42 - I Love You Like XO
Tiana’s nose twitched as the sweet smell of maple bacon infiltrated her nostrils. She heard the door open and slowly opened her eyes. She saw Jason carrying in a tray of food followed by Owen holding a laptop. “Ahh! You guys! Breakfast in bed? This is too cute!” she squealed. She sat up in bed as Jason sat the tray down on her lap.
“We had to give our girl the royal treatment,” Jason smirked. “Owen made the pancakes. I made the bacon. Ty... made the fruit.” Tiana burst out laughing as she grabbed an orange slice.
“Also, we tried to give you as much time to recover before you were bombarded by your friends,” Owen said, tapping on the laptop. “But some people have no patience. I have the whole crew on Facetime.”
“Seriously?!” Tiana blurted. Owen turned the laptop around. Tiana saw two split screens of Joey and Shae on one screen and Anna and Darren on the other. Tiana wanted to scream, but instead, she just started bawling.
“Oh no, Tiana!” Anna blurted from one screen.
“Girl, stop crying before I do!” Shae shouted.
“Too late...” Joey said, handing Shae a tissue.
“I’m sorry,” Tiana said, trying to wipe her face. “I’m just... fuck, I’m so happy to see you guys! Anna! Darren! I swore I thought you guys-”
“We’re okay, chica,” Anna smiled warmly. “A couple of bruises and scars, but we’re totally fine.”
“As is the rest of the world, thanks to you,” Darren beamed. “You’re a real-life superhero, Tiana.”
Tiana covered her mouth, trying to hold back her sobs. Owen and Jason stood back, watching her when they heard Tyler open the door. “Is she eating?” Tyler asked.
“She’s talking to the crew,” Owen said.
“She should be eating!” Tyler snapped.
“Relax, Ty,” Jason said. “They haven’t seen her in forever, and she missed them. Just give her a minute.” Tyler mumbled with agitation. He glanced at Tiana and saw her staring at the computer screen with a huge smile on her face as tears streamed down her face.
“I miss you guys so much,” she said to them.
“We miss you too, chica. But we’ll see you soon,” Anna said.
“Hotheads 1, 2, and 3 wanna spend a little more time with you first,” Joey smirked.
“Heard that you asshole!” Jason blurted. Tiana shook her head with a chuckle.
“We’ll see you later, sis, okay?” Shae said.
Tiana nodded as more tears fell. Owen walked up and took the laptop from her before closing it. She looked up at the three of them. “It would have been nice to see them sooner than later,” she said.
“You will, babe. There’s just something we wanted to do with you first,” Jason said.
“Oh?” she said surprised.
“Here,” Owen said, handing her a shopping bag. “Put these on and meet us downstairs.” Tiana cheesed with excitement as the guys left the room.
Jason adjusted his baseball cap in the mirror and winked at himself. “It should be goddamn illegal to look this fucking good,” he smirked.
“This idiot,” Owen grinned as he pulled a fitted sports shirt over his head. He glanced at Tyler who was fixing his black muscle t-shirt. He turned his cap backward before he slouched back against the wall. “Think you can try being a little happier today, Ty?” Owen asked.
“What’s the fucking point...” Tyler muttered.
“The point is that we’re doing this for Tiana,” Owen said. “Not you. Not me. Not Jason. But for her. So I need you to cut the shit and get over your fucking attitude so she can enjoy the damn day!”
“Do you know how much this fucking hurts, Owen?!” Tyler snapped.
“Of course we fucking know!” Jason snapped at him. “Are you shitting me, Ty?! This shit ain’t easy! But we have to keep it together for her! Put on a damn fake smile if you have to! I will literally slap you if I see you frown even once today!” Tyler sucked his teeth annoyed when they heard Tiana come down the stairs.
“Play ball!” she said with her arms wide open. The guys quickly scanned her form and admired her low-riding, hip-hugging jeans that deliciously clung to her thick legs. Her standard NY timbs. A NY Yankees cropped jersey that stopped just below her breasts, exposing her small inviting waist. And a NY Yankees cap that just barely covered her long braids. “Let me guess,” she said, tapping her chin. “We’re going to a Red Sox game.”
“Don’t even joke like that,” Jason grinned as he walked up to her. “Shit, baby. I knew this would look fucking sexy on you.”
“I’m surprised you even got my size,” she chuckled as Jason wrapped her in his arms and kissed her neck.
“All Owen,” Jason said.
“There’s a reason I’m her best friend,” Owen winked as Jason rolled his eyes.
“You guys look hot!” Tiana said, taking in their jeans, fitted, muscle Yankee shirts, and baseball caps. “Who’s playing, Tyler?”
Tyler looked up at Tiana and caught a warning glare from Jason and Owen. “Um... Yankees against the Blue Jays,” Tyler said.
“Oh! We got that in the BAG!” she said. “Leggo!”
Tiana was a bundle of excitement the moment they got to Yankee stadium. One wouldn’t have imagined she had terminally-ill cancer from the way she bounced all over the place. The Yankees were her favorite sports team, and Owen saw no better way to kick things off than to take her to a game.
“LET’S GO YANKEES, LET’S GO!” Tiana was one of the loudest fans in the stands as one of her favorite players headed to pitch. “Come on Ray Shuly!! I LOVE YOU! WOO!”
“I seriously did not know she was this big of a baseball fan,” Jason whispered to Owen.
“Huge,” Owen said. “Just don’t ask her to play. She can’t play for shit,” Owen snickered.
