Allen sat on the leather couch, uncomfortable atop the material, elbows on his knees, hands to his mouth. His gaze was locked on a bottle of sweet tea on the coffee table in front of him. These days, he could hyperfocus on just about anything. White noise. The power light of the tv. Dust motes.
It drove Kebi insane since she hated everything about being ignored, but Kebi’s insecurities meant very little to him lately. Not with the fight to get Wyatt talking again or the twins taking turns screaming at each other.
I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.
The sound of one of the bedroom doors closing echoed down the hall.
Where is she? Where is she? Where is she?
He knew exactly where she was, but sometimes his brain played tricks on him and he’d have half a second of forgetting. A blissful half moment where he didn’t remember.
They had buried her in New Orleans with her parents. Allen wouldn’t hear of having her stuck in New York, a city she loathed, even if it did mean travelling with two week old twins, an eighteen month old, and a confused kindergartner. He knew people judged him, but he figured, fuck, what’s the point in owning a private jet if you don’t use it? Not like he was exposing the kids to a hundred random strangers on a red eye.
And suddenly, just like that, he owned a private jet. He also had controlling interest in one of the country’s biggest hospitality companies. She had left him and the kids everything. It had made him angry. To think that she trusted him with all of that. Without her. Maybe he would’ve got it if she asked him to go into business with him twelve months ago, but he couldn’t wrap his mind about her wanting him to do it alone. He still hadn’t quite forgiven her for that.
But that was the thing about having a bone to pick with a dead person. It was something you were never going to be able to find closure with.
Mamie walked out of the hall and Allen’s eyes followed her. Her age showed in the way her feet dragged a bit, but she was still holding strong. The woman had lost her closest friend years ago. Her employer none too recently. And now the girl she had raised. She was well into her sixties at this point. And yet, when Allen had offered to help her retire, because what else was he going to do with this sudden inheritance, she gave him the crossest look he had ever seen. “If you eva’ ask me somthein’ like that again, I’ll give you a whoopin’ you’ll never fo’get. Ya hear me?” So, he bought her an apartment just a few blocks from where he and the kids stayed.
After Wyatt was born, the family had moved into a much bigger, much fancier place. It was very extravagant, and way outside of his comfort zone. He had never been that comfortable using her money. Allen never felt quite settled in it, but she had loved it. And he had vowed he would do whatever she needed to be happy, so he just went with it. Just like he had their marriage.
He was angry at himself for that. After the wedding, Allen felt a part of himself get lost. He knew she felt it in him too, but he simply didn’t know what he needed to do to get it back. It wasn’t that he was unhappy. He just… felt bored. Married life felt so final. Like there wasn’t really anything to anticipate after it. Besides more kids, which they had fought about several times. He didn’t feel like he was ready for more, but she had always felt like she was racing the clock. Turns out she was right. That pissed him off also.
Allen was angry about a lot of things.
“Chil’, you need’ta go to sleep,” Mamie chided, pulling her sweater on.
He nodded, but didn’t bother to make an effort to stand. They both knew he wasn’t going to be doing much sleeping. He hadn’t slept in their bed since she died. He wouldn’t sleep in their bed without her. Most nights he was on the couch. Sometimes he’d crawl into one of the kids’ beds with them.
Mamie waddled over and kissed him on top of the head. “Don’t drink any mo’ of that tea. It’ll keep you up fo’ anotha’ week. All the children are sleep. I’ll be back a little lat’a than usual tomorrow. Got a doctor’s visit I can’t skip. You’ll be okay?”
Allen gave her a tight smile and a short nod. “Thanks, Mamie. Go get some rest. Call me if you want me to pick you up when you’re done. I’ll be there.”
She chuckled and made her way out, locking the door behind her.
He’d be there. Because he had nowhere else to be. After he confirmed for the fourth time that the will was being read correctly, he quit his job. Mostly because he needed all the time he could get to focus on raising four kids as a single father now. Mamie and his parents were a huge help, but the kids were still his. He wouldn’t be seen as a father who just passed his children off to someone else.
But it was killing him.
