Morrison by M.J. Fields

Epilogue

“Rings?” I ask as I pace back and forth in Hendrix’s office.

“Check,” Jagger says as he holds them up.

“I can’t believe Jared talked her into marrying us,” I grumble.

Hendrix laughs. “Man’s got a way with words.”

“I swear to fuck, I just want him to say, ‘You are now husband and wife.’ I’m sick of living apart, sick of waking up hard and not having the cause of the hard-on to impale,” I say, making my brothers laugh, but I don’t. “Shit’s not funny. She’s gonna walk funny for months, maybe years.”

“Like on Thursdays?” Jagger smirks.

“What the hell are you talking?” I stop and shake my head as it hits me. “Just like Thursdays.”

For the past few months, I only stay over on Wednesday and Sunday nights. Those nights, I borderline abuse that little momma. She not only takes it, but she asks for more. Then I slip out before Marisa wakes up.

That’s the thing about having a little chick to worry about. We both agreed Marisa didn’t need to see me in the morning, not until we’re married. She’s got enough to overcome, like having a shitbag father who will surely someday come up in conversation. Someday, she’ll know her old man was in the big house. Someday, she’ll realize what he did to her mother. But someday, she’ll also realize her momma wanted better and got the hell out. And she’ll realize that if a man loves you, he’ll treasure you. I’ve been working on that for a few months now, and it’s been working like a charm.

“Place is packed, man,” Jagger informs.

The door to the office opens, and I see her belly before I see her.

“Livi’s belly is here.” Jagger laughs.

Hendrix lets out a growl. “Sexy as hell.”

“That’s kind of fucked up, man.” I laugh at him as she walks in.

“Hey, baby, you okay?” Hendrix asks as he gives her a kiss and then holds her belly in his hands.

“We may have a problem,” she whispers, thinking I can’t hear her.

I walk past her, into the bar, where I see a few customers looking out the window, so I walk over to them and see Hailey outside, pointing and giving someone hell as snow falls on her, creating the sexiest off-white gown I have ever seen.

I run out the door and am shocked when I see my old man standing there with a cigarette in one hand and an envelope in the other.

“He doesn’t owe you shit. Not a word, not a moment, and certainly not what you’re asking. You made a bet—”

“What the hell is going on?”

“Your woman is trying to protect you,” he says with a menacing grin.

“I don’t need protecting. What the hell are you doing here? Haven’t seen you in almost a year,” I say as I tuck Hailey under my arm.

“Need some help. Used your name to get in on a fight and placed a bet.”

“You what!” Hendrix barks as he walks out with Jagger behind him.

“Ran into a man in Vegas at a fight, told him my son’s name is Aces.”

“How the hell do you know what they call me?” I snap.

“I know everything.” He takes a drag from his cigarette, throws it down, and stomps it out. “Man’s name is Blade, and I owe him ten grand. He adds a grand a day.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Hendrix hisses at him. “Get the fuck away from my place.”

Hailey stiffens under me, and I watch my father stare at her.

“Tell him about Blade, Hailey,” my father taunts.

“Blade is holding half of Monte’s books. Marshall is holding the other half. That way, if one fucks him over, he has the other. It was always the plan, should he get caught in an underground game. Marshall was responsible for me and Marisa, along with all of Monte’s personal assets, while Blade handles his small businesses. Together, they manage the ‘side business.’ In the end, Monte never loses a dime or a wink of sleep.”

My blood is boiling. “Which means what to us, exactly?” I question even though I know the answer.

“Your father owes Monte. When he gets out, he’ll come looking for him.”

“Let him look. Now get the fuck out of here.”

He looks up at Jagger. “Need to make some money, son. Come to Vegas.”

“Get the fuck out of here before I drag you out back and fucking slit—”

“Morrison”—Hailey touches my cheek—“not worth it. Monte gave his word.”

“I gave him life!” our old man snaps at her.

“You dumped a load. His mother gave him life,” Hailey snaps back as she stands in front of me. She looks up at me. “Marry me now—forget him. We’re fine. He’ll get what he deserves. No one but you, me, Marisa, and your family matters.”

Our family,” I correct her.

“Not yet. Take me in there and make it happen. I don’t want him to ruin this day. Not our day. It’s ours, right?”

“You bet your sweet ass it’s ours,” I huff.

She smiles and leans up to kiss me, and then suddenly she’s pulled back.

“Jared, you better get your hands off my woman.”

“You kiss her when I say you can,” he grumbles, making Hailey laugh. “We’ll see you inside.”

With Hailey inside and away, I walk up to the old man. “You better figure out how to fix this.”

“You’re good with cards; I taught you that. You owe me.” He points his finger at me. “You all owe me.”

“We don’t owe you dick,” Hendrix says as he steps to my side. “Now, like I said, get the fuck away from my place.”

“You ungrateful—”

I grab him by the collar and push his sorry ass against the brick wall. “I hope you get what you deserve, and much more. We don’t owe you one damn thing.” I let go of his collar and turn. “Let’s go.”

Once inside, I take a deep breath.

