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This is part 7 in a series
Read Part 1: “Push The Button“
Read Part 2: “This Is How It Works“
Read Part 3: “Sapphire (Part 1)”
Read Part 4: “Mark Of The Beast“
Read Part 5: “Lesson Learned“
Read Part 6: “Home For The Holidays”
December 22, 2002 4:35 a.m.
“Annie Christian wanted…to be number one… but her kingdom never comes… thy will be done.”
David sat quietly at the deserted intersection, waiting for the light to change from red to green. He was exhausted, having not fallen asleep until after midnight and receiving an alarming phone call at 2 a.m. He’d spent most of the week working on a final project that was due today, getting little sleep, and eating even less. Graduate school was kicking his ass but it was a necessary step on his path to success. At least he’d mapped it out that way. He was 25, one semester away from obtaining his MBA, and here he was on his way to pick his father, Eric, up from some unknown seedy motel almost 2 hours away from where he stayed near campus.
He could barely keep his eyes open, so he cranked up vintage Prince on his stereo and sipped his coffee. I’m so sick of this shit, he thought to himself. It wasn’t the first time he’d been summoned out of bed to help his father and he was sure it wouldn’t be the last. Having just gotten in on the increasingly popular cellular phone trend, he found himself adjusting to being so readily accessible to everyone, especially his father. As he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, he wished he hadn’t given his father the number to his Nokia cell phone.
“Annie Christian was a whore…always looking for some fun…”
David made a right when the light changed and pulled into the motel’s parking lot. All of the slots were occupied, cars varying from high end to run down, and the curtains were drawn in most of the windows. He pulled his car alongside a navy blue Lexus with police plates. He shook his head when he saw Eric leaned up against a large dumpster. Next to him was a too-thin woman in a tattered silver sequined dress holding a large bottle of some sort. She was half-standing, half-leaning on his father, whose eyes appeared to be closed. David turned off the engine, shut off the lights, and took a deep breath.
“Dad. Time to go home!” he called, as he stepped out of the vehicle. He took long strides towards his father, annoyance turning more into disgust with every step.
“Dad…” he repeated. “Let’s go,” David said as he reached to help Eric stand up straighter.
“Aye, baby boy,” slurred the woman in a half-hearted attempt to be flirtatious, “You shole do get your looks from yo daddy, don’t ya?” Turning to David’s father, she continued, “Why you ain’t tell me you had a son this damned fine, daddy? Sheeeet, I might have to trade you in for a younger model!” She cackled loudly and David could smell the Wild Irish Rose on her breath from the bottle she held in her hand. He instinctively covered his nose with his hand.
“Whuuu…whut you tryna say? My bref stank?” She coughed into her hand and sniffed, backing up at the shock of what she smelled. “Oh shit, well… you ain’t nevuh lied, ha haaaaa, ” she agreed with another cackle that turned into a harsh cough.
“Bitch, if you don’t shut the fuck up and leave my boy alone!” commanded Eric, eyes slowly opening, words slurring slightly indicating he’d had more than a few sips of the same drink.
“What you gonna do, muthafucka???” she asked, backing away from him and holding her arms up.
“Bitch, I will beat yo ass into next week!!” he retorted, as he reached for her throat with both hands. David lunged forward and grabbed his father’s arms before his hands could wrap around her throat. Having witnessed him do this more than once with his mother, David knew it would get ugly really quickly. The woman yelped and turned around to run away. As David heard the click-clack of her cheap shoes against the pavement, he wrapped one arm around Eric’s back, put one of Eric’s arms over his shoulders, and practically dragged his father back to his car. He got him situated and belted in and made his way back to the driver’s seat.
When he’d turned the engine back on, he lowered the music, took another deep breath and looked at Eric, who was slumped against the back of the passenger’s seat.
“Take me to your mother’s house,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Not this time, dad.”
“Boy, I said take me to you goddamned mother’s house. What the fuck is your problem?”
“Dad, it’s almost dawn. She’s asleep.”
