DOM #1: The L Word

May 8, 2227 

Indika didn’t have to look up from her cell phone to know all eyes were on her as she sashayed out of the downtown courthouse. She could see the onslaught of camera flashes from the corner of her eye, and she could hear the barrage of questions—spoken or not—being thrown at her from all angles. But she didn’t need those things to affirm what she already knew. The esteemed Indika “Indi” Richards had just gotten a man accused of a triple murder off without as much as a slap on the wrist.

What else would everyone be looking at?

Her bodyguard, Mekhi, grabbed her hand and stepped in front of her. “Everybody get out the way. She’s not answering questions. Move. Move!” Though he barked the commands faster than the reporters could process them, it didn’t take long for a path to open in front of them.

“Mommy!”

Indika’s eyes shot up at the sound of her daughter’s voice. She looked past the microphones the reporters aimed at her to her limousine, where she found Knox and little Shanice waiting for her. Shanice tried to meet Indika halfway, but Knox’s grip on her shoulder kept her in place.

With pleading eyes, Shanice said, “Hurry,” and Indika quickened her pace.

While Indika could hear her, she doubted that anyone else could, as Shanice’s lips never moved. It had taken her months to teach Shanice to control her thoughts in public since they never knew when they’d stumble across another Sage. She was happy to see her efforts hadn’t been futile.

Knox released Shanice when Indika got close, and the four-year-old ran into her mother’s arms.

“Did you win?” she asked, her high-pitched voice free for all to hear this time. “Was he aquilted?”

Acquitted.” Indika planted a mess of kisses all over Shanice’s face, making the small girl laugh. “And of course.” She lifted Shanice into her arms and stood on the tips of her toes to kiss Knox. 

She could feel his hesitation the moment their lips met, but he wouldn’t deny her. Not in public. Not after they’d spent six years earning the title of Florida’s most influential couple in terms of success, wealth, and happiness, even if the last bit had only been a facade for half that time.

Indika pulled away from Knox, and he ushered her and Shanice into the limo before telling Mekhi he could take care of Indika from there. Within a minute, the chauffeur was pulling away from the courthouse.

Shanice made herself comfortable beside her mother and intertwined their fingers. The two of them sat across from Knox, whose swollen jaw and tense posture let Indika know he’d been training at the gym before picking Shanice up from school and then making his way to meet Indika at the courthouse. A renowned boxer at the height of his career, thirty-four-year-old Knox often pushed his pain to the back of his mind until after Shanice was in bed and he’d gone through the motions of making love to his wife. His nightly ice baths tended to be the highlight of his day.

“How bad is it this time?” Indika asked. She reached down and grabbed Knox’s right leg. She tried to take off his loafer, but he snatched away from her. “What’s wrong?”

Knox shook his head and slouched. “I don’t need you doing me any favors. I’m gonna put Shanice to bed early tonight and stay in the tub for a little longer. I’m worn out. Training kicked my ass today.”

“You’re not supposed to say that word,” Shanice said. Her beaded braids clacked against each other as she shook her head.

“Sorry. It’s true, though.” He cracked a smile as he nudged Shanice’s leg with his own. “Actually, Indi, if you don’t have too much work to do, can you handle Shanice?”

Indika grabbed Shanice’s chin and looked into her eyes. “You’re getting sleepy, aren’t you?”

Shanice frowned. “No. I’m up. I took a nap at school.”

“Did you?” Indika held Shanice’s gaze for a few seconds longer. It was like staring at a pint-sized reflection of herself with Knox’s lighter skin and tighter curls. “What about now? Are you sleepy?”

“Um…” Shanice balled her hands into fists and rubbed her eyes. “Yes.” She climbed onto her mother’s lap and rested her head in the crook of Indika’s neck. She was asleep before Indika could decide whether her magic was growing stronger or Shanice’s will was weaker than ever.

“Stop doing that to our daughter,” Knox said, pulling Shanice away from Indika and into a tight hug. “She’s a person. She can make her own decisions. And she’s going to be up all night, thanks to you.”

Indika chuckled. “Are you sleepy too?”

“Don’t. I’m not in the mood, Indi.”

“You know, you’d feel better if you pulled back on your magic a little during training. You’re strong without it. You can take a few punches during training and only use your magic in the ring. You’d be in less pain.”

Knox nodded. His wife was a Sage—a master manipulator whose control over others was limited only by their willpower, though neither of them knew many people strong enough to resist the magic Indika had spent her whole life honing. Knox, on the other hand, was a Battle Ace. Swift and strong, he became the undisputed middleweight champion of the world two years after deciding to be a boxer. But magic came with a cost, and his aching muscles reminded him of it every day.

