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Love & Other Lies We Tell

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Copyright © 2016 C. HARRIS

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Any unauthorized reprint or use of the material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage without express permission by the author, or publisher.

This is an original work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Dedication

To my husband…you sacrifice, I sacrifice. There’s not another person in this world that I would rather build with.

Acknowledgments

Heavenly Father, Let my life be proof of my gratitude. ALL glory to you God!

My Parents, Daddy, I’m so thankful for you. I love you!

Mama, I love you! Always my #1 fan.

Stepmother, I love you!

My In-Laws, Mom, I couldn’t have asked for anyone greater. Let’s kick this cancer’s butt!

Dad, love you!

My SISTERPRENEUR, Tysha, girl you have been the greatest friend that I could’ve ever asked for, and business aside, I’m so thankful for you! <3

1 STACY

MARRIAGE. Something I’d dreamed of for years, yet never imagined would possibly feel like this. Like I was stuck in a situation I’d never escape. Like my back was against the wall, and I wasn’t strong enough to stand in the face of judgement if I ever did get the courage to walk away.

The truth was, I loved my husband, our daughter, and our home. I loved the picture-perfect image that we portrayed to the rest of the world. I loved the story we told to all of our friends and family members, and if pretending could somehow morph into reality, I’d even love the fact that when all was said and done, I was married. Yet my heart burned every morning I woke up, and I had to beg myself to go on with my day and keep on pretending. I was getting tired though. Too dang tired of pretending.

“Mommy!!” Elise’s dramatic voice yelled for my attention.

“Elise, stop all that screaming girl. I’m coming!”

We were on our way to church. My little family never missed a Sunday, which was probably the only reason why we were even remotely still sane. God was doing a mighty work with us.

Matthew was already behind the wheel of his large truck, and I couldn’t believe that a man could get sexier as the years passed by, but that was certainly the case when it came to my husband. Beautiful mahogany-gold skin, crisp masculine features, and not a hair ever out of place or an article of clothing out of style. My husband was a good looking man.

“Mama, is Alayna coming to church today?” Elise asked about her babysitter. I buckled her in her booster seat and then climbed into the front seat, buckling up myself.

“I don’t know, honey. She’s stressing over midterms, so I won’t be surprised if she can’t make it.” I had the visor flipped down, double checking my makeup.

“What’s mid-terms?”

Matthew chuckled at his six-year-old daughter. We were pulling out of River Oaks and heading onto the freeway.

“Testing. She’s in college, remember? So she has to take tests to show that she’s learning,” I tried to explain the best way I could.

“Oh.” Her attention drifted away to the cartoon movie that was playing on the screen in the back of my headrest.

“You look good, Mrs. Cavanaugh,” Matthew’s free hand slid up my thigh toward the meaty part, the part that I was self-conscious about—the part that he was obsessed with. His touch made me tingle between my legs.

“You look good too. Hopefully I won’t have to go upside the heads of any of these thirsty women at church today.”

We laughed. It all sounded good, but we both knew the truth. Matthew’s inability to be faithful gave those women every opportunity they needed to fight for his attention. I wasn’t about to stress myself over the fact that my husband was a cheating dog, but like I said, it all sounded good.

2 TIANNA

“So guess what Tianna? Matthew told me last night that he was gonna marry me.” The words out of my best friend’s mouth made me snap my neck around at her. For a second I got mad, then I realized how crazy her words were.

“Girl please! How you gettin’ married to a man that’s already married?” I laughed in her face and convinced myself that Bree had lost her mind.

“Obviously he’s going to leave his wife for me. Stop bein’ a hater?” She turned up her lip at me and feigned annoyance. Bree Parks had been my good friend since we were in the seventh grade, and for as long as I’d known her, she had always loved an older man. In fact, she refused to date any boy our age, and had spent all of her spare time chasing men who were old enough to be her father. Now, she was head over heels in love with our calculus teacher Matthew Cavanaugh, and no one could convince her that he didn’t feel the same way about her.

I crossed my legs and rested my back on my pillows. We were up in my bedroom chilling when Breanna decided that she wanted to stalk his Facebook page. She had my MacBook open, and was going through all of his pictures.

“A hater?” I chuckled again. “Girl, you trippin’ if you believe anything that comes out of his mouth.”

“I’m not even trying to be rude. I’m just saying. You don’t know what we talk about, and you don’t know all of the promises that he’s made me.”

That’s where she was wrong. I knew all about the promises of Matthew Cavanaugh. It wouldn’t have taken anything more than a couple of strokes on my iPhone for me to show her that the man she’d fallen so deeply in love with had made me the very same promises that he’d made her.

