3 | Don’t Stand Another Chance
The vibe was certainly an uneasy one, and Ryan find herself looking in every direction… trying to convince herself that she had no reason to look in Roman’s direction. Still, she wanted to march right over to his table and ask him what the hell he was even there for. Since when had he become some type of businessman. Since when did he take the money he earned and invest it into different companies?
That man had spent more on cars, jewelry, grills, and other irrelevant things than he spent on things that were necessities. Investing? No, she figured there was some type of motive. That’s what she would tell herself for the remainder of the evening, anything to make her mad enough to find him repulsive. Just enough to ignore him.
“I just want to take this final moment to say thank you all for listening, and those who choose to invest, I promise working with me will make you richer than you already are.” There was a very stiff laugh that came from the older men in the room and Donald quickly set down the microphone he’d been speaking with. “Eat, drink, enjoy.” He turned to Ryan and smiled, gently placing his hand on her back. “Feeling any better, Babe.”
“Give me a little time to speak with a few old friends and we can get out of here.”
“Sounds like a good pla-”
“Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt your conversation.” Ryan and Donald both looked up and her eyes bugged. Oh hell, she thought as Roman flashed a bright smile. pearly whites showing. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve been eying Ms. Ryan all night, and I would love a dance before I leave.”
“You know my fiancé?”
Roman nodded confidently, standing straight as he looked at Donald. “She and I go way back, old friends.”
Ryan felt her heart beating at top speed, her stomach was doing flips and all she wanted to do was unleash her hood side temporarily to curse Roman out. It was this one specific moment that made her HATE the fact that Donald never took interest in learning about or seeing exactly who her ex-husband was. Donald just smiled. “One dance won’t hurt. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to leave, Babe.”
“No, Donald, you don’t have t-” But he was already away from the table, calling out to an old friend. “Please don’t go.”
Roman snickered at how weak her voice was. “Now why are you acting like that Ryan? You’re acting as if I came here to get you back or something.”
“Hell, you might have. I don’t put it past you.” She got up, and began to walk away, heading towards the bar.
Roman followed behind, grabbing her arm. “I promise, I had no idea you would be here. I definitely had no clue Donald Blackwell was your fiancé. I just heard about a good potential investment, came to check it out. I’ve been out of the entertainment loop for some time now.”
“Yeah, and why is that?”
He shrugged, licking his lips as he eyed Ryan up and down. Just seeing the long slit in her dress made him want to bend down and caress her legs. He missed having them wrapped around his waist, and hanging over his shoulders. “I don’t play ball anymore. I’ve been living a nice, quiet life. Building schools and centers for inner city kids that need somewhere to go, helping them stay off the streets. You know, it’s getting real dangerous out here for our black kids.”
“Hmm, at least you grew up a little.”
“I grew up a lot, Shawty. Then again, it took losing you to make me open my eyes and see that I had to be a man for once in my life.”
Ryan blinked, clearing her throat. “That last statement was supposed to make me feel some type of way?”
“Nope, I was just telling you what I learned. Listen Ryan, I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. The biggest was hurting you, not once but twice. It’s been hard as hell living with the way I did you, and all I want is the chance for us to be close again. I want us to be able to talk about where we both went wrong without it ending in us calling one another a bunch of motherfuckers and other things. We can just be friends, if that’s all you want. I will most definitely respect your relationship with your man.”
“No, it will never work, Roman. Nothing has ever worked for us, we’re so different that it’s impossible for us to even be friends. It’s not worth the constant struggle. Let’s just leave it where we left it six years ago. Matter of fact, let’s leave it where we left it in your lawyer’s office when the divorce was finalized.”
Roman sighed, nodding his head. He knew he didn’t stand another chance, but that didn’t stop him from asking. “Okay. But please, may I have one last dance with you? For old times’ sake.”
“The hell, are you Freddie Jackson now?”
“I’d ask you to rock me tonight but that would be stepping out of line.” He flashed another wide, beautiful smile but Ryan was not amused. “Come on, one dance? Your man is wrong for this music, but I can make it work.”
“You’ve never slow danced a day in your adult life.”
“But you know I’d do anything for you.”
