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Authors: Suzetta Perkins

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BOOK: A Love So Deep
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Chapter 47

I
t
was a beautiful day. The sun was bright for late November with the temperature teetering near seventy degrees. Churchgoers sat on the edges of their seat for the climax of the morning’s sermon while the world outside was quiet except for occasional tourists on an early-morning sightseeing tour.

Rita woke up in Graham’s arms, savoring their night together. The sheets rustled beneath her as she moved closer to him. She had not experienced love like this before—not even in her marriage to William.

The sound of the alarm clock startled Graham and he jerked quickly, and then smiled when he saw Rita was still next to him. He took two fingers and tickled her under the chin, and she grinned and turned to face him.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Good morning to you. Did you sleep well?”

“I was in heaven.”

They kissed and held each other for a long time.

“I guess we’d better get up so we can meet our challenge for today.”

“If Mary Ross gets out of line today, I promise you, Graham Peters, I will hurt that woman.”

“No you won’t.”

“I’m a lady, but I won’t hesitate to take my dukes out and pop her upside the head.”

Rita and Graham broke out into a hearty laugh. They laughed until they cried, and until those few tears had dried.

“One, two, three…the last one out of bed is a dirty dog,” Rita screamed.

Graham held onto Rita. Rita tried to pull away. They tussled on the bed like siblings having a good time, and when they had given up on their child’s play, they made love to each other like it was their first time.

Graham and Rita arrived at the restaurant first and milled about the pier taking advantage of the beautiful day. Rita was dressed smartly in a two-piece black crepe dress and jacket ensemble that hit just at the knee. Graham wore a slick, black sports jacket by Polo Rita had bought on one of their excursions and tan khakis that ended in a cuff. He wore a long-sleeved, buttoned-down, tan-and-white-striped shirt that boasted a contrasting white collar and cuffs at the end of the sleeves. They were a handsome couple.

Rita spotted them first. Charlie wore a navy sport coat, a pair of khaki pants, and a white long-sleeved, buttoned-down shirt opened at the top. Mary wore a two-piece pantsuit the color of red Kool-Aid—the watered-down variety. That suit had been in the rinse cycle one too many times.
fezebel
, Rita thought.

Eyes shifted between the couples with Rita and Mary almost in total combat. Charlie extended greetings but couldn’t take his eyes from Rita. Graham was the only sensible one as he led the pack to the demilitarized zone. No pleasantries seemed forthcoming from Mary.

Silence ensued until they were shown to their seats.

“Nice color on you,” Rita lied to Mary.

“Too much lipstick,” Mary replied.

Rita looked to Graham for support, but he was desperately trying to hide a grin.

Meal orders taken, Graham and Charlie made small talk. Rita and Mary resisted the temptation to look at each other, and it was Mary who made the first move.

“Why do you sing in a nightclub? Don’t you know God is not pleased when you sing songs to the devil?”

This is it
, Rita thought.
The woman has pushed her last button and now she
was going to have to get black on her. All of her mother’s teaching was about to go out of the window, and turn the other cheek meant getting this heifer told before the devil in her really showed out
.

“Mary,” Rita found herself saying, “where I choose to sing is really none of your business, but if you must know, I’ll tell you. I’ve always loved jazz. My mother used to sing many years ago. She and my dad would go to all the jazz festivals, and when I was old enough, they took me with them. I was in awe of the greats like Hugh Masekela. I was brought up on this, and this is what I know.

“There are some great gospel singers, and many of them derived their music from jazz. But before you judge me, know this. I am a good person raised to know right from wrong, raised to know people will come across my path to tear me down and scandalize my name. My parents carried me to church and taught me to be an upstanding citizen. I love God, and I know He loves me. But more than that, I know who I am.”

Everyone sat still, the ball in Mary’s court. Her eyes were moving around in their sockets, gathering her thoughts. She looked at Rita and let her head fall slightly forward. A faint smile was forming on her face like a child drawing a line with an Etch A Sketch.

“I appreciate you telling me that, Rita.” Mary’s head dropped. She grabbed the glass of water the waitress had placed on the table. She looked back at Rita as if she were embarrassed by something. She took a sip of water, dropped her head, and proceeded to speak again. “I was jealous of you and Graham. I’ve had a crush on Graham for years, even when he was married to Amanda.”