“EXCUSE YOU, OWEN!” Tiana said, punching him in the chest as he laughed. “Asshole.” Owen grinned as he leaned over and kissed her on the lips. She heard the crack of the ball and looked up to see it heading her way. “OH SHIT!” She jumped up and nearly fell over Jason and Owen when Tyler quickly caught it. “Damn!” Tiana said. “Nice catch, Tyler!” Tyler looked at the ball and handed it to her. “Oh no, no,” she said quickly.
“Tiana,” Tyler said firmly. She smiled at him and took the ball before kissing him sweetly on the lips.
After the game, Tiana followed Jason and Tyler to get a snack. “I still can’t believe you caught that ball, Tyler,” Tiana said.
“Yea, you should go pro, bro,” Jason winked at Tyler who rolled his eyes.
“Where did Owen go?” she asked, turning around. Her eyes widened in shock to see Owen walking towards her with… “Ray Shuly...” she breathed out before she squealed. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! I kinda love you!”
“Alright now...” Tyler muttered annoyed. Owen smirked and nudged Tyler in the waist.
“Heard you caught the ball,” Ray said.
“Um, actually-” Tiana started as she looked at Tyler.
“Figured you wanted it signed?” Ray smiled.
“YES, PLEASE!” she screamed. The player laughed as he grabbed the ball and signed it for her. “Thank you! Thank you!” she said, hugging him tightly.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Jason said, quickly pulling her back. “Thank you, Mr. Shuly.”
“Anytime,” Ray smirked as he waved them off.
“Ah! This day has been so amazing!” Tiana squealed as she headed out of the stadium. “Ray is like-” She quickly covered her mouth again as she started coughing hysterically. She leaned over and coughed chunks of blood onto the sidewalk.
“Tiana,” Owen said, rushing to help her. He rubbed her back as she continued to cough blood. A bit of color left Tyler’s face when he saw the blood on the ground. Jason quickly grabbed Owen’s shoulder.
“Let’s take her home. Maybe we should contact her doc-” Jason started.
“No, I’m fine. I’m fine,” Tiana said, waving them off as she wiped her mouth with a tissue. “It’s okay. What did you guys wanna do next?”
“Keanu motherfucking Reeves, ladies and gentlemen!” Tiana said, clapping her hands in the theater as she watched credits roll. The guys had taken her to see the latest John Wick movie after her friend Sasha raved about it. Tiana was insistent on seeing it. “Who do you think would win in a battle? John Wick or Batman?” she asked.
“John Wick, easy,” Jason said.
“Okay. John Wick or Liam Neeson in Taken,” she said.
“That’s tough. I’m going with Liam,” Owen said.
“Whack. I’m sticking with my man, John. He killed a man with a pencil!” Jason laughed.
“Okay, how about John Wick or Thanos,” Tiana mused.
Jason and Owen looked at her like she was crazy. “What kind of comparison is that, T?” Owen asked.
“I seriously feel like John could take Thanos,” Tiana said. “Just make Thanos kidnap his dog and John Wick will be all up on that bitch like BAM! HAZOW!” Tiana said, doing karate moves in the air as Owen chuckled.
“You’re crazy, babe,” Jason laughed.
Tiana smirked. She looked at the movie screen and saw it flash: John Wick Will Return. “Yesssss,” she said, pumping her fist. “Knew my man would make it. I can’t wait to see...it...” The guys watched her smile quickly fall from her face as the realization hit her. “...right...” she said, standing to her feet. “I um... gotta use the bathroom.”
Their exciting day was on the verge of ending in sadness, but Owen refused. The moment they ended up back at their loft, Owen had picked Tiana up and devoured her lips with his.
In the elevator, Tiana could barely keep up as several hands and lips claimed different parts of her body. She giggled uncontrollably before her giggles quickly turned to heavy panting. Her clothes were torn from her body to be replaced by tongues and fingers. Her garments left a trail from the entrance to the living room, as the bedroom was too far for them to do what they wanted.
Tiana scrambled back on the carpeted floor as Owen grabbed her legs and locked her thighs around his neck. She felt Jason pull her arms above her head as Tyler’s lips possessed one of her nipples. “Oh fuck!” Tiana breathed heavily as Owen’s fingers pumped into her while his tongue canvassed her pussy. Jason slipped his tongue into her mouth as he massaged one of her breasts.
She tried to get lost in the erotic moment, but too soon felt the dreaded familiar tickle in her throat. “Wait, wait!” she said, quickly pushing them off of her. They watched her run to the bathroom and close the door shut before they heard her coughing violently again. More chunks of blood could be heard dropping into the toilet before she flushed.
“Guys?” she said from the other side of the door. “Can we... take a rain check?” She immediately started coughing again into the toilet.
Owen furrowed his brows in concern. “I’m gonna go help her-”
“I can’t fucking do this!” Tyler snarled. He shot up to his feet and stormed outside. Jason and Owen exchanged looks, speaking to each other with their eyes. Jason nodded and followed after Tyler while Owen went to help Tiana.
Owen lifted Tiana’s naked body out of the tub and sat her on the lid of the toilet as he gently dried her off with a towel. “How you feeling?” he asked, drying her legs.
“Better,” she said, rubbing her chest. “The menthol helped.”
“Good,” Owen said. He picked her up in his arms and carried her to her bedroom.
Tiana felt considerably weak as Owen placed her down on the bed. “I’m sorry for ruining tonight,” she said, coughing. “I think maybe it was too much for one day.”
“Don’t apologize, babe. It’s okay,” Owen smiled. He grabbed a bottle of lotion and started rubbing it over her legs. “As long as you had fun.”
“So much fun,” she smiled at him as her eyes grew heavy. “You guys are amazing.” She watched Owen finish putting lotion on her body before he grabbed her headscarf and gently lifted her head to wrap it around her hair. “You been hanging out with too many black people,” she smirked at him.
