Why should Aaliyah Chapman believe it today?  

She had heard it all before.  It wasn't the exact words, but the conveyance was still the same.  If she had a dollar for the sonnets, she could blow school and retire young.

How can he say he loved her, and then marry another woman?  What the hell was he smoking, telling her that if this circus stunt he was trying to pull off didn't pan out then maybe he'd just admit he'd made a mistake and come back to her garden?  What did he think?  Was that supposed to make her feel better?  The shit that comes out the ass could be deemed less foul.

But the look on his face when he said the words convinced her.   Every word that came after mostly fell on deaf ears, because on that day he had never been clearer.  He was married.  Aaliyah wanted to dig a hole and fall in it.   She'd heard him spout that he was going to do it, like a threat intent on making her say 'don't do it'.   Like the boy who cried wolf, Aaliyah had forgotten to throw herself into the onslaught of his demonic stance.   What had her ancestors done to cause this curse to wreath her head?

"Show me the video?"  She still couldn't believe the words fell from her lips.  She still cringed at the thought of her request.   What was she thinking?  She needed proof.   She needed closure.   And the visual would be the nail to seal this coffin shut for eternity.  It was way too easy to believe the devil was packing it in and was done fucking her over.

"What the hell were you thinking asking to see his pictures? You have to be a glutton for punishment."  Her sister Wynter-Grace asked pulling Aaliyah out of stupid or at least trying.

It was all about game-face with Jean-Paul Romalotti.  And Aaliyah wore it with pride.   He'd struck a deal with Lucifer likely and she was walking in the way of the Word.  God's Word, her grandmother told her was the only truth.   And any one spun on the sap to break her spirit-God's light within her, would fall.   There was nothing eternal about the lies and pain Jean-Paul built his forever upon.   It was just a matter of time before he'd realize he'd sold his soul for a day at the fair.   Fool's Gold was what the old folks called it.

Aaliyah stood strong, with feet anchored to the floor as he honored her request with a shit ass grin plastered on his face.  He wasn't going to break her; she'd die on her feet than fall down and cry.   She wore the scars of basic training.   This battle was easy.   Pretending all was okay as her pulse quickened.   But believing her heart was well on its way to healing, she trusted in the prayer she prayed-that love would find him, and that peace would cover her for all eternity.

It was his lucky break, maybe.  Aaliyah wasn't happy, content maybe, but not in love.  That day, of reckoning was the confirmation she needed.  The closure her heart required, and then she could move on.   No more surprise visits, and no more interference in her life.   She was free to fly and love strong, without the torment of a wrong she did for all the right reasons.

But it didn't happen as she'd planned.  Jean-Paul wanted an encore I suppose, of the last performance-a final showdown, rise of the beast-in full apocalyptic form.  This was love?  This was motherfucking love?  Love doesn't hurt, doesn't burn, doesn't consume.   That's the devil's workmanship.    She felt love.   She felt responsible.   She'd found that one thing she'd long for in Jean-Paul.    Now all required was to finish school, get her degree.   They'd be married, have kids, and be the envy of friends and family.  

If he was in love, she certainly didn't know it.   And it sure as hell didn't feel like it.   Sure he'd blown it.  When the plight and weight of the lies he told himself no longer covered the empty space left by Aaliyah's absence, he'd make sure he was in her face again.  Showing up in familiar places, coming by her moms house in the Gardens, reminiscing like they'd been star-crossed lovers and she'd broken his heart.  Excuse him, but that was his choice to close their book, burn it, and consume her along with it in the fiery blaze.

And then she'd take a step forward, confused while flying on auto, Aaliyah Chapman returned to playing the game-opened herself up slowly, to the possibility that he was ready, to tell her the words she'd so longed to hear and provide the proof in his actions.  A phone call, a plea that he needed her to salve his gunshot wounds, or a bruised cheek was all it took for her to lay aside the destruction he caused, and be the human element he wanted when stunting was taking its toll on him.  He'd drink in her sunshine, bask in the warmth, and heal his ego.  

And then the door would shut her out again.   Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.   Jean-Paul took her through it again and again-tell her it was her, all her imagination and her confusion, that she'd misheard his words, mistaken his kindness for 'ready to love'. 

Aaliyah wasn't crazy, though she glared at the possibility.  There was no sound proof of his sonnets.   There were no tape recordings, though she knew what she heard and what she heard was his love.  And she heard him right, every time-each one clearer than the one before it.  But if she didn't stop him from visiting, stop trying to be his friend, he'd wind up sending her straight to Shadybrook.  She loved him.   But love isn't supposed to hurt.

Yes, when he was shot, he called on her to care for him.  "Where's Natalie?" Aaliiyah asked abruptly.

