Pushing up Daisies [NOOK Book]

Overview

After hitting it big with Momma's Baby, Daddy's Maybe, national bestselling author Jamise L. Dames is back with another hip, sensual, and compelling novel.
A Tragic Past...
Daisy Parker's boyfriend has strayed one too many times and she's no longer sitting pretty. Having sacrificed seven years of her life to being his faithful woman and raising his nine-year-old son, the only thing that will calm her now is to hurl his beloved wardrobe out ...
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Pushing up Daisies

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Overview

After hitting it big with Momma's Baby, Daddy's Maybe, national bestselling author Jamise L. Dames is back with another hip, sensual, and compelling novel.
A Tragic Past...
Daisy Parker's boyfriend has strayed one too many times and she's no longer sitting pretty. Having sacrificed seven years of her life to being his faithful woman and raising his nine-year-old son, the only thing that will calm her now is to hurl his beloved wardrobe out their second-story window. Single life may scare Daisy, but her mind is made up -- when the good-for-nothing returns, she'll serve him his walking papers. Only he isn't up to his old tricks that night, and what goes down strips Daisy of the option to choose. She's on her own.
...A Hopeful Future
Left penniless, homeless, and jobless, Daisy struggles to make a home for herself and her son. Just when she seems poised to take control and put the baggage of her past behind her, complications arise when the towering frame of Daisy's deliciously handsome college crush strolls into town. His unexpected attention makes her feel alive, yet she's been burned by love once and isn't sure she can take the heat. As undeniable passions rise, so do the stakes, and Daisy can't stand to lose another round....
A compelling tale of life, love, and hope.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Captivating and powerful! Dames seduces with an alarming, tightly woven dose of deceit, passion, and strength."
— Noire, author of G-Spot

"Jamise has done it again! A juicy, compelling read, not to be missed."
— Brandon Massey, author of Within the Shadows

"Pushing Up Daisies tugs at your heartstrings and emotions, but Dames gives back fourfold with her skillful storytelling. Daisies takes the reader on an unforgettable journey."
— Yasmin Shiraz, author of The Blueprint for My Girls and Exclusive

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416517269
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 5/24/2005
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 738,856
  • File size: 285 KB

Meet the Author

Jamise L. Dames is the nationally bestselling author of Momma's Baby, Daddy's Maybe. A public speaker, screenwriter, and published songwriter, Dames is a graduate of the University of Connecticut. Dividing her time between the East Coast and the South, Jamise is currently at work on her next novel and looking forward to hearing from her readers at JamiseLDames.com.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Summer

Daisy Parker's blood was boiling. She balled up her boyfriend's favorite brown suede Armani jacket and threw it out the second-story window. She stuck her head out into the warm breeze, surveyed her work, and smiled wickedly. Jasper Stevens's clothes and shoes decorated her front lawn. Silk shirts in every color imaginable sprinkled the red roses that climbed the white trellis. Boxer shorts were scattered like freckles on the flagstone walkway, while an isolated pair hung from the limb of an oak tree like a gigantic moth. A beige loafer lay in the neighbor's yard across the street.

Neighbors stood outside and watched in shameless amazement.

"Mind your own business!" Daisy yanked the navy sheers closed. Why in the hell is everybody outside so early anyway?

She stood thinking, hands on hips. Now for his grandmother's antique china. As she ran down the stairs, a stabbing pain shot through her right foot. She winced as blood trickled from her big toe. She shook her head in disgust and pulled out the small masonry nail.

"Ooh...goddamn!" She cringed, grabbing her foot. "I hate these stairs. I hate this house." Then Daisy's heart raced. "Lord, don't let him walk through that door right now, 'cause I swear I'm gonna kill him. I told him the last time that if he let the sun beat him home, it would be the last one he'd see rise." The pain from her wound, which was beginning to swell, deepened her anger. She wiped a tear from her eye and went to treat her injury.

As she limped into the first-floor bathroom, Daisy frowned at the tiny spots of blood staining the tile. If it's not one thing, it's something worse. I wonder who it is this time — what woman has twisted his head so far up his ass that he can't see who's had his back for years. She yanked open the medicine cabinet, and the entire contents tumbled into the sink. "Jesus!" Her heart felt as if it were jackhammering its way out of her chest.

She was not going to have another anxiety attack. No. No. No. Jasper wasn't worth it. She inhaled slowly, held her breath to the count of ten, then exhaled. The last thing she needed was to lose control. After repeating the process several times she began to relax. Seven years of yoga had taught her how to alleviate stress. As her pulse slowed, she rummaged through the fallen toiletries for the first-aid kit. After treating her wound, she found herself staring into the basin. Something wasn't right. The medicine cabinet was usually full, but the sink only contained a few items. All of Jasper's toiletries are missing. His extra toothbrush — gone. There was no denying the evidence. Every time Jasper had stepped out on her before, she'd found the cabinet almost bare. "Now I'm really going to throw the china out the window!"

Daisy carelessly stacked the fragile china on the table in separate piles. With each half-toss it clattered, threatening to topple to the floor. Silently she urged it to fall, dared it to break like her relationship. Why not? Everything else Jasper claimed to love is broken. She snatched a plate and examined it. The blue-patterned china that bore fanciful etching, navy like a perfect night sky lighted by stars, was trimmed in gold. The hazy color she once thought beautiful was now as hideous as it was gaudy and old. Ugly and disgusting. Haunting, like the bluish lips of the dead. She shivered. Flinging the dish on top of the stack, a vile film covered her fingertips. Smelling her hands, she realized the china smelled as bad as it looked. Its stench attacked her nostrils and made her mouth feel like cotton. Turning away, she bumped the table with her hip and watched the china shake, rattle, and fall.

She headed to the kitchen. It was nice. The cold marble floor soothed her injured foot. She took a bottle of water from the refrigerator, threw her head back, letting the water soothe her tongue and dry throat.

She needed to check on Jay, who was over at a playmate's house. She longed to hear his young, innocent voice sing the magical words that had always lifted her spirits: "Hey, Mom." Daisy's heart warmed as she thought about him. He had a knack for making her think about things bigger than her problems. He'd made it easy and desirable for her to segue into motherhood. He was Jasper's son, but became her own when she'd stepped in to raise him when he was almost two.

She dialed his friend's number, but couldn't speak to Jay. He was outside playing basketball. Daisy sighed. As upset as she was, and as proud as she was for finally taking a stand, she yearned for the comfort of someone who loved her unconditionally.

"Jay," she said out loud.

Daisy sat on the sofa waiting for Jasper to come through the front door. She was fuming. He should've had the decency to call. She picked up Jasper's photo from the end table. You would think you'd want to spend every available minute at home, considering your job has you out of town four days a week. But no. Not you, Jasper. That would be asking too much. She glared at the picture, then tossed it across the room. She looked at another photograph, this one of Jay and herself. Immediately a tinge of guilt coursed through her, and a sudden sadness too. What was she to do about him? She certainly wouldn't put him out.

She picked up Jay's Little League trophy that was sitting next to their photo. As she ran her finger over his engraved name, a whimper escaped her: "I'm the only mother he knows. I can't lose him." She'd taught him how to talk, potty-trained him, and nursed him when he was ill. She'd done everything that she assumed his biological mother would've if she could've. "Death stole her from you, and it'll be the only thing that'll keep me from you."

"Hell, he's my son," she said, setting the trophy back in its place.

A tear slid down her face. Jasper wouldn't leave Jay behind no matter how hard she fought. In her heart, Jay was her son. But biologically and legally he was Jasper's.

"I'm sorry, Jay," she whispered, thankful that he was spending the weekend at his friend's house. "I tried. One day I hope you'll realize how much. And I'll never let you go."

