We were afforded about three full months of bliss before the first test to our relationship came and this time it was from someone neither of us expected. Leelah. As the time passed, I introduced Taryn to Lee, figuring as I’d be helping her out as best I could once the baby arrived, it was best if they got to know each other. The meeting itself was uneventful and transitional. Lee and Taryn got on well and there seemed to be zero residues of jealousy, at least from Taryn’s point of view. But, one Tuesday morning Lee gives me a call; expecting it to be baby news as she was due any moment now, I pick up the receiver very quickly. She claimed she needed to speak to me as soon as possible, so I arrange to meet her at her place at lunchtime, as this was the only time I had free. Her tone didn’t strike me as odd and I thought nothing of it when I updated Taryn that I wouldn’t take a lunch with her as I’d be meeting up with Lee for a last minute chat. I had assumed it was to work out some of the kinks of our collective plan once the baby arrived. So, as I pulled up in her driveway and knock on her front door, I was in a very relaxed and content mood. I didn’t leave her place 45 minutes later feeling the same way and the rest of my working day didn’t afford me any mental respite. That evening, after cancelling dinner plans with Taryn due to this headache, she came around to lend a listening ear.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she coaxed. We had agreed that we would always be open and honest with each other when prompted if it took time to openly share our past experiences, fair enough, but when asked we’d be an open book. Besides, I didn’t want to lie to her and definitely not about this.
“I honestly, don’t know how to say it- I’m not even sure what happened…,” my voice trailed off.
Her body stiffens, “Well you better get talking because you’ll have me thinking the worst until then.”
“No! No! Nothing like that happened! I swear, I would never. Honest….,” I sigh and bite the bullet. “Leelah basically wants me to be her birthing partner…she wants me to be the baby’s godfather…but mostly, she wants me to be her partner…,” I rush out the last part.
Taryn’s face is like changing mirrors, I can tell she’s processing and trying to be careful with her next words. When they did come, they surprised me.
“I suppose this is your opportunity to have the family and life you lost. It’s your second chance…maybe you should give it a go.”
My head whipped in her direction incredulously, “Are you nuts?! That’s not what I want…I know at one stage I was convinced that Lee was it for me. I would have given anything to just be recognized by her, in any capacity other than a friend. But so much time has passed and I realize that I was in love with a concept, not a person- her and Greg always seemed to be the couple to aspire to, at least to me. But, you came along- you flipped the script for me, you, Taryn. So no matter who throws themselves at me, I only want you. My light bulb moment came when we were at The Brownstone- I meant everything I said in the garden…every word.”
I hadn’t planned this speech, but it flowed out of me, “While some part of me is happy because it was words I’d hoped she’d utter about me, I realize that part of the reason she uttered them is because she is alone and hormonal- even if she doesn’t see that. This baby is due at any moment and I think the magnitude is hitting her. She’s overwhelmed.”
“You always see such good in people Jon, that’s one of your best traits, but it’s also what continues to get you hurt…used,” her eyes were soft, but behind them was anger.
“What do you mean?”
“Jealous. She’s jealous Jon,” Taryn replies matter of factly.
I chuckle awkwardly, “…No…she can’t be. Of me? For what?” I scratch my head, genuinely confused.
“Trust you to not see it. Take it from me. If I had a friend who had a puppy dog crush on me for over a decade, which reaffirmed my ego, who then finds someone new and then let’s go off those feelings, while my relationship is in shambles and I am about to become a single parent…yea?!? I’d fully attest to throwing myself at said friend, just to have a semblance of a “normal” cookie cutter life. Even on a whim of offending his girlfriend, because after all, said friend always drops everything for me, right?” she rolls her eyes. “Do you want a glass of wine, I think I need one.”
With that she strolls out of the living room, leaving me to simmer with her words. I knew she was right. I can’t say I didn’t expect this, it’s not like I didn’t know Lee enjoyed the attention I provided her throughout the years, even if it was platonic, it was still attention she was now void of. Why were people so complicated? I had given her a chance, but it wasn’t what I wanted. Leelah Dunfield wasn’t who I wanted. I attest, to say this after so many years was odd, but she wasn’t. Maybe I held on to it because it was the one thing that hadn’t changed. Through my relationship with Isabelle, through our loss of Amelia Rose, through all of the deaths, Richard’s and eventually Isabelle’s suicide, my love and admiration for Leelah never wavered. She was there for it all, so it’s no surprise to have that centre shift, was probably a shock to her, but it was time. The wave had come and had passed. I had held on for far too long, it was now time to swim to another island. I’m sure Taryn was aware of this, but I still felt the need to reassure her.
