5 | Thinkin’ Bout My Ex
Lying in her bed, Ryan wasted time by going through the many contacts in her phone. Something had clicked in her mind and she realized that it was time for another change. It would begin with removing people from her life. Folks she hadn’t talked to in years, folks who only called to beg, folks who only called to inquire about her personal business, and folks she couldn’t even remember giving her number to. She toyed around with the idea of calling her business partner, with whom she shared ownership of her firm, but she’d save that for later. Up and quitting and fully ‘disappearing’ would require more thought and planning. At least, that’s what she told herself to keep from jumping the gun.
Then, as she got to his name, Roman’s name, she stopped herself and sighed. It’d been years since she dialed it, but if he was still anything like her… he’d never changed it. It was a joke among family for the longest, the only two in the world who’d keep the same number for the rest of their lives.
Almost instantly, various memories came flooding in. Like the first time she and Roman met.
Summer 2003, Ryan was visiting family in St. Louis and somehow found herself being talked into going to a block party. It was being hosted by people she’d never even heard of, people she’d never met in her life, but her sister Toi insisted they stick around.
Just from hearing a song called ‘Boughetto’ playing, and seeing grown ass women dance, twerk, and ‘chicken head’ to it, Ryan knew it wasn’t her scene.
Unbeknownst to her, as soon as she and her sister made their entrance, there were eyes on them. Toi loved the attention, but Ryan tried her hardest to stay to herself. She didn’t want to offend the host, or seem as if she were … annoyed by what she saw, but there was no misreading the displeased look on her face. She’d managed to find a corner and chair to herself until someone finally stepped to her. A guy that couldn’t have been more than two inches taller than her, baby dreads in his head, wearing a tall white tee, long walking shorts and Air Force Ones. He introduced himself Jamel Walker and stated to Ryan that it was his cousin’s party.
He omitted the fact that they were celebrating the fact that his cousin had just signed a contract to play for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I really just came over here for my cousin, he laid eyes on you but he’s kind of scared to come over and talk to you.”
Ryan rolled her eyes. “Then he obviously doesn’t need to attempt to be with me if he’s ‘scurred’, as you put it, to talk to me. I don’t like little boys. Nice party though.”
Jamel chuckled, waving for his cousin to come over. And when he did, Ryan could hardly stop herself from staring. Though he was skinny, obviously far from the sophisticated types that she liked, there was just something about this guy. To be scared to speak to her, he exuded nothing but confidence as he eyed her. “I didn’t even get your name, Miss, but this is my cousin. The host of the party, Roman Vaughan. If you’ll excuse me, there’s a shawty with the flyest weave I’ve ever seen in my life and I must get to know her.” And with that, Jamel walked away.
Roman calmly stood next to Ryan, extending his hand. Her eyes traveled up his arm, to his body. He was wearing dark blue jeans with a clean, white wife-beater tee. His tattoos on full display. He sported a durag, with a baseball cap turned to the back. “May I ask your name, beautiful?”
Ryan smiled, politely shaking his hand even though she wanted to leave. Looking across the area he had sanctioned off for his party, she could see her sister dancing with Jamel. Her thoughts of leaving quickly shot down. “Ryan Hawkins.”
“Pleasure to meet you. I’m sorry if my cousin came over with an approach that upset you, I just wasn’t sure if you would have spoken to me if I came over first. Are you enjoying yourself?”
“Truthfully?” He nodded. “No. This, this isn’t my type of thing.”
“Oh? Then why come to a block party? Sorry to say it Shawty, but we don’t play no classical music or jazz around these parts.”
There was nothing Ryan hated more than to be called Shawty, but she loved the way it rolled off of Roman’s tongue. Maybe it was how low he spoke. Might have been his accent. Might have even been the way he smiled at her as soon as he finished saying the simple word. “My sister insisted. I would really appreciate it if you could drag your pet monkey away from her. He doesn’t look older than sixteen, and she can’t afford to catch a charge.”
Roman laughed, stroking his chin. “He’s older than me. You think he’s sixteen, how old do I look?”
