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On the Rebound

On the Rebound

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For Better or Worse... Brandon had vowed a long time ago that he would never leave his wife, no matter how rocky things got between them; after all they had two beautiful girls to parent together. But then vows can be broken and when Ashley did what was the absolute worse Brandon had to leave. In the process, he meets the lovely Nadine and for the first time in years he feels happy around another woman. But his newfound happiness couldn't last. He was still married to Ashley and she wants him back...
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Chapter One

Brandon let himself into his sister's self-contained basement flat and promptly sneezed. He switched on the light and looked around. There was a tiny hall space with a table jammed in the corner and a kitchenette with its counter covered with boxes of stuff.
He leaned on the door with a sigh and sneezed again. From where he stood, he could see the double bed; it was covered with a white sheet and more boxes. His sister had confessed that this was where she had begun to store her junk since the garage was overflowing with too many of their odds and ends.
He pushed a box farther down on the counter area and rested his bag beside it.
The box cover had a bow on it, and when he looked closely, he saw that it was a four-piece glass set that he and Ashley had given his sister and brother-in-law as an anniversary present three years ago. The red string still had the card attached to it, and he opened it up, stalling for time. It read: To Latoya and Richard, from Ashley and Brandon. Wishing you many more years together. Love you guys.
He remembered when Ashley had chosen the present. He hadn't liked it at the time, but he didn't dare say so because they had been quarreling more than ever that year and she had been pregnant with Ariel.
He had chosen the path of least resistance and had allowed her to do whatever she thought best because he had gotten tired of the constant battle. This present had just been a small representation of how far he had gone to avoid conflict. He would never have chosen glasses; he knew his sister's taste better than that. He could have predicted that this was where the gift would end up.
He closed his eyes tightly and then opened them again. Today had been the day that finally showed him that he should leave his home; he had to give up the fight. He had to preserve his sanity. If he hadn't left just now, he would probably have been jailed for murder or hospitalized for a heart condition. He slumped on the counter; he didn't even want to think about what he had just seen.
He walked to the bed and sat on it; a plume of dust surrounded him. He jumped up, fanning the air, and then looked at his black pants; they had remnants of cobweb sticking to them. While he was busy dusting himself off a black shape darted from one side of a box and under another. It was a roach, and it was joined by an even bigger roach that didn't bother to hide but was looking at him curiously. The little critter seemed to be saying to him, ‘shove off and find your own place.’
If it were another time, Brandon would have found it funny, but tonight his sense of humor was killed, maybe forever. He looked at the insect balefully and decided that he couldn't sleep here, not with them crawling around. He did not have the energy to clean the place and battle with roaches and who knows what else.
If Latoya and Richard didn't have a full house, he would be at the main house now, but as it was, Latoya had taken one look at his face when he showed up at her door a few moments ago and given him a big sisterly hug.
"You have finally come to your senses and left that woman. I am so happy for you. Listen, I have a full house now," she whispered. "Richie's parents and their friends came in from England this evening. We are full to the hilt. You can use the flat. It is not altogether livable, but it's just for the night. We can clean it up tomorrow."
He was happy that she hadn't pressed him for more because he wasn't sure that he wanted to tell anyone about what finally drove him from his marital home. Not even the counselor that he had insisted that he and Ashley see, for close to a year now, would he tell.
He had been fighting for his marriage for so long and so hard that he had not seen what was right under his nose. He grabbed his bag and headed out from the flat. He would go to a hotel, but his credit card was almost maxed out this month because Ashley had been redecorating her store. He took a deep breath.
Maybe he could try a guesthouse instead of a hotel; they were more reasonably priced. He headed for his car and got in, realizing when he started the car that the needle was on E.
He had nowhere to stay, and as if all the forces of evil were against him, he had an empty gas tank to compound matters. At least the car started, and he drove off toward the gate. He fervently prayed that it wouldn't stop before he reached the gas station at the top of the road near Papine.
