Authors: Zuri Day
The dinner conversation was quieter than usual. Carter had brought Val her favorite rib dinner from Jewel’s BBQ, complete with baked beans and potato salad, but somehow the meal felt incomplete—stilted by words left unsaid.
Val was first to try and bridge the gap. “Maybe you should consider it, Carter.”
“Consider what?” But he knew what; it was the same conversation they’d had all weekend.
“That D’Andra could be your child. At this point in our lives, especially with her grown and all, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. She’s a beautiful girl. I considered her like a daughter from the first time she came into this room. She’s warm, sincere, a lot like you when I think about it. Now look, I’d have to do a reassessment with these new eyes of knowledge, but she definitely has some of your temperament.”
“That woman has wanted to get me back ever since I left her.”
Val placed her finished plate on the table beside her. She wiped her hands and took a long sip of tea before she spoke again.
“Maybe it’s time you put what Mary did behind you,” Val said. “And at least be open to helping heal somebody who’s done you no harm.”
Carter was reminded all over again why he loved Valerie Marie Johnson. “How would you feel about that if it’s true, that D’Andra’s my child?”
Valerie smiled, her answer both instant and sincere. “I’d say it would be poetic justice if after all these years the daughter Mary had becomes the daughter I’ve always wanted. Now will you take the paternity test?”
Night couldn’t believe the emotional rollercoaster he was on. While still reeling from the news that D’Andra may be his stepsister, he was now excited about perhaps getting his dream spot after all. He sauntered into his mother’s hospital room with her favorite butter pecan ice cream.
“Between you and Carter, I’m going to gain twenty pounds by the time I leave here.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I can always take it home with me.” Night began putting the container back in the bag.
“Boy, you are cruisin’ for a bruisin’. Did you bring me a spoon?”
Night placed the ice cream beside him and reached for the paper bowls and plastic spoons he’d brought.
Val watched silently as her son pulled everything they needed from a plastic bag.
He’s so thoughtful,
He and D’Andra would be good for each other.
“Have you talked to D’Andra?” she asked.
“What do I say to her Mom? Her mother made you lose a baby. Carter may be D’Andra’s father. She’d be my stepsister.”
“She could be your wife.”
Night’s hand stopped in the mid-scoop. “Where is this coming from?”
“It’s coming from knowing how happy you’ve been since meeting D’Andra. And seeing with my own eyes what a beautiful woman she is, inside and out. I just don’t want you to stop talking to her because of some misplaced sense of loyalty or obligation to Carter or me. Son, like I told you, I forgave Mary for what she did a long time ago. Surely you can forgive a woman who hasn’t done nothing at all.”
Val told Night about Carter’s decision to have the paternity test. “I’ve come to love D’Andra and hope she is Carter’s child. That way, if you decide to act stubborn, like you don’t have the sense God gave you or I taught you, she’ll still be family to me…one way or another.”
Night ate his ice cream in silence, digesting what his mother said. She was right. Night figured he couldn’t continue seeing D’Andra because it would hurt Carter and his mother to do so. Her words had given him permission to put his heart back in his chest.
“I’ll be right back,” he said and left his mother’s room.
Once in the hall he pulled out his cell phone. Voice mail picked up on the other end. Night thought about leaving a message but decided against it. The things he wanted to tell D’Andra needed to be said face to face.
D’Andra battled mixed emotions as she left MLK Hospital. She’d convinced herself that there was no bitterness at her mother’s indirect participation in her losing the man she loved. D’Andra knew she’d lost him. How could it be any other way? Her mother had done a horrible thing to his mother. If D’Andra knew nothing else, she knew how Night loved one Val Johnson.
Once on the highway, she put in her hands-free and pulled out her cell phone. She’d meant to call Elaine before getting to the hospital but had been lost in thought of what might have been with Night. She hoped it wasn’t too late to ask her friend to come to work a little early. After rushing off without talking to Elaine, D’Andra had spent the entire weekend battling with her pain. She was desperately in need of a compassionate, non-judgmental listening ear.
