Chapter 31

       "What the hell happened?" David shouted into the phone. "I just spoke with Michael, and he's pissed with me. Did you or Symphony tell him about the record deal?"

        "Why? Was I not supposed to?" Nicolae retorted sarcastically. "And why are you yelling at me?"

       "Just answer the question?" David hissed.

       "Earlier tonight, I was out having drinks with a friend and discussing the record deal when Michael suddenly popped up out of nowhere. He was eavesdropping on our conversation. I didn't even know he was in the bar."

       David muttered, "shit! I knew I should have slipped her my number when I first met her."

       "Her who?" Nicolae asked, narrowing his eyes?


       "Symphony, you dumbass!"


       "Wait... Backup. When did you meet Symphony?

       

       "I met her last year when she attended Sony's annual board meeting with Michael."


        "So why didn't you tell me this when we first talked on the phone?"


       "That's none of your damn business."


        "Oh, yes, it is my damn business! You lied to me!"


        "Listen. Michael can't stand my guts. There was no chance in hell he'd let me speak with Symphony, let alone offer her a record deal. I would have contacted her myself, but as you know, her number was disconnected. I even tried emailing her, but that was returned to me as well. I couldn't find any up to date information about her or the band anywhere. You all really need to update your social sites."


       "So, you played me, huh?"


       "Like a fiddle. And I could have gotten away with it if you hadn't been running your mouth!"


       "Hold up! Don't blame this on me. Did you ever stop to think that Symphony might tell Michael about the contract?"


       "Yes. I did think of that possibility, but I also hoped that Symphony would choose the record deal over him."


       "Wow! And I thought I was a wishful thinker."


        "And just what do you mean by that?"


        Nicolae laughed coldly. "We're two peas in a pod. Our band broke up over a month ago; I was hoping that I could persuade Symphony to put the band back together before our meeting with you this Friday. I was hoping that once she learned of the record deal, she'd be down to sign. And like you, Michael can't stand me either. We got in a fight tonight at the bar. I don't know what Symphony sees in him. I can't stand his ass."

       Shaking his head sideways, David bellowed, "I don't believe this shit! Why didn't you tell me the band was broken up? All of this could have been avoided from the jump!"

       "You're one to talk?" Nicolae sniggered."But what's done is done. Well, so that tonight isn't a complete wash, what do you say about signing me on as a solo artist?"

       "I say you must have lost your damn mind! I never wanted to sign the entire band in the first place; I only wanted Symphony!" David yelled before hanging up the phone.


***

        When Michael and Symphony returned home from the bar, he wrapped his arms around her and apologized. Michael wasn't a violent person by any means, but there were times when he couldn't turn the other cheek. He was human, and after holding in so much hurt, anger, and pain — he was bound to lose his temper.

       "I'm sorry, Beautiful. I didn't mean for you to see that side of me," he spoke remorsefully.

       "Michael, baby. It's alright," Symphony spoke soothingly, as she stroked his back. "No one goes through life without blowing up at some point. And besides, Nicolae had it coming; he was completely out of line."


       "Yeah, but I was the one that started the fight. I could have handled the situation a bit better."


       "Sweetie, you handled the situation just fine. You had every right to confront him on his bullshit. Thank you for standing up for me."


       "No problem, Symphony. I'd do anything for you. I'd lay down my life for you."

         Feeling overcome with emotion, Symphony placed her hands on either side of Michael's face and kissed him urgently. Out of all the men she had dated, Michael was the most sincere.

       "I love you," Symphony whispered against his mouth. "You know, we don't have to wait until summer to get married. We can do it this week, or better yet — tomorrow."

      Pulling away from her, Michael caressed her cheek and said, "I'm sorry. But now is not the right time. Let's wait until we receive the results of the paternity test."

      Symphony frowned. "Will the results affect our relationship?"

       "No. Of course not! But still. I don't want to move too fast. Our original plan was to get married in the summer, and I think we should stick with that."

       Averting her gaze, Symphony folded her arms. Deep down, she too didn't want to rush things. "I'm sorry, Michael. It's just that I don't want to lose you."

       "Lose me? Why do you think you'll lose me?" Michael blurted, as a bemused expression appeared upon his face.

       Just as Symphony was about to reply, his cellphone began to beep.