Taking a deep breath, I stretch and walk into the kitchen, Taryn’s back is facing me, with a glass of wine in her hand, she is looking out of the double doors to the backyard. I pour myself a glass and join her by the French doors, reaching my hand out and laying it on the small of her back, I ask,
“Are you ok? I was worried about telling you because of how it’ll make you feel. It is pretty shitty of Lee to do this. I am sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, there’s nothing for you to be sorry about. You were open and honest to me about it and Lee was possibly speaking her truth, however odd the timing is…I guess it upset me because it’s yet another instance where I feel like I’m not good enough…not good enough for you,” she takes a sip of her wine.
“Taryn, you’re not only good enough for me, but you also exceed that and more. Don’t put yourself down. Please, don’t,” I take her by the shoulders and wait till she is forced to meet my gaze, “I know it’s not been a very long time, but I have to tell you something…I love you, Taryn Franklin-Dorough.” She raises her eyebrows. “Dr Taryn Franklin-Dorough, I love you.”
She flicks a loose curl away from her eye and lets out a smile, “That’s better. I love you too, Jonathan Pierce. Dr Jonathan Pierce.” As we pull apart from our embrace, I whisper in her ear,
“I’d like us to move in together.”
She deposits her wine glass on the island and turns around to face me, “You what?”, she says this slowly.
“You heard correctly, don’t stall…what do you think?” I’m beaming.
“Jon…I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, while I’m super happy you want to move to the next step, we don’t have to tick off all of the boxes today…I want it to be true to its timing, not a visceral reaction to something else or…fear that I’ll run.”
“Oh. You think I said this because of what Lee said today?,” I close the gap between her and I. “No, no and no. There you go thinking you’re second best again. I felt like this months ago, I just didn’t want to tell you then- because it WOULD have been eager and you would have ran for the hills, but the truth is. The night I met your brother, was when I realized that I would fall in love with you and I determined the fact that I wouldn’t stop it. I spent a lifetime of stopping things, no longer. So…I want us to move in together woman!”
She throws her head back and let’s out a laugh, “Oh geez, I’ve only just moved into my house- I’m not moving again unless it’s to move into The Brownstone!,” I knew she was teasing, but a spark went off in my head. I could actually see us living at The Brownstone, bringing it back to its old glory, but I kept this to myself. It was then that I pledged that I would propose to her at The Brownstone.
“So, does that mean I’m moving into yours, then? Will you have me?”
“Yea, yea…I’ll just have to move the skeletons out of the basement, but it’s doable,” she shrieked and runs into my arms.
Lifting her up into the air, we dance around the kitchen in our reverie of happiness and managing to avoid Mabel who was no doubt unimpressed with our excitement. Taryn really was my saving grace.
Oliver James Dunfield-Wingham was born 3 weeks later, weighing in at 7lbs and 19 inches. His birth was as dramatic as his conception, but Lee took it in her stride. Greg decided to step up and was present for his birth, while Taryn and I waited in the wings along with Lee’s half-sister, Carla who spent the majority of the labour pacing back and forth. Lee and I hadn’t spoken much since our chat, but where I would have normally been worried and might have tried to patch things up, I welcomed the break. She had a lot on her plate and I was very content to stay in my happy bubble with Taryn. I had somewhat moved into Taryn’s place in the last week or so, choosing to put my house on the market. It was only fitting that I close this chapter of my life, it wasn’t fair to expect Taryn to move into my house of memories, but also for myself, I recognized that I needed a fresh start and probably should of moved out years ago. Mother couldn’t be happier, although she wanted us at The Brownstone, she understood the importance for us to get to know each other better.
Moving into Taryn’s house was easy to do, none of my furniture came with me, I chose to donate it to Brentwood’s Women’s Shelter, where Lee worked, plus I was fully aware that I had zero design aesthetic. I had felt at home the previous times I had frequented her house and the times I slept over, was amazing; needless to say I was very excited to move in with her. What Taryn wasn’t excited about was having Mabel join us.
“What do you mean you don’t like cats,” I ask.
“Well I don’t dislike them…they just give me the hibbie jibbies…that’s all,” Taryn replies shivering.