Roman smiled, leaning down. “Nah, grown man over here.” She giggled at the way he pronounced ‘here’ as ‘hurr’. “It’s very obvious that you’re not from around here. I would love to get your number, so we can keep in touch. Maybe if I earn the chance, next time you’re in town I can take you out to dinner.”
“That’s quite alright.” Ryan stood up, preparing to head back to her sister’s car. Even if she had to sit there for a few hours, it would be better than surrounding herself with people she didn’t know; drinking, smoking and acting a fool. Roman smiled, taking this chance to really get a good look. Her brown skin, flawless. Her smile, though he only got a brief glimpse, magnetic. And though he had no real preference, he loved all women, it was something about the way her toned body looked as she stood still before him with her hands on her hips that got him a little too excited. Instantly he found himself wanting to peel away the Baby Phat jeans she wore, lift away the spaghetti strap top… but he controlled himself. Forced himself to move his eyes away from her ample breasts as well.
“Why mess up the fun they’re having? Come on, talk with me for a little while. I promise, I’m not a bad guy. I won’t hurt you, and if I do make you uncomfortable, you have permission to slap my black ass into next week. Slap the black off me if your hand is real strong.”
Ryan rolled her eyes, sighing. “Fine, Roman. What could you and I possibly talk about?”
He shrugged, putting his hands in his pocket. “Tell me a little bit about yourself, and I’ll tell you about myself.”
And from there; they found out the basics. He was twenty, she was twenty-seven. She had no experience with younger men, he loved older women. She thought the age gap was a bit much, he saw nothing wrong. In spite of what he’d presented with his party, they shared a lot of the same interests. Music, food, film, and more. He liked that she didn’t care or switch up her attitude and the way she spoke once he did state what his profession was. He admired that even though she worked with celebrities, she was down to Earth and preferred to be in the background.
She was smart on the mouth, but so was he. And all the sass she threw at him, he threw back with jokes and wisecracks.
As time went on, the more time they spent together, the more she grew to love everything about Roman. He wasn’t just some guy who took pride in lounging around and doing nothing. He had real ambition, and though he loved his hometown, he worked hard to make sure he saw places outside of St. Louis while giving back. Like Ryan, he loved his family. And like Roman, Ryan realized she had a goofier and relaxed side. He brought that out of her.
Ryan smiled to herself, her finger hovering over his name. More thoughts and memories slipped in; their first kiss, when he proposed, their wedding day. The trips they took together, silly fights, real fights… even the thing that truly tore them apart.
As she wiped away the few tears that fell, Ryan took a deep breath and clicked the little phone symbol next to Roman’s name. She waited and waited for a few rings until he finally picked up. “This is Ro.” His quick answer whenever he was busy and didn’t look at his phone, she remembered that too.
Holding up his finger as he politely excused himself from the company of the older gentlemen he was speaking to, Roman walked away to a quiet corner and cleared his throat. “Ryan? Is this really you calling my phone?”
“Yes. I was, I was wondering how long you’re going to be in New Orleans. I really think we should talk and finally hash things out. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I saw you at that sports bar last night, and I really need for things to be clear between the two of us. So that I can finally move on. You were right, I’m not happy. I’m not happy because I’ve been holding on to a lot, and I didn’t even realize it until I saw you again.”
Roman cleared his throat again, nodding for his own benefit. “Uh, a talk would be real nice, but I’m actually leaving tomorrow morning, bright and early. I’m actually closing up a little business now; if you’re comfortable with talking tonight, that would work out for me.”
“Yeah, that’s fine.” She wanted everything out in the open and cleared up for good. “Text me the hotel you’re staying at, the name and I’ll come through at around eight.”
“Alright. And Ryan…”
“Will you really hear me out this time?”
Ryan sighed, sitting up as she looked around her room. “Yes, but only if you’ll listen to me too. We both got problems; we like to talk but hate to listen. That can’t happen this time.”
“Gotcha. See you in a little while, Shawty.”
