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"Oh, well, at least I have a job," she said to herself, fluffed her pillow, let out a long, happy breath, and prepared to sleep. Tomorrow, she would have lunch with her three buddies—The Pace Setters, as the four called themselves—a treat to which she always looked forward.
She heard the phone ringing, but she put her head beneath the pillow and willed the noise to go away. But it persisted, so she sat up and answered it. "Hello, whoever you are at half past midnight."
"What on earth took you so long? Don't tell me you were asleep."
She got comfortable and rested her right elbow on her knee. "What's the matter, Mama?"
"Nothing's the matter. Why does something have to be the matter?"
"Mama, it's almost one o'clock in the morning. I got off a little over an hour ago, and I was just going to sleep. Why'd you call so late?"
"Oh, for goodness' sake. You're the only person in this town who thinks twelve o'clock is late."
Ready to throw up her hands, she said, "Yeah. Right," beneath her breath. Nobody had to tell her that Ginny Hunter was about to drop a bomb. Kendra cut to the chase. "What is it, Mama?"
"Don't be so frosty. Your mama needs a couple 'a thousand. I saw a nice little Lexus, and I need that money for the down payment."
Kendra stared at the receiver as if it were the phone that abused her patience. "You're not serious. You risked waking me up for this? And why would you buy a car? Your license has been revoked, and you can't drive it. Besides, you can't get car insurance if your license has been revoked, and it's against the law to drive an uninsured car."
"Oh, that's stupid. Nobody can get around in Washington without a car."
"Mama, I'm tired. Can we talk about this tomorrow? I'll call you."
"I don't want a phone call. I want the money. Getting anything out of you is like squeezing blood out of a turnip."
"That's hardly fair, Mama. For twelve years, I've been trying to save enough money to go back to Howard and complete the requirements for my bachelor's degree. And for twelve years, every time I get one or two thousand dollars in the bank, you borrow it, and you never pay it back. To make it worse, every year the cost of college is higher.
"I have two thousand dollars, but I saved it for my tuition. I hope you remember that you borrowed twenty-seven hundred dollars from me about six weeks ago and promised to pay it back in two weeks. You're acting as if you don't owe me a thing, Mama. So please don't say I'm stingy. I'll call you in the morning and let you know."
Kendra hung up wondering, not for the first time, about her mother's spending habits. Hopefully, she didn't gamble or use illegal drugs. Kendra slept fitfully and awakened as tired as she'd been when she went to bed.
Ginny Hunter figured she'd done her duty when she gave birth to Kendra. She hadn't wanted any children, but Bert Richards, Kendra's father, threatened to hold her criminally liable if she had an abortion. She did her best to be a mother to Kendra after her own mother passed on and left the child rearing to her. She'd hated every minute of it, but she'd done her best, and it shouldn't be much of a stretch for Kendra to help her out when she needed money.
Ginny sucked in her breath. School. Always school. If Kendra would find herself a man with some money, she wouldn't have to work till nearly midnight. Damned if she'd do it. Ginny rolled out of bed, slipped her feet into her pink, spike-heel mules, and threw on her pink negligee. She glanced back at the long, brown male frame on the other side of the bed and frowned. Why didn't men realize that the sunrise shouldn't catch them in a woman's bed, unless the woman was their wife? She did not cook breakfast for any man.
She went around and whacked the man on his behind. "Get up, uh, Ed. It's time to go home."
He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and gave her a smile that was obviously intended to captivate her. She stared at him. "Listen, honey. What's gorgeous at night doesn't look so good in daylight. I got to get out of here and go to work."
"Don't I get some breakfast?"
"Baby, I don't even cook for me."
He got up, pulled on his shorts, and looked around for the rest of his clothes. "I can see why you're not married," he grumbled.
"No you don't. I just divorced my fifth husband, though the decree's not yet final. When a relationship starts to sag, I say bye bye baby."
"Don't you try to work it out?"
"What for? It'll sag again, and the second time it's practically unbearable. I don't pretend. If it ain't working, it ain't working."
Ed buttoned his shirt, pulled on his pants, narrowed his eyes, and shook his head. "I've never met a woman like you, lady. You're a piece of work. Be seeing you."
The door slammed. She went over to the night table beside her bed, looked in the drawer, moved the lamp and the phone. Son-of-a-bitch hadn't left her a penny. Her anger slowly cooled when she remembered that he wasn't a john, just a guy she'd wanted. Young and virile. It had surprised her that she'd gotten him so easily. She laughed aloud. The guy wasn't a player, only lonely and terribly naive. But the brother could certainly put it down! She didn't turn tricks, but she expected a guy to be generous if he had a nice time with her.
She answered the telephone, thinking the caller would be Kendra. "Good morning. Lovely day, isn't it?"
"This is Phil. I'd like to know what makes you so happy. You coming in today? If not, one of my other operators will take your all-day spa customer."
"Let her have it. I've just decided not to come in till tomorrow." She gave manicures, pedicures, and massages when she needed money, but she had no intention of working five full days a week every week. No indeed! "My head hurts."
"Okay." He hung up.
Ginny showered, changed the bed linens, made coffee, and waited for Kendra's call.
Ginny would have awhile to wait, however, for at that time, Kendra sat at her tiny kitchen table going over her financial affairs. She tried always to have as much money in her savings as she had debts, her reasoning being that, if she lost her job, she could still pay what she owed. From her childhood days of shuttling from her grandmother to her father and sometimes to her mother, she counted nothing as certain. She drained her coffee cup, sat back, and considered what she was about to do.
At times, her resentment of her mother nearly overwhelmed her, and it also gave her an enormous burden of guilt. But shouldn't she discharge her obligations to herself? She had two thousand and eight hundred dollars in the bank. If she could save all of her tips—an average of twelve hundred dollars a month—for the next six months, till the first of October—that plus what she had in savings, along with whatever part-time work she could find, would get her through school. After the first semester, she would apply for a scholarship, and she knew that as a straight-A student, she'd get one.
She went to the phone to call and ask her mother what she had done with the twenty-seven hundred dollars she'd borrowed six weeks earlier, which she'd claimed she needed to move to a better and safer neighborhood. She hadn't moved. However, before she could dial Ginny's number, the phone rang. She looked at the caller ID.
"Hi, Papa. How are you?"
"I'm fine. What about you? I just got in some nice spring lamb from New Zealand. I can bone you a couple of roasts and a few racks, wrap them up, and all you have to do is put them in your freezer. When can you come by for them?"
"My goodness, Papa, that's wonderful. I have to be at work a few minutes before eleven today. Put it in your freezer, and I can pick it up Thursday evening when you're open late. I always get the best meat in town," she said with pride.
"That's because your papa's the best butcher in town. When are you moving to your new apartment?"
"I'm off Sunday and Monday, and I thought I'd pack Sunday and move on Monday. I'm so excited! I'll have a real bedroom separate from my living room."
"And it's yours. Don't let Ginny get her hands on that coop. She'll destroy it. You hear me? Your mother thinks money grows on trees. Don't let her stay with you, and don't let her get her hands on that deed."
"I won't, Papa. She called me after midnight last night asking for two thousand dollars to put down on a Lexus."
"What?" he roared. "Don't you dare! I buy you an apartment to get you out of that neighborhood, and you give your mother thousands of dollars in the course of a year. Don't you dare. You said you're trying to finish college, and I'm trying to help you."
"I told her I'd call her and let her know. Papa, do you think she gambles or that she's using drugs?"
"Ginny? Never! She's foolishly self-indulgent. I've known her to be on the way to the dentist with a bad toothache, see something in a store window that she liked, and buy it, knowing that she wouldn't have enough money left to pay the dentist. She told the dentist a lie, and he sent me the bill. Back when I was hardly making two-fifty a week, she'd spend the grocery money on cosmetics for herself, or treat herself to a fancy lunch at an expensive restaurant. She's not mean, Kendra. She just thinks of herself and nobody else."
Kendra thought about her conversation with her father for a long time after she hung up. She'd said she'd call her, so she dialed her mother's number. "Hi, Mama. I don't think I can lend you that money. I need it. What did you do with the twenty-seven hundred dollars? You haven't moved."
"I used it for something else. Twenty-seven hundred dollars is not a lot of money. I really need that two thousand. You're always complaining that I should work full time, but how can I? Public transportation in this town stinks. Yesterday, I stood up on the bus at rush hour from Georgetown to Fifth and P. I need a car."
"But Mama, what you're about to do is illegal."
"You let me worry about that."
"I don't know, Mama. Every time I lend you money, I'm shooting myself in the foot."
"If I don't get it from you, I'll get it, legally or otherwise. I want that Lexus."
What could she do illegally that would net her that much money? Kendra wondered. However, knowing her mother, she wasn't prepared to doubt her. "All right. I can let you have a thousand and five hundred."
"What about the rest?"
"I'm moving this weekend, and I need it."
"Well, if that's all you're willing to spring for, beggars can't be choosers."
"When will you give it back to me?"
"Soon as I can. I'll come by and get it."
"Never mind. I'll drop it by your place tomorrow morning." She hung up and kicked the edge of her sofa with such force that she hurt the toe of her right foot.
She looked toward the heavens. "Why can't I say no to that woman? She's using me, and she doesn't care how much she hurts me." She poured half a cup of Epsom salts into the bathtub, ran some hot water, and sat down to soak her bruised toe. An hour later, wearing Reeboks for comfort, she headed to work.
Her boss greeted her with what seemed to her a hopeful smile, for he rarely smiled. "I'm glad you got here early. Mo and Emily called in sick, so I'm short two waitresses. Think you could wait tables during lunch?"
"I'd rather not, Mr. White. I'm wearing Reeboks because I hurt my big toe."
"If you can manage it, you'll make a lot more in tips. Just for lunch today. I'll work the cloakroom, and you can have the tips."
She couldn't say no to that deal, no matter how badly her toe hurt. To her chagrin, midway into the lunch hour, Ginny walked into the restaurant and took a table. Kendra made her way to the cloakroom as fast as her feet would carry her.
"Mr. White, my mother just walked in here and sat down at table twenty-three. She's a deadbeat, and if she orders something and tells you to put it on my account, I'm telling you right now, I can't afford it. She'll order caviar, the most expensive entrée, and your best wine. I just promised to lend her fifteen hundred dollars on top of all the other money she's borrowed from me and hasn't paid back. I am at my wits' end."
Ray White left the cloakroom and headed for the table at which Ginny sat. "Afternoon, ma'am. Are you paying with cash or a credit card?"
"Is it customary for you to ask your patrons how they're going to pay before they've ordered?"
"When family members show up here, I do. I want you to know that I don't put anybody's check on my workers' salary. No exceptions."
"Well, I never!" Ginny said, got up, and strode out, as regal as a giraffe.
"Well, I'll be damned," Kendra said under her breath. "She didn't even glance toward the cloakroom where she'd expect me to be. I'm going to give her the respect she's due as my mother, but I am going to quit toadying to her. She doesn't care about me."
Ray White approached Kendra, his face aglow in a triumphant smile. "You got nothing to worry about, kid. She wasn't planning to pay. I got rid of her."
Kendra stared at the man for a minute, whirled around, and rushed to the ladies' room as tears cascaded down her face. She washed her face, pushed out her chin, and went back into the dining room. "Don't let it get ya, kid. She oughta be proud of you. If she's not, it's her loss. Pick up table seventeen."
Lunch hour ended, and Emily didn't report at five o'clock, so Kendra worked the dinner hour, too.
When she crawled into bed past midnight after having soaked her swollen toe again, she had counted nearly two hundred dollars in her own tips plus eighty dollars in tips left at the cloakroom. She didn't think the money she'd earned was worth the humiliation of seeing her mother attempt to pull a fast one, though, and of having had to report her to the management.
"Papa is right. She'll drag me down if I let her."
The following night after work, Kendra wrote a check and tore it up. Forgery might prove too tempting for Ginny to forego. She went down to the main post office near Union Station, bought a money order, and sent it to her mother. "The next time you need money, old girl, go to work," she said aloud, and dusted her palms across each other, signifying the end.
Sunday morning arrived, and Kendra arose early and began packing. The moving company had supplied more boxes than she expected to need. Carrying a big black plastic bag, she took the elevator to the top floor of the building in which she lived, and from the incinerator rooms on each floor, she collected for packing purposes all the newspapers and magazines she could find and stuffed them into the bag. After packing her dishes, glassware, and other breakables, she sat down to rest. The telephone rang, and she approached it slowly, thinking that the caller would be Ginny. But when she saw her father's ID, she perked up.
"Hi, Papa. You're not in church today?"
"I thought I'd go over there and help you pack. I've done a lot of that in my day." He paused, as if waiting for her response. "That is, unless you've got a man friend to help you."
"It's just me, Papa. I don't have a boyfriend right now."
"That's a pity. But at least you're not man crazy. And I won't say more about that. I hope you haven't packed the coffee pot. I'll bring over some pastries."
"I can definitely make coffee, but not much else."
They finished the packing in a little less than four hours, and she dropped herself on the sofa, exhausted. "That was a real workout."
"Sure was," Bert Richards said. "It's early for dinner, but I'll drive you to a good takeout shop, and you can get what you want, bring it home, and eat it here when you get hungry."
She'd be satisfied with a sandwich and tea, but she knew he wouldn't accept that, so she went with him, and he parked in front of Lena's Gourmet Shop.
"Papa, this place is too expensive."
"Child, I've tried to teach you that anything you put in your stomach should be the best quality. They get their beef from me."
Excerpted from Breaking the Ties That Bind by Gwynne Forster Copyright © 2011 by Gwendolyn Johnson-Acsadi. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 25, 2011
I thought this was an excellent book that gave hope to what seemed like a hopeless family bond. It should you that even though your parents raise you you arent obligated to take care of them & their problems. I definately look forward to my the next book i choose to read by Forester.
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