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Chapter1️⃣



MEREDITH 



Present Day 



I stared at the envelopes and newspapers around me and felt the hopelessness inside my chest.I hated to sit around and feel sorry for myselfbut tonightthat was impossible.Debts caused anxiety and I was going to spend the rest of my life feeling anxious because I was drowning in them.All morning I had been on my laptopsending out my CVapplying for positions and trying out my luck.I have been doing this for as long as I remember and I haven't been lucky.My mother's medical bills were weighing my pockets down.The interest of my student loan for my undergrad was increasing each day.It needed to be paid off.Then I had other essentials to stress about like electricity and water billsmy son's tuition for his day care.Mind youthe money for groceries and clothes was not added to the equation yet.After deducting all my debts and my bills from my paycheck I was left with only $200.Gabriel and I had to survive on $200 until my next paycheck.I felt like I was working for nothing.I didn't even have enough money to go out on the weekends at an amusement park with my son.I looked at my student loan and I was depressed instantly.Why the hell did I go to university for?The promise of higher education is to get a leg up and bring us closer to our aspirationsbut for me that higher education only created more space between me and my goals.I should have just dropped out and hustled my way up.That was what I was doing anyway.I had a first class degree in accountancy and business but I was settling temporarilyor maybe permanently into being a waitress at a coffee bay during the day and a waitress at a casino during the night.I have been in and out of jobs ever since I graduated.The sad part is they had nothing to do with my degree.I worked as a cleanerwaitressnannyhouse helpyou name it.

The only good thing in all of this was that Herman my boyfriend was paying my rent.Howeverthe second he found out about how much debt I was inhe started changing.I knew it was only a matter of time till he run for the hills.And I couldn't blame him.I was in a really bad situation.


"Mommy!" Gabriel screamed my name as he ran towards me.His puppy Chase ran after him.I got him the puppy as his emotional support dog when he turned three.Despite the debts weighing down on meGabriel always lit my world with his adorable smile.I packed all the newspapers and envelopes and turned off my laptop before I bent down and picked him up.


"There is my king.How are youmy king?" I pressed a kiss to his cheek and he giggled.The best sound I have ever heard.He cupped my face and continued giggling.It was hard to hold his look when Sebastian's dark hazel eyes stared back at me.Luckily it was the only thing that Gabriel took after his father.Hopefullyhe would grow up and be a nice gentleman who wouldn't go around breaking other people's hearts.


"I'm doing alright mommy.Will you play catch and chase with me and Chase?"


"Of courselet's go." He wiggled his way out of my arms and ran out while I followed.


"Make sure you're on your A game mommy." He threw the ball and I raised my hand catching it half a second before it came for my face.

The moment I caught the ball he started chasing me around.Finally he caught me and we rolled to the groundlaughing. Chase barked in excitementwiggling his tail.


Gabriel turned and rested his elbow on my stomach. "I love you mommy."


My heart drummed and tears filled my eyes. "I love you too my boy.I could never trade you for anything.You're the best thing that have ever happened to me."


"So can we skip bathing today."


I laughedwiping my tears away. "Hell noyou and Chase bath everyday.There is no escaping that."


"Mooomyyyyou're so boring." He pouted.


I laughed and picked him as I walked inside. "You just said you love me."


"Because I had to.Now put me down."


I furrowed my forehead. "Ain't we being a little sassy right now?"


"Just let me go." He wiggled his way out of my arms.I laughed shaking my head.


***


I loved cooking but with the way bills were piling up on meI had to cut down on the unnecessary groceries.I finished preparing my simple dinner of pasta and meatballs.After I finished mixing the saladI wiped my hands on a towel and dished up.They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach so I tried to make it as delicious as it could beeven without enough ingredients.Herman was coming over for dinner tonightso it just had to be the best.It was clear our one year old relationship had lost its spark ever since he found out about my tons of student loans.He constantly brought that up even when it was unnecessary.According to himI was in this relationship for money.He certified me a gold digger.But the funny part is I never asked for his money.The reason why I never told him about my debts in the first placewas because I didn't want to appear like a gold digger.And ever since he foundhe never paid for anything not that I wanted him to.I could do this on my ownno matter how hard it was.I called him and his phone rang unanswered.


