Posted in Uncategorized

Update: Secrets From the Bayou

Heyyyyy Y’all!!!!! (don’t you just love that country twang 🙂 I know it’s been a minute, but believe me I think of you all every Tuesday. We’re bonded by the Bayou for life :)! My son told me I need to post something or you all may forget that I’m writing. You haven’t forgotten that I’m working on something big have you? I sure hope not, but being the great listener that I am, I decided to take heed to my child’s advice (he’s wise beyond his years) and tell you all what’s going on so far.

Well, we’ve finish casting all our roles for the Secrets From the Bayou web series, well not quite all but all the ones I need so far. I’m finding the plot continues to thicken the more I write, which means more roles to cast…but not right now. Anyway, back to my point, the actors/actresses are better than anything I could’ve expected or asked for. These people are talented beyond belief and I’m not just saying that, it’s the truth. Many of them aren’t new to film. They’ve been a part of some major drama series, and to know that they see something in my work that makes them want to be a part of it too, is simply amazing.

I have to say, when I dove into this journey I had no idea the amount of work (and I mean WORK) that goes on behind the scenes before production even begins. It’s a lot, but I’m enjoying every minute of this learning process. It’s hard to describe how it feels seeing your words and the images in your head, being displayed for all to see. Every day that I work on this series feels like a dream. I’ve prepared for this moment without really knowing. I’ve taken script writing workshops and studied scripts as I’ve watched the shows, but I did all of that to improve my writing as an author. Sure, I knew one day I wanted my books to be turned into movies (who wouldn’t?), but I figured someone else would be doing it. I thought my job was done after I wrote the books. I had no idea that was just a small piece of the puzzle God had planned for my life.

I know this is from Him because all the help had to come from him. The doors that were opened had to be opened by him. People are willing, able, and oh so ready to do whatever it takes to help me get this show rolling and I know, without shadow of a doubt, that’s from HIM!

I could literally go on and on about this project and how much I’m loving it, but because you all have a life outside of reading this blog, I’ll go ahead and bring it to an end. Did I mention how much I miss you all? I really do. You made me laugh each week with your comments about the story lines and the characters. All I can say is if you like the blog, you’re going to LOVE the web series. Seriously! I’m not just saying that because I wrote it. It’s reallyyyyy good :).

Okay, I promised to end so here goes. (Read this part really fast so I can be true to my word…ending now 🙂 Thank you all for all your continued support! Don’t forget I do have a new book out, Double Down and Dirty by L.A. Lewis. Check it out if you hadn’t had a chance to read it. It’s available anywhere books are sold online.

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LOVE YOU GUYS!!!!!

Posted in Blog Series

Blog #10: Back Down Memory Lane

Robert

I watched the woman I loved with everything in me, the same woman who made me forget who I was and where I’d come from. Nadia brought out a  part of me I never knew existed. Up until our reunion I was always known as the diffuser…the voice of reason… the one people flocked to for comfort and understanding. All those good qualities vanished when she re-entered my world. When we dated in high school, I understood my role very well. I was the filler. I knew that and I accepted it because even being the filler was fulfilling for me, at least for a while. Eventually, that got old. Being her go-to person when she had nothing better to do. Yeah, after a month of playing that role I wanted more. I’d planned to tell her everything the day she called me to the woods. I was going to pour my soul out to her and hoped she’d say she felt the same way, but when I arrived, and saw her lying in the dirt, all my words fell to the ground. I nearly fainted when I saw all the blood that covered her clothes. This is why she called me. She needed me. I picked her up,took her to my truck and drove like a bat out of hell to the hospital. She was very weak, but still able to talk. I hung onto each word and nearly crashed into the car in front of me when she told me what she did. My heart shattered and I didn’t know if I wanted to stop and push her out or keep driving and save her life. The girl  I loved was no longer the girl I knew. As soon as we made it to the hospital and I contacted her grandmother, I left. It took a while for forgiveness to set in, but eventually it did. 

When Nadia came to me over a year ago, professing her love and declaring how much she wanted to start a new life with me, I dropped everything to make sure that happened. I never told her how much I gave up for this union to happen. She didn’t know my life was on an upward path and I gave it all away just to be with her. If she’d known, maybe she’d understand the rage, but it’s too late now. She’d made it clear that her feelings were the only ones that mattered to her. I loved Nadia, but right now…in this moment…I loved me more.

Nadia

“I better get going.”  I looked back expecting Karen to be standing at the door watching Tasha and me as she normally did.

“You sure you don’t wanna come in and eat?” Tasha offered. “You know it’s Thanksgiving around here.” She laughed.

“Ohhhh, it is isn’t it.”

For as long as I could remember, Tasha and her mom never celebrated holidays on the actual day. One, if not both, of them were always working so their tradition had been to celebrate as close to the holiday as possible.

“I’m sorry. I forgot. I didn’t mean to interrupt your time with your mom.”

Tasha’s eyes narrowed. “Really? You think interrupting my time with her is a bad thing?” She laughed again.

“Say what you want, but you love that woman.” I lightly pushed my body into hers.

Her smile vanished and was replaced with sadness.

“What’s wrong?” I leaned forward to get a better look at her face.

Tasha looked behind her. I’m sure it was for the same reason I’d looked just a moment before, to make sure Karen wasn’t there. She took a deep breath.

“Don’t tell me you have more bad news. I really can’t take anymore right now.” I warned her.

“No, not bad news. Not good news either.” She said softly.

“Then what is it?” I questioned again.

“I’m tired, Nadia. I’m tired of this life. I’m tired of living in this house and working this dead end job. I’m tired of being the responsible one, having to look after a woman who should be looking out for me. I’m ready for more.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and stared at her.

“What?” She asked with attitude.

She knew me well enough to know exactly what I was thinking behind my lifted brow and poked lips. I didn’t say a word.

“I know you’re tired of hearing this same ol’ story, but I’m for real this time. I want more.”

“Then do more. Stop whining and complaining about wanting something then settling back into this life. I’ve heard this too many times and until you’re ready to make a move, it’s just talk.”

Her facial features dropped and I knew I’d hurt her feelings, but I didn’t’t do pity parties and she knew that. She’d always known that.

Tasha stood and dusted the dirt from her pants. “You’re right. I should get back inside to Mama.”

“I’m right or you’re angry? Which one is it?”

She stared at her feet then locked her eyes on me. “I’m angry.”

“Why because I won’t tell you what you already knew?”

“No, because you don’t ever tell me what I need to hear. You know I wanted you to tell me that I should do it, I’m capable of moving away from here and living life on my own, but you never say it and I know why.” Her sad eyes turned angry.

“What are you talking about? I always tell you that. I’ve said it too much over the years. If you want to move, then move but stop talking about it and do it.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

“And it’s easy for you to do.” I stopped before she could go into my life versus hers. She always went there.

“No it’s not. Not when I have someone depending on me to be here. I know it was easy for you to walk away and live your life but it’s not that simple for me.”

“Well, what the hell do you want me to say? No matter what, you’re not leaving Bayou. You’re never leaving Bayou so why do we keep having this conversation? It’s pointless.”

The moisture in her eyes made me regret telling the truth. I hadn’t learned that sometimes people don’t want to hear what you really think, even though they pretend to want your input.

“Throughout high school you talked nonstop about moving away and I always told you that you could do it. When your dad died you talked about it even more and I listened and continued to encourage you.”

“In high school, Tasha. High school. We’re thirty year-old grown women, not teenagers. We no longer have time to talk. Either do it or be content, but stop whining about it.”

“Bye Nadia. Enjoy the rest of your stay.”

She was behind the door before I could blink. I looked around before walking to my car. Every since I’d arrived I had a strange feeling. Not sure what it was, but I didn’t like it. Normally when I have this feeling it’s followed by something bad. I had this very feeling the night my dad died. It had occurred a couple more times throughout the years and it was always on point. I didn’t know what it was or who it was for, but something bad was about to happen in Bayou and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was very close to home.

THE END!!!!

Written by: L.A. Lewis

Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson

A note from Nadia: Thank you for allowing me to share a piece of my overly dramatic life with you every week. Since you’ve enjoyed reading about me, I have no doubt you’ll love watching my very eventful life play out on film. As you can imagine writing the blogs and working on the scripts can sometimes get a bit confusing for L.A. Lewis. Because of this, she’s made the executive decision to discontinue the weekly blogs and pour all her energy into the scripts. Don’t worry, we won’t leave you hanging. You’ll get to see, up close and personal, as ALL the Bayou secrets are exposed :). 

Posted in Blog Series

Blog #9: Hidden Agenda

Tasha

 

I sat at the table across from my mother yet another Thanksgiving. Just the two of us. The way it had been ever since my grandmother passed last year. I really wanted to call Nadia and check on her, but hearing from me may have only made matters worse. I couldn’t believe my best friend was finally home for a holiday and I wouldn’t be able to spend it with her. This day sucked like no other.