At least he had enough money to take care of gas. He mentally counted the cash in his wallet; he could buy a bottled water and maybe a pack of biscuits. He realized how famished he was feeling all of a sudden. After the emotional bomb that was dropped on his head just a short while ago, his body was just processing practical physical feelings like hunger.
He drew up at the gas station and waited in line to get gas. It was barely nine o’clock. He took a mental inventory of the places around and tried to remember if he had seen a guesthouse in the area.
The knock on his window jolted him from his contemplation, and he looked to see who it was. It was a girl, a very lovely girl. She was frantically indicating to him to wind down his window. He did so reluctantly. Something told him that this was not going to be good; it fitted in with his theme for the night.
"May I help you, miss?"
"Yes," she said breathlessly. "Could you let me in? I need to escape. I need to leave here," she said in a rush. "Can you help me?"
His eyes widened in consternation, and he looked around. There was only the car before his. It was finally finished with the pump and was driving off.
The gas station attendant waved him up; he looked sleepy and unperturbed by this girl knocking on his window.
He looked across at the gas station mart; it was empty except for a lady who had a baby in her hand and was choosing snacks. The cashier was on the phone.
Life was going on placidly except for this girl who was skimpily dressed pleading with him to let her into his car.
Was this some kind of hoax?
She ran her hands through her long, thick, wavy hair and looked around wildly. He observed her in awe. She looked like someone who would not be out of place in a beauty pageant.
Was she some kind of prostitute, or was she a drag queen? He had been hearing stories about them lately—transvestites who were fooling men into thinking that they were women—but somehow, she didn't look like she was in drag. Her pure features were showing a young woman in distress.
She opened her fingers in a gesture of supplication and mouthed, "Please."
He released the central lock and watched as she jumped in. Her perfume was overpowering as if she took a bath in it.
She gave him a grateful look. "Thank you, sir." She then dipped down in the seat. "He is out there. He doesn't know that I cut across the gas station. I had to run away; I don't want him to find me. It was getting too much. I just want to go home."
Brandon observed her fully. Her hands were trembling as she clutched her silver purse. Her whole body was trembling like a newborn puppy.
"How old are you?" he asked, because close up, beyond the thickly applied mascara and foundation he could discern that she was not that old—probably younger than some of the freshmen at the university where he worked. That would make her a high schooler. He waited for her answer, which was given after a long hesitation.
"Fifteen," she muttered. "A mature fifteen," she added for good measure.
Fifteen and out at this time of night dressed like a prostitute and running away from a man.
He sighed. This was too much. He should not have gotten involved in this, whatever this was.
He drove up to the gas pump and drummed his finger on the steering wheel while the gas station attendant put the hose in the gas tank.
"So, what's your name?" he asked his young passenger, who looked as if she had slumped even further into the seat.
"Tara," she said weakly, and then her voice hitched as if she was sobbing. "Could you take me home to my sister?"
"Where does your sister live?" Brandon asked. He paid the attendant and drove onto the main road. He couldn't stop for the biscuit and water he wanted to get at the gas station mart; he had to think of his stowaway.
He didn't want whomever Tara was escaping from to find her. She looked genuinely disturbed and besides, she was a minor. Maybe he should let the police handle it. Her family was probably looking for her anyway.
"My sister lives in Forest Hills."
The other side of town...great, Brandon thought, turning the car in that direction.
When he approached Waterloo road, Tara sat up in the seat.
"Thank you so much. I am sorry about all of this."
"You were running away from a man, and you ran into a stranger's car without knowing if I am dangerous or not." Brandon's raised his brows at her. "You are extremely trusting in this day and age."
"You don't look dangerous," Tara said flippantly. "You are in a suit and tie, and you drive a nice late model car; you have a baby seat in the back, and you have kind eyes. I thought about that before I knocked on the window."
"Kind-eyed strangers with baby seats in the back of their cars have been known to do very bad things to women."
"But you wouldn't need to do bad things to women," Tara grinned. "You are extremely good-looking. I am sure women are the ones who want to do bad things to you." She laughed and slapped her leg.
The scared teenager who had stopped his car a few moments ago was gone. She had recovered quickly, but the mascara tracks on her cheeks were telling him another story.
