Sandy shuffled her travel mug of coffee and Honey’s warm biscuit into her left hand as she worked the lock to the front door to her salon. She’d been able to work full, long days ever since the trial was over. All day Saturday. All day Monday. All day Tuesday. Even though she’d left a little early for marriage class, she was able to see clients all day yesterday.
It was such a relief just to work.
Sandy locked the door behind her and turned on the lights to her studio. For a moment, she smelled the still, safe air. The moment of bliss was interrupted by the pressure of a client coming. She trotted to the back turning on the lights as she went. She set her biscuit and coffee down while she pulled on an apron and locked her purse in a locker. Standing in the back, she took a moment to look over everything.
She’d been able to hire Rosa’s cleaning company with the money from her mother’s symphony. They came in every night and left stacks of clean towels and gleaming floors in their wake. She’d also hired another hair assistant. She’d even been able to pay off Jacob for the building and the remodel. She, Jill, and Jacob had sat down as partners to discuss buying the shops and either side of her. They’d had a bunch of other fun ideas, but those ideas were for another day.
Today, Sandy was doing what she loved. There was a tap on the door and Sandy went to open the glass door.
Her first client arrived along with one of her assistants. The second assistant got the coffee started and Sandy helped her client into a chair. Bright colored hair was popular now. Everyone wanted a streak of color. This client was no different. She wanted a hidden streak of color that showed only when she put her hair up to do surgery. She was the last person on the surgical team to give into the trend. Sandy gave the detailed specifications to her assistants. It was complicated but her client was delighted when she was done.
The next time Sandy looked up again, it was almost noon.
There was no drama today. Nothing mysterious was going on in the basement. There wasn’t a child molester or two working to dominate her life. Her children were safe at school. Sissy and Charlie were happy in New York City. She hadn’t spent the night in the emergency room of a hospital in almost a month.
Today, she could just be Sandy.
The calm, boring nature of this day felt like a vacation.
Smiling to herself, she picked up her clippers and started to work on the next client.
“Jackie’s the movie star of the group,” MJ said of Valerie and Mike’s daughter. “She has many friends, but she always finds our Maggie and Rachel to play with, so it’s kind of a big deal that Mack wants to play with Maggie.”
“He doesn’t want to play with Jackie, too?” Honey asked. “Mack loves Rachel!”
Maggie gave her mother a big smile and Honey’s heart swelled.
“That’s what I understood,” MJ said. “But you know how people are. They assume that the three of them, well four including Rachel, can’t be friends. After all, the girls will fight over the strapping boy.”
“Oh God,” Honey said.
“I know,” MJ said. “The misogyny of kindergarten.”
“They play really well together when we play on Thursday mornings,” Honey said with a shrug. “I’ve never seen any of them pick favorites or get jealous. They are friends, family. I really don’t think this is a problem.”
“You know what I think?”
MJ raised his eyebrows in a “sure” gesture.
“I think that people see the beautiful Mack and the beautiful Jackie and assume that they should be together,” Honey said. “Two such beauties are destined to get together.”
“And our Maggie is gumming up destiny?” MJ said with a laugh and a nod.
“Exactly,” Honey said.
“It’s not Mack’s fault that he’s so beautiful,” MJ said.
“Jackie’s either,” Honey said. “And our Maggie is not exactly ugly, and Rachel’s a lovely child.”
“I think Jackie is going to need all the true friends she can find,” Honey said with a nod. “She has a tough row to hoe with such a famous mother and father. Of course, we’ll be there for our all of them, always. That’s what family does.”
MJ set Maggie into Honey’s lap.
“Can you grab the biscuits?” Honey asked. “There on a pan in our kitchen.”
“Got it,” MJ said.
Honey started toward the main Castle living room. MJ caught up and followed close behind. At the door, she spun around to face MJ.
“I will never be embarrassed of you,” Honey said. “Not today. Not three weeks from now when we stand up in front of everyone at the Cathedral. Not when we are old and more decrepit.”
MJ’s breath caught with the force of her words. He put his hand to his chest.
“Of course, if we stand up in front of our friends and family naked,” Honey said referring to their inability to decide on what to wear.
MJ laughed. She nodded and spun around. Behind her back, MJ wiped a tear and followed her out to main Castle living room. Once they were in the Castle living room, Honey set Maggie down and she ran off to find Jackie and the other kids. He put his hand on Honey’s shoulder. She looked up at him.
“What is it?” Honey asked. Her brow furrowed with concern.
“Love you,” MJ said. “Even if we naked in front of everyone in three weeks.”
“Hummp hhm hrrm,” MJ said as he slipped into his calf prosthesis. “Hun-mmf hhh eommm.”
“Are you actually speaking words?” Honey asked as she came into their bedroom.
Steve Roper had already been there to help Honey get up and get dressed. Since then, she’d checked on Maggie, done a load of laundry, and started the biscuits for the house breakfast.
“Huh?” MJ asked.
He looked up at her from his bent over position. He finished strapping on his prosthesis and checked that his boots were tied.
“You were making noise from your mouth,” Honey said.
“Mm-hm,” MJ said.
Honey laughed. She spun her small indoor wheelchair in place and went to get Maggie. MJ stopped her short. She looked back and up at him.
“I was p-p-p-practic-c-c-ing m-m-my v-v-v…” MJ said. “We only h-h-h-have a few m-m-m-more w-w-weeks.”