"I can't make it tonight." He texted.I tried to call again but his phone sent me straight to voicemail.I sighed and out it down.


"Are we going over at granny's tonight?"Gabriel asked and I nodded with a smile.


"Isn't your frienduncle Herman coming tonight?"


"Nohe is busy my boy."


He sulked. "He doesn't love us anymore right?But that's okayI got Chase and you." For a four year oldhe really had a smart mouth.I looked at him sadly.I didn't know know how to respond to that and luckily I was saved by the bell.

I went to attend the door.My brother Merlin and his six year old son MJ standing for Merlin Junior were standing on the door.


"Ohhcome on in."


"Hey lil sis.We came right on time."He hugged me briefly and went straight to the kitchen.He loved food.


"Wassup aunt.Where is GB?"Merlin's son was a photocopy of his fatherwith his mother's character.


"In the kitchen." He ran to the kitchen.


We sat around the tablehaving our dinner.It didn't feel so lonely anymore and Gabriel was even happier.I was grateful.


"I need to go see mom today."


"Aren't you going to be late for work?" Merlin asked.


"I still have two hours.Let me go and change."


***


My mom had a nice house in a nice neighborhood in Queensand Merlin and I could afford her a few luxurious.I always felt successful whenever we parked in front of her yard which had perfectly manicured lawn.Buying her a two bedroom house was my greatest achievement.Of course I had to also thank Merlin because it wouldn't have been possible without his contribution.We had to move her to a better neighborhood because of her health.


"My two grandbabies are here.GodI'm so blessed." She smiled widelyhugging both MJ and Gabriel.

"And Gabriel just had to bring his dog in my house."

She laughed and the boys joined in.


"Where are my cookies grandma?" Gabriel asked.


"Where you always find them.Don't mess around in my house though."


"Okay grandma." They ran to the pantry.


Merlin chose to excuse himself. "I will give you two some space.When you need me just shout and I will drive you to work."


"Thanks bro."


"Anytime."


Mom looked at me with tears clouding in her eyes. "Look at youworking your ass off.You're so skinny."


I hugged her tightlysmiling."Come on mom.We both know I'm no where near skinny.I brought you these lemon-blueberry rolls that you love so much."


"Thank you so much babe.Let's go sit down." She led us to the living room.

"Sohow are you my girl?"


I smiled. "Maawe met the day before yesterdayand I told youI'm perfectly fine.I should ask youhow you're doing."


"I'm so strong as you can seebut I need to know about you.How are you Meredith?I'm not asking about your physical health."


I looked down and played with my fingers. "Mom don't you think if I didn't meet Sebastian and disappointed youwe could have been in a better situation today?Don't get me wrongI love my son so much and if I could go back in time I would still choose to have him.Its only that I feel like I brought him in this world to punish him.I can't even take him out or buy him expensive toys like I should.When he grows up he is going to ask about his father.What am I going to tell him?He is going to ask so many questions what am I going to say?I feel like a failure a disappointment.No matter how much I try to make up for itsomething always reminds me that I'm a failure."


She motioned me over to  a seat besides her. "You're doing your best Meredithstop punishing yourself.Forgive yourself.You did nothing wrong.Honestlyyou're the best mother that Gabriel could ever have and you're the best daughter that a mother could ever be blessed with.You're not a failure at all.You work your ass off to get Gabriel the things that he should have.You and your brother worked hard to buy this house for mewhile you rent in a apartment.You're paying for my medical billsmy groceries and everything else.You're so selfless.I think all of this is my fault.I'm sorry.I shouldn't have stopped paying for your tuition.You wouldn't have this loan on top of your head today had I continued paying for your tuition.I was only trying to teach you that some things you do have consequences and my method was a little bit misguided.I went too hard on you and I'm sorry.Yes I was disappointedonly for a short while but I will always be proud of you Meredithvery proud.At 23 you're working so hard and your efforts are not going unnoticed.One day you're going to look back and smile.All this hardships will be over."