“Fuck him,” Hendrix says as he stands in front of me. “Shake that off, man. Today is the biggest day of your life. Today’s the day you become the man Momma raised you to be.”

“That’s right, man.” Jagger slaps my back. “Let’s do this.”

“Fuck him,” I say.

“Fuck him,” they repeat.

I head to my position on the dance floor, to our temporary altar of sorts, and look around. The place is wall-to-wall with all the regulars, all the women Momma was friends with, and Hailey’s girl Jamie.

“Tell Her You Love Her” by Echosmith starts, and then I see Marisa walking down the stairs, holding Livi’s hand. She has her hair all done up and topped with a crown. Little chick is in all her dressed-up, princess glory. As soon as her little feet hit the floor, she runs to me and jumps into my arms.

“Look at all these people here to see us officially become a family. They’re your loyal subjects, little princess. Give ’em that wave you’ve been working on.”

She smiles and does the princess wave, then turns to me and grabs my face between her little hands. She leans forward and looks me square in the eyes, a serious expression on her face. “You read me books.”

“Yes, I do.” I don’t laugh but instead smile at her, because, damn, her sweetness makes me putty. It’s also gonna make me give this kid anything she wants.

“You read me more than three.” I nod. “You take me on dates.”

“Always will.” I wink at her.

She smirks and blinks at me, ’cause she just can’t get the wink yet. “’Kay, so I think you’re the best daddy I eva had.”

Damn, didn’t expect that out of a three-year-old’s mouth. I swallow down my emotions.

“I plan on being that way always.”

“So, I wanna call you that.”

“I’d love that, Marisa, almost as much as I love you.”

She wraps her little arms around my neck. “I love you, too.”

I absolutely get choked up. This is one of those moments when I realize that what just went on outside, and a million things like it that happened over the years, could have molded me, my brothers. Life would have been so much different if we hadn’t had Momma. I look up at my brothers and swallow down even more emotion.

Marisa grabs my face again, and I look back at her. “You ready?”

“I’m ready.”

“Good. Now put me down.”

Once her feet hit the ground, I look up to see Hailey watching us. She is wiping away tears and wearing a smile that isn’t just for me—that smile is for all of us. She holds her hand over her chest and swallows. Then she starts down the stairs.

She is walking toward me, smiling, tears still falling. There is no game, no show, no tell. With her wall down now, I swear she is more beautiful than ever before.

“It was an obvious choice for Hailey and Morrison to ask me to marry them,” Jared begins. “Hell, look at Hendrix and Livi. Pretty clear they’re still enjoying married life.”

“Hell yes, we are,” Hendrix blurts out over the laughter in the room.

“Love. What is there to say about it that I didn’t say seven months ago? No, really, I don’t remember, and honestly—hell, neither do you all; you were drinking, too. What is there about love that I didn’t know seven months ago?” Jared looks at Livi and Hendrix, then smiles.

“Love is not just a feeling; it’s an action. Actions don’t require flowery words”—he looks at me—“or extravagant gifts. It requires work. Relationships are work. The W-word isn’t something these boys shy away from, and it’s not something their brides shy away from, either. If you don’t work at it, if you don’t trust in each other and share in every part of each other’s lives, you lose it.”

Hailey reaches out and grabs his hand, and he winks at her.

“You have a good woman here, Morrison. Can’t tell a joke for shit, but she’ll do just fine.”

Once people finish chuckling, it is quiet for a minute.

“From what I understand, communication is key to a lasting relationship, but when I was married, we never talked about communication. One night in a former life, my wife communicated to me that she thought we should go out and have fun like we used to. I thought it was a hell of an idea, so I asked her to leave the hall light on if she got home before I did.” When the crowd laughs, he holds his hand up, stopping them. “Just so you know, that did not go over well.

“Today, Hailey is going to marry this guy”—he points to me—“but he’s getting this little princess, too. So I have some advice, and feel free to ignore it ’cause I really don’t have a damn clue what I’m talking about.

“Marisa, when your momma laughs at his jokes, it’s because you have company, and she’s being polite. You should probably pretend he’s funny, too.”

Marisa starts cracking up. I know damn well she hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about, but it’s still funny as hell.

“Morrison, before I let you take the plunge, I want you to think about this piece of fatherly advice I received when I was much younger: If you change your mind and walk away, we all understand. If you don’t, we’re all gonna be jealous as hell of you. And never get on one knee for a girl who hasn’t gotten on two for you.”

Okay, that shit was funny. Jared’s got jokes.

Hailey and I stare into each other’s eyes and just smile.

“Dayum,” Jared says into the microphone.

“Some more advice for the groom: I suggest you just forget about any mistake you make from here on out. A wife’s duty is not only to remember them, but to remind you of them throughout the next fifty or so years of your life. No sense in both of you carrying around that information. Don’t worry, it’s completely normal.”

“She wouldn’t do that. I’m damn near perfect, right, baby?”

She smiles. “Absolutely.”

