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THE OTHER SIDE OF DIVINE
By Vanessa Davis Griggs
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Vanessa Davis Griggs
All rights reserved.
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
"All right, Jasmine, spell, energetic," fifty-eight-year-old Esther Crowe said as she and soon-to-be-ten-year-old Jasmine Noble sat on the couch in the den wearing their matching red Minnie Mouse shirts.
Jasmine smiled as she correctly spelled the word without even the slightest hesitation. Her brownish/black hair was pulled up into a cute little ponytail, her hair having grown tremendously in the thirteen months since her successful bone marrow transplant. Jasmine giggled. "Okay, Miss C," Jasmine said, calling her by the special name she'd given Miss Crowe as she'd done with Zachary, in calling him Dr. Z, and Gabrielle, whom she'd once called Miss G before calling her Mama. "Now it's your turn."
Miss Crowe placed her hand on her chest. "My turn? How did I end up getting a turn? I'm not the one who has a spelling test tomorrow."
"Are you ready? Because this is going to be a long and tricky one that always seems to mess me up."
Miss Crowe nodded. She'd been a middle school teacher many years ago and there was nothing that put a smile on her face more than watching a child with an uncontained hunger for learning. "Hit me with your best shot, Miss Jazz."
Jasmine giggled again. "Okay, your word is Mississippi."
Jasmine grinned and tilted her head to the side. "Yep. Mississippi."
A big smile spread across Miss Crowe's face. She repeated the word again, and then began. "Mississippi. M-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-humpback-humpback-i."
Jasmine was cracking up with laughter as she tossed her head back, falling back onto the sofa. "What?"
"You said Mississippi so I spelled Mississippi," Miss Crowe said. "Have you never heard it spelled that way before?"
Jasmine rolled onto the floor, kneeling as she giggled madly. "I most certainly have not. Crooked letter crooked letter, humpback humpback-i?"
Miss Crowe was laughing now as well. "Yes. Crooked letter-crooked letter"—she drew the letter S in the air with her index finger twice—"humpback-humpback"—she then drew two letter P's—"i," she said while cocking her head to one side and folding her arms like a rapper who'd just successfully delivered a rap.
Jasmine got up and sat back on the couch next to Miss Crowe. "That was too funny."
"Well, that's some of the things we did in the old days to help people learn to spell difficult words. The next time you have a need to spell Mississippi, you can sing that song in your mind, and you'll get it right every time, no problem."
Gabrielle Mercedes walked into the den. "Hey, you two. How are you feeling, Jasmine?"
Jasmine ran to Gabrielle's opened arms and hugged her. "Mama!"
Gabrielle smiled. There was nothing like hearing those words, especially after all they'd been through in the span of just a little over a year.
There was Jasmine's lifesaving bone marrow transplant at the end of December 2009. Then Jasmine's adoptive mother, Jessica Noble, died of cancer on March 30, 2010, which of all days was also Jasmine's birthday.
Jessica had desperately wanted to tell Jasmine that she was adopted. Sadly, she ended up taking her last breath before getting a chance. And as if that wasn't enough, in May of that same year, Gabrielle finally told Jasmine she'd been adopted by the Nobles before Jasmine learned in July, in the most horrific way, that Gabrielle was not merely a friend of the family as she'd been led to believe, but instead, her birth mother. "The mother who didn't want her and had given her away," as she overheard it carelessly blurted out from the mouth of the beautiful Paris Simmons-Holyfield.
Yes, it had been a journey all right, all coming to a climax November 2010 with the court's final approval of Gabrielle's adoption of Jasmine just as Gabrielle's beloved Miss Esther Crowe waltzed back into her life, vowing not to leave until she'd physically witnessed wedding vows exchanged between her very own nephew and the one some liked to call "the daughter she never had."
And now, it was a new year, 2011—a new season in every sense of the word. Engaged and come June 11, 2011, Gabrielle was set to wed the most amazing man: Dr. Zachary Wayne Morgan. For once, things were finally coming together ... finally starting to look up.
Gabrielle strolled over to the couch and gave Miss Crowe a hug. "How did things go with the two of you today?"
"I told you that Jasmine and I would be fine. This baby is never a problem."
"I keep telling you I'm not a baby!" Jasmine said vehemently but with total respect toward an adult in her tone.
Miss Crowe pulled Jasmine over to her and hugged her. "I know, baby. I know. You're not a baby. Got it!"
"You just did it again!" Jasmine laughed and hugged Miss Crowe back.
"Sorry, baby. I know you're growing up into a big girl." Miss Crowe rocked her several times before letting her go. "But you'll always be my baby. Just like Gabrielle will always be my baby." Miss Crowe slowly shook her head. "It's amazing. I first met Gabrielle when she was around eight years old. And the first time I met you was when you were just a little past eight. That's something, isn't it?"
"Actually, I was nine and a half when we first met," Jasmine said.
Gabrielle placed her hand on Jasmine's head. "Close enough. That would be considered a little past eight."
Jasmine grinned. "Me and Miss C had a great time today."
"Miss C and I had a great time today," Miss Crowe corrected.
