He blinked once, and then again. He was tired. Having had no sleep in twenty-four hours was taking its toll. He blinked yet another time, and then rolled down the car window, allowing the cool air to hit his face. It was just a few more miles to the hotel, and he could hear the bed calling his name. When he got there, he promised himself, he would sleep for ten hours straight.
He looked over at his companion. She had reclined her seat and was already asleep. He wiped his eyes and forced them open again, willing himself to stay awake. He needed to get to the hotel, and he needed to get there fast. So he accelerated, bringing the car up to seventy, even though he knew that the speed limit was only forty-five.
He reached over and turned on the radio. Earth, Wind and Fire’s Reasons was playing, and the song made him think of his wife. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
He had to admit it, the woman sitting next to him was nothing compared to his wife. His wife was equipped with brains and beauty, neither of which this woman possessed in any remarkable way. So why was he running around disrespecting Ivy? The only answer he could come up with was, because I can.
He wiped his eyes, blinked, and by the time he opened them – Oh my God! – two giant lights were coming right at him. He twisted the steering wheel savagely in an attempt to avoid contact with the vehicle in front of him, but the lights just followed his move.
Someone was screaming his name. He slammed on the brakes, making the tires squeal, and suddenly the car was spinning completely out of control, spinning for what seemed like forever, in a slow-motion arc, time spinning out along with the car. Finally it flipped, creating sparks as it slid on its side across the asphalt.
When the vehicles collided, there was nothing that could be done to stop the metal from crushing the dashboard and making contact with the occupants inside.
He heard the sirens, as well as the crying and screaming. “Get him out, please get him out,” said a familiar voice. “Hold on, baby.” Why couldn’t he move? He opened his eyes and tried to focus on what was in front of him.
He needed to free himself from the mangled car. When he tried to move his hands, he could see why he was immobile. There was crushed metal pressed to his chest, pinning him to the seat of the car. He was trying to tell them to get the stuff off of him, but he couldn’t speak. He felt excruciating pain all over his body each time someone tried to pull him from the wreckage. Don’t. Stop. Nothing was coming from his lips. He needed them to stop trying to move him. If everyone would just calm down, he could get his bearings and let them know what was needed to be done to get him out of this mess.
Smoke. He could feel heat. Oh no, the car is about to explode, he thought. Water was drenching his face and there was a bunch of people out there doing only God knows what. Something wasn’t right. He was gasping for breath. He needed to tell them the metal on his chest was making it hard to take in air. He wanted to move himself, but his legs wouldn’t cooperate.
He opened his mouth to speak and blood poured out instead of words.
Ivy Jones-Miller sat on the side of her bed. In one hand she held a picture of her husband of eleven years; in the other, a copy of the documents filing for a divorce from him.
She had to admit the reality: she still loved Raymond Terrell Miller. He had been part of her life since she was ten years old. For sixteen years, their families lived next door to each other. Both families had been members of the Cathedral Of Faith Christian Center in Camden, New Jersey, where Ivy’s grandfather was founder and pastor. They had grown up together. And she honestly couldn’t imagine what her life was going to be like without him in it.
With tears streaming down her cheeks, she released the documents and watched as they slipped down to land near her feet on the plush carpeted floor. Hugging the photograph to her breast, she willed herself to accept that this was the end of her life with Ray.
The feeling had to be worse than death itself.
What she was realizing was that all the material possessions she and Ray had accumulated meant nothing if he was not here to share them with her. She had been willing to give up this tremendous house with its breathtaking view of the lake, a view she had enjoyed for many years from the bay window in the morning kitchen. The Bentley, the Mercedes, and every piece of jewelry she owned – she would have relinquished it all, gladly, just to have him with her again.
Yes, just to have Ray in her arms and back in her life the way it used to be, she would be willing to live like a vagabond.
And here was the ultimate irony, even though she was willing to give up everything, he still didn’t want her anymore. He had told her, his voice flat and distant, to file for a divorce; and since that day he hadn’t slept in their home.
Ivy looked over at numerous pictures of Ray and herself that were sitting on her dresser. She walked over to them and stared at each, one by one. “I hate that I ever met you,” she said out loud as she looked intently at his image. She picked up the heavy gold-framed photograph and after staring at it a few moments more, she pitched it against the wall on the opposite side of the room. She watched as the glass shattered against the wall, falling onto the carpet.
She turned her attention back to the other photos. “I hate you,” she repeated. The three words came from her lips; but in her heart, that was far from the truth. “Oh, God, what am I going to do?” She crumpled to the floor. The truth was she wanted to hate him. She needed to hate him. It was too hard to accept, otherwise.