“She’ll be awake when we get there.”
“Dad, I’m not doing this to her again.”
“She’ll let me in. She always does…”
David sighed, knowing what his father said was true. Despite having left him and moved herself and her sons away from Eric, David learned that she still occasionally let him come to her home and spend a night or three there. She bathed him, gave him clean clothes, and fed him, probably cursing him out the entire time. But still, she let him in. Every time.
“Dad, why can’t you just leave mom alone and let her move on with her life? Why are you still trapping her with your shit?”
“Don’t you cuss me boy!”
“You wanna talk about me cursing when you’re sitting in my car, pissy drunk, unable to stand straight, and in need of a ride? Oh, oh that’s just great!”
“You better get to driving. Will take at least an hour to get to Janice’s house,” he continued, ignoring David completely. “Make sure you use that sella phone thing and call her to let her know we’re coming. She’ll have a plate ready for me. Damn, I’m hungry. Whew!”
David pulled out of the motel parking lot and began driving. He was unsure of where he was going, but he knew he was not going to take Eric anywhere near his mother. Maybe she wasn’t fully able to turn him away, and David tried to understand that connection, but he wasn’t going to enable it. He thought about taking him to his own apartment, but the rest he needed influenced the decision against that. He thought of the hotel strip a few miles from campus and figured he could get him a room for the night to sleep it off.
“Yanno, I ain’t shit.”
“Come on, Dad…”
“No, no, no, lemme finish. I ain’t shit. I. Ain’t. Shit!! Now ya mama, that’s a helluva lady there. Wheweee what a woman!” Eric paused before continuing, turning to look out of the window. He continued, quieter, “I really fucked that up, didn’t I?” He looked back at David, as if waiting for a real answer.
David said nothing.
“See, your mama is one of those strong women. She didn’t take no shit. she was a no-nonsense, go-getter type, yanno what I mean? She was about her business when I met her. Had her shit together! Was finishing school, had a job lined up, was really gonna make something of herself. I had to have her. Had to… You just don’t let a woman like that pass you by. Ooooh and she was fine as she wanted to be!” Eric paused to chuckle to himself and appeared to be stuck in a memory for a few seconds.
“That woman saved my life.”
“What do you mean, Dad?”
“Just what I said. Ya mama saved my life. I wasn’t shit then. Hell, I still ain’t shit, but… for the time God blessed me with being with her, she saved me. Even when I treated her like shit, she loved me. Took me back. Fed me. Took care of me. I ain’t deserve none of that shit, ya hear me? I cheated on her. Beat on her. Gambled away all her money. My money. Everything…”
Eric slumped further down into his seat, feeling the weight of his confessions. He reached out and placed his hand over his son’s on the steering wheel. When he could have squeezed it, he pulled back, defeated. Intoxicated. Sick. Wasted. Life, wasted.
“I remember,” David said, finally.
“I… I know you do son. You and your brother. He still won’t talk to me, yanno? I tried calling him a few times but…he won’t call me back. Why won’t he call me back, son?” Eric looked caught at the intersection of sadness, dejection, and hope.
“He’ll come around, Dad.”
“No, he won’t. I don’t even blame him. Listen…you got a girlfriend yet?”
“Well, good. Keep your head in those books. Women take a lot of out of you. They can change you, for the better if you let them. For worse if you let yourself go too far.”
“Dad, I’m not trying to have a relationship convo with you right now. I’m really not. You are the last person who needs to be doling out relationship advice.”
“Maybe you can learn from my fuck ups, son. Maybe I can be of some use to you somehow…”
David looked straight ahead and focused on driving. Eric said little for the next 20 minutes or so, and David turned up the volume on the car stereo.
