- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Twenty years later
MY DADDY was no good. But it wasn't until recently when I realized that it was my father, a dark figure in my early childhood, who had influenced my belief in Christ.
Sometimes it's hard to remember things from my youth. Like when and how I stopped sucking my thumb ... when I got my first cycle ... when I learned to whistle. It's not that I'm that old, I kid myself. I've just had a full life of words and sounds and smells in all my crazy adventures, traveling around the state on assignments.
In the quiet moments—the few I have these days—I try to remember the unstable times of the late eighties. Those times when my "occasional" father would show up and show out.
Those times when my mother would try to be sane and strong—like she thought a black woman should—for her three children and the man who had drained her beauty away. But I've found that when I attempt to collect the sights and sounds again, either the memories don't come or they come back to me all jumbled.
In any event, it's always a smell that triggers the memories for me. And you know how smells can be. They catch you so unawares. And then the memories flood back, strong and plentiful, like tears that suddenly begin to flow for loved ones who have long since passed away.
The memories of that day—that day I proudly held the image of Christ in my little brown hands—were set off by the smell of burning plastic that was all around me.
It all came back to me as I stood on the streets of downtown Raleigh, primping for the camera. I motioned to my cameraman, Bob, to give me five minutes to myself. The sanitation engineers would just have to wait for me to immortalize them with my journalistic genius.
I am so my father's child, even though I cringed at the very thought of it. Demanding, everything had to be my way. But capturing these memories was too important for me. I was certain they would still be burning trash on the front steps of City Hall five minutes from now. But the words, the tears, the joy and anger inside me at this very moment were sure to be gone.
So I sat down on dusty concrete in my dark blue pants and made notes about that fire-darkened Jesus figurine that had caused me to look hard for the true Christ during my college years.
Bob turned his ball cap around and hoisted the camera to his shoulder. "You're crazy, Celine."
He was a good kid. One of the few guys at the station whom I could tolerate. Fresh out of some West Coast film school, he had a good eye and could swing a half-decent camera. But most importantly, he wasn't a tattletale. We'd had a few tangles since he came on six months ago but I'd seen worse rookies.
"Just a couple more minutes." I turned a page in my journal.
"Like last time." His sarcasm was pretty obvious.
"Don't let the Man dictate your genius, Bob," I shot back.
He chuckled and turned on the camera. "You are too crazy. Don't make me look bad."
Bob had dated my housemate for a brief time, a focused little Asian-American named Ming. He'd hung out at my house and eaten my food. I guess that made him feel like he knew me, like he could talk to me as though we were buddies or something.
I flashed him a frown and returned him the favor. "I'll make you shine, white boy."
Later, with the last of the late-evening sun glinting through the thick magnolias across Glenwood Avenue, I sat listening to the radio and thumbing through my journal.
I'd taken a shower after work and changed into sweats. My hand had brushed the lump in my breast as I pulled the tank top on. It seemed larger. I hadn't touched it really—not since that first time I saw it two days ago poking out like an egg under my skin.
Call your doctor.
There was that little pesky voice again. I left my journal beside my cold chicken dinner and went out onto the tiny porch. Across the street, a scruffy musician played his harmonica in front of Lilly's Pizza.
Water bubbled over fake stones in the small fountain in the corner of the porch. The thing had been Ming's idea of ambiance. Cicadas screeched from the trees overhead. The bustle of rush-hour traffic was nowhere close to fading.
Call the doctor.
I closed my eyes against the tears and let the sounds and smells of other people's lives cover me, trying to push the fears of death away.
When I tried to pray again, three words came to my heart like water washing over stones: Listen, Learn, Love. They were words that had haunted me since my childhood.
Dear God, make Yourself plain. Please help me live and not die.CHAPTER 2
"YOU REMEMBER John Manning, don't you?"
It was my mother. Ten o'clock on a Friday night and she wants to call me and be chatty, I thought. This just wasn't a good time for me. It had been a long and trying week and all I wanted to do was get some much needed rest.
