Authors: Kimberla Lawson Roby
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To the most loving and caring mom ever: Arletha Tennin Stapleton.
After all these years, I still miss you every single day of my life, but I do know that you are with me eternally.
Thank you for everything, Mom.
I will love you always.
irst and foremost, I thank God for absolutely everything. Without You, not a single blessing in my life would be possible. Your grace and mercy have sustained me since the day I was born, and I am beyond grateful. Thank You for allowing my twentieth title,
The Prodigal Son,
to be published.
To the most amazing husband in the world, my dearest Will. You have given me the best twenty-three years of marriage that any wife could hope for, and I will always love you from the bottom of my heart and soul. I so thank God for giving me you.
To my brothers, Willie Jr. and Michael (and my sister-in-law, Marilyn) Stapleton; my mother-in-law, Lillie Roby; my stepson and daughter-in-law, Trenod and Tasha Vines-Roby, and grandchildren, Alexander Lamont and Trenod Jr.; my sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, Gloria, Ronald, Robert, Tammy, Terry, and Karen Roby; my nieces and nephews: Michael Jamaal, Malik, Ja’Mia, Ja’Mel, Shelia, William, Nakya, Kiera, Talia, Nyketa, Bianca, Lamont, Shamica, Brittany, DJ, KaSondra, Kaprisha, and Kiara (our goddaughter); my aunts and uncles: Clifton Sr., Vernell, Fannie, Earl, Ada, Ben, Ollie, Mary Lou, Charlie, Shirley Jean, Ed, Ruby, Lehman, Thressia, Rosie B., Isaac, and Iris Jean; and all my many, many cousins—thank you for supporting me with every book I’ve written, and please know that I love you all so, so very much. This includes Tennins, Ballards, Lawsons, Stapletons, Youngs, Beasleys, Haleys, Romes, Greens, Robys, Garys, Shannons, Normans, and everyone else I’m so blessed to be related to!
To my late brother-in-law, James E. Roby. I love you, and you will never be forgotten.
To my girls/sisters for life: my first cousin and fellow author, Patricia Haley-Glass (who I spent just about every weekend with as a child at both our houses), Kelli Tunson Bullard (my best friend since age six), Lori Whitaker Thurman (my best friend since 1986), and Janell Green (my dear cousin)—I love each of you dearly. To the mothers of my nieces and nephews who are also like sisters: Karen Coleman, Danetta Taylor, and April Farris—I love you all; to my spiritual mother, Dr. Betty Price, for all your tremendous love, kindness, compassion, and support—I love you with all my heart; to everyone at the best publishing house ever—Grand Central Publishing: Jamie Raab, Beth de Guzman, Linda Duggins, Elizabeth Connor, Deb Futter, Emi Battaglia, Scott Rosenfeld, and the entire sales force and marketing departments—thank you all so much for everything and then some. To the best freelance team in the world: Connie Dettman, Shandra Hill Smith, Luke LeFevre, Pam Walker-Williams, and Ella Curry—thanks a million for all your talent, dedication and well…everything.
Then, to every bookseller who sells my work, every newspaper, magazine, radio station, TV station, and website or blog that supports me as an author year after year, and to every book club that continually chooses my work as your monthly selection—thank you so very much.
Finally, to the folks who have been the biggest blessing of all when it comes to my writing career—
my wonderfully kind, truly fabulous, and very supportive readers
. As I mentioned above, this is my twentieth novel, and I am forever grateful to
Much love and God bless you always,
atthew stared at his wife of ten months and shook his head.
Racquel, who was sitting at the opposite end of the chocolate brown leather sofa, looked over at him and frowned. “What?”
Matthew shook his head again. This time, his eyes screamed disappointment. But all Racquel did was purse her lips and turn her attention back to the flat-screen television. It was a noticeably warm Friday evening in May, and though Matthew was a bit tired from his long day at work, he would have loved nothing more than for the two of them to be out somewhere enjoying each other; maybe have a nice dinner and catch whatever new movie was playing. But, as usual, Racquel was contently curled up—like an unconcerned couch potato—doing what she did best: watching some awful, ungodly reality show.
Matthew leaned his head back on the sofa and closed his eyes. Not in his wildest imagination—not in a thousand lifetimes—would he have ever pictured himself being so miserable. But miserable he was, and worse, he now realized that getting married at the young age of nineteen had been a horrible mistake. He’d now turned twenty, but he could kick himself for giving up a full, four-year, academic scholarship to Harvard University, something he’d worked very hard for his entire childhood—and now
was all he had to show for it?
, a tiny, two-bedroom apartment, a twelve-dollar-an-hour job at a bank, and no love life of any kind to speak of? Not since the day he’d been born had he ever had to struggle financially. Even before he’d met his father, which hadn’t happened until he was seven years old, Matthew had lived a pretty good life because his maternal grandparents had always seen to it. Then, of course, when his mom had married his dad, he hadn’t gone without anything.
He must have been crazy in love or crazy out of his mind to think he was doing the right thing by getting married. He also couldn’t deny how right his mother had been every time she’d warned him about having unprotected sex. He still hadn’t spoken to either of his parents in more than a year—not even when they’d mailed him a ten-thousand-dollar check, and he’d torn it up—but his mom had been correct in her thinking. Matthew wasn’t sure why he’d been so careless and irresponsible. However, he was proud of the fact that he’d immediately manned up as soon as he’d learned of Racquel’s pregnancy and had decided to be there for both her and the baby. Then, as it had turned out, Racquel’s parents had also told him that they would take care of little MJ until he and Racquel finished college—since Racquel had been scheduled to attend MIT a few months after the baby was born. So, off to Boston he had gone—and life had been great until that dreadful day in January when Racquel had gone into labor much too early. A huge blowup had ensued between his mother and Vanessa, the two grandmothers-to-be, at Racquel’s baby shower, and Racquel had gotten herself all worked up over it. Next thing anyone had known, her water had broken and she’d been rushed to the hospital.
Matthew remembered how terrified he’d been that Racquel would lose the baby, but thank God, everything had turned out well. Little MJ had been born with a respiratory problem, but he’d ended up being released from the hospital just a few days later. Although, the more Matthew thought about all that had evolved, he was saddened further because none of what had occurred on the day of the baby shower could compare to any of what had happened a few weeks afterward. His mother had concocted the most outlandish scheme, and before long, the Division of Children and Family Services had come knocking at the front door of Racquel’s parents’, stating that they’d received two phone calls claiming child abuse. Of course, none of this had been true, and although in the end, the truth had been exposed and Charlotte had been arrested, the whole idea of little MJ being snatched away from her had been too much for Racquel to handle. It was the reason she now regularly obsessed over their one-year-old son, and she never felt comfortable leaving him with her own parents, let alone anyone else. She wasn’t even okay with Matthew taking MJ to see his sister, Alicia, or his great-aunt Emma because she feared something might happen to him or that he might be kidnapped. That whole DCFS incident had ruined Racquel emotionally, and Matthew had a feeling things would never be normal for them again. As it was, she rarely left the house, and she no longer visited any of her friends when they came home from school for the weekend. She never invited anyone over to the apartment either.
Matthew opened his eyes and turned his head toward Racquel. At first she ignored him, even though he knew she saw him looking at her, but finally, she turned toward him in a huff.
“Why do you keep staring at me?”
Matthew gazed at her. “Because.”
“Because what, Matt?”
“Look at you? All that long, beautiful hair. When was the last time you even bothered to comb it? Or put on a little makeup?”
“Excuse me? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I have a baby to take care of. So trying to look beautiful is the very
of my worries.”
“Maybe. But have you taken a good look at this place?” Matthew scanned the living room and looked toward the kitchen. Her and MJ’s dirty clothes were scattered everywhere. He also saw just about every toy MJ owned strewn across the floor. “It’s a complete mess, Racquel. We’re practically living in filth, and you stroll around here like it’s clean as a whistle.”
“Like I said, I have a baby to take care of.”
“Is that also the reason we don’t make love anymore?”
Racquel squinted her eyes. “Is that all you care about?”
“No, but I think it’s a cryin’ shame that I’m a married man, yet I haven’t had sex in over two months. And even when we did it then, I had to nag you for three days about it.”
Racquel rolled her eyes and turned back to the television.
Matthew snatched the remote control from the sofa and turned it off.
Racquel stood up. “Are you crazy? What’s wrong with you?”
“Everything, Racquel! I’m sick of this. All you do is watch those mindless reality shows, eat a ton of junk food, and then you watch
stupid reality shows. And I’m not sure how much more I can take.”
“Oh really? Well, why don’t you leave then? Why don’t you just file for a divorce, because nobody’s forcing you to be here.”
Matthew swallowed hard. He’d known for a while that they had major marital problems, but he hadn’t expected her to suggest a breakup so quickly. “Wow. So that’s how you feel about me?”
“You’re the one complaining, Matt, so if you want out I won’t try to stop you. If you’re that miserable and unhappy, then what’s the point?”
“Are you saying you don’t love me anymore?”
“I’m not saying that at all, but your mother ruined everything for us. She had my child taken from me, Matt. She made false accusations about me and my mom, even though neither of us would ever do anything to hurt little MJ. I nearly had a nervous breakdown over that nonsense.”
“I understand that, baby, but my mother hasn’t been in the picture for a while. I cut her off because of what she did, and then I married you. I stuck by you, because I love you.”
Racquel didn’t respond and walked into the kitchen. Matthew wasn’t sure whether to follow her or not. He knew she’d been traumatized, but he also didn’t think it was fair for her to blame him for his mother’s actions. He hadn’t done anything to cause her pain, and actually, all he’d done was try to love her and be there for her. He’d given up Harvard, a close relationship with his parents, and a comfortable way of living—all of which he hadn’t minded doing as long as he had his wife and son.
Racquel walked back into the living room with a can of orange soda and a package of cookies in her hands and dropped back down on the sofa. She sat as close to the arm of the couch as she could and as far away from Matthew as possible.
“Maybe we should see a counselor,” he said.
Racquel picked up the selector and turned the TV back on, but she never looked at him. “I don’t think so.”
“Because there’s nothing wrong with me.”
“Maybe not, baby, but you just said yourself that you nearly had a nervous breakdown.”
“That was then, but I’m fine now. I’m good.”
“No, you’re not, and neither are we as a couple.”
Racquel sighed loudly and pulled her legs under her behind. She flipped through a few channels and finally settled on…another reality show.
Matthew wanted to protest—wanted to shut the TV off again—but instead, he got up and went into their bedroom. He dove face-first onto the bed and took a deep breath. A ton of thoughts gyrated through his mind but there was one thought that troubled him a great deal: he regretted ever marrying Racquel. He did still love her, he guessed, but he was starting not to like her very much and that wasn’t good. As a matter of fact, to him, not liking the person you were married to was a lot worse than not being in love with them. If you didn’t like someone, you almost hated having to be around them. Then, you eventually got to a point where you avoided them completely, and there was usually no turning back from that. Matthew hated the way he was feeling because something told him that his once happy marriage was only going to crumble even further—not just slightly but to the extreme.