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By Kendra Norman-Bellamy, Suzette Dinwiddie
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2010 Kendra Norman-Bellamy
All rights reserved.
"JT, I GOTTA hang out with you more often," Craig Wilson declared while he flashed a mischievous smile and then lifted his chin in the direction of the three women who sat at a table not twenty feet from theirs.
Josiah chuckled and shook his head at his best friend. It was just before noon on Friday, the one day of the week that they always got together to share lunch. After swallowing the food in his mouth, Josiah said, "Whatever, man. Neither one of those girls can hold a candle to Danielle, so I suggest you stop flirting and appreciate the woman you already have."
"I got eight more months of bachelorhood, and I'm gonna enjoy every one of them. Just 'cause I got an endorsement contract with one store don't mean I can't enjoy looking at the merchandise in another. As long as I'm not trying to make a purchase, I'm not breaking any rules." Craig made eye contact with the threesome again, and then pulled his attention away long enough to lift his glass to his lips.
"Why don't you just bring your face down to the glass and use your tongue to lap up the water like all the other dogs do?" Josiah asked. That was a good one if he had to say so himself. Josiah took a moment to laugh at his own quip despite the look that was being tossed at him from across the table.
Craig lowered his voice, probably to ensure that his less than flattering reply wouldn't be heard by their admirers. "If there are any dogs in this equation, they're sitting over there, not over here. They were the ones who trailed us from Chapel Hill to Durham. They are the ones who came wagging their tails into Chili's and probably asked to be seated near us. They don't even know us. We could be a couple of psychopaths for all they know, but I'll bet you anything that if I whistled, they'd come running."
This time it was Craig's turn to laugh, and it was Josiah who missed the humor. "That's not even cool, man." Josiah wanted to say more words ... harsher words, but he swallowed them right along with the Sprite he ingested through his straw.
Clueless of the chord he'd struck, Craig defended his actions. "Might not be cool, but it's true, and you know it. Back in the day when we were at UNC, I remember being in Professor Woodland's psychology class and getting into a discussion about this very thing. That's the way Ted Bundy and other serial killers so easily trapped their victims. Women are always quick to say that men are shallow, but look at what just went down."
Feeling increasingly defensive, Josiah sat back in his seat and folded his arms across his chest. "What are you saying? Are you saying Bundy's victims deserved what they got 'cause they trusted a strange man?"
Stretching his greyish green eyes as if the lightbulb in his head had just been turned on, Craig leaned in closer and broke his voice down to a mere whisper. "Come on, JT, don't do this. Don't make this about your mama. I'm not talking about her, and you know that."
Josiah remained poker-faced. "My mother got killed for being too trusting of a man she barely knew. How can I not take it personally?"
"It's not the same thing. Your mom couldn't be expected to make good decisions. She was a ..." Craig's voice trailed momentarily while he squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. Running his hands through the dark brown strands of his short hair, he looked away from Josiah. It was obvious that he was trying to choose his words carefully. "You said yourself that she was an addict. When a person is stoned or intoxicated, they make bad decisions—decisions they probably wouldn't make if they were sober." He jerked his head in the general direction of their female fans, but focused his eyes on Josiah. "Those girls are fully coherent. They saw what appeared to be two successful, and shall I say handsome men driving a sleek, black Audi, and they followed us for miles, not knowing a thing about who we are on the inside. That's not to be compared with what happened to your mom."
Josiah relaxed a bit, but he could still feel lingering tension in his shoulders. It was a common reaction whenever he felt that someone was trying to throw any part of his sordid past in his face.
"You need a woman," Craig suddenly said.
"You heard me. That's your problem right there. You need a real good lady to help keep your mind off the bad stuff. I told you that Ulanda thinks you're the best thing since sliced bread. I can hook a brotha up if you want me to."
Shaking his head, Josiah said, "First of all, your twenty-three-year-old sister is too young for me. Secondly, you need a real good shrink if you really think having a woman is my problem."
"Having a woman ain't your problem. Not having one is." Craig propped an elbow on the table and pointed toward Josiah. "How long has it been since you've been on a date?" "Six days." When Craig's eyes stretched, Josiah felt triumphant. "Any other questions?" he added with one raised eyebrow and a tilt of his head.
"Who?" Craig fished. "Somebody I know? Why you holding out on a brotha?"
"I'm not holding out." Josiah picked up a napkin and wiped his lips. "I didn't tell you anything because there's nothing to tell. I taught a software workshop to the admin department at her church, and we kind a hit it off."
"I remember you telling me about that assignment." Craig nodded his head as he spoke. "So she's one of the administrators at the church?"
"She's the pastor's administrator. His right hand, so to speak."
"Okay, so I can deduce from what you've told me that she's active in ministry. That's always a good sign. Sounds like a winner to me. Why don't you think that was anything to tell me?"
Josiah slid his Sprite to the side and chose to refresh his parched throat with a few swallows of water. After wiping his mouth again, he said, "Because although the date went well, I have no plans to see her again."
"I don't get it." Craig's contorted face was a billboard of confusion.
"When I took her home, she invited me in."
"For a nightcap?"
"For the night."
A hush blanketed the table that neither man seemed in a hurry to end. Josiah drank more water, and Craig sat back in his seat and folded his arms in front of him as if to say he now understood.
"Just be thankful for Danielle," Josiah finally mumbled. "Virtuous women don't exactly come a dime a dozen."
Craig shrugged. "Yeah, Dani's a big-time blessing, that's for sure. In my unattached days, I found out that even the good ones aren't always godly. You never know what they do behind closed doors."
"You never know ..." Josiah's thoughts came spilling out before he could stop them. It seemed like it never mattered what the conversation topic was on any given day, his mind would always eventually bring his mother into it. Reeva tried to be a good woman; she really did. But why couldn't she have been godly too? Why had she had to be such a waste of human flesh?
The table was eerily quiet. Josiah knew that his friend had quickly concluded that it was better that he not reply at all. And he was probably right.
Craig was the one person who Josiah had trusted with his complete life's story. How he was born with tremors that were caused by the cocaine in his bloodstream. How as a child, he was left at home alone more times than the state ever knew about. He was only six years old the first time he'd been taken from Reeva, and the pattern continued with Josiah being removed from his home a half-dozen times. Those six separations totaled nine years that he'd spent in the households of foster families because of his mother's substance dependence.
Craig and Josiah had been best friends since they were line brothers pledging Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. as sophomores at UNC. They were so different, yet so much alike. Except for his physical makeup, nothing about Craig said he was Caucasian. His mother divorced his biological father when he was two years old, and by the time Craig was five, his mom had remarried. His stepfather was black, and by all definitions, so were Craig's two younger sisters. His mother's remarriage changed everything. It resulted in him relocating to a predominately black neighborhood and subsequently, attending predominately black public schools for all of his formative years. Craig had told Josiah that he and his mother were the only two white members of the church he grew up in but that nothing about it felt unnatural to him.
Craig was definitely a product of his environment, and he seemed to have no qualms about it. He was the only white male on Josiah's line, pledging Alpha Phi Alpha, and ultimately became the only white Alpha man on the campus of UNC. He wore the label with pride. He largely hung out with black students, had the vernacular of an African American, and was only attracted to black women. But no one ever accused him of "trying to be black," at least not openly. He was just being Craig Wilson. It was who he was.
He was also the only person Josiah had told the entire twelve-year-old story of how his mother had been strangled by an unknown john who police figured had paid for his time with her, and then killed her to get his money back. He took any other money that she'd had on her person at the time too. Alcohol and drugs were in Reeva's system at the time of her death, so she probably never even had a fighting chance. Her lifeless body was found in one of those big green trash bins that could be found all over the city. Reeva's naked corpse was wrapped in the same blanket on which the police determined she'd performed her last sexual assignment. To her murderous client, she'd been nothing more than garbage.
Josiah pushed his plate toward the center of the table. "Let's go." The memories were making him sick to his stomach. His appetite was completely gone, and the remaining fried chicken fingers that he loved wouldn't get eaten today.
Looking down at his plate of baby back ribs, Craig frowned. He'd ordered a full rack and only had a chance to eat half of them. "Man, we just got here." It was an overstatement to say the least. "I'm not done eating."
"We've been here plenty long enough for you to have finished your food," Josiah said. "If you weren't wasting time messing with those girls' minds, then you could have been done by now. I've got to get back to work."
"So do I, but I don't want to go back still feeling hungry."
Josiah flagged down the waiter that was passing their table. He barely looked old enough to legally hold down a job, and Josiah immediately thought of himself as a teen. He couldn't help wondering if the kid was doing what he had done for years. Working to protect a mother and support a household. "Can you find our server and ask her to bring us our checks and a carryout container, please?" Josiah handed the boy ten dollars for his troubles.
"Heck, yeah," the waiter said, grinning, then folding the crisp bill before shoving it in the pocket of his uniform. He almost broke into a trot as he scurried to fulfill the simple request.
Craig snatched his napkin from his lap and tossed it on the table. "JT, what's up with you? I know we're on the clock, but come on, man. We've got time to finish our meals."
"I am finished. I wasn't gawking instead of eating."
"You got two strips left. You never leave any chicken on your plate."
"Well, there's a first time for everything."
"I ain't even trying to believe this." Craig mumbled. Then in what sounded like a last-ditch effort to change his friend's mind, he picked up his fork and added, "Ribs don't taste good reheated anyway. It'll only take me a few minutes to finish up."
Josiah reached across the table and stopped him just as he was about to dig into the meat. In an unyielding tone, he warned, "Unless you plan to walk back to your job or get one of your weave-wearing groupies over there to give you a ride back, you'll prepare that food for takeout."
Jerking away in matched annoyance, Craig said, "Get your hands from over my food. Didn't your mama ever teach you any manners?"
Josiah's stare turned menacing and he could tell from the way Craig's face fell that he immediately regretted his thoughtless words. An apology was forming on Craig's lips, but Josiah didn't even want to hear it. He slammed his napkin on the table and began vacating the booth.
"Hey, JT, man, wait. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."
"I'll be waiting in the car," Josiah said, avoiding the inquisitive eyes of the patrons around them as he stormed away from the table.
"What about your bill?" Craig called.
Without looking back, Josiah growled, "Pay it."
* * *
In the confines of his Audi R8, Josiah immediately switched on his stereo player and advanced it to the final track of the current CD. He leaned back, closed his eyes, and tried to think of more pleasant things. The music from saxophonist Antonio Allen's CD The Air I Breathe always provided calmness, and his six-minute rendition of "I Love the Lord" was definitely the order of the day.
Just two minutes in, the fires of Josiah's temperament had been doused, and the resulting smoke had lessened significantly. With a clearer mind, he realized that he was far more frustrated with himself than he was angry with his friend. After twelve years, Josiah couldn't believe that little mentions of his mother still ruffled him so.
The smooth music massaged his soul.
"I'll hasten to His throne ... I'll hasten to His throne," the guest vocalist on the CD sang.
Hastening to God's throne was something that Josiah felt he'd spent the bulk of his life doing. But after all the prayer and fasting that he'd done from childhood until now, and with all of the success that he'd obtained since burying Reeva Mae Tucker, days like this one, where Josiah felt angry, lost, abandoned, and without identity, still surfaced all too often.
"I'll hasten to His throne ... I'll hasten to His throne ..."
Josiah winced when he heard the passenger door of his car jerk open, abruptly snatching him from the comforting arms of the song lyrics. He sat up and began reaching for the gearshift as Craig climbed onto the black leather of the two-seater coupé.
"You all right, man?" Craig's voice was so filled with concern that it made Josiah turn to look at him.
It wasn't until he noticed how distorted Craig's image was that Josiah realized his eyes were overflowing. Engulfed by embarrassment, he used quick motions to erase the evidence with his hands. "Yeah, I'm fine." Josiah cleared his throat and looked straight ahead as he shifted into reverse. Inwardly, he prayed that Craig wouldn't insist on talking about it.
For the duration of the ride to Craig's job at Chapel Hill High School where he taught physical education, all that could be heard was the continued flow of music, but as soon as Josiah parked in a vacant space to let his friend out, Craig verbalized the thoughts that he'd apparently kept at bay throughout the ride.
"Maybe you should talk to Bishop Lumpkin about this." Craig had his hand on the door handle, but made no attempt to exit. "I can get Dani to help set up a meeting for you."
Josiah should have known that he wasn't going to get off that easily. This wasn't the first time they'd visited this topic of conversation. "I don't need to talk to anybody."
"JT, why do you keep fighting me on this? Something about your mother's death torments you, and it needs to be addressed."
Whipping around to face Craig, Josiah scowled. "Something about my mother's death? What do you mean something about her death? Is the reality of her being dead not enough within itself to be an issue? Your mother is alive, Craig; you can't possibly relate to what I'm feeling. My mother isn't just dead—she was murdered."
"I know that, and I ain't trying to pretend that it shouldn't still have some type of effect on you. I'm just saying, man. It's been twelve years. It's not like the guy who killed her didn't get caught. And on top of that, he met a pretty gruesome death himself, right? He got gutted in prison, so it's not like he's walking around living it up. His lifestyle led to his justice. So at some point, isn't it supposed to get easier?"
"What makes you think it hasn't gotten easier?"
Excerpted from Fifteen Years by Kendra Norman-Bellamy, Suzette Dinwiddie. Copyright © 2010 Kendra Norman-Bellamy. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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