“Please. Your brother is the one who taught me everything I needed to know about a durag, starting with how stupid white people look when we wear it,” Owen smirked.
“Sounds like Dante,” Tiana chuckled. Her smile quickly fell as she looked at Owen. “Are the guys upset?” she asked.
“T, please,” Owen scoffed. “Don’t worry about them, baby. We’ll see you in the morning.” He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. When he got up to leave, Tiana quickly grabbed his hand.
“Stay with me?” she pleaded. Owen nodded and kicked off his shoes before he got into bed with her. He pulled her into his arms as she rested her head on his chest. “I love you, Owen,” she said sleepily.
“I love you too, T...”
“Keep them closed, baby!”
“Boy! All I see is your big ass hand!” Tiana snapped. She stumbled along as she held Jason’s hand while he covered her face with the other. “Jason, where the hell are we going?!” she groaned.
“Just a second, baby girl,” Jason snickered as he looked at Owen and Tyler. “Ready?”
“Yes, I’m ready!” she said impatiently.
“Alright. Open your eyes, babe!” Owen shouted.
Tiana pushed Jason’s hand away and stared straight. Her face scrunched up into confusion. “Um... what’s this?” she asked, looking at the neon purple motorcycle in front of her.
“It’s your new bike,” Owen said.
Tiana’s eyes bulged. “Did you say MY NEW BIKE?!”
“Yup,” Jason grinned. “We designed it especially for you. Charlie kind of hooked us up with some of the expensive ass parts, but we’ve been stealing time to build it for you.”
“What do you think?” Owen asked.
“Oh my gosh! Guys! It’s gorgeous!” she squealed as she ran towards it. Jason and Owen followed her while Tyler hung back. He watched as Jason helped her mount the bike while Owen showed her the matching purple helmet. “This is so freaking cute! I feel like T’Challa or something!” she laughed as Owen placed the helmet on her head.
“Told you she’d make that reference,” Owen grinned at Jason.
“Do you think I’ll be able to ride it by myself?” she asked, trying to get used to the feel of the bike beneath her. Tyler’s jaw tensed with frustration.
“With practice, yea, babe. You can do anything,” Jason said, kissing her cheek.
“FUCK THIS SHIT!” Tyler shouted angrily. Jason, Owen, and Tiana looked at him startled as Tyler briskly walked away.
“Watch her,” Jason said angrily as he ran after Tyler.
Tyler shoved his fist into a telephone pole before he angrily kicked over a garbage can.
He looked back and saw Jason chasing him. “Leave me the fuck alone, Jason!” Tyler snapped.
“Like hell!” Jason said, roughly grabbing him. “Look at me! Fucking look at me, Evans!”
Tyler clenched his jaw as he glared at Jason, tears streaming down his face. “I can’t do this, J. I can’t. I can’t-”
“Hey!” Jason said, slapping Tyler in the face. “I don’t give a fuck what you can’t do, Ty. This isn’t about you!”
Tyler growled angrily as he shoved Jason off of him. “Fuck you!” Tyler shouted at him. He went to walk away, but Jason grabbed him again. “Jason-!”
“Do you love her?!”
“I said do you fucking love her?!” Jason growled.
“Of course I love her! What the fuck kind of question is that?!” Tyler snarled.
“THEN FUCKING ACT LIKE IT, TYLER!” Jason shouted at him.
Tyler shoved Jason off of him again. He breathed heavily as he glared at him with full-on rage. “What’s the fucking point of all this shit if she’s just going to die anyway?!” Tyler growled. Jason wanted to knock the shit out of Tyler, but he could see that Tyler was full-blown crying.
“I can’t live through this shit again!” Tyler freaked. “I fucking fell in love with her, and now I feel like my heart is being ripped out of my fucking chest! This is worse than Dante, Jason! This is worse than my mother being taken away! This is-” Tyler fell to his knees sobbing as he grabbed anxiously at his hair. “Why does everyone I love fucking die?! When do I get some fucking happiness?!”
Jason felt pain like a hammer to his rib cage as he watched his best friend fall apart in a way he had never seen before. He had seen the way he broke down when Tyler’s mom was taken away. When Dante died. But nothing... none of those compared to this... This was years of pent up anger. This was all of the repressed pain bursting at the seams all at once.
Jason walked up to his best friend and knelt down beside him, putting a hand to his shoulder. “You do get to be happy, Ty...” Jason said with anguish. “Because she’s still with us right now. And she fucking loves you. She’s the one dying, and yet she’s giving you... everything. Don’t you think she deserves that back from you?”
Tyler looked up at Jason and tried to control his breathing. He knew Jason was right. He hated that just looking at Tiana made him want to break down. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. Every day closer to her death was more painful than the last.
“I can’t think about that right now,” Jason said. “I can’t think about her dying and not being here. You know why? Cause she’s still with us, Ty. She’s still here. And I’m gonna love her so fucking hard. I’m gonna make these last days for her the best she’s ever had. Because she fucking deserves it. And I’m gonna treasure these moments. Long after she’s gone. And that’s what the fuck you need to do too. Give her your damn best!”
Jason grabbed Tyler’s neck and leaned his forehead against his. “I need you to be strong for our girl, bro. Because she can feel your hurt, your pain, and your anger. And she doesn’t need that shit when she’s already dying. So please... if you love her... fucking show her!”
Tyler looked at Jason and tearfully nodded before Jason pulled him into a rough hug.
“So, my foot goes here?” Tiana asked.
