AN: Thanks for the reviews and the PMs! This story would take a lot less time if I'd just write an outline but I'm flying by the seat of my pants!

Tiny Smiles

Chapter Five

Ororo slung her handbag along with her keys onto her small dinette table. Even though her gestures emitted her agitation Logan wasn't phased one bit. He closed the door behind him and sauntered past her into the room. He only smirked unaffectedly then flopped down on hercouch. He spread himself out like he owned the place and she was the guest.

"New coffee table?" he asked as he propped his booted foot on the glass table.

"We had a deal," Ororo sniped ignoring the trivial question. She stood glaring at him with her hands fisted on her hips and her eyes shooting blue steel daggers at him.

"Keyword is had, darlin'. Seems your ex is determined to find you. Can't say I blame him." Ororo sneered at his words. His demeanor. His ego. That lopsided grin he wore would have been enticing if it wasn't for the lecherous way his brown eyes raked over her body. He made his desires quite obvious.

Ororo's demeanor slowly changed as she dissected his words. Remy is determined to find her. Her Wonder Woman pose shrunk from one of power into a weakened cross-armed body hug. She had to protect herself…her daughter. She thought she had. "I told you last year I didn't want him to know where I am."

"Well," Logan stood, crossing the few feet to stand directly in front of her. "Looks like you'll have to top his offer…again." He lifted his hand and Ororo instinctively flinched. He let out a soft chuckle at her expense as he settled his fingertips on her shoulder. She watched his fingers dance down her arm. The pads of his fingers were hard and calloused. She remembered that from the last time…how rough his hands were. She gritted her teeth in an effort to keep her cool and waited for his ministrations to stop. Once he reached her elbow his hand slid over and gripped her waist.

Reluctantly, she lifted her face to meet his lecherous gaze. His handsome face was marred with smugness and lust. He bent to kiss her lips but she pushed him away as hard as she could. He stumbled back a few feet and laughed at her efforts. "Don't be that way, darlin'. I was just tryin' ta set the mood. But I can think of other ways to use those lips of yours if kissing ain't your thing." Ororo looked away from him. That's what he'd said to her the last time she'd seen him. He'd backed her against a wall and it was obviously happening again. She was ashamed of what she'd done but she didn't have any other choice. Logan didn't give her any other choice. "Don't be shy now, sweetheart. Same deal?" he asked.

"I don't have the money. I gave it all to you last time. I only have a few hundred."

"A few hundred and a blowjob ain't gonna do it, sweetheart."

"I don't have anything else."

Logan licked his chops like a hungry wolf with an unsuspecting fawn in its sights. "You got something else and don't pretend like yer above using it. I already know what you'll do with that body of yours." He pulled her into him before he finished his sentence.

She closed her eyes as he began assaulting her neck with sloppy bites and nips. All she could feel was disgust for him and the unshaven stubble of at least two days. Loathing rose from the pit of her stomach…for him…for herself. Once again she was at the mercy of a sorry excuse for a man. It seemed she couldn't avoid them. From her mother's boyfriend, to the man she thought she loved before realizing it was the drugs he'd introduced her to that held her infatuation, all the way to the abusive piece of shit she'd married.

Dammit. She couldn't let her daughter know her past…know anything about her. The last time Logan showed up on her stoop she'd had to part with her life savings, twelve thousand dollars and, as Logan called it, "a courtesy blow". He'd insisted.

"Come on, darling," Logan said huskily into her ear as he dug his meaty fingers into her waist. "Don't be so stiff. This time we'll be even."

Ororo exhaled her defeat as unshed tears stung her eyes but she refused to let them surface. She'd hoped to never find herself in this situation again…having her body at a man's mercy but here she was again. Logan was right. She wasn't above using her body to get her way, to get her food, to get her drug. She thought she'd left those times behind her. It was those years she could never let her daughter find out about.

"You have to promise me you'll end this. He won't come looking for me again."

"Yeah, yeah…anything you say, darlin'," Logan said dismissively as he uncovered her skin.

"Promise," she said firmer.

"Naw, darlin', after this you won't ever have to worry about me again."

She closed her eyes tight choosing to deal with the situation the only way she knew how…pretend she wasn't there.

Reine hesitantly entered the tiny apartment. It was a decent place. Her mother had done a good job of decorating the small space even if it was with artificial flowers and doilies. Reine could see her grandmother's influences. A large framed picture of Jesus hung on the largest wall in the room. Underneath was a golden velveteen couch. On the other side of the room was a TV on a stand along with a small radio and above the TV an ornate gold analog wallclock. The only other chairs in the space were at the yellow Formica table in a small dining area. Reine could see the kitchen just beyond an opening. And she assumed the other door was to her mother's bedroom.