“Morrison, I also suggest you keep in mind that the only difference between five years on the job and five years of marriage is that after five years, your job will still suck. Your wife . . . Don’t worry, it’s completely normal.”

Everyone laughs again, even Hailey.

“Shit goes both ways, little momma.”

She stops laughing immediately, and everyone laughs harder.

“I have some advice for you. Take it as you will, Hailey: There are only two times a man won’t understand his wife—before and after marriage.”

Everyone laughs, but you hear Livi’s voice over it all. “Not true when you marry a Caldwell.”

“Fucking crazy, beautiful little lady.” Hendrix laughs and kisses his wife.

“If you can’t get him to leave you alone at night and you need sleep, just tell him you want to talk about your relationship,” Jared suggests to Hailey. “If you ask him to grab a few things at the store and then add items, he’ll forget something. Not his fault; it happens.”

I look at Jared and smile. “Love you, man, but I just need to hear two words.”

“Two words you’ll get used to hearing soon are ‘Not now’ or ‘You what!’” Jared laughs, then looks at Hailey. “You love this guy?”

“Very much.”

“You love her?” he asks me.

“More than words can describe.”

“Do you wanna marry him?” he asks Hailey.

“I do.” She smiles at me.

“You know how lucky you are?” He laughs as he looks at me.

“I do.”

“What the hell are you waiting for then? Kiss her.” Jared hands the mic to Marisa.

“We now pronounce them man and wife,” she screeches way too close to the microphone. “And the best daddy I eva had!”

I take a deep breath and grab Hailey around the waist, kissing her like I would if we were alone, ’cause there is no other way with her. There are whistles and cheers, and then Hailey leans back and blasts me a smile brighter than the Vegas lights.

“Marriage certificate; we need to sign it.” She smiles again.

“Adoption papers, too.” I roll my eyes and laugh at myself. “Damn, I’m a lucky man.”

“Apparently, you’re the best daddy she eva had.” Jagger laughs as he pushes the papers up to me and hands me a pen. “Come over here, little chick. Your momma and daddy have a surprise for you, too.”

“For me?” She claps as Hendrix sits her on the pub table.

“Actually, for all of us.” Livi smiles.

“Your momma and I got you this.” I pull the little box out of my pocket and hand it to her, and she immediately tears it open.

“A necklace with a cwown?” she screeches, and points. “Wid a C, like foe a cookie?”

“It’s for ‘Caldwell,’” I say. “My last name, your momma’s last name—”

“And mine.” Jagger tickles her. “Livi’s and Hendrix, too.”

When she appears confused, I look at Hailey. She smiles and says, “Morrison became your only daddy today, so you get his last name, too.”

“Marisa Caldwell,” I tell her.

“So the same as you, and you, and you, and you, and you and . . . all of you?” She beams.

“It’s one big, happy family.”

“Happy like ‘happy eva after’?” She smiles. “I like that. Like in the stories.”

“But better,” Hailey says as tears fill her eyes.

“Happy tears, Mommy?”

“From now until forever, Ris Priss,” Hailey says as she hugs her and pulls me into the mix. “Okay, now you go help Livi for a minute?”

“Livi Caldwell.” Marisa giggles.

“Aunt Livi, now and forever,” Livi says as her eyes fill, too.

“Happy tears, Aunt Livi?” Marisa wipes them and looks at her finger, studying the moisture.

“Nothing but.” Hendrix grabs her. “Now let’s go get to work. Gotta feed the masses.”

“I need you to come with me for just a minute,” Hailey says.

“Oh, yeah?” I’m sure she’s taking me to the office. I’m sure she’s . . . “Where we going?” I ask as she takes me outside and gets into the Escalade.

“Come on,” she yells to me, smiling from ear to ear.

I get in, and she punches it.

“Little momma, where the hell are we going?”

“Open the glove box. Then look at the file.”

I grab the file out of the glove box. “It’s official.”

“Congratulations.” She smiles as she drives faster. “It came a week ago. Sorry, I asked Hendrix not to give it to you yet.”

“What’s with all this cash?”

“Winnings left over from Vegas. Rainy-day fund. I want you to use it to help furnish the apartments.”

“And we were fuckin’ on an air mattress for how long, why?”

Hailey shrugs. “It wasn’t a necessity?” We both laugh. She turns and looks at me seriously, “This way, if I needed to get out of Detroit, I had the money. Now I have family. I’m not going anywhere.”

“And now I have my balls back, so I wouldn’t let you even if you tried.”

She pulls up in front of the building that the bank finally agreed to sell for taxes, a building that is owned free and clear. A building that will not have the burden of a mortgage hanging over it, taking away the stress in making it a dream come true.

“Look.” She points out the car window.

I look at the sign hanging over the door: Momma’s Nest, displayed proudly above the words “The Good in a World of Bad.”

“Best day ever,” I say as I get out of the vehicle. “Come here.”

She is beaming as she walks quickly toward me. I grab my phone and hold it as far out as I can, then snap a picture of my wife, myself, and the place I hope will honor Momma’s memory.

“Love you, little momma.”

“Love you, Morrison Caldwell.”