Lamar hears his dad leave in the middle of the night again. He waits a few minutes until he knows Damon isn't going to run back in the the house because he forgot something. When he know it's clear, Lamar grabs his flashlight and goes to his dad's room.
Lamar's on a mission tonight. He knows his dad is hiding something from him. A new game. Maybe new clothes. Something.
He starts searching through his closet, between clothes and on the bottom shelf. Nothing. He drags a chair by the door to the closet so he can search up top. He finds an open lockbox and searches.
All that's in there are the birth certificates and bills and rent receipts. He puts the contents back, and as he's getting off the chair, he notices his dad's bottom drawer is slightly open.
Lamar goes to the drawer and begins searching.
The first thing he finds is his dad's 9mm. Even Lamar knows better than to touch it. More searching, and Lamar finds several stacks of money. His eyes bug out; he's never seen that much money before. On one of the stacks he sees a note: “Very soon.”
“If you're gonna be nosy, you gotta get a dimmer flashlight, babyboy.”
He freezes. The woman's voice is soft with a hint of humor. Lamar turns to look at the black silhouette of the woman standing in the doorway.
“I saw the flashlight through the curtain as I came up. Thought you had some unexpected company inside, so I snuck in through the back door with the spare key.” Lamar sees something in her hand by her side; a 9mm like his dad's.
“C'mon, close things up and back to bed.” He does as he's asked.
“Who are you?”
“Problem?” Same 'do what the hell I say right now' attitude just like his dad. He knows better than to mess with her, if she's his dad's friend.
Lamar shines the flashlight on her gun. She takes the hint and puts it behind the small of her back. He walks past her to his room, not looking up. When he gets to his room, he flicks the light on and turns to look at her.
She's his dad's type; dark-skinned and Mexican, long black hair pulled into a ponytail with several loose strands draping her face, and a beautiful face with full lips. But it's her eyes that catch him. Hazel, hawk-like eyes that show she's not to be fucked with. And something else. Her eyes look familiar.
“What's your name?” Lamar thrusts an open hand to her.
“Me llama Elyssa” she says smiling, shaking his hand. “Proper just like your papa, I like that.” She can't help but smile. Elyssa puts an arm around him. “C'mon mijo, time for bed.”
He climbs back to bed, feeling safe and relaxed with Elyssa there. She pulls his covers up and kisses his forehead. Just like a mother.
“Is my dad okay?” Lamar hesitates asking, but why would he get a babysitter this time of night? If he has a new job, that's cool. But to have a babysitter with a gun watching him?
“He's fine, babyboy.” Elyssa sits on Lamar's bed, gently rubbing his hair. “Your dad is trying out a new job tonight, a delivery job.” Lamar looks at her unconvincingly. She sees the look, and quickly smiles. “He'll be alright, and he'll definitely be home tonight.”
“How did you meet him?”
“You trying to avoid sleep, papa?”
“No, just wanna know how you know my dad.”
“You scared of me?”
“A little.” Lamar buries his face under his blanket a little. “But I also feel I can trust you.”
Elyssa smiles, taking off her jacket, tossing it on the floor and lays on her side facing Lamar. “I've known your dad for a long time, before you were born. Back when we were both wild and bouncing together.”
“Bouncing?” Lamar gives her a queer look.
“We were bouncers at a club,” laughing more at his look. So much like his dad. “He was working at the club already when I got hired on. I've always liked hanging with the boys, so I figured get a job with the boys while going to school, and where I could kick some nalgas.” Lamar laughs at that. “Not many people in this city have seen a girl be a bouncer, but many learned the hard way when it came to messing up in the club. Damon gave me a chance where others wouldn't. We had each others back hardcore back at that club, given this is a college town and those putos or putas never fought alone. We became know as the Dynamic Duo.”
Neither realized they were holding hands while she told her story. The more she talked, the more he felt at ease, and the more she felt...familiar.