After a few minutes of self-pity, the anger surged back. She stood up and grabbed a crystal-framed photograph of Ray in his Redskins uniform. She dropped it to the floor and began to stomp on it, over and over again. Each time her foot smashed onto the picture she said a word. “I,” stomp, “hate,” stomp, “you,” chanting it over and over again, trying her best to make a lie the truth so the pain in her heart would go away. “Damn you, Ray. I gave you the best of me. I gave you all of me. I’m the mother of your children. How could you be so cruel?”
She cried until she was spent. Then as the tears began to subside, Ivy stood and swung her arm over the dresser, flinging everything on it to the floor.
“What am I going to do?” She murmured the words out loud. “How am I going to live without him?”
She hadn’t told a soul that Ray had left her. Perhaps telling someone would make her face the fact that it was truly over. Her guess was that everyone would be shocked, especially when they found out that she and Ray were divorcing. She came from a Christian family that did not divorce.
How was she going to explain this to her family? She was a minister’s daughter. Her family believed in until death do you part – and so did she: it would have been that way, too, if she had her way.
But the choice was out of her hands. It’s in God’s hands now, she thought. She would have to stop all this crying and be strong and face the fact that she had done all she could to save this marriage. The final papers were signed and had been delivered to the attorney; it was time to inform the people closest to her. Maybe after she opened up and shared her grief with the people who really cared about her, she could begin the healing process, begin to become whole again.
First she needed to tell their children. Ray Jr. the oldest, was nine, Solomon, was five, and the twin girls, Tamara and Terra, were three. Ivy wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, took a deep breath and commanded herself to get it together.
It was time that she accepted that Ray had left her and his entire family a long time ago, long before he voiced his desire for a divorce. Filing the paperwork only made it official.
Ivy knew that she didn’t need to blame herself, at least not entirely: there was enough blame to go around. Other women. Drugs. It has been nearly two years since Ray’s last attempt to rid his life of the drugs. After failing to complete three different programs at three different facilities, her father, the Reverend James Jones, had recommended the Faith and Hope Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Center. Reverend Jones was now the pastor of Cathedral Of Faith Christian Center and he knew people who had attended the Center; he had suggested this facility because of the highly successful completion rate of their clients. Through his work with the inner-city youth at the Ray Miller Youth Center, he had sent many others through the drug program offered at Faith and Hope.
Nevertheless, Ray had yet again failed to finish the program.
How could all this have happened right under Ivy’s nose? How could she not have recognized the warnings? All the signs had been there, right in front of her. Had she been in denial? Or had she simply been deaf to anything that threatened her marriage, her happiness? When they had first started out, she would never have thought in a million years that Ray would be stupid enough to get himself hooked on any drug, especially one as addictive and harmful as heroin.
She put her head back on her pillow, closing her eyes. She was torturing herself, she knew, but she couldn’t help but think back, to remember a time when life had been wonderful. Yes, there had been a lot of good times with Ray. They had had the leading roles in their sixth-grade play at Morgan Village Middle School. She remembered their first real slow dance at the seventh-grade spring festival, the sophomore cotillion where they shared their first real kiss, and the junior and senior proms where they first confessed their love for each other.
The fondest memory of all was the senior class trip to Florida. That was when Ray had told her he would not go away to college without her.
Ray had come to the room that she shared with three other girls, telling her he needed to talk. It was early Sunday morning, and in the blistering heat of the Florida sun, Ivy and Ray walked hand in hand toward the banana tree located on the side of the hotel where the seniors were staying. It was the first time they were alone since they arrived two days before. Ray had with him a large beach towel and he spread it on the ground under the tree.
Ivy leaned her head against Ray’s arm. “You are a real romantic, you know that,” she said to him.
“Well, I aim to please,” he answered with that smile, the smile that made her insides melt, and then he kissed her on the forehead. “But I really need to talk to you about us.”
Ivy looked up into his eyes. She could tell he was serious. “What?”
“I love you, Ivy,” he said softly.
“I know, and I love you too,” she answered, still a little puzzled.
His dark eyes held unimaginable depths. “I don’t want to go to school without you.”
Ivy made light of it. Always sensible, even back then. “Ray, you’re going to Delaware, and I’m going to Rutgers. It’s not like we’re a thousand miles away from each other. We’ll see each other on weekends and maybe even some weekdays. We’ll be about fifty miles from each other!”
