It was no surprise to me when Taj announced his engagement to Lilah. There was just no way they were going to have children and not get married. I didn’t know Lilah well, but I liked her. My brother was hard to read. He wasn’t panicking anymore, but I knew he would have felt better about things being on his time table. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards. Lilah was due in December, so there wasn’t much time to waste. She was already showing since it was twins.
Lilah’s parents were throwing a party at the restaurant they owned in the city. Taj asked me to get word to Eric. Things between him and I had been a little strained in the last few weeks. I knew it wasn’t his fault what happened with Sookie. He didn’t know she was the girl I was seeing any more than I did. Maybe if I didn’t know so many fucking details about their sexual relationship it wouldn’t be such a hard pill to swallow. In time I was sure things would go back to normal. We just needed a little space from it.
I got to the party at just before 7:30, about a half hour after the party started. It was a dressy affair. Not black tie, but a suit was definitely appropriate. The restaurant was one of the fancy ones that had survived the trendiness of it being new. They served Mediterranean cruise in a fine dining setting. There were no kitschy murals of Morocco on the walls or any of that shit. That probably helped them. Plus, from what Taj told me, the food was really good.
My brother was dressed in a nice blue/gray suit and standing next to his fiancé. Lilah looked beautiful too, dressed in a navy blue dress that hid her growing belly. They each had a drink in their hand, but I was sure Taj’s was alcoholic.
“Lilah, you look stunning,” I complimented. “You make Taj look halfway decent.”
“Thank you. And thank you for coming,” she smiled.
“Of course. How’s it going so far?” The dining room was pretty busy. Lilah obviously had a big family.
“The party, or the pregnancy?” she chuckled.
“The pregnancy is tiring. All I ever want to do is sleep. Taj keeps reminded me I’m creating two humans,” she said. “The party… I’m ready for it to be over and it’s barely started. How have you been since… everything?”
“I’m getting better. Quinn’s got some events coming up in Las Vegas he wants me to cover, so I might be moving out there temporarily,” I revealed. I hadn’t told anyone about it yet, but the change of scenery sounded like a good idea. It would give me time to distance myself from things and get on with my life.
“That might be good for you for a while. I know your brother wouldn’t want you gone too long. You’ll also need to be here to meet your new nieces or nephews, or one of each.”
“I’ll be back by then. I wouldn’t miss meeting them.”
“Good. I think Taj might need the moral support and Idris is useless,” she chuckled.
“Idris lost his drinking buddy,” I laughed. “He’ll get over it.”
“Hopefully it slows him down. I don’t like it when Taj gets mad at him, plus when the babies are here they don’t need to see all that.”
“Very true,” I agreed. Taj was being unusually quiet. “I’m going to go get a drink. I’ll find you guys later.”
They probably had plenty of people to talk to. Engagement parties could be like mingling at work parties. Everyone was forced to make small talk or keep what they really wanted to say to themselves. At the bar I got myself a 7Up instead of a drink with booze. I took notice of a pretty brunette with electric blue eyes at the other end of the bar. She had flawless olive skin and full, pink lips. She was drinking some kind of red cocktail. I didn’t realize I was staring at her until Idris got in my way.
“Bro, you look like you haven’t showered in a week.” His long hair was stringy and hanging loose. I didn’t know if it was a protest or if he just didn’t give a fuck that he looked homeless.
“I showered this morning,” he frowned. He lifted his arm to smell his armpit. “I don’t think I stink.”
“How much product did you put in your hair?” I’d grown my hair out too since getting out of the Army but I didn’t look homeless.
“I don’t know, like this much.” He drew a circle on his hand. “It’s like mousse or something.”
“You’re such a metrosexual,” I laughed.
“I don’t even know what a metrosexual is,” he said, narrowing his eyes.
“Take a look in the mirror. All you need is some nice highlights…” I reached out to touch his hair and he smacked my hand away.
“Don’t touch. I have to look good for the ladies,” he said seriously.
I couldn’t hold back the laughter if I tried, not that I tried.
“I’m sure you’re going to reel in a bunch of ladies here. Oh, by the way, I’m going to be going out to Vegas for a few weeks. For work, not fun. And no, I will not be leaving you with the house and boat keys.”
“I could just come with you. They have those big ass drinks there in a cup the size of a football.”