“What’s that look about?” My mother was looking at me like I was crazy. Here I was being blinded by her bright orange pants, and the big rhinestone turkey on her sweater, and she had the nerve to look at me like I’d lost it.

“Nothing.” I pushed the food around on my plate. I loved holiday food and my mother’s a really good cook, but I couldn’t enjoy it today. I couldn’t stop thinking about Nadia. About my plan to move to Atlanta with her. She’d been trying to get me to come for years, and just when I was ready to kiss this dead end town goodbye, my mother had to go and open her big mouth. I’d just lost the only real friend I’d ever had and my chance to escape this place.

“You need to eat if we gone make it to the store in time. You know Black Friday starts earlier now.”

Yipeeee Black Friday. A time to go and spend money I don’t have on things I don’t need.

“I got my plan all mapped out. When you’re done I’ll tell you so you can be ready. I don’t need you slowing me down.”

“I won’t slow you down because I’m not going.”

Her eyes looked like they were ready to pop out of the sockets. “Not going! What da’ you mean you not going?”

I hate when she asks what do I mean about obvious statements. Isn’t “I’m not going” self-explanatory?

“You have to go. I can’t pull this off without you,” she continued.

“Mama, you and Sheila are gonna have to battle it out alone this year.”

Every year, my mother and her coworker Shelia Johnson always compete to see who can get the best items during Black Friday. It’s ridiculous if you ask me.

“Ohhhhh, I know what this is about.” She leaned back in her chair. “You mad because I told Nadia, huh?”

I broke off a piece of my roll and stuck it in my mouth, all while looking at my mother,the one who ruins everything. Always had and now that I was stuck here, she always would.

“Look, I done told you that girl needed to know. Her mama and grandma should be ashamed keeping her in the dark this long. Shoot, everybody should be thanking me.”

“Thanking you? Did you really just say that?”

“I shole in the hell did. Now that it’s out, we can all start living the truth. Ain’t you tired of hiding? Tired of pretending we don’t belong? Hell, we’re just as much a Freeman as the rest of them and it’s time for everyone to know.”

“Why now? You told me years ago and said not to say a word and I didn’t. You told me it would hurt Nadia if she knew, and yet, you told her. Just tell me why you did it?”

“Because I have nothing to lose. I was quiet and I told you to stay quiet because that’s what Mama wanted. People in this town had finally started showing her some respect. For as long as I can remember, she hated to leave the house because everyone would stare at us and whisper behind our backs. Mama’s life was hell here, but she couldn’t afford to leave. My daddy couldn’t be a father in the open, but he was in private and he took good care of us. Truth is, Mama wouldn’t have left even if she could. She loved that man, even if she could only have a piece of him. She wanted that piece.”

My mom stared as if she’d gone back to those days in her mind. Sometimes I wished I could see what she saw. Maybe that would help me understand her better. She always had a need to be seen. She said things to hurt people and she didn’t care. She was nothing like my grandmother who worked overtime to be accepted by people in this community.

“Well, she’s gone now and I’m tired of living like this.” She waved her hands around. “While they’re up there in that big house that should be ours.”

My mother has officially lost her mind.

“Just because you’re his child doesn’t mean you automatically get what he left behind. You  should know that better than anyone.”

“What the hell that’s supposed to mean?”

Why did she always have to play the naive role. That drives me insane!

“When Grandma died what did Aunt Kate get?”

I knew that would pinch a nerve, but it was the truth.

“What did Aunt Kate get? Hell, what does Aunt Kate need? What does she do for us? What did she do for your grandmother when she was alive? She barely made it home before she died.”

My aunt is Katherine Matthews…The Katherine Matthews, but she’s Aunt Kate to me. Aunt Kate left Bayou many years ago to pursue her acting and modeling career. She was determined to be a success and her determination paid off big time. She lived all over the world. She now called Paris home. In my mother’s eyes, Aunt Kate’s success was a constant reminder of her own failure. My mom once had dreams too, but unlike Aunt Kate, she never acted on them. Instead, she stayed behind with my grandmother, much like I’m doing now. My grandmother robbed my mother of the life she could’ve had, and my mother was robbing me of mine. Guess it’s a family curse that skipped Aunt Kate and landed on me.

The knock on the door was a welcomed distraction.

“I’ll get it.” I was up and out of the kitchen in no time.

When I opened the door and saw Nadia on the other side, my heart came alive. I had no idea why she was there, but even if it was just to argue, at least she was here.

“Can I talk to you?” Nadia stayed on the porch.

“Sure, you wanna come in?” I opened the door wider.

Nadia shook her head. “I’d rather talk out here if you don’t mind.” She peeped around me and into the house.

I opened the closet and grabbed my sweater. I joined Nadia on the front porch.

“You okay?” I stepped around to face her.

Nadia stared at me with eyes that showed no emotion at all.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, putting my hand on her shoulder.

“I probably shouldn’t be here, but you’re the only person I can talk to.”

“You can always come to me. You know that.”

Nadia took a deep breath. “Rachel’s here.”

“Oh no. Did you talk?”

Nadia sat on the first step of the porch and replied, “We did.”

I joined her on the first step, and tried to read an expression that just wouldn’t come. Nadia was good at not showing her true feelings. You never really knew how she felt unless she told you, or on those rare occasions when she’d break the wall and let it all out.

“And?”

“And nothing. She came. We talked. And that’s that.”

“Okay.” I knew when to stop asking questions. Pressuring her for answers only caused her to run away.

“But that’s not why I’m here.”

I swallowed hard and waited for her to tell me why she was here. I waited to hear her say that we couldn’t be friends any longer. That now that she knew the truth, she had to side with her family. I braced myself for the impact of her words.

“Robert’s here too.” She announced.

“Robert? Here in Bayou?”

She nodded her head.

“Nadia, I promise I didn’t say a word about you being here.”

“I know you didn’t. His grandmother told him.”

“I can’t imagine that went well at all.”

She looked at me. This time I detected a hint of sadness in her eyes.

“Oh no.” I placed my hand over my chest. “Does he know why you left?”

She was silent. I hated silence.

“No, but he’s refusing to let me go. I told him why I went back to him. I almost told him everything, but he blew up as he always does when things don’t go his way.”

“When you say everything does that include…” I didn’t want to say it out loud just in case my nosey mother was lurking behind the door.

“I thought about it. I really did. Being here these last few days has shown me that secrets never stay buried long. If he finds out what I did he may follow through on his til death do us part threat.”

“So, what are you gonna do?” I asked.

“Nothing. I’m going to stay here with Grandma Hazel a while longer, then I’ll figure out where I’m going next.”

“You’re not going back to Atlanta?” I was kind of disappointed in a selfish kinda way. My best friend had a problem and I was thinking about myself.

“I can’t go back there. I need a fresh start and the only way to get it is to move.”

“He’s going to find you again you know. He’ll never stop looking for you.”

“Then I’ll keep running. Robert wants what I’m not capable of giving. I’ve run out of love and as bad as I wish I could love him the way he deserves… I just can’t.”

Robert

Stalking had never been my ideal hobby, but when it came to my wife I had no choice. Three months ago, Nadia fled in the middle of the night, leaving nothing but questions behind. I knew she was hiding something from me and I would find out what it is. Judging from the intensity on her face as she was talking with Tasha, I’m guessing whatever she’d done was pretty serious. I’d find out what it was. She knows I don’t give up until I get what I want. No matter who I have to use to get it.

Written By: L.A. Lewis

Edited By: Gina Phillips Johnson

Posted in Blog Series

Blog #8: What’s Done in the Dark

Nadia


“So that’s your plan?” I stepped closer to Robert. “Threaten to tell my family what I did all those years ago? Go ahead. Be my guest.” I swung my hand towards the front door. “But don’t forget to tell them your role.”

His eyes narrowed. “What do you mean my role? I had nothing to do with what you did.”

“I almost died that day and you knew why, yet you didn’t say a word to my family. How do you think they’re gonna feel when they know that?” I crossed my arms.

“But I saved your life, Robert said, frowning.

“Not in the version I’m telling.”

Robert shook his head slowly. “Why did you come back? After all these years, why did you come to me if you weren’t serious about us?”

“I had to right my wrong. I’m sorry I hurt you. That was never my intention.”

Robert flung his arms out and asked,”What the hell does that mean?”

“I thought I was doing what I had to do to make things right again. I made the choice to play God that day in the woods. That has haunted me all these years and the only way I knew how to fix it was…” I took a deep breath. I was finally ready to tell him everything.

“Was what?” His brows furrowed. “Making me believe you loved me, marrying me, all that was to right some wrong and I’m supposed to believe you had no idea I’d get hurt in the process? You can’t really be that stupid,” He said, clenching his jaws.

Once again, he said too much and shutting down was my go to emotion. I leaned against the wall and exercised my right to be silent.

“Oh, so you’re done?”