Eyes shifted from one to another while Mary kept her head down.

“I feel like a fool, acting the way I’ve been acting over a man that doesn’t feel the same way I do about him.”

“It’s okay, Mary,” Graham said, embarrassed by her confession.

“I must apologize to you too, Graham. I can’t even look at you, although I got a goooooood look a few weeks ago.”

Graham’s laughter was infectious, touching each one differently, but laughter all the same. The tension eased as everyone let out a wail.

“You didn’t look bad yourself, Mary,” Graham said bashfully.

“And to think I busted in on you and Rita at the most inept time.”

Now, there was a roar at the table. Mary, Rita and Graham were convulsing with laughter. Charlie seemed to be on the other side of the moon—far, far away.

“Back to earth, Charlie,” Mary snapped. “I laid my pathetic life on the table a few minutes ago, and you didn’t even have a comment.”

“I’m glad you were able to purge yourself.” Everyone looked in Charlie’s direction.

“Look, Rita,” Mary charged again, “why don’t we start over?”

“Okay,” Rita said hesitantly.

“If you can find the time, I would like for you to come to church one Sunday. Maybe you can sing a song for us.”

“Whoa, Mary,” Graham said. “Back off.”

“I’m ashamed of you, Graham. This is an opportunity to minister and draw someone to Christ. You’ve been
away
too long. Now, how long is it going to be before they bring our food out? I’m starving.”

“I’ll be happy to go to church one Sunday,” Rita said after a moment. “It has been my intent all along, but with your prodding, it’s going to happen a lot sooner.”

“Amen. And Charlie, you come along, too.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Chapter 48

“Hurry, Graham. I don’t want to be late for Martha’s birthday party.”

“Now don’t you look nice,” Graham said as he hurried into the living room. Rita was wearing a two-piece, pumpkin-colored sweater and pants ensemble. The sweater sported a faux fur collar that ran around the neck and at the base of each sleeve with ten buttons the color of honey dotting the length of the sweater. Rita complemented her outfit with a lacy shell of the same color.

“I think it’s great that her birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day. She’ll be surrounded by family, and hopefully, everyone will be in a festive mood.”

“I love that woman dearly. You know she became my surrogate mother when I came to California so many years ago. With both of my parents dead, it wasn’t hard to accept Martha and Elroy as my own. I think it was awfully nice of her to invite the both of us for dinner, despite the fact Deborah hasn’t come around.”

“I feel bad about that, but I’m not going to let Deborah’s dislike of me spoil Martha’s day. After all, she invited me personally, and I’m going. I happen to like the old woman myself. I’m sure Momma is a little jealous in Seattle right now, but as soon as this gig is over, I’m going to go home and pamper my parents. And I’ll be back.”

“Maybe I’ll go with you.”

Rita stood stock-still. She was afraid to trust what her ears believed they heard. She exhaled and smiled, thanking God for placing this wonderful man in her life.

Graham saw how pleased Rita was to hear him say he might go. And he made up his mind right then and there that he would. And if the chance arose, he wanted to have a heart-to-heart with her dad. He went to Rita and held her tight.

“A penny for your thoughts.”

“We better get out of here before we’re late.”

“Okay, baby. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Chapter 49

A
small
gust of wind blew leaves across the sidewalk and into the street. Some swirled in the air while others danced in perfect formation, forming a line, then breaking into smaller groups like a well-choreographed ballet. The parade of leaves were momentarily interrupted as Graham and Rita got out of the car and made their way to Martha’s front porch. Crispy crunching sounds came from under their shoes as they threatened to break up the ballet. But the leaves soon regrouped and continued their dance while Graham and Rita stood on the porch ringing the doorbell. Laughter and excited voices met their ears when Martha opened the door.

“It’s Graham and Rita,” Martha announced, happy to see the two of them.

Graham and Rita followed Martha and Elroy into the living room. The smell of roast turkey and other delectable foods met their noses and conversation stopped in mid-air when they entered.

“Hey, Granddad,” Elise and Riley, Jr. said as they ran up to Graham and gave him a great big hug.

“Hey, Dad,” Liz said, coming up behind her children.

“Hey, babies,” Graham said in return, kissing Liz and his grandchildren on the cheek, then stopping to rub Liz on the top of her head. “Where’s Riley?”

“He’s in the kitchen with Deborah and Grant.”

Liz turned to Rita. It was obvious her dad was in love. She sort of liked Rita, too. She was classy and seemed intelligent. “Hi, Rita.”

“Hi, Liz.”

“These are all kin in here,” Martha said to Rita as she commandeered the conversation. “Over there in that corner watching TV are Elroy’s grandnieces and nephews. Y’all say hi. And in the other corner are Elroy’s niece, Wanda, and her husband, Junie, and Sister Hattie Mae Johnson from the church. The pastor and his wife are due any minute. Deborah and Sister Betty Boyd Floyd are in the kitchen getting ready to set the dining room table for Thanksgiving dinner, and the kids are just all over the house.”

“Daddy,” Liz said gently to Graham, pulling him aside, “You and Deborah need to talk. You know she loves you…she’s just a little stubborn…a lot like you.”

“I know, baby. And today is Grandma’s day to shine, and we must do everything to make her day perfect.”

“Your house is decorated so nice,” Rita said.

“Rita, my granddaughters fixed it up for me. You ought to see my birthday cake. They got my picture and name on it.”

“I can’t wait to see it.”

They walked into the dining room that was dressed for a holiday feast. An oblong table covered with a cream-colored, satin tablecloth sat in the middle of the room. A mahogany china cabinet sat on one of the side walls, laden with antique china plates, cups, and saucers—a collector’s delight. Sparkling, crystal stemware was arranged smartly on the shelf below along with a crystal candy dish. Turning slightly to her left, Rita saw a beautiful mahogany serving buffet that probably housed Martha’s good china. Beautiful runners with autumn leaves and branches covered the length of the buffet. Martha and Rita moved to the table and Rita picked up a silver fork and examined the fine handiwork on its base.

“Why don’t we go into the kitchen to see what’s holding up progress? Liz and Graham will be along in a minute.”

“All right,” Rita said, not sure she was ready to see Deborah again.

“Who left the water running?” Martha called out when she and Rita entered the kitchen.

All eyes turned toward Martha and Rita. Silence. Deborah rolled her eyes, then looked Rita up and down. Rita stared back at the woman who wore a long-sleeved chemise the color of an overripe cantaloupe.

“All right, it’s my birthday, and I’m not having any stuff in here tonight. For those who don’t know this young lady, let me introduce her. This is Rita. She’s a friend of Graham’s. Now make like you got some sense and show your manners.”

“Hello,” Rita said to everyone.

A series of quick “hellos” were heard except from Deborah. She turned her back and began to place ham on the platter.

“Can I help you with that?” Rita asked.

“I’ve got it,” Deborah said flatly.

“Don’t worry about her, baby,” Martha cooed as she rubbed Rita’s arm. “She’ll come around after while.”

Rita wasn’t sure she would be around that long, but tonight wasn’t about Deborah. They were there to give thanks for all that God had been to them, and if Deborah thought she was going to wear her down, she had another thing to think about.

“What’s going on in here?” Graham said as he and Liz entered the kitchen. “It sure smells good. I know you made your mouth-watering mac and cheese, Deborah.”

Deborah placed the last piece of ham on the plate and turned to face Graham. “Yes, Daddy, I’ve baked macaroni and cheese just like Mom used to make it.”

“I can’t wait to taste it,” Graham said solemnly and walked over to Rita. “If we can’t be of any help, we’re going into the living room.”

“Hold it. I guess I’m going to have to pray before the big prayer,” Martha said. “Children, we have come a long ways in this life, and God has been good to us. We have so much to thank Him for—life, the activity of our limbs, a good job, a good husband…wife…so much to thank Him for that we don’t have time to spend looking like we’ve lost our best friend or our reason for living. God loves us so, that in spite of ourselves…our little undeserving selves, that
think we all that
…if that’s how you say it…that He finds favor with us over and over again. Here we are together to celebrate how good God has been…Thanksgiving, they call it, and y’all got the nerve to turn your back to God and say kiss my…”

“Grandma!”

“You the main one, Deborah Ann Peters-Hill. Stubborn as the devil. Got so much hatred in you, you done forgot how to love.”

