(click title or book to order on-line)
Publisher: iUniverse.com, Incorporated
Pub. Date: January 2001
The yellow and black-checkered cab pulled up in front of the college residence hall and parked under a sprawling mango tree. In the back seat, Rose checked her watch. 12:45. She opened her handbag and retrieved her Fashion Fair pressed-powder compact. She flipped open its cover and checked her face in the small mirror. Her soft make-up was still perfect, and not a single strand of her mane was out of place.
The goateed cab driver rested a rough dark elbow on the back of the front passenger seat and turned his head in her direction. The man smiled. His gold molar twinkled in the brilliant afternoon sun. 'Don't worry, mistress. You look lovely.'
'You welcome, mistress.'
Rose exited the vehicle, smoothed her long-sleeved off-white linen dress with her hands, and fingered the notched lapel collar to make sure it was straight. Next she scanned the two rows of four covered buttons that lined up on the front of the double-breasted dress, to ensure that none was unfastened. There were no runs in the sheer pantyhose that was a shade lighter than the tan leather pumps that matched her pocketbook. Good. She wouldn't be caught dead looking anything less than perfect by her husband's mistress.
'Please wait right here for me,' she instructed the driver. 'I'll be back in no time.'
'No problem, mistress. Take you time.'
But Rose didn't want to spend a second longer than was necessary on campus. Donovan had gone to a meeting, or so he claimed. The man was involved in several charity organizations and community groups, and also actively participated in church activities; so clocking him would be quite a chore, even if she wanted to. Their daughter was spending the day at his mother's. So now Rose simply wanted to have a few words with the girl, return the card, and go home.
On this perfect Saturday afternoon, it was a soothing seventy degrees. Wending her way up the croton and fern-lined walkway toward the weathered three-storied concrete building situated on a slope of rising ground, she was afforded a breathtaking view of many stately mansions dotting the surrounding hills.
The expansive campus grounds were quiet. Rose noticed a few students exiting the side entrance of the large residence hall, and hoped Patsy wasn't one of them. She didn't want to come all this way for nothing.
Ascending two concrete steps that led into the building her heartbeat shifted into second gear, so she took deep breaths to calm it down. It didn't help. Soon it was pounding in her ears like a bass drum. Now she was having second thoughts. She should have brought Laverne with her. No, she corrected herself. She should have listened to Laverne and not come. But it was too late to turn back now, Rose decided. She remembered some of her grandmother's comforting words --- 'Even if you're like Jonah in the fish's belly at the bottom of the sea, or like Daniel in the lion's den, Jesus will protect you. He never leaves you.'
With those words in mind, Rose headed down a brightly lit corridor, and followed an arrow that pointed right, with the words Dorm A painted in bold black letters on the beige wall. She took one long, deep breath, held her head and chest high, steadied herself and headed further down the corridor. She knocked on room number four.
The weathered wooden door squeaked half-open and a pillow-creased cinnamon-brown face poked out. Patsy had a mixture of Indian and African features. Her overly bulky eggplant sweatshirt was roomy enough to hold four of her petite frame.
'Good afternoon,' Rose dryly corrected. You don't know your lover's correct birth date and you don't know the time of day. From where she stood Rose quickly scanned the small dim room. A wooden desk crowded with a typewriter, several stacks of folders, and thick texts stood beside an old dresser. Numerous yellow post-it notes dotted the stripping beige walls. There was a twin bed on each side of the small room and she figured that two women shared the place. But Rose trusted her instinct, and it assured her that she was speaking with the right one.
Scrubbing her big brown eyes with the heel of her small hand, the half-gal half-woman chuckled. 'Oops. I'm sorry. Is it afternoon already?'
Rose folded her hands at her waist. 'I'm looking for Patsy Wakefield.'
Up close and personal, and way too close for comfort, Rose scrutinized the girl, trying to find a reason why her husband would leave her at home and go out and mess with this person. She gave her the once over and her gaze landed on Patsy's feet that were way too big for her petite frame. Rose made a tiny shrug, and even a tinier smirk. She tossed her hair behind her neck. Her voice was calm yet firm, her gaze piercing and direct as she introduced herself. 'I am Rose Thorn. Donovan Thorn's wife?' Phew! I'm so glad to at least get over the introduction.
Patsy gawked at her, smothered by Rose's penetrating stare. Patsy gulped, but passed it off as a cough. She scrutinized Rose from head to feet. Then her eyes darted back to Rose's gaze.
The college slut stepped out of the room into the hallway, and Rose slowly, reluctantly, stepped aside to allow her some room. Patsy pulled the door shut behind her.
Rose felt a lump in her throat and tried to swallow over it, but it just stuck there like a hard ball. She wondered to what extent Donovan had gotten involved with the girl and a mixed feeling of anger, jealousy and nervousness showered her. Her knees felt weak. She struggled to maintain her calm, cool and confident outward appearance; but emotionally, she was shaking in her pumps. But no way would she let her rival see her break a sweat. She raked her fingers through her hair. 'What's going on between you and my husband?'
'He's your husband. I think you should ask him.'
Humph. She's cocky too. Well, at least the wretch didn't deny knowing him. 'Well, I'm asking you, because his middle name is 'liar'.'
'Well, I just found that out too.' The girl scratched her bird-nest-of-a-head. 'But that's between you and your'husband.'
Rose felt her face harden with rage. Patsy's answers were much too vague. At least five inches taller than her rival -- nine, if she added her four-inch heels Rose felt that if she were a fighter she'd have a great advantage. She felt fury flow through her veins, consuming her entire being. It couldn't be healthy feeling this angry. She really shouldn't tarry on rocky ground much longer, she decided.
The girl's gaze followed Rose's hand as Rose dipped into her pocketbook. She fished out the envelope with the card. She held it down a few inches, in line with the girl's eyes. Watching the girl gawk at her own penmanship Rose thought deeper about the situation. Was she directing her rage at the right person? Did this pint-size gal point a gun to Donovan's head and order, 'Do me now, or else?!' Or did Donovan use the same strategy he'd used on Rose herself, back in her overly-na've, teenage years? He'd treated her like a queen, carried her books from school, charmed and cherished her like a rare gem. And who could resist such treatment? Patsy must have sucked up all of Donovan's overloaded lies like a vacuum, just as Rose herself had done back then. And now she couldn't help wondering how many more victims were out there.
But placing the blame on Donovan did nothing to lessen her pain. Holding on tightly to her angry, jealous tears, she held the woman's gaze and told her in a furious tone, 'Here! Take this! If you want to send a card to our house, I suggest you send one that reads, 'To my lover, his wife and his daughter.' Call Hallmark and see if they have that category!'
The girl reached out a hand for the card, and it was a Kodak moment as Rose slowly loosened her grip on the envelope, and purposely let it slip from her fingers. Rose watched as Patsy's eyes followed the envelope as it fell to the ground between two sets of feet. Patsy gulped and then stared agape at Rose, knowing Rose had willfully dropped it.
Rose pointed a mocking finger at the envelope on the ground. 'Oops. Dropped it'. She paused. 'Do the same thing to my husband.' Enough said, and relieved that it was over she wheeled around and headed down the hallway, feeling her husband lover's dagger eyes digging into her back.
Rose exited the building and stepped onto the stone-paved walkway. The long delayed tears dammed up in her eyes. She had walked away just in time. Ever since she had dropped out of high school, this was the first time she'd trodden the grounds of an educational institution; except that, a few months ago, she had taken her daughter to register her for school. But that was Kindergarten. This was different. This was the same college Rose had planned on attending before she got pregnant. She thought about the heart-wrenching reason that had brought her to the school now. She definitely wasn't here to attend classes. Her breath quickened, as did her pace. Tears clouded her eyes and blurred her vision. She blinked, and they poured down her cheeks. She wished she'd taken her shades; they would do her well now. Shading her eyes with her hand she hoped the two student-lovers kissing under the cherry tree wouldn't come up for air, and notice her in her distress. Good thing she knew how to maneuver four-inch heels. Gravel scrunched loudly beneath her feet as she started to run.
Straight ahead in the distance she noticed a woman with long, dark, skinny legs under a black mini skirt running toward her, a set of keys dangling in one hand. Rose didn't think she knew anyone on campus; but even from a distance, through blurry, teary eyes, she thought the person looked familiar. As the woman got closer, Rose confirmed whom it was. She sobbed harder and ran faster toward her friend. She couldn't think of any other time in her life when she'd needed a friendly shoulder to cry on as she needed one now.
Laverne cast an approving glance over her shoulder as Paul ducked his head and stepped outside the sliding glass door onto the spacious patio, a Daily Gleaner newspaper in one hand and a glass of freshly-squeezed carrot juice in the other. Ready for his meeting in the conference room downstairs he was professionally dressed in beige shirt and chocolate brown necktie that matched his pants and shiny Florsheims.
Laverne genuinely complimented, 'You look nice.'
Paul placed the glass on a small round glass-top table beside the chaise lounge. He leaned over and playfully pinched her left butt cheek. 'You look nicer.'
Laverne quickly turned onto her back and warned him, 'You had better not start what you can't finish.'
Smiling, he checked the time. 'Oh, we've got time. The meeting starts at nine-thirty which means anytime between nine forty-five and ten.'
But making love was the last thing on Laverne's mind. She had some prickling concerns. Paul drank some more juice and extended the glass in her direction. 'Want some?'
'No, thank you. I'll have some orange juice later. I don't know how you can drink carrot juice so early in the morning, anyway.'
'It's the best.'
'Paul, we need to talk.'
'About what? What are you doin' today, anyway?'
She knew he was trying to avoid the subject she was about to bring up. But to answer his question, she surveyed the tennis court below and the jogging trail that encircled the hotel's perimeter. The pool was surrounded by sun terraces, where some guests sun-bathed, while others sipped cold drinks under colorful pink and blue striped sun-umbrellas. 'Well, I wanted to walk down to the shopping center and do a little shopping, but it's going to be way too hot for that. So, I think I'll just hang out by the pool.'
'Good choice,' Paul agreed. 'I should be out of the meeting by two and will join you then.'
'Sounds good.' She paused, and then said with a nudge of hesitation, 'Honey?'
'I know you don't like talking about it but, how far have you gone with the divorce?'
'Lav, please. We spoke about that what, two days ago. Nothing has happened since then, okay?' he responded with a trace of irritation.
'No. No, Paul,' she protested with a shake of her head. 'We spoke about this a week, no, exactly nine days ago. And a lot can happen in two days, let alone nine.'
He shrugged. 'Two days, nine days. Whatever. Like I said...'
'As I said,' she corrected him.
'As I said, nothing happened since then. But please, let's not talk about that now, all right babes? I have a meeting in less than a half-hour, and I need my brain to be clear.'
Laverne felt her body tense as she took his wrist and checked his Movado. 'Oh, we can talk,' she told him. 'We have time. At least twenty minutes. Even if we discussed it last night I need to talk about it now, please. It's important to me.'
Paul spread the newspaper on the table and quickly scanned the front-page headlines. 'Laverne, I told you, I'm working on it, okay?'
'But I just don't understand, Paul. You got married in New York. Or so you say.'
'What do you mean by that? You don't believe me, do you?'
She crossed her legs at the ankles and answered his questions with another question. 'So if you got married in New York, how can you work on your divorce from here? And why is it taking so long? I thought I heard that people get divorced in New York in a few days, or even a few weeks. Or is it in Las Vegas?' She wasn't sure.
Paul sighed. 'Laverne, listen. I'm telling you for the last time. I filed for the divorce sometime ago, but my wife still refuses to sign the papers. What do you want me to do? Put a gun to her head and order her to sign it?'
Laverne retorted, 'Now don't be ridiculous. I'd never encourage anyone to use any violent act to force anyone to do anything at anytime for any reason. It's just that I can't understand why she's holding on to you. Is she stupid or something? You live in Jamaica and she lives in America. And you did say you've repeatedly told her that there's no chance of you two getting back together, right?'
Turning the pages of the newspaper her told her, 'Yup. Told her that many times.'
'So what's her problem? It's not like you two have kids, a business together, or anything like that.'
'That's what I keep tellin' her, but she just won't give in and sign the damn papers.'
Paul extended an arm toward her and she took it. 'I love you, Lav. That's all that matters.'
'No, that's not all that matters. If my mother should ever find out that I'm sleeping with a married man, I don't even want to think about what she would do to me.'