Though Knox was too proud to tell her just how much pain he was in, Indika could see it on his face. More importantly, she could hear it in his head. After reading minds and swaying thoughts all day in court, she knew she was over-exerting herself and would be out for close to a day when she fell asleep that night, but that’s what her relationship had come to. They didn’t talk anymore, giving her no choice but to intrude on his thoughts.

“Indi.”

“Yes?” Indika watched Knox rub Shanice’s back while he swayed from left to right, his eyes closed.

“As your husband, I’m asking you to get out of my head so I can think without worrying about you hearing something you shouldn’t.”

“As your wife, I’m saying no.”

Knox’s eyes popped open, and he let out a deep sigh. “Why?”

“Because you’re going to start thinking about divorce again, and I can’t let you do that.”

“Indika, if we’re not happy—”

“You don’t get to tell me whether I’m happy.” Indika scoffed. “I can’t be divorced, Knox. I can’t be the first woman in my family to have a failed marriage. I stood before my ancestors and yours and said ‘til death’, and I meant it.”

“Well, I’m not happy. I love you and always will but we both know this has been over for a long time. I’m tired of smiling for the cameras and making sure Shanice can’t tell that something is different between you and me. A divorce isn’t the worst thing. You’re young. Thirty—hell, forty—isn’t too old to get married again.”

Indika leaned forward in her seat as the limousine rolled to a stop in front of their condominium. “Til death, Knox.” She sat back and waited for the chauffeur to open their door, and then she stepped out of the vehicle.

She strutted into the building, savoring the smell of barbecue, and boarded the elevator, Knox and Shanice just steps behind her. She pressed the button for the eighth floor and bent down to remove her five-inch heels as the shaft ascended.

Heels in hand, Indika threw a glance at Knox, who stared at her with enraged eyes. She didn’t need to hear his thoughts to know what he felt: he hated her. At least, he did at that moment. His anger screamed over the silence of the elevator.

Indika’s phone vibrated in her purse, and she wasted no time fishing through the handbag to find it, thankful for the distraction. She straightened the foldable device and raised it to her eyes.

Amidst a number of emails from her clients, a text from an unsaved number stood out at her.

You ran off so soon. I was hoping we could talk. Meet on the beach in 30?

Indika lowered the phone just as the elevator opened. She allowed Knox to step out in front of her and trailed him by a couple feet. Her eyes moved over the words on her screen more times than she could count before she came to a halt outside her door.

Knox stood up straight in front of the door and looked into the peephole. After recognizing him as a resident of the condo, the door unlocked.

“Welcome home, Knox,” the condo’s artificial intelligence said.

Knox flicked on the lights and laid Shanice down on the couch.

Indika headed toward their bedroom, but Knox grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the kitchen with more force than she deemed necessary.

“What the hell is your problem?” she asked, snatching her arm back.

“I want out, Indika. I don’t care that you think your family will be ashamed of you. I’m not going to suffer because you care so much about appearances.” Knox took a seat at the table. “This is done. We’re over. You can keep the condo and have Shanice Monday through Thursday. Pick whichever two cars you want to keep. I’ll take the other two. This doesn’t have to be messy, but this divorce is going to happen.”

Knox’s brown skin was turning red. The vein in his forehead seemed to jump at Indika, and he spoke with a calmness that didn’t match his demeanor.

Indika pulled out the chair across from Knox’s and sat down. “When did it happen?”

Knox rolled his eyes. “What?”

“When did you stop loving me?”

“I never—”

“What did I do that made you decide our vows and our family weren’t worth your effort? How am I so terrible that you’ve decided it’s best our daughter doesn’t grow up in a home with both her parents?”

“You’re twisting my words. I never said any of that.” Knox started to stand. “You’re impossible.”

“Sit down.”

Knox fell back into his chair. “Indi, let me up. Now.”

“The women in my bloodline were so amazing, Knox. They were beautiful and strong and so good at work and motherhood and magic and being wives, even the ones who are still alive, and I have to live up to that.”

“Indika—”

“And even if I can’t, I’ll be damned if my daughter and her daughters don’t think I did.”

Indika released her mental hold on Knox, but he remained seated.

“You’re right, baby,” she said. “We’re over. But there’s only one way out, and it’ll be a while before either of us see that day.” She got up, walked around the table, and kissed Knox’s cheek on her way out of the kitchen. “I can’t look after Shanice tonight. I have a business meeting. Don’t wait up.”

Indika went into their bedroom and shut the door, unsure of how much time she’d bought herself but positive her sham of a marriage would survive another day.