He knew the silent treatment well. He’d seen it often this past year. Once my plan was complete, I no longer needed to pretend I could really play the wifey type. A part of me believed I could. In the beginning of our reunion, I’d convinced myself that I was like every normal woman who desired to have the husband, the job, the children and be perfectly content. Shortly after our nuptials, I knew I’d made a huge mistake, but leaving wasn’t an option. I had to make up for the sin I’d committed. That was the only way God would forgive me and release me from whatever curse was placed on my life. I needed a normal life. I was starting to realize that maybe this was my normal. A life void of true emotions other than for my grandma and dad. A life where one man could never hold my interest longer than a couple months. Maybe I was my kind of normal and maybe I should’ve just been okay with that.

“If you think I’m just gonna let you walk out my life like I never mattered then you really don’t know me as well as you thought you did.” Robert stood within inches of my face. “You’re my wife dammit and this,” he wagged his finger between the two of us, “is til death do us part.” He quickly kissed my lips then turned around and left.

Rachel


“I’ll call you later.” I snatched my purse from the sofa and leaned down to kiss Mother before I left.

“You had to know you’d get this reaction. Nadia’s stubborn like someone else I know.” Mother looked at me with a raised brow.

“She’s past stubborn. After all this time she still blames me for what happened that night. How did all of this fall on me?” My throat tightened from the pain I’d carried all these years. “Getting rid of Wesley wasn’t my idea.” I stared at her and hoped she could feel the anger I had to conceal and endure because of her plan.

“You’re right. It wasn’t and I think it’s time we tell Nadia what really happened.”

“You do?” I couldn’t believe what she was saying. Telling the truth meant risking her freedom. I wanted a relationship with my daughter, but I didn’t want to lose my mother in the process.

“Sit.” She nodded towards the chair next to her. “There’s something I wanna tell ya. I wanted to wait until after Thanksgiving, but you need to know now.”

I did as I was told. I watched as my mother’s mouth moved and the words that came out felt like arrows aimed directly at my heart. I sat until the pain was too unbearable to take anymore. The next thing I remembered was running out the house, past Nadia, who was standing alone on the front porch, and to my car. I opened my purse and removed my emergency travel bottle of wine. I finished it as soon as I left the driveway.  I don’t remember the drive to the house, but somehow I made it.

“Hey. Where’ve you been?” My husband asked.

“I went to see Nadia.” I sat at the kitchen table and the floodgates opened. All the tears I’d held poured out.

“I knew this wasn’t a good idea.” He sat next to me.

“I don’t wanna hear it,” I said,looking up at him and wiping my eyes.

An instant scowl rested on his face. “Have you been drinking?” He grabbed my purse from my hand and looked inside. He pulled out three empty bottles.

“You promised you’d stop.” He pushed the purse back towards me. “This is your idea of taking care of yourself? Taking care of my unborn child.” He screamed holding the bottles in his hand.

“Don’t start with me today, John. I’m not in the mood.”

“You think you’re the only one going through something, Rachel? Well, guess what, you’re not. I stood right in front of my daughter at the foot of the grave of a man I killed for you,” he jabbed his finger towards me, “and for her… and I couldn’t say a word. She tried to attack me because she still thinks I killed her father. I went through all that without taking one drink.” He stood. “This baby is our second chance. We screwed things up with Nadia, but now we have an opportunity to get it right.” He motioned towards my stomach.

“We or I? I screwed things up. That’s what you mean, right? You were the hero that swooped in and saved us.”

“In my daughter’s eyes I’m the enemy,” he reminded me.

“Well, you’ll be happy to know my mother wants us to tell her the truth.”

John’s eyes widened. “What? The hell we are. We’re going to get through to her some way, but telling her or anyone else the truth is out of the question.” He shook his head. “I’m meeting with the attorney to sign the paperwork and things will be finalized with my dad’s estate. After that, we’re going back to Texas. We’ll figure this out together. The two of us.” He eyed the bottles then looked at me.

I was ready for this nightmare to be over. I didn’t want it to happen this way, but if John didn’t think of something my only choice would be honesty. I may lose my mother and my husband, but I’ll have the one person I’ve wanted all these years…my daughter….my Nadia.

Written By: L.A. Lewis

Edited By: Gina Johnson Phillips

Posted in Blog Series

Blog #7: If These Trees Could Talk

I stared at Rachel until I couldn’t stare any longer. My anger was at an all-time high.

“I’m outta here.” I’d almost made my escape before she spoke again.

“You need to hear this.” Rachel remained in her spot. Arms folded looking at me like she had some top-secret information that she was itching to share.

“I don’t know what information you have, but you can keep it.” I stepped back in the room so she could clearly hear what I had to say. “You don’t have the right to say his name. You don’t even have the right to utter the initials of his name.” I smelled the scent of her expensive perfume flowing through my nostrils.

“Then why’d you turn around?” Rachel questioned.

“To remind you to keep my father’s name off your lips. Using him to lure me back in your life won’t work.”

“First of all, I never mentioned your father’s name. Second, luring you back in my life was never my intention. Do I want a relationship with my daughter, yes…of course I do, but not like this.” She wagged her finger between the two of us. “I want you when you want to be back.”

“That’ll never happen. You had the chance to be a mother and you blew it.”

Rachel’s eyes watered. “If you only knew the truth. If you only knew the lengths I went to in order to protect you. I’m not the enemy. The man you’ve spent your life grieving over is.”

I don’t know what happened. I don’t remember lifting my arm, opening my hand, and connecting with her face, but the sting of my palm indicated that I’d done just that. I slapped my mother.

Rachel’s hand flew to her left cheek. Her wide eyes and opened mouth were aimed in my direction.

“That made you feel better? Doing what you’ve been wanting to do all these years?”

I thought it would. I’d dreamed of the day I could inflict pain on her. I wanted her to feel what I felt all those years ago, but surprisingly I didn’t feel good at all. I didn’t feel anything actually. The hurt was still there. Guess there’s no passing it on to someone else no matter how hard you try.

“I hope you do because that’s your one and only pass. The next time you strike me I will strike back.” Her red eyes showed she meant business.

“You don’t scare me. I’m not the same little girl you used to lock in the room for hours at a time and dare me to make a sound or else. She’s long gone.” I assured her.

Rachel tilted her head to the side and glared at me. “You think you know so much about what went on back then, but you don’t. You have no idea the hell I went through living in that house. Yes, I locked you in the room and dared you to make a sound because I wanted to protect you from his wrath. I knew when it was going to be one of those days and I didn’t want you to get pulled in. When Wesley had an episode, no one was safe.”

“You’re talking about him like he was some kind of animal? He was nothing like that and you know it!” I felt the tightness of my fist. I wanted to show respect, because after all she is my mother, but I couldn’t help what I was feeling on the inside. She’d pushed every button to get me riled up. This is the very reason I’ve stayed away all these years. Grandma Hazel preached over and over again how I’d cut my life short by dishonoring my parents, mainly my mother being that my dad was no longer here. Though life was rough, I still wanted to live it for as long as I could. I was doing good until this very moment.

“You were blessed to see him at his best. I shielded you from seeing the true Wesley. I risked my life for yours and the thanks I got was disrespect. I could’ve been trifling and allowed him to do the same to you. Let him use you as a punching bag when he was drunk or had lost all his money gambling.”

“If things were that bad why’d you stay? You seemed to be really happy when he was buying you clothes and jewelry and cars. Was he a monster then?” I asked waiting for her to admit that he was good to her.

“Yes he was. Those things didn’t mean nothing to me. What I wanted more than anything was out of that house. Out of his life, but I was stuck. There was no way out until…”

“Until John shot him. Is that why you refused to testify against him? You were happy he was dead. Did John kill my dad for you?” My heart raced and no amount of deep breathing would calm it down.

“You sound foolish. I don’t rejoice over someone’s death, not even someone who treated me like trash.”

I didn’t believe one word she spoke. She had plenty of time to cook up these lies to win me over, but I wasn’t as gullible as she must’ve thought.

“Was it your idea for John to go there that night? Did you set him up?” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know the answer, but I needed to know. I had to know the truth.

“What? Hell no! Why would I do something like that?”

“People go to great lengths for freedom. Listening to you just now put a whole new spin on this mystery I’ve been trying to solve all these years. I know my dad wasn’t the most liked man in Bayou, but I’d never heard anyone hate him enough to want him dead… until now.”

“You sound ridiculous.” She laughed nervously.

“Do I? For the first time since his death I think I’m finally getting the answers I needed.” I stepped within inches of her face. “I know you had something to do with this and you better believe I won’t stop until I get to the truth.”

Rachel took a deep breath. “Go ahead. Get to the bottom, but be prepared for what you discover once you get there. I’m telling you I had nothing to do with what happened that night.”

“Y’all ironed out all ya differences yet?” Grandma Hazel walked past us and sat in her recliner.

“If only it were that easy.” Rachel spoke barely above a whisper.

“Doll, someone’s at the door for ya.” Grandma Hazel announced with a smirk.