"I don't know!  We're not talking about Natalie.  Please.   I need you."  More of the same shtick, Jean-Paul never did any work on a new brand.  

But Natalie had grown tired of being the replacement-wife to the love of Aaliyah.  Who does this?   Who marries a man knowing he's in love with someone else.   "We made mad passionate love?"   Jean-Paul admitted when Natalie asked about the girl in the picture-the one whose name was assigned to the bouquet of balloons that sat on his mother's dining room table.  His Aaliyah.   

I guess it's easy to say "I love you" and then walk away.   Maybe even easier to say "I love her" and then marry someone else.   It was safe with Nat, he didn't have to reach-his labor would be in his muscles.   Her requirements-were made simple.   He was a knight, she was the damsel.   With Natalie Jean-Paul didn't need ambition other than making money.   That was all she needed, for him to keep buying her silence and not questioning how they lived on three times the proceeds of his salary.   But with Aaliyah there'd come the questions.   He would have to show promise, put words to actions-actually grow up and be accountable.   She made him work too, but at being the best he could be.    That mixed with his attraction spelled a love so deep that Aaliyah owned the power to hurt and that he didn't trust.  

Natalie was a job he worked with diligence.   She was all about the material love and he'd give it.   Simply put, she made him feel powerful-as a boy who believed he was a man, she made him feel powerful.   He never imagined that one day, some day he'd grow up and recognize that kind of love keeps you down-a workhorse.   She'd call, he'd run.  By his own words, Natalie's cries were like a lamb headed for slaughter.  He wanted to silence them.  Aaliyah stood strong in the face of her adversity.   She learned to cry in silence from her lips to God's ears.   

And God kept an accurate account of every one she shed. 


Jean-Paul Jr. slept, strapped in his car seat.   His father, senior, pulled into the drive and did so like he owned the place.   No call before he showed.   It must have been a drive by that prompted this visit, because he knew the shiny new ride in Mrs. Chapman's driveway obviously belonged to her-his Aaliyah.   The license plate thus confirmed it. 

Her life was back on track after going off the rails for the past year and half.   She had a modest brand new car-something she could afford not something big and flashy that she'd have to hustle to make the payments on.   Rent was still the cheapest in the land.   As long as school was the focus, her mother didn't charge her for meals and slumber.  She was two years to internship and had met a great friend and mentor and the friendship was now growing into something else.   The smile she wore showed this one had promise.   But Aaliyah wasn't 100% about anything outside of college.   And she was okay with that.   Stick to what you know-no chasing waterfalls- was her motto now.   Although love wasn't foreign as yet, the young Ms. Chapman still believed in it and had been brave enough to take the risk again.   But after the reality hit her and hit her hard that love is messy when you're in love or not in love, she back-burned that mission of finding happy-ever-after until she had something she could count on-an education.   

Degrees can keep you warm at night!   It gets you a job and a job can buy you blanket.

The smile on her face when she opened the door to the familiar stranger, she hadn't seen in over a year proved that the weathering hadn't hardened her heart.   Aaliyah would always love Jean-Paul and no amount of discord would eat her from the inside out.   She was over the lost.

And he looked good, still.   His warm brown eyes bore right through her.   His full lips arched.   Dressed in navy blue jeans loosely fit, timberland boots, and a bomber jacket.   Aaliyah could hear the whisper of his engine echoed by the detailed glance over his shoulder.   It was then she saw the small child's head bob and weave.   And the thought was bittersweet.  

"You are going to let me come in?"  He turned back to the beautiful young woman standing on guard. 

"I see you still lack the courtesy required to call first.   Too bad, that some things never change Jean."  She scolded him.   Was the child supposed to be an appeal for a free pass?  He knew where she would soften.

She couldn't believe that a wife and child that followed four years in limbo from the biggest heartbreak of her life still hadn't removed the way he made her feel.   It was love.   Unconvinced as before, she could see it in his eyes.   Real love finally and she owed it all to the baby entrusted in his care.  "Would you like to meet my son?"  Jean asked, never minding to the way she scolded his tact.

"I...what?  You have a son?"  She stymied.

"Yes.  You want to meet him?"  Jean revisited.

"Why yeah...don't leave him in the car."  Aaliyah leaned against the door-jamb watching his proud movement advance to the vehicle and retreat behind the steering wheel.   Cutting the engine he returned to the rear passenger seat and retrieved his precious cargo.   Flashy cars never excited her.   How do you pay for that? 

He had the thing he wanted.  

The one thing he wanted from her, but didn't know it.   The baby she sacrificed because nothing made much sense back then and a child would serve to further cloud the mist.   Her mistake was in telling him.   God forgave, so why couldn't he?  On that she built regret.   And on that the day her sentence began.   Jailed without trial, Aaliyah knew the moment the words left her lips that it was over.   Still she wondered if she told him to hurt him or to make him understand that his actions were destroying her little by little.   She had needed to be free of all things Jean-Paul.  God understood, so why couldn't he?