How can I leave the father and keep the love of the son?

Hurting her was one thing, but destroying Jay's security was another. Jasper had thrown their lives out the window just as she'd thrown out his belongings. It was always about what he wanted. She tapped her foot, willing the brass knob to turn and give her what she wanted: Jasper's head.

Where the hell was he?

Tears flowed freely now from Daisy's deep brown eyes. She paced the room, pounding her fist into her palm. As much as she loved him, she couldn't take Jasper's disrespect anymore. Wouldn't take it anymore. She'd pretended for too long, lived too long in her make-believe world. Her mind wandered to the time she'd smelled another woman's perfume on him, and he had convinced her it was her scent. It wasn't perfume that I smelled. It was pussy. She plopped down on the sofa, laughing at her naïveté. How could she have been so stupid? She'd give Jasper one more hour, she decided. If he didn't come home, she'd change the locks.

Settling back into the soft cushions, Daisy questioned herself. Why did she sit around and drown in thoughts of Jasper? Obviously, he wasn't thinking about her — or Jay. The longer she sat, the angrier she got. And not only at him, but at herself. Why did she allow him to drain her of her happiness? He didn't deserve her undivided attention. He wasn't God. But she did have to admit that she'd treated him like a god. She had made him her alpha and omega, her personal messiah who'd convinced her that he was akin to Jesus; he was her first and last, beginning and end. Her only. In his hands she'd turned to dust and allowed him to mold her, breathe his version of life into her. She'd thought that he was her savior, but had been seduced by the fallen one and believed his lies. Daisy cringed because she knew that she had given him power. She'd placed him on a pedestal from which he'd refused to come down, and she'd been punished for being the type of woman who loved completely. There wasn't anything on the green earth that she hadn't done for him, or for Jay. So why hadn't he come home last night? "Because he thinks I'm stupid," she whispered.

No one could tell Daisy what she already knew. Inside, she knew he'd cheated before, and her gut told her that he was out doing something that he had no business doing.

As her eyes drifted around the room, Daisy realized that Jasper had fashioned her to his liking, just as he had fashioned his home. She too had been bought and paid for.

One thing she wouldn't complain about was the grandfather clock. It had accompanied her through the night without missing a beat. And it had given her the wake-up call she'd finally answered, the call that had told her to put Jasper where he belonged — out with yesterday's trash.

The clock chimed now, as if reminding her. Time to make the doughnuts. Daisy reached for the phone and called the locksmith, then forwarded her calls to a local psychic hotline.

The clock chimed again. The locksmith was late. How many people needed locks changed on a Sunday morning? Now she was waiting on two men, Jasper and the locksmith. Isn't this a trip? It was bad enough that she was going to have to pay a surcharge for weekend work. In the phone book his ad claimed to have the speediest service in town, but please, she had seen molasses move faster. Daisy told herself to be patient. She'd waited almost seven years for Jasper to act right, so she could certainly wait another hour for the locksmith.

The doorbell rang. Her heart leapt to her throat. Jasper? No, he has a key. She calmed herself, tried to smooth out her wild hair, and let the locksmith in.

Three hundred dollars and five changed locks later, Daisy was even more pissed. There went the new outfit.

She walked slowly up the stairs, counting every one of the pictures that hung on the wall in stair-step succession. Seven in all, one for every year they had been a family.

"Seven whole years, and not once did you propose," she said aloud. "And you asked me to have your baby? You must've thought I was a fool, telling me to have your baby first, and then you'd marry me. Hell, I raised your child."

Daisy smashed one photo against all the others, shattering them to pieces, leaving only the photos of Jay and Jonathan, Jasper's deceased twin, untouched. She stopped and paused in front of Jonathan's picture. He seemed to watch her in disapproval. His eyes had always made her uncomfortable; they seemed more real than camera-captured. Sorry, Jonathan, sorry you had to see this. But your brother's acting a fool — again. Please send him some good sense from wherever you are. She turned away and glared at the scattered pictures.

She went to the guest room and stood before the closet. She knew not to open the closet door, but still felt the temptation. Just the thought of what was hidden inside irritated her. The last thing she needed now was to come face-to-face with that haunting memory, that single piece of paper that had hurt her and served as a constant reminder of her shame. Daisy reached for the knob, then drew her hand back. She walked out of the room in a daze.

Padding down the hall, she tripped over one of Jasper's ill-placed shoes and fell face-first into the carpet.

"I can't...I just can't take this," she sobbed.

Daisy pushed herself up, her day-old makeup leaving faint traces of color on the carpet. "Who puts white carpet in a hallway, anyway?" she muttered, sniffing under her arms. I need to bathe. There was no way she'd allow herself to become like Jasper: tired and stinking.

The telephone rang while Daisy was taking off her clothes in the bedroom. She picked up, but no one was there. My cell phone.

"Hel-lo," Daisy snapped.

"Dai — um...what's wrong with you?" her best friend, Gigi, asked. "You okay?"

"Yes. I mean...no. Jasper didn't come home again last night, and he hasn't called."

"No? Girl, you're having all kinds of trouble today. Men problems and phone issues. Did you know something was wrong with your phone? 'Cause I just tried to call twice, and some lady who claimed to be psychic kept answering — had the nerve to ask me which credit card I'd be using. I told her since she was psychic, she should tell me."

Daisy laughed. "I forwarded my calls. They're psychic, so maybe they'll tell Jasper he doesn't have a home." Daisy paused, spreading cleanser on her face. "So what's up? You feel like going to Ming Li's and out to lunch?"

"Sure. I'll meet you at her house in about an hour."

"Make it an hour and a half. Oh, and Gigi?"

"Yeah?"

"When was the last time you talked to Marcus? Did he come to your house last night?"

"We were together until midnight. Why?"

"Just asking. Listen, if he calls you, don't say anything, okay? I'll see you at Ming Li's."

• • •

Daisy leaned against Ming Li's bar, waiting for Gigi to arrive and for Ming Li to get dressed. Her eyes roamed the trendy Manhattan loft. She imagined how peaceful she'd make her surroundings once she got on her feet. But single life scared her. Daisy had never lived alone before and she wondered if she'd be able to handle it.

Pouring herself a glass of chardonnay, she noticed black lingerie on the floor. At least somebody's getting some. She sipped her wine, trying to remember the last time she and Jasper had had sex.

A loud knock on the door pulled her out of her thoughts. "It's about time. Seems like I've been waiting on people all day," Daisy said as she opened the door for Gigi.

Gigi stood there smiling, beautiful in her own way. Her caked makeup made her honey complexion look flawless, almost plastic. But there was nothing phony about Gigi. She posed, then modeled a catwalk spin, showing off her newly dyed hair and baggy gym attire. "Well, what do you think?"

Daisy frowned, covered her mouth, and laughed. She pulled Gigi inside and bolted the door. "Get inside before someone calls the cops on you for disturbing the peace. New York has noise ordinances, you know."

"It's not that bright," Gigi said, patting her shocking red mane. "It's vibrant, like my personality."

"Yeah, you're right. It's not bright. It's loud."

"Whatever." Gigi shrugged off Daisy's teasing and hugged her. "Are you all right?"

"I'll be fine. It's nothing new, right?" Daisy avoided Gigi's intense gaze, diverting her attention elsewhere. "Where's Ming Li? She's always holding us up."

Just then, Ming Li sauntered into the room, naked. She hopped onto a barstool, her long black mane swaying against her back. "I'm right here." She grabbed a crystal decanter, poured herself a drink, and lit a mini-cigar before turning to her friends. "Want some?" she asked, then her eyes widened in surprise. "Damn, Gigi! What in the hell happened to your hair?"