“Whenever I feel like giving up. Whenever my sunshine turns to grey. Whenever my hopes and dreams are aimed in wrong directions, she’s always there, telling me how much she cares…”
“When you find that one…that one woman that makes you wish for more hours in each day, makes the sun shine brighter on rainy days… that woman who, who really just lifts every single part of you up towards the heavens…because…because she believes you to be as close to God as she’ll get… That woman who wipes your tears, irons your clothes, and feeds you your favorite meals, laughs at your stupid, stupid jokes, and opens the door for you… even when you’ve done next to nothing to make her feel special… don’t let her go. Don’t fuck that up. Don’t abuse her. Don’t use her. Don’t you dare take that woman for granted or mistreat her because believe me, oh boy believe me, son, she is the ONE! Ya gotta take care of a woman like that, buy her nice things, take her out to nice places, come home at a decent hour, rub her feet every now and then. I swear to you, boy, that woman will worship the ground you walk on if you just take care of her. Just…take… care of her, you hear me?”
“Yes, Dad. I hear you.”
I hear you.
Christmas Day 2012
“Nicole?! Baby girrrrrl!! Long time no see, long long time!” Joseph exclaimed as he walked over to Nicole, who stood practically frozen in a corner of the living room. With extended arms, he pulled her into an embrace that startled her out of her stunned silence. She obliged him and returned the hug with what little energy she could muster. Looking over his shoulder, she could see Marcus looking almost as uncomfortable as she felt and for some reason, she relaxed a bit. He was avoiding eye contact with both her and David.
“Girl, let me look at you! Whewwwweeee! You’re looking good girl! Lost a lot of that chubby chub you had going on there, didn’t ya? Not that you looked bad,” he corrected himself, “..but wow! You look like on of them Next Top Models of America or whatever they call them girls on that big headed one’s show. Doesn’t she have a big head? What’s her name? Tyesha? Tyricka?”
“Tyra, Tyra Banks” Nicole responded, chuckling. She couldn’t help but laugh. Joseph had always been the humorous charmer. She didn’t realize until then that she’d actually missed him a bit. She glanced over at David who stared at Marcus, watching his every move. She could see His jaw twitching and she grew concerned about His next moves.
“David? Let me introduce you to Joseph, M..M.. Marcus’s father,” she began, waving David over. “Joseph, this is my fiancee, David, who I’m sure you’ve heard a bit about from Janice,” she continued with a smile. She was determined to de-escalate this situation before it became volatile.
“Well now, yes, I have heard about Janice’s sons,” Joseph said extending his hand to shake David’s. “She didn’t mention David having a fiancee as beautiful as you,” he continued with a smile.
“That’s because we just announced it today!” Nicole decided to not contain her excitement and she may have cranked it up a notch, given the new company. She extended her hand out to show off the engagement ring Janice had gawked over not log ago.
“Well damn, you can see that rock from over here,” Marcus chimed in. He was staring at the three of them from across the room, saying nothing until now. Marcus’s words brought Joseph out of his moment of reverie and he stepped back from Nicole, as if remembering his allegiance. He let go of her hand, which he’d been holding while examining her ring.
“That’s a nice ring you have there, young lady. Too bad you’re not marrying my boy here,” he said with half of a laugh.
“Pop…” Marcus began. He glanced at David and made a shrugging gesture. David felt His own shoulders relaxing a bit. Janice, looking back and forth between her new beau, his son, Marcus, who she was meeting for the first time, her own son, and her son’s new fiancee, finally spoke up.
“What in the hell is going on here? Can someone please tell me how y’all know each other?” she asked, confused and feeling left out.
“Mama, it seems as though the world is far smaller than we could ever imagine. Nicole and Marcus used to be an item, many many years ago,” David explained to his mother, a wry smile creeping to His lips. “It’s fine, Mama, don’t worry. I only recently met Marcus myself. Chance meeting at a social club. Didn’t think that I’d see him again after Nicole and I went home that night, though.”
“Oh?… OH! Oh well…well goodness,” she stumbled, trying to find the right words to say. “Well everyone get washed up, and let’s eat before this food gets cold. I didn’t slave over that hot stove since yesterday for nothing!” Janice made her way towards the kitchen and Nicole followed her to help bring the food out.
Marcus, David, and Joseph all stood still for a moment, glancing back and forth at each other, not sure what to say next.
“Awww shit”, Darlene mumbled.
“Mommy, you said a bad word!” her son Junior chastised.
“I’m sorry, baby, Mommy didn’t mean to curse…but this is about to be some shit,” she apologized with a laugh. Jonathan shook his head as he stood up. “I’ll show you gentlemen where the bathroom is,” he said as began walking towards the stairs.
“Oh I know where it is,” Joseph began. David shot him a quick look. Clearly, this wasn’t Joseph’s first time in this home and David realized His mother has been keeping a secret from Him for some time. “I’ll use the downstairs bathroom. Son, you go upstairs. It’s the second door on the left,” Joseph instructed. Marcus made his way upstairs and Jonathan and Darlene got their family situated at the table. David stood by His seat, awaiting Nicole’s return. She returned a minute or so later, carrying a casserole dish filled with Janice’s “famous” macaroni and cheese. She caught David’s eye, smiled at Him, and went back into the kitchen to get another dish. David felt Himself relax even more. When Marcus returned, he took a seat across from where David stood, affording him the opportunity to address David face-to-face. He sat down, and when Nicole and Janice brought more dishes to the table, he didn’t bother to stand up.
David remained standing.
After all of the dishes were on the table, David pulled out Nicole’s chair and she sat down. He took His own seat next to her and sat back and she began to prepare His plate.
“Mama, I must say you outdid yourself this year. Everything looks delicious!” David felt His stomach rumbling, an indication that He truly missed His mother’s home cooking. Nicole could really cook things up in the kitchen, but there was something about His mother’s meals that made Him feel warm inside.
“Yes, ma’am, I must say everything will find it’s way to my plate today,” Marcus chimed in, patting his stomach.
“You should get started fixing your own plate, then, Marcus,” Nicole said as she dished a heaping helping of macaroni and cheese onto David’s plate. “Would you like more, Sir?” she asked Him, sweetly.
“No, baby, that’s enough. Thank you,” David responded as His hand gently made its way up her back. “You take such great care of me, Star.” David look straight ahead at Marcus and smirked. “Here you go,” he said, passing Marcus a serving spoon. “Dig in!”
Marcus took the serving spoon and began fixing his plate, no trace of a smile anywhere on his face. Nicole tried to hide her own smile, but David didn’t.
“So, Marcus, I haven’t heard much about you…like, at all. Why don’t you tell me about yourself?” David began. “What do you do for a living?”
“Well, I’m in construction and contracting. Lu–,” he paused. “Nicole helped me start my own contracting business when we were together. Gave me the seed money,” he explained, looking at her. “I owe her my life, really.”
“You paid me back, with interest, Marcus. You owe me nothing,” she responded. David looked at her with a side glance, her mouthiness prickling and tickling him simultaneously. Nicole placed David’s plate in front of Him and proceeded to make her own. “Make sure you try Janice’s collard greens. She doesn’t use pork and they are to die for.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he responded. “So, yeah, I’m in construction. Not balling like you, though, brothaman. That ring had to set you back quite a bit.”
“Not at all actually,” David responded. “In fact, my brother, Jonathan, knows some people and well, price isn’t an issue when it comes to someone priceless,” David continued. He leaned over and whispered to Nicole. Eat. She began to eat her food and it was then that Marcus noticed the glimmer around her neck.
“Finger blinging, neck blinging, seems this guy here has got you on lock, baby girl” he said, trying to make light of the sting he couldn’t help but feel.
“Oh like you wouldn’t believe,” David said immediately. His hand went to to the back of Nicole’s neck and His fingers traced her collar. He looked back at Marcus and mouthed one word: Mine. David cocked His head to the side a bit as Marcus glared at Him for a moment, then lowered his own head to focus on his meal.
David heard a sound He’d not heard in many years, His mother’s giggle. He looked down the table to see her giggling after what seemed like a stolen kiss from Joseph. It was Christmas Day and He couldn’t remember that last time He’d seen Janice look so genuinely happy. She was glowing, laughing, and her smile was lighting up the room. If it were possible, He’d say her food even tasted better than in previous years. I can’t fuck this up, He thought to Himself. He ran His hand through Nicole’s hair and kissed her temple. She stopped before taking a bite of food and turned into the kiss, smiling. Theirs was contagious because Jonathan pulled his wife, Darlene, in for a kiss right after that.
Marcus focused on his collard greens.
“So when’s the wedding, kids?” Joseph asked for the opposite end of the table.
“We’re not sure yet,” David responded.
“What’s the hold up, man?” Marcus inquired, between bites. He looked at Nicole. “She scared or something?” He winked at her. David felt her stiffen. Nicole grabbed His thigh under the table and squeezed. His jaw was clenched again.
“Scared? What does she have to be scared of? My brand… of love isn’t anything to fear. Not at all,” David replied.
“Well you know how some of these women can be. They can’t handle the pressure…run at the first sign of trouble straight into the arms of the next man,” Marcus countered.
“Awww shit,” Darlene said under her breath. Jonathan shot her a dirty look. She pretended to focus on her plate, pushing her fork around, shaking her head.
“I’ll be right back,” David said, standing up to excuse Himself. As he stood, so did Nicole, as was the expected behavior. David said, “Sit,” and He headed to the stairs to go up to the bathroom. Nicole sat back down and tried to focus on eating, but found her appetite completely gone.
“What’s the matter, baby girl? Why are you acting so cold? Feeling a chill down below?” He pointed to the pocket on his shirt, where Nicole saw a red satiny cloth sticking out. “You missing something? Found these in the bathroom on the floor, by the tub,” he said in a hushed tone. He quickly pulled the red panties out, balled them in his hand, brought them to his nose, and inhaled.
Nicole grabbed the glass of wine before her, brought it to her lips, and whispered back with a slight smirk, “Come now, Marcus, you know me better than that.” She took a long sip from her wine glass. “I wasn’t wearing any to begin with,” she continued, looking him directly in his eyes.
Just then, Janice let out another infectious giggle and Marcus’s eyes shot to her, the horror spreading across his face. As he seemed to pale a bit, Nicole choked on her wine, from the knot of laughter bubbling in her throat. Wine shot from her nose all over her plate and her face turned beet red. She alternated between laughing and coughing so loudly, she caught Janice’s and Joseph’s attention. Both shot up from their seats and rushed down to see if she was OK. Marcus quickly shoved the panties into his pants pocket. Just then David returned to the table to see the commotion.
“Baby, you OK?” He said, rushing to her aid, patting her on the back.
“Don’t pat her back, boy, you’ll only make it worse,” Janice cautioned. Nicole waved both of them off and began to wipe the tears from her eyes.
“It’s nothing, nothing really. I’m fine. Wine just went down the wrong pipe,” she said when she caught a steady breath. Janice and Joseph made their ways back to their end of the table. Nicole dabbed her eyes a bit more and began wiping up the wine off of her plate. David looked over at Marcus and noticed his face seemed off.
“What the hell happened?” He asked, knowing something was amiss.
“Oh nothing baby, seriously. Marcus here just developed a special fondness for your mother that he never imagined he could have,” she said with a laugh. “It’s all good, baby, I promise. Finish eating, love,” she finished.
David wasn’t satisfied and looked at Marcus.
“Listen to your woman,” Marcus said with a bite that was not lost on David. He opted to ignore it when He was again distracted by His mother’s laughter. God, she is so happy, He thought to Himself.
“David, uhhh, why don’t you step outside with me for a second. I just want a few words with you, nothing major, if that’s OK with your lady, of course,” Marcus said, attempting as sincere a look as he could muster.
David looked at Marcus skeptically, but agreed to join him. The two men excused themselves and walked outside and stood on the front porch. Marcus retrieved a cigarette from the box in his pocket and lit it, inhaling deeply. He glanced over at David.
“Did Nicole ever tell you about the time she first learned about the other uses for rice?” Marcus began. David sucked His teeth and turned to go back into the house. Marcus stopped Him. “No, no, this is good. Let me tell this story.” Marcus lowered his voice a bit.
“You see, I was at a new site and I’d pulled a 14 hours day. Man was I exhausted. I called Nicole during lunch and told her that I’d be in late. She knew that she should have had my dinner waiting for me, right? I mean, that’s what any decent woman does for a man who works a long, hard day. Well,” he continued, as a sardonic smile spread across his face, “I came home and didn’t smell a single thing cooked. Man! Ca you believe that shit?” He took another pull from his cigarette, waited a few seconds, then exhaled. “Came in and found her asleep on the couch, fully clothed, knowing damned well no clothes were allowed in the house. I mean, what the fuck man, right? So I yanked her up out of her sleep and shook her until she awakened. A few slaps, you know, nothing serious. She woke up and I told her to strip. Since she didn’t want to cook my rice, I decided to teach her how it could be used when not on my dinner table. You know how that goes, right Sir? I poured the rice out on the floor and made the bitch kneel on that rice, right then and there. Made her stay her ass there for an hour while I cooked my own goddamned dinner. Man I was so pissed at her! What man works all day and has to come home and cook his own fucking dinner, right?” Marcus took another drag from his cigarette, shaking his head.
“Man to man, Sir to Sir, be real with me….You ever have those problems with her?” he asked David.
“What was THAT??!?!” Janice yelled as she heard a crash come from the front porch. She and Nicole were running to the front door to see what caused the commotion. Nicole made it first and saw Marcus on his back, David on top of him punching him repeatedly.
“Baby… No!!!” she screamed and ran to try and pull Him off of Marcus.
“Oh my God, David what are you DOING?!” Janice yelled. “You’re gonna kill that boy!!”
“My boy ain’t no punk!” Joseph said from right behind her. He leaned over to see what was going on. “It was bound to happen. Sometimes you gotta let them boys fight it out!”
“Joe help them!!” she implored.
“A man’s gotta fight, Janice!!” he repeated and backed up a few steps, pulling her with him.
“Baby, please, pleaseee you’re gonna kill him, baby stop!!” Nicole begged pulling at David’s arm. In the split second she distracted Him, Marcus was able to get a solid punch to David’s gut, knocking the wind out of Him. David toppled backwards and He fell into Nicole’s legs and she lost her footing. Before she could grab onto anything or anyone, she fell backwards off of the porch screaming, a full flight of steps above the concrete ground. Her body hit the ground with a thud and her head bounced on the concrete at last three times.
“Star!!!” David screamed, shoving Marcus off of Him as He ran down the stairs. “Call an ambulance!!!!” He screamed as He began to see blood trickle onto the ground. “Nicole, baby…baby wake up, baby please!” He begged. She didn’t respond, though she was still breathing. “Call a fucking ambulance!!” He screamed as the tears sprang to His eyes. “Baby please, I’m so sorry, please baby, pleaseeee don’t leave me,” He plead as He gathered her body into His arms. He began rocking her back and forth.
Marcus came running down the stairs. “The ambulance is on its way,” he assured. “Shit, man, is she OK?” he asked trying to get a better look at her.
“Stay back, motherfucker!! You stay the fuck away from us. This is YOUR fault!! I swear to God if anything happens to her,…” He stopped short when He heard the ambulance sirens in the distance. He turned His attention back to Nicole.
“Baby, they’re coming. Star, stay with me, they’re coming,” He said rocking her. “I’m gonna take care of you, baby, I promise. I promise…” He whispered into her hair, blood trickling onto His shirt sleeve. He could hear Janice’s screams and DJ’s cries in the background but began to tune them out. All He needed to hear was her heartbeat, and He felt it. He leaned His ear down to her chest and listened to her heart still beating rapidly.
I hear you.
Read Chapter 8 “Love Is A Star” Here