:: previous – Gold Chip
“He’s home Tee!”
I continue my pretending to watch TV act on the couch. My real job tonight, per Tehanie, is to stay close and referee any madness between her and West that might go down.
“Ah!” Tee squeals, jogging into the kitchen barefoot. “Whew!” She fans herself with one hand and fluffs her sexy brown blonde waves with the other. “Kay. I’m ready.”
Under the kitchen lights, I can see her cute butt through the silky white robe she’s wearing. It’s a common tactic of hers. Dress sexy when expecting a fight, to lessen the anger directed at you.
She’s wearing close to nothing tonight.
“You got this.” I remind her.
She looks through a file on the kitchen counter, then stands near the back door, patiently waiting.
From my phone, I watch West on the garage camera. He’s slow to get out of the truck, and the black cowboy hat he’s wearing keeps his face in shadows.
Since Tee sent him a ‘We need to talk’ text hours ago, I bet he didn’t wanna come home. Especially since he never texted back.
I told her not to send that. Everyone hates those texts. But she got herself so worked up over Khiana’s personnel file she had to get something off her chest. Sending that text was an assurance she’d get the chance.
The back door opens…
It slams hard.
West vanishes into the mudroom, but his leathery jasmine scent travels far. It’s calming and makes us feel safe.
Tee says as West emerges, scruffy haired and uninterested. He’s in dark slacks and a white collard shirt he unbuttons from the top with one hand.
He quietly pours himself a glass of ice water.
She stands there watching him drink.
Other than a few texts about work, they’ve spoken little since Tee returned after leaving unexpectedly. It’s been exhausting walking on eggshells between them.
“You wanna talk?” He asks, staring at the empty glass.
“I’d like that.”
“Uh-huh.” West walks around the kitchen counter and holds out a barstool for her. She sits. He sits beside her. “Where were you?”
“Somewhere.” Tee’s voice is a whisper.
“Where I could breathe.”
“Really. What’s wrong with Black Mountain air?”
“I’m sorry, West, but your obsession with Khiana is… It’s suffocating—”
“You’re breathing fine now.”
He groans. “I don’t wanna argue about her again—”
“Well I got something to tell you and if you don’t listen I’m gonna leave you and never come back, Weston Grim. That what you want?”
He sounds like he’s about to get mad.
I tiptoe into the kitchen to keep a closer eye on them.
“Luxy.” West reaches for my hand and squeezes as I pass him. We smile at each other.
“Khiana’s foul, West.” Tee snaps.
“For all we know, she’s never coming back, so there’s no use arguing about—”
She moves the dark binder in front of him, opening it to the first page. On it is a black, plain emblem of a crown.
“Then this’ll help you not want her back if she tries.”
“Mm-hm. Go on, read for yourself, cowboy.”
He stands but Tee stops him.
“No need. It’s right here.”
She hands over a cylinder-shaped white file scanner. It can detect if the emblem and its data are authentic or not, even on paperwork.
West takes it.
“Don’t trust me, huh?”
“Just making sure…” He runs the device over the emblem. The entire scanner turns a hazy light green shade, trickled with gold flecks.
He does the same with five random pages.
“How did you get this?”
She shrugs. “I have my ways.”
He flips through the pages quietly.
“Everything about Khiana is in this file. It’s bad. The Crown was watching her for years. Embezzlement, lies, two-timing you. She’s straight up poison. And you know what else I figured out?” West looks at Tee. “All those times she kept coming back, trying to rekindle something with you after you all’s divorce. It was only when one of her side relationships didn’t work out. That’s why she was always coming and going for days or weeks at a time. It’s all here… And I checked the dates of her little liaisons from this file against what I wrote in my diary.” She slides the leather-bound book over. “I always noted when Khiana returned.”
She has for years after Khiana put a knife to her belly when she was eight weeks expecting, threatening Tee with death if she carried the pregnancy out.
Khiana put the knife down quickly when I walked in on them, but not before nicking her belly.
It was out of nowhere, and weird, like she snapped. This was our friend…
She casually greeted me and left while Tee was bleeding and crying. It’s still beyond me.
Then the worst came true.
