Cleo Bryson remembered the first life lesson her father gave her about men. “Never settle for a man who doesn’t respect you,” Billy told his daughter seriously. The beautiful black girl that she was, Cleo had to know the truth.
Because her daddy knew the game of young and dumb boys. She had been one and spit the same words he knew they’ll try to give her.
Not his daughter.
“If they don’t treat you like the queen you are, you cut that fucker off. He doesn’t wanna pay for nothin’? Cut him off. If he makes you feel sad, mad, angry, or just downright depressed more than anything else? You better hope I’m not still breathing.”
Cleo, at ten, didn’t think any boy would be worth a damn besides her daddy. Billy Bryson, so tall and handsome, treated her as his everything. After her mama was killed in a drive-by shooting, Cleo had leaned on him.
And like the strong, proud, black man he was he caught his daughter. Made sure her hair was combed and teeth brushed before bed. Got her up on time for school and made her feel special.
Taking her out on mini daddy/daughter dates, Billy told his daughter the way of the world. That money wasn’t everything. True, he was fortunate to have a good job and worked hard to provide. A little girl with her huge ‘fro of hair was high Maintenace to take care of.
Billy was no fool, and he played the scratch-offs like anyone else hoping to win big.
But he also knew, money only solved so much. “Yeah, money is good,” he told his baby one time after she asked a good question. Coming home late from his second job, having pulled overtime on both, Cleo had looked at the tired man.
And asked if she had millions and millions of dollars would that mean he could be home with her. Sadly, admitting he would, Cleo pouted and simpered how much she wished they were rich.
Billy had just laughed, “Money isn’t everything baby girl. I’ve seen some of the richest people have the worst of the world's problems. And I can tell you, we don’t need them kind of problems.” Holding out his hand, Billy promised the sleepy girl who gave her his little hand, “All we need is me, you, and faith. And we’ll be just fine.”
For a while, that held true. Billy held on to his daughter, she held on to them, and both kept the faith.
It was later in her still young life, that changes happened. Billy, having been promoted at a job as a manager, went on to have more hours. And more money.
Which meant he had more time on his hand. And at first, all that time was given to his daughter. Cleo was his life, he had made her his only little lady, and was fine with it. But others thought it time he stopped using her to avoid his own life.
So Billy began leaving Cleo with her grandparents and took off on the weekends. What started as drinks with the boys and coming home early, turned into him stumbling in early in the morning. Soon enough he was dating and having flings.
Cleo, at ten, missed her dad. But she was old enough to see he was no longer sad and alone. She got to meet two other girlfriends, and then she met her future stepmom.
At first, Peyton Turner had seemed like an okay woman. Beautiful and mixed, she had a daughter too, Hailey. She was so fair in complexion; she could pass for white with hazel eyes to boot.
Peyton made sure to ham up the doting girlfriend, future mommy, and all around good wife. But it couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The moment the ink was dry on the papers, Peyton set in changes. Bullying Cleo with nice words and lies, she had the young girl moved from her room. Giving it to Hailey, Cleo was forced out of the room she’d always been in.
For the smaller and ugly canary yellow guest room down the hall. Cleo tried to decorate it to make it seem more like her. But Peyton refused to even let her have that, saying how a guest may come over.
How it shouldn’t be a little girl's room when it was supposed to be for general use. Billy didn’t agree to that, he thought his daughter should be free to do as she wished. But the money he gave Peyton to go decorate the room with, went to her new shoes.
And with Billy working all the time, he never realized he set his daughter up for disappointment. Especially when she came home all excited to see the decorations she was going to put up.
Only to get nothing but a heaping pile of F U.
Peyton’s cruelty knew no bounds as she stripped the house of everything that had once been Cleo’s mother. Down to all her pictures, trinkets, and essence of being. It was like she never crossed the threshold.
Cleo tried to be happy about the changes, she had what everyone said was her new mom and a sister.
But with Peyton being passive-aggressive and Hailey being a spoiled brat, she couldn’t be. Cleo spent a lot of her time hiding at her grandparents' house leading up to her father getting sick.
She was fifteen when he finally succumbed to his illness leaving his daughter. And Cleo couldn’t hide, as Peyton dug her nails in deep to her soul. “Don’t worry sweetie,” the fake saccharine voice cooed at her, “you still have me.”
And that’s when Cleo Bryson’s life went to complete s**t.