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By Bonnie Hopkins
Warner BooksCopyright © 2005 Bonnie S. Hopkins
All right reserved.
Graduation day from college was a scary, exhilarating, wonderful occasion!
Twenty-one-year-old Jacetta Winters clutched her college diploma tightly and thanked God that four years of year-round classes had finally paid off. Exuberant and optimistic, she overflowed with hopes and dreams. She was ready for challenges to be overcome and adventures to be explored. Look out world; she was ready for anything! Or was she? Years later, she would remember that day and recoil in embarrassment at her extreme naïvete.
The next week, back home in their small Riverwood, Arkansas, community, Jacetta and her six cousins rejoiced in their victory. From birth the cousins had been inseparable and their notorious shenanigans had gained them reputations of being both villains and heroes. Now, with the exception of one who had dropped out to get married, they all celebrated becoming college graduates.
Identical green eyes, a Winslow family trait passed down from Jacetta's maternal grandparents, stared out from the face of each cousin. "Ya'll, the only thing I regret is that for the first time in our lives, we're all going our separate ways," Jacetta told them tearfully.
"I know," C.J. answered in a shaky voice. "Can you believe it? Dusty goinginto the Marines. Buddy headed to Michigan to take a job, and Big Ben moving to Little Rock to be a high school coach. Now who would have figured that!" They all looked at Big Ben and laughed.
"I'm really going to miss ya'll." Jacetta's eyes traveled around the circle. "I'm already wondering when we'll see each other again." She found them solemnly staring back at her, probably wondering the same thing.
Seeking to lighten the mood, Gina asked, "Is everybody else all set to leave? I know I'm not." The cousins had been excitedly talking about their plans for months, but as some of them had already discovered, and others would soon learn, the best of plans could fall apart in the blink of an eye.
"Buddy and I are driving to Little Rock with Big Ben to catch our flights," Dusty explained. "It wouldn't do to hang around too long. We might change our minds about leaving."
"It'll probably be next weekend before I leave," Jacetta answered, then looked at C.J. "What about you, Cij? When are you leaving?"
C.J. looked down and answered, "I don't know exactly. But it'll be soon."
Dusty decided to mess with Nita again. They had been teasing her all weekend about her pregnancy. "Nita, you sure this guy you married is okay?"
"Yes, Dusty. How many times do I have to say it?" An uncomfortable grin covered Nita's face. "And I'm so glad Jace and I will be living in the same city. At least we'll be able to see each other often."
"Well, you certainly didn't waste any time getting knocked up, if that's an indication of anything," Buddy said, causing Nita's face to flush in embarrassment.
Big Ben, who had always been a softie, looked as if tears weren't far off. He finally spoke up to cover his emotions. "It sounds like everybody but Gina and C.J. are set to go. Gina, you planning to hang around 'the Wood' for a while?" Gina dropped her head to hide the brief look of pain that crossed her face. "I don't think so," she answered quietly.
He looked at C.J. "What about you, 'Red'? You still planning to follow that basketball player?"
C.J. gave a nod of confirmation. "Yeah! And call me 'Red' again and get punched out," she threatened.
"Okay, okay!" Buddy said, interrupting the old argument and falling into his usual role of leader. He looked around the circle and said in a serious tone, "We have to stay in touch, everybody. If I don't hear from you, I'm coming to look for you. Take care of yourselves and don't do anything I wouldn't do."
Everybody else let out loud groans. "If we did, we'd really be in trouble," Gina said. They laughed and hugged again before going separate ways.
The next week, as they traveled to Dallas, Jacetta sat in the backseat of her parents' car looking out at the passing scenery and fighting tears. She was leaving her small, close-knit community filled with big plans to work a full-time job and take night and weekend courses toward her master's degree.
Riverwood, lovingly referred to as "the Wood" by the younger generation, represented her place of security and nurturing, so she wasn't surprised by the mixed emotions swirling through her. Although ambitious dreams and well-thought-out goals were firmly in place, fears of the unknown clogged her throat while feelings of homesickness were already settling in her heart.
Jacetta was a private person, so she hated the thought of moving in with her uncle's family. Uncle George recently retired from the military and his family relocated to Dallas a few months ago. Their small stopgap apartment was already cramped, but Jacetta's parents insisted, arguing that her uncle and aunt could look out for her, which would also give her a chance to save a little money before getting her own place. True. But she still didn't like it.
Thankfully, she already had a job lined up! Her aunt helped her secure a position in municipal government. The entry-level pay wasn't great, but the job as interviewer and planner for the city's neighborhood improvement program was right in line with her career aspirations in public administration. Thank you, God! At least her independence was in sight.