“Stop calling me that.” Before he could say anything smart, Ryan hung up and fell back against her pillow. She had one thing in mind and one thing only; to let go and move on. She only hoped that Roman, and her own feelings when he was around, would allow for a smooth closure.
6 | Communication
Once Roman opened his door, he stepped aside and Ryan cautiously walked in. As he closed the door behind her, she looked around and saw that he was packing his things and cleaning up. “So, where are you headed next? Back to St. Louis?”
He smiled as he stepped past Ryan, moving his suitcase from the one chair in his room so that she could sit down. “No, not quite ready to head back home yet. Figured I’d take this chance to get a real vacation. I’m heading over to Italy. Gonna stop in a few of the cities that I’ve always wanted to see. Rome, Milan, Florence, just to name a few. You know, never been to any of those.”
Taking a seat, Ryan crossed one leg over the other and thought for a second. “Oh, Roman, you are such a liar.”
Her words caught him off guard, but he smiled. “Why do you think I’m lying?”
“Because you have been to Italy, damn near every city, province, municipality, and region. I remember, and you should too.”
He shook his head, unable to recall a trip that huge. They had been on many in their short time together though. “It’s not ringing a bell.”
“I can’t believe you. Before we had the big wedding, you and I went down to the courthouse. Everyone in our families, they were getting on our nerves and we said screw planning, we just went and got married in front of a justice of the peace.”
“Everyone was mad about that as well, so we left them alone during that family vacation we’d already had planned, and we flew across seas for a quick and small ‘honeymoon’.” It was all coming back. “We went to more than Italy, but that was the first stop. I remember it because it was our first trip together as a couple. It was just so beautiful, and special, and we did not leave our hotel room for at least three days. Room service had to hate us because in between making love, we just ordered, and most of it we didn’t even eat.”
Roman chuckled, nodding his head as the memory came back fully. “Put all of that whipped cream to good use though.”
He laughed. “See, I remember that part. Put it on a brother so good, nothing else afterwards mattered. That was when I found out you were into light bondage and all of that extra kinky stuff. Had me thinking I was the freaky one, but you… Shawty, you were something else.”
Ryan laughed, covering her face as she cleared her throat. “So listen, I think that you and I should just clear the air about everything.”
Roman nodded, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Where do we start?”
“With me.” Ryan stared at her nails for a few seconds. “I am so sorry for everything I’ve ever said to intentionally hurt you and break you, to make you feel like you weren’t the man that you are. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these last few days, and as much as I’d like to blame our downfall on just your mistakes, I can’t. To an extent, I pushed you towards other women, and instead of realizing that the first time, I did it a second time. I said I would forgive you, move on and I didn’t. I continued to hold that against you, continued accusing you when I knew you weren’t cheating on me. You were home every night when you weren’t playing, and when you were out of town, you were constantly in touch with me. I forced you to give me constant details on your whereabouts, and I shouldn’t have. I purposefully made you feel trapped and I shouldn’t have done that either. Belittling you, talking down to you just because I was a few years older, treating you as if you were a child and not an adult-” She sighed. “I’m sorry, because I know firsthand that isn’t a great feeling. To be controlled and monitored, told what to do constantly, to be babied when you’re an adult, watched like a hawk… that was done to me and I hated it. And I shouldn’t have treated you that way. You were my man, not my child and I didn’t respect that. I didn’t respect that while you were living your dream, you were still making a living to take care of me and our home and all that we were working towards. I didn’t cooperate, didn’t make it a team effort, and I didn’t allow you to love me the way that you wanted to love me. I had to be in control of everything, including how I thought you should feel and, I’m sorry.”
Ryan nodded, taking a deep breath. “When we come in contact again in 2009, when we tried to hash things out that year after the divorce-” She suddenly found it hard to speak. Tears found their way down her face, and without even thinking about it, Roman moved to her side. Leaning next to her, he gently wiped each tear away. “I knew you were still angry about the miscarriage. I knew that was still so painful for you. You mourned more than I did, you found it harder to deal and you thought I didn’t care, so that was the final straw. We gave up. But I cared, I was hurting too and you didn’t even see through the facade I’d put up. I said I was happy I’d lost the baby, but Roman, I swear I wasn’t. I was so broken. I am so sorry for saying that to you.”
