Please, enjoy the first chapter of the final book of the Jaylen and Jessica series, No Matter What.
The high volume screech reaches my ear and dives into the pit of my stomach. Jamie. My two-month-old daughter’s been crying non-stop for the last twenty minutes and we still can’t find her pacifier.
“Jaylen,” Jessica says shuffling into the living room. “It’s not in the bathroom.”
“It’s not in here. Here, take Jamie and put her in her crib so I can keep looking.”
“No. She’ll wake Jaslene.”
Damn, that’s right. Our 15 month old is sound asleep in the girls’ room and the last thing we need is two crying babies. So now what? I look over at Jessica’s face, the mother of my children and the love of my life. Even if she’s still is mad at me for not fully claiming Jamie when she was pregnant with her. But I had good reasons to. She was engaged to somebody else so I said the most I can be is 50% not more. She thought it was more likely than that and that’s how our fights started. We’ve been living together for a week now after the DNA test proved me the father and pretty much ended her engagement with her fiancé James. Not that I’m complaining about that. We decided to move in together after my brother Malcolm suggested that it would be smarter than paying rent at two different places. Now all four of us live in this three bedroom apartment five stories up that over looks the downtown Chicago skyline. The apartment is spacious, warm and even though we just moved in it already feels like home with the toys scattered about and the pictures of the girls Jessica has over the entertainment center, the end table and every other surface area she found. I know deep down it’s because Jess and the kids are here. If it was just me I’d be bored out of my freakin’ mind.
I settle for putting Jamie in the swing then dive on the floor to look under the couch in the living room. Maybe it rolled underneath here.
“Oh, we’re never going to find it,” Jess says coming into the living with frustration written all over her face. I can understand how she’s tired. It’s two am but I’m the one who’s suppose to wake up at 7am for work. “Maybe we should just go out and buy another one.”
“All the stores are closed, Jess,” I say standing back up empty handed. “Maybe she’ll just cry herself out.”
We turn to look at Jamie whose face is bright red and flushed with tears. “Damn, you’d think she was bit or something,” I mumble shaking my head. “I’ll go search the room again.”
“Okay, I’ll try breast feeding her to see if she’s hungry. Hey and while you’re in there see if you can find another pacifier from Jaslene’s bag or something that’s close to Jamie’s.”
“You know she doesn’t like another one than that one.”
“It’s worth a though.”
I nod and jog off down the hallway. The girls’ room is noticeably silent compared to the living room and I quickly close the door behind me. Jaslene is still sleep, thank God and I want to keep it that way. I pull out my cell phone and use it as a light instead of flicking the switch and lighting up the whole room. Anything not to disturb her.
Now where can that pacifier be? The room is pretty big but is taken up by two cribs, a changing table and a toy chest in the corner. Jaslene’s asleep to my left and Jamie’s crib is on the other side of the room. I walk over to it and touch the mattress. I crotch down to look around the floor but still don’t see it. Finally, I walk to Jaslene’s crib. I don’t flash the light in her face but reflex it off the wall. I pad the mattress around her body to see if I can find anything slightly resembling a pacifier. No luck.
“Jay?” the door creeks open letting in a beam the light from the hallway. “Did you find it?”
I shake my head.
“Ugh, now what?”
A feeling of dread slides down my back. “I don’t know.”
“Oh my gosh, Jay, look! Under the crib! It’s under the crib!” Jessica says pointing underneath Jaslene’s crib all smiles now.
I crouch over and spot the blue and red pacifier we’ve been looking for all this time and snatch it up quickly.
“Yes,” Jess cries and I smile at her and she smiles back. We may not have been getting along at our best for the last few months but since we to move in together with our girls a week ago, we’ve been doing a lot better. In my opinion anyways.
I rush p into the bathroom connected to the girls’ room. The apartment has three bedrooms but we gave the master one two the girls to share. Jessica and I may be living in the same space but we’re not on that level to be sleeping in the same room. Unfortunately. We had a big fight a few months ago about Jamie’s paternity whether she’s mine or her ex-fiancé’s child which brought our friendship crashing down so low I thought we’d never get up. We’re not how we used to be yet, but at least we’re talking and it seems like she likes me for the most part.
“Don’t forget to use soap!”
I pause and give her my best sarcastic face. “Naw…Ima just rinse it off.”
Her lips pucker up to the side. “Smart-ass.”
