Promises to Keep: A Novelby Gloria Mallette
After a bitter divorce, Troy Kirkwood and his five-year-old daughter, Meika, move in with his parents, Nola and Ron. Troy is a devoted father and son.
New from the author of the national bestseller Shades of Jade: a story about the tragic loss of a son, the struggle to keep a family together, and the hunt for a murderer who didn’t leave any clues behind
After a bitter divorce, Troy Kirkwood and his five-year-old daughter, Meika, move in with his parents, Nola and Ron. Troy is a devoted father and son. During an outing with his daughter he is called away—and never returns. Nola and Ron know that something must be terribly wrong, and Meika can’t stop asking where her daddy is. Four days later the police discover Troy’s body, with two bullet holes in it.
As soon as Vann, Troy’s older brother, hears the news, he promises to find Troy’s killer and bring him to justice. There’s just one problem—the police have no leads and Troy had almost no enemies. To make matters worse, Troy’s crack-addicted ex-wife has recently resurfaced and is demanding custody of their daughter.
The Kirkwoods are not about to give up Troy’s only child. But as they struggle through family court and Troy’s murder investigation, it takes their combined emotional strength to keep the family intact. And they slowly begin to realize that even if Troy’s murder is solved, the pain of losing a child never really goes away.
Read an Excerpt
Lord, how she hated cold weather. Just looking at a snowy winter scene or a frigid rainy day on television chilled her to the bone and made her want to go back to bed and snuggle under her fluffy down comforter. That’s why, when summer ended a month ago, Nola sank to the depths of doldrums. She was one woman who had looked forward to menopause because of the notorious hot flashes she had heard so much about. As luck would have it, it hardly affected her at all. She was just as cold if not colder. If she could make it through the next five years, she was going to retire at fifty-eight and wing her way to Florida on the fastest thing flying. If Ron wasn’t ready to leave New York, he was going to be left behind, there weren’t but so many more winters her bones could take. Already through her kitchen window she could see the russet-colored leaves of autumn falling from the trees, and the only flowers left in her garden from the hot days of summer were marigolds of yellow and orange. In anticipation of a cold, snowy winter, Nola hugged herself and shivered; for some reason she was really cold this morning.
“Nola, you know it’s all in your mind.”
Turning around, she gave Ron her “leave me alone” look as he sat down at the kitchen table. Even after thirty-three years of marriage, he still didn’t believe that she was really cold. That’s because Ron was one of those weird people who didn’t get cold, therefore he couldn’t begin to understand how she felt when the temperature dropped below fifty degrees. He wore neither scarf, gloves, nor hat in the dead of winter unless there was a blizzard and he didn’t want to get wet. Without her cashmere-lined leather gloves, Nola’s fingers would freeze and ache to the bone, and without her cozy wool tams, her head ached and an awful chill radiated down her spine. When that happened, she just wanted to take to her bed. How two people could be so different and stay married she didn’t know, especially when setting the thermostat was cause for a summit every other day throughout the winter months. She always won because she gave Ron no rest from her tongue. For the sake of peace, he wore cotton shorts and T-shirts around the house like summer never ended for him.
“Your blood is probably made out of ice water,” he said, taking a strip of bacon off the plate sitting on the table.
“Seem to me this ice water went a long way in warming you up last night. In fact, brought you to the boiling point.”
“Sho’nuff did, but baby, look at you. A big ol’ ugly flannel nightgown under that ugly, bulky mohair sweater you’ve had since high school, and wool socks that Bigfoot could wear.”
She looked down at her feet. “So, I’m cold.”
“Nola, I keep telling you, you got poor circulation. You need to do some aerobics to get your blood up.”
Nola cut her eyes at Ron. His barbs about her drab sleepwear and her refusal to exercise, beyond yoga, were older than their marriage. He didn’t think yoga was anything but a lazy person’s excuse for exercise, but was that the kettle calling the pot black? Ron’s idea of exercise was playing golf, and in her opinion, that was a lazy man’s way of playing ball. That’s why she was still wearing her flannels and still practicing yoga—she was warm, she was limber, and she was in shape.
“You know something, Ron? You—” The devilish glint in his eyes and the mischievous smile on his lips stopped Nola from saying another word. He almost had her.
Grinning, he winked at her.
Slowly rolling her eyes and turning her back to him, Nola reached over and turned on the burner under the frying pan; she had waited for him to come down before scrambling the eggs.
“Not biting, huh?”
“Nope,” she replied, not looking at him. “In fact, I don’t know why you’d want to get me started so early in the morning. Can’t you get it up without a war of words with me?”
He chuckled. “Come over here and see if—”
“Good morning, Poppie,” Meika said sweetly, scampering gaily into the kitchen.
Ron clamped his mouth shut and immediately started rubbing his chin. “Mornin’, baby.”
Nola chuckled softly to herself when Meika went over and, tiptoeing, kissed Ron on the cheek. He looked really embarrassed, but she didn’t think that Meika heard anything, and even if she did, she doubted whether Meika had a clue as to what they were talking about. Every now and then they slipped up and forgot that Meika was living with them; they had grown accustomed to having the house to themselves since Troy had moved out and gotten married six years ago, and Vann hadn’t come back home when he graduated from college. He liked Atlanta and felt he had just as good a chance as any in New York and decided to start his career in finance there.
