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

Posted in Blog Series

Blog 1: Stranger at the Grave

I thought I was done sneaking boys in my grandmother’s house. Who knew at the age of thirty I’d still be doing it. Although, it’s not as bad as it sounds…well maybe it is. I couldn’t help but laugh thinking about Warren and I tiptoeing up the stairs, being careful to skip that one particular step at the very top that creaked with the least bit of pressure.

“Should’ve known I’d find you out here.” Warren’s baritone voice melted the chill I felt just moments before. He stood beside me as I rocked on the porch swing covered with my grandmother’s fuzzy throw that she kept in her special recliner. It had her vanilla scent all over it.

This November, unlike so many I remember here in Louisiana, was a bit cold. My grandmother’s front porch early in the morning had always been my favorite place. I could sit for hours staring across the street at the field that went back as far as the eyes could see. If the woods had a voice, I’d have to stay away and change my identity. I did things there I never would’ve done before the accident. The accident. At least that’s what my family called it. I call it murder and even if no one believed me I know what I saw and it was no accident.

“I have to get going.” Warren leaned down and kissed me, pulling me back from the dark place my mind was about to suck me into.

He always did that for me. It was as if he could sense when I was about to wander into the danger zone, so he’d use his voice…or his hands…or his mouth to pull me out. Whichever tool he used was a welcomed and very pleasurable distraction.

Warren’s from New Orleans, a three hour drive from here, but whenever I was in town he’d sneak in and out to see me. He couldn’t risk ruining his career and his reputation messing around with a woman half his age. It wouldn’t be a good look for New Orleans’ newest Mayor.

Warren was old enough to be my dad, but you’d never know it looking at him. He had the body and stamina of a twenty-year-old. That man never had a problem wearing me out in a very good way. My heart began to race thinking about last night. How my clothes practically melted off when he pulled me into him and kissed me like I was the sweetest flavor he’d ever tasted. It’s been over a month since we’d seen each other and every night he’d made it a point to draw a very good visual of all the things he wanted to do to me once he got his hands on me again, and last night he delivered on every promise. After half an hour, my mind said it was time for a break, but my body was eager to feel what was coming next.

Warren leaned down and  kissed me one last time. I placed my hand on the back of his head and held him close for as long as I could. I took a deep breath and inhaled the spicy scent that still lingered on his shirt. Thoughts of last night had me yearning for more even though I was still trying to regain the feeling in my legs. I can’t even begin to explain how I found the flexibility for some of those positions. What I do know is Jen, my yoga instructor, was worth way more than I’m paying.

Warren pulled away, but just enough so our lips still touched. “Don’t make me take you back upstairs.” He licked his lips, then flashed that sexy smile that showed a row of perfect white teeth. That’s the smile that caused me to lose my clothes the first night we met in Georgia a little over a year ago. The attorney I work for was hosting a charity gala, and hooking up with someone was the last thing on my mind. After months of working overtime to pull off such an elaborate event, the only thing I wanted was a strong drink and my soft bed. By the end of the night I had the drink, the bed, and Warren as a bonus. I couldn’t resist that deep voice that shook my core. That inviting smile that made me forget how tired I’d felt, and that low cut salt and pepper hair that’s always so neat and wavy. Distinguished gentleman was the best way to describe my sixty-five year old secret lover. Being with Warren felt wrong in my head, but from the neck down it felt oh so right.

“I better go.” He looked towards the house where Grandma Hazel was probably just waking up.

This wasn’t the norm for us. We’d usually meet halfway between here and New Orleans. Warren would always have everything laid out and ready for me when I arrived. I had to switch things up this time because Grandma Hazel hadn’t been feeling well, which is why I decided to come down a week earlier than planned. Thanksgiving was next week and I hadn’t celebrated it with my family ever since I moved to Atlanta five years ago. Being away made it easier to come up with an excuse not to come home. Whenever the entire Freeman family gathered in one place there was always hell on the horizon. It didn’t take much for someone to say the wrong thing about the wrong person and tempers would fly. I didn’t miss that at all. Take out and a movie had become my new Thanksgiving tradition. I’d explain to Grandma Hazel how demanding my work load was, and even though she’d pout, she’d understand and I’d be off the hook yet another year. My luck ran out this this year, and Grandma Hazel poured the guilt on thick. I had no choice but to come.

Warren’s swagger commanded my attention as he made his way to his SUV. When he pulled off the silence resumed. I almost forgot how quiet it was here. Living in Atlanta had trained my ears to hear sounds not so common here in the Bayou.

My mind instantly drifted back to Warren. After every visit I wondered if he’d still participate in our secret love affair if he knew me…the real me. If he knew my family and not the life we’d created for the public’s viewing pleasure.

“Doll!” I heard my Grandma calling me by the nickname she’d given me so many years ago. She said I looked just like one when I was born. Everyone else just called me Nadia. I loved to hear Grandma Hazel calling me by my nickname. It almost made me sound innocent. Grandma Hazel knew I was far from innocent, yet she still called me Doll, and that’s why I loved her so much. She loved me in spite of my many mistakes.

“Out here,” I said loud enough for her to hear. Grandma Hazel was starting to lose her hearing, but she refused to get a hearing aid. She said hearing aids were  for old people. Not sure what you’d call an eighty-six-year old woman, but apparently you didn’t call her old.

I watched as she opened the screen door and slowly made her way to the swing which was only a few steps away. Sadness invaded my body as I watched how slow she crept along now. She definitely wasn’t the same woman who used to play in the field with my cousins and me when we were growing up. Age had taken its toll on her and robbed her of all her spunk. I hate age.