Gigi smirked, crossing her arms. "What happened to your clothes?"

Daisy smiled sadly, her emotions getting the best of her. She forced herself to brighten, trying to cover her pain. "You know Ming Li doesn't like clothes, Gigi. She's Eve, remember?"

"I'll have wine too," Gigi said, laughing. "That liquor's too strong for me."

"Sweeties, if you two had what I just had, you'd say this was mild in comparison to Ian." Then Ming Li noticed Daisy's face. "Whoa...wait a minute. What's wrong?"

Gigi shot Ming Li a knowing look.

"Jasper disappeared again?" Ming Li huffed. "Rhetorical question. I know the answer. What are you going to do?"

The sound of a door closing reminded Daisy that they weren't alone. "We'll talk at lunch."

Ming Li shrugged. "It's your pity party."

"Who's back there?" Gigi questioned.

"Ian." Ming Li closed her eyes and pretended to swoon.

"That good, hunh? Wait a minute, who's Ian? I thought you were seeing Ricky."

"I am seeing Ricky. And Ian. And Lucian — "

"Lucian?"

"Yes." Ming Li licked her lips. "He's Greek, and hung like a Trojan horse. Lucian Antonopoulos."

Daisy gulped her wine. "You're sleeping with all three of them? Ricky, Ian, and Lucian Anta — whoever?"

"As often as I can. Sometimes two a day."

"Oh, hell, no. Are you serious? I hope you don't sleep with two at a time."

Ming Li pursed her lips.

• • •

Daisy dabbed her mouth with a napkin. The outdoor restaurant was bustling, and Greenwich Village was in full swing, as crowded as usual for a hot summer weekend.

"Girl, no. You didn't throw his clothes out." Gigi threw her napkin across the wrought-iron bistro table.

Ming Li eyed Daisy and nodded. "Oh, hell, you did. Good for you. I told you years ago that that muthafucka wasn't any good."

"I warned him before. Obviously, he didn't realize that a threat can be a promise."

Gigi fanned her face. "If he was stupid enough to stay out, he deserved it."

"He's your cousin."

"That he is. But you know we're not close. If it weren't for you or Marcus, Jasper and I probably wouldn't speak. Still, you can't say I didn't warn you about him. I didn't push you into his bed. You jumped in."

"Well, good for him," Ming Li said. "Screw him, but don't fuck yourself in the process. Know what I mean?"

"Yes, I do." Daisy nodded. "I also know it's time I explored my options too," she added with a sly smile.

Ming Li returned the look. "Gigi told me some guy's been hitting on you at the gym. What about him, Daisy?"

Gigi sat back. "I don't think I should be hearing this."

"I'm not the whore; Jasper is. I'm not going to mess with Chris the personal trainer."

"Oh, that Chris."

"You've met Chris?" Daisy asked.

Ming Li winked. "A few times."

"Damn, Ming Li. Save some for the rest of us."

"There's always Adonis." Ming Li grinned.

Just the mention of his name gave Daisy chills. She'd spent plenty of nights thinking about Adonis. He'd been the childhood crush she'd always wanted but never pursued. "Adonis? What about him?"

"He's here," Ming Li said, nudging Gigi. "Right, Gigi?"

"Shut up, Ming Li." Gigi turned to Daisy. "You understand my position, right? With Jasper being my cousin, and Adonis my stepbrother..."

Daisy's expression dulled. She wished like hell that she'd thrown her insecurities to the wind and pursued the man she'd wanted, instead of settling for the one who wanted her. She'd never admit it out loud, but she'd always felt that she wasn't good enough for Adonis. He had a certain air about him so that she'd found him unapproachable.

"Yes, I understand," she replied. "Family."

"Bullshit," Ming Li said. "Jasper and Adonis aren't related. They don't share the same blood. And according to Adonis, they barely know each other. They met as adults."

Daisy shook off the thoughts of Adonis. Unrelated or not, it wouldn't look right. She also had Jay to think about. "I'm putting Jasper out with a clean conscience."

"And a job," Ming Li interjected.

"Uh-oh," Gigi said. "You're serious. You're gonna do it this time."

Daisy threw her an angry look. "What do you mean, this time?"

"You always say you're going to put him out," Ming Li said. "If you're going to do it, do it. Think and do for yourself. What do you think he's doing...playing golf? Please, you want to see Adonis again because Jasper's game has gotten rusty."

"And put the degree to use. No offense, Daisy, but what is it that you do? I mean, really, I've only seen you plant flowers — for your house," Gigi added.

Daisy rolled her eyes and exhaled. "Unbelievable, Gigi. How could you not know what I do? We shared a dorm and you don't know what I studied? How is that possible?" Daisy deadpanned, "How many summers did you help me spend my paycheck when I worked the landscaping job? For the last time, ladies, I have a degree in horticulture, not flowers. I'm an expert in plant cultivation and propagation. I specialized in floriculture, as well as commercial and residential landscape design."

"Well, damn. Sorry," Gigi retorted. "Point taken, but what does it mean?"

"Seeding, cutting, layering, grafting. I protect plants from diseases and pests, and I am a specialist in all things flowers. You name it, I know it."

Ming Li cleared her throat, closed her eyes, and paused. She sat up erect and stared at Daisy. "You mean to tell me that you're a scientist who can actually fathom cultivation, propaganda — propagation — propa-whatever, but you can't understand why Jasper didn't come home? Book smarts won't help you, you need street smarts. It doesn't take a degree to figure out that one. It's simple. The bastard has grown an extra pair of legs and fangs, and he pisses with his back leg up. He's metamorphosed into a dog — simple as that. He's done everything except bite you in the ass to prove it."

Daisy glared and balled her fist under the table. Her heart picked up speed, but anxiety wasn't the cause, anger was. Ming Li's naked honesty hurt, but Daisy had to take it for what it was worth — the truth. She couldn't deny it. Wouldn't. And she refused to be mad at her friend for caring enough to express what she felt. "Can't argue with that one."

"Flower degree or no flower degree, I still say you should let your education work for you." Gigi smiled. "You plant a hell of a rosebush."

Ming Li pursed her lips and laughed. "Yeah, peddle those hybrid flowers you love to create. You could get a vendor's license, you know? Go to the flower market and sell, sell, sell. Do something besides wait for Jasper, damn."

"Okay, I've got enough drama in my life without your criticism."

"No one's criticizing you. We're telling you the truth, and you should listen. And we've known him longer than you have. Besides, no one can be that good in bed. Don't tell me he's fucked you so hard that you're seeing things — "

"Ming Li!"

"No, Daisy, you need to hear this," Ming Li insisted.

"Daisy, you've given him too much power. You get dressed in the morning just to sit around and keep his house. For what? So you have to depend on him? You already had one man raise you. What makes you think you need a second daddy?"

Daisy crossed her arms defiantly. She wanted to curse at her friends, but she knew they were right. "Well, ladies, you can rest assured. Jasper obviously had a place to stay last night, so he can live there. And as far as working, I don't know. He never wanted me to, and I didn't have to. But that doesn't matter now. He's gone, and there's nothing more to be said. A girl's gotta do — "

"You've always got us," Gigi interrupted, smiling kindly. "Remember that."

• • •

"What now?!" Daisy grumbled, fumbling to find the ringing cell phone, which had awakened her for the third time. God, please? Make it stop. She sat up and immediately regretted it. Her lids felt twenty pounds heavier and she strained to keep her burning eyes open. Her temples pounded against her skull, threatening to explode. And her ears rang. And rang. And rang some more. "Too much wine. Much...too much...wine," she whispered while digging in the sofa cushions trying to locate the dreaded digital device that wouldn't allow her to sleep. "This better be good," she answered.

"Daisy, you up?" Gigi asked breathlessly.

"No. I'm talking in my sleep. Call me back when I wake up...in about five hours."

"Goddamnit, Daisy. Get up! Marcus just called. Jasper's in the hospital."

Daisy sat up and pressed her fingers against her throbbing temples, hoping to slow the pounding. But the drumming didn't shift; it sped up, accelerated like her heartbeat. Moved in rapid, short successions like her anxious breaths. Breathe. Breathe. Goddamnit, breathe! She'd lost track of the inhale/exhale pattern and was forced to relearn it in seconds. Seemed like years. Panic made its way in with a slow crawl and a push so steady it dominated her hangover. "What?! He's in the hospital? What hospital?" she managed to ask.

"University..."

Daisy raced down the Staten Island Expressway as rain spattered on the windshield. The slick roads and potholes added to her shakiness. She couldn't make it to Jasper fast enough. "Lord, please let him be okay," she prayed as her back tires slid, losing control for seconds, when she exited the expressway onto Lily Pond Avenue. Let me be okay too, she continued her plea as she fought to gain control of the vehicle. She chastised herself for acting in haste, for throwing out Jasper's clothes, for assuming that he was cheating.

She turned into the parking area at top speed. Her heart — her need — wouldn't allow her to slow. She had to get to him. She pulled into a handicap spot without a second thought. She didn't need a wheelchair tag; she was the sign, a walking billboard that screamed, "Mentally and emotionally handicapped." Every bad thought that she could think infiltrated her mind. Stole her sanity. Please, she begged God again, let him be okay.

As she ran toward the ER, the cold, wet cement reminded her that she wore no shoes. She had no purse. The only thing that she carried was worry for Jasper.

"Excuse me," she asked, pounding on the reception counter to get attention. "I'm looking for Jasper Stevens."

"Hmm, Stevens. Stevens." The lady smiled and began searching what Daisy assumed to be an intake sheet.

What the hell is she so happy about? Doesn't she realize this is an emergency room? Emergencies aren't funny.

"Is he here?"

"I'm sorry. I don't see a Jasper Stevens listed. But, then again, they just changed the sign-in sheets. New shift. Let me check in the back for you. What's your name?"

Daisy waited a small eternity for the woman to return. Three whole minutes. One hundred and eighty ticktocks on the hospital-issued clock.

"We don't have a Jasper Stevens in the back," the receptionist said, and followed with a shrug. "I'm sorry..."

"Alright. Thanks." Daisy clipped her words. Frustration and anger replaced panic and worry as she turned to leave. Liar — Jasper's a liar.

"However..."

Daisy did an about-face and looked at the receptionist as she blinked back tears.

"A nurse from the last shift said that we did have a Jasper here earlier. She couldn't remember his last name, though. He wasn't her patient."

Daisy dialed, then spat wildly, frantically into her cell phone, "He's not at University, Gigi. At least I don't think so. First they said that they didn't have a Jasper Stevens registered. Then they said maybe he was there earlier, but weren't sure. They changed shifts. Goddamn shifts. And wouldn't you know it, sign-in sheets too."

"Trust me, he was there, Daisy. The doctor interrupted me and Marcus's conversation. But that doesn't matter now. All you should focus on is getting your butt home and picking up his clothes — "

"What?" Daisy asked, switching lanes and frame of mind. The previous night's alcohol, lack of sleep, and bouncing between hurt, pain, and worry had begun to take a toll. She'd forgotten which face to put on and when. Her mood became like a voice, everyone had two. There was the happy, polite one usually reserved for business, and then the real one. My problem is that I don't know what real is anymore.

"Are you listening? Get home! I just got off the phone with Marcus. He wants me to meet him at your house. If he's on his way there, then Jasper's on his way too."

• • •

Daisy's heart raced as she rifled through the coat closet. No raincoat. She yanked the front door open, wincing at the sound of the mirror shattering behind it. She hurried out into the rain and began gathering the sopping clothes.

"What can be saved?" she asked herself frantically. Maybe some of the silks, but the suedes had no hope. Neither did she. What would she tell Jasper?

Once she had gathered all the clothes she could carry, she hurried back inside. "I can't believe I'm doing this," she mumbled, dumping the heavy, wet load onto the floor.

Now for the rest, she thought with a sigh. She had no idea how she was going to get Jasper's boxers out of the tree. And she still had to get the shoe from across the street in the neighbors' yard. What if they'd moved it?

Daisy gave herself a pep talk. She could do it. Had to. She sprinted across the street, feeling the cold wetness of her jeans on her thighs. No shoe to be found anywhere. She got down on her hands and knees, palms sinking into the soggy grass. Finally, she spotted the shoe under the bushes. As she reached for it, the sharp branches tore her skin. Daisy winced in pain, pulling back her hand. Blood trickled down her arm as she held up her wrist to examine her injuries.

Daisy hurried back across the street, retrieving shirts, pants, and socks. After dumping them in the foyer, she went back outside and tried to rip a branch from the rosebush. She had to get Jasper's boxers next.

She moved under the tree and looked up. There they were, dangling. She counted silently and jumped, swinging the rosebush branch, praying that the boxers would catch on a thorn. No luck. She tried again. The branch snagged the boxers and broke in two.

She gave up for the moment, deciding to get the remaining clothes first. As she ran toward the house with another pile in her arms, the wind blew the front door closed. She came to an abrupt halt, her wet feet sliding on the walkway, and fell face-first in a puddle of mud.

As Daisy lifted her face from the wet, stinking ground, a car door slammed behind her. She turned to find Gigi staring down at her, a smile plastered across her umbrella-shaded face. They both giggled.

Then Daisy's smile vanished. Jasper's Escalade had pulled up behind Gigi's car.

Daisy wanted desperately to run into the house, but the front door was closed and on automatic slam-lock. She looked at Gigi, who shrugged. Not knowing what else to do, Daisy smiled as she saw Marcus getting out from the driver's side of the Escalade.

"Hey, Marcus," she said, shaking her head. "What happened? Jasper too tired to drive again? I don't know why he does it to you."

Gigi tapped Daisy's shoulder and pointed toward Jasper's SUV, which had no other visible passengers. "Marcus, where's — "

Marcus held up his hand, silencing her. He stood two feet from Daisy, his gaze traveling up and down her body before coming to rest on her partially exposed breasts.

Daisy cleared her throat, then grabbed him under the chin, forcing him to look in her eyes. "Up here, Marcus. My face is up here!"

"You better act like you know, Marcus," Gigi said. "Trifling bastard," she muttered.

Marcus stood still. Rain was running down his face, drenching his clothes, but he didn't seem to notice. He was breathing heavily, his eyes blank as they moved over the lawn to the tree. "What happened? I know you didn't — "

"Where's Jasper?" Daisy snapped.

"Yeah, Marcus," Gigi intervened. "Where's Jasper?"

Marcus wiped a hand over his face and cleared his throat. His eyes were misty, and Daisy suddenly wasn't sure that it was because of the rain. "Listen, Daisy. I need to talk to you. Jasper — "

"Jasper, who? You mean the bastard who doesn't come home and sends you to clean up his mess? That Jasper? What about him?" But then Daisy realized that it was tears in Marcus's eyes. They were now running down his face.

"Jasper's dead," he choked.