I laugh and wash off the pacifier. I bring it to Jamie in the living room. “Here you go,” I say plopping the nipple into Jamie’s mouth.
A few tears still slides down her face but her eyes are widen as she stares at me. “Feel better?” I ask. She sucks hard on the pacifier, her checks going in and out.
“She might still be hungry. I wasn’t able to get her to latch on when she was crying.”
It’s been like this for a week now. Every night there is something involving the girls that bonds us together a little bit more. Tonight it was the lost pacifier. Yesterday, it was Jaslene’s rash stopping her from falling asleep and crying most of the night. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but to be honest with myself, I’m not complaining.
Jessica and I have a relationship that is pretty much on rocky grounds after our big fight a few months ago. A fight that resulted in us not speaking to one another for over 5 months. Jamie’s paternity was in question. She swore it was mine and I was skeptical. I believed it was a higher chance of it being her boyfriend James daughter more than mine. I had no complaints about having another daughter, but I was not in a position to get my heart broken again if she turned out not to be mine after believing Jess. I say heart broken again because my ex girlfriend Angela tried to pin a baby on me that wasn’t mine and I’m just not having it. Maybe at the time I was scarred but I don’t know. So I decided to stay on the fence. Now that’s Jamie’s been proven to be mine it’s been a big weight lifted off my chest and James and Jessica broke up. However, because of all the supposed stress I put on Jessica while she was pregnant, Jamie came early and ended up having to stay in the hospital for a few months and we almost lost her. I don’t know if deep down Jessica still blames me for Jamie coming out early, but I know we’re not buddy-buddy how we used to be before those events took place.
But I’m determined more than ever to win her back. Not just as a friend but as my woman.
“Can you warm up some breast milk from the fridge?” she asks.
“Sure.” I’ve done this chore a million times it feels like so my hands do it automatically at this point. It comes in handy at four a.m when I’m half sleep doing this as well.
Hot bottle in hand, I return to the sofa and sit down next to Jessica. She smiles taking the bottle from my hand and putting it in Jamie’s mouth after she took out the pacifier. She latched on right away and starts sucking vigorously.
“Do you think we’ll ever nail down the whole parenting-raising-a-baby thing?” she asks looking up at me with curious eyes.
I nod. “No one’s perfect but we got this.”
“You can head to sleep if you want. I know you have to get up in a few hours.”
“I’m used to working with off little energy. It’s been like this for a week now. My body’s goes into auto after 3am.”
She laughs, “If you say so.”
I stand up. “Might as well straighten up in here a bit.”
“Jaslene’s just going to mess it up tomorrow anyway.”
“I know, but the less toys scatter on the floor when I wake up at seven the less chance I have of stepping on them like I did with that toy train.”
“That was your fault. You should have been looking down.”
The blank face I make causes her to laugh again. I break my facade and laugh too. “As soon as she learns to understand what I’m saying I’m going to teach her to put her toys away.”
“She already knows what I’m saying to her.”
“Yeah we’re always having conversations.”
I shake my head and sit back down on the couch. I flick the tv on and lean back. Jamie finishes her bottle and we have to stay up and nurse her to sleep. This takes another hour or two.
When Jamie finally doses off we both walk her to her room and lay her in her crib. We check on Jaslene quickly to make sure both the girls were sleep than we both sneak back out the door quietly.
“I’m sorry about this, Jaylen,” Jessica says closing the door to the girls’ room.
“Hey, we’re in this together. Tomorrow night will be better. Or worse. We’ll see. It’s an adventure.”
“Yeah, it is.” She’s leaning again the door with her hands behind her back. I keep my eyes on her face to beat the temptation of looking down at her nightie. Her gown stops at her knees but it’s tight enough to show off her woman curves. All of them. “Well, I better get to sleep now.”
“Yeah, me too,” I say. I smile at her and just like I plan she blushes.
“Well, um. Have a good night, Jaylen.”
“Good night, Jess.”
She turns around slowly and walks straight ahead to her room. I allow my eyes to wander the length of her body as she walks away. She’s 5’5” barefoot, and her natural two feet long hair reaches the middle of her back. I want to slide my hand through it.
I bite my lip but tell my legs to go the other direction. She’s not mine, yet. I have to be patient for this to work.
In the living room again, I plop down on the couch and keep watching tv. There’s no point in even trying to go to sleep since it’s already 4am and I have to wake up at 7. I lean back and rest my hands behind my head intending to stay up. But my shoes are already off and I find myself getting more and more comfortable very easily.