“I don’t care, fifty miles might as well be five thousand,” he said. His voice was gentle and steady. “I want you in my room and in my bed every night.”
“Oh, so it’s about that again,” Ivy said teasingly. The eternal issue with all young men, she thought.
He wasn’t deterred by her tone. “Yeah, it’s about me wanting you, Ivy. Now, and forever.”
She struggled to sit up and looked directly at him. If he wanted honesty, she’d give him honesty. “Ray, it’s about sex, and you know it. I’m not marrying you just so we can sleep together!”
“Why would I marry you just to sleep with you? I could sleep with any girl I want! It’s not about sex. It’s about me loving you and not wanting to be separated from you.”
“Listen, Ivy. We’ve been together since we were kids. I know how I feel about you and I see how other guys look at you.”
“Let me finish, Ivy.” His voice was stronger now. He paused and took both her hands in his. “I watch other guys checking you out and just the mere thought of them being with you in any kind of way makes me sick to my stomach.”
“I love you, Ray!” she protested. “I would never …”
He put his finger over her lips to stop her words. “Marry me, Ivy.” She stared at him. When he dropped his head, placing it on her shoulder, he whispered against her ear, “Please.”
As his breath caressed her ear, Ivy shivered and took a deep intake of air to stabilize herself. Using the palm of her hand, she lifted Ray’s head so she could look into his eyes. She kissed his lips and they smiled at each other. Then Ivy asked, “Can I say something now?”
“Not if you’re gonna tell me no,” He was pouting like a child.
“I love you. How can I say no?”
Ray brightened immediately. “You mean that?” There was excitement in his voice.
“Of course I do. You know I love you and I want to marry you. But not now, Ray.” His shoulders slumped. “Honey, think about it. You know my parents won’t approve of their only daughter marrying. Especially before going to college. And what about your folks? Do you really want to take on our parents? We’ll need them to help support us while we’re in school. I don’t want to fight with them.” Ivy paused for a few moments. “Look, we’ll have a four-year engagement, and I promise I won’t date other guys.”
Ray wanted them to marry before the semester began. Both families were against the idea, though, and he knew it. He let Ivy persuade him to wait.
Or so she thought.
A few weeks later, with the families gathered together for the traditional Fourth of July barbeque, Ray and Ivy announced their plan to be married.
Their wedding was that August, one week before Ray entered Delaware State University on a full football scholarship – with Ivy attending the same school too. They were only eighteen and nineteen years old.
It was a beautiful memory. It said everything about what they had been to each other. Or maybe it just said that they had been very, very young.
Now Ivy looked at the third finger on her left hand. Her wedding and engagement rings were gone. She had pawned them last week to pay the water and sewer bills, and to put some food in the refrigerator. The owner of the pawnshop told her she had thirty days to redeem them; but as she walked away, she knew the rings were lost forever.
The ringing of the telephone interrupted her thoughts. “Hello?”
“Hey, sweetie, it’s me,” Ivy recognized her mother’s voice. “Just checking in. Do you have everything you need for your get-together this weekend with the girls?”
Ivy’s throat constricted. “Well,” she hesitated, “I was actually thinking that I should maybe cancel, because…”
“You aren’t canceling anything,” her mother said crisply before Ivy could finish her excuse. “I told you to have the girls over this weekend because right now you need to be around your friends. I know you’ve been depressed, and I think this will be good medicine for whatever’s ailing you.”
“Yes, Mama, I know you’re right, and yes, I have everything. I do believe you made sure of that.”
“Good. Well, now, I called you for another reason, what was it? Oh, yeah, I called to tell you that I talked to Jade. She’s decided to come after all, and she’s bringing her son with her.”
“Really!” Ivy exclaimed, interested despite her own heartache. “It’s about time she brings the little crumb-snatcher here so we can see him! What did you do, threaten her life to make her change her mind?”
“I didn’t have to do anything. She was trying to call you earlier this morning, and when she couldn’t reach you she called me. I tried to call you myself. Where have you been all morning?”
“I was with my attorney.” Just thinking about why she was with her attorney made her eyes fill with water. I won’t cry, she told herself; I won’t break down.
“Oooh,” was all her mother said. The atmosphere was still for a moment. Ivy knew that if she didn’t volunteer an explanation for the remark she’d just made to her mother, she would hang up the telephone without one. She took a deep breath. “I filed for a divorce on Tuesday, Mama, and I had some other papers I had to sign and go over this morning before he takes them to the courthouse.”
“Oh, Ivy, sweetie, I’m so sorry it’s come to that.” Patricia Jones was sympathy itself. No condemnation there, Ivy thought gratefully. Thank you, God. Thank you, Mama.