I happily made my escape from Rachel. I couldn’t stand hearing her defame my father’s name another minute. The man I knew and loved, the man I still love, was nothing like the person she’d described. My dad gave me the world, even when Rachel protested that I didn’t need anything else. He made it his business to keep a smile on my face and after his death she successfully wiped it away.

I opened the door hoping to see Tasha or Tony standing on the other side, but Grandma Haze’s pleasant look told me it wasn’t.

“Surprise!” Robert wrapped his arms around me as soon as I walked onto the porch.              “My grandmother told me you were in town so I decided to stop by and see ya.” He stepped back and licked his lips as he scanned every curve of my body.

I moved away from his embrace. “What do you want Robert?”

“Ah, baby girl. What kind of greeting is that for the man you love.” One side of his mouth lifted into a sly smile.

“I would hardly call it love.” I leaned against the wall and crossed my arms.

“Really, because I have papers that proves otherwise.” He closed the space that I’d intentionally placed between us.

“You need to go.” I pointed to his car..

“You need to grow the hell up and stop playing these childish games. How long did you think it would be before I found you?”

“I wasn’t hiding.”

“So, you changed your number and left in the middle of the night because you wanted me to find you?” He questioned. “I’ve searched for months. Wondering if you were okay. If you’d come home, but you never did. Thank God my grandmother talks a lot, otherwise I’d never known you were back here. Honestly, this was the last place I thought to look. You vowed you’d never step foot in this town again.”

“Which shows how much you really know about me. I may not like Bayou, but I love my grandmother and it’ll take more than some bad memories to keep me away from her.”

I heard a noise and looked behind me to make sure no one was listening. There was no sign of Rachel or Grandma Hazel. I needed to get Robert away from here. What I didn’t need right now was advice about my life from Grandma Hazel.

“Still haven’t told your family.” He shook his head.

“Neither have you. If you had I’m sure your grandmother would’ve been ready to share it.”

“I was allowing you to take the lead, but since I see your leading gets us nowhere, I guess it’s time for me to take over. You can join me or I can do it alone, but before I leave here your family will know the truth about what happened in the woods and everything else you’ve excluded them from.”

 

Posted in Blog Series

Blog #6: A Family Affair

       I watched as Tasha fumbled with her fingers, waiting to hear me say that I won’t hate her once she tells me whatever news she had to share.
       “Well?” Her eyes met mine. “Tell me you won’t hate me after I tell you this.”
       I stood next to Tasha. “Sit down.” I pointed to the step.
       We sat, and for a moment we were both silent. I took my friend’s hand in mine. “I could never hate you. Whatever you have to tell me can’t be that bad.” After the day I’d had, I needed it not to be that bad.
       Her eyes watered.
       It was that bad. I braced myself.
       “I’ve wanted to tell you this ever since I found out, but I couldn’t. Mom made it clear that we weren’t to say a word to anyone until the right time. I guess it’s time.” Tasha shrugged her shoulders.
       “Then tell me.” I urged her.
       “You remember a few years ago when my mom was sick a lot?” Tasha asked.
       I nodded. I remembered it well because Tasha called every day worried that she would lose her mother.
       “Well, when we were told she had breast cancer, she immediately thought the worse.    She felt like she was going to die and wanted me to know the truth about our family.”
        The screen door creaked open behind us.
        “You told her yet?” Karen questioned right before she downed whatever clear liquid she had in her glass. Most likely vodka. Her drink of choice.
        “I’m trying to tell her now.” Tasha slightly turned in Karen’s direction. She kept that position for a second before rolling her eyes and facing me again. If the situation weren’t so frustrating, I’d probably laugh at the antics between Tasha and Ms. Karen. That woman has worked Tasha’s nerves ever since I could remember and probably before that. I’d never understand why Tasha chose to stay here in Bayou and deal with Karen for the rest of her life.
        “It don’t take that damn long to tell somebody y’all cousins. Hell just say it. Nadia, ya’ll cousins. See how easy that was?” Karen turned the empty glass to her mouth. “I need a drink.” She walked back inside leaving Tasha and me sitting there in a stunned silence.     Mine was from shock and Tasha’s was probably from being pissed that once again, Karen had to take over and do things her way.
       “Cousins?” I scooted away from Tasha so I could really see her face as she explained her mother’s words.
        Tasha took a deep breath. “When she was sick and thought she was dying she..”
        “Can you skip all that and just tell me what she meant?” My level of frustration and aggravation was at an all time high. I no longer had the time or desire for this rollercoaster conversation Tasha was taking me on.
         “We’re first cousins. My mother and your mother are sisters,” Tasha explained.
         I absorbed her words and no matter how I tried, I still couldn’t get them to make sense in my head. “What do you mean they’re sisters? What are you saying my grandparents gave your mother up or something?”
         Tasha shook her head. “Not exactly.”
        “Then what exactly?” I stood up and folded my arms. I needed answers and Tasha’s meek and mild attitude wasn’t helping.
        Tasha stood too. “We have the same grandfather. Your grandfather had an affair with my grandmother and my mother and Aunt Faye were the products of that affair.”
        Immediately the name entered my mind. “The children across the street. The children across the street were your mom and aunt. The children across the street were my grandfather’s children?”
        Tasha nodded.
        Now it all made sense. Now I understood why the hate was so thick between my grandmother and the children across the street. Of course she hated them. Who wouldn’t?
        “I know this is a lot to take in.” Tasha talked and I barely listened. I was still imagining what it was like for my grandmother to walk out of her house everyday knowing the children playing in the yard right across the street belonged to her husband.
        “I have to go.” I was in my car and pulling off before Tasha could say another word.   The short drive to my grandmother’s felt like an eternity. I wanted to go to her and hug her and tell her how sorry I was for all her pain. I know I didn’t cause it, but I still felt the need to comfort her.
        “Grandma Hazel!” I called for her as soon as I walked through the door. “Grandma Hazel!” I called again when she didn’t answer. I walked in the living room where I’d left her relaxing in her chair. She was still there with her arms folded over her stomach.
        “Grandma Hazel.”
        She didn’t move. My heart stopped beating as I watched her closely. I couldn’t see her chest rise and fall. I panicked.
        “Grandma Hazel!” I shouted as I shook her forcefully.
        Her eyes popped open. “What the hell! What’s wrong with you? You trying to give me a heart attack!” Her wide eyes stared at me.
        Relief flooded my body. “I thought you were dead.” I was still trying to calm my breathing.
        “Dead? Hell I’m sleep, but I’m half dead now.” She held her hand over her chest.
        “Don’t ever do that to me again.” I leaned down and hugged her.
        “You feeling better? You rushed out of here like the house was on fire,” She asked when I finally let her go and sat on the stool next to her chair.
        “Why’d you stay?” I asked the questioned I’d wondered ever since I was able to fully process the news I’d just received.
        “I couldn’t run behind you. I’m not as fast as I used to be.” Grandma Hazel laughed.
         I shook my head. “That’s not what I mean. Why’d you stay with Grandpa Will?”
         Grandma Hazel’s eyes narrowed. I understood the look of confusion very well. “What kind of question is that? You wanna know why I stayed with my husband?”
        “I want to know why you stayed after he cheated on you. After he had children with another woman.”
        She tilted her head and her eyebrows squished together. It was apparent she never intended for me to find out. “Who told you?”
        “A better question is why didn’t you? You hated those people and now I get it. Why couldn’t you tell me that?”
        Grandma Hazel looked away. “Your Grandfather was a good man.” She looked at me.          “He was a good provider and a good father. He made his mistakes and I forgave him for it. There was nothing left to say about it.” She raised her brows and gave me a quick nod. Her nod was her period, final,no more questions to be asked or answered.
        “That’s your story and you’re sticking to it right?” A voice came from the entryway.
         I looked up and into the face of the last person in this world I wanted to see today… or ever for that matter.
         I stood. “What are you doing here?”
        “I heard you were here. I wanted to see you.” Rachel walked into the living room and sat her designer purse on the sofa. She wore a fitted dress and heels, her signature look.   Nadia could never remember a time her mother didn’t wear a dress and heels.
        “Hey Mother.” Rachel leaned down and kissed Grandma Hazel’s cheek.
        “Hey.” Grandma Hazel was unusually quiet. Intuition said she’d set this up. I should’ve known there was a reason she kept mentioning Rachel yesterday.
        “You look beautiful.” Rachel’s watery eyes scanned my body.
         She stepped closer to me.
         I stepped back.
         She looked hurt, but it didn’t matter.
         “I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation when I walked in. I’m guessing your grandmother finally told you the truth.” Rachel looked at me for answers.
         I remained silent. I had no words for her.
         “She ain’t hear nothing from me.” Grandma Hazel suddenly found her ability to speak again. “I don’t talk about it and I don’t want to hear about it.”
         Rachel laughed. “I should’ve known it didn’t come from you. No, it couldn’t have come from you because if it had you’d tell it all. Isn’t that right?” Rachel looked at       Grandma Hazel who’d become a mute once again.
         “Right Mother?” Rachel folded her arms. “You wouldn’t have your granddaughter running around here with a half truth would you?”
         Grandma Hazel stood and walked in front of Rachel. “I called you here to fix things between you and your daughter. My life is none of y’all’s concern. I don’t wanna hear about this ever again do I make myself clear?” She looked back and forth between Rachel and me.
         “Very clear.” Rachel’s narrowed eyes showed she wasn’t done, but I was… for now.
I tried to hold it in, but I couldn’t remain silent a minute longer. “I’m so sick of all the secrets in this family. I’ve been here two days and everywhere I turn there’s another secret to be discovered. Why can’t we all be honest for once? This is why I don’t come home. I always leave more confused and with more questions than before I came.”
         Grandma Hazel looked at me. “You’re right, there are more secrets to be discovered, but the only ones you should be concerned with are the ones your mother’s carrying around, not mine.” Grandma Hazel walked to the entryway then stopped. She turned back to Rachel and me. “You walked in here so anxious to share the truth. Why don’t you start by telling your daughter the truth about her father.”
        With those words, she was gone. Rachel and I were left alone, smothered by the silence that wrapped around us. More questions. More secrets. More lies. The life I had when I arrived in Bayou two days ago felt like a distant memory. Who are these people? Hell, who am I?