"What are you doing out at night dressed like that?" Brandon asked.
"I ran away from home a couple days ago." Tara closed her eyes. "I was staying with my boyfriend, but as it turns out, he is a real pig."
"Your boyfriend?" Brandon asked incredulously. "Did he run away from home too?"
"My boyfriend is an older guy," Tara said. "He has his own home and a few other women that I am just finding out about."
Brandon resisted a loud sigh; he knew all could not be well with her home life. Children who had a stable family environment did not just run away from home like this. That made him think about his own family life. He had two girls, one seven and one three years old. His home life was looking bleak right now, maybe broken beyond repair. Would this be the way that his oldest, Alisha, would be in a couple of years, or even his youngest, innocent Ariel?
They wouldn't understand why Daddy wasn't coming home anymore and God knows what sort of lifestyle they would end up living with their mother as a role model.
He cursed Ashley in his head and then gritted his teeth. Through the years he had tried to hold it together for them. No matter how wretched things had gotten with Ashley, he had tried to hold their relationship together.
But tonight...tonight... Ashley had just taken it a step too far, and he could not in all good conscience deal with their marriage, not for a second more—not even for his babies. It made no sense when only one person was trying to piece together a broken relationship. No sense at all...
He tore his mind away from the scene in his head and forcefully dragged it back to the present and to Tara, who was looking through the passenger window forlornly.
"You said I should drop you at your sister's place? Where are your parents?"
"They are divorced," Tara said, "and they each have their own families. I am the odd one out for all of them. My mom," her voice cracked, "has a new baby, a boy. The much longed-for boy. She doesn't care about me. I doubt if they even miss me, and my dad is closer to his stepdaughters than he is to me, his own flesh and blood. Only Nadine will probably care that I am missing."
"Nadine is your sister?" Brandon asked.
"Yes," Tara murmured, "my older sister. She was spared the kind of childhood I had because she is older by ten years. Do you have kids?" she asked him, apparently tired of talking about herself.
"Yes, two very sweet girls," Brandon said. "They are my life."
"Aww." Tara sighed, "There was a time when my parents had just two girls, and they lived together, and we were a regular family. Now we have all sorts of strangers butting into our lives on both sides of the family tree. It is pathetic."
Brandon grimaced. "It happens."
"No," Tara scowled, "it doesn't just happen. People give up on their commitment to each other, and they find other people who are more attractive to have sex with. First, it was my dad. He did the cliché and had an affair with his next-door neighbor, and then my mom followed and had an affair with her business partner. And then both of them decided that they would amicably divorce because they were no longer compatible with each other. Divorce and amicable should never go together. Never. Nobody thought about me." She sniffed and then muttered under her breath, "I don't even know your name."
"Brandon Blake." Brandon flashed her a smile. "That's okay. I understand the need to vent."
"You happily married, Brandon?" Tara whispered.
"Not happily." Brandon glanced at her. "Sorry to add to the doom and gloom."
"It's okay," Tara said, "tonight is a night for it."
Exactly what he had thought earlier, Brandon nodded, agreeing with her.
He drove up to Forest Hills, an affluent neighborhood. He slowed down the car when Tara indicated a gate. "It's right here."
It was a large house, on a substantial lot. He could see that all the lights were on, even the lights on the gate. He blew the horn, and the door at the top flew open, and then a lady came outside on the balcony in jeans and a white sweater. She was on the phone.
"That's her," Tara said excitement in her voice. "That's Nadine."
And then another lady joined her on the veranda with a baby.
"That's my mom; what is she doing here?"
And yet another came on the veranda. "That's my stepmother," Tara groaned. "I can't believe she is here too."
Brandon chuckled. "So much for your theory that nobody cares, huh?"
Tara got out of the car and waved, and all the ladies shared a sigh of collective relief. Even from where he sat in the car, Brandon could see the happiness on their faces. He had, in essence, brought home the prodigal daughter.
