Authors: Angela Weaver
Frost on My Window
Genesis Press, Inc.
Indigo Love Spectrum
An imprint of Genesis Press, Inc.
Genesis Press, Inc.
P.O. Box 101
Columbus, MS 39703
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, not known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying, and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without written permission of the publisher, Genesis Press, Inc. For information write Genesis Press, Inc., P.O. Box 101, Columbus, MS 39703.
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author and all incidents are pure invention.
Copyright© 2009 Angela Weaver
Manufactured in the United States of America
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For J, who unknowingly inspired my creativity and gave me hope
I’m lucky to have someone like you in my life
(Quincy has totally blessed this dedication)
Because you have shared in our lives by your friendship and love, we, Sherrie Mary Williams and Lance Clayton Phillips II, together with our parents, invite you, Leah Russell and a guest, to witness the joyous nuptials Sunday, the seventeenth of May, five o’clock in the evening at St. Paul’s Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Reception to follow.
The rush of memories overwhelmed me when I pulled the invitation out of the half-unpacked cardboard box. My hands stilled.
Sitting down on the hardwood floor, I reached up to wipe away the perspiration on my brow and allowed myself to be pulled back in time to the biting cold of that Saturday afternoon, the heaviness of the ivory envelope I pulled from the mailbox. I remembered dusting off snowflakes clinging to my wool coat.
Even the scalding bitter blackberry sage tea I’d prepared once inside my apartment couldn’t warm me. The snow continued to fall gently outside the window as I stared down at the thick gold embossed letters.
He was getting married to
. The person I had known all my life seemed like a stranger. Each elegantly curved letter seemed to twist around his image, drawing him further away.
“No matter what, Lee, we’ll always have each other.” His voice rose like steam in my mind.
In my memory of the last time we’d met before the wedding, black and white images began to pile up like the snow on Chestnut Street. Every other day the big trucks would come through and push it to one side, and the mound would grow until it rose to my hips and turned grey from exhaust and salt.
Closing my eyes, I went back to that night, back to one of the worst moments of my life.
Lance and I sat close over the small wooden café table clutching our glass mugs of Bailey’s-laced coffee. I huddled more deeply into my jacket each time the door opened and the wind blew in small gusts of snow. I watched as snowflakes silently landed, then turned to shiny puddles on the marble floor. After getting the wedding invitation in the mail, I felt winter’s coldness everywhere. Even Lance’s smiles couldn’t warm me. The hole in my stomach lingered, catching everything in its darkness.
“Come on, Leah, it’ll be the whole crew, just like old times,” he said excitedly.
Lance’s voice was deep and beguiling. His lips curved into a smile and his head tilted as though he were listening to some invisible voice. His earth-colored eyes shadowed by curling lashes drifted closed as his long, brown piano player’s fingers wrapped loosely around the mug.
I looked down into the creamy foam of my drink and struggled to push back the sound of denial in my head. Struggled to hold in that other person under my skin who wanted to cry, weep, gnash her teeth, and claw at this stranger sitting opposite me.
I took a cleansing breath and tried to drown myself in the thick smell of coffee beans, vanilla, and honey. I pushed back that other person within who stood on the edge of that black hole in my stomach, her screams lost in the jangling of spoons on glass and whispered conversations mixed with the whirr of the espresso machine.
“We’ve gone over this before, Lance. I’m moving out to California that week.” My voice sounded hollow to my ears, but he didn’t notice. Lance saw nothing but full, lush life, happy endings, and rainbows. His optimism was a magnet that drew people to him like bits of metal. You found it next to impossible to separate from him. If you could escape, some part of you would always long to come back. Like coming home.
“Don’t you think you should reconsider? California’s a long way from Philly.”
I heard the echo of my parents’ words and shivered. “It’s a great opportunity. I can’t just ignore it.”
“You’ll be alone out there,” he pointed out.
I was alone here, in this café, sitting with a man I had loved all my life.
“No I won’t. Rena’s going to be moving out there in two or three months.”
He sighed and sat back, placing his hands behind his head. “I’m not going to win this, am I?”
I shook my head negatively as I met his eyes, looking for the boy I’d grown up with. The man I’d spent half my life holding in my dreams. Just for a second, his eyes searched my face looking for something and I saw a glimpse of the boy I knew from around the corner. I saw him peek out from that stranger’s eyes. The Lance I’d kissed on the cheek under Christmas mistletoe would have known I loved him. He would have understood; he would have chosen me.
“What’s the problem between the two of you?” he asked.
The unexpectedness of his question unsettled me.
“Shouldn’t you be asking your fiancée that question?” I responded.