At some point, my body turns over and fall off the couch. I shake my head fast and look around. The fresh morning sunlight is shining through our balcony curtain like a beautiful awakening adventure waiting to happen. The toys scattered around the carpet are still in the same places they were last night. I snap my eyes towards the clock above the television and breath a sigh of relief when it reads 7:04 am.
I perk my ears to detect any sounds coming from the bedrooms but I don’t hear anything.
“Jess?” I ask walking towards her room. When I walk pass I sneak a peak into the girls’ room and both Jamie and Jaslene are still quietly sleeping.
I creep closer to Jessica’s room to find it opened with a crack. I push it back further and fight a smile when I see her stretched out, face down onto the pillow, legs and arms spread wide with the sheet covers only one leg. Her hair is fanned out over the back of her head in such a messy array that it looks like a cat came in and tried to comb her hair. I smile. She’s beautiful. I’d hate to wake her but…
“Huh, what, what?” she says propping herself on her elbows and looking around.
“I’m about to shower and head to work. The girls’ not up yet but they should be soon.”
She falls back down. “Okay,” Jess says to the pillow.
I shake my head and close the door behind me. She has the baby monitor to wake her up when the girls start crying. I go into our small bathroom, decorated in blue and white theme colors and turns the shower water on hot. I strip my shirt off and stare at my muscular chest and arms in the mirror. My arms and chest are free of tattoos but if I ever would get one it would be of Jaslene and Jamie. I grab my Aqua body wash, finish stripping and jump in the shower. I have 40 minutes before I suppose to be at work.
Twenty minutes later, I brush my hair waves and trim up my goatee. I have to make sure I’m looking fresh before I walk out my house. Always.
I peak inside Jess’s room-still sleep-,the girls’ room -still sleep-, then head out the door. The hallway is empty but bright due to the large square window down the hall. I walk straight across to the elevator and press B to get to the parking garage. My blue Altima is parked in the far corner and I slide in and head straight for downtown Chicago. I’m the owner and founder of two bars Miller and my new one Miller House and I love them because it’s my own creation and my own hustle. Miller is an old fashioned bar with more tables and bar space for the people who seriously want to just drink. Miller house is more of a club with a dance floor area as well as the bar. There are pool tables there and few tables. It’s more for people to have fun as well as a drink.
At Miller, I open the master lock with my key and shove it open. I’m at Miller first before going to Miller House because it’s my responsibility to unlock the door and cut off the alarms for my manager when he arrives. My brother Malcolm is the manager for this bar and he normally strolls in here around 9am. He puts all the money in the registers and we check to make sure everything’s clean from the night before.
It’s 8:30am when Malcolm walks in and I look up from the numbers sheets I have spread out on one of the tables. “What are you doing here so early?” I ask.
His dreads come over his shoulders and a sly smile presents itself on his lips. “I was already up from last night so…”
“What you stay up all night doing? Kayla?”
He smiles brightly and rolls his eyes. “You always jumping to conclusions.” Kayla is Jessica’s best friend and her and Malcolm have been having an ongoing romantic affair for months now so I know it’s time for them to make it official.
I shrug. “Actions speak louder than words, my nigga.”
He laughs and joins me at the table and assists me with my count. I do this every morning to make sure all my numbers and sells are adding up and I compare them week to week. So far Miller House is almost caught up to Miller in terms of revenue because of the huge launch, but that’s understandable since Miller’s been around the block a lot longer.
After a few minutes I retreat back to my office and file my paper work while Malcolm sets up the bar. Our employee should be arriving at any moment and they have about an hour to get ready and do any last jobs Malcolm wants them to do before he opens the doors at 11am.
“Alright, I’m out,” I call jogging out the door and into my car so I can get to Miller House and do the exact same thing.
“Don’t forget we’re going to dinner tonight! All four of us!”
“I won’t!” I shout back. After all the hecticness going on with our lives it’ll be nice to whine down and have some fun.
I spend most of my time at the bar locked in my back office going over numbers, figuring out marketing plans, and anything else that might draw my attention, which it usually does. I normally close at least one of my bars every night but tonight is going to a relaxing one so I get another trusted associate to close for me.
I don’t get home till about 6pm later that night. Before my hand can even reach up and turn the key in the lock, the sound of Jamie cries scamps under the door.