"The bathroom is through my room. But don't go in there. Julian is sleeping. He has to go to work in a few hours. And I've already missed two hours of work picking you up from the station."

"Julian?" Reine asked perplexed.

"My boyfriend. He know you coming. But I gotta go. Introduce yourself when he wake up."

"Okay, mama."

"Wait a minute, girl. Let's get this straight right now. My name is N'Dare. I'm too young to be anybody's mama. All right?" N'Dare looked at Reine expectantly then continued when she'd nodded the appropriate response. "I only got one room so you sleep on the couch. I'll make some room somewhere for your stuff," she said. She looked at Reine with a sour expression and shook her head. "I can't believe you done put me in this situation."

"I'm sorry, mama…N'Dare."

"You sorry all right. I gotta go. Don't eat all the food. Julian gotta eat first."

With those words N'Dare was out the door and Reine was left alone in a strange city in a strange place with a strange man in the next room. Hot tears flooded her eyes. Even though she fought to keep them from falling she failed miserably. She missed her grandmother but more than that she missed her baby. Sadie Meriwether wasn't coming back but her daughter was out there somewhere.

Reine gingerly rubbed her hand over the fabric of the shift dress feeling her protruding belly, the only evidence left of the last nine months. She still looked as if she could be at least six months pregnant but there was no baby in there. She was gone…taken only God and maybe her mama knew where. Reine slid her hand down lower. The wound from which her daughter was pulled still ached but the pain was nothing in comparison to the pain her heart endured. She wished she'd died on that operating table. Death would have been a better existence than the one she found herself living in.

Reine woke abruptly. Between her legs she felt the overflowing bloody wetness of her body expelling the remnants of her pregnancy. It had been hours since she'd changed the bulky pad in the bus station bathroom while waiting for her mother. Reine was on the verge of panic when the bedroom door suddenly opened. A very handsome man stood at the threshold. His bare chest revealed a creamy café au lait complexion and a toned torso, his black wavy hair still damp from a recent shower.

Initially he wore an expression of surprise that quickly settled into one of realization. "You must be Dare's daughter," he said in a slightly accented baritone.

Reine looked away and waited for him to slip on the t-shirt he'd been holding before responding. "Yes. I'm Reine."

"Julian," he said as he gave her a once over. Reine's eyes dropped to the floor once again. The way he looked at her made her uncomfortable. "I thought you already had the baby."

Her hand automatically ran over her belly. "I did." A brief moment of silence passed between them when she didn't offer more information before she found her voice again. "May I please use the bathroom?"

Julian stepped to the side and gestured inside the bedroom. Reine grabbed her bag and slipped through the narrow passage he gave her. She hurried into the bathroom shutting the door behind her. It was a small space but big enough for her to feel relieved in its solace. She heaved a heavy sigh and sagged against the door. Everything was so different. Her life a year ago wasn't perfect but she was happy.

She still had another year of school. She didn't complete her senior year. Her aunt pulled her out of school as soon as it was revealed she was pregnant. Reine kept the secret as long as she could but there came a point when she could no longer hide. Everyday after that her name ceased to be Reine. Instead her aunt opted for "whore" or "slut". Her mother's younger sister had found Jesus a few years earlier and had conveniently forgotten she'd birthed six children with multiple men out of wedlock. Nevertheless, Reine would not bring shame on her. Instead of school she was hidden away…cooking, cleaning and taking care of her younger cousins. She did everything that needed to be done even though her aunt didn't work. She was told it was punishment for getting knocked up. "If you want to do grown woman things, you can live a grown woman's life," her aunt had said.

Reine took care of her business in the bathroom then cracked open the door for a quick peek out. No one was in the bedroom. The television in the front room had been turned on. She eased out the door and crept into the living room. Her mouth watered from the scent of heated food wafting from the kitchen. She'd only eaten a candy bar at one of the depot stops hours ago.

"Aye chica," Julian called to her. "You want some of this?" he asked nodding towards the fried chicken on the plate. Just looking at it made Reine's stomach cramp and ache for it.

"Yes, thank you." She wanted to run to the table but she managed to control her the urge. Julian tore off a napkin and placed it in front of the chair Reine had pulled out to sit in.

"Here's some collard greens and potato salad," he said as he reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a yellow Tupperware container. "I usually take it to work then throw it out. Your momma can't cook for shit," he smiled conspiratorially. "But you might like it."

Reine smiled back but only to be polite. "Thank you. I'll give it a try." At that moment she didn't care how horrible her mother's cooking tasted; she was starving. Julian was right. N'Dare was a terrible cook. How she'd grown up in her grandmother's house and couldn't cook was beyond Reine. "Well…the chicken's good."