“You could, but no. It’s work, Idris. Maybe it’s time for you to get on with your life too,” I suggested. “You’re not a kid anymore. You’re about to be thir–”
“There’s nothing wrong with the way I live my life,” he growled. “I’m happy, that’s all you should fucking care about.”
“Okay.” Arguing with Idris was about as gratifying and productive as nailing Jell-O to the wall.
“I’m just going to get my drink and go.” He turned away from me to face the bar.
Fine by me. He could go do what he was going to do. I wasn’t his babysitter anymore. I had my own life to focus on.
I took my soda over to an empty table and sat down. It wasn’t long before I noticed Eric making his way through the crowded dining room with a petite blonde at his side. Must have been Holly. I hadn’t met her yet, but Eric was talking about her a lot. Not a peep about how good she was in bed. So either they hadn’t slept together – which I doubted – or he really liked her. Maybe both.
“Hey, man,” he said when he walked up to the table. “This is Holly.” He had his hand in hers.
I stood up and extended my hand to her.
“Nice to meet you, Holly. Eric’s been chewing my ear off about you,” I told her.
“It’s nice to meet you too. Hopefully he’s lied and said nice things about me,” she laughed.
“Nothing I’ve said is a lie,” Eric smiled, letting go of her hand so he could rub her back.
“That’s good to hear.” I pulled out a chair for Holly to take a seat.
“Thank you,” she smiled. Eric sat down next to her. “So are you excited to be an uncle?”
“I am, actually,” I said as I sat down. “I think Taj is going to be a great dad. He’s a little on the goofy side when he wants to be, and I’m sure his kids will bring that out in him.”
“Of Ras’s brother’s Taj is the easiest to get along with. You also won’t want to smack him within ten seconds of meeting him,” Eric chuckled. “Would you like a drink?” he offered Holly.
“I’d love one. Chardonnay would be nice,” she answered.
“She bites,” Eric warned after he kissed her cheek and stood up.
“Only you, sweetums,” she said to Eric.
The look on Eric’s face said that was new to him too.
“Your pet names need work,” Eric snickered as he walked toward the bar.
“Don’t listen to him. I think Sweetums is perfect.”
“I think so,” she giggled. “So you met Eric in the service, right?”
“Yeah, first day of boot camp. He was a scrawny little shit.”
“I can imagine. I’ve seen some of his old high school pictures. He showed me some from Iraq, too. I can’t imagine what that experience must have been like,” she said.
“It’s not one I’d care to repeat.”
“No, I’d think not. What do you do these days? Eric said something about security.”
“I work for Quinn Confidential. My boss is a former Navy SEAL. We do security for various events and run background checks or do some bounty hunter type stuff. I’ve had to track down a few missing people and some stolen property,” I explained.
“It can be, if you don’t know what you’re doing. It helps that pretty much everyone I work with is ex-military. We’re pretty good at following chain of command and thoroughly vetting targets. We don’t like to leave a lot to chance.”
“That’s good,” she nodded.
Lilah and Taj made their way over to where Holly and I were sitting.
“Holly, this is my brother Taj and his lovely fiancé, Lilah.”
“Hi. Congratulations to you both,” Holly said with a big, friendly smile.
“Thank you,” Taj smiled back. “You’re Eric’s friend?”
“Yes,” Holly confirmed.
“Good luck with him,” my brother laughed.
“Oh hush, he’s not that bad,” Lilah chuckled.
“He’s on his best behavior around you,” Taj pointed out.
“He’s been a gentleman to me,” Holly said.
“Yeah. Sweetums has turned a new leaf,” I smirked.
“Sweetums?” Taj said, arching an eyebrow.
“Trying out pet names,” Holly explained.
“Oh wow, that’s great,” he laughed.
“I wouldn’t laugh too hard, Schmoopy,” Lilah warned.
“You two make quite a pair. Is it Mr. and Mrs. Schmoopy?” I snickered.
“You’re going to get a silly pet name one day, Ras. I wouldn’t laugh too hard,” Taj said.
“Ha! No, I think I might stick with the bachelor life,” I said.
“Uh huh.” He wasn’t buying it.
“You think I’m kidding?” I was content to be alone for a good long time. Maybe Eric had it right all along.
“Don’t count love out,” Lilah said. “You might meet the woman of your dreams in Vegas.”
“It’s possible, but not likely. I’m going to be too busy with work anyway.” Being the point man overseeing everything was a lot of work.