"Thank you mama.And don't blame yourself for anything either.You helped me to get out of my comfort zone and grow up from such a young age.It worked right for me.You did nothing wrong.You were just being a good mother.I'm actually grateful for what you did.You have nothing to apologize for." I smiledwiping my tears off.


"When are you going for your next chemo?"She was diagnosed with acute liver cancerfirst stage progressing to stage two.Chemotherapy was expensive but for my mother I would do anything.


"Next month.Don't worry about it.I will be okay.And the chemo is workingso this too shall be history."


"I pray so.Let me go to work mom.If you need anything just call me.I will see you in the morning." I kissed her on the cheek.


"I hate that you're working all night like this.That too at a casino but if its paying the bills then God bless your hustle."


"Thank you mom.I will see you tomorrow." I walked out.


I found Merlin leaning over his carsmoking.When he saw me coming he threw the cigarette down and stomped on it before popping a gum in his mouth. 


"When last did Megan come to see mom?"

When my parents divorced my dad got the custody for Megan.Merlin was old enough to chose who he wanted to live withso je chose mom.I was too young for Dad's new young wife to take care of me so I stayed with mom.And I'm glad I did.As a result Megan wasn't that close with mom.She was closer to the stepmother instead.


"Four months ago.I don't understand why you keep telling me not to give her a piece of my mind.She needs to help us in taking care of our mothers bills too because she can afford it.I'm not complaining about doing things for my mother but Meredithwe are struggling.The garage business is not doing good

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clients are not coming because they want somewhere fancy and a fancy mechanic.We need help Meredith.Megan can afford a handbag which costs $1200.Her entire outfit can buy a two bedroom house.She can afford trips to ParisItaly and Dubai.The last time I checked she was at the Paris Fashion week what what.She hangs around rich people.On her Instagram page she posts pictures and videos drinking champagne Brut Gold NV.You know those champagne gold bottles that most hip hop artist show in their music videosthat's what I'm talking about.Those costs thousands.You know thatyou work in a casino.Last year she blessed dad and his wife with a vacation for two to Maldives.Our own mother has cancer and we are struggling to make ends meet for her.Every time I ask her for money she says she is brokebut a minute later she will post having a brunch with her family.She hangs around the rich and she is Instagram famous but then...You said I shouldn't say anything but I don't think I can do that anymore.I'm her older brother she needs to know her place.Its her responsibility as a child to take care of her parents.We can't continue like this.I can't even afford paying for our mother's next chemotherapy.You're struggling toonothing is looking good." He tried to maintain a hard and stoic expression but a tear ran down his cheek and he quickly wiped it off.


I sighed. "You can't force Megan to take pay for our mother's bills.She will always say she doesn't have money and there is nothing we can do.Let her bemaybe one day she will care.We will struggle but its only a phase.It will passstay positive.I will pay for our mother's next chemo.I will ask for extra late night shifts at the casino.It looks like I might need to squeeze a third part time job too.Everything will work out.I have sent out my CVs and I'm hopeful."


He hugged me tightly. "You're the kind of soul that anyone is lucky to have.And you don't even know it.The great ones never do.We are lucky to have you lil one.I promise things will work out.Ashley offered to pay  MJ's school fees for the next two semesters.I will work hard to repay you for this month.And leave the grocerieselectricity and water bills to me.I will figure it out."


"You don't have to repay me for taking care of our mother.Now drive me to workor I will get fired.I need the job." I smiledpunching him playfully.


"I'm going to buy you a car one day I promise you."


"Can we write that down and sign." I said and we both laughedgetting in his baby mama's car.


