Monday, January 22, 2007

Favor Part I Synopsis from The Midnight Clear


Part I

The Blind Leading the Blind

Every time I converse with my sister, Cheyenne, I end up getting upset or feeling like beating her down.

"Cheyenne," I yelled into the receiver, "tell me now."

"Sister," she whined in a nasally tone. "I'll be there in a little while. I'll tell you when I see you. K. Bye."

We hung up. I closed my eyes and prayed that everything was all right. Knowing my sister it could be anything. It's the week of Christmas and Cheyenne is driving from Valdosta to Alpharetta, Georgia to spend the holiday with me. This is the first holiday we're actually spending in the house since our parents died. In previous years we'd go visit relatives.

Cheyenne's a freshman at Valdosta State University. I'm proud of her for going to college because it was no easy feat getting her there. In high school she was notorious for skipping classes. It was favor from God that allowed her to graduate. I'd never seen someone miss as much school as my sister and still graduate with honors. That's favor - it's not fair.

Our parents died when Cheyenne was ten and I was twenty-two. Fortunately I had just completed my senior year of college at Auburn State University when I became her legal guardian. With my portion of the money I inherited from my parents' life insurance policies, I was able to start my own catering company, Eat Your Heart Out.

I tried to raise my sister the way I thought my parents would want. We went to church every Sunday and were active members. I prayed and taught Cheyenne how to pray, too. I went to PTA meetings, checked my sister's homework, helped her with science projects and made unexpected visits to her school. I did everything I could to let Cheyenne know that I loved her.

When she went through puberty I didn't think I was going to survive. She was moody. Got on my nerves. I couldn't figure out whether she was thirteen or thirty from one day to the next. It was hard for me to maintain a romantic relationship because I was too busy raising a child. Most of the men my age weren't interested in taking on that added responsibility. Thinking back that was probably for the best. At that time I didn't need the distraction of being in a committed relationship anyway. I was dealing with my parents' death, raising Cheyenne and starting a company. When I was emotionally and spiritually ready for a relationship, Greg came into my life.

. . .

Greg and I met at the Corner Café in Buckhead during lunchtime. We struck up casual conversation while waiting to be seated separately. He told me that he sold insurance and was meeting a client. I told him I was dining alone. He said something about a beautiful woman should never have to eat alone. I quickly let him know that it was by choice. I happened to be getting my Range Rover serviced across the street at Hennessey and was simply passing the time. We exchanged business cards before being seated at different tables. Before he left the restaurant, he stopped by my table and spoke again. Flashed me a news anchor smile. He seemed nice.

When it was time for me to leave the waitress informed me that Greg had already paid my tab. That made me smile. Not only was he good-looking but considerate too. He earned major cool points with me that day. And of course I had to call him to thank him.

When I phoned him he seemed genuinely glad to hear from me. I deliberately kept the conversation brief. Didn't want to seem desperate. Let him know that I appreciated the gesture. Before I could get off the phone he asked me if I was seeing anyone. I told him "No." Then he made a point to tell me he wasn't involved with anyone either and asked me on a date. I accepted and we've been together ever since.

. . .

I went into the modern kitchen with stainless steel appliances to put the finishing touches on Cheyenne's welcome home dinner. I must admit that I put my foot all up in it! Baked chicken so tender it'll melt in your mouth. Pots of collards, sweet potato soufflé and garlic mashed potatoes covered the eyes of the stove. Freshly baked yeast rolls coated with warm butter and cornbread dressing occupied the oven. The food smelled so good I wanted to throw down right then but I knew I had to wait. So, I went upstairs and took a shower. Slipped into a chocolate colored shirt and matching lace skirt. Let my shoulder length hair hang down.

