Left of Center
Through it all, Taiwo and Connor weathered storms life blew their way. Not for a second had they forgotten about the child that was taken from them, but it got easier to live each day. In order to find their groove, Taiwo quit her job and Shaw and Fletcher for reasons unknown to the company. Connor and she kept quiet about their second pregnancy as she chose to go into isolation. They also kept secret the fact they’d gotten married. They were one year in and she’d already given birth to twins. A son and a daughter. When they felt it right, they agreed to tell his family first and then hers. They wanted to enjoy the tiny lives they created, not wanting outside influences to tarnish their first year. Changes kept coming, Connor decided to end the mysterious face behind Brontë Clothing. The buzz created not only more of a demand for his clothing, but business increased exponentially for their architecture company. Shaw and Fletcher expanded and hired fresh, young architects ready to take on their first big venture, supervised, of course.
She finally felt she could relax, she had her babies, a comfortable secure home and a husband who loved her immensely. Taiwo realized she traded one responsibility for another, but now it was her choice, not something someone saddled on her back. No longer did she feel the need to protect her siblings or try to keep the family together. It didn’t matter what her mother thought of her choices, it was her life to do with it what she wanted. Knowing how her mother felt about mixed grandchildren, she originally planned to ban her mother from having even one picture of them. Connor on the other hand, wanted Taiwo to give Anikka one last chance, that hopefully she would see the error of her ways. It wasn’t his wish for his mother-in-law to miss out on her grandchildren, nor did he want to tackle the subject if they were to ever ask why their grandmother never came to spend time with them.
Still, even with this looming over him, being married to Taiwo and becoming a father were hands down the best decision he ever made. He wouldn’t trade them for the world. Connor also wanted to be the best example he could be for his children, no matter what disagreements he and Taiwo had, they’d always be sure to work them out, keeping their children in mind. But today was going to be a good day, he and Tai invited his family down to get reacquainted. He knew his father would be excited to have new life in the Fletcher line and his mother, no doubt, will be at a loss for words. Connor remembered what an excellent mother she was to him and his siblings and he hoped to take what he learned and use wisdom and knowledge to rear his seed. They were to arrive any minute now and he made sure there were light snacks arranged on a platter, just like his mother served when he was a kid. No sooner than everything was made ready, the doorbell rang.
“Hello, father.” she answered with a broad smile.
“Oh, look at my son.” his mother blushed.
“Look who couldn’t come see us, Mr. Important.” his brother, Aidan teased.
“Mr. International.” Neal jabbed.
“We had to come all the way across the pond for some mysterious reason you kept all to yourself. Better be good Con.” Fiona and Mona, his twin sisters said in unison.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s good to see you too. Come in.”
“Big brother is living fancy, is he…” Mona clucked.
“Ye should be sending us a small stipend Mr. Billionaire.”
“I’m not even close to a billion.”
“You should hear the noise back home, you’re all the rage. Small town Irish boy with a clothing line and an architect. You’re a double agent.” Fiona teased.
“I’m just doing what I can to take care of my family. That’s why I called you from Ireland.”
“Mum and Da told us about Taiwo, is her name?”
“It is. We have at least two surprises, one you’re not going to like and one you will.”
“Connor…” his mother warned.
“Before you get cheesed off, hear me out.” Connor directed everyone to sit down while he disappeared to the rear of the house. When he returned, Taiwo was beside him with their daughter in her arms, and he with his son.
“Oh, my,” Stacey muttered.
“Mum, Da, we want you to meet your grandchildren. They’re one-year-old twins. This is Finneus and Taiwo’s holding Chloë.” Everyone looked as gobsmacked as he expected them to be. There was a long silence until his father, Rueben let out a hoot.
“Oh, my boy. Look at what you’ve gone and done. Two, count them two babes, a wee lad and lass. We’ve not had twins in the family since Fiona and Mona. They’ve taken your place, I reckon.” Rueben joked at his daughters’ expense.
When Stacey found her voice, she asked, “Can we hold them?”
“Sure.” Taiwo handed Chloë off to her mother-in-law and Connor placed Finneus into his father’s arms. His siblings gathered round star gazing at their sleeping babes.
“These two could sleep through a hurricane.”
“They’re so adorable.” Fiona lamented while Mona nodded.
“So when are ye getting married?” Aidan asked.
“So, hears what you might not like, mum. Taiwo and I are already married. Been that way for a year now.”