The last thing her dad said to her before heading back to Riverwood squelched a little of Jacetta's excitement. "Now, don't you go getting in no trouble out here, girl. You do, don't come running back to my house. Just remember how you were raised." His harsh words brought tears to Jacetta's eyes until she reminded herself that her dad had always felt it was his duty to put a damper on anything that resembled joy. Little did she know then how close her father came to prophesying her future.
Things were going well! Jacetta was enjoying her job, learning her way around, and taking courses toward her graduate degree. She excitedly checked her growing bank account regularly, anxiously looking forward to the time she would be able to move into her own place.
Never in her wildest imagination could she have dreamed up Maxie Jackson!
Her uncle had car trouble one day and coworker Maxie gave him a ride home from work. Of course, Uncle George invited him in for a beer. And naturally, he introduced Maxie to his little niece who had recently moved to town. And yes, the little country girl straight from the woods felt the foundation of her goals crack a little when she looked into Maxie's handsome face and dreamy eyes. How was she to know that the glow in Maxie's eyes was one of anticipation as he eyed his next conquest?
Jacetta went out with Maxie several times before she had finally enjoyed some solitary moments to share the exciting news with her cousins. One Friday evening, everyone else decided to go out to dinner, leaving her alone in the apartment. Ordinarily she would have been out with Maxie, but he had been called in to work. As soon as the family left, she immediately began to dial numbers, looking for her cousins to tell them about Maxie. She couldn't reach Nita and Gina, but did eventually track down C.J. "I've met him, Cij!" she cried excitedly. "I have met the man of my dreams. And he is so ... ooo ... fine. Whoo!"
"Oh my ears!" C.J. groaned at Jaci's loud, excited screaming. "Now calm down and tell me who 'he' is."
"His name is Maxie Jackson. He's older, about thirty, and soooo handsome and sophisticated! He's just slightly taller than I am, and you know I like tall men. But other than that, this man is perfect." She was disappointed when C.J. didn't share her excitement.
"I don't know, Jace," C.J. said after listening quietly. "You're telling me that this older, good-looking man is unattached and interested in you?" She paused, reluctant to tell Jaci that life in the real world had already torn away her rose-colored glasses. She hated to sound cynical but felt she had to warn her cousin to be cautious. "Jace, are you absolutely certain this guy is not already married or hooked up with somebody? I mean, he sounds almost too good to be true. And remember what Grampa used to say? If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Just be careful, okay? It might just be your innocence and the challenge of adding a fresh notch to his belt that he's after."
Her feelings were a little hurt by C.J.'s pessimism, so Jacetta changed the subject; they talked a while longer, getting updates on each other and their cousins. "So how are you and Randy doing? You guys planning to tie the knot anytime soon?"
"Well he's asked, and I've said 'yes,' but we haven't set a date. He's anxious to see how things go his first season. He's looking good so far though." Randy was beginning what he hoped would be a long career in professional basketball.
"That's great, Cij. Be sure to keep me posted. You know, I was so glad that with Nita and me living in the same city we would be able to see each other regularly, but I've only talked to her once since I got here, and then she hurried me off the phone and never called me back. And I haven't talked to Gina at all. Can't even get a number for her. I heard she decided on the spur of the moment to move to Oakland with her old roommate, Clariece. I didn't even know they were that close."
"Me neither," C.J. replied thoughtfully. "I haven't talked to them either. I can understand Nita's reasons a little. At least she has an excuse-getting married and pregnant, all within a year. That's a lot of adjusting to do. But Gina hasn't been in touch with anyone. I don't know what her problem is."
After Jacetta hung up, she still felt a little miffed at C.J. She stood in front of the mirror, looking at herself critically. She was five-foot-five and admittedly overweight, but thankfully the extra pounds were evenly distributed in all the right places. Her thick hair was a reddish-brown color, but she kept it dyed black and wore it in a short Afro. She hated the soft, naturally wavy texture of her hair and was often teased by her uncle when she applied harsh solutions to it, trying to get the hard nappy look she wanted. "Girl, do you know how many women would kill for the kind of hair you have?" he asked.
She groaned as she took in the honey-toned skin, which was marred with numerous dark blotches and spots caused by the acne she constantly fought. Thank God for makeup.
She reluctantly agreed with C.J. that there was nothing special about her. In all honesty, her almond-shaped eyes and large shapely legs were her best features.
"Oh well," Jacetta finally said to her reflection in the mirror. "So there's nothing spectacular about the way I look. At least Maxie is mature enough to look beyond just outward appearances."
Whatever his reasons, Maxie Jackson aggressively pursued Jacetta and monopolized the little free time she had. To keep her from having to ride the bus, he dropped her off and picked her up from work and school whenever his schedule permitted. If they were not together, he called her at regular intervals to let her know he was thinking of her. Jacetta was on cloud nine.
A few weeks after they started dating, one of the women-a regular in Maxie's crowd-pulled Jacetta aside. "Look, honey, I figure nobody's taken the time to tell you, but Maxie's married, honey."
