The solution came fully formed into Orlando’s mind. There was no need to tweak or adjust his plan. He’d been sitting in his favorite coffee shop thumbing through the New York Times when he suddenly knew what he needed to do. Jamie was a smart, fun, cheeky little boy who’d managed to surprise him with his resilience to the chaotic lifestyle that came with having a former drug addict for a mother. Yet, Orlando wasn’t sure Jamie’s resilience would be enough to withstand being shuffled around in the foster care system. He’d had a taste of that in the year after his mother died and he didn’t want that for Jamie. He would foster him, Orlando had decided. He already had his license really couldn’t think of a better option. A few hours later he told Jasmine what he decided.
“Are you sure?”
Jasmine stirred some sugar into her herbal tea before bringing her questioning gaze to Orlando. Sure? No, he wasn’t. His job kept him busy as hell and he’d never been responsible for a living thing in his life – not a pet, not even a plant.
Orlando began to shake away the indecision Jasmine’s question brought up. He could make it work. He could adjust his hours. He had both his mother and Grandma Nona to help out. Jaxon and his wife, Maya, were closer still. He could afford the best nanny money could buy.
“Yeah,” he replied. “I’m very sure.”
Jasmine smiled and took a sip from her mug. “That’s really great of you O.”
They were sitting in the living room of his one bedroom Brooklyn loft. All of his siblings chose to live in Manhattan but Orlando couldn’t resist the modern, yet bohemian, apartment he’d bought four years before when he became sick of renting. The deep burgundy walls and exposed brick still called to him but he wondered if it was a suitable place for a child. He floated the idea past his sister.
“Ideally he should have his own room,” Jasmine started. “But I’d be hesitant to make any major adjustments for a fostering situation. You don’t know how long its gonna last. Isn’t there someone you can talk to? Like his case worker or something?”
Honeyed eyes popped into his mind with Jasmine’s suggestion. Yes, there was someone he could talk to but he wasn’t sure he wanted to. The rest of their encounter at the hospital had been stiff and uncomfortable. Katrina may want him to believe their past had no effect on her but that was a damned lie. Professionalism my ass, he thought. Professionalism had nothing to do with how she held her back so rigidly he was afraid she would break.
“Or something,” he muttered. Jasmine raised an eyebrow but he didn’t elaborate. Instead, he pulled out his phone and prepared to face Katrina’s iciness head on.
“Wait a minute, the Orlando Johnson?”
Katrina made a face at her best friend. Sabrina was like a sister to her but she could give Lifetime movies competition in drama. She scooted closer to the computer’s screen half hoping Skype would give up signal so she’d have an excuse to end the uncomfortable conversation.
She’d returned home from the hospital filled with negative energy and unable to sleep. Katrina told anyone who asked that she’d put the whole Orlando mess behind her. And, she’d believed it too! Now she wasn’t so sure. Last night she’d tossed and turned in ways she hadn’t in years, haunted by the one dream she thought she’d long banished to the cesspool of history. She remembered everything about the moment Orlando left her. One weekend they had been browsing engagement rings and plotting a future together. The next she was sitting on the couch in the apartment they shared listening to him tell her that he didn’t love her and didn’t think he could. Katrina remembered the cool fall breezes that blew through their open window and the way the bacon she’d just prepared for breakfast wafted in the air. It took years before the scent of bacon didn’t make her physically ill. But mostly, she remembered the way his eyes sparkled earnestly when he said the words that ripped her life to pieces. She couldn’t begin to fathom that the man she’d gone to bed next to for the past two years didn’t love her. Or, the man who would kiss her gently awake with proclamations of love was lying. In the years that followed she tortured herself trying to figure out which Orlando was a lie. The one who woke her up one night to ask what he’d ever done to deserve her or the one who’d sat on the floor next to her that fall morning. It took even more years for her to realize it didn’t matter a damn bit.
“Earth to Kat.”
Sabrina was sitting cross-legged on the couch of the Boston apartment they once shared frowning.
“Are you ok?” her friend asked again. Katrina closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was okay. She’d been okay for years. She’d had other relationships; some good, some bad. Sometimes she was on the receiving end of heartbreak and other times she dished it out. She was not stuck in the place she’d been for far too long after Orlando left.
“I’m fine,” she said. “About to be late for work, but fine.”
Katrina engaged Sabrina in gossip about the friends she’d left behind until her best friend was convinced she was really as fine as she claimed to be. She checked her watch and swore. She hadn’t been lying about being late for work.
Two trains and countless side eyes later, Katrina walked into her office building wishing she’d had time to stop for coffee before starting her day. She was halfway to her office when she spotted him. He was wearing a tailored, navy blue suit that probably cost more than her rent but she had to admit, reluctantly, that it did wonders in showcasing his broad shoulders and tapered waist.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” she asked when she came to stand next to him. Even in her four inch, office suited heels she barely came up to his shoulders.
“It is official business.”
The response irked her and Katrina did not hold back on her irritation when she responded.
“I wasn’t aware we had any other sort of business.”
She began walking towards her office without giving him a chance to respond. “This way please.”
Her office was small, cluttered and filled with well-used furniture. A far cry, she was sure, from his big shot office. She took a seat behind her desk and began arranging the items she would be working on that day. Orlando stood near to the door. She guessed he wasn’t going to sit unless she invited him to. Katrina embraced the pettiness she felt. Well, Mr. Johnson would be standing then.
“How do I go about fostering Jamie?” he asked after a few minutes.
Her heart lurched in chest. She’d been trying feverishly to find a suitable place before Jamie’s release from the hospital but had been largely unsuccessful. Or had been tremendously picky, according to her coworkers. She didn’t know pickiness was a bad thing when the safety and well being of a child was at stake.
“Where would you find the time?” she challenged.
Orlando folded his arms. “I’m a senior Associate. I have minions to do my bidding.”
“We both know people like you hate to rely on anyone else,” she said. “So let’s be real.”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He wanted to sit, she realized, but neither of them was willing to give up control of the situation.
“I have a large extended family and can hire a nanny. You are his case worker so you could help me select the best one.”
She tapped her pen against the open pad. She knew about his large, extended family. It was something that made him very attractive to her when they were dating. Being able to help with the selection of a nanny was also a huge plus.
“Married?” she asked.
Orlando shook his head.
“Dating?” she continued, hating the way her breaths slowed in anticipation of his answer.
“Completely unattached. I got the bachelor pad to prove it.”
As much as she wanted to dwell on the first part of his blasé response it was the second that needed her attention.
“Bachelor pad? How would that be suitable for a child?”
He shrugged. “I’ll move.”
She hoped the shock didn’t show on her face. It wasn’t that moving would be hard for Orlando. Anyone who was familiar with successful, black families in the United States knew the Johnsons were swimming in cash. She was caught off guard at how committed he was to Jamie. Maybe he was far more attached to the child than she’d allowed herself to believe.
“Just like that?” she said.
He brought his gaze to hers and in the soft, firm voice that used to make her weak in the knees he said, “Just like that.”
“In that case Mr. Johnson,” she said slowly. “Please have a seat.”
© Rilys “Rilzy” Adams, 2018