Today I am so pleased to welcome Jayce Ellis to Joyfully Jay. Jayce has come to talk to us about her latest release, If You Love Something. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Two things were immediately obvious. One, Malik had come out to his family, given the casual way he described our relationship. Good for him. Two, Grandma hadn’t yet shared the little nugget about our marriage with him.
Oh, and three, Malik had aged like fine wine. I mean, good goddamn. The specks of gray around his temples really gave him that whole distinguished gentleman look, and as I let my gaze travel over his body, across those broad pecs, those thick arms barely constrained by the plain white button-down he wore, to the gray slacks and simple black loafers, he was every ounce as delectable now as he’d been ten years ago. He had the slightest paunch in his belly now, and honestly, I loved it. I wanted to nuzzle it before I went on to…other things.
My eyes met his and he fidgeted, taking a step back, the sheaf of papers he held in front of him fluttering. Malik crossed his hands in front of his waist and glared at me. Huh. That was sexy, too. I raised a brow at him, wondering what he was trying to hide.
“Wayment, wayment, wayment.” The guy who’d yelled when I walked in, the spitting image of Malik a decade younger, pointed at me, his eyes wide and mouth hanging open. “DeShawn Franklin is your ex-husband? How in the hell did you not tell us you were married to the DeShawn Franklin?”
Malik’s frown deepened, his spine went poker straight, and he took a deep breath before blowing it out and looking out the window.
“Our relationship wasn’t something we were all that open about,” I said, giving him a chance to gather himself.
“You were married, but not open about it?” the woman who’d run down the hall with him asked. Her voice was careful, considering, like she was putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
I shrugged. “I mean, my family knew.”
She hissed, and the guy went silent. Yeah, I’d said what I said, and as we stood there in a wretchedly uncomfortable silence, I knew they got my meaning. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but the stiffness with which Malik was holding himself made me hyper-protective, a now foreign emotion.
The woman, who looked enough like Malik that I hazarded a guess was his sister Sheila, cleared her throat. “I see.” Then she tilted her head to the side and smiled at me. “It’s ironic, really.”
My eyebrow raised on its own. Really. I fought to keep my posture loose, purposely not crossing my arms as I looked up at her. “What’s that, ma’am?”
Her nose crinkled at the ma’am. “That my brother married someone with the same last name.”
I laughed, long and loud. This definitely had to be Sheila. And Malik had told me enough about her—namely that she was the smartest woman he knew—that I knew she didn’t believe what she’d just said for a minute. Something that thawed my inherent defensiveness. “Not quite. My former name is Moore.”
“Oh, for chrissakes,” Malik muttered, the first words he’d uttered since his original declaration, then stomped off down the hall, slamming the door shut behind him. I took a step in that direction, but the younger version of him stopped me. I racked my brain for a minute. James, the baby of the family.
“Are you telling me that Franklin is our family name?” He bounced like an excited puppy, and I vaguely wondered if I’d ever seen Malik with that look on his face. Memories of our time dating and the early years of our marriage swamped me, and I had to suck in a harsh gulp of air so I wouldn’t drown in them. Yes. The answer was yes.
I smiled at him and laid a hand on his shoulder, looking him square in the eyes. “I married your brother, I took his name, and when we separated”—not divorced—”I kept it.”
“Holy mother of god,” he whispered. “We’re related to DeShawn Franklin.”
“Were,” Sheila spat out. “We were related to DeShawn Franklin, and we didn’t know because Malik didn’t trust us enough to come out. If we’re going to tell the story, we need to tell the whole story.”
I turned to her. “That’s pretty much the whole story.” I stuck my hand out. “DeShawn.”
“Sheila,” she said, confirming my suspicions. I couldn’t stop my smile. Malik had crowed about her. Young, vibrant, an absolute beast in the kitchen who would be an amazing CEO. I wondered if she’d taken up that mantle.
“I would love to get to know you,” I said, dropping her hand and looking at James, “but I’m actually here on some business.”
Sheila’s eyes widened and she nodded, like she knew exactly what I was talking about. “Grandma. Moore. That’s your grandmother, isn’t it?”
I huffed. “Yes, she is.”
“Malik just got some paperwork. Why don’t you go talk to him?”
Dammit. Malik had been served before I’d manned up and gotten here, and Grandma was going to have my ass when she found out. I thanked Sheila, nodded at James, then took off in the direction of the closed door I’d seen.
I knocked on it, waited a beat, then poked my head in. Malik sat behind a big mahogany desk, his elbows on the table, his head in his hands. I stepped in and clicked the door shut, then frowned. The big, grotesque, overstuffed chair I’d bought him as a gag gift when we were first married sat opposite the desk. For reasons I’d never been able to figure out, he’d wanted to keep the damn thing when we divorced. I’d assumed it was so he could burn it in effigy, so seeing it here? Now? All these years later? I honestly didn’t know what to make of that, but something inside me unfurled. Probably my common sense taking flight.
