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Authors: Brenda Jackson

Ties That Bind

BOOK: Ties That Bind
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To the man who has been the love of my life for over thirty years, Gerald Jackson, Sr.
To my family and friends for always being so supportive.
To Deirdre Sherard Thompson and Leslie A. Arthur for their much appreciated assistance in providing information on Howard University.
To Dr. Clifford Muse, University Archivist, Howard University, for all the historical information that he provided on Howard University.
To my Heavenly Father. I'm everything I am because you love me.
1965 – 1968
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for and sweet for bitter.
 
Isaiah 5:20
October 1965
Howard University, Washington, DC
“For crying out loud, Jenna, the least you can do is act like you want to go,” Ellie Stanhope said, glancing at her watch. “What else do you have to do tonight?”
“Study,” was Jenna Haywood's reply as she turned away from the closet and walked over to the bed to put on her shoes.
“All you ever do is study.”
Jenna glanced over her shoulder at Ellie. “Have you forgotten this is college and getting an education is the reason we're here?”
“Whoa, speak for yourself. That's not why I'm here. I came to Howard for a different reason altogether.”
Jenna shook her head. It hadn't taken long for Ellie to explain when they first met two years ago that the reason she had come to Howard University was to find an educated man to marry who could give her the good life she wanted.
Jenna couldn't understand any black woman still thinking that way. That had been the norm for women years ago, to go off to college to find a husband. But now all across the country more and more women were demanding equal rights, although for most black women and men, civil rights were the main thing they were fighting for. But still, women were finally coming into their own, getting recognized for their accomplishments. There was even a women's liberation movement that had recently gotten started. And as far as black women were concerned, thanks to the Civil Rights Act that was passed last year, you could now enter jobs that used to be considered for “white women only”.
Ellie was right. Her reasons for coming to Howard were altogether different from Jenna's. Jenna wanted to one day become an architect, a field a lot of women had not yet ventured into. Besides, she owed it
to her parents, who had scraped and saved their last dime to send her to college to do her very best in school.
“Will you please hurry up, Jenna!”
Jenna turned and saw Ellie impatiently tapping her foot on the floor. “What's the rush?”
Ellie rolled her eyes heavenward. “Jenna, this is the biggest, most important fraternity party of the year. Everyone who is anyone on campus was invited.”
Jenna smiled. “Then how did we get invited? We aren't anybody. At least we aren't anybody important.”
“Speak for yourself, Jenna Haywood. I
am
somebody. I'm a woman with my eyes on Sonny Cahill.”
Jenna didn't have to ask who Sonny Cahill was. He was the senior who was the son of New Jersey's first Negro mayor. And everybody on campus knew that like his father, Sonny had political aspirations. Everybody also knew that he was seeing Terri Whitelaw on a steady basis, who happened to be this year's homecoming queen. Jenna couldn't help wondering how Ellie thought she would fit into the picture. “Okay, I'm ready to go.”
Ellie headed for the door. “It's about time.”
 
