Hello again! This is a reupload with an updated story line. Many parts have remained the same but there are significant changes to take note of. All comments are welcomed! Don't be shy!
Min Jae "MJ" Park
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
October 3, 1995
"But Mama! Daddy said we could go to Miss Taylor's to pick out a puppy today." Shondra Polite's eyes drifted to her rearview mirror as she watched her five-year-old daughter, Nayely climb from the backseat. The old Cadillac jerked beneath them as they waited at a red light. Turning around quickly to cut the girl a knowing look, Shondra's quiet command ceased Nayely's short leg from reaching over the middle console in an attempt to sit in the passenger seat. Flopping back, the young girl inhaled the smell of old leather as it cooked from the sunrays of the afternoon.
Looking to her right, Nayely watched as her baby brother fidgeted as the rays slowly glided across his face. Sticking out her hand, she blocked the intrusion so not to wake the infant and silently marveled at the way her brown skin shined with gold.
"Nayely, don't start bugging about that dog." She chastised softly as the cars began to roll. "'Your daddy said he would think about it. He didn't make any promises, okay?"
"Daddy has been really nice to us since he came back home. Remember when he bought me my scooter? Or when he took us to the fair and let me ride the strawberry cups?" Shondra listened to the sound of Nayely's feet tap against the seat as she recalled the moments that had set her little heart ablaze in the last three months. Her mother's hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as she pursed her lips.
She saw the change within her husband, Damien. Leading up to the birth of their son Kai, Shondra had suffered the brunt of his sporadic behavior. Some nights he would beat her with his belt across her back, drawing enormous welts to the surface of her skin as she shielded her protruding belly. Then the next day he would lay beside her in their full size bed, pressing handfuls of ice wrapped in paper towels against her mutilated skin.
When Kai was 6 weeks, Damien took another one of his hiatuses from his life, disappearing to God knows where as he left behind no clues for his trapped wife. She was trapped by her the fear housed in the pit of her stomach from the consequences of her previous escape attempts. What would she do with a brand new baby and a daughter who was more than receptive to the world around her. When Nayely had been a toddler who could barely string along two syllables, it seemed much easier to pack her up and take off into the night. Even then her plans would be foiled once Damien had any inclination that something wasn't quite right at home as he was off getting his fix. It would be impossible to even think about running away now.
If she cast away her fears and doubts, something good may be ahead of them.
When Damien returned three months ago, he walked through the door of their old home looking as fresh as the day Shondra met him. His skin was highlighted by a happy glow about him, one that was so foreign yet inviting as she carefully walked towards him, throwing herself into his arms. That day, Nayely had pulled Kai by his rocking bassinette into the bathroom, following a natural reaction she had learned to use whenever her father was around. It took Shondra nearly 20 minutes to convince the young girl to come out to greet her father. While she was hesitant, Shondra could see the deep desire within the girl to trust the smiling face of her father and the uncharacteristically gentle hold he had around her as he lifted her into the air.
Shondra had never seen anything like this before. Nayely had grown to trust her father in this time with him. As she cleared her throat, Shondra couldn't help but to allow the recent dread she had of the next possible layer of Damien that he was peeling back. She recognized all of the signs as he slowly but surely began to fall through on the promises he had made to Nayely. The job he had detailing cars with his uncle started to sound more and more like a farce for whatever activities he was truly getting himself into. Shondra began to doubt the influx of customers needing his assistance at 2 and 3 and 4 o'clock on the morning on any given day. She wanted to think of the possibilities ahead of them being a family for once, but it was hard to do so as more and more his all too familiar grip whenever he touched her returned.
That morning she had noticed the change in his posture as he walked through the house with a dip, as if he were waiting for the next moment he would set off into a whirlwind of emotions. His once bright eyes dulled whenever he spoke to Nayely and Shondra could barely remember the last time he even looked at Kai. When he had assured Nayely that morning that their evening would be filled with a ride out to Miss Taylor's to pick from one of her newly born puppies, Shondra's skin had crawled with the sarcastic tone of his voice.
"Listen to me, how about we focus on having a good time at your karate class?"
"Its not karate, mama! It's taekwondo!" Nayely reminded her as she slapped an exasperated palm to her head.
"That's right! My bad!" Shondra teased. She had been grateful for the classes that were being offered by Nayley's school. It gave her daughter the outlet Shondra feared she lacked the most. The girl spent so much time up under her, that she sometimes forgot her tender age as she spoke with the knowledge and wit of someone far beyond her years. Shondra wasn't ignorant to the girl's hesitancy to anyone new-adults and children alike. Through the afterschool program, Shondra watched as bit by bit, Nayely began to find her voice among her peers. She had even attached herself to a little boy within the class.