She rolled her eyes, sighing as she reluctantly placed her hand in his. “Don’t talk about Natalie Cole’s music. She’s amazing.”
“Yeah, but Jazz? How old is this dude?”
“He and his investors are older than you, Little Boy.”
Roman smiled, pulling Ryan closer to him as they began to dance to The Very Thought Of You. He was wondering how long she’d go before mentioning their age difference. She’d loved cracking on him, acting as if the gap was larger than seven years. “You never had a problem with me being younger though. In fact, you loved me. Loved me so much that you said I do.”
“Yet, saying I do meant nothing to you.”
Roman sighed, clearing his throat as they continued to dance. “I’m sorry, I truly am. Like you said then, I was just a kid. A little boy and I knew I wasn’t ready for such a huge step and the responsibility that came with having a wife, potentially starting a family. I said that I was in the same headspace as you, but I knew I wasn’t.”
“So why’d you propose? Why’d you let us get that far?”
“Because I did love you, with all of my heart. I knew if I let you go then, someone else would get you and I didn’t want that. Selfish.”
Ryan pulled back, mugging a little as she stared into Roman’s eyes. “So, instead of letting me move on to be happy with someone who was ready for all I had to offer, you selfishly entered into a marriage that you weren’t even ready for? And while you were in that marriage, you just went ahead and continued to act as if you were single; cheating on me not once, but twice?” She nodded and removed herself from his grip. “I finally understand now. Thank you Roman, for your explanation and apology.”
“Just let me go. I’m too old for the games that you’re always playing. And now that you’re in your thirties, I would hope that you finally grow up. No, there’s no reconciling, there’s no making up and being friends. I still hate you, and if we weren’t in a public place, I’d say all of those mean and hurtful things I said the last time we saw one another.”
“Like how you were glad we lost our baby?”
Ryan stood silent. “Yes. Goodbye.”
Making her way out of the room where Donald’s party was being hosted, she quickly made her way towards the elevators and back to her room. What was supposed to have been a simple and boring night turned into a disaster, and it was all because of her ex.
Once she made it to her room, Ryan paced back and forth for a while, going back and forth from feeling a wave of regret to hoping that was the thing that would make Roman leave her alone forever. “Fuck me for having a ‘crush’ on him when he was only twenty. And fuck him for playing with my heart. Didn’t want someone else to get me? What am I, a toy? Wasted two years dating and defending our relationship, and wasted three years being married to him and defending that. Don’t mess with that younger boy, that’s what everyone told me. Stick to older men. Hmmph. He ain’t shit. He’s an athlete and you know how they are. You got the ring, but the hoes getting everything else. And did I listen? Nope. I got exactly what I chased after; an asshole, a child playing grownup games.”
She finally sat down on her bed, taking a deep breath as the weight of her own words hit her. “But I loved that boy, and I was wrong at times too, and God I wanted that baby. Stressing behind him, I lost my only chance at motherhood.” She let out a fake chuckle, wiping her face once teardrops hit her arm.
The door opened and Donald walked in, closing it behind him before he stepped in front of Ryan and bent down. He’d been searching frantically for her once he realized she was no longer at the party. He took her hands in his. “Babe, what happened? Did that guy hurt you?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m just emotional right now, all over the place.”
“Anything I can do to make it better?”
Ryan gave a weak smile, hugging Donald tightly. “You do enough, thank you.”
Donald was so lost and confused, but he would do his best to comfort her.
4 | 4 Words
After spending the next two days secluded in her hotel room, Ryan pulled herself and her feelings together. Since she’d let recent events ruin the rest of her time in one of her favorite cities, she opted to stay behind by herself for a few more days. In her own words, she was pulling a bit of a disappearing act. No phone, no emails, no work, no family or friends. She just needed time to herself.
Since he had more moves to make regarding his businesses, Donald reluctantly made his way back to California; but, not before making Ryan promise to call if she needed him. This wasn’t the first time she attempted to ‘disappear’ from her own responsibilities or the life she’d made for herself, and this time around he wanted to be certain he wasn’t left out on her whereabouts.