The sound of Fontella Bass' hit single, “Rescue Me,” was blasting when Jenna and Ellie neared the building where the party was being held. Black and gold streamers and balloons were all around the courtyard. Jenna heard that when the Alphas held their annual party, it was indeed a party. She also knew the most popular guys on campus belonged to this fraternity, which no doubt was another reason Ellie was eager to attend. Last year they hadn't received an invitation. But this year was different.
“And for pete's sake, Jenna, try not to look bored tonight. A lot of the AKAs and Deltas will be here. I know you aren't interested in joining a sorority but I am, and I don't want them to get the wrong idea about me just because we're roommates.”
Jenna lifted a brow. “And just what idea is that?”
“That I'm a fuddy-duddy bookworm. I have plenty of time to buckle
down and hit the books during senior year. Right now I want to enjoy college life and make sure my future is set. Hopefully I'll have good news for my parents when I go home for Christmas.”
Jenna knew from what Ellie had told her that her parents were the driving forces behind her finding a husband at college. According to Ellie, her parents had met that way at Howard years ago. Her father was a pharmacist and her mother was a schoolteacher. Ellie had also explained that although she didn't think her parents were in love or anything like that, the most important thing was that they were well suited for each other, which made things even better. Jenna couldn't understand why anyone would think that way, or why anyone would want their daughter to follow in their footsteps and enter a relationship so clinical and loveless.
Jenna thought about her own parents. Neither had gone to college but her father was proud of his job as a meat cutter and her mother enjoyed working as a cook in the school's cafeteria. And as far as love was concerned, John and Jackie Haywood had plenty of it for each other as well as for their four children.
By the time Jenna and Ellie reached the building where the party was being held, a number of people were coming in and out, and others were hanging around outside talking and having what seemed to be a good time. There was no doubt in Jenna's mind that Ellie would enjoy herself tonight. But Jenna doubted that she would. Her mind would be preoccupied with thoughts of the test she would have in her history class on Monday. Because of this party, she would have to spend most of Sunday studying.
As they entered the building Jenna hoped that Ellie wasn't planning to stay too late. If so then she wouldn't have any choice but to leave her here, although she didn't really want to do that. But Ellie was determined to be a part of the in-crowd, no matter what it took. She and Ellie were two different people with two different sets of goals and ambitions. Jenna had accepted that and was fine with it. But she knew Ellie had a long way to go to accept her way of thinking and to understand that there were more important things in life besides husband-hunting.
 
 
“Hey, how about if we ditch this party and go to my dorm and make out?”
Jenna smiled at Johnny Lane as he came to stand beside her just as her favorite song, “Rainbow 65” by Gene Chandler, began playing. Johnny, six foot four, muscular, with good dark looks, was one of the first persons she had met upon arriving at Howard and was a known flirt around campus. “Sorry, Johnny, I have a headache,” she said grinning. “I'm surprised to see you here though. I thought you didn't do the fraternity thing.”
He shrugged. “Normally I don't but a man has to eat sometimes and the food here is always good.” He glanced around the room then smirked at her. “I see Princess Ellie was able to talk you into coming.”
Jenna shook her head. Johnny and Ellie didn't get along. In fact they disliked each other intensely. Ellie claimed he lacked any kind of breeding and polish. On the other hand, Johnny thought Ellie was a snob. “I didn't mind.”
“Yeah, right,” he said grinning, knowing better. “How you put up with her beats me. She's operating under the misconception that she's popular on campus when in fact very few people actually like her.”
Jenna shrugged. Feeling loyalty to her roommate she said, “Ellie's okay. She just tries too hard at times.”
Johnny snorted. “In trying to get people to like her she somehow manages to get them not to like her.”
Jenna took a sip of her punch. She knew that in the beginning Johnny had had a thing for Ellie. When she all but made him feel he wasn't worthy of her affections, whatever feelings he'd felt for her had turned into animosity. Jenna hated that because she considered both Johnny and Ellie her friends and often found herself right smack in the middle of their fray. More than once, Ellie had tried making her choose sides but she had refused to do so. As far as she was concerned, whatever Johnny and Ellie felt for each other didn't involve her.
“So, is Leigh still spending most of her time over at Noah's place?”
Jenna nodded. Leigh was her other roommate who didn't get along with Ellie either. Instead of tolerating the situation like Jenna, Leigh
spent most of her time with her boyfriend, Noah Wainwright, who lived off campus. He was three years older than Leigh and a law student.
“Can't say I blame Leigh too much,” Johnny was now saying. “You have to be the most tolerant person on earth, Jenna.”
Jenna smiled. “I don't let Ellie get under my skin.” Changing the subject to one that was Johnny's favorite topic lately, namely civil rights, she asked, “I heard there may be another march on Washington next year.”
Johnny shook his head. “Don't count on it. President Johnson is definitely not John F. Kennedy. Right now he's too worried about what's happening in Vietnam to give a damn about a bunch of black folks. But what this country has to realize is that young men like me have no reason to go to some god-forsaken country I know nothing about and shoot up a bunch of people I personally don't have anything against, when I'm being treated like a second-class citizen in my own country.”
Jenna raised a brow upon hearing the anger in Johnny's voice. “Are you saying you won't go into the armed services if you're drafted?”
“Hey, don't look so surprised. I heard Muhammad Ali is thinking the same way. He went all the way to Italy and won that gold medal, and came back here and couldn't go into a five-and-dime store and sit at the counter because he's black.”
Jenna took another sip of her punch. Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer, who had been known as Cassius Clay until last year when he changed his name, had started speaking out against the injustices against blacks. “I hear the Muslims have held several meetings on campus.”
“Yeah, and I've attended a few and found them pretty interesting. Maybe you could go to one of the meetings with me,” he said, knowing full well that she wouldn't do such a thing. Jenna was a good Southern Baptist girl who wouldn't be caught associating with any group believed to be of a radical nature, and with such a different viewpoint than her own religion. Not to put her on the spot, he decided to change the subject and discuss a recent rumor he had heard. “Did you hear there may have been a conspiracy with Malcolm X's death?”
Jenna lifted a brow. She wasn't surprised. There were some people like her parents who also believed there had been a conspiracy behind President Kennedy's death, too. Malcolm X, the onetime spokesman for the Nation of Islam and leader of the Organization for Afro-American Unity, had gotten slain earlier that year. “No, I hadn't heard that.”
After a few minutes of filling her in on the latest rumor, Johnny said, “Well, since you won't leave this party to go somewhere and make out with me, I guess I'll move on. I'm sure there's some woman here tonight who'll be interested.”
Jenna chuckled. “Yeah, I'm sure there is.” She watched as Johnny left her side and crossed the room to a group of ladies standing nearby. She checked her watch. It was close to twelve o'clock already, the midnight hour. She searched the crowd for Ellie. She had only seen her twice since they had arrived. She spotted her standing across the room talking to Tyrone Wells, one of the star players on the football team. Jenna knew that now would not be a good time to approach Ellie to let her know she was ready to leave.
Deciding to take a step outside to get a bit of fresh air, Jenna made her way through the crowd and for the door. Once outside she took a deep cleansing breath, thinking she much preferred being outside than inside.
She happened to glance across the yard where a group of guys stood talking, and blinked when she noticed that one of them was staring at her. And for the life of her she couldn't help but stare back. From the floodlights shining off Drew Hall she could see his features clearly—he was such a dreamboat! He had medium-brown skin and black curly hair. She would guess his height to be at least six foot four and his shoulders were broad. From the Howard Bisons jersey he was wearing, she wondered if he was a member of the football team. He had, she thought, the most handsome face she had ever seen and that thought suddenly played havoc on her nerves. This was the first time she had seen any guy on campus who had even slightly interested her.
Suddenly, she realized he had left the group of guys he'd been standing with and was coming straight toward her. Jenna felt some
sort of an electric current passing between them that was irresistible, undeniable. She experienced a sense of panic and for a quick moment was about to turn and go back inside. But something about the way he was looking at her stopped her, and she somehow knew that even though there was this raw energy flowing between them, she had nothing to fear from him. So she remained where she was, watching him approach. Her gaze locked firmly with his while the sound of Wilson Pickett's “In the Midnight Hour,” drifted through the air. When he finally reached her, he smiled, took her hand in his and said in what she thought was the deepest male voice she'd ever heard, “Will you go back inside and dance with me?”
 
Jenna thought his hand felt warm as he led her back inside where they joined other couples dancing. As they moved their bodies in formation to do the swing, it occurred to her that not once had she thought of turning him down when he'd approached her.
BOOK: Ties That Bind
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