Written by: L.A. Lewis

Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson

Posted in Blog Series

Blog 5: The Children Across the Street

      Grandma Hazel stared at me for what felt like eternity. I mentally prepared myself for this announcement that my grandmother was struggling to tell me.
     “Grandma, what is it?” I finally asked.
     “Doll, your mother’s pregnant.”
     “Pregnant?” My knees felt weak. Thank God there was a chair right behind me. Grandma Hazel sat next to me and placed her hand on my leg.
     “I didn’t want you to find out like this, but you needed to know before someone else decided to open their big mouth.” She looked up as if Ms. Betty could hear her.
     All kinds of thoughts ran through my mind. My mother, the woman who was responsible for setting my dad’s killer free, has gone on with her life as if nothing ever happened.
     “So much for God answering prayers,” I whispered.
     “What’s that ‘posed to mean?” Grandma Hazel leaned closer.
     I looked at the weariness in my Grandma’s eyes and I hated that I was the cause of so much of her pain. The one thing she wanted more than anything was for me to mend my relationship with Rachel.
     “Do you remember that day in court?” I lowered my head to avoid her sadness. I don’t know if she shook her head or not, so I just continued. “I remember it clearly. I sat on the front row behind the prosecutor who looked to be only a few years older than me. I couldn’t believe my dad’s fate lied in the hands of child, but I still trusted that the solid case against John, and my testimony, would lock him up for life. I just knew we had this, and then it happened. The Defense Attorney called Rachel to the stand and I was told I wouldn’t testify.” I paused for a moment as the floor became a blur through my tears.
     “Doll, you can’t keep doing this.” Grandma Hazel finally spoke.
     “I watched as Rachel stood and sashayed to the front of the courtroom. I still remember the tight black dress and red blazer she wore. I can hear the sound her six inch heels made as she strutted across the wooden floor. She demanded the attention of every man in there, including John. The man who murdered my father sat across from me with lust in his eyes for my mother.”
     Grandma Hazel rubbed her hand over my leg. “She can’t help how men look at her, Doll. Ever since she started developing guys were drooling over her. Your Grandpa Will used to have a fit when he’d catch one of em’ looking.”
     Grandma Hazel’s words flew right over me. My mind was still deeply engrossed on the day Rachel assisted in freeing my dad’s killer.
     “She stood on that stand, raised her hand, and swore to tell the truth. She swore… on the bible to tell the truth, and she lied. She looked at that judge, who looked at her as if she was some kind of rare delicacy that he was hungry to devour, she looked at him and she lied. She told him she believed what John did was an accident. An accident.” I didn’t realize I was screaming until I glanced over into the widened eyes of the couple sitting across from us.
     “Doll, you have to calm down,” Grandma Hazel whispered right before she offered them a smile and a wave.
     Reliving that day always caused my heart to race. I felt the same amount of rage twenty years later as I felt sitting there listening to my mother letting my dad’s killer off the hook. To this day, I still can’t believe it. Still didn’t want to believe that she cared so little for the man who loved her more than anything. My dad would’ve never forgiven so easily if the situation were reversed. He would’ve spent his entire life seeking justice, just as I thought we would if by chance things didn’t turn out our way, but Rachel’s testimony showed me I was all alone on this quest to seek justice.
     I stood and wiped my eyes. “I’m ready go.” I told Grandma Hazel, who wasted no time grabbing her purse and joining me. I’m sure I’d embarrassed her enough.
     We drove back to Grandma Hazel’s house in silence. I walked her inside and waited for her to settle in her recliner.
     “I’m about to take a drive. I’ll be back later.” I leaned down and kissed her cheek.
     “You going back to the grave?” Grandma Hazel removed her shoes then lifted the foot rest on the chair.
     “No, not today. I just need some time to clear my head.”
     I knew exactly where I was going, but I couldn’t tell her. I didn’t need a lecture. What I needed was a friend and there were only two people in Bayou that fit that description.  Since Tony was dealing with his own issues, that only left Tasha.
     I parked in front of her mother’s house, which happened to be her grandmother’s old house. Tasha’s mom, the oldest of five, inherited it once her grandmother passed away. This was the house that sat directly across the street from Grandma Hazel and Grandpa Will’s old house. Tasha’s mom and her mom’s siblings were the infamous, “children across the street.” The children Grandma Hazel and Rachel couldn’t stand. I’d never heard Uncle Ken say anything about them one way or the other. I assumed he held the same sentiments as his mother and little sister though.
     Tasha’s mom, , stood on the front porch with a too tight jogging suit on, and glared in my direction. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to figure out who was parked in her driveway. I stepped out and walked to the porch.
     “Hello Ms. Karen, is Tasha home?”
     She studied me a minute longer before she spoke. “Yeah, she’s inside.”
     “I’m Nadia Freeman, Tasha’s friend.” I reintroduced myself. It’s been years since we’ve seen each other, so I understand the look of confusion. In fact, I expected it.
     “Nadia Freeman.” The way she wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something foul, told me she knew exactly who I was. What I didn’t know was what I did to deserve such a greeting. In the past she was the only person who seemed to approve of our friendship. Tasha and I would hang out at her house. It was the only place we didn’t have to worry about someone running back and reporting to Grandma Hazel or Rachel that we were together. The whole town must’ve known about the rift between the two families. Everyone but us kids.
     “Is Tasha home?” I asked again, ignoring the look she was still giving me.
     “Tasha!” She slightly turned her head, and kept her eyes on me as she hollered inside the house. “You have company.”
     She refused to look away and I returned the gesture. I know Ms. Karen hadn’t seen me in a while, but you’d think she’d remember that I don’t intimidate easily, not as much as she used to fuss at Tasha and I about our attitudes.
     The door opened behind her. “Hey Nadia.” Tasha came out looking like a much younger version of her mother. She smiled as she made her way to embrace me. Something we couldn’t do at the store. What I loved most about Tasha is that I never had to say much for her to know what I needed. We were in sync that way. Years and distance didn’t have anything on our connection.
     Tasha released me and we both started to head up the steps when Karen stood at the top step, blocking our entrance. She folded her arms and smiled a wicked smile.
     “Mom, can you move?” Tasha tried to lightly move her to the side, but Karen didn’t budge..
     “You two have been friends a very long time.” Karen said, her smile still plastered on her face. “The older you get the more you start to look alike. Now I see the resemblance everyone else saw when you two were little girls.”
     “Mom.” Tasha left my side and stood next to her mother on the top step. “Go inside.” Tasha ordered.
     “Why? Because I said you two look alike?” Karen laughed. “You’re just as bad as those people.” She pointed to the empty land across the street where my grandparent’s house once sat. From what I heard, years after they purchased the land and built the house Grandma Hazel currently occupies, the little old wooden house they used to live in mysteriously burned down. No one ever figured out what happened, but arson was highly suspected. Everything in the house had been turned off so there was no way it was from a malfunction with wires or anything like that.
    “Stop it now.” Tasha narrowed her eyes.
     Karen pointed in my direction. “This is a grown woman. She’s not a baby and neither are you. Why shouldn’t she know the truth? Hell I told you a long time ago. She’s your friend isn’t she?” Karen questioned. “What? You think she wouldn’t want to be friends once she knows that the two of you are related?”
     Tasha kept her eyes fixed on her mother. I could see the fire in them from the side view I held of her. I felt her anger even through the space that separated us, but my thoughts were still locked around her mother’s words. We’re related? How?
     “If a friend can’t handle the truth, then she was never really your friend.” Karen swirled around and left us standing there alone.
     I didn’t know if I could mentally handle any more than I’d already been exposed to these past few days, but once again, curiosity wouldn’t let me leave without answers. It seemed that every turn I made in this town exposed more secrets.
     “What was that about?” I stepped closer to Tasha.
     “I’m so sorry about that.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes at the space her mom once preoccupied.
     “Save the apologies and tell me what she’s talking about? What does she mean we’re related? Related how and why is it such a big secret?”
     Tasha’s eyes watered. “I don’t agree with how she did it, but my mom’s right. It’s time for you to know the truth, but please don’t hate me.” Her voice cracked at that request.
     The thought of hating Tasha never crossed my mind, but for some reason I knew what I was about to hear was about to change our relationship forever.