Copyright © 2005 by Jamise L. Dames

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First Chapter

Chapter 1: Summer

Daisy Parker's blood was boiling. She balled up her boyfriend's favorite brown suede Armani jacket and threw it out the second-story window. She stuck her head out into the warm breeze, surveyed her work, and smiled wickedly. Jasper Stevens's clothes and shoes decorated her front lawn. Silk shirts in every color imaginable sprinkled the red roses that climbed the white trellis. Boxer shorts were scattered like freckles on the flagstone walkway, while an isolated pair hung from the limb of an oak tree like a gigantic moth. A beige loafer lay in the neighbor's yard across the street.

Neighbors stood outside and watched in shameless amazement.

"Mind your own business!" Daisy yanked the navy sheers closed. Why in the hell is everybody outside so early anyway?

She stood thinking, hands on hips. Now for his grandmother's antique china. As she ran down the stairs, a stabbing pain shot through her right foot. She winced as blood trickled from her big toe. She shook her head in disgust and pulled out the small masonry nail.

"Ooh...goddamn!" She cringed, grabbing her foot. "I hate these stairs. I hate this house." Then Daisy's heart raced. "Lord, don't let him walk through that door right now, 'cause I swear I'm gonna kill him. I told him the last time that if he let the sun beat him home, it would be the last one he'd see rise." The pain from her wound, which was beginning to swell, deepened her anger. She wiped a tear from her eye and went to treat her injury.

As she limped into the first-floor bathroom, Daisy frowned at the tiny spots of blood staining the tile. If it's not one thing,it's something worse. I wonder who it is this time -- what woman has twisted his head so far up his ass that he can't see who's had his back for years. She yanked open the medicine cabinet, and the entire contents tumbled into the sink. "Jesus!" Her heart felt as if it were jackhammering its way out of her chest.

She was not going to have another anxiety attack. No. No. No. Jasper wasn't worth it. She inhaled slowly, held her breath to the count of ten, then exhaled. The last thing she needed was to lose control. After repeating the process several times she began to relax. Seven years of yoga had taught her how to alleviate stress. As her pulse slowed, she rummaged through the fallen toiletries for the first-aid kit. After treating her wound, she found herself staring into the basin. Something wasn't right. The medicine cabinet was usually full, but the sink only contained a few items. All of Jasper's toiletries are missing. His extra toothbrush -- gone. There was no denying the evidence. Every time Jasper had stepped out on her before, she'd found the cabinet almost bare. "Now I'm really going to throw the china out the window!"

Daisy carelessly stacked the fragile china on the table in separate piles. With each half-toss it clattered, threatening to topple to the floor. Silently she urged it to fall, dared it to break like her relationship. Why not? Everything else Jasper claimed to love is broken. She snatched a plate and examined it. The blue-patterned china that bore fanciful etching, navy like a perfect night sky lighted by stars, was trimmed in gold. The hazy color she once thought beautiful was now as hideous as it was gaudy and old. Ugly and disgusting. Haunting, like the bluish lips of the dead. She shivered. Flinging the dish on top of the stack, a vile film covered her fingertips. Smelling her hands, she realized the china smelled as bad as it looked. Its stench attacked her nostrils and made her mouth feel like cotton. Turning away, she bumped the table with her hip and watched the china shake, rattle, and fall.

She headed to the kitchen. It was nice. The cold marble floor soothed her injured foot. She took a bottle of water from the refrigerator, threw her head back, letting the water soothe her tongue and dry throat.

She needed to check on Jay, who was over at a playmate's house. She longed to hear his young, innocent voice sing the magical words that had always lifted her spirits: "Hey, Mom." Daisy's heart warmed as she thought about him. He had a knack for making her think about things bigger than her problems. He'd made it easy and desirable for her to segue into motherhood. He was Jasper's son, but became her own when she'd stepped in to raise him when he was almost two.

She dialed his friend's number, but couldn't speak to Jay. He was outside playing basketball. Daisy sighed. As upset as she was, and as proud as she was for finally taking a stand, she yearned for the comfort of someone who loved her unconditionally.

"Jay," she said out loud.

Daisy sat on the sofa waiting for Jasper to come through the front door. She was fuming. He should've had the decency to call. She picked up Jasper's photo from the end table. You would think you'd want to spend every available minute at home, considering your job has you out of town four days a week. But no. Not you, Jasper. That would be asking too much. She glared at the picture, then tossed it across the room. She looked at another photograph, this one of Jay and herself. Immediately a tinge of guilt coursed through her, and a sudden sadness too. What was she to do about him? She certainly wouldn't put him out.

She picked up Jay's Little League trophy that was sitting next to their photo. As she ran her finger over his engraved name, a whimper escaped her: "I'm the only mother he knows. I can't lose him." She'd taught him how to talk, potty-trained him, and nursed him when he was ill. She'd done everything that she assumed his biological mother would've if she could've. "Death stole her from you, and it'll be the only thing that'll keep me from you."

"Hell, he's my son," she said, setting the trophy back in its place.

A tear slid down her face. Jasper wouldn't leave Jay behind no matter how hard she fought. In her heart, Jay was her son. But biologically and legally he was Jasper's.

"I'm sorry, Jay," she whispered, thankful that he was spending the weekend at his friend's house. "I tried. One day I hope you'll realize how much. And I'll never let you go."

How can I leave the father and keep the love of the son?

Hurting her was one thing, but destroying Jay's security was another. Jasper had thrown their lives out the window just as she'd thrown out his belongings. It was always about what he wanted. She tapped her foot, willing the brass knob to turn and give her what she wanted: Jasper's head.

Where the hell was he?

Tears flowed freely now from Daisy's deep brown eyes. She paced the room, pounding her fist into her palm. As much as she loved him, she couldn't take Jasper's disrespect anymore. Wouldn't take it anymore. She'd pretended for too long, lived too long in her make-believe world. Her mind wandered to the time she'd smelled another woman's perfume on him, and he had convinced her it was her scent. It wasn't perfume that I smelled. It was pussy. She plopped down on the sofa, laughing at her naïveté. How could she have been so stupid? She'd give Jasper one more hour, she decided. If he didn't come home, she'd change the locks.

Settling back into the soft cushions, Daisy questioned herself. Why did she sit around and drown in thoughts of Jasper? Obviously, he wasn't thinking about her -- or Jay. The longer she sat, the angrier she got. And not only at him, but at herself. Why did she allow him to drain her of her happiness? He didn't deserve her undivided attention. He wasn't God. But she did have to admit that she'd treated him like a god. She had made him her alpha and omega, her personal messiah who'd convinced her that he was akin to Jesus; he was her first and last, beginning and end. Her only. In his hands she'd turned to dust and allowed him to mold her, breathe his version of life into her. She'd thought that he was her savior, but had been seduced by the fallen one and believed his lies. Daisy cringed because she knew that she had given him power. She'd placed him on a pedestal from which he'd refused to come down, and she'd been punished for being the type of woman who loved completely. There wasn't anything on the green earth that she hadn't done for him, or for Jay. So why hadn't he come home last night? "Because he thinks I'm stupid," she whispered.

No one could tell Daisy what she already knew. Inside, she knew he'd cheated before, and her gut told her that he was out doing something that he had no business doing.

As her eyes drifted around the room, Daisy realized that Jasper had fashioned her to his liking, just as he had fashioned his home. She too had been bought and paid for.

One thing she wouldn't complain about was the grandfather clock. It had accompanied her through the night without missing a beat. And it had given her the wake-up call she'd finally answered, the call that had told her to put Jasper where he belonged -- out with yesterday's trash.

The clock chimed now, as if reminding her. Time to make the doughnuts. Daisy reached for the phone and called the locksmith, then forwarded her calls to a local psychic hotline.