Bree was delusional, but I couldn’t fault her for it. Matthew was charming. He was tall, brown, and intelligent. He’d always made me feel special too. It wasn’t until I stole his phone off his desk after class a couple of weeks ago that I found out he was making plenty of other girls feel special as well. Clutching my stomach, I watched as Bree continued her stalking spree of his Facebook page.

Bree was such a pretty girl. She had this long, thick hair that fell past her shoulders. Her eyes were doe-like; big, round, and brown. With no makeup on, her skin was flawless and perfect. That wasn’t something you saw from a chick who came from where she was from. Bree was a cheerleader, but she lived in the hood; a ghetto neighborhood far from the mansions I’d always lived in. I vibed with her because she was everything I wanted to be, yet at the same time had no desire to be.

I wasn’t into cheerleading, but Bree was the perfect extrovert to my introvert. I was pretty like her, only in a plain kind of way. I rocked tights and graphic hoodies and tees. My sneakers were always fresh, and my hair got braided, sewn down, or silk wrapped every six weeks religiously. My mother hated everything about how I dressed, but I wasn’t going to let her change me. The only thing anybody could say about me was that I was blacker than the night sky. I blamed my father for my skin complexion. I was so dark that people always mistook me to be African; then I spoke in perfect American dialect, and they knew right off the bat that I was just another little black American girl. Matthew had claimed to love my black skin though. For that reason alone, I’d also learned to love it.

“I know people will probably have a lot of things to say when we finally come out, but you know I’ve never been one to care about what people say. I love him,” Bree kept on talking, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I was getting angrier and angrier with every word she spoke. She was smacking on a piece of Juicy Fruit with her carefree, peppy attitude, and trying her best to convince me of what I knew was nothing more than a lie.

“That’s why he’s putting in his resignation at work.”

She told me more information that I already knew. However, Matthew wasn’t putting in his resignation at work to divorce his wife and be with Bree. He was doing it because he’d found out that I was pregnant.

“Anyway girl, what’s up with you and Josh?” she switched topics while hopping onto her own Facebook page.

“Ain’t nothin’ up with me and Josh. I’m doin’ me, and he doin’ him.”

Josh had been in and out of my life for years now, having grown up in all the same schools as me and after all this time, I still felt the same way about him as I always had. I tolerated him, but I didn’t love him. The truth was, I had a hard time loving anybody.

As crazy as it was though, I loved Matthew. Now, because of that love, I was knocked up and finding out the truth about the man that I had become addicted to over our two-year relationship. I had an envelope full of cash in my purse, a bit of hush money from Mr. Matthew Cavanaugh.

If he thought two thousand dollars was going to be enough to pay me off though, he thought wrong. He was going to pay all right. He was going to pay for every lie he told me and every other woman in his life. Matthew Cavanaugh was no better than my father, or any other man for that matter. He was a dog, and he needed to be punished.

3 STACY

For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. That’s the word of God,” Pastor Malachi Daniels stood in the pulpit and read the word that preceded his message. A congregation of ten thousand people sat patiently, eager to hear the message that the Lord had placed in his heart specifically for them. I sat in between my husband and one of my best friends, Charity O’Neal. Her husband Stephen sat on the other side of her.

“Secrets. What kind of secrets are you keeping today?” Malachi let his words sink in, and my mind explored the many skeletons that my heart tried to keep buried.

“Secrets are dangerous. They have the potential to destroy your family. They give the enemy power over your mind. He’ll keep you worried about them, he’ll keep you tired from trying to hide them. Yet we give him that fuel because we’re afraid of the truth.”

The congregation was dead silent. This was what they loved about Pastor Daniels, and then hated at the same time. He could convict you in one heartbeat and then inspire you in the next.

“The devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy. He has no shame in his ways. He’ll use your secrets to destroy your life, kill your spirit, and to destroy your family!”

“Say it, Pastor!”

“Amen!” A few brave members came alive.

“The first thing the enemy wants to do is destroy your family, and I’m gonna tell you why.” He took a sip of his water before continuing.

“Families come together to serve God. They come together to minister to those around them, and most importantly to each other. Families show unconditional love. They love you when you’re broken, when you’ve just about had all you can stand, and if the whole world is blind to your pain, your family can see it loud and clear,” his eyes shifted down to his wife, First Lady Melinda Daniels.

“To tell your secrets, and to attack the family unit is his number one goal. Because he knows that division of the family is all it takes to conquer the family.”

It seemed like Pastor Malachi was speaking from experience. I diverted my eyes over toward Melinda as well. She was the third member to me and Charity’s trio built from back in our college years. Melinda had tears in her eyes, and that clued me in to the fact that something must’ve been going on behind the walls of the Daniels’ family home—and it must’ve been secretive.