“Oh, Jay, thank god,” Jessica says standing up from the floor. There’s a blanket spread out and Jaslene is walking around with only a diaper and one sock on and a doll in her hand. Jamie’s in her mother’s arms, crying her eyes out and kicking her legs. “I need to get change her diaper-“ she nods down at Jamie. “And Jaslene still needs to get dressed for tonight.”
“Okay. I’ll take Jamie since I know she’s been crying in your ear all day. You can dress Jaslene and I think we should feed them before we go out so they won’t be hungry when we get there.”
She smiles brightly. “Already taken care of.”
We carry out our assignments as quickly and as effectively as possible. Kayla and Malcolm are meeting us downtown at this nice Italian restaurant named Paccoto’s and I can’t wait to get there. I hardly ate anything since I left out of here this morning in such a rush to get to work. I’m starving.
“Are you ready,” Jessica calls from her bedroom.
I make one more final swoop around the living room and the kitchen to make sure I didn’t forget anything. I got extra diapers, toys, and bottles for both Jaslene and Jamie. I pat the baby bag and make sure for the third time that I got both those girls’ pacifiers. “Ready!”
We lock the door behind us and walk across the hallway to the elevator. We live on the fifth floor in this newly remodeled apartment building and it’s nice to not have to worry about other unnecessary stuff. My old apartment, that I lived with my ex Angela, was on the second floor, but she would still complain about the stairs. I shake my head at the thought and note how thankful I am not to have to deal with her anymore. I look over at Jessica in the elevator, she’s holds Jaslene as I hold Jamie and her face is focused on the metal doors to reopen again, putting us in the parking garage.
“Are you excited?” I ask her.
A smile curves the side of her mouth. “Yes, I am. I hardly get to hang out with Kayla anymore since she’s always with Malcolm and I’m always with the girls.”
I don’t know why her words about always being with the girls hit a nerve. Does she regret having these two kids with me or is she just regretting that she hardly has any free time? “Well, maybe Kayla should come over more often like while I’m at work. Her and Malcolm.”
Jessica shrugs and when the doors finally open up we walk out. “Maybe, but she’s acting like the only person who exists is Malcolm and she won’t even admit that she’s in love with him. Can you believe that?”
I nod. I can believe that because I bet Malcolm is the same way. Maybe he’s acting just like I was acting when I didn’t want to believe that I was in love with Jessica. I wonder if Jessica knows I still feel that way. I told her when she was in the hospital after she gave birth to Jamie but I’m not sure how much of that she thought was true. Nonetheless, I need to focus on repairing our friendship. That’s been my goal since moving in with her to raise our kids together. That and the fact that it makes economical sense to only have to pay rent at one place than two. Jessica doesn’t have a job so I’d be the one helping her out with the rent if she had gotten her own place. Me and rent assistance.
Once we’re outside our apartment building I take a deep breath of the fresh air. It’s twilight and the street lights had just came on it’s going on 8pm and the summer hours make the days last longer. We walk to the car and buckle the girls into the backseat. “How long is the ride before we get there?” Jessica asks strapping herself in the passenger seat beside me.
“Shouldn’t be that long.”
I pull out my phone and gps the name of the restaurant. Fifteen minutes away, not bad. I pull out carefully and start off towards the freeway as the voice instructs. I look over at Jess and she smiles back. This should be a nice trip.
We arrive at the spot located near a busy street and a giant water fountain.
“Cool, this is pretty,” Jessica says as I pull up and to the front door to let a valet dressed in white and red take my car keys.
Inside, we walk side by side up to the host, a young woman with curly red hair and freckles, and tell her our reservation information. She looks at our young daughters who, thank God, were fast asleep in their carriers and smiles. “Right this way, please.”
The restaurant is dim lit but the atmosphere is vibrant. The place is full of men and women at the tables talking and laughing with wine glasses in their hands like they have all the time in the world to devote to this dinner. There’s soft Jazz music playing over the speakers and I got to give Malcolm props for picking this place out.
Malcolm and Kayla are already at the table sipping on wine glasses when we approach them. Malcolm dressed in a simple button down and kakis and Kayla is showing out in a long turquois low-cut dress with her hair pinned up on the top of her head. She’s a professional beautician so she always makes sure her hair is looking right. They smile when we get close.
“Hey, girl!” Kayla cheers reaching her arms for our babies.
“Hey, Kayla. How are you?” Jess says handing her Jaslene.