“Yea and you just lean your weight like this,” Owen demonstrated. “When you’re actually riding, it will feel better.”
“So, it’s like riding a bike,” she smirked at him.
“Something like that,” Owen chuckled. He stopped short when he saw Jason and Tyler headed back towards them. Jason gave Owen a knowing look as Tyler approached Tiana.
Tiana looked at Tyler nervously as he grabbed her waist and pulled her off of the bike. “Tyler-” she started.
“I’m sorry,” Tyler said, grabbing her face and looking her in the eye. “I’m sorry for being such an asshole, baby. I-... you know I’m shit with my emotions.” Tiana chuckled, and it brought a smile to Tyler’s face. He eagerly pressed his lips to hers as he wrapped his arms around her for an intense and possessive kiss. “I love you, Tiana,” he breathed against her lips. “I love you so fucking much.”
Tiana put her hand to his chest and smiled. “I love you too, Tyler...”
He smiled down at her, running his thumb over her lips before he looked at Owen and Jason. “We gotta go, or we’re gonna be late.”
“Late for what?” Tiana asked.
“You’ll find out,” Tyler said. He took her hand and led her towards his bike. Tiana watched Owen and Jason head towards their bikes before Tyler tugged on her arm. “Get on, babe,” he said with a bit of excitement in his voice that she hadn’t heard before. She got on his bike behind him and wrapped her arms around his firm waist. He revved the engine and pulled off after Jason and Owen.
Tiana pressed her face into Tyler’s back as her hands squeezed around his firm abs. She gently rubbed him, enjoying the feel of his body against hers and the hum of the motorcycle that could have lulled her to sleep. The motorcycle engine was quickly drowned out by the sound of loud music.
Tiana looked up as Tyler pulled into a parking lot between Owen and Tyler. She could see a stage and a large Ferris wheel in a large open area. “Where are we?” she asked as Tyler helped her off of his bike.
“Coney Island,” Jason said.
“Music festival was on your bucket list, wasn’t it?” Owen grinned as he placed a badge around her neck. Her mouth parted as she looked down at the badge to see VIP Pass labeled on it.
“Whaaaa?!” she said shocked.
“Come on, baby girl,” Jason said, grabbing her hand as they led her to the boardwalk. Tiana was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of so many people around her.
“Who’s that pretty lady?”
She turned around to find the familiar voice when her eyes bulged in shock. “SHAE?!”
“Oh, nevermind y’all. It’s just my super badass bestie-OOH!” Shae chuckled as Tiana tackled her to the ground.
Tiana hugged Shae tightly and cried into her shoulder. “Bitch! I fucking missed your ass!”
“Why do you think I’m here?” Shae smirked. “I missed you too, boo.” The two girls giggled before they were tackled by Anna.
“GROUP HUG!” Anna laughed. Tiana squealed as she eagerly hugged Anna back.
“I’m surprised you guys even made it on time,” Joey smirked at Owen.
“Technically, they’re 15 minutes late,” Darren said, checking his watch. “But you know... who’s counting.”
“Okay, thanks, Darren. Missed you too, bro,” Jason grinned sarcastically. He grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled Darren in for a rough hug.
Tiana walked arm-in-arm with Anna and Shae as they visited different stage platforms to watch multiple performers. She felt like a big kid again. She went on a few of the rides, got a flower painted on her face, and shared cotton candy with Owen and Shae. “This shit ain’t good for my thighs,” Shae sighed, munching on the candy.
“I rather like your thighs,” Joey grinned. He picked Shae up in his arms and swung her around, causing her to scream.
Darren turned bright pink when Anna placed a flower crown on his head. “Twinsies!” Anna laughed as she pressed her lips to Darren’s rosy cheek to take a selfie.
“They’re cute,” Tiana smirked.
“Mmm, so are you,” Owen said, wrapping his arms around her. He softly kissed her neck.
“Alright, I’m only doing this once, babe. So you better pay attention,” Tyler said, playing with a ball in his hand as he eyed the ball toss stand. “You know I love an opportunity to show Owen and Jason up.”
“Bitch, you wish,” Owen said, quickly letting Tiana go. “Be right back, babe!” Tiana laughed as she watched Owen, Tyler, and Jason challenge each other at the arcade stand until they had knocked down all of the cones. They merged all of their tickets together to get her one large teddy bear.
“Can you guys get any cuter,” she giggled as she squeezed her teddy bear. “What should I name him?”
“Jason Jr.,” Jason smirked. “You know... since I won the most tickets.”
“What? No!” Owen snapped when he felt Shae grab his shoulder.
“It’s time, hoe!” Shae said to him.
“Oh!” Owen gestured to Jason. Jason nodded and quickly walked up to Tiana.
“Hey, baby girl,” Jason said. “There’s a cool artist performing. Why don’t you get on my shoulders so you can see better.”
“Okay?” Tiana laughed with confusion. Jason crouched down as Tyler grabbed Tiana’s waist and sat her on Jason’s shoulders before he lifted her in the air. Tiana chuckled as she held onto Jason’s head for balance when she looked up at the stage. She saw several children gathered around one of her favorite indie artists and one of the most outspoken black activists, Berelia.
Tiana nearly choked as she started hitting Jason’s head. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Yass! That’s my girl!”
“Ow! Ow! Babe,” Jason laughed.
Tiana looked down at Shae. “Is that fucking Berelia?! In the flesh?! Home girl never comes out for a damn show unless she protestin’ in them streets right after!”
“Yea, girl. You ain’t know she was playing at Coney Island?” Shae grinned.
“Bitch, I was in the fucking hospital recovering from radiation like I was fucking Dr. Manhattan. Of course, I didn’t know!” Tiana blurted.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that…” Darren said uncomfortably.