"You'll get to see your little friend today, won't you? Doesn't that make you happy?" As Shondra pulled into the parking lot of the community center, she watched as a large grin spread across the girls face, showing off her deep dimples as her little body swayed with the motions of the car.
Shutting down the Cadillac, Shondra glanced across the parking lot as she watched children and their parent's enter through the doors of the center. Some children were so skinny that the white uniforms seemed to engulf them. One small figure in particular caught her eye. Shondra watched through the glass as a small boy doubled back to find his young mother engrossed in the blue pager she held to her face. Shondra watched as the younger woman adjusted herself in her white halter top, marching along in her platform heels until she came to a stop just before the door. Though she could not hear anything, Shondra knew that the boy was pleading with her to walk him into the center before she quickly bent to deliver a barrage of kisses against his cheek and scuttled back to the sports car she left parked haphazardly in the lot. Hearing her own car door shut, Shondra watched as Nayely ran across the lot to meet the boy.
"I know she didn't...Watch where you're going, Nayely!" Shondra yelled from the window as she hurried to grab Kai. Keeping her eyes trained on the young mother who peeled out of the parking lot, barely missing Nayely as she hopped to the curb just in time. Shondra held her breath as she held the infant to her chest, making her way to her daughter.
Grabbing a hold of the back of her uniform, Shondra stopped Nayely before she could drag off the solemn looking boy. Turning her around, she lifted the girl's chin so that their eyes met.
"Before you go anywhere, let's get one thing straight. Never. Do something like that again, do you hear me? You've got to be careful." Wringing her hands in front of her, Nayley shook her head in understanding as her mother caressed her cheek. Turning her attention to the young boy who held onto Nayley's hand, twiddling with her fingers, she gave him a warm smile as she smoothed out his long hair.
"It's nice to see you again MJ. You look like you've gotten even bigger!" From the brief conversations Shondra has tried to hold with the boy's mother, she could figure that his small stature wasn't just due to the fact he was a couple of months younger than her daughter. Shondra wouldn't be surprised if the young woman who could only talk about the next casting call that would jump start her stardom couldn't recall the last meal she had given her son.
Bending at the knees, Shondra reached for Nayely's free hand as she led the children inside. Looking over her shoulder, she watched as the young boy and girl stole shy glances at each other. When Nayely stuck out the tip of her tongue at the boy, Shondra watched as a smile finally relaxed his tense face.
MJ nervously scratched his neck as his mother led him towards a strange house. Looking up, he watched as her dark hair floated around her, making her the prettiest he had ever seen her. The 21-year-old donned a fitted yellow dress that complimented her warm skin tone. As a 16-year-old, Eun Jae had possessed the same beauty that had given her confidence as she joined every acting and modeling group at her high school. She had always been an ambitious girl, willing to go farther than either of her parents were ever comfortable with. When she had snuck out one night with a group friends in search of the secret party of an up and coming star, she had hoped to return with great news of an undercover agent finally discovering the goldmine that was her talent. Instead, she had left infatuated by a college freshman who had caught her attention so fast, she couldn't help but lie about who she really was as he doted her with attention like she'd never had before. As she walked away from that night in bliss, a new life awaited her as her son grew until she could no longer hide his presence beneath the baggy clothes she hated.
When her parent's finally saw what their mysterious daughter had been up to, she was immediately sent from the home to figure things out on her own as her parents decided she had no intentions of appreciating the life they attempted to provide for her. Eun Jae bounced around from basement to attic to friend to stranger in search of somewhere she could rest her body as it grew beyond her imagination. By the end of her pregnancy, Eun Jae had not seen the inside of her high school in months, nor had she stood on a stage doing what she loved most. As the stubborn girl she was, she fought off the urge to reach out to the leaders of the woman's shelter where she took refuge, in search of information on adoption. Her parents had shunned her for the choices she had made once again, and Eun Jae felt that she had to prove to them that she knew what she was doing. She could make this work, just like she would make her dreams shine bright. The night MJ was born, she introduced him to the world as Min Jae-a complement to her own. For the early years of his life, Eun Jae worked odd jobs, travelling to different cities hoping to finally land the gig she was looking for. She had made it into commercials for local businesses and had even landed a non-speaking role for a popular restaurant. Eun Jae needed more to satisfy her thirst that kept on growing. She just knew it was a part of her predetermined path to make it big and she knew she had to do whatever she could to get there.
