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Trouble in Paradise

9| Ayala

December 10th

When Tatum flew out Wednesday, two days ago, he promised that he would be here for the office party come hell or high water and honestly I believed it. I told myself that he wouldn’t let me down and miss something else after he missed family night.

TEDDY: Flying from Lancefield to Roseberg, VA to meet with a potential partner for D2P

I stared at the text message thinking this had to be a damn joke. Like not only was he missing my job’s party, but he told me via text message. Like was I not worth an actual fuckin’ conversation? Tatum had me feeling real low and I hadn’t felt this way since I was with Chris.

Anger and rage along with sadness and disappointment were coursing through me. I was shaking. I was so damn mad. Instantly I felt the pounding at my temples, which forced me to take several deep breaths to calm down.

When my headache was manageable, I took a BC powder and chased it with a Mountain Dew then proceeded to give myself a light beat for the evening. Luckily my hair was already done in the low bun with a part down the middle thanks to a quick trip by Sassy’s earlier.

I did my brows because that along with my lips were the statement piece of the evening. Choosing to keep my eyeshadow neutral, I used black mascara and eyeliner to bring attention to my eyes. A little foundation and concealer finishing it off with my red lip.

Once I was satisfied with my face, I slipped into my red sequin off the shoulder dress. Originally I chose this dress because I knew the amount of cleavage I was showing and the thigh high split on the left side would have Tatum salivating with just one look at me.

I needed to feel wanted by my husband, but I guess not.

I grabbed my gold strappy sandals and the matching clutch and headed downstairs. Just as I was about to check my phone, it rang with the number from the UTV car service.

“Hey, I’m ready. I’m coming out.”


I hung up, set the alarm, and locked up. An older chocolate skinned man dressed in a black suit with a light gray button up was standing at the back door of the Lincoln Town Car.

My boss, Rai, had her husband’s company provide rides for the entire staff, so that we could enjoy ourselves and not worry about how we would get home.

I was surprised when “Like You” by Asiahn came through the speakers. Although it was December, it didn’t feel like it, but I expected Christmas music to be playing.

I snapped my fingers and sang along softly. It was something about her voice and this song, it had me tearing up listening to her belt out lyrics about giving all her love to someone.

I blinked away the tears and the song switched to “High” by Alina Baraz.

“You got me soooo,” I sang.

I heard the driver chuckle before he turned the music up a smidge more. Goodt music had the power to change my mood and right now I needed this boost to take my mind off my husband.

When I caught the beat to “Love Lies” by Khalid and Normani, I rolled my shoulders and let the background sounds guide me as I danced in my seat. By the time “Feels Right” by Alina Baraz ended, we were pulling up to The Clemmons downtown.

My driver helped me out and I walked inside. I followed the signs to the ballroom, stopping along the way to greet any coworkers that I saw. When I entered the ballroom, I immediately looked around for Laine.

I spotted her and her wagon in the ole-shoulder champagne colored dress I chose for her at the bar getting a drink. What or who I didn’t expect to see was Cal standing next to her looking lovingly at his wife. Since Tatum said he was flying out to meet a potential partner I assumed Cal would be with him.

“Heyyy, Ace!” Laine greeted me. “Why you look like you saw a ghost? Where’s Tay?”

“He’s not coming. Now, Calvin, Big Bruhder, I’m not tryna put you in the middle of our shit, but can you explain to me why you aren’t with Tatum meeting this potential partner?”

“Well hello to you too, Sis. One, I made a promise to my wife that I would be here. Two, ole boy hadn’t called us back in the timeframe we allotted him.

“When he did call, we were getting out of the car at the airport to fly back. Bruh said he would go meet with him after he called you about it. I asked him if he was sure and he said he had it.”

I stared at Cal like he had two heads. Chuckling, I rounded them and flagged the bartender down to get a drink.

“Double shot of Jack please.”

“Yo, Sis–”

I held up my hand to silence him. “I’m not driving. Y’all enjoy your night.”

When the bartender sat my drink down, I quickly threw it back letting the amber colored liquor burn and warm my chest. I sat the glass down and walked off.