“Then why’d you say it?”
“Because you were there with your new woman, and I assumed you were happy again, happy without me. I just, I knew you wanted a family more than anything, and when you said you might get that with her, I felt jealous. It was the first thing that came to mind; if you were going to share that with someone else so soon, then I was ‘glad’ it didn’t happen for us. I was mad, and bitter. Telling you that you weren’t shit, you were everything. Telling you that you were a terrible husband, you were amazing!”
“But not good enough for you, Ryan.”
She sighed, finally pushing his hand away. “It just wasn’t meant to be. Everything between us happened so fast. We were so different, such an odd ass pairing.”
“But it worked for us, and I never once felt that you weren’t the one meant for me. Even though I did try to move on, nothing worked. No one compared to you. Ryan, the good shit only comes along once in a lifetime for some people. It happened early in life for us, and I never understood why you rebelled against that so much. One minute I thought you were happy, and the next you were complaining about everything. Nothing I did was right, but I still hung in there because I loved you. You were my woman, my everything.”
“And you told me that, every day.”
Roman stood up, scratched his head for a second. “I was wrong for cheating. I could have easily backed up my talk about us fighting and making it work, but I didn’t. I was selfish and I had it in my mind that you were just going to find something else to complain about anyway. If it wasn’t that small ass age gap, it was something else. A man could only take so much, but I tried Ryan. The more I tried, the more you pushed me away. And yeah, you saying that you were happy, it hurt like hell. In that moment I felt like everything you’d ever told me was a lie. You know, how could Shawty really love me if she was happy that the best part of us was gone? No matter how dirty I’d done you, I wouldn’t have told you no shit like that Ryan, and you know it.”
“Yeah, I know.” He was by her side through it all, even until the day their divorce was finalized, he was still concerned about her mental wellbeing after going through the miscarriage. Even now, he was still concerned. He’d never seen her cry over it, never even saw her stop to ask for small moments to herself. She would never go into the nursery like he would, never spoke about their child again, not the way Roman did. “Roman, I just don’t want this pain to be the thing hanging between us anymore. I am tired of being angry, and sad about unresolved issues. I’m tired of us bumping into one another and just fighting for nothing; I’m thirty-nine, you’re thirty-two… we should be able to handle this now, like adults, together. To see one another, know what happened and where we went wrong, and be able to talk without one of us trying to hurt the other. I want to know that you and I are in a good space, so that I can let all of this go and move on. I just want to be free and happy again.”
Roman looked at Ryan, nodding his head slowly. “I honestly haven’t been upset for a couple of years now, but if forgiveness is what you need, then yes Ryan, I forgive you.”
“For everything? Every hurtful action, word, my behavior, not showing that I cared?”
“Yes Baby, all of it. I forgive you. And I am sorry. Beyond sorry for every bit of pain I’ve ever caused you. The lies, the women, not seeing when you needed me. Disrespecting you and treating you as if you didn’t matter. Not considering your feelings, making you feel as if you had to take it a step further in that last argument. Neither of us had a need or reason to hurt the other, but I feel that I’m the one who could have prevented all of this. I am sorry.”
Ryan stood up, accepting Roman’s hug when he extended and opened his arms to her. “I forgive you.”
“And I forgive you. Now the next time we see one another Shawty, you won’t be crying, and I will try my hardest not to feel on your booty.”
“Shut up.” Roman laughed, hugging Ryan tightly. “I still love you too Roman, and thank you for helping me see how bad I’d gotten just from holding all of that in.”
“Knowing you, you’re gonna do a lot more crying, but you’re welcome. Even if it’s not with me, you’ve gotta be happy with yourself, and holding all of that in, it’s only going to get worse. I only brought up your happiness because I was in that same trapped state myself, letting all of that build up and fester until I finally snapped on the wrong person.”