Jasmine rolled her head in a circular motion. "Well, whichever way, we had a great time today." Jasmine looked at Gabrielle. "She helped me with all of my spelling words, so I'm ready to ace my test tomorrow."
"So you're feeling well enough to go to school tomorrow?" Gabrielle asked. "Because if you don't—"
"I'm fine," Jasmine said. "Now ask me how to spell Mississippi."
"Mississippi? Was that one of your words?" Gabrielle asked. "I don't recall seeing that one on your list."
"No. But go on. Ask me how to spell it."
"Okay," Gabrielle said as she glanced at Miss Crowe, who was also grinning like she'd eaten Tweety the bird. "Jasmine, please spell Mississippi."
Jasmine promptly spelled it the way Miss Crowe had shown her. She flopped down on the couch and giggled hard.
Gabrielle placed her hand on top of Jasmine's head. "That was good. I've heard people do that before. So I see you're learning all kinds of tricks from one of the best teachers around." Gabrielle glanced Miss Crowe's way and winked. "Well, I'm going upstairs to change."
"Dinner's ready. Miss C and I cooked," Jasmine said.
"Is that right? Well, I see you two have been quite busy today."
"May we eat in the dining room?" Jasmine said with her hands in a prayer mode. "Please, please, please."
"Sure," Gabrielle said. "Why have a dining room if we're not going to use it?"
"Yay! I'll set the table." Jasmine ran toward the dining room.
"Being around her is making me so much younger," Miss Crowe said. "I'll be back to my twenties at this rate. But she's such a precious and such a beautiful child, inside and out."
"Thanks. And I concur. She really is, although I can't take much credit for the terrific little girl she's become. Her adoptive parents laid a wonderful foundation with her. I'm merely maintaining and building on that."
"Now don't cut your contribution short. Jasmine has a lot of your genes running around inside of her. That child reminds me so much of you," Miss Crowe said, shaking her head. "Especially when it comes to dancing. I've nicknamed her Happy Feet after that penguin in that movie." Miss Crowe did a few tap dancing steps.
"Well, I'm going to go and change into something more comfortable so we can have dinner in the dining room. I appreciate you so much for keeping Jasmine today. She wanted to go to school, but that shot she received yesterday caused her to have a fever. And I knew, even if I had let her go to school as she was begging for me to do, they would have sent her right back home. Besides, I don't want to take any chances, not when it comes to her health." Gabrielle shook her head.
"You don't have to explain anything to me. I've told you that I'm here to help out in any way that I can," Miss Crowe said. "It didn't make sense for you to take off work when I'm at your disposal."
"But I don't want to be imposing upon you, either."
Miss Crowe waved Gabrielle's comment away. "Child, please. I was laid up for over ten years. I've gotten all the rest one old woman needs for at least the next ten years. I'm ready to be useful again. And being here with the two of you is the best medicine any doctor could prescribe."
"I don't know why you keep calling yourself old. You're not old," Gabrielle said.
"I know late fifties isn't considered old these days, but believe me: I really am getting close to being a senior citizen—there's no two ways about that. And in case you didn't know, you can get an AARP card at fifty. But being here, surrounded by you and Jasmine, makes me feel young again. You can't buy what the three of us generate. We're three true dancers from the heart."
"I'll be back in a few. I'm going to put on my Minnie Mouse shirt so then we can be the three mouseketeers." Gabrielle went upstairs.
Five minutes later, the doorbell rang. "I got it!" Miss Crowe yelled, mainly for Gabrielle's benefit. She quickly made her way to the door and cracked it open about the size of her small framed body. "Yes?"
"Good evening, miss," the older gentleman with a small patch of white, off centered in the top of his black hair, said. "I'm sorry. I'm looking for a Ms. Gabrielle Mercedes. Is this the right house?" He looked down at the index card that trembled slightly in his hand.
"That depends," Miss Crowe said. "Who are you?"
The man smiled. "My name is Benjamin. But everybody calls me Bennie."
"Bennie?" Miss Crowe said with a frown.
"And might you possess a last name you'd care to disclose while you're passing out your first name?" Miss Crowe gave the dressed-down gentleman (wearing light brown pants and a crisp long-sleeved white shirt, incidentally with no coat, even though it was the dead of winter) a slow, methodical once-over just in case she might need to give a police description later.
Bennie flashed a full grin, showing that he wasn't missing any of his teeth as far as his grin extended. "Yes, ma'am, I most certainly do. It's—"
"Booker," Gabrielle said as she stepped up behind Miss Crowe and opened the door wider. She looked him dead in his eyes. "Hello"—she took a long hard swallow, one that could be heard as it went down—"Daddy."
I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
"Gabrielle," Bennie Booker said as he stood outside the door. After only mere seconds, he nodded and wiped at tears that were now falling.
Miss Crowe looked at Gabrielle, her attempt to gauge what Gabrielle might be thinking and, in turn, what she should do, since (for now anyway) she was the only physical object separating father from daughter.