“I did.” He threw his hands up. “She just shrugged and kept telling me nothing.”
“She told you the truth,” I replied.
There was nothing between the two of us. The rage, jealousy, humiliation, and biting remarks had ended one night with the sharp sound of my palm striking her cheek.
I met his eyes steadily. “Look, Lance. I wish you the best. All I’ve ever wanted was for you to be happy, and you are.”
“I really need you, Lee.”
My throat closed and it was hard to swallow. Yet I smiled despite feeling bitter irony mixed with melancholy dreams.
“You’ll be fine.” I smiled sadly. “Just remember to look before you leap,” I cautioned, reminding him of the time he’d jumped into a shallow ditch while showing off.
He laughed and the deep warm sound reverberated in the small café. Just for a brief moment, everything went still. A surprising richness swirled in the air. It filled me with memories of summers spent at the pool, soccer in the park, and popsicles on the front stairs.
We finished our drinks and headed out the narrow door into the small brightly lit lane. I stood on the sidewalk snuggled into Lance’s side as he hugged me to him. I felt his reluctance to let go as I moved away. Smiling up at him, I turned my cheek for his kiss. His lips stung with cold. In the yellow haze, the falling snow looked like tarnished gold. The snowflakes caught in Lance’s eyelashes as I wished him goodnight. I stood with my knees locked and grief stuck in my throat as he strolled in the opposite direction into the growing darkness, towards her.
I shook my head and ran my finger over the reddish-brown smudge on the invitation, remembering the sting of the paper cut. Even after all this time, I remembered hearing the hiss of the radiator. Things changed after that night. Daylight seemed to always be shadowed. Cold. Everything I saw or touched was grey, as though filtered through dark glasses.
“Girl, what are you doing sitting in the middle of the floor when we’ve got so much work to do?”
Rena walked in with the cat right behind her. Simba padded over and delicately climbed into my lap, pausing before settling down. His warmth seeped into my skin. I handed over the wedding invitation. My cousin shook her head, sending her chocolate-colored dreadlocks tumbling around her shoulders.
“I still wonder if I should have told him I loved him,” I murmured.
“You should have gone to the wedding.” Rena stood there with her hand on her hip.
“What?” I asked, thinking that I hadn’t heard her correctly.
“The preacher always gotta ask if someone has any objections to the marriage,” she clarified.
“Do you have a point?” I questioned.
“Yeah. You should have been there to stand up and object on the grounds that the bride was a gold digging, social climbing, cold hearted, Grade-A bitch.” She laughed, tossing back her dreads with a disdainful twist of her neck.
Rena was always smiling. Her eyes were always filled with twinkling laughter. No matter what, Rena’s lips curved when she saw me and I felt her joy. Only after wrestling with her own demons and too much alcohol would she let bitter remembrance chase away the laughter.
Those nights I would see Rena cry. She’d curl herself into a ball and rock back and forth, her lips frozen in a caricature of a smile. Her eyes would be puffy and face shiny with salty tears.
Rena never spoke of her parents’ death. In her presence neither would anyone else in the family. The car accident had brought mortality to our door. For months after the funeral, it haunted my parents. Every scolding was followed by long, rocking hugs and kisses. The car accident was never mentioned but it hung like heavy drapes over the windows.
I hadn’t known what grief was until Rena moved into our house. On the coldest day in January, Mom, Dad, Ralph and I gathered in the driveway to help move her stuff into the house.
I walked past her bedroom one night when the chill of the night wind leached through the old stones and crept on silent feet through the rooms. The sound of Rena’s intermittent sniffles drew me in. She sat barefoot on the windowsill with her long, pink flannel nightgown tangled around her knees. The glass reflected her shadowed face. Joining her by the window, I noticed that her ragged breath had fogged the lower half of the windowpane.
“Where have they gone?” she whimpered, turning a tear-stained face towards mine.
We were both children, with children’s understanding of the world. There was no blame or anger, acceptance, or recrimination. Death was a fable, a bedtime story imagined as a long, warm sleep until the next morning. But I saw grief that night, sorrow like silver icicles reaching towards the ground.
I took the long sleeve of my gown and wiped it across Rena’s face, gently brushing her eyes. Standing on my tiptoes, I put an arm around her slender shoulders and led her towards the bed. Pulling back the covers, I tucked her in on one side and climbed into the other. The ice-cold sheets and the multi-layered blankets settled heavily at my neck. Reaching over I wrapped my arms around Rena’s shaking frame. That night as I closed my eyes I hoped my warmth would wake us in the morning.
I scratched Simba’s back, using the reality of his presence to focus on the present.