To do that, it meant Eun Jae had to make many sacrifices that affected her relationship with her child. Some days she would pay a meager babysitting fee for coworkers who were also single parents to watch him. Eun Jae wasn't ashamed to say that on the days that she couldn't find anyone willing to take on her responsibility, children's Tylenol assisted her in keeping MJ asleep in their locked apartment until she could return. Finding the time to balance being a mother and searching for a job came to a head one weekend when she pushed her luck to its limit. When MJ was 3, she had been given a greasy napkin with a party invite scribbled on it. She had spoken to an older red headed woman who had visited the midnight diner she waitressed for. The woman was instantly captivated by the way Eun Jae made the restaurant her stage as she served her. When Eun Jae and her bleeding heart told the woman of her dreams to act, she was immediately given an offer that she could not refuse.
As Eun Jae walked home from the bus stop that night, she gripped the napkin as if it were the most precious thing in the world. Committing the address to memory, Eun Jae ran her finger over the name Slade written in beautiful cursive. The woman told her that all she had to do was find this man once she arrived at the mansion party and at that moment, her heart beat with excitement as she rushed home.
Eun Jae kicked out of her white keds as she ran through the small apartment, stripping free from her uniform. She sniffed the ends of her long hair, instantly cringing from the smell of chili and fried foods laced in it. A shower was a must...perfume couldn't get her by for a night like this.
As the young mother ran around the apartment, humming her favorite tunes, she hadn't noticed her small toddler watching her from the old couch in the living room. He lied beneath an empty bread loaf bag that he fed from that night while she was away. His heavy eyes followed her as she moved with purpose. Even at 3 years old, he knew that she would be gone as fast as she came and there was no point to get too excited that she was home. Sitting up, the little boy crossed his legs at his ankles as he watched his mother tie on her best heels as she fumbled with her clutch. When Eun Jae breezed towards the front door, she caught sight of her son watching her from the corner of her eyes. Whirling around, Eun Jae looked at her son with a surprised expression.
"Mommy?" His small voice called out through the darkness. Immediately, his mother kneeled before him, placing his face in the palm of her hands.
"Did I wake you? Mommy's sorry." Kissing his cheeks, Eun Jae rubbed at the jelly stains on his lips."Mommy has to go somewhere, but I'll be back as soon as I can, okay? Don't open the door and only eat what's in the cabinets." Eun Jae relayed typical instructions she knew her son was aware of. This was the drill for whenever she had to leave and she was always happy to return home and see that the young boy had survived another day. His ability to do so well gave her confidence that he could easily fit into a hectic lifestyle with no problems. That confidence made her feel less guilty each time she left him behind.
When Eun Jae arrived at the mansion, thoughts of her son were long gone as she moved in between the bodies of young hopefuls who grooved to the music that blared throughout the home. A new sensation had taken over her as she eased her way through, hoping to find the man who could unlock the door she needed to emerge into this world. That night, Eun Jae was swept off her feet by the mystique of Slade, an industry guru who took her to a new world. She was so enraptured by his being, that it took two days for her to come up for air.
The next time she had stepped through the doors of her apartment, to find a soiled toddler lying in a heap of vomit and oatmeal cakes, Eun Jae gladly stepped into her new role as EJ, the next big thing.
However, two years later she had found that her number in the line of next best things was keeping her further from the front. Yet, EJ held onto the hope that Slade instilled within her. He had convinced her to do away with her birthname, as the first few weeks of their trysts left him annoyed whenever she corrected him after calling her by a name that was not her own. Through compromise, Eun Jae agreed to become EJ, hoping that it would suffice. As the days went on, EJ found that she was vying for Slade's attention now more than ever. It seemed that no matter how much she changed for him, things remained the same. To cope with the constant failures, EJ had joined in on Slade's habits which drew her to the lone house before her. Needing her fix, EJ adjusted her dress that stuck out like a sore thumb on the dark street. The neighborhood they walked through was a far cry from the elite mansions she was typically drawn to. But Slade had messaged her saying that he had a special surprise for her, with the promise of a hit she wouldn't forget.
BIGSHOT LOWKEY. B THERE.
Low key? EJ had pulled out as many stops as she could tonight because if this was the real deal, then she would not pass this chance up. The small squeeze of her hand drew her eyes down to the little boy who walked at a fast pace to keep up with her longer legs. Taking a deep breath, EJ recalled her questions on what she was supposed to do with MJ, there was no one to watch him. Leaving him home alone was out of the question as her nosey older neighbor made it her business to watch and document EJ's every movement and would gladly report her to child services. There had been a close run in that almost had MJ taken from her, and unless she followed their every condition, she knew the next time they came knocking on her door it would be the last time she saw MJ.