“Cry, bitch! It’s motherfuckin’ Berelia!” Tiana shouted, snapping her fingers.
“I wanna thank New York for having me and my band today,” Berelia said into the mic. “I know it’s been hard these past few days after what happened at Chelsea Piers. Several of these children here with me today were impacted not just by that catastrophe but also the virus that claimed so many lives, including that of their parents. I’m here today to raise awareness. We gotta support each other now more than ever. So, every dollar raised today will go to those who were impacted and are still recovering.”
“Yasss, bitch! We stan a charitable queen!” Tiana said, snapping her fingers.
“Wow. Your girl is crazy as hell,” Joey snickered to Owen and Tyler.
“It’s adorable,” Tyler smirked.
“That’s not even the best part,” Owen grinned.
“And I hear we have a special guest in the audience today,” Berelia continued. “Someone who practically saved half the world. Girl, that’s crazy. Shout out to a complete and total badass, Tiana Morris. You’re straight-up black girl magic, sis. This song is for you.”
Tiana’s mouth parted in shock as she forgot how to breathe. “Woo! Go, T!” Shae cheered as Anna clapped her hands happily. But Tiana was still in a state of shock.
“Tiana?” Owen said. But she still hadn’t answered. “Tiana!”
“Shit, Jason, bring her down,” Tyler said quickly. Jason quickly crouched down as Tyler helped Tiana off and spun her around. “Tiana!” Tyler blurted, shaking her a little. “Talk to me, bab-”
“Oh my fucking gosh! Berelia just shouted me out! Holy fuck!” Tiana screamed.
“Fucking hell, Tiana,” Tyler groaned. He breathed out relieved as Jason shook his head with a smirk. Tiana screamed as she jumped up and down like a maniac.
“I can die now, y’all! I can fucking die because Berelia just shouted my black ass out! HALLELUYER!”
“That’s not funny, Tiana,” Owen said annoyed as Tiana continued to squeal.
By the time the music festival had ended, Tiana was completely worn out. She nearly fainted when she met Berelia backstage to get an autographed copy of her new album. She had accompanied her friends to a local bar for drinks, but it came to a quick end when she went into another coughing fit that resulted in her men deciding to take her home.
She had given a farewell to her dear friends but didn’t make it far enough before she was coughing up more blood. Tyler and Jason exchanged uncomfortable looks of concern while Owen rubbed her back. “Let’s go home, baby. You need to get your rest,” Owen said.
“What?” Tiana said, wiping her mouth. “No way! You guys told me you had one more thing, right?”
“Tiana, you’re about to cough up a lung,” Tyler said.
“It can wait another day,” Jason insisted.
“No, no,” Tiana said. “This is hands-down the best day of my life. I can last a little longer.” The guys exchanged looks before Owen sighed and grabbed her hand. He led her to his bike and had her get on behind him.
Tiana nearly fell asleep holding Owen when his bike came to a stop. She could smell the scent of sea salt as droplets of seawater brushed against her face. “We’re here, baby,” Owen said gently. Tiana pulled back and felt Jason grab her hand as he helped her dismount the bike. She followed them across a sandy area till they reached a patch of grass.
Tyler lay down a blanket before Owen directed her to lie down on it. Soon, Jason and Tyler were lying down on either side of her as Owen sat down behind her, running his fingers through her hair. “Wow...” she said, looking up at the night sky. “So many stars.”
“This is the only spot in New York where you can see this many,” Jason said, staring up at the sky.
“We used to come here as kids,” Tyler added. “Just... the three of us. It was like our secret spot.”
“And you guys broke tradition for lil ol’ me,” she smirked.
“Always for you, T...” Owen said softly as he played with her hair. Tiana looked up at him and smiled.
“Thank you guys for this,” she said. “These past few days have been... incredible. I swear I’ve never seen Shae laugh that hard. Oh gosh, and how adorable were Darren and Anna at the photo booth?!” The guys let her talk as they enjoyed listening to her voice. They tried to cling to each word as if memorizing it to form their own memoir that they could keep in remembrance of her.
“And when Joey-” Tiana stopped when she felt a drop of water fall on her forehead. She furrowed her brows and looked up at Owen. “Baby... Are you crying?” she asked.
“No,” Owen said, quickly wiping his face. “Think it was a raindrop. We should... probably get going soon.” Owen gave Tyler and Jason knowing looks and could see the same repressed anguish in their eyes.
“But before we go,” Jason said, sitting up. “We owe you a piece of jewelry after your necklace was lost.”
“Oh yes! My neck has felt rather bare,” Tiana smirked as Tyler helped her sit up.
“I hope this will do,” Jason said, opening up a small box. Tiana’s smirk immediately fell as she looked down at the 3-stone diamond ring in the small box.
“W-what?” she croaked out. “W-what is...”
“It’s an engagement ring, T,” Owen said, squeezing her thigh.
“Baby girl... will you marry us?” Jason asked. His deep blue eyes probed hers which were still in a state of shock. The three of them grew concerned when she didn’t respond.
“Tiana?” Tyler said anxiously.
Tears brimmed in her eyes. She went to speak when she started coughing violently again. Owen handed her a tissue as she coughed up more blood. “Are you okay?” Owen asked worriedly.
“Guys, I... I have less than a... than a month,” Tiana choked out.
“We don’t care, babe,” Tyler said. “We still want to marry you.”
“Destination wedding to Kenya or something so we can knock more shit off your bucket list,” Jason chuckled.
Tiana looked at him and let out a half-laugh half-sob. “You guys are fucking crazy,” she chuckled, wiping her tears.