I couldn’t judge though. My family had its own fair share of secrets. Some were mine that my husband knew nothing about. Some were his that he thought I knew nothing about, and Pastor Malachi was speaking nothing but truth. We feigned unity yet deep down, I had to admit that what Matthew and I portrayed was fake as plastic.

Just as Pastor Malachi was getting into the climax of his sermon, the lights suddenly dimmed and an impromptu video displayed across the three large screens at the front of our sanctuary. The word SECRETS, in big bold red letters, stopped him in the middle of a sentence. Before he could even react, a newspaper clipping spread across the screen. It was a mugshot of Melinda. She looked really young, a spitting image of her oldest daughter, but having known her for years, I didn’t mistake the two. A distorted voice filled the sanctuary’s auditory system.

“SECRET NUMBER ONE. Did you know that your beloved First Lady Melinda Daniels went to jail for murdering a woman?”

Mount Olive Ministries was a mega church with so many members that you could come here for years and sit by a different family every single time. The thousands of people whispering became an uproar in a moment’s time, and those people got even louder as we all watched Melinda stand to her feet and rush out of the sanctuary.

“Turn that off! Turn that off now!” Pastor Daniels finally found his voice, and it echoed over us all. I stood with the intention of going to check on my friend when the mysterious voice came back with another secret. A photo of a cute little boy was on the screen next.

“SECRET NUMBER TWO. Did you know that the man you trust to deliver God’s word is actually as bogus as the truth he tries to portray to all of you idiotic people?” The disguised voice then paused for effect. “Pastor Malachi Daniels has a six-year-old son. The mother is a stripper, and Pastor Malachi still visits her every third Saturday.”

Another evil laugh filled the sanctuary at the conclusion of secret number two. I watched as Malachi stood in center stage as a barrage of insults blasted him. The people turned against him in just that instance. I didn’t know what move to make next.

“SECRET NUMBER THREE…” the audio was cut so that the voice was interrupted; however, the accompanying picture for secret number three didn’t need words. Mariah Daniels, Malachi’s eighteen-year-old daughter, sat butt naked on top of one of the associate ministers—a 30-year-old man engaged to be married. When the video finally cut, it seemed as if pandemonium broke out all over the church. I looked at my husband, who was now standing alongside me. His face was all bunched up and he looked scared, as if one of his own secrets was going to come out next.

“Girl…what in the world was that all about?” Charity looked genuinely worried.

“Should we go check on them?” Matthew asked. Glancing toward the back of the stage, I could see that getting back there was going to be a fight all by itself. I shook my head no. If it were me, I wouldn’t want to be bothered by anybody until after I got my hands on whoever had the nerve to embarrass me in front of the church that I worked so hard to build.

“Let’s just go grab Elise,” I decided. “Charity, I’m gonna head out. I don’t think it’ll do us any good going back there right now with all these people around. I’ll see you at the house though,” I told her before following behind Matthew down the crowded aisle of church members. Charity, Melinda, and I always took turns hosting Sunday dinners after service, but I had a feeling that the Daniels family would not be showing up for this one.

After grabbing our six-year-old daughter Elise from the kids center, my husband and I made our way out of the building and through the parking lot to our truck. Being best friends with the first family came with perks, one of which included being able to take advantage of their exclusive parking lot and guarded entrance.

Both Matthew and I were still in shock, and in complete silence as we climbed back into his truck. I thought about what the news and gossip blogs would look like over the next few days, and sent a silent prayer up to God for peace. Pulling out my phone, I sent Melinda a text message letting her know to reach out if she needed me, and that we were all going to Charity’s place to eat. I planned to call her a little later but truth be told, there wasn’t a thing that I could say to ease the embarrassment of what had just happened in there. The press was going to have a field day with this. Everyone would want to know if the allegations against Melinda were true. Had she killed someone and gotten away with it?

Matthew pulled out of the parking lot and merged into the temporary church traffic. Travis Greene’s ‘The Hill’ played in the background while Matthew and I listened to Elise chatter about what she’d done in Kids Zone today during service. I put myself in Melinda’s position and wondered what my life would be like if the world knew everything that I kept to myself.

Matthew and I had been married for ten years, having met in our late twenties. We loved each other with real passion back then. My husband was so charming and full of charisma. He treated me like a queen, and it was his ability to really cater to me as a woman that made me love him like I did. Over time, things had gone stale, but we didn’t hate each other. That was the real miracle, and perhaps because I’d long ago checked my heart out of the situation, that was the case.

Right after I found out that Matthew couldn’t hold up his end of our vows if his life depended on it—when I caught him red handed sleeping with one of our old neighbors —I started hardening myself. I’d stood in front of our friends and family and promised that I was in this thing till death do us part, so I made it so that I could survive without wanting to commit suicide from the disappointment I had in my husband. I guess overall, I just got good at faking the funk.