The girl in the white sweater was the first to come down the stairs. The gate swung open at the same time, and Brandon contemplated just turning around and driving away, but he figured he should give some sort of explanation, so he drove through, with Tara walking slowly beside the car, her back hunched over.
"This is my sister, Nadine," Tara said to him when he stepped out of the car and onto the cobblestone driveway. "Nadine this is Brandon, who rescued me tonight."
Nadine was busy hugging her and whispering, "Thank God you are home."
Brandon nodded. She was still in the shadows, but when she came into the light fully, he recognized her. He struggled not to be impressed when he saw that this Nadine was actually Nadine Langley, the singer, and producer.
One day he saw her picture on the cover of Caribbean Beat magazine, and he studied her smiling face for a full five minutes and wondered if she was as sweet and innocent as she looked, or if she was nasty, cantankerous, and rude.
It must have been when he was at a low point and was feeling cynical, probably after an argument with Ashley, and he had been trying to disassociate himself from his problems.
He had to admit that Nadine was just as pretty in real life, without a ton of makeup or Photoshop—even better than her magazine pictures. Her eyes had a natural cat-like curve, and her bare lips were pink and plump. She wore her hair in a short pageboy style.
She looked a lot younger in person. It was easy to forget that she was a young person because of her production track record. She produced for some big-name artists and had recently released a single that was doing well internationally.
In the magazine article, she was dubbed as the young musical genius who was about to take over the world, which wasn't hard for her to do; she belonged to a royal family of musicians. Her grandfather, Gramps Langley, was still a sought-after artiste and her grandmother, Siddany Langley, was an actress and singer.
"Hi." She held out her hand and pumped his. "Thank you for bringing Tara home."
"I was quite pleased to do so," Brandon said, feeling her soft hand in his and holding it for a fraction too long. "It is a dangerous place out there, especially for a girl her age, and she seemed frantic when she knocked on my window at the gas station."
"Come on in and join us. I am sure the whole family would like to thank you."
"No, sorry." Brandon shook his head. "It was nice meeting you, and I am happy that I brought the prodigal home. I am sure she is quite capable of telling her story without me being present." He turned to his car. "I have to find somewhere to stay tonight. It is getting late."
"Bye Brandon," Tara said, waving as her mother and stepmother surrounded her and herded her inside.
"Bye Tara. Be good." He looked around again. Nadine was still standing there with a bemused look on her face.
"You were going to stay at a hotel tonight?" she asked.
"Well," Brandon leaned on the car door, "not quite. I was thinking of a guest house or something."
"Why?" Nadine came closer to him. "Aren't you from around here?"
He could smell her perfume, a subtle sweet scent that made him feel nostalgic like he had smelled that scent sometime before, in a different time, when life was better when he was happier. Her hazel eyes were alive with curiosity.
He felt like shocking her and telling her that of course, he was from around here. He was a professor at the University of technology, heading the engineering department. He was just a man without a place to stay. His wife had done the unthinkable, and he just needed a chance to unwind and sleep tonight before he could process what on earth he was going to do next.
When he found himself saying just that, he watched as her eyes widened in shock. He sighed and got in the car. "Well, goodnight then."
"Wait," she said. "I have a furnished apartment, in Smoky Vale. It's not far from here. I usually reserve it for visiting artistes. It is close to the studio in a private and secure gated complex. It has a lovely view of the city, and nobody is staying there now."
"You don't know me," Brandon said softly, looking into her concerned eyes.
"You are the guy that brought my sister back to us," Nadine said, "and it seems as if you need a place to crash…one is available. Wait here, I'll get the key."
Brandon relaxed in the seat and closed his eyes. He was feeling somewhat bemused. He hadn't counted on the fact that his one Good Samaritan deed would result in him getting a place to stay tonight.
She came back to the window and handed him the key. "It's apartment number three, Smoky Vale Terrace."
"Thanks, I'll bring this back tomorrow," he said, jingling the key. Suddenly he felt bone tired, like too many things had gone on and he needed to blank out.
"No worries," Nadine said, nodding. "Here's my card; you can call me."
He took the card and drove off, leaving her standing in the middle of the driveway staring after him.