“It’s okay if you end up single forever. Idris needs someone to keep him company,” Taj said.
“I’m not going to spend my life cleaning up after him.”
“Now isn’t the time to get into that conversation,” Taj replied.
He brought it up.
“How far along are you?” Holly asked Lilah to change the subject.
“Just about to get into my second trimester,” Lilah answered.
“You look fantastic.”
“Thank you. I feel like a whale,” she chuckled.
“Well you’re not letting it show. My sister has twin boys. She was one of those women who was all baby and a week after the birth she was back to normal.”
“I hope I’m like that. If I don’t it won’t be the end of the world but it would be nice to not have to buy a whole new post baby wardrobe.”
“She swore by water aerobics all through her pregnancy,” Holly told her. Thankfully Eric came back with their drinks.
“Hey guys. Congratulations.” He leaned over to kiss Lilah’s cheek. “You have that baby glow. Looks good on you.”
“Thank you,” she smiled.
The brunette I’d spotted by the bar approached Lilah and leaned in to whisper something to her. Lilah smiled and nodded. The two of them walked away together.
“So, are either of you two into cars?” Holly asked.
Taj and I laughed.
“Sadly, no. I’m more into sports and Taj is a tech nerd,” I said.
“No one is into cars the way Eric is,” Taj snickered.
“I don’t see anything wrong with my love of cars. It’s no worse than your love of Star Wars.”
“Star Wars is a cinematic masterpiece,” Taj informed Eric, earning a snort.
I just shook my head.
“Star Wars is boring as fuck, Schmoopy” Holly replied, and Eric almost choked on his drink.
“I’m sorry, I’ll take Sweetums ove Schmoopy any day of the week,” Eric laughed.
Taj glared and turned to walk away.
“So… the chick Lilah walked away with was staring at you from the bar,” Eric told me.
“Was she? I didn’t notice.” I wasn’t being modest since i really hadn’t. “I don’t know who she is.”
Judging by her appearance she could have been a cousin of Lilah’s, but I couldn’t be sure and Taj had walked away.
“Her name is Janella. She’s twenty-nine, no kids, and she’s one of Lilah’s sorority sisters,” Eric explained. “What? I know how to talk to people,” he added when both Holly and I looked at him like he was insane.
“You were talking to a random pretty woman at a bar?” Holly asked with an expression I wouldn’t be happy to be on the receiving end of.
“I noticed her checking out Ras and decided to get details for him,” he corrected. “I was not trying to pick her up or even thinking about her being pretty.”
It was kind of amusing to see Eric tapdance like that. Usually he was dismissive to any woman who got possessive or jealous. In moderation, it showed someone cared. Eric just didn’t usually deal with it. At all.
“Well it was nice of you to introduce yourself to her,” I said.
“She seemed nice,” he told me. “She has a slight accent. I know you’re a sucker for an accent.”
“Every woman you’ve ever dated since we met has had some sort of accent,” he chuckled.
“Everyone has an accent,” I shrugged. It was unavoidable.
“Rasul’s going to be a bachelor,” Holly informed him for me.
“Huh, looks like we’ve switched places,” Eric said. I noticed his hand move under the table, probably resting on Holly’s leg.
“Well, maybe you had it right. Doing things my way got me nowhere. Maybe the key is to just not give a shit,” I said.
“It landed me Holly,” he nodded.
“Not giving a shit?”
“Yeah, that sounds shitty,” he chuckled. “More so not really looking or trying to be in a relationship.”
“Trying to make things work always blows up in my face,” I shrugged.
“There’s nothing wrong with being single and playing the field,” he agreed.
“I’m getting too old for that. At some point it’s just sad.”
“Maybe you could go talk to Janella,” he suggested.
“Or I could stay right here and save myself the hassle,” I countered.
Eric sighed and leaned back in his chair, but didn’t respond. He picked up his beer to take a drink. I wasn’t looking for or expecting Eric’s approval. He had a tendency to sometimes think he knew what was best for everyone. It wasn’t uncommon for us to butt heads on things. He had his way of dealing and I had mine. His outlook might have been different if he got invested in relationships over and over again but that wasn’t his style. Holly looked like she was going to be the first serious girlfriend to be in his life in a long time. I hoped things worked out for them. She seemed like a nice lady and I knew Eric was definitely into her. The way he talked about her was different, and in a good way.
“You want to dance?” Holly asked Eric. There were a few people slow dancing on the small dance floor on the other side of the room.