While the women chat with one another, Malcolm and I talk business for a little while but after five minutes we drifted off to basketball and Derek Rose’s career. When the waitress comes and takes our orders I request the best steak they have with is the New York sirloin and Jessica orders the pasta special of the house. We’re all laughing and talking and I peak over a Jessica a few times and notice with mixed feelings that she hasn’t smiled and laughed like this in a long time. Not even since she moved in with me. Why can’t I make her laugh and smile this much when it’s just us? Weren’t I able to do that before? How the hell do I get that spark back between us?
“Jay, you alright?” Kayla asks, her face scrunched up like she’s trying to figure out what the hell I’m thinking about.
“Yeah, you do look like you’re in a trance, bro,” Malcolm says laughing as he takes another sip of his soup.
Jessica looks over at me to see what all the fuss is about and by that time I had returned my facial expression to neutral and just shrug at her. She shrugs too and we smile automatically.
It’s weird. Sometimes me and her feel like everything is fine and then I’d randomly see her looking sad whether it’s while she’s folding clothes or feeding Jamie and I just want to know what she’s thinking about and not have all the attention on me.
“Speaking of trance,” Malcolm says putting his napkin down and clapping his hands together. “Kayla and I are going away this weekend for my birthday.”
“Your birthday ain’t for another two weeks,” I say.
“Nigga, did I say we was leaving tomorrow?”
“Where are you guys going?” Jessica asks looking at Kayla.
“To the Bahamas!” Kayla shouts with her arms raised in the air. “We’re going on a cruise and everything’s included.”
“Nice.” I nod in approval.
Jessica sucks in her bottom lip and stares at the saltshaker. “I’ve never been on a cruise.”
“Oh, girl, you have to go one day. This will be my third time going!” Kayla says then Malcolm shoots a glare at her.
“You saying you went with other dudes?” he asks squinting his eyes and I can’t help but chuckle. Is the great player Malcolm really jealous?
Jess and I laugh even though I notice Malcolm’s fist ball up underneath the table. “It’s okay, bro.”
“Nigga, shut up.”
We continue laughing and chatting until the waitress bring us our entries and then our desserts. It’s been a relaxing, fun evening and when we part ways and say our goodbyes I expect Jessica to be in a brighter mood but she still looks down. Just a little.
“You okay?” I ask opening my door and settling in behind the wheel. She sits down in her seat beside me and nods. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I had fun. I needed the break.”
“From the girls?”
She nods again. “I’m with them 24 hours a day and it’s so overwhelming for me. I’m not jealous of Malcolm and Kayla going on vacation but I just wish I had a break too. I real one.”
“Do you want to take a day off or something? I can stay home and watch the girls.”
She shrugs. “I don’t know. I love my girls and I love spending time with them but sometimes, with all the feeding to keep track of and all the diaper changing and the 24 hour attention all my energy is drained out.”
“Okay, I’m off tomorrow so how about this. Tomorrow morning we’ll have our roles reversed. I’ll get up, take care of the girls, make your breakfast, send you to the mall, clean the house, and make dinner for you.”
She starts choking.
“What?” I ask patting her on her back.
“Are you serious? You can’t do all that while taking care of two girls? Two babies at that. They need your attention all the time. You’ll hardly find a free moment to go to the bathroom let alone make breakfast and dinner in the same day.”
I shrug. “Maybe I have a different technique than you.”
“Technique! Oh, okay. I can’t wait to see your technique!”
I smile widely and reach out my hand. “Then it’s a bet. If I can’t do everything I just promised then we can do whatever you want.”
“I want to go take family pictures in Aurora with Malcolm and your mom too. I also want you to teach me how to drive.”
My eyebrows rise when she mentions driving lessons. I haven’t taken her driving since she wrecked my car when I took her driving when she was sixteen. That would be interesting.
“Deal. But if I win, we do whatever I want.”
She narrow her eyes at me, suspicion burning a hole through me. “Which is?”
“I want to you and I to go away somewhere like Malcolm and Kayla, but just the two of us.”
She pauses and I can see her eyes widen. I can tell she’s considering my offer. She clears her throat. “Without the kids? How’s that possible?”
I shrug. “I have my ways. What? Are you afraid I’ll win?”
Her smile spread wide, showing her beautiful white teeth. “Two babies by yourself for a whole day? No, I’m not afraid.” She reaches out her hand. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
I wrap mine’s firmly around and shake once keeping my eyes locked on hers.
She smiles. “You have no idea what you’re in for.”