Posted in Blog Series

Blog 4: Mommy Dearest

     I spent the next few days at Grandma Hazel’s swimming in emotions. My heart was breaking for Tony. I tried to keep talking to him, to keep his mind off his paternity issues, but nothing I said helped. I was seeing a side of him that I had never seen before. Especially when it came to Aunt Claudia. He’d always been such a momma’s boy. Would fight if anyone even thought of saying ‘yo momma.’ Now he’s the one scheming to bring her down. It didn’t make sense.
     “Doll, you in there?” Grandma Hazel called from the other side of the bathroom     door. Of course, I was the one in the bathroom. No one else was occupying this huge house besides the two of us.
     “Yes ma’am. You need me?” I kept my eyes closed praying the answer was no. I’d just ran a hot tub of water and planned to sit in it until it turned ice cold. My body was tired but sleep refused to visit me in this house. I don’t know if it’s the Pepto Bismol colored walls or the pink canopy bed, but something wouldn’t allow me to rest.
     “I need you to take me for a run when you get dressed,” Grandma Hazel instructed.
     I dismissed the thoughts of a relaxing bath. I washed up, got dressed, and prayed this outing wouldn’t take long, but knowing Grandma Hazel it was going to take most of the day.
     “Where are we going?” I stood next to Grandma Hazel while she locked the front door.
     “We’re going to the hospital.” She closed the screen door and passed by me.
     “To the hospital? Who’s in the hospital?” I assisted her down the steps and to the car.
     “Betty Jean. You remember Betty Jean Watkins?” Grandma settled in the passenger seat.
     “Of course.”
     “If you didn’t remember her, I knew you’d remember her grandson, Robert.” Grandma Hazel hit my leg and smiled.
     Heat flushed to my face. Robert Watkins was my first. Not my first love, but my first lover if that’s possible. Could you have a lover without the love? Well, he was my first sexual experience. He was my partner in crime in the woods. The woods across the street from Grandma Hazel’s house. The woods that could tell all my secrets if it could talk. Thank God, the woods can’t talk.
     “I knew that name would jog your memory. You used to be so crazy about that lil red freckled faced boy. He’s the only reason you were always so ready for church on Sunday mornings.” Grandma Hazel laughed. “He’s a big-time doctor in California now. You should call him. He’s not married.”
     I wasn’t crazy about Robert. I was crazy about the attention he gave me.
     “What’s wrong with Ms. Betty?”
     I blew the horn and waved at Mr. Jim who was sitting out in his front yard with his newspaper. Mr. Jim lived next door but not right next door. There was a field of empty land between the two houses. It used to be Mr. Jim’s farm many years ago. I remembered the hours we’d spend picking peas, beans, and corn. I hated that garden with a passion, but I loved the meals.
     “What’s wrong with her? She’s old child. Everything’s wrong with her.” Grandma Hazel laughed.
     I was about to point out that Ms. Betty and Grandma Hazel were the same age, but I figured I’d keep that comment to myself.
     I put Grandma Hazel’s handicapped sign on my rearview mirror and parked right in front of the hospital. I listened as Grandma Hazel chatted about nothing in particular. When we approached the hospital doors something hit me out of nowhere. I was fine until those glass doors slid opened and then I froze. I literally froze. My feet wouldn’t take another step.
     “What’s the matter?” Grandma Hazel looked up at me.
     “I…I…” I couldn’t speak. I hadn’t stepped foot in that hospital since the night my daddy was killed. Everything came rushing back to me. I felt sick. I tried not to give in to it, but I couldn’t stop the images from coming. It was like a movie playing on repeat. I could hear the doctors shouting orders to nurses and other doctors. I saw my daddy laying on the gurney being rushed through the hallway leaving a trail of blood behind. What smelled of disinfectant no longer reminded me of cleanliness. Now it reminded me of death.
     I mindlessly followed Grandma Hazel to the elevators. The very elevator that escorted my dad’s nearly lifeless body up to surgery. A surgery that never happened because by the time they reached the operating room he was gone. I refused to take another step. The elevator doors opened and closed and I just stood there staring, reliving that painful day. Grandma Hazel must’ve understood because she pushed the button and we waited until elevator doors opened once again.
     Grandma Hazel followed the nurse’s directions and led us straight to  Ms. Betty’s room. She was lying in bed with her eyes closed. Just like Grandma Hazel, age had taken over Ms. Betty’s body. Every wrinkle, every age spot, and every grey strand of hair showed a woman who’d walked this earth long enough to earn every geriatric badge that she had.
     “Hey Betty.” Grandma Hazel stood at her bed and touched her hand.
     I leaned against the wall and out of their way.
     Ms. Betty slowly opened her eyes. “Hazel,” Ms. Betty’s voice was soft and raspy, but very welcoming of Grandma. “How you doing Hazel?”
     “A lot better than you,” Grandma Hazel teased.
     Ms. Betty smacked her lips. “Ain’t nothing wrong with me. I told those people I just need a little Castor Oil and I’ll be fine.”
     My face tightened and my jaws tingled at the mention of that nasty stuff Grandma Hazel used to shove down my throat whenever I wasn’t feeling well.
     “You better listen to these doctors, Betty or else I’m coming to stay and you know you don’t want that,” Grandma Hazel warned.
     “Oh hush, Hazel. I ain’t doing nothing to these people.”
     “Well good.” Grandma Hazel fussed with Ms. Betty’s covers. Those two fought like sisters and they loved each other just as hard.
     The room was quiet for a second.
     “Hazel, who’s that you got with you?” Ms. Betty lifted her hand in my direction.
     Grandma Hazel smiled. “That’s my grandbaby. You remember Nadia, don’t you? Rachel’s girl.”
     “Yeah.” Ms. Betty gave a slight nod. “Come on over here chile let me look at you. I don’t think I’ve seen you in quite some time.”
     As Grandma Hazel sat next to Ms. Betty’s bed, I couldn’t help but notice Ms. Betty assessing me from head to midsection, that’s all she could see lying down.
     “You just as pretty as your Mama.”
     I forced a smile. Being compared to Rachel gave me nothing to smile about. My relationship with my mother ended the day she testified at John’s trial. I know the Bible says to forgive, but damn the dirt was still fresh on my dad’s grave, and she had already forgiven his murderer. At that point, I knew she and I no longer had anything to talk about. I moved out of her house and in with Grandma Hazel until I graduated and moved to Baton Rouge for college. The day after I graduated from Southern University with my degree in criminal justice, I moved to Atlanta with my college roommate. Building a life in Atlanta was necessary for my sanity, but some things stay with you no matter how far and fast you try to escape them. Rachel’s betrayal was that thing for me.
     “How is Rachel? I haven’t seen her a long time.” Ms. Betty pressed the button on her bed and raised herself up. She looked at me for an answer that I couldn’t provide.
     “She’s doing well. She lives in Texas now,” Grandma Hazel answered.
     “Texas? Is that where she run off to? I didn’t think she’d stay around here, not after…”
     “Betty, don’t you want something to drink?” Grandma Hazel asked quickly.
     Grandma Hazel’s interruption piqued my curiosity.
     “Not after what?” I asked Ms. Betty.
     “Huh?” Ms. Betty narrowed her eyes on me.
     “You were saying you knew Rachel wouldn’t stay after.” I reminded her.
     Grandma Hazel stood. “Betty you look tired. We’re gonna get out of here so you can get your rest and build your strength up.”
     My patience was growing thin with Grandma Hazel. Ms. Betty knew something that  Grandma Hazel didn’t want me to hear. She’d never tried to hide things from me before. Even as a little girl I knew way too much grown up gossip. From the preacher sleeping with most of the women in the congregation to the chief of police who was more crooked than the felons he’d arrested.
     Grandma Hazel and her Wednesday night home Bible Study always turned into a gossiping session and I was always close by to take it all in. I never told anyone though. I knew the consequences of talking outside Grandma Hazel’s house. I learned that lesson the hard way when I told Sister Mary what Grandma Hazel said about her nasty potato salad after church one Sunday. That was the first and only time Grandma Hazel ever tore my legs up with a switch from her fig tree. I was six or seven then. How was I supposed to know that was a secret? I thought Sister Mary knew her potato salad was nasty.
     “I’m so happy you came to see me Hazel. Tell everyone at the church I’ll be back soon.” She smiled as she lowered her headrest.
     “I’ll tell them.” Grandma Hazel held Ms. Betty’s hand and gave it a couple pats before we left.
     “What’s going on?” I asked Grandma Hazel as soon as we were in the elevator. “Ms. Betty was about to say something about Rachel, and you stopped her. Why?”
     Grandma Hazel took a deep breath. “I stopped her because I wanted to tell you myself.”
     “Tell me what?”
     The elevator door opened at the wrong time. We stepped off, but I refused to make another move until she told me what was going on.
     “Tell me what?” I asked again.
     Grandma Hazel was slow to speak.
     “Doll, your mother got married.”
     I tried to pretend that news didn’t bother me. After all, she could do whatever she wanted to do.
     “When?” Curiosity wouldn’t allow me to pretend I didn’t care.
     “Just a few months ago.”
     “Oh.” I looked down at my feet. “That’s nice.”
     “She wanted to talk to you about it herself, but you wouldn’t answer any of her calls.”
     I lifted my head and stared into my grandmother’s tired eyes. “I don’t know how to forgive her for betraying my father.”
     “Your mother didn’t kill your father. You’re gonna have to find a way to let go of that, but I don’t know how you’re going to handle what else I have to tell you.”
     Grandma Hazel took me by the hand and led me to the waiting room across the hall. I knew the moment she made me sit down that what she was about to say was going to rip me apart. I prayed I was wrong…. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.