*        *        *

“There’s something on your mind. I can tell. Wanna talk about it?”

“We don’t talk. Not here. Not anywhere outside of a courtroom.” Indika accepted the glass of Montoya Cabernet from District Attorney Chase McCoy. The wine went down smooth, tempting her to ask for another glass, but she wanted to keep her mind at peak performance.

“Would breaking that rule be so bad? Wouldn’t be the first one.” Chase joined Indika on his bed and gripped her shoulders. He pulled her back until her skin met his bare chest as he traced her neck with his tongue. “Talk to me, Indi.”

Indika looked out the open window and admired the empty beach outside Chase’s house. It was after eleven, and the sun had set hours earlier. Enthralled by the moonlit, shimmering sea, Indika almost forgot to respond to Chase.

“That’s not important. You did great in court today.”

“Me? You should have seen yourself. You’re amazing. I don’t know how you did it, but I thought for sure Isaac Page was going to prison. He’s guilty, and you know it. Imagine the things you could do on the right side of the law.”

Indika smiled. Isaac Page was indeed responsible for the murders he’d been accused of, but no black person who sought Indika’s help ever went to prison. As long as they didn’t hurt women, children, or innocent men, she’d say, they didn’t do anything wrong.

And the Confederate flag-toting supremacists Isaac killed were far from innocent. Isaac’s crimes were reminiscent of the ones committed by one of her foremothers, so she even handled his case for free.

“You really don’t know how I do it, huh?” Indika asked.

“If I did, I’d stop losing to you in court.”

“Maybe.”

Indika wasn’t surprised. While her family had known about magic for generations, most black people were unaware of the power they possessed, and she wasn’t about to lose her family’s edge by telling everyone the good news. She’d learned to just be happy when she encountered someone who knew all the secrets of their rich ancestry.

“Anyway”—Chase moved a finger up the length of Indika’s bra strap—“why don’t you take this off and lay down with me?”

“Again?”

Chase set Indika’s glass on the floor and pulled her shoulders back until she was flat against the bed. “Again.” He moved over her and put his palms against the bed to support himself. “But first, tell me what’s bothering you. I can’t enjoy myself knowing your head isn’t here.”

“It’s Knox.”

Indika placed her hands on Chase’s broad chest and studied his face. He was handsome, but his good looks didn’t compare to Knox’s. His body wasn’t as nice, either, and he didn’t make as much money. Indika almost started to wonder why she was there, but the answer would be the same as when she asked at all the other men’s houses: she didn’t know.

“He wants a divorce.”

“Ouch.” Chase grabbed Indika’s waist and rolled over so that she could straddle him. “I take it you’re not too keen on the idea.”

“I’m not breaking up my family. Divorce isn’t an option. But he’s not going to let it go. I don’t know what to do.”

“Give him a reason not to leave.”

“I am a reason not to leave. Look at me, or look at my bank account, or look at the kids I make. What else does he need?”

“Maybe he needs you to not be with me at this time of night. Maybe he needs love, Indika. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re cold and distant. Are you the same woman he fell in love with?”

Indika frowned. “I’m sorry, but aren’t you here with me right now instead of with your wife?”

“Yes. But tomorrow is date night. I’m sending the kids to my mom, and I’m going to make it all about my wife. I plan to listen and cook for her and handle all the little things that she usually does when I’m too busy with work or with you. I never changed. I just never stopped cheating, and she’s had no reason to suspect that I ever started. Give Knox a reason to stay.”

Indika bit her bottom lip and toyed with Chase’s goatee. “What would it take for you? If you were Knox, what would make you stay?”

“I’m not Knox, so that won’t help you. You know him better than I do, but start with effort. How badly do you want to save your marriage? What would you do to keep him with you?”

“Anything,” Indika said, barely allowing Chase to finish his question. “I can’t be divorced, and I’d do anything to make sure I don’t have to be.”

“Well, pick the one thing you know he’ll respond to and start there.”

Indika moved to Chase’s side as she thought over his words. He kissed her neck until his phone rang on the dresser, making him draw back so that he could reach it.

“Yes, baby?” he said into the phone. “Yeah, another late night in the office, but what’s up? You need something?”

Indika tuned Chase out for the next few minutes, an idea stirring in her mind the entire time. It wasn’t until he hung up and began to redress that she looked his way.

“I need a favor,” she said.

Chase grinned. “Haven’t I done you enough favors for one night?”

“This is a different type of favor. This is a favor as a friend. A little unethical, maybe, but you’re doing it for a friend.”

“Unethical? Illegal?”