       "Hold on for a second, that's my emergency tone," he spoke briskly, as he pulled his cellphone out of his pants pocket.

       When Michael saw he had received an email regarding the results of the paternity test, his stomach dropped. After a long forty-eight hours — his moment of reckoning had finally arrived.

        Drawing a deep breath, he read the email and test results slowly.


Dear Dr. Jackson-Black,

   

We're writing to inform you that you have been excluded as the biological father of the tested unborn child. Based on the testing results obtained from the DNA chart listed, the probability of paternity is 0%.


- DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) Baltimore.


       As Michael read the results for a second time, making sure his eyes weren't deceiving him — he shouted gleefully, "I'm not the father!"

        Snatching the phone out of his hand, Symphony placed her hand to her mouth when she read the results. "Oh, my God! This is incredible! You're not the father, baby. You're one hundred percent unequivocally, not the father!"

        When Michael began to cry tears of joy, Symphony enveloped him in her arms. After everything they had been through, things were finally looking up.

       Symphony chuckled joyously as she placed a tender kiss on his forehead. "I'm so happy that I'll be the first to bear your big-headed babies."

        "And only," he added. "But also, don't forget squishy."

       As Michael listened to Symphony's heartbeat, his brain trailed to the question he had asked her before receiving the results of the paternity test.

      "Why do you think you'll lose me?" He spoke quietly, hugging her a bit tighter.

       Symphony swallowed hard as a lump formed in her throat. "I was afraid you might leave me for Raven."

        Pulling out of her arms, Michael looked at her with a dumbfounded expression and said, "Baby! What on God's green earth would make you think I'd leave you for her?"

       Symphony sighed. "I started to think that you might feel differently about her if she was the mother of your child."

       "Yes. You're right. I would have felt differently. I would have respected her as the mother of my child, but that's about it. I don't love her, Beautiful. I love you... You're the lady in my life. You're the woman I want to be with. I'll be with you for as long as you'll have me."

      "Forever, Michael. I want to have you forever," she said affectionately, crushing her lips to his.

        Michael smiled against her mouth. "And that's exactly how long you'll have me."


***

      When Michael arrived at his classroom the next morning, he was both shocked and surprised to see Raven sitting at one of the desks. She looked fatigued and as if she had been crying for hours. Making sure to keep his distance, he stood on the other side of the room. He didn't trust Raven one bit, and being alone with her made him extremely uncomfortable.

       "So, I guess you're happy, huh?" Raven spoke somberly, tears filling her eyes, "Todrick sure is."

       "Is he the baby's father?" Michael asked curiously. 

       Raven rolled her eyes and hissed, "Yes, Michael... He is. I was only having sex with you and him. I wasn't sleeping with every man I dated."

       "I didn't say that you were," he retorted. "I was only asking a question."

       Looking up towards the ceiling, Raven closed her eyes and said, "I'm sorry, Michael. I'm just under a lot of pressure right now."

      "It's alright. There's no need to apologize — I understand," Michael replied compassionately, feeling sorry for her. He knew she didn't want kids, and being pregnant must have been a hard pill for her to swallow.

      Shaking her head in despair, Raven took a deep breath and said, "When I found out I was pregnant, I thought about aborting the baby, but then I started to have a change of heart. Over the past couple of weeks, I've gone between wanting to keep the baby and wanting to get rid of it. I don't know what to do."

       His heartbreaking into two, Michael blinked back his tears. Just the mere thought of losing another child was almost too much for him to bear. If he had ended up being the father of Raven's child, there was the strong possibility she would have aborted his baby just as Mercedes had done.

       Being taken aback by her revelation, Michael asked inquisitively, "And how does Todrick feel? Have you told him you're having a hard time making a decision?"

      Raven sighed. "No, I haven't."

      Regaining his composure, Michael exhaled loudly and said, "you need to tell Todrick how you feel. Not only is the baby yours, but it's a part of him as well. Don't make any rash decisions before discussing it with him first."

      "But it's my body. I can do whatever I damn well please!" Raven spoke gruffly.

       While Michael could care less about Todrick, he wasn't an asshole. He didn't wish the pain and mental anguish he had suffered due to losing a child on anyone.

     "Yes, Raven. I understand that, and I agree. But please — don't get an abortion without his knowledge. It could tear him apart."