Jacetta's jaw dropped in shock and she fell off of her cloud with a thud. "Why in the world would you tell me that?" she asked the woman, anger apparent in her tone. "Maxie is not married."
The woman made an indifferent gesture. "I'm just telling you because you're young and dumb and don't have a clue. You can do whatever you want to with the information. I just felt like you needed to know the truth."
"I don't date married men, Maxie," Jacetta blurted out as soon as they were alone. "If you're married you should have told me."
Maxie's head shot around in surprise. "Who told you I was married?" he demanded.
"One of the women who hangs out with us. I think her name is Geneva. Anyway, what does it matter who told me? The only thing in question is whether it's true or not."
"Ha! It figures. Geneva's just jealous. She's been after me for years, and I'm a little hurt and disappointed in you," he said, reaching over to open the glove compartment. "I thought we had more trust than this between us, but let me show you something just to set your mind at ease." He pulled out a thick envelope and handed it to her. She opened it and saw that it was a divorce decree. As she read it she was so relieved, and it never crossed her mind to question why he kept the papers in his car.
After he saw her relief, Maxie quickly pressed his advantage. "I've been divorced for a while now, although not too many people know it. But even if I were still married, don't you know I love you so much I would willingly leave her?"
His words filled her with joy, but she shook her head sadly. "I'm not a home wrecker, Maxie. But since it's a moot point there's no need to discuss it."
Maxie's confession of love was followed immediately by his plea that they fully express their love for each other. Jacetta had refused to let things go beyond a certain point.
"We're both adults, with adult needs," Maxie pressured. "I know you're reluctant to take our relationship to another level, but I believe you love me just as much as I love you. Baby, we're going to spend the rest of our lives together, so there's no reason for us to wait. Please, sweetheart, I need you so much."
She actually fell for that old line! Years later, Jacetta would still be wondering why. Maybe she was flattered that this much older man had placed them on the same "adult" level. Maybe it was because she was actually overwhelmed by his profession of love. Maybe it was simply because she really loved him. Whatever her rationale, she agreed to go to his apartment with him. She convinced herself that since Maxie was the man she would soon marry, she was actually giving him the gift of her love and commitment.
A couple of months later, she was out with Maxie and his friends on their regular Friday night club-hopping circuit. But fun was the last thing on her mind. How could I have been so stupid to let this happen? This question had taken up residence in her mind, consuming her thoughts. Throughout the evening she was quieter than usual. She should have been feeling excitement about going apartment hunting the next day. But instead, Lord, she was miserable!
She always felt uncomfortable around Maxie's older, worldly wise friends who got a kick out of teasing her and making fun of her greenness. Why do I let them make me feel like this? she wondered. But she knew for sure that the news she had for Maxie would only confirm their opinion of her. As the evening wore on, she was torn between extending her time in their presence to delay the inevitable, or ending the evening so she could finally talk to Maxie.
After what seemed like interminable hours, they were finally in the car heading toward her apartment complex. A slightly tipsy Maxie tried to coerce her into going home with him. "Come on, honey, it's Friday night and you don't have class tomorrow. Let's spend some time together."
Jacetta's nerves were stretched to the limit, and curiously, for the first time, she wondered if this man and his partying lifestyle were what she truly wanted. "No, Maxie, I can't. I told you I plan to go apartment hunting tomorrow."
"You can spend the night and I'll go with you and help you find a place. Or better yet, why don't you just move in with me? That's what you should be doing anyway. It'll cut down on your expenses and give us more time together."
"I don't think so," she mumbled, almost overcome by anxiety. She had already gone against enough of her long-held values, and look where it had gotten her. She noticed they were turning into the parking lot. As soon as he parked the car, Maxie began to kiss and caress her.
"Come on, babe, loosen up! You've been uptight all night."
Knowing she couldn't put it off any longer, she swallowed nervously and hoped her vocal cords would cooperate because somehow, she had to get the words out. She condemned herself for being such a coward-heck! She'd always had the courage to confront any situation. Until now. She took a deep breath and began speaking. The words came out in a tight, squeaking voice. "I'm pregnant, Maxie. I ..."
"You're what?" he yelled, interrupting her and quickly moving away from her.
She continued in words that were rushed, choppy, and unsure. "I know this wasn't planned, but now that it's happened, we need to decide what we're going to do." She stole a look at him and noticed his response was anything but enthusiastic. His body stiffened and his ardor mysteriously disappeared. His unexpected reaction cut into her emotions, bringing tears to her eyes. This was not the way it was supposed to play out. He should have been taking her in his arms and assuring her that everything would be okay.
Excerpted from Seasons by Bonnie Hopkins Copyright ©2005 by Bonnie S. Hopkins . Excerpted by permission.
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