Paul folded the Gleaner in quarters and laid it on the table. He seemed distant as he said, 'I know what you mean. Mothers always know best. And if I should go against my mother's wishes and make the same mistake she did, I can't tell what she would do to me either,' Paul said, but looked as though he'd only meant to think it. He covered his mouth with a palm as though he wished he could swallow back the words he just accidentally spilled.
Her lover's words jolted Laverne into a sitting position. 'Well, well, now we are finally getting somewhere,' she half-murmured. She pulled up her knees to her chest and hugged them. In a low tone she asked him, 'And what exactly do you mean by that? What does that have to do with us, our relationship? What mistake did your mother make that she had cautioned you against making with me?'
Paul swallowed the last drops of juice and put the empty glass on the table but did not answer her questions.
'You seem very close to your mother. 'I'd really like to meet her.'
'Oh, don't worry, you will,' he assured her.
She turned onto her side toward him. 'You've never said a word about your father, though.'
'Ain't nothing much to say. Except that he's a user. He's an expert at using people for his own benefit. He takes advantage of people and then leaves. Selfish bastard!'
'Who did he use, and for what?'
Paul checked his watch. 'Listen, we'll talk later. Okay?'
'Well, it's not okay; but I can't milk information out of you.'
A plane roared over the hotel and Laverne settled back on the chaise. Gazing toward the clear blue sky she sighed. 'Oh Lord, I wish I had a visa. I really need one. Badly.'
Paul slapped the table with a palm and shot from the chaise lounge. 'There you go again. For God's sake, Lav, how far would you go to get a green card? My goodness, that's all you ever talk about. Are you that desperate?'
Laverne jolted her back from the chaise lounge and snaked her neck out at him. She cocked her head to the side. 'Excuse me? Green card? Did I say I wanted a green card? I don't want to live there. All I need is a visa, Paul. There's absolutely nothing wrong with my wanting to see what the other side of the world is like. And with my career, I can take a few courses in hairdressing in some other country in the world too. Not only in America. I refuse to limit myself. I'd also like to travel to London, Paris, Hong Kong, Rome, wherever. There's nothing wrong with wanting to expand my horizon.' As an afterthought, she added, 'And, by the way, there's a significant difference between a visa and a green card. And if you're the Jamaican that you say you are, and spent a mere seven years in America, as you said you did, then you should know that.'
'Now what do you mean by, 'If I'm the Jamaican that I say I am?'' he shot at her. 'Good God. Do I need to show you my birth certificate or something like that?' He glanced at his watch. 'Why are you so suspicious of me, Lav? You always say that trust is very important in any relationship. So why are you sleeping with a man you don't trust?'
Laverne skipped the last question because she herself didn't even know the answer. She said, 'Okay, it bothers me that I don't know anyone that knows you. No co-worker, relative, no one. But you've met my siblings, parents, and all my friends and relatives. My whole tribe.'
'Well, I don't even have half a tribe. I come from a very small family. I have only one sibling, a younger brother. But don't worry; when the time is right, you'll meet my people. Anyway, I have to go.'
'Okay.' Laverne lowered her eyelids as he leaned over and gently pressed his lips to hers. 'I love you,' she told him, and meant it.
'I love you more.'
'Good. But don't ever make the sad mistake of taking me for a fool, okay? I'm in love with you, but I'm definitely not a fool in love.'
'Hey, I heard that.'
'Enjoy your meeting.'
The phone rang as Paul stood up and turned to leave. He reached for the phone by the door and brought the ringing instrument out to the patio. He placed it on top of the newspaper on the table. Paul lifted the receiver on the third ring and handed it to her. 'Here, I know it's for you, Ma Bell, I mean, Miss Cable and Wireless Jamaica Limited,' he corrected himself. He winked an eye at her as he turned to leave.WENDY
In the home office of her downtown Brooklyn condo, Wendy Arnold looked over the just prepared for her Statistics class one last time. Thirty percent true or false, thirty percent multiple choice and forty percent essay-type questions.Next she studied her five-page itinerary for next week. She shook her head. Her professional calendar was forever hectic. There was always another class to teach, another meeting with her colleagues with whom she was co-authoring her first calculus text, another child to mentor, another trip to Atlanta to check up on that fund-raising project.