"Yes, you do. He was in your grade. No, wait a minute. That was his brother, James. Well, actually James was his half brother. Sort of."
"Mama, I'm tired."
She continued on as though she hadn't heard what I'd said. "John Manning was a couple years ahead of you. I need to pull out the yearbook."
Not right this minute, Mama.
"What about John Manning?" I asked.
"What's wrong, Cee Cee? You sound tired."
"Did he die or something?" She was always calling me when someone died. Like I needed proof that the population of Pettigrew was shrinking.
"Who?" she asked.
I sighed and braced myself for all the details about how he died in a farm accident or got burnt to death while fighting underground peat fires. In her mind these were the things I should be reporting.
"John Manning, Mama. Did he die?"
"Oh no. He ain't dead. He's written a play."
"That's nice." I yawned. Bob and I needed to be in the mountains by nine in the morning to do a little piece on the annual flower show held in Ashe County. I needed sleep, not the latest dirt on some small-town wannabe playwright.
"It's about you and your daddy. And that burnt-up Jesus you used to have. And that day ..."
Her voice trailed off, like someone had a hand around her throat. Words failed me. I sat up and fought the urge to hold my breath.
Why did the world need to know about that day? The day my father tried to burn Jesus out of our family and had ended up burning down half the trailer park, with Violet's father trapped in his living room.
I never understood my father. Never dared get close enough to him to ask him what drove him to do it. He died of lung cancer in Central Prison. There was a grave in Pettigrew not three months old.
Truth be told, there were things I didn't fully comprehend about that day. But I had no desire to know the whole story. No one else needed to know it all either. His was a story that didn't need to be out in the world for everyone to be reminded of. No one needed to relive that dreadful day.
And who was this John Manning? Why did he feel so passionate about exposing that dark day? What did he hope to gain? Maybe it was heat from some skinheads or some Black Panthers behind this. Daddy had made enemies on both sides. Bringing my father's dealings to light would ruffle those feathers again but that wouldn't lead to a trail of money or fame.
"Most town folk don't want it put onstage. But I do." She paused. Was there pleasure in her voice? "I want you to read it. I could get him to e-mail it to you."
"I don't want to read it, Mama. And I don't want anyone else to read it either. Don't be giving out my e-mail to strange folk, Mama."
* * *
My mother was a hardheaded woman. That's what I decided as I opened her e-mail on Sunday afternoon. She'd sent it minutes after our conversation Friday night but I'd been out all day on Saturday in pursuit of the perfect story. And then on Sunday morning I'd been running behind six crazed three-year-olds in children's church. That major event was followed by a Web site coaching session with the church's secretary for the umpteenth time.
Opening my mother's e-mail had been the last thing on my weekend to-do list. But there it was—a forwarded message from the playwright himself.
A file was attached. I clicked the link to download it. I would glance at it, I decided, and e-mail her back to tell her how unsuitable it was.
As I sat waiting for the virus scan to finish, I puzzled over the name. I vaguely remembered James Manning. He was a grade below me. He had an annoying laugh and a big head and had moved away when I was in tenth grade. Somewhere like New York. James was hard to forget.
But John Manning? I couldn't place John.
The phone beside my computer rang. I picked it up without checking caller ID.
"Hey, Cee Cee? Did I wake you up?"
She always seemed to think I napped too much and didn't have enough friends. The virus scan had finished and I double clicked to open the file.
I sighed. It was only a matter of time before she asked me about the e-mail attachment. "No, Mama, but I'm expecting a return call from an escort service any minute now."
"Well, I won't be holding you long."
My humor was wasted on my mother. I glanced at my computer screen. The file had finished opening. The first page read: Black Jesus: The Quincy Johnson Sr. Story by John Carter Manning.
John Carter. I knew a John Carter; or rather, I knew of someone named John Carter. The John Carter I remember was a boy three or four years older than me who had big white teeth and dark hair down his back. It seemed like he never failed to have a blonde girl on his arm. He was the big, silent type.
I felt so stupid. Was Carter his middle name and Manning his last? I was about to ask my mother but she cut me short.
"I forgot to tell you to RSVP to the Pettigrew Homecoming."
"You're gonna have to tell me what that is, Mama." I glanced at my watch. Almost 4 p.m. Bob was due to come by in half an hour with some Asheboro Zoo footage on a story we'd inherited from a reporter on maternity leave.
I glanced around at the stacks of papers and books in my tiny office. I'd need to hide a few things before he arrived.
"The Pettigrew Homecoming. I told you about it."
I rolled my eyes and wedged the cordless under my chin so I could get two hands under the stack of manila folders on my scanner.
"Tell me again." I blew air and waddled to the hall closet.
"It's the reunion thing up at the state park," she explained.
Folks had family reunions at Finleigh State Park all the time. There was nothing special about that.
Her voice had taken on an airy quality like she was describing how nice her new drapes looked.
She continued. "Children of slaves and slave owners coming together to celebrate."
Was she reading this from somewhere? "Uh huh." I grunted against the weight of the box of old books I'd just pulled from under my desk.
"What are you doing, Celine? All that huffing and puffing."
"Celebrate what, Mama? What's there to celebrate at a plantation? Who's behind this thing? Like, who's funding it? Coordinating it?"
"Why are you asking me all these questions, girl? Just check out the Web site."
She cut me off again, saying she needed to get back to babysitting Tabby's twin girls. I asked for the Web address and she huffed like I was a telemarketer asking for her social security number.
"Check the e-mail I sent you." And she hung up.
"I love you too, Mother."
I pushed a few more stacks and boxes into the closet and ran a damp paper towel over the dusty monitor just as someone knocked on the back door. I cringed and rushed through the kitchen, wishing I'd thrown those empty tuna cans out.
"It's me, Celine."
I opened the door and let my cameraman in. He was smiling as he handed me a stack of DVDs labeled "Zoo." I stared at him a bit. Something was different.
"No parking out front. All those Lilly's Pizza hippies and junk parked everywhere along Glenwood. How can you take it?"
"Can you see me, Bob?"
His grin widened. "The new me."
"Lasik?" I asked.
"Nope. Finally got contacts." He glanced toward the narrow hallway that led to the rest of the house. "Ming around?"
"Not tonight. She's preparing to defend her dissertation soon, you know?"
He nodded. I imagined their breakup had to do with how grad school completely consumed her life. "You hungry? I'm hungry," he asked.
I shrugged. Where'd that come from?
"Not really hungry, Bob. But if you'd like, I could fix you a tuna sandwich before we get down to work."
"No thanks. How 'bout coffee? Do you want coffee?" He was blinking a lot and touching the bridge of his nose like he needed something to push up.
"Are you asking me out for a cup of coffee?"
"Well, yeah. Yes, I am." He made a funny face with his lips screwed to one side. "How's Third Place?"
"Fine, I guess."
When I was in the mood for some fresh, expensive coffee early on Saturday mornings, I often wandered over to Third Place. It helped that it was next to Lilly's Pizza. Both places had WiFi and wonderful smells. The people watching was hard to beat.
"Just give me a minute to grab my laptop."
"Well, Celine ..." He made that face again.
"This is a social thing, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Is that okay?"CHAPTER 3
WE SAT near the back. He had a cappuccino. I had a hot white chocolate. An oil painting of a blue dog leaning against an orange tree hung over his head. I smiled at it.
$1,200? Costs more than all my furniture combined.
"I like your hair that way." Bob interrupted my thoughts.
I'd French braided it that morning and used the curling iron to do a couple of loose corkscrews on either side of my face.
Actually, it was nappy and dry; I needed a perm. But he didn't need to know that. I simply patted my hair and thanked him.
"Kept it out of harm's way during children's church this morning."
"You go to church and junk? Didn't know that."
I nodded. It seemed like Ming didn't talk about me nearly as much as I thought. She never told me Bob was so boring.
"I go to Hayes Barton Memorial sometimes," he said.
I tried to imagine him among the high-bred types at that big ornate edifice up the street from my house. But it was a vision that didn't quite come into focus.
He tapped the table with his right thumb and studied the far wall. It had been a while since I'd been on a date, but I couldn't help thinking that this felt too much like an awkward one.
I'm on a date with a younger man. A younger man of another color, I pondered.
Could he see that little flash of panic on my face that rose up from my stomach? I snatched up my cup, drained my lukewarm drink, and swallowed hard.
I glanced around at the handful of people nearby. No one had been staring at us. Of course, what was I thinking? We were in Five Points, after all. A mecca of trysts and all manner of furtive behavior. All roads led to Five Points, it seemed, bringing desperate singles from across the entire Triangle area.
"Maybe we should get to work on that zoo piece," I suggested.
"That can wait," Bob responded.
"Wait a minute! What about the flower show piece? We still have to wrap that up."
"Coulton's given that to Sharon's crew. We got Erika's zoo piece instead, which is almost finished. And we picked up—" Bob was back in full work mode. He fished his notepad from his back pocket. "We picked up ... um ... Pettigrew Homecoming. You're from Finleigh, right? That's near Pettigrew."
I stared at him. "How'd this 'reunion thing' get past me?" After all, it's not like I'd been inaccessible or anything. On the contrary, my nose had been to the grindstone as usual. My boss, Coulton, should have filled me in on the assignment himself. That way I could have talked him out of it on the spot. Or, at least I would have tried to.
Bob went on. "Coulton figured you'd have an inside track. Cut through the stranger phobia mess we usually have to deal with. You look shocked."
Shocked didn't come close to the dread that roiled within me. Bob was green but honest—a virtue that carried a lot of weight in broadcasting. That went without saying.
He would never have understood me telling everyone I had come from Finleigh instead of Pettigrew. So there was no use in trying to explain it to him.
But, on the other hand, I had Coulton in my back pocket. He would understand. He was a seasoned TV man. He knew what a body needed to do sometimes to get in the business. And what was required to stay in the business.
Now the lies I'd told about my background were about to come out of the closet. I prayed it wasn't too late to cut off the damage at the pass. A talk with my boss would surely clear things up. He'd see things my way and reassign me.
I wiped the look of utter distress from my face and cleared my throat.
"Well, Bob, this is the first I've heard of these changes. Coulton usually calls or e-mails me first."
"Sudden death in the family this morning. Sister in Canada, I think Sharon said. Don't know when he'll be back," he explained.
"Sharon's in charge?" My mouth dropped open again.
Excerpted from Loving Cee Cee Johnson by Linda Leigh Hargrove, Kathryn Hall. Copyright © 2008 Linda Leigh Hargrove. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Opportunity to leave small town America in order to pursue her passion was just what Carla Celine Johnson needed. The success of her efforts has landed the television reported a coveted interview that leads her right back to where she started - Pettigrew, North Carolina.
On assignment to interview Pettigrew's celebrity playwright John Manning, Cee Cee soon finds that keeping up appearances is not going to be as easy as she hoped. To her dismay, the past she does not wish to revisit is merged with the assignment many would kill to have.
How does one face the truth of the shadows of politics, stolen and unconditional love? With love and the willingness to forgive. In Loving Cee Cee Johnson readers are brought face to face with the necessity of being honest about who you.
Linda Leigh Hargrove has skillfully reintroduced characters from the first book in this series (The Making of Isaac Hunt) with new ones without slowing the pace. The unfolding of the plot shown through the profession of Cee Cee makes this a refreshing and intriguing read.
Reviewed by Dr. Linda F. Beed
On Assignment Reviews