“Did you and dad date each other?”
“We have a bond, mijo. I love your dad very much. He's always been good to me, and I'd do anything for him.” It's then she realizes that her and Lamar are holding hands, and she fights back the tears. “Including you.”
“But you don't know me.”
“I know enough. I've been around since you were born. My job took me other places, and couldn't see you grow up the way I wanted to.” Lamar sees her get sad. He holds her hand tight and smiles at her.
“Things happen, right? Maybe you had to go away so you could find us again. Dad said if you love something, you have to let it go. And if it comes back, you know it's yours.”
“Damon says that, huh?”
“He got that from me.” Lamar smiles and doesn't let go of her hand. “I had to teach your dad to be gentle, when so many people used to treat him like crap back then and take advantage of him for being a good person. So I hope you know that no matter what happens in life, mijo, your daddy loves you. I--”
“I wish I had a mom who'd love me the same,” Lamar cuts her off from nowhere, surprising her. “It's always been us, aside from my ex-stepmom. I thought she cared. She said we'd always be friends. She hasn't called me once.” Lamar's tears flow. A beast twists in Elyssa's soul seeing him cry.
“You did nothing wrong, you hear me?” Elyssa's voice gets a slight edge to it. “Someone weak can't be with someone strong, and you and your dad aren't weak. Not by a long shot. It takes a real man to do what he's done. Taking care of a child is hard work, and he's done right by you. You did nothing wrong.” Elyssa wipes his tears and kisses his forehead. “She's missing out. Her loss. Understand?”
Lamar nods yes. “Still hurts, though.”
“I know, mijo. Growing up sucks at times.”
“Tell me about it.” Lamar hesitates asking her something and Elyssa sees it. She smiles at him, letting him know it's okay to ask. “Will you sleep in here tonight?”
Elyssa supresses a Joker grin, instead she kisses his forehead. “Gonna go make sure the house is locked up, okay? I'll be right back.”
“Okay. Hurry, though.”
Elyssa's emotions run overboard as she gets up and moves around the house checking windows and turning off lights. After checking the front room door to make sure it's locked, she turns and sees a picture of Damon and Lamar on the wall, both a few years younger and smiling.
Elyssa runs her finger over the picture, dust collecting on the tip. Still not much of a cleaner, baby. She laughs to herself at that thought as past memories flood in; of a man who treated her right and protected her; their first kiss and love making together; her mess-up of asking Duval for a loan for school, and the means of paying it off to him for exchange of keeping it quiet from Damon and guilt behind it; the happiness she felt when they found out she was pregnant and the promise of the family she always wanted; the betrayal she felt from Duval when he told Damon that she's his employee for the next few years because of the loan, and the loyalty and boundless love that grew for Damon when he said he'd always be there for her, but had to make a life for Lamar, which she understood; the image in her head when she kissed and held Lamar one last time before leaving to honor her debt to Duval, and how much she absolutely hated herself for the next nine years for leaving them behind.
Elyssa didn't realize she was crying until she blinked her eyes and mascara blurred her vision. She goes to the bathroom to wash her face, hating the reflection looking back at her as she dries her face.
She goes to Lamar's room, pulls her cellphone from her jacket to see if there's any messages, then lays back down next to Lamar...who finally goes to sleep. She cuddles him and kisses his forehead.
Never again, mijo, her thoughts as she drifts to sleep. I'm back and not going anywhere. I love you and your dad too much. My family, my responsibility now.
40 minutes later
Elyssa is having dreams of a wedding in the woods when her cellphone wakes her from her sleep and to a dark room. It's Damon.
“What's up, D?”
“Get Lamar and get out the goddamn house! Duval's boys think we pulled a fast one. We've been set up. Get out the house now!”
“Plan A, just like you said. We'll meet you there!” Hanging up the phone, she reaches for her gun lying behind her and places it in the holster to her belt behind her back. She quietly—yet quickly—puts her shoes and jacket on. Elyssa leans in towards Lamar, shaking him gently while talking in his ear.