Matthew pulled up to the front of our home, and though our house was nowhere near the grand mansion that the Daniel’s lived in, I was proud of our eight thousand square foot home. Hopping out, I helped Elise out of the car and followed my husband to the front door.

“Elise, hang up that dress when you take it off. I don’t want to come in your room and see it laid out on the floor,” I told my baby as she headed up the stairs toward her room, which sat on the second level of our three-story home.

“Yes ma’am!”

I followed my husband up to our master suite—my serenity. I really wanted to stretch out across our California King sized bed, but I knew Charity was waiting on us to get there before eating. Besides, I didn’t have any time to waste. I had a stop to make, and it was way on the other side of town.

“Babe, don’t get mad but I’ve gotta run by the office for a second. You and Elise go ahead of me, and I’ll meet up with you at Charity’s,” I told my husband. Matthew and I were stripping out of our church attire and into something more comfortable. He was changing into a pair of jeans and a V-neck t-shirt with sneakers; I went with on a pair of black tights, a simple print tee, an all-black hoodie, and a pair of sandals. Thirty-eight years didn’t look bad on me at all, and thirty-nine looked even better on him

“You can’t take care of it tomorrow, Stacy?” he groaned. He never did understand the level of stress my job caused me. Upon graduating college and around the time I’d met Matthew, I’d been hired at one of the popular accounting firms here in Houston. Eighteen years later and I was still there.

Matthew was a calculus teacher at St. Thomas High School, but he was also a highly successful investor who’d been able to keep our family living well throughout the duration of our marriage. According to him, he continued to teach because it was his passion.

“I would if I could, baby. I’ve gotta work on something urgent tonight, but I just realized that I left the file on my desk. It won’t take me but a second to grab it.”

“Well we’ll swing by your office then, babe. You don’t need to take your own car,” he countered.

“You know how I am, Matt. You’ll just end up mad because anytime I go to the office, I always find a couple of other things to do. Besides, my boss and some of the other executives may be there as well. Go on, I’ll be over to Charity’s before you even start to miss me,” I smiled, kissing him on his neck. His cologne made me tingle inside. He slapped my butt as I walked away from him, and a flurry of disgust ran through me.

“Don’t make me come hunting you down, woman,” he flirted.

“I’ll be there in less than half an hour, babe. Don’t let them eat without me.”

***

Rushing out of my home, I hopped in my Lexus and took a deep breath. The first week of every month was always dreaded. Speeding down Greenbrier Drive, it took me fifteen minutes to get to the Southwest side of Houston. I pulled onto Fondren and stopped at the ghetto apartment complex. I’d been coming here for the past six months, once a month, and this was one secret that was about to make me commit more sins than every member of the Daniels family combined.

As usual, my Lexus brought plenty of unwanted attention as I parked in front of apartment number 138 and slipped out of my car. I flipped my hood over my head and slid my sunglasses onto my face. The cat calls from the dope boys began, and the territorial chicks looked at me with unnecessary jealousy. I kept it moving as usual. I was here to drop off this thick envelope filled with twenties that amounted to a grand, and bounce.

Ringing the doorbell after having placed the money under the mat, the door swung open before I could even make it back across the short distance to my car. She knew better than to leave her cash sitting there for all the vultures. They had pouncing on the brain before I could even ring the bell. I looked back as I opened the door to my car and climbed in. Snatching the envelope, she connected eyes with me. Rolling my eyes at Cecilia Parks, I cranked my car up as she slammed her front door closed.

One thousand dollars a month.

That was the price I had to pay in order to keep Ms. Parks’ mouth closed. She was blackmailing me with claims that she knew all about my little secret, and that she’d put me on blast at my place of employment if I didn’t agree to her little terms. I had so many things that I didn’t want getting out, so I paid the money and assumed that she meant the secret of my husband sleeping with her daughter—a student in one of his classes. Seventeen-year-old Bree Parks.

4 CECELIA

Resting my back against my front door, I ran my thumbs along the length of the white envelope in my hand. I released a breath, but my exhale didn’t convince me that I was safe. Double checking that there were fifty twenty-dollar bills, I sighed again. She usually came on Saturdays, so her showing up a day late was not what I expected. Nevertheless, I was glad that she’d come. Even more so, I was glad that I knew what I knew.

I didn’t bother to leave from next to the door, because I knew that any moment someone else would be showing up at my door.

Knock, knock, knock!

Right on cue.

Twisting the doorknob and pulling the front door toward me, I looked up at the man standing before me.

“It’s all here,” I told him, passing along the money that Stacy had just given to me. Scar snatched the money out of my hand and glared at me like he wanted to punish me further. Scar was as black as they made men, and as ugly as they came as well. He had a large scar that ran the length of his entire face. Supposedly, he’d been cut by a dull chainsaw. He should’ve died. I wish he’d died.

Scar stood six and a half feet tall, and he had to be every bit of three hundred and fifty pounds’ worth of pure muscle. He could snap my neck without breaking a sweat, courtesy of a prison term that gave him plenty of years to grow into the diesel he was today.

“I’ll be back around the first of the month,” he growled, narrowing his eyes at me with hatred before backing off the welcome mat right in front of my apartment.

Closing the door behind me, I let a lonely tear escape down the side of my face; then I slapped it away out of contempt.

I was too old to be living my life like this.

My problem with Scar routed back almost eighteen years ago, all the way to Chicago, Illinois. I knew Scar then, but he was unrecognizable now. He was the best friend and running buddy of the love of my life. Brenton Parks.

Life was good back then. I was a nurse in the maternal ward of one of Chicago’s best hospitals, and Brenton did his thing in the streets to keep me laced up and living a good life. Everything was perfect. Brenton and I were even supposed to get married and make what we had official. Then on one of the worst days of my life, I got the call at work that he had been brutally murdered shortly after a drug deal gone bad. They put Scar on trial for the murder, but they needed a star witness to testify to the fact that Scar had been involved in illegal activities. I wasn’t a snitch, and I would’ve never agreed to be an informant—until I found out that it was Scar who had killed Brenton and left me three months pregnant with his child.

I was young and impulsive back in those days. Anger made me sit up in that courtroom and tell the judge everything I knew, but never once did I think that Scar would get off with what was considered a light sentence. The DA was expecting life, but he got eighteen years with no parole. Now I was realizing that even with me escaping half way across the country and setting up a new life for me and my daughter, my past was coming back to haunt me like a vice with the grip of death.

Imagine my surprise when Scar showed up at my doorstep and beat me so badly that I couldn’t go to work for a solid week. I lied to the doctors and to Bree, claiming that I’d been in a car accident while test driving a new car.

I thought about packing up and running off again, but Bree was in her senior year at school, a school I already lied to get her into, and she was looking to get a scholarship for her cheerleading. I didn’t want to take that away from my child, especially because of my poor decisions.

Scar asked me for a million dollars. He wanted me to pay him a million dollars for being the sole reason that he’d lost so many years of his life, but he wouldn’t allow me to pay him all at once. He would only accept it in thousand-dollar increments. That meant that I would have to pay him a thousand dollars, a thousand times.

83 years’ worth of monthly payments.

I didn’t want to blackmail Stacy Cavanaugh, especially not over something dealing with her past—something she had no clue that I, or anyone else for that matter, even knew about—but I had no other choice. It was either she paid up, or Scar took my life.

Besides, Stacy could afford it. In that big, pretty house of hers with her rich and successful husband, and her own job in that nice big downtown building, I was sure that a thousand bucks wasn’t anything more than a drop in the bucket for her.

Crashing onto my leather sofa, my fingers shook as I lit my cigarette. I really tried to stop this habit, but when Scar showed up six months ago, I decided to stop caring all together. I didn’t like who I was, and I was certain that had Bree not needed me, I would’ve been committed suicide.

Sliding my hand under the clip that currently held my hair down on my head, I lifted the wig off my head and sent it flying across the room. I watched the fifty-dollar hair crash into the entertainment center I’d purchased at a flea market three years ago. I was still crying, trying to convince myself to keep on living.

“Mama,” Bree called my name, pulling me out of my own thoughts. She stepped into my line of vision. She had tears in her eyes too, and it only took seconds for my motherly instincts to kick in.

“Bree, baby what’s wrong?” I asked her, sitting up on the edge of the couch. My cigarette rested gently between my fingers, and my question brought forth the waterworks.

“Please don’t be mad,” her voice cracked like it used to when she was just a little girl. “Mama…I’m pregnant.”

5 CHARITY

Girl I swear, if we were alone I’d be ripping that thong off and giving you all you can stand,” Matthew Cavanaugh whispered in my ear. Pressing my mouth back into his, we ceased conversation for a moment. Our tongues explored each other while our hands did the same. Matthew’s body made me weak in the knees, but his touch made me feel explosive.

“Oh…” I sighed while his mouth travelled down the length of my neck.

We were downstairs in the guest bathroom, my dress hiked over my waist. He lifted me up with one strong arm and sat me on top of the sink, and my legs spread naturally. His fingers between my thighs, travelling towards my sweet spot made me throw my head back and travel to a place where only goodness existed.

“Baby, we can’t keep doing this,” my mouth was saying, yet I wasn’t resisting. Matthew’s biceps felt powerful under my small hands. I wrapped my legs around his waist and brought him in closer. My underwear and his pants were the only thing that separated the two of us. I wanted more.

