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A Tale of Two Cities: A Thanksgiving Novella by Alexandra Warren (1)

Orlando

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was dead.

Ol’ man Clyde slept harder than anybody I had ever met before, and it didn’t matter what was going on in the barbershop around him. There could be niggas arguing hoops, a baby crying over his first haircut, and a nigga getting cussed out by his baby mama all at once, but none of that mattered to the man Clyde’s Cutz was named after.

If he was tired, he was getting his sleep.

Honestly, the shit made me a little jealous since I couldn’t remember the last time I had gotten a decent night’s rest. But it was a price I was willing to pay to have peace of mind when it came to my safety. Being an extremely light sleeper meant I was always ready for whatever, and that was exactly the kind of approach I had to take if I wanted to stay alive.

If I were to share that mindset with my boss, Tiana, she’d probably call me crazy; insist I had nothing to worry about now that I had uprooted my life and moved out here to cut hair in the shop she partially owned. But with the life I had lived, the environment I had grown up in, I knew better than to believe that bullshit since that was exactly how niggas got caught slippin’.

Shit was all too familiar.

Sweeping my booth, I heard the chime of the bell over the door, peeking up to find Kelvin with his baby boy on his shoulders and his stepdaughter holding onto one of his legs wearing a frown that boss lady immediately picked up on as she abandoned her own booth to ask, “What happened to her?”

“Hello to you too, princess,” Kelvin replied, puckering his lips for a kiss that Tiana got on her tippy-toes to deliver with an apology.

“I’m sorry. Hi, babe. Now what happened to Elliana?”

Instead of answering himself, Kelvin urged, “Tell her, Ellie.”

From the big ass bandage on her knee, I could pretty much guess what had occurred. But since I didn’t want to interject in what was really none of my business, I let little Ellie answer, “I fell.”

“You fell?” Tiana asked, her eyes flashing back up to Kelvin’s when she inquired, “Don’t tell me it was that stupid swing at the park again. I’m about ready to ban y’all from going there in a minute.”

Chuckling, Kelvin was quick to insist, “It was an accident, and we got her all cleaned up as you can see. She’s just still in her little feelings about it.” He even added a scrub to Ellie’s curly mane that had her squeezing onto him even tighter.

Tiana only sighed in return, reaching up to pull baby Titan from Kelvin’s shoulders as he finally acknowledged me. “What’s good, O?”

Shrugging, I continued to straighten up my booth. “Same ol’, same ol’. What’s good with you?”

“Everything’s good over this way. You see how big this dude is gettin’? I think I might’ve made a future Pro Bowler,” he commented, pinching one of Titan’s chunky legs as a frown immediately grew to Tiana’s face.

“First of all, you didn’t make anything. At least, not by yourself. Second of all, our son is not playing football. It’s way too dangerous; especially if he’s anything like his injury-prone big sister.”

With Titan still in her arms, she bent down to take a better look at Elliana’s leg, serving endless Super Mom vibes as Kelvin watched on with a smile that made his adoration clear. And when she finally stood back up, he couldn’t wait to steal another kiss that had her smiling at him just as lovingly.

Shit was dope as hell to witness.

As Tiana returned to her booth with Titan, Elliana and Kelvin followed right behind her to share, “Princess, you might be on your own with the munchkins tonight. You remember my cousin Aspen?”

The question seemed like a silly one to me since I highly doubted there was a person in the shop - baby Titan included - who hadn’t heard of Aspen Watson before. I mean, this wasn’t even my neck of the woods, but it hadn’t taken me long to learn she was something like the hometown superstar around here. And even though she hadn’t been back to visit since I moved here, there wasn’t a shortage of pride surrounding her acting career from the community.

Tiana pretty much echoed my sentiments when she replied, “How could I forget her, babe? She’s only one of the biggest stars to come out of the city, she’s your relative, and she pretty much lives on my TV screen these days.”

Nodding along, Kelvin got to the real point of his announcement. “Well she’s coming to town for the holiday, and Maxwell and I are gonna try to get her to host the Black Friday party at The Max.”

While I hadn’t been to The Max myself, preferring to stay lowkey while I figured this place out, I knew that it was easily the most popular spot to party in town. And being the avid businessmen Kelvin and his brother Maxwell were, I wasn’t really surprised to hear they were trying to capitalize on their family ties. The family ties that had Tiana asking, “Considering she’s family, how hard could it possibly be?”

With a sigh, Kelvin answered, “She may be family, but she can still be a damn diva sometimes. So we gotta come correct, starting tonight. Matter of fact…” Turning my way, he asked, “Orlando, what you got going on tonight?”

I didn’t even need to check my schedule to answer, “Not shit. What’s up?”

“You think you can do a little driving for us? I mean, we could hire somebody, but I’d rather use someone I know. Someone I trust.”

I hadn’t been in town long, but Kelvin and I had become fast friends in that time. We were close in age, had similar interests with far-from-similar upbringings that thankfully didn’t stop Kelvin from being relatable, and he was married to the coolest boss I’d ever had which meant he was around often enough for me to know he was good peoples.

Good peoples to kick it with, and good peoples to work for.

Driving folks around had become something like my side hustle, giving me the chance to make a little extra money while also being able to learn my way around the area. And once Kelvin became hip to what I was on, he and Maxwell pretty much had me on speed dial to work for whatever celebrity they were bringing to town for The Max, a list that apparently included his pretty ass actress cousin.

Easy money,” I thought as I told Kelvin, “Count me in.”

He seemed happy to hear it, planting another quick kiss to Tiana’s cheek as he said, “Aight, princess. Let me get down to the lounge before Maxwell gets on my ass about doing this inventory check. I’ll try to swing by the house for dinner. But if I don’t make it…”

Tiana cut him off with a wave of her hand. “It’ll be in the fridge, Kelvin. Now get going so I can get out of here too.”

With a smile, he nodded before giving both of his kids kisses on the cheek and then telling me, “Orlando, I’ll hit your line with the details as soon as I get to the lounge. Aspen’s flight was a little delayed coming outta NYC because of the weather there, but she should be landing within the next few hours.”

“I got you, bruh,” I replied, the fact that my night was now going to be filled with activities making my exit from the shop a little more urgent. And I wasn’t the only one, Kelvin dipping out just as fast as he had come in and somehow waking Mr. Clyde up in the process.

After a glance at the door, Mr. Clyde groaned, “I just know this little nigga didn’t come in and out of my shop without speaking...”

Bouncing Titan on her hip, Tiana shook her head and reminded him, “Clyde, you were sleep.”

Of course, Mr. Clyde was quick to defend, “I wasn’t sleep! I was just resting my eyes for a minute! And even if I was sleep, he should’ve woke me up!”

“And get cussed out for doing so? Nah, he did the right thing,” his son, Danny, commented with a chuckle, Mr. Clyde shooting him a fatherly scowl in response even though he knew it was the truth. But instead of admitting that, he stood up and changed the subject.

“Did I hear Aspen Watson is coming back to town for the holiday? I wonder if she’ll come down to the shop and let me get a few pictures of her in my chair.”

“Can’t nobody sit in your chair if you’re always sitting in it sleep, Mr. Clyde,” I joked, Danny and Tiana chuckling right along with me.

Mr. Clyde wasn’t fazed by my jab, shrugging when he insisted, “Then she can just sit on my lap like I’m her personal Santa. I’d make all her wishes come true. Mmm!”

Tiana was the first to groan, “Gross…” while Danny and I enthusiastically agreed since little mama was fine as hell on TV, and I was sure she was just as fine in person. With her butterscotch skin, and her blonde hair, and her stupid high cheekbones, and those dangerously-piercing hazel eyes, and…

“Tiana, you need anything else before I get up out of here?” I asked, purposely interrupting my mental black hole of everything Aspen Watson.

I expected her to send me on my way like usual. But to my surprise, she extended little Titan my way and asked, “Can you just… hold him for like two seconds? I just realized I haven’t peed all day.”

The baby was already in my arms before I could even answer. And while we just stood there staring at each other since we’d both been caught off-guard by the sudden handoff, Tiana grabbed her daughter’s hand and urged, “Come on, Ellie. You need to come potty too before we make the drive home.”

Using my observations of Tiana and Kelvin’s parenting skills, I put Titan against my hip, something he seemed to be satisfied with since he decided to rest his head on my shoulder. And honestly, the shit was heartwarming as hell until Mr. Clyde said, “If I was you, I’d be dropping that baby right on its head.”

What? Mr. Clyde, you wildin’,” I told him with a laugh, peeking to make sure Titan was comfortable as he grabbed a handful of my shirt.

Oh, you real comfortable,” I thought, smiling as Mr. Clyde replied, “One second, you’re holding somebody else’s baby. And the next second, you have one of your own. Drop him.”

That only made me laugh harder. “Come on, man. He’s cute. Here, take him,” I insisted, pretending to hand him off as Mr. Clyde shooed me away.

“Hell nah! I may be shooting dust and despair these days, but I’m still not taking any chances. If anybody’s getting cursed with a baby, it’s gonna be you.”

“Or maybe it’s gonna be your son. Here, Danny.”

“Nigga, what? Watch out,” he groaned, ducking and dodging my attempts to hand Titan off as he added, “Shawntel is on one of those long-term birth controls and I still wear condoms. Fuck that baby shit.”

His resistance made me laugh, especially since, “Isn’t Titan your Godson?”

“Who I love with all my heart… from a distance,” he replied, Clyde giving an enthusiastic, “That’s right” from the sidelines as Tiana and Elliana returned to the shop floor.

Pinching Titan’s cheek, she commented, “Lookin’ good, Uncle O. Keep this up and I’ll be adding you to our babysitter list in a minute.”

“This one I can do cause he’s chill,” I told her, glancing down at Titan once more before I directed my attention to Elliana. “But that one? She seems like she’d be a handful.”

Elliana had the nerve to stick her tongue out at me from behind her mom, confirming my suspicions as Tiana brushed her curls back and said, “She’s actually really good for other people. It’s when her behind comes home that she starts acting up.”

Sounds about right,” I quietly agreed, finally handing Titan over to a willing acceptor as his mother added, “But anyway. Have fun with Aspen and the boys tonight at the lounge. And be sure to keep an eye on my husband for me. He has a history of showin’ his ass.”

I had no plans of actually stepping foot in The Max unless I absolutely had to. But from what I knew about her husband, I still felt confident telling her, “According to him, that life is well behind him.”

From the stories I’d been told, *, going from the irresponsible, playboy party animal to the guy I’d always known him as; the respected businessman, the father, the husband. He loved his family and he loved the lounge he co-owned with his big brother. And though it was clear to me that those two things had his total focus, that didn’t stop Tiana from insisting, “It’s still nice to have a set of eyes on the scene just in case it’s not.”

With a nod, I told her, “Got you, boss lady,” before heading to the back to grab my things from my locker. And I was on my way to the door when Mr. Clyde caught me by the arm to say, “Snitches get stitches. Don’t forget that when you’re at The Max tonight,” making me laugh as I headed out for the day.

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