I sank into the seat across from him and cleared my throat. “Your sister told me you got served.”
Without looking up, Malik took one hand and shoved the paperwork across the table, then went back to holding his head.
I scanned the paperwork and scowled. Uncle Robert was a piece of fucking work. He’d hated Malik, and for a long time I thought it was because of our relationship. Even back then, though, that hadn’t made a ton of sense, because Robert had known I was gay since I was thirteen and had never cared. Multiple boyfriends had come and gone in high school and college, and he’d treated them like any other kid in the neighborhood. Hell, he’d gotten along better with some of them than I had. And in the beginning, now that I was really thinking about it, he’d been like that with Malik, even though Malik had always been cautious around him. I’d chalked it up to his issues with his family, but in retrospect, maybe he’d seen something in Robert early, because the closer we got, the more withdrawn, distant, and frankly hostile Robert’d become. He’d skipped the engagement party and we’d joked that he might object at the wedding. He’d no-showed instead.
Now, however many years later, the reason hit me like that gif of the boombox smacking someone upside the head. Robert had known, way before me or Malik or probably even Grandma had figured it out. Malik was a replacement, the son Grandma always wanted. I knew she loved Robert despite his flaws, but she had pulled back from giving him money hand over fist. That’s probably why he’d barely been able to contain his glee when I’d confessed Malik and I were divorcing, and while our relationship had never recovered from how he’d treated Malik, it had gotten more cordial over time.
Well, this nipped that shit in the bud. I read the pleading, then threw the pages on the table. “I’m sorry, Malik.”
At that, he dropped his hands and sat back in his chair. From here, I could see crow’s feet around his eyes, and crease lines around his mouth. I loved those lines, because they were proof of him employing that nearly infectious laughter. But the lines around his eyes? Sure, they may have been from crinkling while smiling at people not named DeShawn, but there was a weariness in them, and in the lines on his forehead. Like he was tired and worn down about something beyond the bombshell Robert had dropped on us.
“Sorry about what?” he asked, his voice so quiet I had to strain to hear it.
“I was supposed to reach out to you sooner. I should’ve, but…” I trailed off, not knowing what to say.
He shook his head just a fraction. “Don’t be. Grandma gave me your number, too.”
“I deleted it.”
At a different point in time, I’d have been offended by that. But that action was so Malik, so indicative of how hard he’d tried to sever our ties, that I couldn’t help but laugh. “Well, that’s one way of handling it.”
“Nah. I’d memorized the damn thing by then.”
And with that, I sobered, my grin fading. “Yeah. I get that. I—” How the hell did I bring up the real issue? How did I explain that, somewhere along the way, we’d screwed up the paperwork?
I ran a hand over my face, then gripped my knee to keep from bouncing it. “Malik, there’s something else I need to tell you.”
“I assumed it was this,” he said, gesturing vaguely to the paperwork.
I dropped my head and massaged my closed eyelids with my thumbs. “That’s not all, unfortunately.”
Malik inhaled deeply, his chest expanding, before he blew out a breath so deep his shoulders hunched over. What was one more straw on his back, when he clearly already carried the weight of the world? “What is it, DeShawn?”
Damn. He sounded so much like he had when we were married. Not those happy times, but at the end when we were trying, flailing, failing, to save what we had. I hated it. I hated feeling I couldn’t do anything right, and since I was the one who’d submitted the paperwork, this would just be one more in a long list of things I fucked up with this man.
“The divorce paperwork didn’t go through.”
Malik cut his eyes to me. “What do you mean?”
“There was an error in it. I don’t even know what. And we didn’t catch it and the file is closed and—”
“DeShawn, what are you saying?”
I sucked in a breath, closed my eyes, then let it all out in a rush. “I’m saying we’re still married.”
A marriage lost is found again in this cheeky new romantic comedy from acclaimed author Jayce Ellis.
As executive chef at one of the hottest restaurants in DC, DeShawn Franklin has almost everything he’s ever wanted. He’s well-known, his restaurant is Michelin starred and he can write his own ticket anywhere he wants. Until his grandmother calls him home and drops two bombshells:
1) She has cancer and she’s not seeking treatment.
2) She’s willing half her estate to DeShawn’s ex-husband, Malik.
Make that three bombshells.
3) That whole divorce thing? It didn’t quite go through. DeShawn and Malik are still married.
And when DeShawn’s shady uncle contests Grandma’s will, there’s only one path back to justice: play it like he and Malik have reconciled. They need to act like a married couple just long enough to dispense with the lawsuit.
Once DeShawn is back in Malik’s orbit, it’s not hard to remember why they parted. All the reasons he walked away remain—but so do all the reasons he fell in love in the first place.
Jayce spends her days divorcing “happily married couples” and her nights writing about people like her: Black, queer, fighting for their happy-ever-afters, with her husband and two turtles by her side.