Indika shrugged. “Yes.”

“No, I don’t break the law, Indi. I uphold it.”

“This is another rule you’re going to break.” Indika crawled to the edge of the bed and looked into Chase’s eyes. “Right?”

Chase stopped dressing and returned Indi’s stare. “Right.”

“Good.” She picked up his phone and handed it to him. “I just need you to make a few phone calls for me.”

*        *        *

It was almost two a.m. when Indika made it back to her home. She wasn’t greeted by the AI, letting her know Knox had turned it off. While she didn’t see Shanice on the couch, she figured Knox had put her in her bed, so she was careful not to make too much noise.

She took her shoes off by the door and went in the kitchen to grab a bottle of water. Upon turning on the kitchen light, she found Knox at the table. She gasped and dropped her purse.

“What are you doing?” Indika took a series of calming breaths as she looked down at the suitcase by Knox’s feet. “You going somewhere?”

Knox nodded. “I’m leaving, Indika. Tonight. Right now. I wasn’t sure when you were coming back so I had your mom come and get Shanice for the night. But I was trying not to just disappear on you.” He stood and headed for the living room with his suitcase in tow. “Bye, Indi.” He kissed her forehead on his way to the door.

“Knox, wait.” Indika followed him. “Do not walk out that door. You will regret it. I promise.”

“I just want to go. I’m tired.”

“Knox!”

Knox left the condo without another word. He closed the door behind himself, and Indika slammed her fist into the wall.

“Dammit, Knox. Okay.” She wiped away the tears in her eyes and went back into the kitchen. She retrieved her phone and dialed Chase’s number.

“Yes?”

“I thought Knox was going to stay until tomorrow at least. He’s gone.”

The line was silent, save the sound of Chase’s soft breathing. When he finally spoke, it was to say a single word: “Okay.”

A single beep replaced Chase’s voice.

Indika sank to the floor and sat her phone down beside herself. She looked around the kitchen, disturbed by her home’s eerie silence. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been there alone. It had to have been years ago. There had been a period before Shanice was born when Indika didn’t want to be there at all. She’d lost her first child, who would have been a boy, in the laundry room. She thought it ironic that her daughter, born less than two years later, would be an Author. A creator and a fixer. Potentially, a lifesaver if she became powerful enough and chose to use her gift that way.

She turned her head up toward the ceiling and closed her eyes. “Mommy misses you, Iman.”

Indika’s grandmother had told her just hours before she miscarried that the ancestors had made a mistake when they made her a mother. “You’re too selfish, and I’ll be amazed if you ever learn to care about anyone more than you care about yourself. You don’t deserve that baby and won’t know what to do with him when he gets here.”

She remembered those words whenever she looked at Shanice or held what would have been Iman’s first teddy bear. A part of her believed Sierra, her grandmother, had talked the ancestors into taking her son from her before she ever got to meet him.

Indika had had to walk Knox through what happened to his son ten times while she recovered in the hospital. She’d been fine when he left to go train that morning. By noon, he was being told that he’d spent eight months creating the perfect nursery for no reason. She couldn’t make it make sense to him. Deep down, she knew that day was the answer to her question—“When did you stop loving me?”—but Knox would never tell her that.

Indika rested her head against the wall. She’d pushed her abilities to their limit that day and was in dire need of rest but falling asleep meant not knowing when she’d wake up, and she needed to stay awake.

She sat on the floor as the seconds became minutes and then hours. Each passing moment reminded her of why she was never alone in that house or anywhere else. Silence forced her to think. She couldn’t get lost in anyone else’s mind. There was only hers, and all she could think of was Iman and whether she was failing Shanice the way she’d failed at being a wife.

Indika was grateful for the intrusion when her phone vibrated. Recognizing the number on the screen as one from the police station, she jumped up and answered the call.

“Hello, this is—”

“Baby, I need your help,” Knox said, an urgency Indika had never heard from him in his tone.

“Knox? What’s wrong?”

“I got arrested. They said I shot somebody, but I was on my way to my brother’s house. I swear. I barely stopped for two minutes to put gas in my car.”

“Slow down. They’re gonna run ballistics.” Indika stripped as she spoke, leaving a trail of clothes from the kitchen to her bedroom.

“They did, Indi. The bullets came from my gun. I keep it in the trunk of my car, but they found it in some bushes in Overtown. They said they have a witness and everything.”

“Okay. Tell me where you’re being held.”

“Station just outside Park West.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen. Don’t answer any questions or even speak to anyone until I get there. Understand?”

“Yeah, I got it.”