I went back into the kitchen and put dirty dishes in the dishwasher and started a load. Wiped down the marble counter tops because I can't stand a dirty kitchen. My mother used to clean up the kitchen as she cooked. She taught me that. She also taught me how to cook. As a child, I would watch my mother as she prepared our meals. Pleasant smells always emanated from our kitchen. My family loved her cooking. Sometimes when I'm throwing down in the kitchen, I can feel my mother's presence. We were so close. We loved exchanging recipes and trying new things. Even though it's been eight years since my parents died in a car accident, I still miss them. Especially during the holidays.

. . .

I was away at college. I had just completed finals and was excited about my upcoming graduation ceremony when I received a phone call from my mom's sister, Sylvia. She was a rambling mess, crying and screaming. "Your family, your mom and dad. They, they, they've been killed in a car accident." I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to faint. Surely, Aunt Sylvia hadn't just told me that my mommy and daddy were…gone. I could hear the anguish in Aunt Sylvia's voice and it cut me to the bone. She cried harder, sounded like she was hyperventilating when she said, "Drunk driver hit them. Come home right away."

I couldn't breathe. Felt like the walls were closing in on me. I dropped the phone, cried. My heart thumped so loudly that I could hear it. I wanted to die. Wondered why this happened. I felt as if I was trapped in a photograph - still and lifeless. Didn't think I could handle the severity of the situation. My life seemed about as clear as muddy water. I'd never be the same. I didn't think I'd ever smile, laugh or experience happiness ever again. How was I supposed to live without my parents?

. . .

I felt a tinge of sadness trying to creep up on me like a teenager sneaking into the house after curfew. I quickly thwarted it by focusing on more positive things. I realize that I have a lot to be thankful for. I'm healthy, woke up in my right state of mind, own a successful business and I have a great guy. I'm blessed. Reminding myself of the positive helps me not to linger on the negative.

My doorbell rang. I looked through the peephole and saw that it was Greg. He looked good in his crisp white shirt and jeans. His baldhead was freshly shaved and goatee neatly trimmed. He was carrying a bottle of sparkling apple cider in one hand and a Pointsettia in the other.

"Nice to see you," I greeted, kissed him on the cheek. I took the bottle and he followed me into the kitchen.

"What are you in here burning?" He said, placing the plant on the island.

"Got jokes." I laughed.

He rubbed his stomach, said, "I'm playing. It smells good. Almost as good as you look."

He pulled up a barstool and sat at the island.

"Thanks." I placed the sparkling drink in the refrigerator. "Cheyenne and Jonathan should be here soon." I said that like it was no big deal, but in reality I couldn't believe that I was about to break bread with Jonathan. He's the bane of my existence. I pray that Cheyenne wises up before she lets him ruin her life.

"Jonathan?" Greg crinkled his nose. "I thought you couldn't stand him."

"I can't but that doesn't stop Cheyenne from dating him."

"Did he ever get his GED?"

"No. He's been popping the same old tired game ever since Cheyenne's known him. And she keeps falling for it. When they were both juniors in high school and he dropped out, I told her he wasn't going back. She gave me some sob story about his mother abandoning him and he dropped out of school to support himself."

"Is he still selling drugs?"

"Yes. What can I say? She's got a thing for bad boys."

"She needs to be careful. I don't get a good feeling about this guy. You hear stories all the time about people getting killed because of the company they keep. A bullet doesn't have anybody's name on it. She's got a lot going for herself and could do whole lot better. I would hate to see her ruin her life because of him or anybody else for that matter."

"I know. But it's like my momma used to say, 'A hard head makes a soft behind.' All I can do is pray."

I started transferring food from copper pots to sterling silver serving dishes. My mom used to use the same expensive silver pieces for holidays and any other occasion she deemed special. Greg offered to help, so I let him set the table. By the time we finished, the doorbell rang. Perfect timing, I thought. I opened the door. Cheyenne and Jonathan greeted me. I offered them a warm smile and gave my sister a hug. I was glad to see her, regardless of how much she tested my resolve. Told them to come on in. I locked the door behind them and we went into the kitchen with Greg.
Greg acknowledged Cheyenne and Jonathan and gave Jonathan daps. In the year we had been dating, Greg had met Cheyenne twice before. During a going away party I threw for Cheyenne to celebrate her going off to college, Greg met Jonathan.

"Sister," Cheyenne said. She never calls me by my real name, Shania. "I have something to show you."

I sucked air through my teeth and rolled my eyes. What now? I wondered.

She turned her back towards me, exposing angel wings tattooed on her shoulder blade. I didn't say anything.

"Well, do you like it?" Cheyenne asked.

"It's all right," I said. I don't know why she bothered to ask me. She knew full well that I wouldn't approve of a tattoo. That's why she waited until after she had already gotten it to tell me about it. Then she showed it to Greg. He simply shook his head.

"And wait." Cheyenne slightly lifted up her halter style top to reveal a second tattoo - a cross and rosary on the small of her back.

This just keeps getting better and better, I thought. The devil is a lie. I'm not about to give in to this nonsense. I recited the 23rd Psalm in my mind. I silently said that prayer whenever I felt an anxiety attack coming on, like right now.

"Sister, do you like it?"

"It doesn't matter if I like it. I'm not the one who mutilated her body."

"Why you gotta be so melodramatic all the time?" She laughed.

I could tell by the tone of her voice that she was disappointed that I didn't approve of her body art.

I exhaled, said, "Lets eat before the food gets cold."

We went into the formal dining room. We held hands and closed our eyes as Greg blessed the food. Then we took our seats and each fixed a plate.

"So. Shania. How you been?" Jonathan said.

I hoped that my eyes didn't betray me because secretly I was throwing darts at Jonathan. I couldn't stand the way he talked all slow. Perhaps that's the only way his brain could keep up.

"I've been doing good."

Until now I hadn't really paid much attention to Jonathan. He looked as sloppy as he usually did – baggy sweat pants and an oversized white tee. However, he had something on the side of his neck. My eyes narrowed, trying to decipher the scribbling. Cheyenne. He had Cheyenne's name engraved on his neck.

"When did you get that?" I nodded my head in Jonathan's direction.

He placed his hand on his neck, said, "Oh, this?" He laughed, looked at Cheyenne. "Not that long ago. Maybe two, three weeks."

I looked at Cheyenne, said, "Why did you let him do that?"

"Sister, I told him not to, but he said he wanted to do it." She went on to explain that Jonathan said he loved her and would still want her name on him even if they broke up.

I felt disgusted. They were so young and so naïve. They were a perfect example of the blind leading the blind. Not wanting to say the wrong thing, I stuffed a forkful of collards in my mouth.

"Jonathan, what you been doing with yourself?" Greg said, biting into a piece of chicken.

"You know. Tryna stay outta trouble."

I wanted to reach across the table and shake him. For the life of me I couldn't figure out what Cheyenne saw in him. He had pimply skin and a chipped tooth in the front of his mouth. He had enough butter on his teeth to spread on every roll at the table. I had to wonder whether she rebelling against me.

"You plan on going back to school?" Greg said, sounding like a parent. He reminded me of my dad. The way he used to interrogate my boyfriends.

"Nah. I wanna get my GED."

"So why don't you?"

"I'm workin' on it. I gotta get a copy of my birth certificate from my mom. We ain't speaking right now, so it's hard."

This guy must think that everybody at this table has about as much common sense as God gave to a rock. Who was he trying to fool? I've met his mother, Candace, and spoken with her in-depth. She admitted to leaving her children for a while, but she came back. Candace said that Jonathan was trouble and warned me to get my sister away from him. She was the one who told me Jonathan was a drug dealer. According to Candace, she found his supply at her house and kicked him out. Having him living with her and her other children posed too much of a threat to the safety of their family. She refused to take him back in until he straightened up his act.

When I confronted my sister with Jonathan being a drug dealer, she tried to down play the whole thing. Insisted Candace was crazy. Not credible because she abandoned her family. I told her I believed Candace's story. Then Cheyenne flipped the script. Acted like Jonathan dealing drugs was justifiable since he had to fend for himself. I looked at her like she had lost her mind. Because along with his other siblings, their grandmother cared for them in their mother's absence. Told her to stop making excuses for Jonathan's bad behavior. He made a choice to sell drugs. She stopped talking. I could tell by the thoughtful look in her eyes that my words were getting to her. At least I gave her something to think about.

For the rest of dinner we talked about the weather and college life, mostly Greg's recollections. Afterwards, Cheyenne and I cleared the dishes from the table. Greg offered his assistance but I assured him Cheyenne and I could handle it ourselves. So he joined Jonathan in the family room, where the Christmas tree was located. This was the first tree I had ever purchased, and Greg helped me put it up. It touched the ceiling. The tree itself was white and the decorations were primarily gold with red and green accents.

"How do you think you did this semester?" I asked Cheyenne as I scraped leftovers into plastic containers.

"I don't know."

I could tell she was lying by the influx in her voice. "What do you mean 'I don't know'? Haven't you been going to school?"

She exhaled and closed her eyes. Acted like I was getting on her nerves.
She opened her eyes, said, "Sister, I don't want to talk about this right now." She unloaded dishes from the dishwasher, making room for the new batch, and put them in the cabinet.

Silently, I fumed. I wanted to go off but I knew that wouldn't accomplish anything - at least not anything positive. Besides, we had company and I didn't want to show out in front of them. So I continued to put up the food.

Having finished our domestic chores, Cheyenne went into the family room and I put on a pot of coffee. A few minutes later, I grabbed a deck of Uno cards from the island drawer and joined the rest of them while the coffee brewed. They were as excited as school children at recess when I suggested we play. Greg dealt the first hand and I won. We were having such a good time laughing and trash talking that I temporarily forgot about my issues with Cheyenne.

I asked, "Anyone want some coffee?"

Greg and Cheyenne said, "Yes."

We momentarily interrupted the game as Greg and I went into the kitchen. I grabbed three cups and saucers from the cabinet and filled them up. Since the three of us liked our coffee the same way, I spruced up the hot liquid with hazelnut creamer and a couple of cubes of sugar that were housed in a small crystal bowl.

Smiling, Greg said, "I'm really having a good time."

"Me too."

Greg lifted the corners of two saucers that were balancing cups on top of them and went back into the family room. He sat both drinks on the glass table. I followed, carrying my cup.

We played another round of Uno. This time Cheyenne won. We finished our coffee and Cheyenne announced, "I'm going to drop Jonathan off at his grandmother's house. Be right back."

I nodded, waved good-bye.

Greg stood up, shook Jonathan's hand and said, "Take it easy."

Jonathan replied, "You too."

As soon as I heard the door close, I exhaled.

"You did good," Greg said, patting my hand.

I smiled.

He slid closer to me on the couch and looked me in the eyes. "Shania, there's something I've been wanting to say." He took a deep breath and released it. He seemed serious. "I was trying to wait until Christmas but I can't."

My heart raced and I gave him an incredulous look. He stood up and reached inside his right pant pocket. He wriggled his fingers around before pulling out his hand. I couldn't see what he was holding.

With a balled fist he knelt down on one knee. I swallowed hard, feeling tears well up in my eyes. He looked into my watery eyes, grabbed my hand again, and said, "I love you. You mean the world to me."

I noticed that his eyes were misty and his lower lip quivered. Totally surprised me. I was usually the one crying to him about my sister. I had never seen him cry. Sweet. Made my tears flow.

"Shania," he continued, "would you make me the happiest man in the world and marry me?"

I wiped his tears with my thumb. He seemed so sincere. Vulnerable. I didn't think it was possible but I loved him even more. I looked down and noticed a sparkling two-carat, pear shaped diamond ring staring at me. Looking back at Greg, I swallowed hard and said, "Yes. I'll marry you."
He slipped the ring on my left ring finger and stood up. I stood up too, and we hugged. This was truly one of the happiest days of my life. I say one of the happiest simply because I expect to have many, many more wonderful days to come.

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