Posted in Blog Series

Blog 3: Home is Where the Lies Live

“Where are you going?” I rushed behind Tony.

“Home. Where I was told to go.” He never looked back, just kept his fast stride to his car. Tony’s long slim legs moved fast and my five foot tall frame, struggled to catch up to him.

“I’m coming with you.”

Something on the inside told me it wasn’t a good idea to send him alone. My cousin didn’t inherit the Freeman temper everyone said my grandfather possessed, but his demeanor today showed that it could be in there just waiting for the right moment to come out. Grandpa Will died when I was a baby so I never got to witness it firsthand, but I heard enough to know he was no one to mess with.

“Can you tell me what’s going on?” I asked Tony as he zoomed out of the driveway and slung my body against the door.

“So you didn’t know either?” He glanced at me then back at the road. Tony’s brown skin was now pale. He looked like he was going to be sick at any moment. Unlike me, my cousin didn’t handle drama very well, which was funny considering the lifestyle he lived.

Tony pulled off to the shoulder of the road. He leaned his head against the headrest before banging the steering wheel with his fist over and over again.

I watched in confusion as my mild mannered cousin went into a full rage and I still had no idea why.

“Tony,” I lowered my voice so I wouldn’t set him off any more than he already was. When we were children and he’d get upset from the other kids picking on him, I was usually the only person who could make him smile. Tony was always different. Grandma Hazel hated it, and Aunt Claudia and Uncle Ken were too busy with their careers to care one way or the other. I’m sure they knew their son was unlike the other boys, but as long as he didn’t get into any trouble they were fine. I was the one who was there for him. Most days I’d know just what to say to make everything right, but my magic didn’t seem to work too well today.

He looked at me and forced a weak smile. Then he shook his head as tears ran down his face.

“He’s not my father,” he said barely above a whisper.

“What?” I leaned closer to him.

Tony swiped a tear that had just fallen. “You heard me. Kenneth Freeman is not my father. I know this because Kenneth Freeman is sterile and always has been according to the medical records I found.” He laughed a gut wrenching hearty laugh that was filled with pain and anger.

I sat speechless. I needed time to let the words register. Once they did I felt my eyes starting to sting. I didn’t realize I was crying until Tony wiped my cheek with his finger. Something about that revelation tore me apart. If Uncle Ken wasn’t Tony’s father, then that meant Tony and I weren’t blood cousins. The only person, other than Grandma Hazel, that I loved with everything in me wasn’t even related to me.

“This doesn’t change anything, Tony.” I said those words for my benefit as well as his. “We’re still cousins and Uncle Ken is your father in every way that’s important.”

Tony stared straight ahead. He ran his hand over his short wavy hair. He did that when he was stressed. When we were younger he’d twist it around his finger. He used to have long pretty hair. Way too long and much too pretty for a boy, but Aunt Claudia refused to cut it.

“Now I get it. Now  I understand why it’s so easy for her to hate me. It’s not hard when there’s no relation.” He shook his head.

“Grandma Hazel doesn’t hate you. She just doesn’t understand you.” I wanted to believe that so badly myself. Grandma Hazel did have a very strong dislike for Tony. She’d always say he’s not natural. God didn’t mean for him to live like that. She couldn’t accept that his dating pool was open to all genders, races, and sizes. It was too much for Grandma Hazel to handle.

“And she never tried to understand. I wasn’t important enough for her to spend the time to talk to me. Get to know how I was feeling. Do you know how it feels to get rejection from your peers and your family? That hurts.” Tony opened the glove compartment to remove a cleaning wipe. He rubbed it over the dashboard. Tony was a neat freak, unlike myself.

I wanted to tell Tony that it may help if he’d pick a side and stay on it, maybe Grandma Hazel would be more accepting, but even I knew that wasn’t true. The only side she would accept is the female side and nothing else. Tony’s lifestyle was quite complicated. His sexuality depended on his location. In Bayou and surrounding areas, he was a lady’s man. He’d built quite the reputation as being a player, but when he passed the state line he converted into Toni. The transformation was rather impressive, I must admit, but it’s also very dangerous. Tony never chose an average Joe. All his men were high profile in their professions. Most, if not all,  were pro athletes and A-list actors. People who would go to any extent to silence him if they ever felt like exposure was a possibility. I’d read the horror stories and thinking of losing Tony was depressing. I wish I could get him to see that, but he loved playing this game and it paid off well for him financially. He’d never had a real job, but he has condos in New Orleans, Memphis, and Houston, and a very nice two-story house here in Bayou.

“I have no idea who I am.” He spoke more to himself than to me.

The reality of what he’d just said was more powerful than he may have realized. He was right, he had no idea and he hadn’t known for a very long time. Maybe that would explain the split identities. When Tony turned into Toni, he went full force. Nothing about him said male, except for the Adam’s apple that was only slightly evident after he’d had it shaved down. He was searching for the real him. Maybe this reality would help him sort things out.

“So what now?” I rubbed his shoulder.

“I don’t know. My original plan was to burst in the house and confront them and go postal, but you messed that up by coming along and calming me down.” He jabbed my arm playfully.

I was relieved he’d said that. I couldn’t imagine a battle between Tony and Uncle Ken ending too well for either one of them. Tony’s lean and tall, but he’s far from weak. Then there’s Uncle Ken who’s just as tall and slightly bigger, and even though he’s older, I can’t imagine my uncle going down without a fight. It’s not in the Freeman’s to give up. I’d heard that line my whole life.

“You wanna hear something crazy?” Tony asked.

I shifted my body towards him and leaned against the door. “Yeah.”

“I always knew something was odd about our family. I mean look at us. I look nothing like my parents. How can you explain two high yella people making a brown child?” He lifted a brow.

“It is possible you know. Genetics are strange like that. Look at me and Rachel, we look nothing alike.” I stated with more pride than I should probably feel.

“Yeah, but you look like Grandma Hazel. At the very least you can say you resemble someone in this family. I don’t look like none of y’all.” His Bayou accent came out the more he talked.

“Don’t get caught up on skin color and stop jumping to conclusions. You may have proof that Uncle Ken’s not your father, but Aunt Claudia is your mother. Don’t let your anger tear you away from the only parents you’ve ever known. Go and talk with them and hear what they have to say.”

“Talk?” He threw the wet wipe in the cup holder between us.”Talk about what? How they lied to me my whole life? I have a whole family out there that I know nothing about.” Tony pointed out the window. “You don’t play with people’s lives like that. It wasn’t their choice to make. I have a right to know who I am.” His jawline tightened.

“So, what are you going to do?” I asked once I realized he wasn’t receptive to any advice I offered.

He turned his head slowly in my direction. His eyes narrowed, and I swear they looked a lot darker than they did a minute ago. “My parents are frauds. Lying to the people out there is one thing, but to the person you’re supposed to love more than your own life? The person you’re supposed to protect. The one you’re supposed to be there for when…” He took a deep breath.

“When what?” My heart beat harder waiting for the answer, but I got nothing but silence. Five minutes of silence and deep breathing.

“That’s just not right.” He finally spoke. “I think it’s time for them to feel the consequences of their actions.” Tony’s brow lifted.

Uncle Ken and Aunt Claudia were both politicians. She was a councilwoman and he was a state representative ready to throw his name in the hat for Governor. The fact that they’re liars was no secret. It went with their occupation. A scandal of any kind could ruin their careers and reputations. They worked very hard to establish themselves as a power couple. If Tony thought they were going to allow him to tear down everything they’d built, he was wrong. This was not going to end well. I felt it in my spirit.

“Tony, think about what you’re saying. Doing something like that wouldn’t just hurt them, but a lot of other people too. The young people in this community look up to your parents, they always have.”

“Yes, because they don’t know the truth. They don’t know the real Ken and Claudia and I can’t allow them to be fooled any longer. They have everyone fooled, including you.”