“But you’ve seen Mabel at mine all this time with no issue…I don’t get it.”
“Yea, I know. She greets me and then disappears. But I’ve never lived with one…like her on my bed? It’s just…don’t worry about it. I’ll cope. I want to live with you and you come with Mabel, so I’ll adjust,” she smiles up at me reassuringly.
We were packing up the last of my personal belongings as I was turning the keys over to the realtor in the morning.
“So, how are you feeling now that everything is all packed up?” Taryn asked as she adjusted the strap on her white tank top. She was wearing the same short shorts she wore when she had come over unannounced that Sunday and I was still just as much in awe of her physique then as I was now.
“Well, it’s more liberating than I had actually anticipated. I thought I’d be sad, but I’m happy. I feel ready. Plus, when the help is as salivating as you are, why would I complain?,” I purr.
“Oh for crying out loud. You and your compliments!”
“You and your aversion to compliments!”, I laugh, “I speak the truth. I can’t wait to see you get ready every morning and to be able to reach over and stroke your face or play with your hair…all of it.”
“Boy, didn’t I tell you the golden rule of never touching a Black woman’s hair?”
“Well as you’re 1/2 Black, can I touch the White side of your hair? Or, maybe I can touch half of your head?,” I stick my tongue out.
“Come here let me slap you,” she replies teasingly.
This is what I loved about her most, our banter. With Isabelle life was so serious, she never allowed herself or us much room to just go with the flow and I was relishing being in this part of me again.
“That’s the last box packed up in the car, you ready to go? I have a present for you at home,” her eyes were dancing.
“Sure, let’s hit the road,” I reply as we walk hand in hand out the door. I lock up and lead Taryn to the car. I never look back as I drive out of the driveway. This was it. Goodbye Amelia Rose. Goodbye Isabelle.
The blip of awkwardness between us and Lee naturally faded away once Oliver made his appearance. We were all enraptured in all that was baby bliss and for some time acted like any group of friends would, there was no sign of Lee & Greg’s divorce or any talks of Lee and I coupling up. To any observer, we were one happy group or even family. We worked out a schedule where Lee would be able to take breaks and either Taryn or I and even Greg took part happily for the first couple of months. But naturally, any honeymoon period began to erode when Greg announced that he had become serious with his new fling, a 21-year old flight attendant, Eloise; this severely upset Lee to the point where she began to neglect her duties to Oliver. The truth was Greg and Eloise were an item months before he just didn’t want to disrupt the euphoria over Oliver, but even he couldn’t predict the effect this news would cause. Lee would arrange to pick Oliver up at a certain time and she would be a no-show or would show up hours later, Taryn and I would have to reschedule some of our appointments or our one on one time with each other. Oliver was becoming more and more like our child rather than Lee’s. It got so bad that Lee’s mother even came down one weekend when Lee was nowhere to be seen for two full days. To ask Greg to take responsibility for his son was like asking him if he wanted an STI, Taryn and I were at our breaking point, all the while this wasn’t fair to three-month-old Oliver. I would be lying if I said having him so close didn’t make me relive some of my first moments with Amelia, it really was lovely, but he wasn’t our baby and Taryn and I could be spending the time working on making our own. That was the straight facts, even though we had managed to avoid the topic of children until this point, I knew that having Oliver evoked those feelings in Taryn and truth be told I was nervously excited to know what she’d say, but the proposal had to come first.
“Jon?” Taryn tested the air.
“Yup sweetie?,” I said as I leaned across the threshold to the laundry room.
“Do you think we should have Greg and especially Lee over to have this chat we’ve been avoiding? It’s become a little ridiculous now.”
Lee’s forty-eight-hour tryst was still fresh in her mind.
I sigh, “I guess we need to don’t we?… Set boundaries and all that…,” I was really reluctant to have this conversation with Leelah because a part of me knew it wouldn’t end well. Even if she knew the truth and that we were in the right she would take offence and I would spend my time wishing I hadn’t mentioned it, but Taryn was right. Before I could finish my train of thought, my phone rings, I quickly look at the screen, it’s Patrick Savant, the clinic’s accountant.
“Sorry babe, I’ll just take this- it’s the accountant. When he calls I know I need to pay attention and he never usually calls on a weekend…, hold that thought,” I turn the washing machine on and walk to the kitchen island and take the call. Taryn motions for coffee and I nod.