I shrugged before replying, “He’d have married her anyway.”
“True. But you would have gotten a standing ovation for saying what we all thought,” she laughed.
Shaking off sadness, I closed my eyes and chuckled. “Oh, yeah. They would have given me a standing ovation for what I
wanted to do.”
“And what would that have been, sister-child?”
“I wanted to march into that chapel, pull out a gun and shoot that heifer in her perfect size six foot.”
Rena laughed and waved a hand. “Whew. Evil. I would have thought something along the lines of cutting off her hair. But I like that.”
I nodded. “And I would have gone to jail happy in the fact that there was no way Sherrie could walk down the aisle.”
“I don’t know, cuz,” Rena began. “Now that I think about it that daddy of hers would have carried her down the aisle, bleeding foot and all. I’m sure he couldn’t walk down the aisle fast enough to give her away.”
“You’re crazy, you know that?” I replied, smiling.
Rena’s cheer dimmed for only a fraction of a second before she caught herself and chuckled. “Maybe, maybe not. I do know, however, that I’m the only one unpacking these boxes while you sit there staring at an old wedding invitation, still hung up on a foolish man.”
I stood up, quickly displacing the cat. Taking a moment to dust off my pants, I rearranged my headscarf and snatched the invitation from Rena’s outstretched hand. The burst of anger burnt away the heaviness of lingering regret. I took the card over to the oversized garbage bin and began to tear it into pieces. Only when the last of the scraps fluttered into the waiting garbage bag did I smile. Humming to myself, I returned to my box-filled bedroom to unpack.
* * *
“Okay, come out.” Rena’s voice traveled down the hallway.
“About time,” I muttered.
I walked into a transformed living room. Open bookcases with recessed lighting stood between the windows. Each shelf was filled with books, pictures, and gifts. The soft glow of the halogen lamps reflected off the mahogany wood frame of the blues-inspired artwork. Soft oriental rugs lay arranged on the hardwood floor.
The entertainment center sat to the side, standing comfortably in its own niche. In the corner opposite the kitchen, the dining room table sat covered with two table settings and a vase filled with dried flowers. In the air hung the heavy scent of vanilla.
Two empty wine glasses sat next to a black bottle with a burgundy and gold label.
I strolled over to a grinning Rena and gave her a high five.
“Okay, let’s have it,” she chanted, hyped by her own creation.
“You’re the woman. This place is fly. I never should have doubted.”
“And you know this,” she cheered, doing a little victory dance.
My girl had style. It practically leaked out of her pores. Only hours before the room had looked like a mini-warehouse. Now, as the sun fled towards the west, the place looked like a home. Not as big and airy as the townhouse in San Bernardino, but comfortable, intimate, quiet in the chaos of an ever-moving Brooklyn.
Later, after having gone though most of the bottle, we sat curled up on the deep cocoa-colored sofa eating pizza.
“I know this is the last place you wanted to be right now, but thanks for coming with me.”
“Hey, you did the same for me. Besides, it’s not so bad,” I assured her.
“Don’t even try it,” Rena chuckled. “You couldn’t get off the East Coast fast enough. If I hadn’t caught up with you, your butt would be some place in Asia right now.”
“Seriously, Rena.” I took a bite of the thin-crusted pepperoni pizza, savoring the light basil tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. “Where else can I get real pizza? California might be heaven on earth for vegetarians and seafood nuts, but the pizza stinks.”
“True. I would have moved back for the bagels alone,” she replied.
“So when do you start work?”
“When I get there,” Rena said in-between nibbles. “Michael did everything but propose to get me to move back here. He’s got these guys on a tight leash and he knows it’s just a matter of time before something comes along and cuts them loose.”
Rena’s “official” occupation was record executive. The truth is that Rena was a confidante to celebrities. She was their shrink, healer, guide, sista-girl, mother, and homie. She was their bottle to be filled. The gospel stars and R&B singers drank of her humor and warmth as she dealt with their demons and fears.
If the celebrity reporters could pour stories from Rena’s head, the
would overflow. Rena rarely mentioned any names, keeping their secrets hidden behind her laughing eyes. But I knew them by the three a.m. phone calls and the heartfelt tokens of appreciation which would magically appear in the house.
“What about you?” she asked.
“What?” I swallowed another bite of pizza.
“Earth to Leah.” She waved her wine glass. “When do you have to go to work?”
“I’ve got a couple of days to settle in. I’ll go in on Thursday.”
“Any plans in-between?” Her voice was laced with innuendo. From the first time Sean had come by to pick me up for dinner, Rena had been trying to make something out of nothing.