I don’t know why that announcement didn’t shake me more than it did. Maybe because a part of me knew something wasn’t right about Uncle Ken and Aunt Claudia. They were too perfect and people like them always made me wonder how much was real and how much was an act. Though they may not be the people they’ve made us believe they were, they’re still family and we protect family, not destroy them. Unless the act is just that unforgivable, which would be the case between Rachel and I.

“You’re quite. I’m sure you’re wondering what I’m talking about, but believe me you’ll find out soon enough.” Tony stated, causing me to turn my attention back to him.

“Actually, my thoughts are about you. I know you want to teach your parents a lesson, but are you ready for everyone to know your business because trust me if you go for them they’re going to come for you and their swing may be a lot harder.” I paused for emphasis. “Don’t open a door to something you’re not ready to release.” I tilted my head and hoped he could  fill in the spaces I’d chosen to leave blank. 

He swiped a tear that was about to fall. “I don’t care about any of that. I want them to hurt the same way they’ve hurt me.  As long as they don’t come out on top then I’m good.”

I couldn’t believe this was the cousin I knew and loved. I understood why he was hurt, but this was on another level. This didn’t feel like a child with paternity issues, this felt a lot deeper and a whole lot darker.

“I’m not saying they were right for hiding this from you, but what if they were trying to protect you from something?” I was grasping for anything at this point. Tony’s rage felt unfamiliar and I didn’t trust that he wouldn’t go to his parent’s and do something crazy.

“Protect me from who? My real family? Why would I need protecting from them?”

He asked the question I couldn’t answer, but there had to be a reason they decided to hide this for so long. I already knew this was going to get worse before it got better. I was prepared to be there for my cousin in any way he needed me. This tangled web that was spun so many years ago was tearing him apart, and I had no idea it would eventually wrap me in it too. 

Posted in Blog Series

Blog 2: Deadly Deception

Beads of sweat dripped down my back. My nails dug into the palm of my hands. The urge to kill grew stronger and stronger the longer I stared into his dark eyes.

“Let’s go.” Grandma Hazel  tugged on my arm.

“I’m not going anywhere.” I started to pull away from my grandmother, but even in the height of anger, my good senses prevailed. Disrespecting Grandma Hazel was something I’d never do.

“Listen.” Grandma Hazel pulled me closer to her. “I don’t have Sally so don’t start nothing.” She barely parted her lips as she spoke.

Sally’s the pistol Grandma Hazel kept underneath her bed.

“I don’t need Sally.” I’d never deny myself the pleasure of feeling the life seeping from his worthless body. I couldn’t say that part out loud from fear of Grandma Hazel thinking I’d gone off the deep end.

John Walker stood at least six feet seven and maybe weighed about two hundred pounds. He was a big man, always had been, but in my eyes and in my mind, he was as small and as cowardly as the crime he’d committed.

John cleared his throat and kept his eyes on Grandma Hazel as he spoke. “I’m sorry I just stopped by to pay my respects.”

The bass in his voice shook me to my core. As cold as it was outside, on the inside I was on fire. I could feel the heat warming my face. My golden skin never disguised my anger.   

“Respects? You came to pay respects? Did you respect him when you killed him?” I inched closer. Grandma Hazel held on a little tighter. “Was it out of respect that you aimed that gun at him and fired?” My voice echoed through the trees surrounding us.

“You need to leave.” My grandma’s hand trembled around my arm. “My grip won’t last much longer and I can’t protect you from the rage this girl’s been holding inside.” She warned him.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He stood a little longer. His weary eyes now stared at me. I glared back and refused to blink. I wanted him to see every ounce of anger I had for him. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hiding behind it, not even for a second.

Without another word, he left.

My breathing was uncontrollable. I hadn’t had a panic attack in a long time, but seeing my father’s murderer standing at his grave triggered a major one. I tried to catch my breath as I sat in the cold grass at the foot of my father’s grave. At times like these he’d know what to say to calm me down, but my calming mechanism, my protector from all things bad, was no longer here. He hadn’t been here for a very long time. Over twenty years as Grandma Hazel reminded me earlier. Twenty-two years to be exact. My family calls it the accident, but what John Walker did was no accident.

“Doll, listen to me.” Grandma Hazel stood over me. “I love you too much to watch you kill yourself over someone like John Walker. Your daddy would not want you living like this.”

Grandma Hazel was usually right, but not this time. My daddy would want me living like this because I’m the only one willing to fight for his justice. Looking for the system to help was no longer an option. That hope faded with each year that passed. I’m my daddy’s only means to justice and it will come.

“Are you listening to me?” Grandma Hazel asked.

“I’m listening.” I stared at the picture on the tombstone of my dad. I remembered that day so well. It was the day of my seventeenth birthday. My dad had surprised me with my first car. It was a light blue Honda Accord that’s still parked behind my Grandma’s house. I don’t drive it but the thought of letting it go makes my heart hurt. That was the last gift my father could give me, and I promised him that I’d keep it forever. When I waved, and drove my brand-new car out of the driveway, I had no idea what I’d be coming home to later on that night. I could still hear their voices as they argued over only God knows what. I followed the commotion to the back door and that’s when it happened. My daddy warned him not to come back there again. He took a step towards John and then there was the shot. One single shot that caused him to drop to his knees.

I didn’t realize how hard I was crying until Grandma Hazel leaned down and started making small circles on my back. That was her way of soothing me when I was upset. As a little girl she’d instruct me to lay on her lap while she’d rub my back and hum Amazing Grace, her favorite hymn. Back then it worked,  but today the anger overrode Grandma Hazel’s touch.

“Let’s go.” Grandma Hazel tugged at my arm again.

I held my finger up signaling that I needed a minute.

I crawled closer to my dad, forgetting about the high priced clothing that I normally took great pride in protecting.

“I’ll give you some time alone.” She smoothed the top of my hair down before she walked away.

“Daddy, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there sooner.” The warm tears streamed down my cheeks. At every visit I apologized. I should’ve been home to save him instead of out joyriding with Tasha.

I sat a while longer until I started feeling better. Even in spirit he had a way of making everything okay.  I stood and brushed off the grass that clung to my wool coat. I blew my daddy a kiss and slowly made my way back to the car.

The drive back to Grandma Hazel’s was filled with so many mixed emotions. I spent the ten-minute drive plotting how I could get away with murder, just as John had. Self-defense was his claim and the jury bought it, but that was no surprise. His dad was the most brilliant legal mind in Bayou. He had a lot of high profile clients from all over the world who paid him good money to make things happen in their favor. He’d never lost a case, and I’m sure it’s because of the stories I’d heard about him. In many of his cases witnesses would either change their stories at the last minute, or in some instances come up missing. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to know who was behind those mysterious disappearances.

“Oh Lord.” Grandma Hazel’s exasperated tone drew my attention to her.

“What’s wrong?”

She pointed towards her house at my cousin Anthony, or Tony as we’d always called him, sitting on the front porch.

My mood instantly lifted. Tony is my favorite cousin. His father, my Uncle Ken, is Grandma Hazel’s oldest child and only son. Growing up, Tony and I lived right next door to each other which was the norm here. Family tend to settle across the street, next door, or even in the same yard as other family members. Tony is the only person in our family who never acted like I was crazy when I shared what I saw the night my father died. No one believed John, sweet quiet John, would ever hurt anyone on purpose. It had to be an accident. That was the only logical explanation.

Tony loved me because I accepted his truth, just as he accepted mine. I loved Tony for who he was designed to be. I didn’t always agree with the way he spent his time, but I was the last person who could judge anyone for the choices they’d made. Grandma Hazel, on the other hand, wasn’t so accepting of Tony or his choices.

“Hey.” I wrapped my arms tightly around Tony, but I could barely feel his arms around me. I stepped back to examine his face. That’s when I saw the moisture in his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” I placed my hand on his shoulder and tried to comfort him the best I could without knowing the cause of his tears.

“Did you know?” He looked past me and directed his question to Grandma Hazel who’d finally made it up the porch.

“What are you talking about?” Grandma Hazel’s narrowed eyes and snappy tone were evidence of  her dislike for her grandson. Her disposition towards Tony was something the public would never see. That’s what I meant when I said we Freeman’s were good at putting on a show for everyone else’s viewing pleasure.

“About my parents. Did you know?” Tony shifted from one leg to the other.

“I know a lot and you wouldn’t be able to handle half of it. I knew you’d find out one day, but the answer you want will not come from me, now go home.” Grandma Hazel stared at Tony for what felt like eternity before she finally disappeared behind the door.

I didn’t know what the conversation was about, but I knew enough to know it wasn’t good. I knew coming back to Bayou I’d risk the chance of being exposed to more family secrets. It always happened, which is why I chose to stay away. Pretending to be normal was much easier around strangers. I’d hoped this issue with Tony was it, but little did I know this was just the beginning. There was so much more I wasn’t prepared to learn or accept.

Written by L.A. Lewis

Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson