Derrick wasn't surprised to come home to two black women embracing in his kitchen with plumes of smoke rising behind them like a movie effect. It was hard to conjure up any such emotion when he was met with a scene like this every other day.
It helped that he happened to know the two women and also happened to live with them. No, they were not his lovers. He didn't do polyamorous relationships, though every now and then he had the thought that he had been in one from the very beginning.
"Momma!" His son pushed him aside and rushed into living room, eager to see his mother.
Derrick shook his head at that. No matter how long Charlie spent with him, he was still a mommy's boy. It sort of stung being the less liked parent.
When his wife had gotten pregnant, Derrick had wanted a son because of all the bonding he imagined they would do—throwing ball in contact sports and playing video games—then Charlie arrived, a little bundle of everything he never thought he wanted plus a whole extra bunch of surprises. He didn't know if the daughter he might have had would have been a daddy's girl, so he didn't have any regrets. Sometimes he just wished his son would love him more.
With a sigh, he shut the door behind him, two backpacks slung over his shoulders by their straps. "We're back," he announced, just for the sake of it.
He watched the two women separate, the one in a mini skirt being his wife of six years and the one in a loose peach towel being Bambi, his wife's best friend.
"Derrick!" Bambi waved at him, pulling up her towel to cover up more of her cleavage. "I didn't expect you to be back so soon."
"If I had come later, I won't have been able to catch you two in the act," Derrick said, a hint of a smile on his lips. "How many times have I told you not to snuggle with my wife when I'm gone?"
"You know I can't help it, Derry. Cherry is like a teddy bear," Bambi said with a hollow laugh.
Derrick thought she didn't sound like herself today but that might just be because he hadn't seen her in a while.
He watched her wipe her eyes discretely when she thought he wasn't looking. Cherry couldn't have seen it either. She was too busy inspecting Charlie.
"You don't have to look, he's not missing any limbs or anything," he told his wife, his worries about Bambi getting displaced. "Sometimes I feel like you don't trust me to take care of our son."
Cherry looked up just to roll her eyes at him. "He's lost weight."
"That isn't possible, he was only gone for two days," Derrick argued then turned to Bambi. "You're a doctor, tell her."
"Well," Bambi rubbed her chin with two fingers in the way a villian would stroke his goateee, "weight loss can happen in a matter of days due to severe emotional stress or starvation, children are still growing after all, the brain needs it's glucose and fat is a nice alternative to food. Or it could be as a result of an underlying illness that started a long time ago and the weight loss is a symptom that's only manifesti—"
Cherry raised her hand and cleared her throat. "That's enough, Bambs. I probably just missed him so much that how I imagined him was probably fatter than how he actually is."
"Probably," Bambi smiled wide. "I was going to close with that."
Cherry shot her a frigid look then returned to inspecting her son.
Derrick gave Bambi two thumbs up. "You're the best," he mouthed.
"You owe me," she mouthed back.
"Momma, momma," Charlie tugged on Cherry's sleeve, "why was my pwo-janitor crying?"
Usually, when Charlie asked questions, everybody was brought down in fits of 'oohs' and 'awws' because of how cute he was. He pronounced words in a very babyish way, which was normal for children his age—with growing teeth and all—but for him it was extra cute because a lot of big words had managed to slip into his vocabulary from unknown sources [Bambi].
Derrick looked at his wife and shrugged. He had no idea what Charlie meant. He couldn't even hazard a guess. His son was too smart for him sometimes.
Cherry tilted her head to Bambi, her eyes narrowed in an accusatory stare. What the hell did you do, it seemed to ask. Bambi pretended not to see it.
"Hey, fetus," she managed a smile and walked to the boy. "How was your birthday at Grandpa's?"
"There was wots of cake and there was a clown." Charlie rushed towards her in excitement and grabbed her hand. "Nobwody died but Jenny ate the cake and the cake had wots and wots of peanuts and um, um. And?"
"Jenny?" Bambi prompted.
"Jenny! Jenny's face looked like a big twamato!"
"A tomato?" Bambi repeated, getting an idea of what he might have been trying to explain. "And what happened next?"
"Grandpa stabbed her with a pee-pen," Charlie concluded with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"I twold him to," he said proudly.
"Then her face was no longer a tomato, right?" Bambi asked.
Charlie nodded. "Jenny didn't eat cake again," he held onto his tummy with a frown. "She made me eat them!"
Bambi knelt down and gave him a hug. "But you like peanuts, don't you?"
"Yah," Charlie nodded against her shoulder. "I mwissed you."
"I missed you too, Charlie," Bambi told him. "I'm sorry that I couldn't make it to your birthday party."
"It was boring."
"Then it's good that I didn't come, isn't it?"
Charlie hummed in agreement. "I bwought you cake. I hid it in my pwockets."
"Thank you, Charlie. I love cake."
Cherry and Derrick took a glance at each other after watching several minutes of Bambi and Charlie's conversation.
Is he my son or hers? Cherry asked him silently with her gaze. And what does he mean by a pee-pen?
Derrick glared at his wife in return. I should be asking you that question. And how the hell should I know?!
True, it didn't feel good being the least liked parent, but what topped that feeling in its degree of awfulness was knowing that your child's favorite parent wasn't his parent at all.