The clock chimed again. The locksmith was late. How many people needed locks changed on a Sunday morning? Now she was waiting on two men, Jasper and the locksmith. Isn't this a trip? It was bad enough that she was going to have to pay a surcharge for weekend work. In the phone book his ad claimed to have the speediest service in town, but please, she had seen molasses move faster. Daisy told herself to be patient. She'd waited almost seven years for Jasper to act right, so she could certainly wait another hour for the locksmith.

The doorbell rang. Her heart leapt to her throat. Jasper? No, he has a key. She calmed herself, tried to smooth out her wild hair, and let the locksmith in.

Three hundred dollars and five changed locks later, Daisy was even more pissed. There went the new outfit.

She walked slowly up the stairs, counting every one of the pictures that hung on the wall in stair-step succession. Seven in all, one for every year they had been a family.

"Seven whole years, and not once did you propose," she said aloud. "And you asked me to have your baby? You must've thought I was a fool, telling me to have your baby first, and then you'd marry me. Hell, I raised your child."

Daisy smashed one photo against all the others, shattering them to pieces, leaving only the photos of Jay and Jonathan, Jasper's deceased twin, untouched. She stopped and paused in front of Jonathan's picture. He seemed to watch her in disapproval. His eyes had always made her uncomfortable; they seemed more real than camera-captured. Sorry, Jonathan, sorry you had to see this. But your brother's acting a fool -- again. Please send him some good sense from wherever you are. She turned away and glared at the scattered pictures.

She went to the guest room and stood before the closet. She knew not to open the closet door, but still felt the temptation. Just the thought of what was hidden inside irritated her. The last thing she needed now was to come face-to-face with that haunting memory, that single piece of paper that had hurt her and served as a constant reminder of her shame. Daisy reached for the knob, then drew her hand back. She walked out of the room in a daze.

Padding down the hall, she tripped over one of Jasper's ill-placed shoes and fell face-first into the carpet.

"I can't...I just can't take this," she sobbed.

Daisy pushed herself up, her day-old makeup leaving faint traces of color on the carpet. "Who puts white carpet in a hallway, anyway?" she muttered, sniffing under her arms. I need to bathe. There was no way she'd allow herself to become like Jasper: tired and stinking.

The telephone rang while Daisy was taking off her clothes in the bedroom. She picked up, but no one was there. My cell phone.

"Hel-lo," Daisy snapped.

"Dai -- um...what's wrong with you?" her best friend, Gigi, asked. "You okay?"

"Yes. I mean...no. Jasper didn't come home again last night, and he hasn't called."

"No? Girl, you're having all kinds of trouble today. Men problems and phone issues. Did you know something was wrong with your phone? 'Cause I just tried to call twice, and some lady who claimed to be psychic kept answering -- had the nerve to ask me which credit card I'd be using. I told her since she was psychic, she should tell me."

Daisy laughed. "I forwarded my calls. They're psychic, so maybe they'll tell Jasper he doesn't have a home." Daisy paused, spreading cleanser on her face. "So what's up? You feel like going to Ming Li's and out to lunch?"

"Sure. I'll meet you at her house in about an hour."

"Make it an hour and a half. Oh, and Gigi?"

"Yeah?"

"When was the last time you talked to Marcus? Did he come to your house last night?"

"We were together until midnight. Why?"

"Just asking. Listen, if he calls you, don't say anything, okay? I'll see you at Ming Li's."

• • •

Daisy leaned against Ming Li's bar, waiting for Gigi to arrive and for Ming Li to get dressed. Her eyes roamed the trendy Manhattan loft. She imagined how peaceful she'd make her surroundings once she got on her feet. But single life scared her. Daisy had never lived alone before and she wondered if she'd be able to handle it.

Pouring herself a glass of chardonnay, she noticed black lingerie on the floor. At least somebody's getting some. She sipped her wine, trying to remember the last time she and Jasper had had sex.

A loud knock on the door pulled her out of her thoughts. "It's about time. Seems like I've been waiting on people all day," Daisy said as she opened the door for Gigi.

Gigi stood there smiling, beautiful in her own way. Her caked makeup made her honey complexion look flawless, almost plastic. But there was nothing phony about Gigi. She posed, then modeled a catwalk spin, showing off her newly dyed hair and baggy gym attire. "Well, what do you think?"

Daisy frowned, covered her mouth, and laughed. She pulled Gigi inside and bolted the door. "Get inside before someone calls the cops on you for disturbing the peace. New York has noise ordinances, you know."

"It's not that bright," Gigi said, patting her shocking red mane. "It's vibrant, like my personality."

"Yeah, you're right. It's not bright. It's loud."

"Whatever." Gigi shrugged off Daisy's teasing and hugged her. "Are you all right?"

"I'll be fine. It's nothing new, right?" Daisy avoided Gigi's intense gaze, diverting her attention elsewhere. "Where's Ming Li? She's always holding us up."

Just then, Ming Li sauntered into the room, naked. She hopped onto a barstool, her long black mane swaying against her back. "I'm right here." She grabbed a crystal decanter, poured herself a drink, and lit a mini-cigar before turning to her friends. "Want some?" she asked, then her eyes widened in surprise. "Damn, Gigi! What in the hell happened to your hair?"

Gigi smirked, crossing her arms. "What happened to your clothes?"

Daisy smiled sadly, her emotions getting the best of her. She forced herself to brighten, trying to cover her pain. "You know Ming Li doesn't like clothes, Gigi. She's Eve, remember?"

"I'll have wine too," Gigi said, laughing. "That liquor's too strong for me."

"Sweeties, if you two had what I just had, you'd say this was mild in comparison to Ian." Then Ming Li noticed Daisy's face. "Whoa...wait a minute. What's wrong?"

Gigi shot Ming Li a knowing look.

"Jasper disappeared again?" Ming Li huffed. "Rhetorical question. I know the answer. What are you going to do?"

The sound of a door closing reminded Daisy that they weren't alone. "We'll talk at lunch."

Ming Li shrugged. "It's your pity party."

"Who's back there?" Gigi questioned.

"Ian." Ming Li closed her eyes and pretended to swoon.

"That good, hunh? Wait a minute, who's Ian? I thought you were seeing Ricky."

"I am seeing Ricky. And Ian. And Lucian -- "

"Lucian?"

"Yes." Ming Li licked her lips. "He's Greek, and hung like a Trojan horse. Lucian Antonopoulos."

Daisy gulped her wine. "You're sleeping with all three of them? Ricky, Ian, and Lucian Anta -- whoever?"

"As often as I can. Sometimes two a day."

"Oh, hell, no. Are you serious? I hope you don't sleep with two at a time."

Ming Li pursed her lips.

• • •

Daisy dabbed her mouth with a napkin. The outdoor restaurant was bustling, and Greenwich Village was in full swing, as crowded as usual for a hot summer weekend.

"Girl, no. You didn't throw his clothes out." Gigi threw her napkin across the wrought-iron bistro table.

Ming Li eyed Daisy and nodded. "Oh, hell, you did. Good for you. I told you years ago that that muthafucka wasn't any good."

"I warned him before. Obviously, he didn't realize that a threat can be a promise."

Gigi fanned her face. "If he was stupid enough to stay out, he deserved it."

"He's your cousin."

"That he is. But you know we're not close. If it weren't for you or Marcus, Jasper and I probably wouldn't speak. Still, you can't say I didn't warn you about him. I didn't push you into his bed. You jumped in."

"Well, good for him," Ming Li said. "Screw him, but don't fuck yourself in the process. Know what I mean?"

"Yes, I do." Daisy nodded. "I also know it's time I explored my options too," she added with a sly smile.

Ming Li returned the look. "Gigi told me some guy's been hitting on you at the gym. What about him, Daisy?"