Wiping at her nose, EJ flipped her hair over her shoulder as they stood in front of the large house. "Do you remember what I told you? Stay quiet and wait until mommy is finished, okay? If everything goes well tonight, you'll finally get to see mommy on TV and in movies, wouldn't that be fun?" Her wide eyes sparkled at the thought. MJ tightened his grip on her hand as he shrugged his shoulders.
"Can't we go home? I don't want to be here." He began to whine
"Stop it!" EJ's command came out with more force than ever before as she glared at the boy. "Don't...don't do this tonight, MJ. If it hadn't been for the fact that you like to open doors for strangers, I'd be able to leave you at home without worrying about you." She spat at him. Seeing the glossy look in his eyes, EJ chastised herself and delivered a kiss to the top of his head as she crouched in her heels. Pushing her forehead against his, she spoke in a softer tone.
"I'm sorry, MJ. I-I just need you to work with me here, I promise we won't have to do this much longer." Sticking out her pinky, EJ waited patiently as her young son debated on believing her. As she was his mother and the only love he had known in this world, he obliged as his small hand was wrapped against her own.
"Um...hello? Did you think I was inviting you to a daycare center, EJ?" The scratchy voice of Slade pulled the two from their private moment as the man in leather stepped from the house. MJ covered his nose immediately as he could recognize the skunky smell of marijuana waft outside. The boy had made contact with the smoke before and he was all too knowing of the weird way it made him feel. When he looked to see the excited grin on his mother's face, he knew that this would be another night of her doing the adult things she always said he wasn't allowed to touch. She had told him before that the things she did made her feel good, but whenever he witnessed her during her high, she never seemed all that happy.
EJ rushed her son into the house as Slade looked over his shoulder anxiously. Donned in dark circle sunglasses, he looked down at the boy with disgust and annoyance.
"You say one word..." He whispered to the boy as he delivered a veiled threat.
"He's good, Slade! MJ is a smart kid he knows what to do." Striding past EJ, Slade looked into the cracks of the nearby rooms. He knew for a fact there was no way he could take the kid upstairs, as a special production was underway and having the presence of a 5 year old boy on set would definitely kill the vibe. The sounds of men and women shouting in ecstasy carried downstairs as they moved along.
After trying three different doors, Slade cursed as he realized they were all occupied.
"So, where's the guy at? He's he here yet?" EJ asked, completely oblivious to Slade's irritation.
"Listen sweetheart, if we can't figure out what to do with your fucking kid, there will be no need for you to worry about meeting anyone tonight, do you understand?"
Looking around with an anxious expression, EJ spotted a small door just beneath the spiraling staircase. Rushing forward, she pushed MJ in the direction of the crawlspace.
"Mommy, no!" He yelled. Placing her hand over his mouth, EJ looked around to see that no one had heard his small voice amidst the sounds of the party. Peering down into teary eyes, EJ pleaded with her son.
"It won't be long! Just stay in here and I'll be back for you." MJ attempted to speak through his tears, but the palm of her hand prevented any sound from escaping. MJ's body resisted against her stronger hands as she forced him into the door.
"Do not come out, or you'll be in big trouble!" EJ gave the order with a stern look. Just past her shoulder, MJ watched as Slade lifted his dark sunglasses, giving the boy a deadly stare. That was enough to send MJ scooting backwards further into the dark space. When his back met the wall, he drew his knees to his chest as he watched his mother's face disappear behind the door. The shutter design on the front of the door allowed for only a few slivers of light to shine through, obscured by the shadows of bodies as they moved about freely.
MJ couldn't help but to cry softly.
"Nayely, please stop crying! What did I tell you?" Shondra yelled over the shrill screams of her daughter as she dealt with the fussy infant in her arms. Nayley was distraught from her father breaking his promise to her and Kai wouldn't take his bottle no matter what Shondra did.
She felt like she was losing her mind.
"He promised me a puppy! A puppy! I want my daddy!" she wailed. Nayely's small body was pressed against the front door, where she banged her head into the wood repeatedly.
Shondra ran over immediately once she realized what her daughter was doing. Just as the banging intensified, she was able to pull her away by her arm. The girl flailed onto the ground, wiggling out of her mother's grip until she was free. Careful not to lose her hold on Kai, Shondra stood up exasperated as Nayely cupped her face into the carpet and continued crying.
"Damnit!" She whispered beneath her breath. Damien had done it again. Shondra was glad to know that she wasn't crazy or paranoid to believe that he was returning to his true self over the last few weeks. Even though he proved her right, it pained Shondra to know that Damien's lies had broken the little girl who always smiled through the pain her father caused.
