Lily stopped herself from tapping her foot on the carpet for the umpteenth time. Her entire body was vibrating with anger as she listened to her friend, Winnie recount the woes that had befallen her in the last few days.
“Aki imagine, he has a two-year-old and now this other woman is pregnant. Aki, I’m so mad I don’t even know. I feel like if he was still in the house, aki I’d do something to him. I’ve never been so angry in my life.” Winnie said, getting up to pace.
Lily wanted to pace too, but her apartment was too small for two people to angrily stomp about. As things stood, Winnie had won the toss in every way. If finding out your husband has a secret two-year-old and another baby on the way by two different women didn’t give you the express ticket to be the pacer, nothing would.
“I still can’t believe him and I don’t even know why I’m shocked,” Lily said. She’d heard this story and variations of it at least once a day and twice on Sunday this past month. It was almost like Winnie needed to tell the story a finite number of times to get it out of her system and she hadn’t gotten to that magic number yet. So here Lily was offering a lending ear and getting infuriated all over again. Men were seriously getting on her nerves. When it wasn’t cheating with everything that could move, it was everything from everyday sexism to femicide, which was on the rise in the country.
She’d hoped Winnie would have moved on by now, but she hadn’t and if it’s the last thing she did, Lily would be here for her while he processed this painful betrayal.
“I always suspected he may be cheating, but I didn’t look for evidence and when nothing came to me, I told myself not to borrow trouble. Now I just wish I’d looked.”
Winnie kept up a steady stream of words, almost like she was talking to herself and just needed Lily to be a part of the audience. Lily thought back to the day Winnie had found out and how Kevin, her husband, had called Lily to help calm her down. That’s what she got for being their closest neighbour. Lily had arrived at their home to find broken glass everywhere and Isaac, another friend of theirs, trying to talk Winnie down. Their huge windows were broken, opening up the room to the outside. The 60-something-inch TV was cracked and hanging awkwardly off the wall. Different sets of plates and drinking glasses lay scattered on the floor. Winnie had gone on a major rampage.
Lily stepped up to Winnie and gave her a hug in greeting. They were all shocked when Winnie, who was about twice as big as Lily, broke down in heartbreaking sobs. Isaac helped Lily move with her to the couch. Isaac went to talk to the guard to convince him not to call the police. Most of the neighbours were watching from their windows and some were standing in the parking lot to get a better view. Though it took some doing, including cash changing hands, he eventually convinced the guard to cancel the call to the police that he’d made. He also told him to assure the landlord that Kevin would pay for all the damage.
Winnie spent that night at Lily’s place. Kevin had left with the children when Winnie started breaking things. He’d dropped them off at one of their couple friend’s houses then disappeared. No one had heard from him for two days.
He’d finally resurfaced, reeking of alcohol and overflowing with sorrow and apologies for his actions. Winnie would hear none of it and had insisted he leave. In a gesture of good faith, he’d spoken to the landlord and paid for all the damages, sent in someone to clean the house and had a brand new TV delivered to the house. A bigger one than the one Winnie had wrecked.
Lily looked up to find Winnie with an expectant look on her face.
“Sorry, what?” She asked.
“Si, you’re still coming to Jojo’s party on Saturday?”
“Yeah, definitely. Is Kevin coming?”
“Yes. We agreed to maintain some peace for Jojo and Kiki.”
“That’s good. I guess. I’ll be a bit late, but I’ll be there.”
Saturday – Birthday Party
Winnie’s house was a world apart from the crime scene Lily had walked into not one month ago. Everything about it was different, from the colourful children’s party decorations everywhere to the festive air as children ran around playing, laughing, and bringing life to the place.
Their constant energy exhausted Lily and simultaneously brought her life. She couldn’t make any sense of her divergent feelings, smiling as she watched them resist their parents’ attempt to get them to leave. Eventually, most of them left, leaving their little crew of three married couples, along with Lily and Isaac. Well, strictly speaking, two married couples. Kevin had disappeared with the first group to leave. He said something about dropping his brother and his kids home, but Lily was willing to bet her last cent that he was running away, avoiding any confrontation with their friends.
Winnie put her children and those of the other two couples to bed, then came back to hang with their friends, who were well into their fourth bottle of wine.
Linda and Jimmy, Maggie and Tom were the other married couples. None of them was sitting with their partner, as they sat spread out in the living room. Lily was seated across from Isaac, the only other single person, silent as they waited for Winnie to situate herself.
“I’m guessing you guys want to know what happened, what’s happening.”
“Yeah, you guys looked… cool today.” Jimmy, one half of Linda and Jimmy said.
“We agreed to be civil for the kids.”
“Is he coming back?” Linda asked.
“No, we’re still not together,” Winnie replied.
“Have you decided what you’re going to do?”