       Standing up from the desk, Raven began to make her way towards Michael, but before she could reach him, he rushed towards the door. Though he had taken the time out to be kind and speak with her, he was beyond ready for her to leave.

      "Well, I wish you a nice day, Ms. Foster. My first class of the day will be starting soon."

        Taking the subtle hint that Michael wanted her to leave, Raven frowned and said, "you have a nice day as well, Dr. Black. I'll think about what you said."


***

        When Michael returned home later that afternoon, he found Symphony and Akeelah sitting at the dining room table playing the game, Candyland. "Hey! You two were supposed to wait for me," he pouted playfully, pinching Akeelah softly on the cheek.

       "Sorry, Mr. Michael!" Akeelah shrilled. "You can play next time."

       Taking a seat next to Akeelah, Michael removed a pawn from the Candyland game box and said, "So, what did Ms. Symphony teach you to play on the piano today?"

        "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!" She shouted as she moved her pawn across the game board.

        "Oh my gosh! I love that song! That's awesome, Akeelah," Michael spoke enthusiastically, giving her a high-five.

       Over the past couple of weeks, Symphony had been giving Akeelah Piano lessons. During one of Michael and Symphony's volunteer sessions at the John Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine, Akeelah told Symphony that she loved watching her play piano and asked if she could teach her.

        Looking at Symphony, Michael smiled and said, "thanks to you, Akeelah's blood pressure has lowered significantly. The staff at the Music and Medical center said the piano lessons you have been giving her help a great deal."

        Symphony beamed. "Oh, wow! That's amazing. When did you hear that?"

       "After my last class of the day, I had to rush over to the center to fill in for a professor that was to give a quick lecture on the 'Healing Properties of Music.' As I was making my way to the lecture hall, I ran into Akeelah's doctor, and he told me the good news. It's the reason why I'm getting home a tad late. I hope you're not too upset with me."

       Symphony scoffed playfully and said, "Well, you did miss the first round of Candyland."

      "Yeah, Applehead!" Akeelah giggled.

You missed the first round."

       Michael shot Symphony a sideways glance and mouthed, "I'm gonna get you."

He never told Akeelah his nickname and knew Symphony must have told it to her.

       Stifling her laughter, Symphony mouthed in return, "I'm sorry, baby."

        Turning his attention to Akeelah, he smiled and asked, "did Ms. Symphony tell you to call me Applehead?"

        "Yes!" Akeelah chortled. "She said it was your nickname."

        "And how do you think I got that nickname?" Michael asked out of curiosity. Though he knew the reason, he wanted to hear it from Akeelah — he loved children's honesty and open-heartedness.

       Akeelah giggled and tapped his head. "Cause your head looks like an apple!"

         Michael exclaimed in mock shock. "Akeelah! How could you say such a thing!"

       "I'm sorry, Mr. Michael. Are you mad?" Akeelah lowered her head and frowned. She didn't realize Michael was teasing her and thought she had hurt his feelings. 

       "Of course not, sweetie. It's my favorite nickname!" Michael spoke cheerfully as he cupped her chin, giving it a light shake.

"All of my bestest friends call me Applehead, and guess what?"

       "What?"

       "You're one of my bestest friends too!"

       Akeelah's eyes brightened. "I'm one of your bestest friends, Mr. Michael?"

       "You sure are! Is it ok if I call you Applehead as well?" He smiled. "I call all of my bestest friends, Applehead.

       "Yes, you can!" Akeelah shouted cheerfully.

       Shooting Symphony a mischievous glance, Michael laughed and said, "and since Ms. Symphony is also one of my bestest friends, you can also call her, Applehead."

       After Michael and Symphony played two rounds of Candyland with Akeelah, they took turns reading her children's stories until her parents were due to pick her up. Becoming tired, Akeelah began to nod her head back in forth, which prompted Symphony to pick her up and cradle her in her arms. Whenever it was Symphony's turn to read, Michael stared at her with a toothy grin. He couldn't wait to see her hold their first child like she was holding Akeela — sweet, tender, and lovingly.

       "Why are you staring at me like that?" Symphony chuckled softly, not wanting to wake-up Akeelah.

       "You're incredible, Symphony. You're going to make a great mother," he spoke warmly, giving her a small kiss on the cheek.

       Stroking his cheek, Symphony echoed his sweet sentiment. "And you're going to make a great father." 

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