Knock, knock!

“Helllooo…” Elise’s small voice came from the other side of the door, jerking the two of us back into reality. In a half second’s time, I jumped off the sink and looked up at Matthew, who was straightening himself out.

“Daddy are you in there?” Elise asked, steadily tapping on the door. Matthew cleared his throat.

“Umm…yea…baby give me one second,” he stalled her. Pointing towards the closet, his head indicated that I needed to hide. I looked at him like he couldn’t be serious.

“Just let me get rid of her,” he whispered, gently pushing me into the cramped towel closet. I had to squat in order to fit, and even then the door wouldn’t completely close all the way.

“Daddy, I have to use the bathroom. I can’t hold it,” Elise’s little hands twisted and turned on the locked door knob. Unlocking the door, Matthew couldn’t even get a word in before Elise ran into the bathroom and pushed him out.

“I gotta pee…I gotta pee,” she chanted, pulling her shorts down to her ankles just as her father was closing the door to give her privacy.

I remained quiet while Elise used the bathroom and washed her hands. I was hoping she’d hurry along. It was getting hot, and I was feeling claustrophobic. I could see her making faces and playing in the mirror at the sink through the small openings in the closet door. She explored other areas of the bathroom, washed her hands for a second time, and then turned to look towards the closet. I knew her curiosity was about to lead her to open up the door, and as she grew closer and closer, my mind was moving fast for a distraction.

BOOM!

I pounded my fist against the wall in the back of the closet, and Elise’s eyes spread wide in fear. She squealed a little before quickly grabbing the door knob and jetting out of the bathroom. By the time I made it out of the small closet, I could hear Stacy’s voice in the living room. A twinge of guilt hit my gut when I thought about what I’d just finished doing with Matthew. The truth was, we’d been fooling around for years.

Surveying my appearance in the mirror, I could feel my spirit telling me that what I was doing was wrong. If the tables were turned, I’d never forgive Stacy yet here I was, doing the same scandalous thing I claimed to be unforgivable.

Smoothing down my hair, I pushed my thoughts to the back of my mind and exited the bathroom. Now I needed to focus on finishing up dinner.

“Girl…can you believe what happened at church today?” I asked Stacy. I pulled her into a hug after she finished giving love to my ten-year-old twins Nikita and Nikolas.

“I know. I feel horrible for Melinda. I texted her, but she didn’t respond. I can’t imagine how they’re handling that.”

“I texted her too. I can’t believe someone would stoop that low. Whoever was behind this didn’t have to do it at church like that. I mean there, had to have been another way for them to settle whatever differences they had. That’s just wrong.”

I continued giving my two cents. Inside though, I wasn’t feeling as badly as I portrayed. It served Melinda right. I’d known her and Stacy for years, and for as long as I’d known Melinda, she was always looking down on me, and even Stacy—who seemed oblivious to it.

After Melinda got with Malachi, a man who should’ve been mine since I saw him first, her excellence seemed to double; it wasn’t that I was jealous or anything, but they were living much too large to be leading God’s people anyway. It didn’t make sense for them to have that large mansion the size of a king’s palace when we had all these poor folks without a place to stay, or food to eat. That’s why Stephen and I barely tithed. I refuse to let my money go into Melinda and Malachi’s pockets.

“Girl you got it smelling so good in here, what y’all cook?” Stacy trekked right into the kitchen behind me.

“Me and Stephen put a brisket on the pit early this morning, along with some links and chicken legs. He should be coming back in a few minutes. I sent him out to pick up some extra barbeque sauce,” I explained.

Really, I’d sent him off so that I could spend a few minutes alone with Matthew. He walked up behind Stacy in the kitchen and wrapped his arms around her waist. The sight made me so sick to the stomach that I grabbed the potato salad and immediately headed into the dining room to start setting up the table.

Ding dong! My doorbell rang.

“I got it!” came Nikita’s voice. Seconds later, I heard the door swing open.

“Maaaa!” The distress in her voice caused me to snap my head up and stop what I was doing. I rushed through the dining room and toward the front of my house.

Six Italian men in floral printed shirts and slacks stood at my door.

Antonio Valdez had Stephen at gun point.

Grabbing my daughter’s shoulders, I quickly put my body in front of hers.

“Nikita, baby don’t worry. I know these guys. Here, take this to the table and have your brother help you set the rest of the table,” I directed her, handing her the grocery store bag that had been in Stephen’s hands. She looked Antonio up and down like she didn’t trust him.

“Go head, Nikita. Do what your mama told you, these are friends of mine,” Stephen directed. Her father’s voice broke her trance and she ran along.

As soon as I stepped out on the front porch and closed the door behind me, Antonio brought the butt of his gun down crashing into Stephen’s skull. I jumped at the sudden movement, and my husband groaned in pain.