Indika hung up and threw on a blue pantsuit. She rushed into the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face and was downstairs in under four minutes.

It was five o’clock and the sun was just starting to creep into the sky. The area surrounding her building was dead quiet, but the radio in her car offered Indika the peace she needed.

The roads were mostly clear, save a few early birds who were out for a morning bike ride or on their way to work, but Indika didn’t rush to get to Knox. She wanted to make him sweat.

Still, driving well below the suggested speed didn’t change the fact that the station was ten minutes away. She found herself pulling into the parking lot sooner than she would have liked to.

Indika got out of the car and entered the station.

“Miss Richards, pleasure to see you,” the police chief said.

“You’re not tired of me yet?” She shot him a smile. “You guys have my husband. I want to see him, and the media better not know that he’s here.”

“No promises on that. Word travels fast, but I’ll see what I can do about containing this for you.” The heavy, balding white man opened a door beside his desk and pointed to a room at the end of a hall. “Same spot as usual.”

“Appreciate it.” Indika walked down the hall and into the room she’d met upwards of one hundred other people in. Inside, she found Knox handcuffed to a table and the interrogating officer sitting across from him. “I need to speak to my client. Get out, Johnson,” she said.

Officer Johnson stood and left the room, but not before spitting his toothpick on the floor.

Indika took Johnson’s seat. “You have a lot of nerve, calling me to help you, Knox. You just walked out on me.”

“Don’t be like that, Indi. I need you.” Knox sighed. “I could break out of these handcuffs if I want to, but things will work out better for me if I can get your help. If nothing else, we’re friends, right?”

“No.” Indika looked down at her nails. “Tell me everything you know.”

“Like I said, I was heading for my brother’s house, but I stopped to get gas on the way. I drove about ten minutes after that before I got pulled over. Somebody got hurt in that timeframe, I guess, because I heard an ambulance. Next thing I know, I’m in handcuffs and the cops are saying somebody placed me at the scene. They found my gun a few minutes later, but I never took it out the trunk. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Indika nodded. “Okay. I want to help you. Why should I, though?”

“I’ll pay you three times your hourly rate.”

“I don’t want your money, Knox. I want my family. Keep our family together, and I’ll make sure you never see the inside of a prison cell.”

Knox’s eyes widened, but Indika continued before he could protest.

“Or risk getting some other lawyer who doesn’t have the talents I do. We can work on fixing us and you can keep your career and child, or you could possibly go to prison for twenty-five years. There’s only one right answer here. Choose wisely.”

Knox put his head down on the table. “I don’t wanna go to prison, Indi.”

“I didn’t think you did.” Indika took out her phone and sat it on the table. “Head up and repeat after me. I, Knox Richards, on this ninth day of May 2227, agree to reconcile my marriage in exchange for Indika’s legal services. Divorce is off the table and won’t be brought up again. I’m entering this agreement of my own free will.” Indika pressed record. “Go.”

Knox sat up and sighed, his head hung low. “I, Knox Richards, agree on May ninth, 2227, to reconcile my marriage with Indika in exchange for her legal services. I won’t bring up the idea of divorce again, and I’m entering this agreement of my own free will.”

Indika ended the recording. “I’ll get that in writing later on.” She got up. “I’m gonna go see exactly what they have on you and find out who this witness is.”

Indika left the interrogation room just in time to see Chase about to exit the hall. She called out to him, and he stopped a foot shy of the door. He didn’t look at her with the same admiration he’d had hours earlier. He almost seemed upset.

“Are you happy, Indika?” Chase asked.

“I am. Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. I don’t know what you did to me, but I never want to do anything like that again. Knox didn’t shoot anyone.”

“And Knox won’t go to prison for shooting anyone. I only did what you told me to do.”

“When did I tell you to do that?”

“You told me to pick the one thing he’d respond to and start there. He wasn’t going to miss decades of our daughter’s life.”

“This was the only thing you could think of? Maybe you’re not as amazing as I thought.”

“You should watch how you talk to me, Chase. You had an innocent man framed for attempted murder, and I can either find or create the evidence to prove it. I may even make you confess to the shooting.”

Chase’s face dropped. “That’s why you asked for my help. This wasn’t anything you couldn’t do by yourself.”

“Smart. I’m gonna get back to my husband now. Excuse me.”

“You’re the most selfish bitch I’ve ever met in my life, Indika.”

A smile playing at the corners of her lips, Indika continued walking in the opposite direction, unfazed by Chase’s words. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard them and almost certainly wouldn’t be the last.

With a final step, she reached for the doorknob of the interrogation room and looked over her shoulder. “I know.”

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