Gigi sat back. "I don't think I should be hearing this."

"I'm not the whore; Jasper is. I'm not going to mess with Chris the personal trainer."

"Oh, that Chris."

"You've met Chris?" Daisy asked.

Ming Li winked. "A few times."

"Damn, Ming Li. Save some for the rest of us."

"There's always Adonis." Ming Li grinned.

Just the mention of his name gave Daisy chills. She'd spent plenty of nights thinking about Adonis. He'd been the childhood crush she'd always wanted but never pursued. "Adonis? What about him?"

"He's here," Ming Li said, nudging Gigi. "Right, Gigi?"

"Shut up, Ming Li." Gigi turned to Daisy. "You understand my position, right? With Jasper being my cousin, and Adonis my stepbrother..."

Daisy's expression dulled. She wished like hell that she'd thrown her insecurities to the wind and pursued the man she'd wanted, instead of settling for the one who wanted her. She'd never admit it out loud, but she'd always felt that she wasn't good enough for Adonis. He had a certain air about him so that she'd found him unapproachable.

"Yes, I understand," she replied. "Family."

"Bullshit," Ming Li said. "Jasper and Adonis aren't related. They don't share the same blood. And according to Adonis, they barely know each other. They met as adults."

Daisy shook off the thoughts of Adonis. Unrelated or not, it wouldn't look right. She also had Jay to think about. "I'm putting Jasper out with a clean conscience."

"And a job," Ming Li interjected.

"Uh-oh," Gigi said. "You're serious. You're gonna do it this time."

Daisy threw her an angry look. "What do you mean, this time?"

"You always say you're going to put him out," Ming Li said. "If you're going to do it, do it. Think and do for yourself. What do you think he's doing...playing golf? Please, you want to see Adonis again because Jasper's game has gotten rusty."

"And put the degree to use. No offense, Daisy, but what is it that you do? I mean, really, I've only seen you plant flowers -- for your house," Gigi added.

Daisy rolled her eyes and exhaled. "Unbelievable, Gigi. How could you not know what I do? We shared a dorm and you don't know what I studied? How is that possible?" Daisy deadpanned, "How many summers did you help me spend my paycheck when I worked the landscaping job? For the last time, ladies, I have a degree in horticulture, not flowers. I'm an expert in plant cultivation and propagation. I specialized in floriculture, as well as commercial and residential landscape design."

"Well, damn. Sorry," Gigi retorted. "Point taken, but what does it mean?"

"Seeding, cutting, layering, grafting. I protect plants from diseases and pests, and I am a specialist in all things flowers. You name it, I know it."

Ming Li cleared her throat, closed her eyes, and paused. She sat up erect and stared at Daisy. "You mean to tell me that you're a scientist who can actually fathom cultivation, propaganda -- propagation -- propa-whatever, but you can't understand why Jasper didn't come home? Book smarts won't help you, you need street smarts. It doesn't take a degree to figure out that one. It's simple. The bastard has grown an extra pair of legs and fangs, and he pisses with his back leg up. He's metamorphosed into a dog -- simple as that. He's done everything except bite you in the ass to prove it."

Daisy glared and balled her fist under the table. Her heart picked up speed, but anxiety wasn't the cause, anger was. Ming Li's naked honesty hurt, but Daisy had to take it for what it was worth -- the truth. She couldn't deny it. Wouldn't. And she refused to be mad at her friend for caring enough to express what she felt. "Can't argue with that one."

"Flower degree or no flower degree, I still say you should let your education work for you." Gigi smiled. "You plant a hell of a rosebush."

Ming Li pursed her lips and laughed. "Yeah, peddle those hybrid flowers you love to create. You could get a vendor's license, you know? Go to the flower market and sell, sell, sell. Do something besides wait for Jasper, damn."

"Okay, I've got enough drama in my life without your criticism."

"No one's criticizing you. We're telling you the truth, and you should listen. And we've known him longer than you have. Besides, no one can be that good in bed. Don't tell me he's fucked you so hard that you're seeing things -- "

"Ming Li!"

"No, Daisy, you need to hear this," Ming Li insisted.

"Daisy, you've given him too much power. You get dressed in the morning just to sit around and keep his house. For what? So you have to depend on him? You already had one man raise you. What makes you think you need a second daddy?"

Daisy crossed her arms defiantly. She wanted to curse at her friends, but she knew they were right. "Well, ladies, you can rest assured. Jasper obviously had a place to stay last night, so he can live there. And as far as working, I don't know. He never wanted me to, and I didn't have to. But that doesn't matter now. He's gone, and there's nothing more to be said. A girl's gotta do -- "

"You've always got us," Gigi interrupted, smiling kindly. "Remember that."

• • •

"What now?!" Daisy grumbled, fumbling to find the ringing cell phone, which had awakened her for the third time. God, please? Make it stop. She sat up and immediately regretted it. Her lids felt twenty pounds heavier and she strained to keep her burning eyes open. Her temples pounded against her skull, threatening to explode. And her ears rang. And rang. And rang some more. "Too much wine. Much...too much...wine," she whispered while digging in the sofa cushions trying to locate the dreaded digital device that wouldn't allow her to sleep. "This better be good," she answered.

"Daisy, you up?" Gigi asked breathlessly.

"No. I'm talking in my sleep. Call me back when I wake up...in about five hours."

"Goddamnit, Daisy. Get up! Marcus just called. Jasper's in the hospital."

Daisy sat up and pressed her fingers against her throbbing temples, hoping to slow the pounding. But the drumming didn't shift; it sped up, accelerated like her heartbeat. Moved in rapid, short successions like her anxious breaths. Breathe. Breathe. Goddamnit, breathe! She'd lost track of the inhale/exhale pattern and was forced to relearn it in seconds. Seemed like years. Panic made its way in with a slow crawl and a push so steady it dominated her hangover. "What?! He's in the hospital? What hospital?" she managed to ask.

"University..."

Daisy raced down the Staten Island Expressway as rain spattered on the windshield. The slick roads and potholes added to her shakiness. She couldn't make it to Jasper fast enough. "Lord, please let him be okay," she prayed as her back tires slid, losing control for seconds, when she exited the expressway onto Lily Pond Avenue. Let me be okay too, she continued her plea as she fought to gain control of the vehicle. She chastised herself for acting in haste, for throwing out Jasper's clothes, for assuming that he was cheating.

She turned into the parking area at top speed. Her heart -- her need -- wouldn't allow her to slow. She had to get to him. She pulled into a handicap spot without a second thought. She didn't need a wheelchair tag; she was the sign, a walking billboard that screamed, "Mentally and emotionally handicapped." Every bad thought that she could think infiltrated her mind. Stole her sanity. Please, she begged God again, let him be okay.

As she ran toward the ER, the cold, wet cement reminded her that she wore no shoes. She had no purse. The only thing that she carried was worry for Jasper.

"Excuse me," she asked, pounding on the reception counter to get attention. "I'm looking for Jasper Stevens."

"Hmm, Stevens. Stevens." The lady smiled and began searching what Daisy assumed to be an intake sheet.

What the hell is she so happy about? Doesn't she realize this is an emergency room? Emergencies aren't funny.

"Is he here?"

"I'm sorry. I don't see a Jasper Stevens listed. But, then again, they just changed the sign-in sheets. New shift. Let me check in the back for you. What's your name?"

Daisy waited a small eternity for the woman to return. Three whole minutes. One hundred and eighty ticktocks on the hospital-issued clock.

"We don't have a Jasper Stevens in the back," the receptionist said, and followed with a shrug. "I'm sorry..."

"Alright. Thanks." Daisy clipped her words. Frustration and anger replaced panic and worry as she turned to leave. Liar -- Jasper's a liar.