“Uh-huh... Is that a ‘yes’ or...” Jason asked anxiously.
“Of course it’s a ‘yes’, you weirdos,” she laughed. Her laughter was immediately cut off with a desperate kiss from Jason as he nearly sucked the life out of her. He let out a celebratory ‘whoop’ when he finally released her lips, allowing Owen and Tyler to claim her lips for themselves.
“Aw. You killed the flowers.”
Tiana blinked at Jason before she looked down at the bouquet of cherry blossoms she suffocated with her death grip. “Dammit. These are her favorite,” Tiana whined.
“It’s okay. Just... fluff them up a little bit,” Owen said, fixing the flowers. “There... Good as new.” The flowers wilted to the side, and Tiana nearly cried.
“Hey, hey, it’s alright,” Tyler said, taking the flowers from her. He handed them to Owen and pulled her into his arms. “I’m sure your mother won’t care about some flowers as long as she sees you.”
“It’s just... it’s been so long. And I thought she was gonna die. And now I’m just so nervous. What if she doesn’t remember me? And-’ Tiana rambled.
“T, relax,” Owen said. “Everything is going to be okay. High spirits, remember?”
Tiana nodded as she moved out of Tyler’s embrace. “Right. Right, high spirits.” She settled back down next to Jason in the waiting room, biting her lip. She could still remember how she screamed at the top of her lungs when Gabrielle told her, her mom was not only awake but talking. She couldn’t wait to see her again.
“Ms. Tiana Morris?”
Tiana immediately popped her head up and looked at the nurse at the exit. “Yes!” Tiana blurted as she stood to her feet.
The nurse saw the three men follow her. “Um... family only,” the nurse said.
“They are family,” Tiana said. “Can we go, please?” The nurse raised both brows before nodding. She led the four of them to a private hospital room. Tiana stepped into the pristine white room that smelled of roses. She looked at the woman in the bed, reading her Bible. Her mother looked up at her and smiled.
“Tiana, sweetie... Is that you?”
Tiana felt all the air leave her lungs as she forgot how to breathe. “Y-you. You remember me, mama?” she choked out.
“Of course I remember you. Come here,” Cheryl said, waving her over.
Tiana immediately rushed across the room and flew into her mother’s arms. She inhaled her mother’s scent that she had missed so much before she let out a loud sob that startled everyone in the room. “Mama!” Tiana cried as she pulled back. Her mother grabbed her face between her frail hands and stared at her lovingly. “I can’t... oh god!”
Tiana couldn’t get a word out as she hugged her mother again. Owen stared fondly as he watched both Morris women cry into each other’s arms. “You are so beautiful, my God,” Cheryl said, holding Tiana’s tearful face between her palms. “God has blessed me. Lord, has he blessed me. To see my beautiful girl again.”
“I missed you, mama,” Tiana cried.
“I missed you too, sweetie,” Cheryl said as Tiana hugged her again. Cheryl looked past Tiana at the three guys watching them. “Uh... and who are they? The police?” she asked.
Jason snorted in offense as Owen chuckled. “Oh,” Tiana said, pulling back. “No, ma. This is... Jason, Owen, and Tyler.”
“Oh,” Cheryl said. “Friends of yours?” Tyler raised his brows as he watched Cheryl whisper in Tiana’s ear. “They’re all very cute, Tiana. Are you dating one of them? You know I’ve been looking forward to some grandbabies,” she said not low enough. Jason couldn’t help but snicker.
“Oh, ma,” Tiana laughed nervously. “Actually, um... I’m engaged.”
Cheryl’s eyes bulged when Tiana held up her hand to show her the diamond engagement ring. “My word!” Cheryl gasped. “To which one?!”
“Uh...” Tiana hesitated.
“Jason,” Owen said quickly. “She’s engaged to Jason.”
Owen shoved a startled Jason forward. He looked at Owen and Tyler who gestured. “Uh, yeah,” Jason said. “I’m so in love with your beautiful daughter, and so I asked her to marry me. I hope that’s okay, Ms. Morris.”
“Hmm...” Cheryl said, looking him over. “Do you have a job? How old are you? What’s your credit score? Any kids? You ain’t got no baby mama’s do you? Cause I’m not tryna have my little girl-”
“MA!” Tiana blurted as Tyler and Owen started laughing.
“Okay, fine. I’ll harass him later,” Cheryl smirked. “Come here, sweetie. Tell me what you’ve been up to.” Owen, Jason, and Tyler gave Tiana some privacy to talk to her mother and catch her up on everything she missed, including graduating from college and getting a job with the famous Dr. Gabrielle Beaumont-Richardson. Tiana agreed with Owen to only give her mother so much information as too much excitement might delay her recovery.
“I swear I haven’t seen her smile this much since... Honestly, I’ve never seen her smile this much,” Owen said thinking.
“You were right,” Tyler smiled. “This... this was all worth it. Just to see her this happy.”
“Told you,” Jason smirked. “So back to this wedding.”
“Keep it simple. Invite her friends. Go on a sweet ass vacation for a few days after that,” Owen said. “Somewhere with a beach.”
“When?” Tyler asked.
“Next couple of days... End of the week maybe,” Owen said. “Whatever we can afford.”
“Legally, she’ll marry you,” Tyler said to Jason.
“Say what now?” Jason asked startled. “When did we agree to this?”
“Just now,” Owen said. “It’s only fitting, don’t you think? You go mad hard for our girl, J.”
“We all go hard for her,” Jason rebutted.
“Yea, but you’re a special kind of crazy, Jason,” Tyler smirked. “This sharing thing was your crazy ass idea, to begin with, remember?”