Ryan pulled back, looking at him as he smiled. “Who’d you go off on?”
“My mama. She beat my ass too. I don’t care if you’re twenty-eight Boy, you can still catch a switch to the back of that there ass. And she meant that.”
Ryan laughed, shaking her head. “I still love the way you say certain words.”
“Oh, ‘thurr’, ‘hurr’…”
“Shawty.” Ryan cleared her throat as she looked down at her watch. Their talk was quick and somewhat easy, but exactly what she needed. And though she initially felt it might not do any good, so much had been lifted off of her heart and shoulder. “I better go. Have a safe flight and, if you’re ever in California give me a call. We can finally have a decent lunch, as friends and talk some more. Do some of that catching up you kept mentioning before Jamel finally dragged you away last night.”
Roman nodded, smirking.
He walked Ryan to the door, smiling when she turned around to face him. “You know Ry; she would have looked just like you. Those eyes, those cheeks, and that smile.”
“And by now, she’d probably be talking like you, no matter how proper I try to get her to speak.”
“Because she’d be all up under Daddy, of course she’d talk like me.” He cleared his throat, whispering a little. “I used to have you talking crazy too, remember that?”
“No, I don’t remember that. Bye Roman.” Ryan smiled, pushing Roman back when he stepped closer. He moved closer again, this time leaning down and pressing his lips to hers. She hesitated for a moment before finally pulling him closer, feeling the exact way she felt the very first time they kissed. She missed it, missed him.
When Ryan finally pulled back, her thoughts were all over the place again. Roman cleared his throat, rubbing the back of his neck as he stepped back a little. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have done that, I forgot for a second that you’ve got a man.”
She cleared her throat. “Half of that statement is true.”
Pushing the rest of her thoughts to the side, Ryan pushed Roman all the way inside of his room and closed the door behind her. She began removing the jacket she was wearing after silencing her phone and sliding it into her jacket pocket. “You shouldn’t have kissed me. But since you did, one last time, for the road.”
7 | Feels So Right
The events of the night played out in Ryan’s mind as she closed the door of her hotel room. It’d been so long since she’d engaged in such an intimate moment, so long since any man had taken the time to properly cater to her body and needs. To have her needs put first was something she hadn’t experienced with any other man before or since Roman.
Though she hated to admit it, Roman was still, and probably would always be, the best lover she’d ever had.
Sitting on her bed, she shook her head, tickled at herself and her behavior. No, he wasn’t a stranger; but casually sleeping with her ex-husband as if it were nothing had never been on her list of things to do either. She was mad at herself; she knew it would happen and did nothing to stop or control herself. It was probably the only reason she’d chosen to break from Donald temporarily. He’d seen other women in the past during one of their breaks, for the first time she felt entitled to have her own moment with someone else. And for that someone to be Roman, Ryan honestly felt no regret or guilt.
Hearing Softest Place On Earth as it played on the radio she’d left on, she smiled to herself. Recalling bits and pieces of the encounter as she stood up and began to undress. Passing by the full length mirror, she caught a glimpse of just how disheveled she actually looked. Her face bare, now free of the makeup she’d worn. Her braids, pulled up into the biggest struggle of a bun in all of life, one bra strap still hanging off of her arm, and a dark hickey on her neck. “I could kill Roman for this.” She poked out her bottom lip, smiling as memories of his soft lips caressing her bare skin came flooding in quickly.
Sliding her hands down Roman’s back as he kissed her neck, Ryan giggled a little, moaning with each slow and deliberate move he made as she gripped her legs tightly around his waist.
So many feelings and emotions took over; she tried to reason with herself, telling herself that the entire moment was wrong. Her body, however, didn’t care; it needed Roman’s touch. She craved the feel of his skin against hers, craved each stroke, loved the way his mouth played and kissed along the most sensitive areas as he paid special attention to each and every inch of her body. Focusing on each and every curve, taking his time in the way he catered to what he knew she needed most.