"Si. I cooked that." They both laughed.

Reine felt her body relax. Julian is nice she decided.

Reine settled into an uncomfortable routine in New York: work for ten plus hours six days a week, come home, make dinner, bathe then sleep. She lived in what was called a borough…Queens in the Corona neighborhood. She wanted to start school immediately but her mother said she had to find a job and pay some bills if she was going to live with her. Reine wanted to point out how Julian spent most of his time in the apartment but he wasn't paying any bills.

He'd sleepover at least four nights out of the week. Reine didn't mind. They'd bonded over the bitchiness of N'Dare. He'd helped her get a job at the mother of one of his friend's bodega. The only thing she didn't like about him was on his days off and sometimes days on he'd smoke marijuana. The musky odor got into her clothes and clung to her hair. She suspected he sold the drug too. People who he'd introduce as his "friends" were constantly dropping by. They'd stand on the stoop and talk or he'd take them into the bedroom for a few minutes then they'd leave.

Reine and her mother rarely had a day off from work on the same days. Reine preferred it that way. But today was one of those rare days and N'Dare had been on her back since the sun had risen. Her mother nitpicked every thing she did, from the way she folded the towels to the way she'd swept the floor. Reine was happy when all of the chores were finally done. Now they sat quietly watching a movie on television. An action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenneger Reine had never seen before and was having a hard time following. Julian walked through the front door and headed directly to the bedroom. He didn't speak to N'Dare or she to him. Reine assumed they'd had a fight. They seemed to do that a lot.

Lingering in the doorway was on of Julian's "friends", a tall good-looking man. He had to be in his early twenties. Dark denim jeans, a black v-neck t-shirt adorned his lean muscular body and on his feet were heavy brown work boots that looked as if they'd never been off of asphalt. His skin a flawless brown, the color of honey sweetened tea and his soft doe eyes shone bright. He smiled at Reine revealing perfect white teeth behind full lips.

"What's up?" The brief question was addressed to both women but his eyes were only on Reine.

N'Dare responded with a dry "Hey". Reine gave a small shy smile then trained her eyes back to the television screen. She tried to ignore him but she could see him out of the corner of her eye. He was staring at her. She dared a quick glance. Yes, he was completely focused on her. A slight smile graced his handsome face. Like he knew something about her no one else knew.

Julian entered and exited the bedroom quickly. "Later," he threw over his shoulder as he walked out the door past his friend sure that he'd be following behind but he didn't.

"What's your name, girl?" His tone was cocky. The smile he wore didn't falter when both she and N'Dare stared at him, neither responded.

Julian's head popped back into view even though he still stood on the stoop. "Come on, man."

"Julian, who's the girl?"

Julian looked at Reine then responded. "Who? Reine? That's my old lady's daughter."

"She is fine," he said to Julian, licking his lips after he'd finished his statement.

"Yeah, she is. Can cook too," Julian grinned.

"Damn, girl…I need to get to know you," he said addressing Reine again.

"You ain't getting to know anybody," N'Dare finally responded to him through gritted teeth but her gaze was locked on Julian, "but you both can get out of my house."

Julian's friend let out a clipped chuckle. "All right. All right," he said to N'Dare then addressed Reine, "I'll see ya 'round, shorty."

After the two men were gone Reine tried to focus on the television once again but she felt the ire radiating from her mother.

She felt her mother's eyes on her. N'Dare had been increasingly hostile towards her in the last couple of months. The baby weight was finally gone but it left a curvaceous woman with full breast, a small waist and shapely hips. The discoloration of her skin had faded revealing her perfect pre-pregnancy complexion. Yet her mother found ways to criticize her appearance…from her "white girl witch hair" to her "busted" feet.

"You think you something, don't you?" N'Dare sneered. "You ain't shit." Reine looked at her with stretched eyes. Her mother stood from the couch and went into her bedroom and shut the door with a hard slam.

Remy read over the words for what seemed like the hundredth time. They hadn't change and neither had his disbelief. Ororo Munroe wasn't the Reine he knew. The sheets of court records Logan had sent him were thick. The offenses ranged from fraudulent checks and petty theft to drug possession and prostitution. At first he didn't believe it was true but the mug shots were undeniable. Photos transformed from a frightened teary eighteen year old into an indifferent twenty-something with vacant eyes.

Remy threw the papers back onto his desk. He reclined back into his chair steepling his fingers in front of his lips. He would have never said Reine's life was ideal but he certainly couldn't have foreseen the direction her life had taken. What happened to the sweet girl he once knew? He'd ruined her. In the back of his mind he'd always thought that but when Logan delivered the package of his findings he knew it for sure. How could he ever face her?