But even though she'd achieved the highest level of education; inherited and accumulated a reasonable amount of wealth and a comfortable nest egg; won several awards from various professional and charitable organizations in which she held responsible positions; and was well known and respected by her students, colleagues, superiors, and people in the community and her church, Dr. Arnold had come to realize that an essential element was still missing from her life, like the missing link in a chain. The vowel in a word. And that emptiness she needed so desperately to fill, was what was hindering her from honestly saying that her life was complete. That she was whole.
Looking back on her accomplishments she asked herself the poignant question: 'What good is it to achieve all this if there's no one to share it?' And where did all the time go, anyway? Because now, at thirty-seven, she couldn't deny the fact that being unmarried, childless, and in the express lane to middle age, she was facing a mid-life crisis. She checked the time on her PC. 10:30. She folded her arms over her breasts and sulked. It's his turn to call, so why hasn't he? He usually called promptly at ten. She logged off her PC and switched off the light in her office.
The phone rang as she approached her bedroom next door. She dashed over to the bedside table and grabbed the receiver on the second ring. 'Hi, honey. I love you, miss you, and I've been waiting for your call,' she cooed into the phone.
'Oh, I love you and miss you too, Wendy, but phone rates went up again.'
'Phone rates and plane fares. So are you going to pack and move over here or what?' She perched on the edge of the bed, lapped her robe between her thighs and felt uneasy. 'All this traveling back and forth is getting to me, Miles. We travel so much that people must think we have shares in Air Jamaica. I just can't live like this anymore. I've had it, I swear.'
Despite their best intentions, for the past few years, at some point during every single conversation, they always ended up arguing about the same piercing issue. Both felt it was way past time to take the relationship to another level. They wanted to marry each other and be together full-time, but neither one was willing to uproot. Wendy got to the point. 'I need you full-time.'
'So don't you think I need the same thing too?' he defended. 'Listen, Wendy, I'm not going through this''
'But we have to, it's an issue that''
'But why do I have to be the one to migrate? I know many people who studied abroad, and then moved back home. Why can't you do the same?'
She shot from the bed and stood up, one hand holding the phone, the other at her waist. 'Excuse me, Mr. Jacobs, but I didn't just 'study' here. My whole life is here now. My job, family, everything. For God's sake, Miles, I just got tenured. Do you really expect me to give all that up? All that I've worked for?'
'You know something, Wendy?'
She flopped back down on the bed. 'What?'
'You sound really selfish saying that. We both want the same things but...'
'But what? All you have to do is pack up and move over here. Simple.'
'Are you saying that I haven't worked equally hard for my achievements? Hell, Wendy, you just got tenured. Congratulations again, baby! You know I've always been very proud of you. But, listen to this. I have an appointment next week to sign a contract to produce and direct Beenie Man's next music video for his latest CD.'
'Miles, you shouldn't be signing no goddamn contract! You should be packing!'
He ignored her last statement. 'Now, tell me, do you really expect me to give that up and move to America where I may have to start all over again?'
'In the music business? Honey, if you move to Brooklyn, you know you won't have to start over. Miles, why are you so difficult?' She curled up like a cat on the white down comforter on her king-size bed. She twirled single braids around her fingers. 'But even if you have to start over...' She raised her shoulders. 'No big deal. Don't worry, darling. Because I've got your back, honey. Isn't that how it's supposed to be? I could sustain us both for a while, until you get on your feet and get adjusted.'
Miles sighed. And for a long time neither of them said anything.
Wendy broke the silence. 'Honey, despite all my achievements...' Her voice lowered. 'I have nothing if I don't have you.'
Miles said in a soft voice, 'Oh, you make me feel so guilty when you talk like that.'
'Miles, I promise you that after tonight, I'll never, ever raise this issue again. But just remember this.'
'What's that, sweetheart?'
'We're not getting any younger,
and we both have to get on with our lives.
Time is short.'
Miles chuckled nervously. 'Is that an ultimatum?'
'Take it any way you want to, but whatever happens, please remember one thing.'
'What? What's that, baby?' he asked her eagerly.
'I love you, miss you, want you, need you, right here and right now.' Now she sped up her words, without pausing. 'But time is short good night honey we'll talk but very importantly don't forget that time is short I love you bye.' She had to have the last word so she hung up fast, leaving him with something to think about.
Sandra A. Ottey Author,
Jamerican Connection: A Novel