“Grandma, you’re not being fair.”

“Fair? I thought it wasn’t fair when God took my only child from me…my child that I loved so much. But she’s in a better place now, happy as a lark, singing in the angelic chorus, looking down at us and shaking her finger because we are just one big mess down here. Your daddy and Rita have done no wrong. Your dad is guilty of a having a broken-down heart, and Rita was sent to help mend it again.”

A small sniffle, then a loud “boo-hoo” met everyone’s ears. Deborah’s head fell forward as she let all of her pent-up emotion ooze forth. Chairs shuffled across the floor as hands reached toward Deborah. Grant scooped her in his arms and held her tight and Graham put his arms around her and rubbed her back. Liz and Riley made a circle around them and put their arms on Liz’s and Graham’s shoulders. They looked like a huddle of saints getting ready for some serious prayer.

Rita stood back and observed the group, looking between them and Martha. Martha’s eyes were shut as she began to pray for the group. The sobs were coming and going, getting louder when there was a group hug and lower when Martha’s utterance outdid the group. There was love and compassion here, and Rita knew in her heart that it would be well.

As the group peeled away from each other, Graham and Deborah were left linked together. Deborah’s sobs were faint, but yet audible, and Graham held onto his oldest daughter for dear life. He lifted his head and grabbed Deborah under the chin, lifting her face upward as he looked into her eyes, “I love you, baby—always will.”

“I love you, too, Daddy.”

Smiles erupted from everywhere. Father and daughter were back together again. Deborah couldn’t seem to let go of Graham, and he hugged her some more. Then Deborah abruptly lifted her head and turned toward Rita.

“I’m sorry, Rita.” Graham reached out and brushed Rita’s hand.

Rita started to speak, but Deborah held out her hand.

“Let me get this out. I know now that you aren’t trying to replace my mother, but it’s going to take some time to get used to seeing you with my dad. They were always so happy.”

“Hmmph, they had their moments,” Martha muttered under her breath.

“What I’m saying is, give me time to get used to the idea of you and Dad.”

“I will.”

“Now, let’s have Thanksgiving,” Martha said. “That bird is tired of lying up on the platter waiting on you folks to finish this long, drawn-out conversation. I can’t wait to dig into my Deborah’s mac and cheese and Liz’s sweet potato pie.”

“Slow down, Martha,” Elroy admonished. “You gonna tire yourself out. We still have to celebrate your birthday after we eat.”

“All right, baby. Dinner is served!”

Deborah came into the dining room and stood behind Martha’s chair. “It’s time to say happy birthday to the woman of the house, my grandmother, Martha Carter.” Everyone around the table clapped their hands. Liz and the others joined Deborah in the dining room, and the women quickly cleared the table for the birthday celebration.

Teeth packed in smiles ready for an audition for a minstrel show prepared to sing. “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Martha, Sister Carter, Grandma, happy birthday to you.”

“Praise the Lord,” Martha shouted. Everyone clapped and chanted, “Martha, Martha, Martha.” The children shouted, “Go Granny, it’s your birthday.”

Tears streamed from Martha’s face. “Thank you, everyone. This is a day of Thanksgiving. God has blessed me to live on this earth eighty-four years today.” Martha stopped, overcome with emotion. “And I thank Him every day for all His blessings, my wonderful husband, family, and friends. Where’s the knife so I can cut this cake? All right, somebody sing, make some noise.”

Liz turned to Rita. “Would you sing us a song, Rita?”

Rita froze. All eyes were looking at her, waiting for her response.

“No, let someone else sing.”

“Rita, sing me a song,” Martha interjected.

How could Rita deny this woman her request? She looked around the room. The smiles were warm. And Graham was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

“Please sing,” Deborah said without sarcasm in her voice, surprising everyone in the room.

Rita pushed back her chair, got up from the table, and moved to where Martha sat. She placed her hand on the old woman’s shoulder, closed her eyes and began to sing.

“I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows. Out there in the dark somewhere, a candle glows. Every time I hear a newborn baby cry or touch a leaf or see the sky, I believe, I believe…”

Everyone clapped their hands, including Deborah and Liz. But Graham was paralyzed in time—a distant memory of his wife as she played that very song on the record player and asked him to dance.

BOOK: A Love So Deep
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