***


The economy since the day I graduated had taught me one thing and one thing only:nothing is ever stable or secure.I had to make my own security and look out for what could come nextso I worked my ass off when I had the chance to.Someone out there didn't have this jobso even though debts were weighing down on my pockets and my egoI was grateful that I even had two jobs to begin with.


After Merlin dropped me off at workI went to the locker room and changed into my attire.A black pencil skirta white formal blouse and heelsnot sky-highs though.This was a classy white-dominated casinoso we had to look sophisticated.After changing I bumped into my workmate Chloe.


She groaned."I'm so glad you're finally here.The casino is packed but the night is very slow.We have been walking around with our trays.No one is paying attention or ordering.Now you're here we know the moment you step out all the people in there will start acting like bees.You're a honeytrap honey.And please take my shifts.I just can't anymore.I'm tired."


I smiled. "Thank you so much Chloe.I will gladly take the offer."


She sighed and folded her arms."Girl how do you do it?You work all day long and all night long but you still remain calm and still look fresh.You look like you have your shit together.If I was youI would always be in a horrible mood and shouting at everyone and everything."


I smiled. "I guess that's just who I am."


She chuckled."My gosh I can never be you.You deal with drunks and people who lose their money so calmly.I lost count of the times I almost strangled those people.They need you at the tables first."


I laughed. "Okay.Let me go and work." I took my tray and walked out.Since I was good with numbers sometimes I worked at the tableshelping men gamble.I made my way out onto the main floor of the casino and walked towards main table.


"Meredithover here!" They started calling out for orders.


"I'm at the tables first." I shouted backwaving at a regular customer.


"Okaywe will wait."


After three hours or so of helping the men gambleseveral orders started to come through.I walked around taking drink orderscreating tabs that customers would pay at the end of the night.Spending the next five hours on my feet didn't sound like a good ideabut if it paid the bills then I had to ignore the pain and continue working.

I walked towards the bar and took the order of the Brut Gold NV champagne that Merlin talked about earlier.On my way back to the customer who ordered itsomeone bumped into me and the world tilted as I fell sideways.I didn't hit the groundthough.Arms caught mepreventing me from falling down.Grateful I looked up.A pair of gorgeous grey eyes on a male face stared back at me.I stood up straight.He had the kind of model looksso masculine and attractive that it would grace any magazine cover.The pair of grey eyes were complimented by a straight nose and a smooth chin.His cheekbones were a marvel.His hair was a rough blonde and was messylike he ran his fingers through it after a shower.He was beautiful.Not merely handsome or attractivehe was simply beautiful.He was wearing a white button-down shirtthe top two buttons were undoneshowing the smooth and hard chest beneath.His slacks fitted him perfectly looking like his second skin.Waithe looked familiar.

"Thank you."


He smiledlooking more attractive. "You're welcome.I will pay for the bottleits on me."


The champagne bottle was $5000 so I was grateful. "Thank you so much.I'm sorry I wasn't watching where I was going.I should clean this.Once again thank you." I turned to walk away.


"Meredith." I stopped and looked at him. "Don't I look familiar to you?"


I chuckled. "You do.I thought maybe I was wrong.You're the customer who always orders the Styrofoam industrial sized cup of expresso right."


"I'm glad you remember me.I'm Benedict Salvatore." He extended hisgiving me a whiff of a spicy cologne he was wearing.I took his hand and shook it.


"I'm..."


"Meredith Burnett.I know who you're.Its written on your name tag.It was nice meeting you." He smiled.


"Likewise."


"Meredith your other order is up." The bartender shouted.


"Enjoy the rest of your evening Benedict."I picked my tray.As I moved awayI could feel his gaze on me.I turned back to find him looking.I smiled politely and walked away.


***


"By the age 25the average white college graduates will have paid off 40% of their student loan debt.The average blacks will have 10% more than when they graduated.The goals for black people are crushed by the system.Its so unfair." Chicago spoke on the phone.