“I checked with Joey today,” Antonio used his gun to lift Stephen’s chin up so that their eyes met. “I still don’t have my money,” he told us what we already knew. He looked back and forth between Stephen and I. Tears sprung up in my eyes at the sight of the blood trickling down the front of my husband’s face.

“We’re working on it man, we’re going to get you back the money I owe,” Stephen promised.

WHAP!

I didn’t even realize that I was holding my breath until I went to suck in more air. Stephen’s head slumped forward, and I felt utterly helpless.

“Of course you’re gonna get me my money!” Antonio’s men stood in a u-shaped formation, blocking us in on our porch.

“You got seven days. If Joey doesn’t have every penny of my money in seven days, I’m gonna take that precious little daughter of yours and cut off every finger on her tiny little hands.” He stepped closer to my face this time. “Then, I’ll leave her to bleed out and die in one of my warehouses.” His Italian accent blended perfectly with his threat. His eyes felt like stranger eyes as he stared me down, and I couldn’t read a thing beyond the blackness of his pupils.

“You have a lovely home, Mrs. O’Neal. Reminds me of my first starter home,” he cackled as he parted the group. They followed behind him.

“Seven days, Mr. O’Neal. Not a day late, or a dollar short.”

Antonio hopped into the black Escalade truck that was parked behind Stacy’s Lexus, and backed out of our driveway.

Looking down at my husband, who was now holding the place where he’d been hit across the head, I wondered how in the world we were going to come up with a hundred thousand dollars in seven days.

 

6 STACY

Girl, what else happened?” my younger sister Tiffany squalled in my ear overly excited as I told her about Sunday’s mishap. It was Monday morning and I was just making it into my office after having to beg Elise to attend school today. According to my daughter, she was just too exhausted to go to school today.

“They both ran out, and Matt and I left. I feel horrible for her, Tiff. She called me last night and asked me to watch her house. She said Malachi was taking her and the kids to Italy in a few days, until everything calms down,” I explained, stepping onto the elevator and going up to the twelfth floor.

Just as expected, the scandal of Mount Olive Ministries was hitting every blog, news, and social media outlet. Everyone had an opinion, and everyone was convinced that their opinions were right.

Melinda had five children herself, and three of them were still in high school. I could only imagine the kinds of things they were having to deal with—especially Mariah, whose nude photo was now spreading like wildfire all across the internet.

“That’s crazy sis.”

“Yep. So how’re you holding up? You talked to James?”

“Oh, I’m gon’ talk to him alright.” My little sister sounded like she was up to no good. My elevator stopped on floor number six, and two ladies hopped on with arms full of folders. They got off on floor eight.

“Don’t tell me you’re still sitting in front of that man’s house.” Tiffany laughed at the fact that I’d figured her out.

“You dang skippy I am. Until that divorce is final, he is still technically my man. Let another chick try and come in between us,” she threatened.

I kept my mouth closed as I exited on my floor and passed the secretaries positioned right outside the doors of each executive whom they worked for.

“Morning Trice,” I spoke to my own. She sat poised and already busy working, as always. Trice had been my secretary for the past year, and I felt like I’d hit the jackpot with her, having gone through nearly a dozen the past eighteen years. She was knowledgeable, fast, and intelligent.

“Morning Stacy. Your messages are on your desk…and your Starbucks is too,” she grinned. The coffee was never something I demanded, but when she brought it I always appreciated it. Having to get a spoiled six-year-old out of bed and to school on time never afforded me the opportunity to stop for coffee.

“Aww, thank you Trice. I need it pretty badly this morning.”

“You’re so welcome,” she smiled, continuing to work on whatever had her busy. I trekked into my office, closing the door behind me.

“Tiffany, I’m not against you one-bit sissy. That’s your husband, so I get it. Fight for him, go hard for him, do what you gotta do. Y’all have a child together who needs to know that her parents won’t give up when the going gets tough,” I egged on my sister, who was still complaining in my ear about James.

“Oh I’m fighting him and anybody he brings here! Can you believe this man’s been paying separate rent for years on a place I didn’t even know existed? I mean dang sis, I thought men only did that crap on TV.”

I felt for Tiffany. She and James had been together longer than Matt and I had; in fact, James was the one who had introduced me to my husband. Now he was working toward divorce, and Tiffany was doing whatever it took to stop that from happening. My niece was due to graduate later this year, and it killed me to think that her parent’s drama would diminish whatever satisfaction she would be feeling about graduating from high school and moving on to college.

As soon as I opened my mouth to warn her against getting locked up again behind James and his mistresses, my boss Rodger Penn walked in. My eyes rolled uncontrollably, and I didn’t even care that he’d seen it.