Meika turned away from Ron and went over to Nola, her arms up, ready for the hug she knew she’d get. “Good morning, Mama. Kissy face.”
Picking Meika up and bear-hugging her, Nola kissed her all over her face. “Good morning, baby. Mmm, you smell good,” she said, putting her back down on the floor.
“Daddy let me put on some of his perfume.”
“My, you must be special,” she said, pushing Meika’s frizzy hair back off her heart-shaped face. She’d comb it after breakfast. “You meeting your boyfriend today?”
“Mama, I’m too little to have a boyfriend.”
“Yes, you are,” Ron said. “I don’t want none of those knuckleheaded little boys in your class calling here asking if you can come out to play.”
Nola patted Meika on the behind. “Go sit at the table.”
Meika skipped over and climbed up onto the chair next to Ron. “Poppie,” she said in a very serious tone, “I don’t like the boys in my class.”
“Oh no? Why?”
“Because they’re bad. They pick on me and Francine. They throw paper balls at us.”
Ron smiled. He was remembering how much fun it was to throw paper balls at the girls he liked. “Who’s they?” he asked.
“Larry and Shane.”
“They’re picking on you because you’re pretty.”
“But, Poppie, I don’t want them to throw paper at me. I don’t like them.”
“That’s just it, Meika. They like you,” Nola said, turning back to the stove. She dropped a pat of butter in the frying pan. “Little boys always pick on little girls they like.”
“I don’t think so, Mama. If they liked us, they would be nice to us.”
Thinking that it must be wonderful to be so young and innocent, Nola poured the already beaten eggs into the hot frying pan. “Honey, boys, and grown men, too,” she added, glancing at Ron, who had picked up his newspaper and was reading the headlines, “are afraid to be nice to the girls they like because they’re afraid their friends might think they’re sissies.”
Ron lowered his paper. “Don’t tell her that.”
“Why not?” she asked, scrambling the eggs. “It’s the truth.”
“It is not.”
Looking directly into Ron’s eyes, Meika nodded in agreement with Nola.
“Look what you’ve done,” he said, looking at Meika. “You got the child thinking like you. Don’t be filling her head with that liberated woman stuff. Let the girl grow up unbiased.”
“Oh, so you want her to grow up ignorant in the ways of men.”
“You were ignorant once upon a time, weren’t you?”
Nola raised her brow. “I’ll have you know, I was born wise.”
“I bet you were, but let Meika experience her own life, not yours.”
Letting them go on talking about her, Meika reached out toward the plate with the bacon on it but it was out of her reach. She got up on her knees and, leaning on the table, reached out and took a strip of bacon.
“Oh please. Look who’s talking,” Nola said, hastily scrambling the eggs to keep them from sticking. She turned down the fire under the pan. “I can’t count the times I overheard you telling Troy and Vann about what it meant to be a man and what you thought women were about. The irony of it all is, you didn’t know then and you don’t know now what a woman is about.”
Munching on her bacon, Meika, still up on her knees in her chair, looked from Nola to Ron.
“I must know something,” Ron said, “I’m still married to you.”
Troy came into the kitchen. “Morning, folks. It’s never too early for you two to debate, is it?”
“Your mother is trying to turn your daughter against men.”
Meika sighed impatiently.
“I’m doing no such thing,” Nola defended, portioning out the scrambled eggs onto three plates.
“To be fair, Dad,” Troy said, going past the table to Nola, “you advised me and Vann about girls as far back as I can remember; I don’t think I was even out of diapers yet.”
“See,” Nola said.
Ron huffed. “Traitor.”
“No, Dad. I’m just telling it like it was. Some of what you said I used, some I didn’t. Either way, I was glad you told me. Let Ma school Meika. I want her to be prepared for those smooth talkers out there when she’s ready to start dating. Besides, I want her to be a strong woman like her grandmother.”
“Oh man,” Ron said. “That’s all your mother needs to hear.”
Beaming proudly, Nola kissed Troy on the cheek. “That’s my baby. He’s not threatened by a strong woman,” she said, handing him two of the three plates.
Ron shook his head. “Your baby is big and rusty. He’s got a baby of his own now.”
“Mama, knock-knock,” Meika said suddenly.
Troy looked at Meika. His eyes twinkled. “Who’s there?” he asked. He set the plate with the hefty helping of eggs in front of Ron and the plate with the smaller portion in front of Meika. Then he reached back and took his own plate.
“Not you,” Nola said, lightly slapping Troy on the arm. “That’s my knock-knock joke. Who’s there?”
Smiling, Meika said, “Baby.”
“Dad, look at this,” Troy said. “I’m the one who taught her knock-knock jokes in the first place and she throws me aside and plays it with Ma.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. She’s becoming a clone of her grandma.”
“Don’t be jealous, boys,” Nola said, smiling at Meika. “Baby who?”
“Baby daddy,” Meika replied, throwing back her head and laughing.
Troy laughed just as hard, while Ron simply chuckled and shook his head. He didn’t get it. Nola couldn’t help but laugh herself. The joke wasn’t funny, but Meika’s laugh was contagious. Pleased with herself, Meika went back to nibbling on her strip of bacon.
Meet the Author
Gloria Mallette lives with her husband in Brooklyn, New York.
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