise forming on my hip. I look at the lock on the door, seeing it swinging on the doorjamb.
“You wouldn’t let me in.” She rolls over, getting on her knees before standing up.
“That’s because Kenton’s not here, you psycho. Now get out before I call the cops.” I walk to the door, opening it wider, signaling for her to leave.
“No, I’m going to wait for Kenton.”
“You’re on crack if you think I’m letting you stay here to wait for him. Get out!” I point out the door just as lights beam through the house.
I look outside and watch Kenton pull up and park. He sees me standing in the door, and that’s when I realize that all I have on is a T-shirt and panties—and it’s not even a long shirt. His eyes slide from me to the woman in the house and then narrow.
“Cassie, what the f**k?” he growls at her, walking through the door.
“We need to talk,” she cries, taking a step towards him, only to stop when his eyes narrow further.
“You opened the door to her?” he asks, looking at me.
I shake my head no, taking a step back from the look on his face.
His head swings in her direction. “You know what time it is?” he asks.
“Yes. I got home to find all my stuff outside on my front porch.”
“You came to my house and forced your way inside when I wasn’t home?”
“All my stuff is ruined,” she whines on a huff.
“You okay, baby?” he asks as he turns his head my way, his eyes locking on mine.
Heat boils under my skin at the endearment. I want to claw his eyes out.
“‘Baby’? Really? You call her ‘baby’? You never called me that!” Cassie screeches, looking at me.
“I wouldn’t get too upset, honey,” I tell her softly. “I’m just a stripper and don’t mean shit to Kenton.” My eyes go from her to him, and seeing his jaw ticking makes me feel better. “Now,” I say happily, “if you two don’t mind carrying on this love spat without me, I’m going to bed.”
I turn and head up the stairs, smiling when I hear Cassie yell, “Stripper?! A f**king stripper is living with you?”
I close my bedroom door and crawl into bed. I listen to the rumble of Kenton’s voice for a few minutes, and then I hear the door close and the alarm being set. I hold my breath as I listen to feet pound up the stairs. I don’t know how I know, but I can feel him standing outside my bedroom door. The hall is silent for a few moments, and then he says my name. I ignore it, pulling the covers over my head.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers.
I hear a thump then the sound of feet moving away from the door, and I squeeze my eyes closed, blocking him out. No way am I buying into that again. I run my finger over the tattoo behind my ear, taking comfort in it.
It’s the only physical thing I have that connects me to my son. I wasn’t allowed pictures or any other reminders from the nine months I carried him or the few hours I spent with him after his birth. Not that I would need them—he was embedded in me, a piece of my soul that was taken from me before I was strong enough to fight for myself or him.
When I was sixteen, I met a guy. His sister used to compete in pageants against me, and he would show up at the competitions and sit in the crowd, looking annoyed about having to be there. He would growl at his mother, telling her how wrong it was what she was doing to his sister. He fascinated me. I wanted someone like him to fight for me or teach me how to fight for myself.
Not long after the first time I saw him, he found me in one of my favorite hiding spots. At first, he was rude and distant, only recognizing me as another snotty pageant girl, but then I told him that I hated it. I explained that I didn’t have a choice and what would happen if I didn’t perform.
After that, we met often. I trusted him. He told me what I wanted to hear—we could be together, he had an apartment, and he would save me from the life I was living. For a girl who was broken and didn’t know any better, he was perfect. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with him and give him the piece of myself that was the only real thing I had to give another person. I thought he loved me too; I thought he was willing to fight for me. He used my weakness to get what he wanted.
In the end, I learned a hard lesson. Not only did he not care about me, but when I ended up pregnant, he turned his back on me, allowing my mother to send me to a home for young girls to give birth to my son before being forced to give him away.