When Kai pressed his wet face against her neck, Shondra shuddered in frustration as she felt the heat from his forehead against her skin.
That's why he had been so fussy.
The stress was beginning to be too much for Shondra as she swayed on her feet. Knowing that her kids had no one else, she let out a grunt of frustration, willing herself to not resort to weakness in a moment like this.
"I swear to you, Nayely! Mommy will get you a puppy! Mommy will get you whatever you want, so don't you listen to your daddy anymore! Your daddy has lied to us for the last time!"
Shondra rushed to the kitchen to pick up her phone receiver, redialing the number to Damien's uncle.
Tapping her foot impatiently, she prayed that she would finally get an answer this time. It was nearly 11 o'clock at night she hadn't heard a word from her husband all day. Someone had to know where he was.
"Hello?" Shondra's eyes opened wide when she finally heard the groggy sound of Damien's uncle on the other line.
"Hey, Mr. Clarence, this is Shondra. I've been trying to call you all night."
"Oh sweetie, were you the one who left all those voice mails? I was going to get around to listening to them later but there were just so many-" Clarence began to ramble as he was delighted to hear from the young woman.
"I-I know and I'm sorry to bother you this late at night, but I wanted to ask you if you knew where Damien went after leaving your place today?"
There was a slight pause before Clarence sighed in disappointment.
"I don't know what to tell you honey, your guess would be as good as mine. I haven't seen that knuckle headed boy in God knows when. He hasn't shown up here in well over a month!" Clarence declared.
"Are-Are you sure? He's left the house every day saying he was working with you, Mr. Clarence! If he hasn't been there, then where is he going all the time?" Shondra became hysterical with rage as she bit her tongue, not wanting to take out her anger on Clarence. He was the only relative of Damien's who gave a damn about her and her kids, which she always appreciated. At 82, he could only do so much.
"No, no, no! That boy is as reliable as my left foot." He said, shaking his cane towards the space beneath his ankle where his foot once occupied nearly 50 years ago. "I got me a few good days of work out of him when he showed up. But bit by bit he started do what he does best-nothing!"
"Mr. Clarence, please tell me you know something about where he's been? Anything!"
"Last I seen him, Damien came knocking down my door like I owed him money! Started demanding me to give him an advance on his pay. Walked up in here with some trifling looking fellow beside him, standing in the corner all quiet like he wanted to jump! Hell! I threw the money at him and told him to come correct the next time he saw me. I just wanted the both of them out of my sight! Had my blood pressure up and everything."
Shondra gripped the phone to her as she bit her lip. If she knew anything, the unknown man that Damien brought into his uncle's house sounded very familiar. If Damien was running the streets with him, then she knew a storm was on its way.
"If you ask me, something was up between the two of them. Damien was acting...funny in front of that man. Like he was a little boy with a crush or something! Something ain't right with him, Shondra, and I know that's my nephew and all, but I gotta tell it how I see it."
"Th-Thank you, Mr. Clarence. I'm sorry for calling you so late, but I gotta go now."
"Don't let that boy hurt you and them babies any longer, Shondra! God forgive me for not being able to help you, but I know he don't do right by you or them children! If I could, I'd knock his head off myself."
Shondra shook her head even though she knew he wouldn't be able to see her.
"Don't worry, Mr. Clarence. I'll be sure to bring them by to see you soon once all of this mess gets handled." Saying her goodbyes, Shondra hung up the phone and immediately started dialing all the people she could think of who could tell her where her husband was.
Nayely lied on her back, eyes to the tattered ceiling as she listened to her mother speak in hushed whispers over the phone. Looking at the couch, she watched as Kai's small chest expanded in his sleep. A cool wash cloth was draped over his head and as Nayley crawled on her hands and knees to feel it, she noticed that it had lost its temperature. Removing it from her brother's head, she walked to the kitchen with a tear stained face, where she watched as her mother held her head in her hands at the small kitchen table.
Bracing her arms and feet against the front of the kitchen sink, Nayley held on to the edge of the metal basin as she turned on the cold water. Soaking the wash cloth before ringing it out, the girl listened to bits and pieces of her mother's conversation.
"-I promise you tonight is the last time. I can't take this anymore, Damien has done enough. I gotta get my babies out of here." Walking away quietly, Nayely passed by a clock high on the wall. The arms of the clock showed that it was now 2:43 a.m. in the morning, but none of that mattered to the small girl.
She couldn't tell time anyway.
What she could tell was that once again an endless night had fallen on their household. Kneeling before the couch, she returned the washcloth to Kai's head. Lightly tapping her fingers against his belly, Nayely fell asleep.