“Ace!” I heard Laine hiss.

Not bothering to turn around I kept walking. I just needed a moment alone with my thoughts. I wandered outside to the garden and sat on a cement bench amongst the tall shrubbery wrapped in white string lights.

Tatum really had me fucked up. I didn’t care about the moves he was attempting to make in regard to his business because I wanted him to succeed. What I did care about was the lack of communication and consideration, and being treated like an afterthought.

I’m not sure how long I sat outside, but when I started to get cold I knew it was time to go inside.

“Mind if I join you?” Cal asked.

“Sure,” I said, scooting over on the bench.

Cal wrapped his tuxedo jacket around my shoulders before sitting beside me.

“I know shit seems crazy right now, but Bruh loves you and Baby Girl. You do know that right?”

“I don’t question that. I just need him to talk to me.”

“Sometimes as men we get clouded with trying to provide and not feeling like failures that we zone in and tune a lot of things out. Again, not gon’ speak too much on the business cause that should come from him.

“He does enough freaking out for the both of us, so I try my best to be the calm one. Just know that things won’t always be like this and you’ll have the version of your husband that you’re used to back soon.”

“I really hope so, CallyCal.”

“You good now? Can you come inside and enjoy the party cause Laine’s ass been itchin’ to come lookin’ for you, but I been distracting her and there’s only so much I can do in a room full of people.”

“Ewwww, y’all so damn nasty. Thanks, Big Bruhder.”

“Anytime, Sis.”

Cal and I went back inside and immediately Ace was on my heels.

“Are you okay? Do you want me to call Tay and cuss him out? Cause you know it’s up behind you and my baby,” she said, hurriedly while pulling me in for a hug.

“I’m fine, Ace.”

“No, yo’ ass ain’t either. Tell that lie to somebody else, but not me.”

“Laine, chill out,” Cal warned.

The way they both loved on me and Sunni was something else. Both of them were overprotective and would set it off behind me and their godchild.

She waved him off. “And I ain’t.”

He shot her a look and she sucked her teeth, that made me laugh.

“Let’s dance, Ace.”

Rai, our boss, put us in charge of the music and gave us specific instructions, “don’t OD with the cursing and we not listening to Christmas music all night,” with that in mind me and Laine made sure there was a variety on the list.

The Spanish influenced hip hop beat to “I Like It” came through the speakers, I dragged Laine to the dance floor with Cal trailing behind us. I loved me some damn Cardi B so of course she made the playlist.

Laine and I twerked conservatively on each other and for the first time in the last few months I was actually happy and carefree. When I looked up Cal was recording us, probably putting us on his Instagram or sending Tatum a video. Either way I didn’t care.

I could hear the transition the DJ was making while Cardi was rapping the chorus, but I couldn’t catch it until I really focused on it. When I looked around everybody including Rai and two of the partners Mr. Warrick Dunn and Joseph Edelstein were dancing with their significant others.

The beat dropped on “Buy U A Drank” by T-Pain featuring Yung Joc and everybody turned up. This playlist was a little all over the place, but it was getting the job done.

After the song ended I was going to sit down, but the new guy, Rich, pulled me back to the dance floor as “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell began playing.

I’ll admit that Rich was fine. He was maybe five-eleven, chocolate skin, dark brown eyes, medium sized brown lips, and a full beard. His red velvet tuxedo jacket went well with the black tuxedo pants and August Noir black velvet loafers on his feet.

But he was also a bit of a ho. Cool to chit chat with at work, but a ho nonetheless. I’d caught him in a compromising position with a few of the law clerks.

“I been waiting all night to get on your nerves,” he joked.

I laughed. “You do that enough during the day. Don’t start tonight.”

“Got to. Now come on and let’s show these folks how it’s really done.”

I could feel Cal’s eyes on me, but I refused to acknowledge him. Instead, I danced with Rich to several songs including “Wobble”, “24K Magic”, and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”.

By the time Whitney Houston, may she rest in eternal peace, sang her last few notes, I was attempting to separate from Rich and make my way to the bar.

Before I could successfully complete that task, the photographer was snapping pictures of us.

“Let me see those please,” I asked sweetly.

I had to be sure I didn’t look crazy or too cozy with Rich. I already knew that Cal would be grilling me about letting Rich be so close. True enough if Tatum were here Rich wouldn’t have ever got a dance from me.

He pulled up the images he’d taken and I looked them over with Rich standing over my shoulder breathing on my neck. They were tasteful and appropriate, so I didn’t delete them, just handed him back his camera and made my way to the bar.

I flagged the bartender down to get a cup of water.

“Can I have a cup or bottle of water please?”

Thankful that Rai only drinks Alkaline water, I damn near inhaled the bottle of Eternal when it was placed in front of me. I felt a presence on both sides of me, without looking I knew one person was Cal and the other was Rich.

Where the hell is Ace?

“Get that muhfucka’s head knocked off if you want to,” Cal whispered in my ear.

I groaned. “CallyCal, don’t start please.”

“Ace, come with me to the bathroom,” Laine said, appearing from wherever she was.

Taking her outstretched hand, I followed her to the restroom. Once we were behind the heavy oak door, Ace went to every stall and made sure it was empty then locked the door.

“Girl, what in all the fuck are you doin’? It’s one thing to laugh at Rich’s stupid jokes when he says them in the office, but you danced with that man for like five straight songs.”

I sighed as I walked into a stall to relieve my bladder. “Well I was going to sit down and just enjoy not being on mommy duty tonight, but that changed. And you know Rich. It was either dance with him or have him sit next to me at the table. I promise it’s not that deep.”

“Nah, it is that deep, Ace. I know you better than anybody, so although you say it’s nothin’ you enjoyed the attention.”

I groaned while pulling my thong back up and smoothing out my dress. The toilet flushed and I unlocked the door to wash my hands. After washing and drying my hands, I turned to look at Laine who was staring at me like she wanted to knock my head off.

“Elaine Shanice Joyner, I can promise and assure you that I’m not that vain or shallow that I need attention or validation from Rich. Is there an issue between Tatum and me? Yes. But I honestly hadn’t thought about him since I walked back in here.

“I’m really just trying to enjoy being kid free and being happy for once. Nothing more, nothing less. Tonight is about me just living in the moment.”

“Well, moment over. Your brother already decided that we were all going home, so make ya rounds when we leave this restroom.”

I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “Your husband does know I’m grown, right?”

She snickered. “You met him or nah? You should know by now that man gives not one fuck. Oh, and he told on you too, sent bruh a nice lil’ video of you dancing with Rich. You may want to check your phone.”

I groaned. Cal was doing the most right now. And I know good and hell well that Tatum better not fix his fingers to text or call me about this when he couldn’t even pick up the phone to call me and have a conversation a couple of hours ago.

Instead of replying to her statement, I unlocked the door and made my rounds like Laine suggested. By the time I was done, Cal was standing at the entrance to the ballroom waiting on me and Laine.

I didn’t bother to speak, just walked past him and outside to where one of the UTV cars was waiting. I spotted my driver from earlier and got in the car. The ride home was quiet. I could feel my phone vibrating in my clutch, but I didn’t bother to check it.

When we pulled up to my home, the driver helped me out and waited until I was inside before getting in the car and driving off. I reset the alarm and made my way upstairs. After my shower, I put on tights, an oversized sweater, and socks before climbing into bed to check my phone.

Ace: Well damn, Ayala, you could’ve waited for us

Ace: Let me know when you’re home

Ace: If you don’t respond soon Cal will be on his way to the house

Rolling my eyes into the back of my head and not for the reasons I’d like, I replied to Laine.

Me: I’m home and in bed. Goodnight.

I checked my other text messages and only two were from Tatum.

TEDDY: You enjoying yourself?

TEDDY: I’m sorry I’m not there

I sucked my teeth and rolled my eyes again.

“Yo’ ass ain’t sorry about a muthafuckin’ thang, Tatum.”

Leaving him on read had been a practice these last few months.