“I told Kevin we can either break up or we can stay together, raise the kids together, but have an open relationship. Let him decide since he’s the one who exploded our lives. Predictably, he got pissed as fuck and says he won’t pay for the kids if I start seeing any man. I don’t care, he’s not the only one people want to bang. If he thinks he can get his freak on in the streets, he should know, so can I. Niggaz are chasing after my ass too.”
Lily burst out laughing. “They always get big mad when you remind them that you’re faithful because you chose to be not for lack of options.”
“What about the children?” Maggie asked in that small, concerned voice that irritated Lily.
“We’ve talked to them, there was crying, and a lot of questions but they’re getting better. It’s not as bad as it was in the beginning. There was so much crying and they were so scared. But they’re better now. We talked to them and did the whole we love you, we just don’t love each other, it’s not your fault thing. So we’re just watching to make sure they’re handling it as well as can be expected.“
“It’s not that simple. Research shows children fare best with a father in the home. A real two-parent home. Don’t you think you guys should try something like therapy to fix it before you take such extreme measures?” Maggie clarified.
“What’s there to fix with someone who hid a baby for three years? If that bitch hadn’t texted me like an idiot, I wouldn’t know about any of this. Two kids. Two whole kids. There’s nothing to fix.”
“I know you’re angry, but you should think about the kids,” Tom said, supporting his wife.
“Why would you imagine she isn’t thinking about her kids? She’s their primary parent, the one who’s always with them. You can’t keep telling her to think about the kids like she needs a reminder.” Lily pipped up, irritated.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Tom clarified, clearly upset by Lily’s correction. “Just that children need their fathers and in the heat of emotions, you can make some choices you regret. Maybe you guys could talk to his family or something before destroying everything you’ve built.”
Lily scoffed. Before she could speak, Winnie slapped the table before her, making everyone jerk in shock.
“The same family that knew about that first child all this time? Kevin took that child to his mother to have him shaved for his first birthday. Some traditional thing. That woman looked at me for two years, spoke to me, and laughed with me knowing full well that my husband was hiding a child from me. That’s not a family I want to hear anything from. I want to scream when I think of everything I’ve done for that woman. Reminding Kevin to send her money, going to visit her every few months, even when Kevin doesn’t go along. Hell, when she was sick, I was the one in the hospital that entire week.” She shook her head and leaned back in her chair.
“You know what I don’t get? What exactly is the point of having a man who threatens to stop supporting his children in the home? What kind of man is that? Withholding financial support, and using it to control someone is textbook financial abuse. You can’t truly think children are better off in a home in which their mother is being manipulated and abused by their father. As if all that matters is that there be someone with a penis in the house.”
“Don’t be crass. Kevin is not an abuser. Let’s not throw around that word casually when there are men killing women.” Tom threw back, his ire rising.
“How would you characterize him threatening to withhold financial support for his own children if she leaves him? He is controlling her through money.”
“What kind of man would willingly support you while you’re out there sleeping with other men?”
“He’s supporting his children. They had an agreement: she would stay home and take care of the kids and he’d support them financially. So now that he’s getting his dick sucked elsewhere, he thinks he can change the terms willy nilly?” Lily turned to his wife, Maggie. “Do you hear how he’s talking about supporting his own children?”
Tom stood up. “Stop making this personal.” He yelled.
An involuntary tremor ran through Lily as fear gripped her.
“Can we just calm down?” Linda asked. “Let’s not say things we’re going to regret.”
“Are you seriously going to sit there and act like it’s Winnie who’s ruining things for her kids? Like it’s not Kevin who should have been thinking about his children growing up without a father? This is not on Winnie.”
“All we’re saying is two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“And her choosing to walk away in the face of such betrayal and disrespect is somehow one of the wrongs? The right thing according to you is for her to stay with a man who has shown her in every way that he not only doesn’t love or care about her, but that he doesn’t respect her at all. Somehow this is what you think children need to see and let’s not even talk about the financial abuse you refuse to acknowledge.”
“You’re not married, you don’t have kids. You don’t understand the sacrifices parents have to make.” Maggie said in that annoying voice.
Lily scoffed. “You mean the sacrifices women make? I would sooner self-immolate than get married if it’s anything like what you people present.”
Silence engulfed the room when Lily stopped speaking.
“She is right.” Isaac cleared his throat. “You know she’s right. The problem isn’t Winnie. Kevin destroyed his children’s family. If they grow up without a father, that’s on him. It’s not on Winnie. All that children need a father rhetoric is just patriarchal talking points. Children don’t need a father, they need loving adults in their lives who are present and ready to show them how to be good, decent people. That’s what they need, and the truth is Kevin is not doing that. If anything, he’s giving them a masterclass in being dishonourable while hurting and disrespecting their mother to boot. Having that kind of man around just normalizes this reprehensible behaviour to children. We have to start holding men responsible for their actions and not putting it on women.”