Every time he looked at Jenna or Maggie, he just saw her. And Wyatt had barely said more than twenty words since the funeral. She and him would talk all the time, Wyatt already picking up her southern drawl. They liked to practice manners together. But after day seven of her not coming home, the boy just clammed up. He used gestures and sounds to indicate what he wanted. Allen’s mom was pushing for them to get Wyatt to see a child psychiatrist, but both Allen and Mamie weren’t ready to admit it was that extreme yet. They hadn’t exhausted their own methods.
Kebi had become, somehow, even more intolerable. She had always been bratty, but that was just how his baby girl was. Entitled, stubborn, and charming as all hell. And she had loved his wife almost as much as she did her own mom. Allen didn’t feel the need to sugarcoat what had happened, she was too smart. Kebi had cried and then bargained with God and then taken on accepting the fate. But that acceptance came at the cost of her just turning flat out mean sometimes. She picked on Wyatt. She practically ignored the twins, and he was a bit concerned that she blamed them for the passing. But she worked well with Mamie, and he trusted that she’d return to her true self in time.
As for himself? He hadn’t taken the time to process his own feelings yet. Not because he didn’t have the opportunities to. But simply because he didn’t want to. If he let himself try and sort his emotions, it would make the situation real. If he searched for closure, he’d have to face it all. And he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t face losing her without her help.
He’d exist like this, feeling like it was all a terrible dream that he wouldn’t wake up from, because being trapped in a nightmare was better than living in a reality that equated to Hell.
Allen refocused on the bottle of tea.
It wasn’t tea.
It was Jack.
He’d poured it into the bottle when the doctors had told them they wanted to keep her for observation after the twins were born. They both knew then what was going to happen. They’d had signs of it all through the pregnancy. It had taken its toll on her body. And apparently the price had been too much.
He’d poured it, but he wouldn’t let himself drink it while she was still living. He wouldn’t disrespect her like that, breaking almost three years of sobriety over her illness. She would have been furious that he’d done it as a result of her. She’d have blamed herself.
But, surprisingly, the bottle still stood even now. He kept it tucked away in a top shelf most of the time. But every now and again, when he was alone, he’d pull it out and contemplate it. But he never downed it the way his body screamed for him to. Because he couldn’t dishonor her memory like that.
And he wouldn’t tonight.
Sighing, Allen slowly rose to his feet, wincing as his knees popped. He stretched long and hard, flexing every muscle that he could. They ached badly. He hadn’t been to the gym since before it all. He kept meaning to go, but something always demanded his attention. But Dennis, the new business manager he’d hired to help run things since Allen understood none of it, had let him know that all of the money and assets were finally where they needed to be.
Allen would mail Tia’s check tomorrow. His wife had designated a certain amount to her, Vanessa, Bailey, Jordan, and Bianca each. None of them knew, so he didn’t feel too guilty about the six month delay. He needed to make sure that everything was taken care of first.
Bailey and Jordan would both fight with him over it, insisting that neither wanted or needed it. But he’d get it to them one way or another. Allen figured he’d have better chances getting it to Bianca by approaching her husband with it. Cooper was an honest guy, but he wasn’t too proud. He’d probable accept it if Allen said it was a gift from the southern gal to a friend she cared about very much.
He didn’t know how to handle it with Vanessa. She’d loathe the hand out and then probably try to rip his throat out for even suggesting she take her best friend’s money. But he knew out of all of them she needed it the most. And he wasn’t thrilled about having to deal with that spectacle, but it’s what was written. Very specifically.
Allen picked up the bottle and put it back in his hiding place. Feeling half drunk anyway from a sudden wave of sleep deprivation, he decided he’d sleep in Wyatt’s room tonight. Wyatt always curled up next to him, his breathing shallow and his cheeks pink. The kid was always cold at night, so Allen cuddled him hard, stroking his blonde curls. He looked so much like her.
Her name had not been said aloud in the apartment in six months. He didn’t know how he, Mamie, and Kebi had all landed on the same page. They never had an actual conversation about it. But they just, simply, never used her name. It felt like it would shatter… something. They didn’t know what, but no good would come of it.
Allen felt like he’d choke on the word if he tried to say it. It’d strangle him. Drown him. And he’d welcome it.
But she wouldn’t want that.
And he had vowed he would do whatever she needed to be happy.