It also wasn’t the first time she suggested they take a break from one another; to re-evaluate their feelings, where they were in life, and to make sure they were absolutely certain a relationship with one another was still what they wanted. Donald was certain; Ryan was all that he could have ever asked for. And, because he understood that she often had doubts about everything, he took these ‘breakups’ with a grain of salt. Finally learning why she was in such a funk and confused state had him worried, to say the least, but he trusted and had faith that in the end, she would see he was the right one for her. He hoped. Hearing all that she’d been through in her relationship and marriage with Roman, he was certain that she couldn’t possibly want to put herself back in that type of situation.
Finally alone, Ryan’s first move was to have a day of pampering for herself. This included getting a mani-pedi, a facial and full body massage, getting her hair braided, and of course a little therapeutic shopping.
She’d gone back to her hotel right after and changed into a pair of black, loose fitting pants and a plain white t-shirt. Slipping her feet into a pair of chucks, she grabbed her phone, credit card, and room key. She slipped her phone in one pocket, and her card and key into another before making her way out of her room.
Ryan spent a good amount of time walking around, eventually circling back around towards her hotel, stopping on Bourbon Street which was literally a two to five-minute walk back to Omni Royal. Even in the late afternoon hours, things were a bit lively. A tour guide giving information on the deep history of one of America’s oldest cities. Music that ranged from Bluegrass to Jazz, and even a little soft R&B coming from the different shops and restaurants surrounding the area. Older men, arguing, their heavy Cajun accents and dialect, tickling her as she took a few moments to stand by and listen to their different stories.
She loved it all.
Around seven, a bit hungry, she walked into Bayou Burger & Sports Company. The type to always mess around with some type of diet, she decided to cut loose a little and get her hands dirty with some good, greasy food.
Ryan chose a table away from the majority of the crowd that had filled the bar. She wasn’t the type that enjoyed sports, and she definitely wasn’t in the mood to be close to anyone yelling and screaming over something they weren’t even a part of. She’d had enough of that torture from sitting at baseball games; overzealous fans who felt like they were the ones being injured or wronged if a play didn’t turn out the way it would if they were coaching or playing. Add in various types of beers, bets and money, and it would sometimes become pure foolishness.
Most importantly, if she happened to be sitting next to someone that was yelling, and they spit in her food, even if it was an accident, all bets would be off and she would swing on them. She wanted no more problems or drama in her life at the moment.
Once she ordered and received her food, Ryan looked over it, smiling down at the magnificence before her. She hated to hear things like ‘black people always dance when they eat’, but it was most definitely the truth. Taking a bite out of the crawfish beignets she’d ordered, she did a slow body roll as she savored the flavor. If those didn’t fill her up quickly, she knew she’d be dealing with the itis once she dug into and finished her buffalo wings and chicken and andouille gumbo.
Oddest combination she’d ever ordered, but she was going to enjoy every bit of it.
Or at least, try to.
“Ryan? Ryan Vaughan?”
Fuck, was the first word that came to mind as she looked up and stared into the face of someone she was glad to dismiss as a family member once she and Roman divorced. His cousin, Jamel. “Now you know good and well I went back to my maiden name, Hawkins. Thank you very much.”
“Still feisty as ever. You’ll always be a Vaughan as far as most of the family is concerned.”
“How… unflattering.” Reluctantly, she allowed him to pull her up into a hug. It had never been in her nature to be mean to any of his family members, no matter what issues remained between her and Roman. If she saw them, she spoke. And he’d done the same with her family, or so she’d heard. “If you don’t mind, Jamel, I’m trying to enjoy my evening.”
“You know, it’s mighty funny to see you here. Ro’s here, I’m sure he’d love to see you.”
“Ro! Come see who’s here.”
Ryan groaned, falling back into her seat. Crossing one leg over the other, she folded her arms. Shaking her head, the only thing she could do to keep from cursing Jamel out was to silently count to ten. She didn’t want to see him, and she damn sure didn’t need to see Roman again.
“What are you yelling for? This ain’t St. Louis, you can’t be all loud.”
“My bad, I just bumped into Ryan, thought you might want to see her since you stay talking about her.” And with that, Jamel slyly removed himself from the impromptu reunion.