“Yeah, I’m going to drive down to Philly and spend a couple of days with Mom and Dad. Since you don’t have anything to do you should come, too.”
“We could just chill out and grab some cheese steaks at that Italian place on South Street,” I said, trying to tempt her.
“I’ll have to think about that,” she replied as her fingers toyed with a stray lock.
“Why? Afraid Mom’s gonna nag you about your hair?”
“Nope.” She finished off the last bite of her pizza crust and began to lick her fingers. “I’m not crazy about the idea of being in the car with you on the Jersey turnpike.”
“Ha ha. Very funny, Ms. Lead Foot. At least I don’t have any speeding tickets,” I shot back.
“True, but I haven’t had any accidents.”
I glared at her over the rim of the wine glass. Rena was smiling like a Cheshire cat.
“None of those were my fault, and you know it.”
“Please. You were driving slower than Miss Daisy. They couldn’t help but hit you.” She waved her wine glass.
“Fine. You drive.”
“Which you hoped I’d do in the first place.”
She had a point. “True. Now why don’t we check out the bedrooms?” I suggested.
The wine lent a soft haze to the world, making everything look warm and welcoming. I stood leaning against my bedroom wall, proud of my creation. I’d decided that if I couldn’t have California, I would bring the sunshine and sand back east. I hadn’t grown up on the West Coast, but I’d been born to love it. I’d hung gold sheer drapes over the windows, and on the floor lay a room-size sand-colored, hand-woven Berber rug. Watercolor pictures of the coast lined the cream-colored walls. A small birch table sat in the corner. My laptop, along with the printer, sat surrounded by unsorted technology magazines.
The solid oak Shaker bed was covered with a matching duvet and pillows. Simba crouched at the bottom of the bed, staring aggressively at my two stuffed giraffes.
“Okay, Martha Stewart. All you need is the handmade quilt,” Rena laughed.
I poked her with my elbow. “Don’t hate the homemaker, learn the game.”
“Good Lord.” Rena rolled her eyes and turned around, heading for her bedroom. “You might want to bring a notebook, because men don’t get down with Martha. And no black man I know would sleep in those sheets.”
“That’s okay, I’m used to having the bed all to myself.” I giggled. Rena’s loud laughter echoed in the hallway. My cousin made being single sound like a felony, but in truth if not having a man in your bed was a crime, both of us would’ve been on death row.
I followed and stopped in the doorway, surveying Rena’s oasis. Where my room was light, hers was rich. Rena’s new dresser had a dark brown wood finish with crimson and cream candles scattered on top. An olive green cotton velvet armchair sat alongside the window, just outside the reach of the wine-red balloon shades. I turned my eyes towards a new bed that spoke of late mornings and early nights.
“Where did this come from?” I walked in and promptly collapsed on top of it. I looked over at Rena as she lay beside me gazing up at the ceiling with a whimsical expression.
“Guess I needed a little change,” she replied.
“A little?” I laughed. “This place looks like something out of
Lawrence of Arabia
Turning towards the headboard, I watched the fading sunlight play across the rich brown wood. Rena had mounted a wrought iron fixture over the bed and hung butternut-colored drapes from the crescent shaped bar. The cream-colored linen billowed across the front of the bed while curving around her printed pillows.
“Don’t worry, cuz. We can switch rooms when Sean comes by.”
I sat up and turned to look down at a smiling Rena. Her eyes were closed and her arms lay folded across her chest. My head swam at the quick movement and so I lay back down.
“It’s not like that and you know it,” I denied.
“What is it then?”
The truth was that I didn’t know. The sound of the phone ringing came just in time. I watched as Rena hopped off the bed and unsteadily walked out of the room. In her place, a quiet Simba jumped on the bed and purposefully settled himself on my stomach.
“So everything’s going well? Danny staying out of trouble? Great…yeah, she’s right here. Just a minute.” Rena walked back in waving the cordless phone like a fan.
“Who is it?” I whispered.
Rena’s laugh was downright wicked. “Speak of the devil and he’ll call you on the phone.”
I frowned at her turn of phrase and sat up, slowly reaching for the cordless.
“Hello?” My voice came out husky and slightly slurred.
“Sleeping already?” came Sean’s voice.
“No. Just taking a break from unpacking all these boxes.”
“Wish I could be there to help you.” Sean’s pleasant baritone came through clear on the phone.
“So what city are you in tonight?” I asked.
“Dallas for one night and then Austin. Would you like to come see us play?”
“I’ve already promised to visit my parents tomorrow. Besides, aren’t you going to be making your way through New York?” I cradled the phone to my ear.
“I’ll be there in four weeks.”
“I’ll see you then.”