"Hey, Snapper," I called and his eyes came to me before he smiled.
I reached and grabbed Travis from Joker (doing this avoiding his eyes). Travis latched on to my hair right away but I didn't feel it (I had a tough scalp seeing as he did that a lot and my scalp had no choice but to toughen up). Once I had him, I walked to Snapper.
"This is my son, Travis," I declared and looked down to Travis. "Travis, this is Snapper. He took Mommy on a ride on Saturday and it was really nice."
Travis gurgled, staring at Snapper while trying to eat his own fist.
"Yo, little bro," Snapper said quietly, lifting a hand toward Travis, which meant Travis lost interest in eating his fist, wrapped his baby fingers around Snapper's index finger, and yanked that into his mouth.
He barely got it wet before Travis was no longer in my arms.
He also no longer had hold of Snapper's finger.
He was held high against Joker's chest.
Travis didn't mind, and I knew this when he commenced slapping Joker on his bearded cheek then fell forward and licked black whiskers.
That made the ache come back, but through it, I felt surprise at Joker's maneuver.
In fact, I was surprised he'd done it the first time with Big Petey (though not as aggressively).
And I was so surprised, I was about to say something.
But then I felt it.
The tenseness in the room.
It was then I saw it.
Even with a baby sucking on his beard, Joker had his eyes locked to Snapper and he was not looking at him with motorcycle brotherly love.
I wanted to take a step back.
I wanted more to snatch my son and then take a step back.
But the heaviness of the situation was not lost on me and I sensed any movement would not be a smart idea.
So I stood still and waited.
Luckily, the wait didn't last long.
Strangely, it ended with Snapper saying low, "I get it."
To which Joker rumbled lower, "Good."
I felt my eyes get big even if I had no earthly idea what was happening.
Travis gave up lapping at whiskers, declared, "Bee, bo, bah," and yanked Joker's hair.
Joker ignored it and kept scowling at Snapper.
"Brothers, last day of the month, clear it. Need men to move Carissa into Tyra's old place," Tack announced through the thick air.
Snapper stepped back, glanced at me, and said, "I'm in." He lifted his tank top my way. "Good to see you, babe. Your kid is cute."
After that, he strode off without me being able to say anything.
I looked up to Joker, not knowing if I wanted to yell, stamp my foot, demand an explanation, or laugh hysterically.
I did none of these things.
Joker still had Travis held high but now he had his head turned to him.
"Know you don't got any, little dude, but it'll grow and I kinda like my hair where it is."
Travis emitted a "Dee dah," and slapped Joker on the mouth.
That mouth twitched.
"I'm going to the mall," I announced.
I mean, when your life was in turmoil, what else did a girl do?
I had no money to get anything at the mall, but Travis loved it. He was social and was dedicated to charming anyone who came within two yards of him
. He needed those opportunities, and they weren't afforded when we were stuck in our tiny apartment.
So the mall it was.
I reached toward Joker and quickly averted my eyes when his came to mine.
I grabbed my boy just as Tyra declared, "Awesome! Ride and Cut and I'll come with. I'll call Elvira."
I settled Travis against my body as I turned to her. "Doesn't Elvira work?"
"Hawk has a time-off-for-shopping policy," Tyra told me.
She said this and I knew she meant it because her head was bent and her thumb was moving over her phone.
I watched, thinking that I wanted to work for whoever this Hawk was.
"I'll be at your house an hour before you gotta leave for shift tomorrow," Big Petey said to me, heaving himself off his stool. "You can show me the ropes before you go."
"Thanks, Big Petey. That'd be great," I replied.
He lifted a hand and plodded out.
"Ride, Cut, quit tryin' to kill each other and get your asses over here," Tack ordered, making me think Tyra should instigate her own cursing levies since her boys were old enough to understand the English language.
"Later, Butterfly," Joker muttered and my eyes went to him just as my heart again flipped.
"Uh, later, Joker."
He gave me a look that said nothing, firm behind his wall of steel, then he sauntered to the back hall.
"Elvira," Tyra said into her phone. "You. Me. Carissa. My boys. Carissa's Travis. Mall and lunch. Thirty minutes." Pause, "Which mall do you think? See you there." She looked to me and smiled. "Let's roll."
I hadn't been shopping with girlfriends since before I got pregnant.
I had no money for trifles, a higher rent coming up, a hefty debt still to pay my old attorney, and non-monetary debts racking up to new friends.
Even with all this, lunch and the mall on the horizon with women I liked, I... could not... wait.
So I didn't.
Me and Travis rolled.
* * *
"If you don't get that," Elvira started, standing, bouncing, and holding my son to her while holding his hand so he couldn't smack her with it (anymore). "I'm gettin' it for you."
"And I'm getting the other one. The tank with all those rectangular sequins on it," Tyra declared.
We were in the handicapped dressing room of a store that I'd never been to.
All of us. Including Rider and Cutter, who had proved through a mannequin incident in a previous store that they needed constant vigilance.
And I was standing in front of the mirror in my jeans and a tube top.
It wasn't your average, everyday tube top.
It was a muted forest green in a smooth, stretchy, but tight knit. It had a thin turnover lip at the top and a seam under the breasts. And it went down my midriff and lower, to tuck into my jeans.
It was a classy tube top.
And I couldn't believe it with my bigger breasts, but it looked really cute.
Further, Tyra was right. I'd also tried on a black tank that had rectangular silver sequins stitched in an amazing design on the front, and although that wasn't my normal thing either, it still looked fabulous.