“Wake up, babyboy. We gotta go meet your dad.”
Lamar stirs quickly and sits up. He rubs the sleep from his eyes. “Why so late? Is he okay?”
“Not so loud. You gotta talk low or whisper.” She reaches for his cross trainers and hoodie and helps him put them on. Standing up but still crouching, they make their way through the dark hall like thieves. She carefully looks around the corner where the kitchen meets a back door, and through that door, the laundry room and the main exit door. She notices the window in the laundry room is cracked open, and she hopes no one is outside waiting.
Elyssa pulls out her gun, looking at the window and back door for a bit longer. Nothing, all is quiet. Lamar's grip tightens. Elyssa looks back and smiles at him. That's right, girl. Let him know you're both gonna make it through this shit. A final look at the back door and she pulls Lamar along, keeping quiet and low.
They pause in the laundry room, her instincts telling her to look behind them. Lamar confirms those instincts; there's an outline of a human shadow outside the window. Elyssa feels her son shaking. She looks at him, eyes bugged out and mouth drawn tight. She motions for him to back up, but he doesn't move; he's too scared. Elyssa turns and puts her forehead to his, giving him a reassuring smile, which Lamar returns. She slowly backs them out of the laundry room and into the kitchen, hugging the wall on their way out.
Elysa almost drops her gun when she hears the front door knob jiggle.
Then the back door knob.
She carefully pushes Lamar into a corner and covers him. Elyssa has to force her hand from Lamar's grip, but grabs onto her arm. I'm sorry, baby. This isn't the reunion I planned. Elyssa screams and cusses at herself in her head as she reaches toward the bottom of her right pant leg, slowing taking the dagger out is sheath. She looks at the dagger that Damon gave her long ago, and the lesson behind it:
If I teach you how to use a knife, it's for keeps. It's more real that a gun. You pull a knife out, you mean to take someone's life, or to protect your own. A knife is personal. It means you're ready to kill for you family or someone you love. You still want me to show you what's up?
She holsters her gun and turns to Lamar, talking low. “I'm getting us out of here. I promised I'd do anything for you, and it's time. Curl up in a ball and stay still. Close your eyes and cover your ears. You're not watching this.”
“I don't want you to go! Please, stay with me!” Lamar deathgrips her arm, not letting go. “Don't leave me like Wilda did!” Elyssa fights tears and hugs her son. She hears the back door knob being jimmied. The beast twists in her soul again, and she's ready to fight, to survive...to kill for her family.
“Stop it.” Elyssa forces him back, glaring into his eyes. Lamar knows she's beyond serious and listens. “Eyes closed, ears covered. Time to be tough, that's it. We're getting out of here, but you're listening to me.” She hugs Lamar as he pulls back, curls into a ball, covering his ears and closing eyes.
Duval's boy enters the jimmied door, gun in hand, looking around. He spots something on the floor ahead of him, squinting hard to make out what it is. He walks forward, gun with silencer in hand and aiming at the object. He walks through the threshold, failing to see the other object on the ground next to his gunhand.
Elyssa kills him in 7 seconds.
She's poetry in motion, grabbing the gun and squeezing the hammer with her right hand, driving the dagger through his chin, his mouth, his skull with the other hand as she rises from the floor; rushes the invader to the wall while twisting the gun to his chest while gliding to the trigger and shooting once; removing the dagger from his throat and stabbing him in the side of his chest; before falling to the ground, Elyssa pumps two shots in his throat. Lamar jumps as the invader hits the ground, banging his arm into the wall hard.
The front door busts open, the door knob clattering on the floor and someone stands in the doorway. Elyssa aims the gun at the sound as a shadowed figure appears at the door and aims a shotgun at her.
There's a whisper in the air.
A shot rings out.
Then all is quiet...