“What?” she protested.
“I’m sorry for keeping it from you all, but we needed things to be on our terms. We just wanted to cherish their first year by ourselves. I didn’t want any added stress on Tai.”
“Did she put you up to this?”
“No, mum. We both decided. It wasn’t anything against any of you. Taiwo’s family doesn’t know yet, but we’re soon to tell them. We wanted you to be the first to know. But let me make one thing clear, any misunderstandings you may have against my wife ends now, I won’t have strife in my house. My family means a lot to me and I won’t have it fractured by anyone, including family, so if you need to clear the air, now is the time to do it.”
“I don’t have a problem,” Rueben added.
“Neither do we.” Aidan included his brother and sisters. All eyes turned on Stacey, awaiting her answer. Taiwo knew it was up to her to extend an olive branch or this tension would never end.
“I apologize for my harsh tone. I shouldn’t have lost my temper and I should have respected your opinion. Can we let it be water under the bridge?”
Stacey nodded, “Okay.”
“Hey woman, don’t have something more to say than that?” Rueben prodded.
“Aye, get off me back. I was going to say a little more.” Connor smirked and sent a knowing glance to his father.
“I was wrong,” she struggled to string words together, “you had a right to your opinion and I over reacted. It’s just that I’m very passionate about-”
“Stop before you put your foot in your mouth.” Rueben cut in. “Stacey’s sorry. Do we have anything to eat? Airplane food was horrible. Who serves beer nuts as a stack?” Rueben rambled on.
“Head in the kitchen, there’s a platter of food on the table.” With his grandson tucked safely in his arms, Rueben disappeared into the kitchen and all they heard was crunching.
“But you are going to have a wedding ceremony?” Stacey inquired.
“We are. Two in fact. One in Ireland and one in Benin.”
“So we get to plan out everything?” Mona asked excitedly balancing on her toes.
“Yes, Mona. We’ll leave it up to you.”
“And me,” Fiona stated.
“You laggers better hurry to this platter or I’ll eat it bare.” Stacey was the first to enter and slapped her husband’s hand and dusted the crumbs from his mouth.
“What an embarrassment.” she chided.
“Not as much as you dear.” She scoffed and jammed her hands on her hips and flitted around in the kitchen trying to find small plates. Rueben always knew how to earn laughs from everyone around him, Connor remembered. Now that he had his family on deck, it was time to deal with hers. But for now, he’d enjoy the unity and precious time he was granted with his family. He’d make the most of the two weeks he had until they flew back to Ireland.
It had been great, better than great, actually. Sharing breakfast and dinner with his family made Connor feel good. He was happy to give back in any way he could for all the times his parents and siblings looked out for him. Sure he was the oldest, but he hadn’t always seen straight, especially when it came to Caroline. It was beyond him what possessed him to think he could have made a life with his then fiance. Thank God and Mona and Fiona for forcing him to see the light. He would have made a tragic mistake if he had shackled himself to her.
Days after his family flew back home, Taiwo Skyped Sarina and luckily their brothers were there as well. There was a lot of chit-chat about Sarina getting married. She had no idea she was even dating and never alluded to a relationship when she’d visited Benin. But she couldn’t be any happier for her sister and now it was time to let them in on her big news.
“So, there’s something that I’ve been keeping from you all, well, two things.”
“Oh? Has something gone wrong?” Bosah asked.
“No, it’s nothing like that. The short of it is, I’ve been married to Connor for the past year and I also gave birth to twins, a boy, and a girl.”
“What?!” they all chimed in unison.
“Why are now just telling us?” Lawrence demanded.
“I didn’t want any added stress of people coming in and out of our home. I would’ve never gotten a moment’s rest if you all knew. Besides, we just wanted to spend our first year in relative peace. No fighting with family or each other.”
“Does mom know?”
“Are you going to tell her?”
“I’m going to invite her and give her a chance to meet her grandchildren.”
“What’ll you do if she rejects them?” Sarina asked, concerned.
“Then that will be the end of it. But, Connor and I plan to have one of two wedding ceremonies in Benin. If you all wouldn’t mind, could you do the planning?”
“Could we? Absolutely!”
“When you see uncle, tell him about Connor and I.” Taiwo repeated the address to her home just in case they came to visit. At least they weren’t too upset with her decision, but she did what was best for her family.
“How’d it go?”
“They are okay with everything. They’ve agreed to plan our wedding. How’s Chloë and Finn?”