“True... Stroke of genius in the midst of your denial and stupidity. You’re welcome,” Jason smirked as Tyler and Owen rolled their eyes.
The three of them looked up when they saw Tiana re-emerge from the room. “Hey, babe. How was it?” Owen asked as they all stood to their feet.
“It was great,” Tiana said with a huge smile on her face. “She and I planned a whole Mother-Daughter day for when she’s released. We’re gonna binge-watch all the movies she’s missed. Go shopping. Get our hair and nails done. The works. She’s already started planning our wedding,” Tiana chuckled.
They noted the tears falling down her cheeks as she spoke. “So then... why are you crying, baby?” Jason asked with concern.
“...H-her release date is... n-next month,” Tiana said, trying to smile away the sob fighting to escape her throat. Jason swallowed hard at the realization as Owen felt his heart sink.
“Tiana,” Tyler started.
“I didn’t tell her about my condition. She doesn’t need to deal with that sort of depressing shit when she’s recovering,” Tiana said quickly. “I didn’t tell her that I’m dying, and I need you to promise me that you won’t either. Please.” The three of them nodded in agreement. Tiana looked down as more tears fell.
“Also... promise me you’ll look after her. You don’t have to move in with her or anything just... please take care of my mom. Visit her. Make sure she’s not alone. There will be no one else when I’m gone. And I don’t want her to be alone,” Tiana pleaded.
“You have our word, T,” Owen said remorsefully. Tiana looked up at them and gave a rueful smile before she quickly walked past them.
The moment they got back to their loft, Tiana had run to her room and thrown herself on her bed. The boys could hear her bawling her eyes out as she stuffed her face into her pillow to drown out her sobs. The three of them exchanged concerned looks, not knowing if they should bother her or not. But they couldn’t find it in their hearts to leave her alone and not comfort her. Thus, they visited her room.
Tyler leaned back against her door as he watched Jason and Owen sit on the bed on either side of her. “T...” Owen said, gently touching her shoulder. “T, baby... Come on-”
“I can’t do this!” she said, lifting her head. Tears and snot ran down her face. “I thought I was okay with this! I mean I was! I accepted my fucking fate. I was ready to die. It was hard but I was ready!” Tyler felt his heart ache as he watched Tiana put her face in her hands.
“But then... then you guys fucking proposed! And now my mom is better! And fucking shit, I’m not ready! I’m not ready to die yet. I wanna spend time with her! I want her to see me walk down the aisle! I wanna watch those stupid Madea movies with her that only God knows why she loves them so much. And fuck, I even wanna stay at church for four hours while she talks to everybody and their mama!”
Tiana shook her head in desperation. “I want years with you guys. Not fucking days. Years! I don’t wanna have kids, but maybe I do! I want to have that choice! And now I don’t, and I-”
Tiana started bawling as she stuffed her face into her pillow and heaved her anguish. Jason didn’t even realize he was crying as well as he pulled Tiana into his arms and let her sob into his chest. He looked up at Owen to see tears also streaming down his face.
He already knew Tyler was crying and didn’t dare look at him. He tried to keep his emotions in control for the fragile woman he held against him.
That night Tiana cried herself to sleep in Tyler’s arms. He had spent hours in her bed with her, long after Jason and Owen left to put a plan together that Owen thought up. He gently ran his fingers through her braids and every so often kissed the top of her head to soothe her.
His shirt had been soaked with her tears and snot, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was having her in his arms. Safe... warm... breathing... in his protective arms. He kissed her again as he saw another one of his tears fall on her face. Tyler didn’t remember crying so much in his life. His feelings were a mix of sadness, pain, and gratitude.
He looked up when he saw Owen on the other side of the window gesturing for him to come. He gently lay Tiana in her bed, covering her with the blanket before leaving her room.
Tiana could hear loud music blasting from outside and struggled to open her eyes. “What the...” she groaned as she sat up in her bed. Suddenly, her door burst wide open as Shae and Anna came waltzing into the room.
“GIRL! What are you still doing in bed?!” Shae said, jumping on the bed.
“Up and at ’em, chica,” Anna said, ripping the covers off of her.
“What in the hell,” Tiana said, trying to rub the sleep out of her eyes. “What the heck is going on?”
“We just missed you so much, we had to come see your cute face again,” Shae smirked as she poked Tiana’s waist.
“Come downstairs. I made empanadas!” Anna said, grabbing Tiana’s hand. Tiana stumbled in her pajamas as she followed Anna and Shae downstairs to her living room.
Tiana blinked startled when she saw Ava, Rhea, Kiara, Sasha, and Gabrielle all sitting in the living room in their pajamas. “What?!” Tiana blurted. “How- but- who-”
“We kicked the guys out so we could have a girls’ night,” Shae winked.
“UM! I LET YOU GUYS IN!” Owen blurted from the kitchen. “THIS WAS MY IDEA REMEMBER??”
“WOW! This blanquito is STILL HERE?!” Anna shouted. “GET OUT, PUTA! VAMOS! VAMOS!”
“You know what,” Owen said, taking off his apron. “No appreciation. This is reverse sexism. This is reverse racism. This is misandry! I feel so oppressed!” Owen said dramatically.
“Alright. You ODing, homie, bye,” Shae said, shoving a smirking Owen to the door. Owen winked at Tiana before Shae closed the door in his face. Tiana was still beyond confused when Sasha tackled her to the ground.
“Sasha!” Ava blurted. “The poor girl is sick!”