"I agree with you.Racism in this country will never end.Its a nightmare.How much do you owe the system Meredith?" Leigh-Anne askedlooking at me.She had passed by my house the following day.I had asked the manager from the coffee bay for a day off because I was tired.Leigh-Anne had a night shift at the hospital she was a gynaecologist.She passed by my house since she had nothing to do.


"I owe the system nearly $200000.I should have changed universities during that time and go to a cheaper school.I was too young and naive to know better."


Leigh-Anne squeezed my shoulder. "Don't be too hard on yourself.We were all told that getting a degree from a prestigious university will set us apart from the next manbut the system crush our dreamsespecially black people."


"I agree with you." 


Leigh-Anne drank her wine. "So what are you going to do."


"I have to ask for an extension of the loan or something."


"For someone who deals with numbers you know very well that is a wrong money move right?" Chicago asked.


"I will just go to the bank and enquire.I might spend the rest of my life paying off debts.So much for the American dream."


Chicago sighed. "I wish I was there with you and tell you that it's going to be alrightbut I have a client I have to attend to.She is getting a divorce so she needs my legal advice."


"Its okay Chic.Do your thingI got her." Leigh-Anne said before hanging up.


"So what now?"


"We are going to the bank.Then I will go pick up Gabriel.Let me go take a shower."


"Make it fast.I miss that handsome little soul."


***


"You delayed payment on your loan's interest so many times.And you haven't taken care of your credit at allcustomer.Your income for last month was far too low.An extension for a loan is impossible." The bank accountant saidgiving me back my documents.


"I know that very well but please look this over one more time.I always pay my taxes properly.I'm going through difficulties for the time being.I also want to know if you can start charging seven percent interest after I repay the first loan."


"Please if you have a heart can you show it some.Please look over it again." Leigh-Anne interjected.


The tailor sighed. "Okay.I'm not sure if the Examination Division will approve this though.Go seat at the waiting areaI will get back to you."


"Okaythank you."


We waited for four hours.The accountant continued to tell us to wait.Leigh-Anne was pissed as hell.


"We have been here since early this morning."


"Leigh-Anne let's wait for a little bit.If you're tired you can go and rest."


She groaned. "No I will wait."


On cuethe was some whispers and gasps on the entry way.Five men in black and gray suits walked through the doors.I hadn't seen a room become tense for anyone in my lifeeven for the president.It wasn't the men in black or the two model thin women holding iPads that caught my attention but that man in a gray suit.Something dark and tantalising drew me like a magnet as I stared at him.It was too hard to miss him.He stood out in the crowd because he was very tall.He was too gorgeous to be real.ln a gray tailor made suit that suited him like his second skinhe walked like he owned the place.His hands rested in his pockets and his broad shoulders contrasted against his narrow hips.His expression was like he was annoyed and not once did he smile.He looked like the sort of man who had minions to do chores for him.I couldn't see his facial features as they passed by and went into an elevator.Every staff member in the room started running around like a headless chicken.


"Ohhh hell no.Not on my watch."Leigh-Anne grabbed my hand and started following right after them.


I looked at her in confusion. "What are you doing?"

She ignored me and continued stomping towards the elevator they went in in her black girl angry mode.We waited for the next elevator and it took us to the fourth floor.We saw the men in the in a room with a glass wall and Leigh-Anne barged in without knocking.My God she was uncontrollable when she was pissed.And I didn't even understand what got her off.


"We are offering you an interest of two percent..." The accountant stopped talking and stared at us with annoyance.


"How did you get ..."


"Don't give me that bullshit because girl I will kick your ass.Shut the hell up.We have been waiting for five straight hoursand you kept telling us to wait.Then when these people came you started running around like a headless chickens.How about that?How about that?" When Leigh-Anne started repeating her words then shit was definitely about to go down.


"I told you to wait."