“Never in my life have I ever wanted to rip someone’s dreads out so badly. I wonder how Jamel will feel about looking like a bald pet monkey.”
Roman laughed, apologizing on his cousin’s behalf. “You know how dumb he can be. Totally aware of potentially awkward situations and still, he creates them.”
“I feel like you planned that.”
Roman looked at Ryan, surprised she’d think that. Then again, he didn’t blame her. Sending his cousin to speak to her was how they’d met all those years before. “Nah, not this time Shawty. Didn’t even know you were still out here in New Orleans. But, is it okay if I sit with you for a few?”
Ryan rolled her eyes, focusing back on her food. “Yeah, just don’t expect me to talk too much. You know how I feel about food.”
Once Roman took a seat, he eased his way into a slow conversation that wouldn’t make things too strange. He inquired about her life, wondering how she’d really been doing and what she’d been doing for herself.
Ryan asked him the same questions. She was a bit surprised to find out that he’d injured himself, but knew that he wouldn’t stay down for long. He’d always had backup plans, and if he wasn’t involved in sports some way, she knew he’d end up working with kids. His purpose in life had always been to help others succeed, to guide, something he himself didn’t have when he was growing up.
Roman, however, was surprised to hear that Ryan had essentially let go of her plans, sticking to what she’d always known and felt safe in. All of the ambitions she had to move past being an entertainment lawyer, all the dreams and desires she had to live and work on her own time, to do nothing but travel from place to place at the drop of a dime once she’d made her money from sorting out other people’s professional problems, gone. To hear that she preferred to sit in an office all day, then follow that with doing nothing but sit in her bed; it gave him the sense that she’d just… given up and settled. Even if they weren’t together, he still wanted more for her. He wanted her to want more for herself.
“Are you happy?”
Now looking through her phone, attempting to distract and keep herself from looking at Roman, Ryan cleared her throat. “Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I’m just wondering. You said that you don’t have a desire to do much anymore, just figured something changed. Maybe something worse than us falling apart came along and left you feeling that way. You don’t look happy, don’t sound happy. I haven’t even seen you smile once.”
Ryan arched her brow, looking directly at Roman. “I smiled a lot when I was with you.”
“You did.” He loved her smile, missed it.
“That doesn’t mean I was happy then. Might have just been faking it, keeping up appearances. In case you didn’t pick it up, I don’t do that anymore.”
He nodded slowly, taking a swig of the Ponchartrain Pilsner he’d ordered. “Fair enough. But I know you, Ryan.”
“No you don’t.”
“You smile uncontrollably when you’re happy. Sometimes you don’t even know that you’re smiling. And when someone points out how pretty your smile is, you blush a lot, get shy. Your lips curl up into that little heart shape, and you start giggling over anything. You hate for people to think that you like being complimented, so you tug at the bottom of your ear and say something like, you guys, stop or you’re so sweet, thank you.” She laughed at how he mocked the way she spoke. “Maybe it’s not my place to say this, but if your man hasn’t noticed that change in you, or… if he’s never seen that side of you, maybe he’s not right. Seeing you smile, hearing you laugh, those are two of the best things in this world. Even when I did wrong, I still tried my hardest to bring that side out of you.”
“He does just fine, he and I are fine. Even if I’ve never smiled around him, I’m happy. We’ve been together for six years, so obviously, all is well.”
Roman shrugged. “I saw all of that after three short months. But you said you’re happy, that’s all I wanted to know.”
Ryan felt slightly offended. Just Roman’s tone, the way he spoke made her feel some type of way. “Are you trying to say that I can’t genuinely be happy without you.”
“No, Ryan, that’s not what I’m saying at all.”
“Then what are you saying?”
Roman smiled, lowering his voice. “Just that I miss you, I miss the old Ryan. My wish for you has always been for you to be well and happy.”
“Why is my happiness your concern though?”
“I can’t wish you happiness?”
“No, not without some type of motive.”
Roman chuckled, shaking his head. “There’s no motive, Shawty. I just miss you.”
“Okay, but why do you care whether I’m happy or not?”
“Simple, four words. I still love you. As long as I love you, I’m going to want the best for you.” Roman stood; he leaned over and kissed Ryan’s cheek before excusing himself and walking away.