“Nah, chill. She’s a superhero,” Sasha said, smirking down at Tiana. “So, what mutant power did you get, huh? Did you reach out to Kevin Feige and tell him you are officially qualified to play Ororo Munroe. Cause on God, I swear if they cast another light bright-”
“Sasha, can you not, for like one second,” Gabrielle said, grabbing her cousin’s arm and yanking her off of Tiana. “You’re crushing my patient.”
“Ah, she’s not your patient today,” Kiara smiled.
Tiana looked at Kiara and her eyes bulged to see how much her stomach had grown. “HOLY SHIT!” Tiana blurted. “You’re getting so big!”
“I know! It’s crazy right?!” Kiara freaked. “God, I don’t even feel like myself! It’s like ‘somebody get this thing off of me!’ I feel like one of those victims from Aliens and the beast is growing inside me waiting to burst through like BLARRRGGG!”
“Great way to describe motherhood, Kiara,” Rhea smirked.
“She’s not that far off,” Gabrielle chuckled.
Tiana spent her night basking in the love of her friends. She had only gotten a text from Jason and Tyler who were checking up on her. But she was already beyond overwhelmed to be surrounded by the women she loved. The girls spent the night watching scary movies, eating tons of junk food, and talking about the music festival.
“Thank you for this, ladies. My hair was long overdue,” Tiana said. She sat on the floor in front of Rhea and Kiara as they took out her braids.
Shae smiled at Tiana, but felt her heart tighten. She quickly stood to her feet. “Um... Sasha and Gabby, can you guys take over Tiana’s hair? I need to talk to Rhea, Kiara, and Ava,” Shae said impatiently.
“Sure,” Gabrielle said. She and Sasha took Rhea and Kiara’s place.
Ava looked at Shae confused as she pulled her into the kitchen and motioned for them to come. “What is it-” Ava started.
“Can Alexander heal her?” Shae blurted. “Or Elijah? Or Cole? ... Someone?!”
Kiara frowned. “It doesn’t really work that way, Shae...”
“Why not?!” Shae asked impatiently.
“It’s not like a wound,” Kiara said. “She’s not bleeding-”
“Owen said she’s coughing up blood!” Shae argued.
“I know. But that’s just a symptom of her white blood cells rapidly reproducing,” Kiara explained. “The mutation is the problem, Shae.”
“So fix it!” Shae said.
“It’s been tried before, Shae,” Rhea added. “It... it doesn’t work.”
Shae shook her head. “Then we have to try something. Can’t we try to heal her?”
“I can’t recall a witch ever curing cancer...” Ava said lowly.
“That’s bullshit,” Shae said, slamming her fist on the counter. She startled the other girls. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “It’s just... she’s my best friend. Please. Can we at least try?”
Kiara looked at Ava and Rhea before looking back at Shae.
“Took your asses long enough,” Sasha said, looking up at Rhea, Ava, Shae, and Kiara walking into the living room. “What were y’all doing? Eating all the food?”
“Kiara could clean out a fridge all on her own,” Rhea smirked.
“Excuse you!” Kiara snapped. “I mean that’s true, but still. Shaddup.”
“Tiana,” Shae said hesitantly. “Um... can we... can we uh...”
“We want to pray over you,” Ava said quickly.
Tiana looked at them startled. “Huh?”
“Yea, we’re pretty religious,” Rhea added. “And usually when someone is sick we pray over them. You know just...”
“Ohhh, yeah, I get it,” Tiana said. “My mama is all into that. Used to have mad people laying hands on me in church when she thought I had an STD cause she caught me kissing a boy in like… 8th grade. She kinda crazy y’all.” Tiana caught the uncomfortable looks on their faces. “Oh, but not you guys!” she said quickly as Sasha burst out laughing. “I mean... yes, you can pray over me.”
Kiara, Ava, Shae, and Rhea sat in a circle with Tiana sitting in the center. Kiara dabbed oil on Tiana’s forehead while the others scattered the room with candles and held hands. They started a low chant that made Anna look at Sasha strangely. “Um... que?” Anna said, confused.
“They’re just speaking in tongues, girl,” Sasha said.
“Ah...” Anna said, still confused. The candles rose a little higher, startling Gabrielle and Anna.
“It’s um... the Holy Ghost?” Sasha said anxiously.
The women stopped chanting as Kiara leaned forward and gently touched Tiana’s arm. Rhea, Ava, and Shae watched Kiara anxiously until Kiara opened her eyes. She gave Shae a sad look as she shook her head. “Again,” Shae said. “We’ll try it again.”
“...Shae...” Ava said.
“Again!” Shae snapped. Rhea, Ava, and Kiara looked at each other before they held hands and started chanting again.
Tiana moved uncomfortably and hesitated to speak. “Guys... I appreciate the effort, but... this is really not necessary...”
“Check,” Shae said desperately. Kiara sighed as she touched Tiana again and closed her eyes. A tear slipped down her cheek as she opened her eyes and met Shae’s grief-stricken gaze. “YOU’VE GOTTA BE FUCKING KIDDING ME!” Shae growled. She shot up to her feet and stormed out of the living room.
“Shae!” Ava said, jumping to her feet.
Tiana looked startled as her best friend stormed out of their loft. “...um... what the heck just happened?” Tiana asked, confused.
“Shae! Shae, wait!” Ava said, running after her. When Ava grabbed her arm, Shae spun around infuriated.
“What’s the point?!” Shae screamed angrily as tears streaked down her face. “What’s the fucking point of being a goddamn witch if I can’t even save my best friend?!” She fell to her knees and broke down in tears. Ava swallowed hard as she got on her knees in front of Shae and pulled her into her comforting arms.
“I’m so sorry, Shae...”