"Bitch you're back chatting me?!You wanted us to wait for the next twenty four hours and then what huhhuh?All we did was wait since morning.And what is it this thing that I hear you giving him two percent interest while giving us seven.All we want is an extension for her loan.Is that really hard?"


"Leigh-Anne its okay let's just go.Calm down."


I tried to calm her but she went ballistic. "No no Meredith no! I'm tired of this bullshit.This racism bullshit is starting to piss me off.Have you noticed that its only the black people in the waiting area.I'm tired of that shit!"


"Shouting is not gonna solve it.Let's go."


"No Meredith I can't be humble and sit down.I'm not you.I'm not slow to anger like you.I'm a walking atomic bomb ready to explodethat's just me.I won't keep quiet and calmletting people walk all over me.I shout and stand up for myself when I need to.You try it sometime.This lady told us to wait for hours.She should serve us first.I'm tired of this bullshit."


During this whole exchange I could feel some intensity I have never felt before.Never in my life had I been so conscious of anyone's presence.But that was definitely in my headright?My eyes moved to the men.They were quiet during the whole exchange.My eyes moved to him specifically.His elbows rested on the armrest of the plush couch he was sitting onand his hands came together in the center of his chests.His expensive watch more noticeable.Now there was no mistaking what he was looking at.Me.His brown eyes were locked on menot even blinking.He seemed to own the space around him simply by existing in it and exuded a rare kind of charisma which made people stop and take a second look.I might not had a wealthy experience about the opposite sex but I was smart enough to recognize when a man was completely out of my league.And this one definitely was.I looked at his facial features.Steel-grey eyes stared at me.He had brown hair and a chiselled jawline that looked like it was made out of marble.And the pink lips.Jesus Christ.I looked away.


"Help them first.We will finish my talk tomorrow with my financial team.Give them the loan they wantmaybe they will stop butting in other people's meeting acting like hooligans." He looked at Leigh-Anne who was breathing heavily. "And you loud mouthtry acting like a lady next time.If you weren't too in love with your own voice maybe you could have been heard without necessarily having to create a scene."

I could tolerate anything but having someone saying shit about my friends and family was my personal boundary.This man was gorgeous but a horrible excuse of a human being.He was arrogant and egoistic and he didn't even hide it.His facial expressions said it all.


I looked at him and spoke calmly."I'm sorry about what happened but we are not a charity case.If we can't get the loan then that's okay."


"I was simply doing it out of the kindness of my heartnot because I thought you were a charity case.But it seems to be the reality anyway.If you don't want the loan then stop harassing the employees and work hard to make money."


"Did you just..."


I interjected before Leigh-Anne could say anything else. "Okaythank you very much for that.Once again I can't apologize enough.Leigh-Anne let's go."

I walked but stopped and turned.I tried to keep my voice as placid as possible. "Next time don't go around insulting people.Just because you have money it doesn't mean you own the world.I don't know what you think you'rebut you're definitely not God." I dragged Leigh-Anne outside.


"Who was that?" I asked when we were outside.


"Ohh you mean that horrible excuse of a human being." She frowned. "That's Juan-Carlos Jalal.Search him up."


I grabbed my phone and typed his name.The search results popped up.He was of Arabian descentthat explains the surname.He owned a luxury line of resorts.He also had some few shares in the bank we were in.


"Super rich hey.Juan-Carlos."


Leigh-Anne laughed. "You're pronouncing it wrong.Its not Juan with a G.You say it with a Y like you're saying Yuan-Carlos.That's how pronounce it.He owns few other companies too." She started scrolling through the pictures. "Honestly he might be a pig but he is a sexy one.He is the Kim Kardashian to masculinity."


We both laughed as she drove us back to my apartment.She parked behind Herman's car.

"Well I'm not going in.I don't like Herman.I will strangle him.Besidesbae wants us to meet.Its his lunchtime.I will see Gabriel first though."


"Its okay.Thanks friend."


"Sure." She did a U-turn and drove off.

I sighed and walked inside.Now it was time to be reminded of my poverty.

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