Gabrielle took a step back from the doorway, visibly shaking now. Miss Crowe wasn't sure whether Gabrielle's trembling reaction was from seeing her father after all these years or from the cold, January 20th Birmingham air blasting through the still opened door.
"Is it okay if I come in?" Bennie asked, wiping his eyes with a white handkerchief he'd taken out of his pants' pocket.
At first, Gabrielle said nothing. Miss Crowe was just about to politely tell him good-bye and close the door when Gabrielle placed her hand on her shoulder. "It's okay," Gabrielle said. Miss Crowe could feel the trembling in Gabrielle's hand. "You can come in." Gabrielle opened the door fully to her father.
Bennie turned back and waved to a waiting cab driver. The cab immediately backed out of the driveway. Bennie stepped inside the house. Miss Crowe closed the door and Gabrielle once again took a few steps back as though she wanted to maintain a certain distance between her and her father.
"I can't believe this," Bennie said with a huge grin on his face as tears continued to roll down. "Will you just look at you? Look at you. You're all grown up. My sweet little baby girl is not a baby anymore." He shook his head slowly as he simultaneously wiped his face with his folded handkerchief.
"So you're out? You're really out?" Gabrielle said. "They released you from prison."
He moved his mouth from side to side a few times as though he was trying to be certain of the words he chose with a few attempts obviously not making it past the vetting process and being turned back for another. "Yeah." He finally seemed to settle on. "I'm out. On parole, but for all that matters at this point, I'm a free man for now." He stared hard at Gabrielle. "Wow." He shook his head. "You look so much like ... you look just like your moth ... you look a lot like her." He nodded.
"Dinner is ready!" Jasmine said, bursting into the foyer. "The table is set and I even put some of the food on the table." She stopped where everyone now stood.
Bennie looked down at Jasmine. "Oh, my! Who, pray tell, is this? Wow, you look just like—"
"Jasmine, why don't you go to the den and watch TV for a little bit?" Gabrielle said, turning quickly to her daughter.
"But I thought we were about to eat." Jasmine looked over at Bennie. "I can set another plate if you like." Jasmine alternated her look between the man she hadn't been introduced to yet and Gabrielle. "It's really no trouble."
"Suppertime, huh?" Bennie said with a smile. "That sounds nice. It's been forever since I've actually sat down at a real table—"
"Jasmine, please. Go to the den like I told you, okay?" Gabrielle softly pressed Jasmine's little cheeks between her hands, then kissed her lightly on her nose.
"Okay," Jasmine said, turning on her toes like a ballerina doing a pivot move as she left to do as Gabrielle had instructed her.
"Miss Crowe, would you mind going with Jasmine for me? Please."
"I can, if you're sure about that."
"Well," Miss Crowe said, giving Bennie a stern look. "I'll only be in the den if you need me. And don't forget about the food.
We don't want it to get cold."
Gabrielle nodded again.
Miss Crowe started making her way out of the foyer, slower than normal to ensure that her exit was the right thing for her to be doing. After all, this was the same man who had killed his wife (bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh seeming not to matter to him), in the presence of his little daughter no less, only months from turning four years old. The same man who lied to the police about what he'd done. Going as far as to slander his wife's name and character by indicating she had a man on the side and that her secret lover was likely the culprit who'd murdered her. If they would find that man, they'd likely find their murderer. This was the same man who tried to intimidate his little girl into keeping her mouth closed about the truth she'd witnessed using the threat that she'd most assuredly be taken away and given to another family by these evil people who were merely out to trick her if she said one word.
So in the beginning, Gabrielle became mute.
Because of what Benjamin "Bennie" Booker had done, Gabrielle had been forced to grow up without the benefit of being cradled in the loving arms of a mother (or a father for that matter), and was mistreated by an aunt and uncle for more than fourteen years along with their four bratty children. And the one laudable out Gabrielle had going for her, the one thing that could have saved her from even more heartache—attending The Juilliard School dance division—and Cecelia Murphy, good old "Aunt Cee-Cee" had effectively managed to even steal that from her, right before kicking Gabrielle out onto the streets with no place to go.
Because of what Benjamin Booker did, setting off a chain reaction of all that was to come, Gabrielle had gone to stay with someone who really wasn't a friend, but more a user, named Paris Simmons. And Paris's father was a lowlife scum who'd taken advantage of Gabrielle's innocence, sleeping with her and getting her pregnant. Then he sat back and watched as Gabrielle was kicked out of the only place she had to live while insisting she terminate the pregnancy so it wouldn't mess up his marriage and relationship with his three children. The honorable Alabama congressman (now ex-congressman) Lawrence Simmons who didn't seem to care about anyone else other than himself and, in the end, his appearance to others.
Lawrence Simmons who, upon learning that Gabrielle had not aborted their child but instead had given the baby up for adoption, wouldn't immediately step up and do the right thing when that child was dying, in desperate need of a bone marrow donor. Oh, eventually he did the right thing (with a little push from Gabrielle). And Jasmine dancing around the house now was living proof of that today. But still ...
Excerpted from THE OTHER SIDE OF DIVINE by Vanessa Davis Griggs. Copyright © 2013 by Vanessa Davis Griggs. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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