“Where did you disappear to on Friday?” Elaine asked in place of hello.
“Sorry, Elaine. I was more upset than I realized.”
“I worried about you all weekend but was stuck in no man’s land on a camping trip we promised the kids. The Sequoia National Park is beautiful, but phone reception sucks! I’m glad you called, but I still might ring your neck for putting me in a panic by running off.”
D’Andra knew Elaine was trying to lighten the moment, but couldn’t force a laugh. “Look, can you come to work early, so we can talk?
After making their plans and hanging up, D’Andra realized she had a missed call. She punched the received calls button.
But there was no message. Not a good sign, she thought. But that he’d returned her message inspired a sliver of hope. He’d listened to her message. And he’d called.
“Thanks for coming early.”
“No problem. Max was boring me anyway, going on and on about his latest fixation: trout fishing.”
“Where on earth did he get that idea?”
“The sports channel. Yes, it’s considered a sport. Now he wants to buy a boat and sail the trout-filled waters.”
The conversation faded as they walked past colleagues in the cafeteria and took a more secluded table near the back.
“Okay, out with it. What on earth is going on?”
D’Andra took a deep breath and dove into the story. She left out what her mother had done to Val, and focused on the fact that Night’s stepfather was her biological one. D’Andra told the story by rote, as if what she shared had happened to someone else. Her condensed version took less than five minutes.
“So why are you so sure Night will break up with you over this? What your mother did is not your fault and neither is the fact that Carter might be your father.”
“Yes, but the reality is it messes up their peaceful life and brings back painful memories to a mother he loves dearly. I can only imagine her reaction when he broke the news. Or how she’ll treat me now that she knows.
“I do want to talk to Night, though, tell him how I feel. I don’t think it will change his mind but at least I can walk away knowing that I laid my heart on the line and that nothing is left unsaid.”
“Looks like you’ll get your chance,” Elaine replied.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because Night just walked in the cafeteria and he’s headed in our direction.”
D’Andra whipped her head around before she could remember to play it cool. Her eyes locked with Night and suddenly they were the only two in the room. He moved like a panther, sleek and confident. Her heart flip-flopped. How could she have thought even for a moment about not fighting to keep this man?
“D’Andra,” he said as soon as he approached the table. “Can we talk?”
There was no conversation as Night and D’Andra navigated the short walk from the cafeteria to the outside patio. A few other employees were out there; one busy texting on his BlackBerry, another engrossed in a novel and a couple others smoking in the smokers’ area.
D’Andra and Night walked past the small crowd to a bench several yards away. D’Andra sat on the edge of the bench; Night straddled the bench to face her.
“I’m sorry,” he began.
D’Andra’s heart dropped but she kept her head lifted. If she didn’t come away from this meeting with her heart, at least she’d have her pride.
“For what?” she dared ask.
“For not trusting my heart.”
The answer wasn’t what D’Andra had expected. She looked him squarely in the eye for the first time that evening.
“I don’t understand.”
“When you told me what you’d found out the other morning, I was in shock. That’s just for starters. I was confused, angry, hurt; and those emotions were distributed among several people I love and one person I don’t know, your mother. I should have focused on you; how you must feel to know that the man who raised me may be your biological father, how you must feel about your mom, and what she did to a woman you’ve grown to care a lot about.
“But I didn’t. I admit, my first and foremost thought was about my own mom and how yours had hurt her. My heart told me to call you, talk it out, work through this together. But my head said I couldn’t see you after what your mother had done. It may not have been a rational thought but it felt like I’d be taking sides against my mother if I chose to stay with you. Plus I didn’t know if Mom knew about Carter’s past relationship with your mother, nor did I know how she would take the news that he might be your father.
“So you told your step…Carter? What did he say?”
“At first he said he was positive you weren’t his daughter. But later, after Mom talked to him, he agreed to a paternity test.”
His response didn’t sound too welcoming but given the circumstances, D’Andra couldn’t say she blamed him. She hoped that maybe time and getting to know one another could heal some of the wounds.
D’Andra hesitated with the next question. “And what about Miss Val? What did she say?”
Night smiled. D’Andra’s heart flip-flopped.
“She said what only somebody like my mother would. That she’s always wanted a daughter and that she hopes it’s you.”
The tears D’Andra had sworn not to shed came instantly. So did her arm around Night’s neck. The position was awkward but she kissed him anyway. It was a light kiss, tender.
But not enough for Night. He turned her until she was cushioned in the crook of his arm and proceeded to ravish her mouth relentlessly. They’d only been apart three days, but that was a longer time than Night wanted to spend without her. His tongue circled and plunged; it took years of martial arts discipline to keep his hands from roaming D’Andra’s shapely, thick body.
D’Andra gave as good as she got. She was at work but she didn’t care who saw her. She hadn’t dared dream this moment was possible. But instead of running away she’d put her heart on the line with the message she left on his cell phone. And just like that she was back in his arms.
Reluctantly Night and D’Andra broke the kiss. She knew it was nearing the time for her to clock in.
“There’s so much I want to say to you,” she said. “Like I said on my message—”
“The message I left on your cell phone. I thought that’s why you came by. You didn’t get it?”
Night pulled out his cell phone and checked for messages. There were none. D’Andra hugged him tightly and whispered in his ear. “That makes your coming here that much more special.”
“Come home to me when you’re off,” he whispered back. “I’ve got something even more special for you.”
D’Andra went warm from her navel down to her womanly core; her nipples instantly hardened. Every part of her body remembered Night’s specials. Seven o’clock in the morning couldn’t come fast enough.
Night strolled to his car and popped the lock. For a moment he just sat there, trying to wrap his mind around all that had happened, and was happening. He’d be the first to admit how crazy it was that the woman he loved might end up being his sister by marriage. But life was just going to have to work out the details. Now that he’d reunited with D’Andra, he would never let her go.
Just as he started his engine and headed toward the parking lot entrance, a tone on his cell phone signaled he had a voice mail.
I didn’t hear it ring, he thought, but he touched his Bluetooth to hear the message nonetheless.
It was D’Andra. Somehow the voice mail had just been delivered. However in the idiosyncrasies witnessed in the past several hours…it was right on time:
“Night, it’s D’Andra. I have so much to say and then again for what I’m feeling there are no words at all. When you left the other day, my heart stopped. And suddenly any joy in finding my father paled in comparison to the thought of losing you. I understand that you’re upset. I’m upset too. I wish I could change the past. I can’t. But I’m hoping to affect the future with this message. I love you JaJuan Night Simmons, more than I’ve ever loved anyone. Please return my phone call. Please don’t let us end this way. I love you.”
Night woke up and wondered if he’d slept with a smile on his face. He wouldn’t have doubted it; life had never been better for him than it was right now.
It had started at seven-thirty this morning when D’Andra rang his doorbell. He’d greeted her naked, leaving no doubt about his
The lovemaking had been quiet, tender, as if each body wanted to speak words of love that weren’t in his vocabulary. They’d slept several hours and then woke up again with love on their minds. The coupling was more urgent this time: frenzied, powerful, nasty, raw. They worked up a crazy appetite and after a luxurious shower Night made D’Andra a healthy dinner of poached salmon in dill sauce, mashed cauliflower and salad. Their plan was for him to be at her house when she got off the following morning, but Night looked forward to the day when their households combined and when he thought of the plans he had for their future, his smile widened. Could the day get any better?
Obviously so. His phone rang with good news on the other end of the line.
“Night, my man!”
“Brad, what do you have for me?”
“Good news! Not only is the space still available, but after your deal fell through—”
Night cleared his throat.