Honey gave him a sweet smile.
“Wh-wh-wh-at ifff…” MJ said.
“It won’t happen,” Honey said. “Think it through. Alex with be there. Raz. Margaret is walking you down the aisle. They’ll be right there, and so will you. All you have to do is meet me at the front. If your head is bad, you’ll just let Aden and Jacob carry the load.”
“I…” MJ closed his mouth and shook his head. His intense effort showed on his face, “I won’t embarrass you by being just me.”
“How could you possibly embarrass me?” Honey laughed. “Seriously? ‘Just you’ is amazing.”
MJ gestured to his mouth to indicate TBI-induced stuttering. MJ had been injured when he was a Green Beret in Iraq. He shook his head in disgust at himself. She smiled.
“You’re my hunky warrior,” Honey said. “Anyway, everyone who knows us knows that you married down.”
As he had the first time he’d heard it, he laughed at her old joke.
“You are tiny,” he said his line with a cocky grin.
Maggie wailed and Honey took off toward her daughter’s bedroom. MJ stood in the doorway of Maggie’s nursery and watched Honey take Maggie out of her crib, change her diaper, and get her dressed for her day.
“Maggie loves the Marlowe School,” Honey said.
“I forgot to tell you,” MJ said.
“What?” Honey asked. “Can you get me her blue shirt?”
“Button down?” MJ asked.
“Just the pullover,” Honey said. “It’s painting day!”
“Paint!” Maggie said with a giggle.
“What didn’t you tell me?” Honey pulled the shirt over Maggie’s head.
“Mack and Maggie have been playing a lot together,” MJ said.
“Mack!” Maggie said with a wide grin.
“That boy is very handsome, Maggie my dear,” Honey said.
As if to agree, Maggie gave her mother another big smile.
“Their teacher said they kind of ran into each other at school,” MJ said. “They’ve been fast friends ever since. Maggie’s small and Mack’s bigger than she is. Maggie’s better at words than Mack. When Maggie has any trouble, Mack comes to help. Maggie does the same for Mack.”
Honey smiled at him and held Maggie out to MJ. He took his daughter and lifted her onto the tall chest of drawers. He deftly pulled Maggie’s red curly hair into ponytails which stuck up on either side of her head. The small redheaded girl was truly adorable.
Tanesha rolled over and prayed for even an hour of sleep. She took her first set of final exams tomorrow. Tomorrow morning she’d finally know the truth — did she belong in medical school? Was she going to be a doctor? Or was she the idiot that she, and everyone who knew her, had always known that she was?
Her father had a lot to say about this. She was brilliant. She was beautiful. She was perfect in every way.
As Tanesha stood watching him go on and on, she remembered all the days and dark nights and long years that he hadn’t been there. She knew it wasn’t his fault but her bitter, scared mind replayed countless moments where she had to face the world alone. Not wanting to offend him, she finally forced her father to leave.
Jill and Sandy come over last night after their last marriage class. They knew what medical school meant to Tanesha. They’d been there when the kid in fifth grade had followed Tanesha around calling her a “gorilla.” They were there when the nun instructed their sixth grade class that “darkies didn’t go to heaven.” They’d been there in high school when the science teacher had fallen out of his chair laughing when Tanesha said she was going to be a doctor. Jill, Sandy, and Heather had been the only ones who hadn’t jeered and laughed at her.
“Be a nurse,” he’d said. “Lots of your people are nurses. Your people need too much structure to be the boss.”
“Dr. Bumpy is a doctor,” she’d said back to him.
“He has rich and powerful friends,” the science teacher had said referring to Seth O’Malley. “You have friends like that?”
Everyone in the room had known that she was the unnatural cross between a convicted rapist and murderer and a common whore. Everyone had laughed at her.
Except her girls. Heather had said something so snappy that they were all sent to the principal. Of course, the principal reminded them that the Catholic Church was clear about the divinity of “negroes.” Tanesha was so ashamed and overwhelmed that she couldn’t say a word.
“As Plato said himself, every negroes soul is corrupt,” the principal had said. “And corrupt souls do not get into heaven.”
“Plato said that every slave’s soul was corrupt,”Heather had said. “No one classified slaves by color until…”
The principal had sneered and said something about “out of control” girls not finding husbands. Jill had sniffed at the man and Sandy had said that maybe the Catholic Church should change its mind. They were suspended for four days. Tanesha’s gran just glared at her. Jill’s sister, Megan, had yelled at the principal. Sandy and Heather’s mothers felt put upon that they were out of school.
One thing was clear. Everyone knew that Tanesha should stay in her place.
Under the basement stairs in her perfect little yellow house, her cheeks flushed red remembering “her place.” She punched her pillow and rolled onto her stomach. The taunts in her head were so loud that she put her pillow over her head and pressed it around her ears.
Where was the confident girl that had charmed the admissions panel out of full ride scholarships?
Where was the girl who hadn’t needed powerful friends to make a life for herself?
What happened to her innate love of the human body? Her desire to help “darkies” just like herself?
Unable to stop herself, Tanesha began to cry.
She was so angry with herself. She needed to sleep! She didn’t need this boo hooing! She pounded her fist against the bed.
She felt a cool hand on her shoulder. Shocked, she stopped moving. She hadn’t heard anyone coming down the stairs. The fairies can’t come down here because of some mumbo-jumbo that Jacob and Delphie did before they moved in. She stayed still hoping that she was dreaming.