Intimacy; to feel wanted, to feel needed and desired, to feel loved… all while experiencing pure ecstasy. She’d never say it, but he knew it’d been a while since she’d had a good orgasm, and he was just the one to give it to her.
Ryan could feel his muscles flexing beneath her fingertips and as he pushed deeper, she dug her nails into his back, pulling him closer, screaming out his name.
Now standing in the bathroom of her own hotel room, Ryan sighed. She cut on the shower, making sure she got it to the right temperature before walking out to get herself something to put on. The slow and lazy steps she took as she thought on more of their time together, she bit down on her bottom lip… still able to hear the way he whispered in her ear, called out her name when she climbed on top. The way he held her hips, grabbed and squeezed her ass as she threw her head back. The way it went from making love twice, to messing around a third time and doing the crazy shit they did when they’d take the time to experiment.
“Why you tryna act like you not a freak with yours, Shawty? Let me get that out you right quick.”
And he did, almost regretting it when she tied his hands to the headboard so that he couldn’t touch her while she took her time with the little show she put on for him.
Their conversation when it was all over is what stuck with her most though, at the moment. He said what they’d both been thinking as soon as their bodies cooled down. He was holding her in his arms, planting soft kisses on her lips. Neither wanted to ruin the moment with the obvious question sitting at the tips of their tongues, but Roman needed clarity, and he needed it right then.
“Is this something you’re going to regret, Ry?”
She shook her head, taking a deep breath as she sat up. Pulling the sheet over her body, Ryan let out a gentle sigh. “No. And believe me; it was so needed.”
“But you don’t believe it should go past this?”
“You think it should?”
Roman nodded, answering honestly. “We both know I miss you like hell. As far as I’m concerned, you’ll always be my wife. If I have to work hard to win you back, I will. And I’ll work twice as hard to make it work this time. That is if you thought that you and I could have another chance.”
“I think we could, but I don’t believe it will be best. You still make me so happy, nothing in life has brought me more pleasure than these moments between us. Not just anything sexual, but small moments where we just kiss, or we just stare at one another and say nothing at all. To laugh at everything and nothing at all, the old inside jokes, you taunting me about my freak tendencies. Me clowning you and the way you pronounce certain words, the big things, the little things and every beautiful moment in between. Even though we had our problems and shit, that’s bliss and joy I’ve never found anywhere else. Happiness I’ve never felt anywhere else, not with anyone else… not even myself. Ro, if I can’t be happy alone, how could I possibly hope that you and I will be better the second time around? It’d just be you putting in most of the work to keep things together, and me finding every reason to give up because I’m not happy or secure with myself.”
“So you’ll just settle.”
Ryan smiled, leaning over to kiss Roman one last time. “Yes, but not with him… and not with you. By myself. And who knows, maybe it’ll be different if we run into one another again. Third times the charm, right?”
Roman nodded. “So they say.”
They spent a few more hours together, just lying in bed and talking before Roman had to get up and get ready for his flight. Using the time while he showered, Ryan made her way out and back to her own hotel. She didn’t want that awkward moment; that goodbye, or him asking her to come with him on a whim. She meant exactly what she said; it might be a different story, she might feel differently if they were to run into one another again.
She left a simple note, thanking him for their moment together. For still loving her, regardless of all they’d been through, for not judging or making her feel bad for her own mistakes. And for re-opening her eyes to who she was as a person before things fell apart. Happy, carefree, silly, spontaneous, and content with herself and life. She needed that side of herself back, and she was going to work on getting it back.
For his patience, understanding, and constant encouragement; for being the one to care about her well-being, her happiness, and her as a person, he would always be the greatest.
Stepping into her shower, Ryan was convinced. She’d made the right decision, it felt right.
She’d come to her favorite city, in love with the idea of someone loving her. She’d gotten to recapture a piece of what had been one of the greatest moments in her life. And she would leave as a new person, ready to take on dreams she’d let go of. Whatever happened afterwards, she hoped she’d be ready to accept with open arms and a healed heart.