“Patrick! Hi! How are you? Working on a weekend I see!,” I rush out, we were never that friendly- mostly professional. He allows himself a minute or two of small talk and then gets straight to the point.
“Dr Pierce, I hope you’re sitting down, because I am afraid I don’t have very good news for you,” his voice is curt and emotionless, which I suppose made him good at his job, but in this instance the blood drains from my face and I quickly put down my coffee cup.
“Eh…what is the problem Patrick,” my heart is pounding in my ear.
“I’ve looked at the numbers; I have actually been sitting on this information for over a month because I wanted to be sure I was correct in my calculations, there’s no way around it. Dr Wingham is embezzling money from the clinic. Embezzling to the sum of hundreds of thousands of dollars Dr Pierce.” He goes on but none of the words he says registers.
“Embezzlement…? Embezzlement…wait. What does that mean exactly?,” I spit out.
“Stealing, sir. He’s been stealing money from the business.”
“What the actual fuck? Is this a prank?,” I ask, still in shock. At this point Taryn had sat herself down next to me, as the words leave my mouth, I feel her body stiffen beside me.
“I’m sorry to be calling you with such news, I couldn’t risk coming into the office in case he saw me, as I usually deal with Dr Wingham when it comes to finances, but I know you invested a huge sum. This money was meant to sit in the account and earn interest and cushion the business, but when I looked into the account to ensure the books were balanced, the amount is less than a quarter of what it was a year ago when I last did the taxes. As the clinic has been a success that money was never really touched, it looks like Dr Wingham has been withdrawing sums of money from said funds. I have dug deeper and can track the actual accounts they have gone into and I have hired a member of staff to pull out all the paperwork to present to you. I don’t know what your next move is, but I can freeze the account in the meantime so the money cannot the accessed. Dr Pierce, how would you like to proceed?”
“Umm…shit Patrick…I really don’t know how to process this. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars? Can you hold?,” I mute the cell phone and look over at Taryn who looked just as shell-shocked as I was.
“What is my life right now?,” I ask out loud, not really to anyone in particular.
“We need to fix this fast. Do you mind if I speak to him?”
“Be my guest…I thought to give Greg the books would make it easier for me, I guess I was wrong. Extremely wrong,” I hand the phone over.
“Hi, Patrick. My name is Taryn, I’m Dr Pierce’s girlfriend. Sorry to be meeting under these circumstances…yes. Will do. Would you be able to email your findings so far, we will look it over and get back to you. I would agree freezing the account would be best, but we don’t want to alert him to the fact that we’re aware he’s been embezzling or he’ll most likely skip town. Shit, I know I would…yes. Ok. Do that, Jon will speak to his lawyer or will find one and will get back to you. Find out everything you can. Thanks. No problem, we will be in touch. Have a good weekend.”
And just like that she was off the phone, professional, direct and curt- was there anything she couldn’t do?
“We need to call your mother. She’s an accountant, all be it semi-retired, she might have experience with this and you need someone you can trust right now…,” she was already on to the next steps. Pulling out the laptop and typing in something into the search engine. I was still cemented to the kitchen floor…my best friend and business partner is embezzling money from me…from our company. That money was mine, I had invested it- all of it. How could he do this? Lord knows it wasn’t really about the money, but the principles of taking it. Greg probably thought the same thing, that I wouldn’t miss it because of my family’s net worth, but he’d broken my trust. I really didn’t know him at all.
“You going to call your mom or should I?” she was reaching for my hand to guide me out of my reverie. “Jon, baby- it’ll be fine. Don’t worry. There has to be a silver lining…right? I know it’s hard to see now. I’ll admit, I’m struggling to see it right now. But. There has to be one. There always is. Come, give me a kiss.” She gets up and plants a kiss on my already gaped lips.
“You really are everything. I don’t know how you do it,” I pull her in for a bear hug.
“Truth is, I’m an alien…I’m here to take over that sexy body of yours. Now call your mother, I’m sure having her as an accountant will count for something. Plus she must know a good lawyer for this kind of thing. Your family can’t be well established in the elites and not have connections. We need to make Greg know that he messed with the wrong person. Not the Jon pre-Taryn. And he best not let me pull out my West Indian cuss words. Call your mom now,” she hands me my phone.
“Yes ma’am, I don’t want to ever be introduced to those West Indian cuss words,” I wink, take her hands and lead her to the couch as we both make the call to my mother.