“Sleep as usual. I think we lucked out, babe.”
“They’re sure to turn us into deranged parents sometime or another.” she surmised lightly.
“Ah, we’ll be ready for them,” Connor assured. “I know you’re not going to like this, but I took it upon myself to invite your mother over today.”
“I do not want to see her today.”
“I know, but it’s best we see where she stands, permanently.”
“She won’t accept us or our children.”
“Then so be it. I won’t give your mother the opportunity to say with a clear conscious that we didn’t do everything in our power to close this gap or misunderstanding that’s between us.”
“Then you talk to her.”
“I’ve dealt with my mother, now it’s time for you to do the same. I know it’s asking a lot, but everything needs to be put to rest before our kids are old enough to feel the sting of rejection from one of their own kin.”
“I know you’re right, it’s just I don’t want to hear hatred spill from her lips. Things have been wonderful for the last year and I need it to stay that way.”
“It will after we put this situation to bed. She’ll be here any moment and I’ll be right beside you through the whole ordeal. Okay?”
“Yeah.” she nodded. And arrive Anikka did, with a cement scowl fastened across her lips. Connor greeted his mother-in-law at the entrance and she walked past him as of he were insignificant. He groaned inwardly closing the door behind him. Taiwo sat on the couch stiff as a board while Connor offered Anikka a seat opposite her daughter.
“Why have you contacted me after all this time?” she shot at her daughter.
“I didn’t, Connor did.”
“Well, what is it? I had to close my shop for this…”
“How typical of you to only think about money, mother.”
“Ladies, we are not here to argue. I invited you over because your daughter has something she wants to tell you.”
“Connor and I are married, have been for a year. I gave birth two twins who are also a little over one year of age. We were wondering if you’d like to be a part of their lives as they grow up?”
“You already know I don’t approve of your choice to be with him and then you marry him, worse, have children? And you expect me to welcome this with open arms? No, I will not accept your half-breed babies. What’s more, you’ve turned my own flesh and blood against me-”
“I’ve not turned anyone against you, it was your own doing. Hatred is enough to turn anyone away from you. I can go to sleep at night and not worry that my life is going to fall apart, or that I’ll have undue responsibility stacked on my shoulders because someone decided to just give up on life. I’m happy for the first time. I have a husband who loves me even though I was difficult to deal with. I have two beautiful babies who will be raised to love instead of hate, to embrace differences. It makes us who we are and whether you like it or not, I’ll fight tooth and nail to protect them. You’ve said all I need to hear, so you can leave.” Pushing up from the couch, Taiwo disappeared to her bedroom.
“I’m sorry things had to come to this.”
“This was exactly what you wanted.” Anikka accused.
“It wasn’t. I was the one who pushed Tai to have this gathering, and just like she said, you’d reject me and our children. I was hoping you’d change your mind for the sake of your grandchildren that you will never get to see because of your own choosing. No one turned their back on you, it was you, when you stopping loving and caring, wanting the best for your children. You had everything to gain from this meeting and you can’t blame anyone but yourself for the way it turned out. Now, I’m going to have to ask you to leave our home.”
Anikka had never been so shocked in her life. She was rendered speechless. Her limbs were on auto-pilot as they carried her back outside onto the porch. As she turned around, she saw the door close before her eyes and somehow she felt a loss. The mantra ‘never cry, always be strong’ was failing her with each step she took to her car. Everything was being taken from her, again, and she was helpless to stop it, just like thirty years ago. As Connor watched Anikka go, he thought he saw her crying. If so, maybe she’d have a change of heart eventually, but he couldn’t be bothered with that, he had his family to tend to. Making his way back to their bedroom, he found his wife curled in the middle of their bed with tears streaked down her cheek.
“I told you.” she whimpered.
“I know and I’m sorry.”
“I never want to see that woman again.”
“Let’s just focus on our family from now on.”
“Absolutely.” she said with concrete resolve.
“But you know what?”
“You’re looking awful beautiful right now.”
“Stop.” she giggled.
“I know what you want.”
“You read me so well.”