Tom sneered. “Dude, just tell her you have the hots for her. Take the inevitable no and keep it moving. All this simping is just embarrassing.”
Isaac was surprised by his loud, sharp intake of breath. It felt like someone had punched him in the gut.
“You’re an asshole and you’ll never be half the man Isaac is.” Lily said, looking Tom right in the eyes before grabbing her bag and walking out.
Lily muttered to herself as she stomped down the poorly lit staircase. She heard the door open and close and knew someone was following her.
Isaac caught up to her as she was opening the gate.
“Sorry about that,” he said as he stood waiting for her to open it.
They stepped out, and he closed it behind him, running to catch up to her.
“You move pretty fast for someone with such short legs,” he said with a light chuckle like he expected her to chuckle along with him.
Lily kept walking. She sighed loudly, unsure of what to say. In her haste, she tripped and narrowly missed landing on her ass when Isaac grabbed her arm, steadying her.
“Shit.” She cussed. “Thanks,” she added with a sigh.
“Hey, slow down,” he whispered, stopping her when she wanted to stomp off again.
“Okay. I’ll slow down for you and your long legs.”
“Thank you,” he said with an almost visible smile.
They walked in the direction of the main road. “Sorry about all that.”
“It’s okay,” she muttered.
They walked on.
“I meant it. I meant everything I said. It’s not some kind of long game to get you.”
“About asking you out…”
“The only reason I didn’t is because I didn’t want to risk messing up what we have. We’ve been friends a long time and so when I started thinking of you like that, it freaked me out a little bit. I don’t know why though, because the qualities I look for in a friend are the ones I look for in a partner, you know. Someone kind, insightful, principled, brave, loyal. Beautiful.” He bit his lip before rambling on. “You’re one of the best people I know, and I didn’t want to fuck with that.”
Lily laughed, a little nervous herself. “So, it wasn’t my whole men are trash vibe.”
“Nah. Men are trash, exhibit A this entire evening.”
“Well, not entirely,” she said, winking at him.
Warmth flooded him. “Yeah. Would you go out with me if I asked?”
Isaac reached for her hand and stopped her. He moved to face her and gently caressed her cheek. “Lily, will you go out with me on a date? I like you a lot and it would make my night if you said yes.”
She was surprised to find herself suddenly shy and closed her eyes as she breathed out, “Yes.”
“Can I kiss you?” He whispered.
She opened her eyes and nodded, going on her tippy toes. Their lips met in a soft kiss that shook her to her core. When he pulled away, she pulled his head down and prolonged it. His arms around her waist tightened, lifting her. This time, when they pulled away, their breathing was laboured.
Lily laughed, burying her face in his chest. “I think we’ll be alright,” she said.
He laughed, and she wondered how she’d never clocked how sexy it was, all deep and throaty. “Yeah, looks that way,” he said, tucking her into his side, his arm over her shoulder like he didn’t want to let her go now that he’d found her.
Two months later
Isaac lay sprawled on his bed, watching her pace about in his bedroom in her sleeping shorts and so well worn it was a transparent, white vest. It was hella distracting, especially given the seriousness of the matter.
“Like I don’t even get why I’m surprised. Of course, she’s going to the forest to fast and pray for her marriage. Of course, they’re trying again. Of course, that’s how this plays out. Did you hear he said I was the one poisoning her? Telling her to get a divorce. I never once told her what to do, I just listened while she wailed about how hurt she was, how she was leaving him. All I did was listen and affirm her feelings.” Lily sneered. “Now, I’m the bad guy? I don’t even know how I was ever friends with Kevin, how were we ever friends? I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming. How dumb was that?”
Isaac walked up to her. He bracketed her face with his palms. “Sweetheart, you know, and I know that none of that is true. You were being a good friend. Things are just happening the way they do. This isn’t about you. He’s just choosing to project on you to avoid taking responsibility for his deplorable behaviour.”
“She’ll be back,” Lily muttered.
Isaac nodded. “Yeah, likely. And you’ll be here for her when she does because you’re a good friend.”
Lily lay her head on his bare chest, loving the feel of his soft chest hair. She wrapped her arms around his waist and let him hold her.
“Sorry,” Isaac whispered, and she was surprised when tears filled her eyes. She hadn’t realized until then that she was not just angry, she was hurt. All that bluster was just a cover for the pain she felt for her friend, for women everywhere, for herself and for the friendship she was potentially losing. All the friendships she was losing.
He rubbed her back, soothing her like she was a child.
“You’re going to be okay and hopefully Winnie will be too.”
Lily nodded, then kissed him just above the nipple.
“Now, will you finally come to bed? It’s midnight and we’re going to work tomorrow.”
She nodded, disentangling herself from him and sliding into her side of the bed. He gathered her to himself, then kissed the top of her head.
“Goodnight,” she said, kissing his hand, eyes closed as peace filled her.
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