At ten weeks, Tee lost the baby. I was there for that too and helped her clean up. West didn’t find out any of it, and I promised I’d never tell…
Deep down, we believe it was Khiana’s ill wishes that drove the little soul away. But in case she ever killed us, Tee’s diary would ensure justice was served.
The truth is in there.
“This is… Tell me how you got this.”
I go to West and hold his hand, looking through the file with him. There’re dates and timestamps of Khiana’s encounters with different men and their identities, from the start of the relationship to its end.
“I got into the Crown.” I tell him.
His face falls.
“I did it right. No traces.” He squeezes my hand. It feels like he’s worried. “It’s okay. Listen to Tee, babe.”
He runs his big hand down his face and continues skimming the pages.
“Khiana slept with the King even.” She shakes her head. “She had the nerve to take Emilian to the district to test if he was Barasa Crow’s son!” West’s eyes turn ice cold. “He’s not.” Tee says quickly, so he doesn’t freak. “He’s yours… It’s all here, the results, the proof.” She smiles and rubs his back. “As if you need it. He’s you without a cowboy hat.”
West exhales deep.
“You okay?” I whisper.
He nods but can’t look at either of us.
“The crown fucked up his eyes, though.” Tee continues.
She flips the page to photos of a ten-month-old Emilian. In the first he’s a smiling, dark-haired, blue-eyed baby, like West’s eyes. In the next photo, he’s lying on his back in a small blue gown alone on an operating table. They wrapped bandages around his eyes. “He had a terrible reaction to their test and lost most of his vision. Those crown quacks were unsuccessful in correcting them fully. His eyes turned brown after.”
West runs his fingers over the photos of baby Mili.
“Did you know?” I ask him.
“Never.” He whispers. “I thought he was born with poor eyesight and his eyes… changed color naturally.”
“No.” Tee says. “They did this to him under his mother’s direction. You remember when we saw the stitches and asked what happened?”
“Khiana said he fell.” West reflects.
“A damn lie. Emilian missed out on a lot because of his vision setback.” Tee continues. “Contacts don’t work. He’s forever bound to prescribed lenses, and further surgery could blind him completely!”
“I can’t believe this.” West groans and runs his hand down his face again.
I wrap my arm around him tight.
“It gets worse. Here’s correspondence between Khiana and King Crow, where she reflects on the negative parentage test.” She points to a handwritten note: Oh, Barasa. What a terrible disappointment… His father, the cowboy oaf instead of a King. Khiana wanted King Crow to be Emilian’s father!”
West is dead silent.
Tee turns the page quietly.
“And the crown dismissed her stupid ass from that fancy Forensic Accountant position. Her biggest love of all… When Crow passed and Resolut ascended, their personalities clashed and he got rid of her. The file goes into embezzlement and other boring budget stuff, so I didn’t read all that. But anyway, when they let Khiana go, she threw a fit and threatened King Resolut, which got her banished from the crown. Jobless and manless, she returned to Black Mountain, plowed into Misa’s car, and wormed her way back into your arms. Look at the date then check my diary. It’s here. Patterns, West. You were a comfy pillow she kept nearby, leaning on you at her leisure. Playing mind games with you. Until she got snatched, that is. This file said nothing about that, or her killing Micah Honey… Although Inga confirmed that, Emilian told me.”
West storms out of the kitchen.
We follow him outside as he heads for the lake. Above us, the hourglass hangs in the sky decorated with stars shining through the bulb. A silent watcher.
“You think you know someone…” He mutters. “She didn’t love me. I see it now…I can feel it.”
“I’m sorry, West.” Tee says softly.
He sighs and stares at the lake while we stand beside him.
For a long time, we say nothing.
“I have to tell Mili.” He picks up a pebble and skips it across the water. “He was right. All of you were…” He nods slow. “Bamboozled for years.”
Tehanie smiles a little and I can see the stars reflecting in her big, hopeful eyes.
“I can’t do it anymore, not to you two.” West looks at us both. “You don’t deserve it… I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…”
Tee stands on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
“We love you.” I tell him, kissing his soft stubble.
His enormous arms wrap around us both, holding us close.