Orlando left his impromptu meeting with Katrina with a wry smile. He’d had meetings with opposing attorneys that were a lot less icy than his meeting with Katrina but it was successful. Or, at least Orlando thought it had been. He and Katrina covered a lot of ground. She didn’t try to sugarcoat his position. It didn’t help his case that he was a single man with a high-powered job who’d never actually fostered a child before even though he was certified to do so. However, there was no mistaking the bond he and Jamie shared. She believed Jamie’s circumstances meant it would be beneficial to focus on how attached Jamie was to him. Orlando agreed. He was also very attached to Jamie. It was more than that the kid had the ability to make all the stressors of his job and life disappear with one gap toothed smile. He recognized himself in the little boy. He knew what it was to live that life. Except Orlando had thought Jamie and his mother would make it. He’d thought Jamie would never have to know the pain of having the one constant in his life ripped away.
“Damn it Irma,” he muttered. What had the woman been thinking? How could she throw away all the progress she’d managed to make? He supposed addiction was never that simple. It must be easy to get pulled into wanting the familiar comfort or high so many addicts traded their lives and well-being for. Hadn’t he done the same? Orlando sat across the small office feeling the familiar ache in his chest that cropped up whenever he allowed his mind to linger on Katrina for too long. Orlando had a hard time remembering why he’d left in the first place when he watched her sitting there in the burgundy top that brought out her skin’s warm undertones. That, of course, wasn’t strictly true. He could remember exactly why he left. He had thought of the picture perfect future he and Katrina were planning and started to feel like he was trapped in a cellar. And then he found his escape hatch. Rachael Spencer. She was the woman who’d opened his eyes to what love should feel like, he thought. Being with Rachael was a heady rush of overwhelming attraction. He’d felt like his feet could never touch the ground. It was the type of feeling Orlando was sure littered the romance novels his mother and Jasmine loved to read. It seemed almost sad to try to measure the feelings he had for Katrina against the way Rachael consumed him. If what he felt for Rachael was love then it was obvious he didn’t love Katrina, wasn’t it? In the weeks that followed as he fought with himself he believed he’d never regret leaving. And he hadn’t. Not for years. Life, you see, had a way of showing you things. The irony was that sometimes you gained the clarity while head first in a tumbler of gin and late – painfully late. Love wasn’t always heady or frighteningly intoxicating. Sometimes it was steady, rooted. There was beauty in that too. Yet, that was not his most painful realization. Orlando hadn’t been head over heels for Rachael – she was his escape hatch. Things had become too serious, too real with Katrina and he needed to run. He needed to create distance before he ruined her. By the time he’d come to that realization he’d also managed to ruin his relationship with Rachael. It was then Orlando decided he wasn’t the relationship type. He wasn’t going to be concerned with a wife and family the way his brothers had become. Those things were not made for him – his childhood showed him that. Yet, as he sat at Jamie’s bedside watching him sleep, Orlando knew there was nothing in the world he wanted to do more than bring the little boy home, protect him and guide him through life.
You don’t know how long such an arrangement would last, Jasmine had said when he talked about being Jamie’s foster father. Jamie’s large, almond shaped eyes fluttered open and he smiled widely when he saw him.
“Juice!” he exclaimed like Orlando was all of his Christmas gifts and birthday presents wrapped up in one.
Orlando knew how long he wanted it to last. He didn’t have Johnson blood running through his veins but he did have their ability to get things done. It was settled. Orlando was going to do everything in his power to bring Jamie home with him that weekend and to see to it that he stayed there.
Katrina’s day was hell. It’d been one crisis after the other. She couldn’t wait to get back to her apartment and pour a glass of wine large enough to drown in. She hadn’t expected the level of kickback she got when she suggested Orlando as a temporary foster parent for Jamie. Wanda, her heavyset supervisor, dismissed the idea. The woman had rolled her deep-set, Grinch-like eyes and pressed her lips into a thin line. Wanda didn’t think Orlando – as single as he was and as busy as he was – would know the first or last thing about taking care of a child. She continued her resistance even after Katrina pointed out that he not only had younger siblings but also a baby niece. In the end Katrina took her suggestion directly to the head of their department. That, predictably, did not go down well with Wanda. She figured she’d be paying for going over the old goat’s head for the rest of her time in the department. Katrina didn’t care. She didn’t become a social worker because she thought all the decisions would be easy. And, as much as she couldn’t stand Orlando, she knew he was Jamie’s best bet. It wasn’t just that it was clear he adored the little boy. Orlando was probably the only person in their midst who could personally relate to what Jamie would be feeling. The head of department, Juliette, was sympathetic to all of Katrina’s arguments and generally agreed with her position.
“I expect you and Mr. Johnson to come up with a concrete plan of how the child’s care will be managed by tomorrow. After which I expect you to perform house visits three times per week until Ms. Simmons is satisfied.”
Yes, that was when Katrina’s day went to shit.
She didn’t want to spend any more time with Orlando than was absolutely necessary but she couldn’t very well defy her boss’ order. Katrina knew she was going to have to update Orlando on the decision eventually but she wanted some time to recuperate. She wanted to tuck Orlando firmly in the back of her mind where she’d buried him all those years ago. Even if it was just for a couple of hours. She didn’t bother checking her building’s elevator – it never worked anyway – but instead walked up the three flights of stairs to her apartment taking out each inch of frustration on the fraying, blue grey carpeting. She had just about turned the corner when she spotted him. He was leaning against her door in stonewashed jeans and a pale green polo shirt looking like he owned the place. It made her blood boil with rage.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded. She started reaching into her bag for her key but stopped halfway there. She wasn’t about to invite him inside.
“How do you even know where I live?” she asked before he could respond to the first question she fired at him.
“I asked a few people,” he said softly as if it was the most natural thing to hunt someone’s address down and show up at their front door uninvited. Through the haze of her annoyance something stood out. Panic clawed at her.
“You didn’t change your mind, did you?”
“No,” he answered. “Of course not. I just wanted to talk to you.”
“You could’ve called,” she shot back.
“You would’ve hung up on me when I got around to saying what I needed to say.”
“That’s usually a good indication that maybe you should back off.”
This time she took her keys from her bag and eased her way past him. She began to turn the key in the lock when he spoke up.
“I’m sorry Kat. I made a mistake.”
She wanted to turn around. She wanted to look into those hazel eyes to see what was reflected there. She didn’t. Years ago she would’ve given her left arm… literally given her left arm to hear those words. But now? Now it was too late.
© Rilys “Rilzy” Adams, 2018