Out of all her grandchildren, I was the only one who inherited most of her features and all of her disposition. I’ve seen pictures of Grandma Hazel back in the day, and if I didn’t know better I’d swear it was me. It would be hard for anyone to tell the difference with our almond-shaped hazel eyes and sandy colored hair. Grandma Hazel’s is now a beautiful grey. She keeps it pulled back in a ponytail that hangs midway her back. I’d contemplated cutting mine, but she’d kill me if I did. “A woman’s hair is her glory,” is what she preached over and over again. So for now, my unruly curly mane is here to stay.

Grandma Hazel grunted as she sat next to me.

I held onto her frail arm so she wouldn’t fall.

“Thank ya, chile.” She patted my leg. “You going to see Rachel?” Grandma Hazel looked out towards the road. Unlike most people who’d tend to ease into difficult conversations, Grandma Hazel always dove right in. Starting the day talking about Rachel  meant that today was already shot to hell and I should go back to bed and try again tomorrow.

I sat silently and watched her until she turned in my direction.

“I asked you a question.” Grandma Hazel tried to sound firm.

“A question you already know the answer to.”

She shook her head and turned her attention back to the clearing across the street. “At some point you gotta let it go. You can’t keep holding on to all that stuff. It’s been almost twenty years. That situation’s holding you hostage and you’ll never be able to move on until you let it go.”

“That may be easy for you, but I’m not so forgiving.”

“Rachel has moved on with her life. She’s happy. The only person your misery’s hurting is you.”

I folded my arms in protest.

“Your momma loves you.” Grandma Hazel used her feet to help me push us back and forth on the long porch swing. I had some great conversations on this swing. Ate some of the best homemade peach ice cream I’d ever tasted, and cried some of the most exhausting tears I’d ever cried, right here on this old white swing. The funny thing was, every memory I had of this swing involved Grandma Hazel. I guess in a way you could say she was my best friend. She worked my nerves with her unwanted advice about my mother. The woman I refused to call Mom. To me she’s just Rachel. I’d never give her a title she didn’t deserve.

“Love? She doesn’t know the meaning of the word love. If she did she never would’ve done what she did. She never loved my dad and she doesn’t love me either. She made that point clear during the trial.” There was very little my grandmother could do to get under my skin, but talking about Rachel got in there deep.

I stood  up and made my way to the front door.

“Where you going?” Grandma Hazel asked.

“I’m going to visit my father.” I barely had the screen door opened before she started again.

“You can’t keep doing that, Doll.”

With my hand still on the door handle, I turned to her. “Doing what?”

She lowered her head and her eyes shot up at me. She gave me the ‘you know damn well what I’m talking about’ look.

“You need anything from town?” I asked before she had an opportunity to say anything else.

“Nope.” Grandma Hazel grunted again as she tried to push herself off the swing..

I reached for her hand and helped her up..

“But I’ll ride with you anyway.” She announced as she moved past me and into the house.

I rolled my eyes and let out a silent, deep breath. Going to see my dad was our special time together. I didn’t need Grandma Hazel standing over me, rushing my visit. After only five minutes, she’d be ready to leave.

Driving through the town of Bayou brought  back so many fond memories of my childhood. I had a very good childhood. Really good in fact. No one could’ve made me believe that it wouldn’t always be that way. That before I graduated from high school my life would’ve been shaken and torn to pieces.

I pulled into Shop Mart, the only grocery store in Bayou. “I’ll be right back. You sure you don’t need anything?” I asked again. Grandma Hazel had a bad habit of waiting until we got back to the house to remember everything she should’ve picked up while she was out.

“I don’t need a thing.” She sat with her purse resting in her lap and her arms crossed.

I went straight to the aisle with the flowers. I had to find the perfect ones for Daddy.

“Nadia?” I recognized my friend’s voice before I saw her face.

“Hey.” Tasha wrapped her arms tight around my body. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming home?”

I looked over her shoulder towards the window to make sure Grandma Hazel couldn’t see the exchange.

“Tasha.” I stretched my eyes and gritted my teeth knowing she’d understand the expression.

She flicked her wrist, “Girl I don’t care about these people.”

I picked up the first decent looking flowers I could find. “I’ll call you later,” I whispered as I passed her.

I never looked back to see if Tasha was still watching. I just paid and left.

Tasha was a product of the children across the street. Growing up I used to hear my mom and aunt talking about the children who lived across the street from them. They never had anything nice to say about them. I couldn’t understand the hate they had for these children and why that hate extended to their children and their children’s children.  It was so bad that my mom and Grandma forbade me to play with Tasha, even though we were in the same class all throughout school. I imagine if moving me to another class was an option, they would’ve done it, but being that there was only one teacher per grade, Tasha and I stayed together until we graduated. We played together too, but we had to sneak to do it. I guess you could say Tasha was my first secret relationship. Even now, after all this time,  whenever I was home, we’d have to hang out far away from Bayou.

I eased my QX8O down the dirt road leading to the graveyard, my dad’s permanent residence. I came to a slow roll when I saw another car parked in front of his plot. I didn’t recognize the car, or the body of the person whose back was turned to us.

I got out and left Grandma Hazel sitting in the car. She didn’t need to be out in this cold air. I walked closer and the sound of the leaves crunching beneath my leather boots caused the stranger to look in my direction. My mouth fell open when I saw his eyes. I dropped the flowers at my feet. Something told me to turn and leave, but I was frozen in place. My heart was about to burst through my body. I felt like I could peel off every piece of clothing and still not feel a thing. That’s how numb his presence made me. I hadn’t seen him in over twenty years, but he still had the same effect on me. Fear, anger, and hurt all mixed with rage. Not a good combination of emotions.

A hand on my shoulder caused me to jump. I didn’t hear that my grandmother had walked up behind me.

“What are you doing here?” Her presence gave me the strength to speak. Not that anything he could say would make his visit right. There was nothing right about this at all.

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Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson