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the making of isaac hunt
By LINDA LEIGH HARGROVE
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2007 Linda Leigh Hargrove
All right reserved.
Chapter One"life's a wild ride and then you die," I muttered the words of a song to myself as I put my dinner together. Stone had set tonight as a date for our last meeting. He would have the address of my mother, a woman referred to as Beatrice Anne Douglas on the decree of adoption he found, and at least one picture of her. A picture. My heart raced at the thought. In exchange I was to have the balance of what I owed him. He was an inexpensive and slightly unorthodox private investigator but nonetheless thorough. I appreciated that. And I'm sure he would appreciate getting paid real soon. Trouble was, I had nothing left.
Tate walked into the kitchen and looked over my shoulder. I hadn't really been following his monologue but that didn't seem to matter to him.
"Isaac, you listening, man?"
I sighed and gave him a sidelong glance.
"I told you last week," he said. "We're going to a play tonight. My treat. Karen and JaLisa will be here any minute, man. Put that sandwich down." He curled his lips and pointed to the food in my hand. "What is that?"
I ignored the question and used my tongue to push the corn chips back in between the bread. The mayo wasn't quite keeping them in check. "You need to go shopping."
He stretched his brown face and turned his head to one side, looking too much like Mr. Happy, the wirehaired fox terrier I had in high school. "Me?"
Of all the people to set me up, I least expected Tate. But looking back I should have known something was building. Tate had become a good Christian boy behind my back. Although I had to put up with the occasional sermon, he'd agreed to let me stay until I finished my degree and started work. Barely paying me any attention for months, lately he'd been asking questions about my employment decisions. I expected him to eventually start asking me to pay rent or something but certainly not, "Let's double-date."
"Isaac Hunt, you know what you are?" Tate asked, rising from his chair and taking on his I'm-tired-of-your-foolishness stance.
I checked my watch. Going on eight o'clock. "No. Tell me, Tate Michaels." Stone should have called by now to tell me where and when to meet him.
"A spoiled rich kid."
I gave him a wry smile. Spoiled? Being an only child, maybe so. Rich? The two people that raised me were certainly made of valuable green paper. Looking back on the night I left, I should have listened to the voice in my head: Take cash or at least its plastic equivalent. Suddenly I missed Ulysses Hunt but for the wrong reason-his potential for providing money.
"Thanks for not adding that word," I said, temporarily shifting my money woes into neutral.
I chuckled and pressed past him into the living room. He knew what I meant. Only last week, in a similar rage, Tate had rudely offered his estimation of me. "Why do you act so white?" he had yelled.
I wanted to say that just because a man can pass for white doesn't make him white (unless that man chose to live a lie, I suppose). No more than his darling JaLisa could pass for a man just by wearing my favorite 42-long hounds-tooth jacket.
I considered myself a black man. Okay, maybe not as dark as Samuel L. Jackson or even Laurence Fishburne, but nonetheless a member of the race of people taken from the African continent and sold on Carolina auction blocks. My blue eyes, curly blond hair, fair skin, notwithstanding.
My mind went to the night I ran from the sprawling 1950 bungalow on Feldspar cursing, vowing never to return. The night I saw the true colors of the black man and woman who had raised me.
While Councilwoman Hunt trampled on the papers from my partially paid private eye and screamed about me insulting her motherhood, Judge Hunt thumped the countertop with his fist and launched these senseless words at me: "What's this adoption foolishness? You're our son. You do not have white parents. You're a black man just like me. You like all the things black men like: black women, sports, and the like. You're afraid of all the things black men are afraid off flashing blue lights in the rearview mirror-and don't get me started on how we need to protect ourselves from some of the same stuff from back in the day on the issue of white women."
Tate brought me back to the present with a slap to the TV screen I was preparing to watch. "Look, Isaac, man. I'm going to finish getting dressed. JaLisa and your date will be here any minute."
"Hmm." I faked interest and adjusted myself on his beat-down plaid couch. Where was that remote?
"You've got to get out of the house more," Tate continued from his bedroom. "Get your face out there, man."
Was this a date with a girl or a modeling agency? Maybe there was a documentary on A&E. Anything to drown out my social advisor. I had no intention of going out. I wasn't quite sure about my next move after graduation tomorrow, but it did not involve a woman unless, of course, her name was Beatrice Douglas.
I had gone to N. C. State to get out of the house, and majored in computer engineering to satisfy my curiosity in the subject (and to annoy my parents}. Albeit my brush with the Red Planet on the NASA project during my senior year was exciting. But thanks to Ulysses Hunt, I had something beyond the intrigue of the cosmos to fill my nightmares.
Tate appeared, a toothbrush dangling from his mouth. "I forgot to tell you that your mother called."
Toothpaste froth splattered. "Oh, please, Isaac man." He swallowed hard and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. "You're graduating tomorrow. Your mother, Chloe Hunt, wants to come. Get off this adoption thing. Forgive and forget. Get on with your life. I'm tired of your whining, man. You don't do nothing around here ..."
I stood and raised my mood and voice to match his. "Why don't you tell me what you really think? I suppose you want me to give NASA the nod. Or worse, move back in with those people that call themselves my parents and continue to live the lie. Is that it?"
"Man, you don't know how good you've got it. God has blessed you beyond belief." He jabbed a finger at the door. "Why don't you just get your lazy, ungrateful behind-"
A knock on the door cut Tate short. He dashed to the bathroom.
I brushed crumbs from my T-shirt and snatched the door open. "Hi, JaLisa." A solitary black female-a nut-brown vision in a pink dress and a shiny purse to match-smiled back from the other side of the threshold.
"Hey, Isaac. Karen's parking the- You're not wearing that, are you?" She pressed past me, slapping me with her braids. "Tater, honey, did you tell him about Karen?"
I peered nervously out of the apartment. A car passed and I ducked back in, pushing the door shut. I could say I didn't feel well. That wouldn't be a lie. That sandwich had smelled better than it tasted. The phone rang.
Tate gave me the eye as he wrapped himself around JaLisa. "He was just getting dressed."
I had to fix another sandwich, I decided suddenly. A glint on JaLisa's left hand caught my eye as I went for the phone. An engagement ring?
"Have you set a date?" I asked casually as I picked up the phone in the kitchen.
"What are you talking about, Isaac man?"
"Nice engagement ring."
Tate rolled his eyes toward JaLisa. "Baby, I thought we agreed you wouldn't wear it until after, you know ..."
His future wife studied her new nail job.
A ring. That sinking feeling in my stomach now had a reason to grow. There was more to Tate's interest in my love life than friendly concern. But the sight of the ring had given me an idea, an answer to my money problem, at least temporarily.
I turned my attention to the phone. "Hello." Stone greeted me in his usual rushed way and told me to meet him at the corner in five. He had an address and a picture.
Five minutes. I had to find my class ring and get downstairs, hopefully without seeing anyone named Karen, in five minutes. I started rummaging through the junk drawer beside the fridge.
"Isaac, what are you looking for?" JaLisa quizzed.
"Cuff links for the tux I'm wearing tonight."
Someone knocked. "I'll get it," she volunteered.
A tall, very, dark-skinned woman entered. The flowery dress she wore was a bit tighter and quite a bit shorter than her girlfriend's. The short hairstyle and bright red lips made her head seem more prominent, like she was taller than me. And maybe she was. But I wasn't going to get close enough to find out. Because I wasn't going anywhere with her. I had a date with a guy from Jersey.
"It's nice to meet you," I started, tucking the class ring in my pocket and giving my best Denzel smirk. "But it's just not going to work out this time. I have another engagement. No pun intended, Tater honey. I'm sorry." I left without putting on my shoes.
Buddy Stone stepped from his black lag with too much drama for a man with good sense. He smelled of fried chicken. What should I care; he was doing a good job. He reached inside his big black suit coat, tugging at the lapel like a detective lifting evidence, and produced a manila envelope. Eight rings flashed on his greasy brown fingers. What was the chance that he would need another?
I produced the ring. "Look, Stone, I know I owe you-"
"I can't take that." He took it and held it up in the streetlight. "A class ring's hard to hock."
I was ashamed to admit I honestly knew nothing about the hockability of anything. "How about my watch?"
"Hold ya horses." He studied the ring more. "Least it's not engraved. Real diamonds?"
I nodded. The class ring had not been my idea; it would be no loss to me, especially considering what I would gain.
"Hmm. Worth $650, at least, if they're real. More than what you owe me. Go on. Open the envelope."
I swallowed hard. "I'll wait." If the contents of the envelope were the type to make a grown man cry, I sure didn't want an audience.
Chapter Two"you disgust me!" Tate screamed through the closed bathroom door.
I had spent a sleepless night thinking of my mother. I had been a fool to think that finding out more about her would calm my fears. My fears had increased at least five-fold. And on top of that I had a growing uneasiness over the contents of the envelope from Stone.
What if he had the wrong Betty Douglas? What if he was just pulling my leg, making it all up? What if ...
"Stop it, Isaac," I told myself. She was my mother. I had to believe that. Her picture in Stone's half-page report looked like me. It was a color printout from a class reunion Web site. Class of '74-Tallahassee Central High, the title read. I had been glued to the picture for what seemed like days. I had her eyes-albeit, a different color-and mouth.
In the wee hours, I had checked the school Web site for myself. There she was, somehow more animated, more real, more shocking on my flat screen monitor than on paper.
This honey-brown child-woman with large gray eyes, would she remember me? I hoped so, though it pained me that I didn't remember her. I longed to have her touch me like a mother would a son, nuzzle me with her nose and cheek. I'd seen a black-and-white of Jackie O with young John like that. Had anyone done that to me? Chloe Hunt never had. Would Betty?
Tate was now pounding on the door and shaking the knob. "Unlock this door!"
"Just a second," I said, trying to sound normal as I dried my eyes.
"Just a second, my foot."
The door burst open. Tate stood behind me, jabbing a key.
"You disgust me, Isaac. That stunt you pulled last night. It topped all the crazy, selfish, stupid things you've done since finding you were adopted. You showed no respect for me and JaLisa. No respect for Karen. JaLisa and I took her out to try and make it up to her."
I tried to look apologetic.
"Don't give me that look. You just walked out on us. Then you had the nerve to walk back in like we should just let you slide. What's happening to you, man? Say something."
I listened to him rant. What I had done was done. I had no regrets.
"I've got a lot on my mind right now," I mumbled, finally.
He sighed and threw up his hands. "I don't know you anymore." He turned to go, but spun around with his finger aimed at my chest. I resisted the urge to knock it away.
"Wow," I said. "You went on a date with JaLisa and Karen? That means you had a girl on each arm last night at the play. And you call yourself a Christian man." I feigned shock and pushed past him into the hallway.
"What?" He turned and stood with his mouth open, head shaking for a few moments before he sighed and threw up his hands. "Stupid. Flat-out stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Now I know I don't know who you are."
"Well, Tate, maybe you never did."
"I guess you're right. I always thought we were friends. Always had each other's back."
"Always tell each other the truth? Confide in each other? When were you gonna tell me about the future Mrs. Tate Michaels? After the honeymoon? Yeah, Tate, we're real tight. Brothers."
"I was holding up my end, man. But I had the wishes of JaLisa to consider. Something you don't seem to take into consideration anymore. It's all about you. Matter of fact it's always been about you. You first. You get the most, the best. I've just been so stupid and blind all these years. Stupid! Letting you have your way 'cause I thought we were friends. Brothers. But we ain't brothers and we never will be." He stared at me, his face twisted in pain and anger. "Or at least one of us won't ever be a brother."
I flinched at his words like I'd been slapped. He had jerked the Band-Aid off of a scab from an old wound and he knew it. Just call me white boy. I closed my eyes to hold back the angry tears and swallowed the lump in my throat.
"You don't even know what it's like to be black, Isaac. black folk don't vacation in Europe." He had his hand in my face ticking off his points with his fingers. "Black folk don't eat pâté and caviar. Black folk talk black. Black folk know what it is to suffer, to work for what they have in life. It's not just given to them 'cause they have-"
"White skin," I whispered.
He turned away from me and let out a heavy sigh. "My father, mother, and oldest sister worked like dogs so I could go to the same private high school that Ricky and Chloe barely lifted a finger to send you to. N. C. State had been my only hope of getting a degree. That public university was one of your many options.
"You want to be real about this, man? You wanna know the truth. Can you handle it? The only real reason they let me in was because of my color. Not my stellar grades. And they're good, man. You know they are. You've seen my grades. The truth is, Isaac, they let me in 'cause I fit in the quota, man. They needed another black face. Do you hear me? I don't think you're hearing me."
He held up two fingers like daggers in my face. "I held down two part-time jobs during our senior design project. Two. And still made grade. I deserve to be at NASA not UPS."
He was on a roll, but running out of breath. "You're not passing as white, Isaac. You're passing as black. And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of your foolishness. I'm tired of your selfishness. I'm tired of ..."
I bit my tongue and held up my hand for him to stop. "Tate. Good-bye."
* * *
"Yeah, who is it?"
The voice from the other side of the purple metal door sounded tired. "Eva, it's me."
There was a pause, then the door opened a few inches. Eva looked twice as tired as she sounded. But I could still see a twinkle of her old pertness playing around the corner of her mouth and that cute little nose. I was happy to see she no longer had the dreds. Dreds never looked good on a white person.
"Hey," I said.
"Hay is for horses."
I chuckled. We could still play our old game even though it had been many months since we'd split. It had been an agreeable though bittersweet split.
She smiled and pulled her fluffy yellow robe closer around her body. "How've you been, Isaac?"
"Okay," I said through the four-inch opening in the door. "I guess." I looked past her. She still had that red leather couch we had picked out. The only thing I'd ever bought for her. She had questioned the practicality of it. I had stressed the need for something to sit on besides milk crates and cinder blocks. There was a mug on the coffee table. Steaming with coffee I hoped. "Can I come in?"
She bit her lip and looked away.
"I'd love a cup of coffee."
Excerpted from the making of isaac hunt by LINDA LEIGH HARGROVE Copyright © 2007 by Linda Leigh Hargrove. Excerpted by permission.
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