"However..."

Daisy did an about-face and looked at the receptionist as she blinked back tears.

"A nurse from the last shift said that we did have a Jasper here earlier. She couldn't remember his last name, though. He wasn't her patient."

Daisy dialed, then spat wildly, frantically into her cell phone, "He's not at University, Gigi. At least I don't think so. First they said that they didn't have a Jasper Stevens registered. Then they said maybe he was there earlier, but weren't sure. They changed shifts. Goddamn shifts. And wouldn't you know it, sign-in sheets too."

"Trust me, he was there, Daisy. The doctor interrupted me and Marcus's conversation. But that doesn't matter now. All you should focus on is getting your butt home and picking up his clothes -- "

"What?" Daisy asked, switching lanes and frame of mind. The previous night's alcohol, lack of sleep, and bouncing between hurt, pain, and worry had begun to take a toll. She'd forgotten which face to put on and when. Her mood became like a voice, everyone had two. There was the happy, polite one usually reserved for business, and then the real one. My problem is that I don't know what real is anymore.

"Are you listening? Get home! I just got off the phone with Marcus. He wants me to meet him at your house. If he's on his way there, then Jasper's on his way too."

• • •

Daisy's heart raced as she rifled through the coat closet. No raincoat. She yanked the front door open, wincing at the sound of the mirror shattering behind it. She hurried out into the rain and began gathering the sopping clothes.

"What can be saved?" she asked herself frantically. Maybe some of the silks, but the suedes had no hope. Neither did she. What would she tell Jasper?

Once she had gathered all the clothes she could carry, she hurried back inside. "I can't believe I'm doing this," she mumbled, dumping the heavy, wet load onto the floor.

Now for the rest, she thought with a sigh. She had no idea how she was going to get Jasper's boxers out of the tree. And she still had to get the shoe from across the street in the neighbors' yard. What if they'd moved it?

Daisy gave herself a pep talk. She could do it. Had to. She sprinted across the street, feeling the cold wetness of her jeans on her thighs. No shoe to be found anywhere. She got down on her hands and knees, palms sinking into the soggy grass. Finally, she spotted the shoe under the bushes. As she reached for it, the sharp branches tore her skin. Daisy winced in pain, pulling back her hand. Blood trickled down her arm as she held up her wrist to examine her injuries.

Daisy hurried back across the street, retrieving shirts, pants, and socks. After dumping them in the foyer, she went back outside and tried to rip a branch from the rosebush. She had to get Jasper's boxers next.

She moved under the tree and looked up. There they were, dangling. She counted silently and jumped, swinging the rosebush branch, praying that the boxers would catch on a thorn. No luck. She tried again. The branch snagged the boxers and broke in two.

She gave up for the moment, deciding to get the remaining clothes first. As she ran toward the house with another pile in her arms, the wind blew the front door closed. She came to an abrupt halt, her wet feet sliding on the walkway, and fell face-first in a puddle of mud.

As Daisy lifted her face from the wet, stinking ground, a car door slammed behind her. She turned to find Gigi staring down at her, a smile plastered across her umbrella-shaded face. They both giggled.

Then Daisy's smile vanished. Jasper's Escalade had pulled up behind Gigi's car.

Daisy wanted desperately to run into the house, but the front door was closed and on automatic slam-lock. She looked at Gigi, who shrugged. Not knowing what else to do, Daisy smiled as she saw Marcus getting out from the driver's side of the Escalade.

"Hey, Marcus," she said, shaking her head. "What happened? Jasper too tired to drive again? I don't know why he does it to you."

Gigi tapped Daisy's shoulder and pointed toward Jasper's SUV, which had no other visible passengers. "Marcus, where's -- "

Marcus held up his hand, silencing her. He stood two feet from Daisy, his gaze traveling up and down her body before coming to rest on her partially exposed breasts.

Daisy cleared her throat, then grabbed him under the chin, forcing him to look in her eyes. "Up here, Marcus. My face is up here!"

"You better act like you know, Marcus," Gigi said. "Trifling bastard," she muttered.

Marcus stood still. Rain was running down his face, drenching his clothes, but he didn't seem to notice. He was breathing heavily, his eyes blank as they moved over the lawn to the tree. "What happened? I know you didn't -- "

"Where's Jasper?" Daisy snapped.

"Yeah, Marcus," Gigi intervened. "Where's Jasper?"

Marcus wiped a hand over his face and cleared his throat. His eyes were misty, and Daisy suddenly wasn't sure that it was because of the rain. "Listen, Daisy. I need to talk to you. Jasper -- "

"Jasper, who? You mean the bastard who doesn't come home and sends you to clean up his mess? That Jasper? What about him?" But then Daisy realized that it was tears in Marcus's eyes. They were now running down his face.

"Jasper's dead," he choked.

Copyright © 2005 by Jamise L. Dames

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 26, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Rain Is Just the Opening Act

    Daisy has been lied to and cheated on for the last time. Jasper has got to go! The proof is in the pudding as she liters the front yard with his belongings. Enough is enough. How much betrayal can one woman take? Well Daisy is surely about to find out as she sees just how intricate Jasper's web of deceit is. But Jasper doesn't have the market on deceit. Everything and everyone may not be as it seems. That includes Daisy also. She too has a secret. A secret that if exposed can affect the lives of many. Often down but not out, Daisy must discover her strength within. She must discover who Daisy is and what Daisy wants, or she might as well be pushing up daisies. <BR/><BR/>Jamise Dames, in her second novel, delivers a story chocked-full of twists and turns. Pushing Up Daisies is a tale of duplicity, love, second chances (sometimes thirds) and growth. Despite all of that, I found the book to be just okay. Yes it was full of twists and turns. Maybe too many. I know a book should stand on its own merit, but I couldn't help but compare this to her first novel Momma's Baby Daddy's Maybe which I thoroughly enjoyed. She set a bar that I don't feel she reached in this sophomore novel. <BR/><BR/>Reviewed by: Toni

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2007

    A tale of heartache.....

    I just had the chance to read Jamise L. Dames second novel 'Pushing Up Daisies'. Her first book, 'Mommas Baby, Daddies Maybe' was good, BUT this one was great! She did great work. She told a story of a woman that went through trials with an exboyfriend, a child, the child's family and friends. She wrote a tale that could touch all of our hearts. Her main character Daisy went through sooooo much stuff. Some of the same stuff that some of you may have went through or going through. Jamise told a great story. Thank You Jamise for sharing your work!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2005

    Rain is just the opening act

    Daisy has been lied to and cheated on for the last time. Jasper has got to go! The proof is in the pudding as she liters the front yard with his belongings. Enough is enough. How much betrayal can one woman take? Well Daisy is surely about to find out as she sees just how intricate Jasper's web of deceit is. But Jasper doesn't have the market on deceit. Everything and everyone may not be as it seems. That includes Daisy also. She too has a secret. A secret that if exposed can affect the lives of many. Often down but not out, Daisy must discover her strength within. She must discover who Daisy is and what Daisy wants, or she might as well be pushing up daisies. Jamise Dames, in her second novel, delivers a story chocked-full of twists and turns. Pushing Up Daisies is a tale of duplicity, love, second chances (sometimes thirds) and growth. Despite all of that, I found the book to be just okay. Yes it was full of twists and turns. Maybe too many. I know a book should stand on its own merit, but I couldn't help but compare this to her first novel Momma's Baby Daddy's Maybe which I thoroughly enjoyed. She set a bar that I don't feel she reached in this sophomore novel.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted November 17, 2009

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    Posted July 1, 2011

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    Posted February 21, 2011

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