Over the next few days, life fell back into its routine. All of Taiwo’s time was spent on her babies. When they were sleep, she was cleaning the house, top to bottom, or cooking, or doing laundry. All the tasks she was burdened with as a child, she’d come to love as a mother. No more did she want to work outside the home, she had nothing to prove to anyone. She was grateful she didn’t have to ‘make things happen’. All she had to do was trust in Connor which was no easy task and she’s still learning to every day. He pushed her when she needed it, comforted her when she hadn’t asked. He had been beside her when their babies were born and an extremely attentive father even at the slightest hiccup. Taiwo supposed fatherhood was innately in him and it benefited her when she hadn’t the energy to drag herself out of bed in the middle of the night to change diapers.
Though she wanted a quiet life, she wanted to support her husband as well. The world got a chance to see meet the woman beside the man. They were curious about her, even the evening gossip magazines praised her style and how being a stay at home mother was treating her. Of course, they didn’t believe her, that lifestyle required you to be a celebrity or a mother, never both. Taiwo always cited she was by her husband’s side to show support in his endeavors. She’d never seen so much money pour in at one time. She was proud of her husband and he even had plans on what to do with some of their income. Her life seemed to be going in a whirlwind before her uncle showed up. She welcomed him with open arms while she squealed with delight.
“What are you doing here?” she said surprised.
“I heard about your marriage and babies.”
“Everything has been good thus far. Finneus and Chloë keep me busy.”
“Where is your husband.”
“He’s at work. He’s usually home just I’m finishing dinner, about six.”
“So where are the little ones?”
“In the back. Follow me.” When they got back there, they were crawling around the crib.
“They are on the go.”
“Yes, they are. Chloë is going to beat her brother walking. They are into everything.”
“As they should be. They’re exploring their environment.”
“I’m happy to have them.”
“I saw you on television.”
“Yeah, I was supporting Connor. He’s doing amazing.”
“I’m happy for the both of you. What about your mother?”
Immediately a frown bent her lips and furrow her brows, “I wouldn’t know uncle.”
“Has she met them yet?”
“No. It was her choosing.”
“I see. I understand she is against your union.”
“There is something I want to discuss with you, hopefully, it’ll help you understand her position.”
“Uncle, she doesn’t have a position, not when it comes to my family.”
“I’m not saying she is right in her views, but I need you to listen to me.”
“I don’t want my children to hear any of this. Could you wait while I put them down for a nap?”
“Sure.” While she wrestled with her babies, Nosa walked around their home and was impressed with what he saw. He wanted nothing but the best for his niece and finally, god was showing his grace and abundance. It took nearly an hour before his niece darted to the front of the house.
“Would you like something to eat or drink?”
“Anything is fine.”
“Come to the table while I fix you a plate.” She fixed herself a plate to replenish her spent energy. “So what is it you have to say?”
“I’m not defending my sister’s actions but some of what’s wrong with her is our father’s fault and mine.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Before your father, there was another man Anikka fell in love with. He was a white man who was vacationing in Benin. At that time, you have to understand that our people didn’t allow intermarriage, especially with white men. Anikka had been sneaking around but it didn’t take long for our father to hear about it. He forbade her from seeing him, and I took our father’s side. We didn’t want shame to fall upon our good name. Anikka could have lost her life if she disobeyed father’s authority.”
“Mother never told me anything about this.”
“Of course not. But why do you think she left home and moved here?”
“To make a better life for her children.”
“No. Perhaps that’s what she came to believe, but she left Benin because that man was here.”
“No way.” she said in unbelief.
“She came in search of him but I don’t think she found him. I know I destroyed any hope she had of marrying him but at the time, I didn’t know then what I know now. I’m sure she never forgave me or our father for what we did to her. She hasn’t spoken to me since. The rejection you’ve gotten from her isn’t about you, it’s the chance we took away from her, and I think watching history repeat itself brought up bitter feelings.”
“She wanted what I have.”
“Right. But there is one thing that I sincerely mean, please be happy, no matter who opposes.”
“When you come home for your ceremony, your father and his wife will be there to celebrate your new life. Your sister has spread the word so don’t be too shocked the whole village will be at your wedding.”
“I’m proud of you. Through it all, you’ve made it and I believe you have a bright future ahead of you.”
“And just so you know, you’re the first person I’m telling, Connor doesn’t even know. We’re going to be expanding our family soon.”
“My goodness! You better get this ceremony on the road before you burst at the alter.” Nosa joked.
“Connor will be ecstatic and so will I.” Taiwo couldn’t wait to see the expression on Connor’s face when she told him the good news. She couldn’t ask for anything more than she’d been given, but she’d make sure her husband got everything he ever needed.
*Start here if you’re catching this at the end, By Design (1)