He pulled off the little boy's hat and undid his coat.   Still asleep, he trusted his caregiver to manage through the weight of slumber.

"You want to lay him down?"  Aaliyah asked, collecting their wraps.  

She watched in awe the love he had found.   For the first time in Jean's life the mystery of his manhood was made visible.   He was now measured by the love he gave instead that which he took.   He showed promise.  

"So how have you been?"  Jean asked.   So typical of him to pretend that nothing viscous lay between them.    He always had a penchant for frivolous chatter.   Getting to the real reason why he was present would prove to be a daunting task for her, like usual. 

"I'm good.  I have no complaints.  I'm finally back in school and..."  She traipsed off.   His passion was fully dominating her senses.   She couldn't be this close ever and not want to wonder how the hell they destroyed each other.   His eyes never left her.   Whether she was seated before him or getting them hot chocolate, he followed a few steps behind.  

"Are you seeing anyone?"  Jean smiled staring into her eyes as she sipped from the hot steaming liquid.   Who the hell cared about that?   She had what she called a stable man-school, and this one hadn't broken her heart yet.   Dates with self, study sessions in the library, and life was so good.   Safe.   No drama.   A new car that made her proud and she did it all on her own, without begging for crumbs, or losing her self-respect.   She earned it.   She was a good girl.   Jean's laundry cycle wasn't on her things-to-do list.  

Now two years after the circus had left town, he was ready to throw it all in.   The words came slow, but sure.   On and off for four plus years, they'd hardly been on a real date where she didn't feel like a call would come in and he'd have to cut it  short and take her home.   She gave up believing, trying to figure out exactly what it was they were doing.  

"Did you say, Lunch?" she choked repeating his request.

No he wasn't getting a lunch.  He could see her glowing, from a mile away and she felt him undressing her.   It was never really about sex with them but the attraction was strong, damning.   They were kids untested and unfamiliar with all of those feelings.   But something passionate was there-the unnamable, she called it.  That smile-all too familar, was the look of love. 

She was perfect, flawless in beauty, intelligent, and well versed in the arts.   Jean was a science brain, handsome, olive tanned skin.  They were opposites in every way imaginable.  But she was a willing player, willing to learn and actively partake in his passions and pass times.

They never went to concerts unless they were hip hop artists.   He seemed to hate jazz with a passion.

She was tired, wondering when the day would come where he'd put her first and do something she liked without criticism.

She was done, with all of the heavy lifting.   He wanted Natalie, so she stepped aside.  If Red was his queen, so it shall be.  Aaliyah loved him that much, to see him happy, even if she'd lose him for life.

"How's Natalie?"  It was better than answering his questions.   Natalie was the real issue.   She was his wife the last time she checked.   And that gold band on his finger proved that he was still doing the high wire act.   

"She's good."  Before he could finish Aaliyah had removed both mugs.   Now rinsing them, she could hear his footfalls behind her.   She wasn't mad.   She just didn't like that she still cared more than she could control.   He needed to just leave.   But she didn't want to be rude.   She shouldn't have let him in.   "I'm not staying with her."

"I'm not doing this with you again Jean-Paul.   I can't believe having a son now still hasn't grown you up yet.   Still you want to play these childish games."   She placed the mugs down inside the caraway.   

Not acknowledging his stance, she brushed by him and he reached for her harm.   The touch was more than she could stand.   She couldn't remember what was said the last time he pulled this stunt of trying to draw her back into his confusion, and any attempt to remember fell dead on his lips when they crashed into hers.

"I'm not..."  He pressed her into the wall separating the kitchen and adjacent dining room.   The kiss was hot, full of fire.   Her lips betrayed her.   Arms coursed the small of her waist as his kiss deepened and she felt the floor no longer under her feet.   She could barely breathe.   She missed his lips.   No matter the reality, the love was still there and damn him for the intrusion.   She heard the rustle of bags and a familiar voice approach the house.   But this kiss felt like a hot soul food dinner on Sunday after church.  

The mood washed over her fast.   The keys turning in the rear entry door broke the spell.   Aaliyah pushed earnestly against Jean's chest and finally the suction of his grip released her.   Lips swollen, he folded them inside of his mouth tasting the lingering of Irish Mint flavored hot chocolate.   Hiding her face from the shame she flipped on the television and pretended to be watching as Jean moved towards the rear door to greet and help Mrs. Chapman with her packages.    He was always a gentleman.   Her mother simply adored him.   Shaking her head, Aaliyah swallowed and sighed deeply.

She was going to hell for sure now.