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|Without Me(Men of Inked #7) by Chelle Bliss|
Even though I wanted to lie to Ma, I couldn’t. Plus, she’d see through any fib I told. “Yeah,” I answered as I placed a forkful of eggplant parmigiana in my mouth. As I chewed, I saw everyone looking at each other before their eyes fell on me. “What?” I asked with a garbled voice.
My mother corrected her previous question. “As in a girlfriend?”
There was no reason to hold back. Soon, I wanted to bring her to dinner, and it would be better if the shit hit the proverbial fan now instead of in front of her.
I sipped my water, washing down the food in my mouth and making them wait for my answer. They stared at me as they patiently waited for my reply.
“Yes, she’s my girlfriend.”
“So, you’re not gay?” Ma asked as her mouth hung open and the entire table erupted into laughter.
“What?” I replied.
Honestly, I could see her point. I was the only one in the family who’d never had a significant other, and I sure as hell never talked in front of my parents about any of the women I banged.
“I mean, it’s okay if you are, sweetie. I’ll still love you. Don’t be ashamed of who you are,” Ma said as she gave me a very serious look. It was the type of look she’d used when we had been kids and tried to lie. She’d lull us into a sense of security to get us to confess.
“Ma, I am not gay.” I shook my head, feeling my face turn red.
“If you say so, honey.” Ma smiled at me and the laughter grew louder.
“I’m happy everyone is getting a kick out of this,” I said as I stabbed at my eggplant.
Ma wiped her lips, laying the napkin back in her lap before she looked at me. “Anthony, you’re the only one who hasn’t brought someone home. As the oldest, I thought you’d be married with children by now. Hell, I’ve never, ever heard you talk about a girl.”
“Listen, just because I don’t kiss and tell doesn’t mean I haven’t had women.”
“Lord has he,” Izzy interjected before starting to laugh again.
“Izzy,” I said, shooting a “shut the fuck up” glare in her direction. “Ma, I’ve just never met anyone who was worthy of meeting the family.”
“That’s silly,” Ma replied as she started to play with the food on her plate.
“I’m not gay, I’ve had women, and I have a girlfriend. Are we clear? I just want to make sure everyone has their details correct.”
“Bro, chill out,” Joe said.
“I am, Joe. Cool as a cucumber.” I placed a forkful of food in my mouth because I knew another question was coming. Nothing in this family was quick or easy.
“Same girl you mentioned before?” Izzy asked as she drew her lips into her mouth, trying to stop her laughter.
I nodded, unable to talk with so much food in my mouth.
“Things change since the last time we talked?” Thomas asked as he stared at me.
Between bites, I said, “Yeah.”
“Tell us about her, Anthony. Stop holding out on me,” Ma demanded.
“For you, Ma, anything. I met her a while ago, but we were just friends.”
“With benefits,” Mike mumbled.
I scowled at him before I began to speak again. “It took us a while to get on the same page. She wasn’t too keen on the idea of dating. I’m hoping to bring her with me next weekend.”
“Thank would be lovely, Anthony. Who is she?” Ma asked as she set her fork down, giving me her full attention.
“I’m sure there are better things to talk about. I can tell you later, Ma.”
“No.” Izzy shook her head and waved her hand over the table. “We all want to hear this, Mr. I Hate Everything About Relationships. Do tell.”
I mouthed the word “traitor” at Izzy before turning my attention to Ma. “Her name is Maxine, but I call her Max. She’s a stylist or something like that. Has a little shop down in Tampa.”
“I love her already,” Izzy said, tilting her head.
“She’s black,” I blurted out like it mattered, even though I knew it didn’t.
“And?” Pop asked nonchalantly as if I’d divulged a secret that weren’t so secret or important.
“Just throwing it out there,” I replied as I sucked in air. I had known they wouldn’t give a shit, but I wanted the information out there from the get-go.
“I don’t care if she’s blue,” Ma said. “Tell me more about her. Why haven’t you brought her over sooner?”
“Did you think we’d care about the color of her skin, son?” Pop asked with a raised eyebrow.
Where should I even begin in my explanation? “No, no. I knew you wouldn’t care. It’s complicated,” I replied, because it was the truth.
Ma crossed her arms and tilted her head as her eyes bored into me. “All relationships are. Who at this table had an easy relationship?”
“Joe and Suzy,” I offered, because they’d had that insta-love thing.
“Hell no,” Joe interrupted.
“Anthony,” Suzy said as she stopped eating for a moment. She must’ve had something important to say, because Suzy hadn’t stopped eating since she’d become pregnant. “Your brother and I didn’t have an easy love. Mostly because I was an idiot. But it wasn’t easy. He was just persistent.” She giggled, glancing at Joe and winking.
I slouched back in my chair, trying to remember what happened back then. It felt like ages ago, even though not even a couple of years had passed.