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.

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