“I am, too. But I’m okay, Mama,” Ivy said. It was a lie, but what else could she do? Her mother knew her well, and would know that she was lying, and neither of them had to talk about it.
Ivy’s mother was wise beyond her fifty years. She was small in size but huge at heart, meek and humble. Her inner beauty radiated clear through to her personality.
“Well, now I know that this weekend is the right thing to do. I’m happy that you’re going to be spending it with your friends.”
“Thanks, Mama. And thank you for footing the bill, ‘cause I’m sure you know I can’t afford it.” She sat back down on the edge of her bed. The one that, once, she had shared with her husband. Don’t think about that. Think about something else. “I’m really glad to know that Jade is coming,” she said. “I can’t believe she’s bringing the baby.”
She was too restless to stay still, sitting there. She stood up again, carrying the cordless phone with her, idly picking up the papers she had scattered earlier, straightening them, putting them in the nightstand drawer. Better to do something aimless than to do nothing at all.
Her mother was still talking. “I told her I was keeping all the children so you girls could just relax and have a good time. Oh, by the way, I picked up a case of sparkling apple cider for you all, and a few other things. I’ll bring them when I pick up the kids.”
“Mama, I love you.”
“I know you do. I’m a little crazy about you, too.”
Both women were laughing as they hung up the phone.
* * *
Ray had wanted Ivy to donate as much time as she could to the center that had been named for him. It was at his insistence that she had had a housekeeper for eight years. As of three months ago, though, she’d become reacquainted with cleaning her own house.
She changed into a jogging suit, pulled her waist-length hair into a ponytail, and spent the next few hours doing just that. She finished changing the last set of linens in the bedroom and was disconnecting the central vacuum cleaner hose from the wall when she heard the doorbell ring. As she went to answer the door, it hit her that she was actually looking forward to this weekend. She and her friends hadn’t all been together in more than two years.
Squinting through the peephole, she saw Jade standing on the porch, holding what could only be her son. Ivy flung open the door, stood back, and looked at this woman who had been her friend for over fifteen years. “Jade, girl, I’m so glad you changed your mind and came! Get inside, you’re letting the heat out.” Ivy’s smile shone across her face. She hugged Jade and the baby at the same time.
“I came here to hide out for a few days,” Jade admitted honestly, following her friend into the house.
Jade and Ivy had met when Jade’s family moved from North Carolina to New Jersey, into the house on the corner of the street where Ivy lived. The girls were both fifteen years old, yet Jade was two grades behind students her age. Ivy soon found out that being two grades behind had nothing to do with her new friend’s intelligence. Jade was extremely smart, so smart that she tutored other kids in the neighborhood who were much older than she. She even helped Ray pass the math portion of the SATs.
She was street-wise, too. Jade hardly ever smiled when they first met. She put up a good front, always acting hard and tough; but her kind-heartedness shone through her tough-girl act in spite of herself. She claimed that she tutored for the income, but Ivy had seen how hard her friend worked with other kids, how much she wanted them to succeed.
Jade never talked about her past: that subject was taboo, and she deflected any attempts on Ivy’s part to get her to discuss her years before she moved to New Jersey. Jade told her over and over again to stop asking: “I had no life before I moved to New Jersey.”
There was a secretive side to Jade, a side that Ivy didn’t know if she’d ever be able to access, ever be able to understand. And the secrets weren’t all in the distant past, either, Ivy realized now as she held out her arms. “Give me that baby! Let me take a good look at my godson.” Ivy took the child from Jade’s arms. “Dang, I think I woke him.”
“It’s okay, he needs to wake up. He slept for most of the trip here.” Jade stretched her arms. “That boy is getting heavy. Hey, am I the first to arrive?” Jade walked ahead of Ivy into the living room. Stopping abruptly, she asked, “Where’s the piano?”
Ivy ignored her friend’s question, hefting the sleepy baby automatically on top her hip. “Come on, let’s go to the family room, it’s more comfortable there. I haven’t seen my godson since he was born. How old is he now?”
“Eighteen months. He’ll be two in April.” Jade took off her coat and laid it on a chair.
Ivy sat the baby on her lap, and looked at her friend. “You look good, girl! And I love your curly hairstyle.” Jade giggled and ran her fingers through her golden brown tresses. Ivy shook her head. “I won’t be calling you plain Jade anymore, look at you! You’ve even arched your eyebrows, haven’t you? I like it, girl. It gives those beautiful golden brown eyes more definition.”
“Well, thank you, Ivy, you’re not looking bad yourself.” She ignored the running pants and looked down at Ivy’s bare feet. “I see you’re still allergic to shoes.”
“Girl, you know my toes love to be free.” She jiggled the baby and, looking up, noticed something a trick of the light had hidden from her before. “What happened to your face?”
Jade placed her hand over the bruised area. “Oh, it’s nothing. It’ll be gone by tomorrow.” She sat down, put her hands together, and began twisting the ring on her finger, a sure sign that she was nervous about something.
Ivy almost pursued the issue, but she stayed quiet, telling herself that she had all weekend to find out what was going on with her friend and Jade usually needed to bring things up in her own way, in her own time. That tough-girl act again, left over from her childhood. There was no sense in pushing her.
Ivy turned her attention back to the baby. “You have gotten so big, Boo-Boo,” she cooed as she sat him on the loveseat next to her and began to remove his snowsuit. Once that task was done, Ivy sat the boy up to take a good look at him and, when she did, he looked up, smiling, showing beautiful dark gray eyes and a head full of jet black curly hair. Ivy couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the child’s face. As a matter of fact, he was drop-dead gorgeous. “Oh my God,” Ivy murmured as the revelation sank in.
She heard Jade say something, but her mind was totally blank as she assessed the child’s resemblance to Darrell Parker. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. The boy’s eyes were just like Darrell’s. His mouth was just like Darrell’s. Everything, Ivy thought with sudden understanding, was just like Darrell’s.
Jade was saying something else, and she took her son from a stunned Ivy and cradled him to her chest. But Ivy was still lost in her own thoughts.
It was Ivy who had introduced Jade to Darrell when they were only juniors in high school. Darrell was a year ahead of Jade, and the son of Ivy’s father’s assistant pastor. Darrell was tall and lanky when he was in the eleventh grade. His lightly tanned skin, dark gray eyes, and jet black hair made him stand out from all the other guys, and Jade was smitten. They became lovers during Jade’s freshman year at Temple University. He was a sophomore at Rutgers in Camden. After Darrell graduated from college, he began working for an engineering firm in Philadelphia. A year later, Jade too graduated and began working on her Juris Doctor degree at Rutgers in Camden.
Near the end of the second term of her first year of law school, Jade found out she was pregnant. After completing that term, she dropped out of school and abruptly moved to Maryland with the excuse that she couldn’t stay because the child was not Darrell’s.
Now Ivy blinked hard as she saw Jade’s mouth moving, but she could not at first understand a word her friend was saying. “I really tried to tell you,” Jade said softly, gently. There was a short pause as she forced air from her nostrils, then sucked at her teeth. “Every time I tried, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
Ivy now simply sat and looked at her, her mouth open, as if to say something. But it was Jade who spoke. “Now that you’ve seen him, you don’t have to stare at him like he’s an alien or something.”
Ivy closed her mouth. She couldn’t form a word to save her life.
Jade took a deep breath. “Maybe I shouldn’t have come, after all.”
“Now that’s just ridiculous,” Ivy said, coming back to life and embarrassed at having made her friend uncomfortable. “Will you please give a woman a chance to recover? Dang.” Ivy took the child from Jade’s arms. After looking at him again, Ivy said, “You told us that you weren’t pregnant by Darrell, that’s all. What am I supposed to think? You had this whole line about that was the reason you lied to Darrell and told him that you lost the baby so he wouldn’t know you were pregnant with another man’s baby. Why did you do that?
“I have my reasons. And right now I’d rather not talk about it,” Jade wasn’t meeting Ivy’s eyes.
“My God, Jade, he looks just like Darrell!”
“I know he does, so much so that I should have named him Darrell, but I didn’t. His named is Desmond,” Jade sighed.
“You don’t have to tell me what his name is. I know his name is Desmond, I’m his godmother, remember? I was there when you gave birth to him.” Ivy examined his little hand. The resemblance was astonishing. “He looks just like him.” Ivy looked over at Jade.
Jade relaxed her shoulders. “I haven’t gone home to see my parents in over a year because of it. And the older he gets, the more he looks just like Darrell. But for now, do me a favor, Ivy, and don’t talk about it, okay? I just want to relax and enjoy this time with you.”
Ivy nodded. “Mom picked up my kids about two hours ago. She told me to call her when you got here so she could pick up – little Darrell.” Ivy couldn’t resist poking fun at her friend. “Never mind. I’ll give her a call and then you and I can catch up,” she said. “And you can start by giving me a real big hug!”
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