“Okay, after I pulled your paperwork, the owners lowered the price by ten grand. They want to expand their property portfolio in Arizona and New Mexico; they’re using the profits from this sale to buy a small strip mall just outside Santa Fe. So they want to sell quickly.”
“Well, you know what to do then. Make it happen.”
While Night was talking to Brad, D’Andra was talking to Cassandra. She and her sister, along with Jackie and about half a dozen other friends of Mary, were at the hospital, praying and pacing while a team of specialists performed open heart surgery. The procedure had been scheduled for two days later but after Mary complained of pain in her chest and x-rays showed a potential clot forming, the medical team decided not to wait a moment longer.
It had already been two hours and D’Andra and Cassandra had broken away from the group to catch a little private time in the cafeteria. The one good thing that came from Mary’s heart attack was that it had brought the sisters closer.
“You scared?” Cassandra asked.
“You tried to help her, Dee. Telling her about nutritious foods and wanting her to exercise with you. And look at you! Girl, I don’t know when I last saw you this size. How much have you lost?”
“Around thirty-five pounds, I think.” Her usual joy at this disclosure could not be heard in her answer today.
“That’s great, D’Andra. Hey, while we’re talking, we need to figure out what to do with mama once she gets out of here. Brad said we could move to a place with a guesthouse so that maybe Mama could live back there. At least while she’s recuperating from surgery.”
“Uh-huh,” D’Andra said half-heartedly. And after a moment, “Who did you say?”
“Brad. It’s been a while since we talked, huh? Brad is the name of my boss who’s also my man. He’s whom I’ve been spending time with. I can’t believe I might actually snag this big fish.”
“What’s his last name?”
“Dee, you don’t know him.”
“Trust me, you don’t. But you will. He’s coming here later, after he finishes with his last client.”
“So he sounds rich. But do you love him?”
“What’s love got to do with it? This man has mad cash, girl. He loves me, accepts my kids, even suggested I get their fathers more involved in their lives. Made me feel bad I haven’t made more of an effort to do that. Oops, sorry Dee. I know how talking about daddies gets to you.”
D’Andra came close to sharing the news that she may have found her father but instead decided to wait until the paternity test was over. They were going to a diagnostic center for the testing and would have the results back five days later. D’Andra wanted to go a faster route, and even suggested DNA kits that could be ordered online. But Carter didn’t want to take any chances that a mistake could be made. He’d made the appointment with one of the top paternity testing companies in Los Angeles. D’Andra steered her thoughts and the conversation back to Cassandra’s new man.
“Money is good, San, but love is better.”
“Oh, so you’re an expert now that you’re dating? What’s it been, four months? Wait until the glow wears off, until you have your first big argument or he has his first affair. That’s when it becomes not about the man, but about his money.”
Fortunately or unfortunately, D’Andra’s cell phone saved her from having to respond. The name on her caller ID instantly made her feel better.
“I’m pulling into the parking lot. Where are you?” Night asked.
“In the cafeteria, but I’ll meet you in the waiting room.”
Night found a parking space not too far from the hospital entrance D’Andra had suggested was closest to where she’d meet him. He was just about to cross the pedestrian walk to go inside when a horn honked. The car was close. He turned around and sauntered over to the driver’s side of the car.
“This is the last place I’d expect to see you,” Night teased. “I didn’t think you came south of Wilshire Boulevard.”
“I’m not going to apologize for being more Santa Monica than L.A., but I’m here to be with a friend who’s mother is having heart surgery.”
Night frowned. “So am I. What’s your friend’s name?”
“Cassandra. Cassandra Smalls.”
Night started to laugh, a reaction that confused Brad. But the mirthful sound was so contagious that soon he found himself laughing as well.
“I wish you’d let me in on the joke,” he said.
“You’re not going to believe this, but Cassandra is D’Andra’s sister. And D’Andra is the woman I’m going to marry.”