“I’d love to dance,” he smiled over at her. He was smitten with this one.
It was good to see him happy. Holly got up with him and they walked over to the dance floor hand in hand. They looked comfortable together, like they belonged together.
Maybe at some point I’d meet someone I had that with, but it wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. I was okay with that. I kind of had to be.
I took a drink of my soda and just looked around the room. I spotted Idris talking to Taj. They didn’t look like they were arguing, so that was a good sign. I was looking the other way when Lilah called my name and tapped my shoulder. My head turned to see she was with Janella.
“Hey,” I smiled.
“Hi, I wanted to introduce you to Janella, she’s going to be my maid of honor in the wedding. I think you two will be walking together,” she told me.
“Oh. Hi, Janella. Nice to meet you,” I said, extending my hand to her.
She held out her hand so shake mine. “Rasul, is it? It’s very nice to meet you too.”
Okay, she did have an accent. There was a hint of British in there.
“Yeah, I’m Rasul. Have a seat, if you want.”
“Thank you,” she smiled. She took the offered seat. Lilah smiled before she turned to walk away.
“So how do you know Lilah?”
“She and I are sorority sisters. We met our freshman year of college,” she answered.
“That’s cool. I didn’t know Lilah was in a sorority.” I didn’t know much about her at all, actually.
“She was,” Janella smiled.
“It’s cool that you’ve stayed in touch.”
“You were never in a frat, were you?” she said. “It’s a lifelong sisterhood.”
“I was in the Army,” I chuckled. “It’s kinda the same thing but with guns and idiots in charge.”
“Guns and idiots are almost as scary as a house full of girls trying to get ready for a party all at the same time,” she laughed.
“Mmm… I might have to give it to the guns. Then again, I’ve never been in a house full of women trying to get ready for a party at the same time. I’ve made it a life goal to avoid that very scenario.”
“You should hope you don’t have all girls if you ever have children, unless you already have them. It’s not very fun having so many in one place. I’m surprised any of us made it out alive.”
“No kids yet,” I smiled. “You should try sharing a head with a couple dozen filthy soldiers who haven’t showered in days.”
“We each seem to have our own struggles,” she smiled back. “I love kids, but I don’t have them either, not that you were asking.”
“Never been married either,” I added. Why, I had no idea.
“Good to know. I’ve been close once, but he ended up getting a call from his newly pregnant mistress that kind of dampened the whole thing.”
“You live and you learn,” she shrugged. “It’s been a long time and I hope he’s happy now.”
“That’s a very mature way to look at it.” It was infinitely better than being bitter about it years later.
“It wasn’t easy to get to this point,” she said. “In the beginning I had a lot of angry nights, and several thoughts of wanting to forgive him and take him back. I’m happier now that I didn’t.”
“Yeah, I know how that goes.” I’d considered calling Sookie and trying to start over. There was still a lot I didn’t understand about how things came to be, but in the end I knew no matter what I’d still have those flashes of her with Eric. That wasn’t something I would be able to get past.
“Something tells me you know it all too well.”
“Bad situation recently,” I admitted. “I’ll spare you the finer details. She was hooking up with me and a very close friend of mine at the same time and we didn’t know.”
“That’s terrible,” she frowned.
“Definitely not a highlight in my life.”
“So what do you like to do on your night off?” she inquired.
“In the summer I’m either on my boat, my bike or playing baseball. I have a game tomorrow and I’m spending the day on the lake after that.”
“Sounds like fun,” Janella smiled.
“It is. It’s relaxing to me. After spending so much time in a desert being shot at, I like being on the water,” I chuckled.
“I would too. I’ve never even seen a real life gun.”
“No? Depending on the type they’re not so scary. I could teach you how to shoot if you want to learn,” I offered.
“Really?” She looked surprised and a little excited.
“Sure,” I nodded. “It’s not very hard. Is that something you’re interested in?”
“I could be interested. I’ve never been given the offer, or even known someone that knew how to shoot a gun.”
“If that doesn’t work I can teach you how to drive a boat,” I chuckled.
“I would be interested in that too,” she replied with a flirty smile. “I think I’d be interested in anything you wanted to teach me.”
“It’s a pretty small skill set,” I said. “But I’d be happy to teach you.”
Janella seemed nice and she was absolutely beautiful. Perhaps I jumped the gun on the decision to resign myself to bachelorhood.