“Tiff…I gotta go,” I told her, watching Rodger close my door and lock it behind him. I never kept my mini-blinds open, so he didn’t need to adjust those. I’m sure he would’ve though.

“Alright. Just pray for me. I see his car pulling up now…and it looks like he has that home wrecker with him,” she told me, sounding as if she’d already lost the battle she was currently fighting. We hung up just as Rodger lowered himself into the seat in front of me.

“Every time I look at you, I want you more than the last time I wanted you,” he began. I could feel my flesh starting to crawl. “A weekend is too long to go without seeing those sexy eyes.”

Rodger Penn had been sexually harassing me since the day he was promoted to become the Vice President of Penn’s Accounting Services six months ago. His father was the CEO of the company and having worked alongside of me for years, competing with me and often losing his own competitions, Rodger couldn’t wait to be my boss.

“Rodger, is there anything that I can do for you?” I asked him with a fierce edge in my voice. He sat confidently with one of his legs bent at the knee, his ankle resting on top of his other knee. His suit looked tailor-fitted, and I could tell the brand was Stacy Adams because that was Matt’s favorite brand as well. Flashy loud diamonds gleamed from the watch on his wrist as he stroked his perfectly shaped goatee. I couldn’t see past my disgust long enough to realize that Rodger Penn was as sexy as men came.

“Yes. Actually there is.” He leaned forward, allowing his eyes to travel down the length of my body. They came back to my eyes before he continued with his request.

“You can stand up. Take off that hot little dress that’s hugging every inch of your tight body, and lean over the desk for me. I’m hungry for you, Stacy,” he licked his bottom lip in response to the way I shuddered.

I waited for the call to come. I’d directed Trice to always call me with some ‘emergency’ that I needed to take care of if Rodger ever came into my office and closed the door. He’d begun to catch on to our little game, and had even warned me to get my secretary under control. I told him that he needed to get himself under control.

“Rodger, you do realize that what you’re doing is illegal, right? I could file charges on you. Take you and this company for everything it’s worth.”

The threat made his mouth tighten.

He stood up and walked around my desk, grabbing me by the back of my head and bringing me close enough so that I could hear whatever it was that he was about to say to me real clearly.

“If you ever carry out a threat like that, I’ll destroy you, Stacy. You hear me?” His eyes were glittered with hazel specks, but because they belonged to him, there was nothing amazing about them.

“You won’t work for another firm in a hundred-mile radius of this place. Now I like you, Stacy…in fact, I might be in love with that honey brown skin of yours, and these,” he used his free hand to grab a handful of my breast willfully. “But I will still ruin you. You got that?” he asked me, using his tongue to trace the outer part of my ear.

Beep!

“Mrs. Cavanaugh, you have a call on line one. It’s your husband. He says it’s an emergency.”

Chuckling at the irony, Rodger backed away from me.

“Sooner or later,” he hummed like a psycho. “Sooner or later, I’m gonna get what I want from you. You were made for me Stacy, you just gotta start seeing it my way,” he claimed, crossing the length of my office, unlocking the door, and stepping out before closing the door behind him.

I was mortified.

Grabbing a Kleenex to wipe away the already dried saliva on my ear, I grabbed a paper weight and chunked it at the closed door, wishing I could hit him across the back of his head with it. I hated Rodger. He was right about everything he’d said.

If I went ratting about all that he was putting me through, I could kiss my career goodbye. Six years of college and all the years of working at this firm would go out the door. I had built up great relations with his father, Mr. Penn, and I knew that another promotion was right around the corner for me. Outing his son could ruin everything that I’d worked so hard to achieve.

“You okay, Mrs. Cavanaugh?” Trice’s voice came back through the speaker of my phone. I dried the tears that had formed in my eyes and took a deep breath.

“Yea…I’m okay, Trice. Thank you…thank you so much.”

I lied. I was not okay. I wanted to kill that dirty bastard.

7 TIFFANY

There he was. My husband James Sharp, pulling up in his royal blue Mercedes, looking as good as he did the day he left me. I watched from across the street. I’d been sitting here in this same place for two hours, just waiting. He hopped out and ran around to the passenger side of the car to open the door for his little lady friend. Just watching him open the door for that little hussy as if she was his wife further infuriated me.

I wasn’t about to accept that.

Climbing out of my own car, I nearly got plowed down by a convertible that sped past, but I didn’t let that deter me. I watched as James handed his keys off to the complimentary valet service that came with his little apartment, and I quickly continued crossing the street.

“So you’re cheating on me?!” was the first question that came spiraling out of my mouth. The sound of my voice got his attention, and he grabbed the hand of the lady he’d brought over to his place and pulled her close. He attempted to climb the steps that led into the entrance of his building before I could come any closer.

I didn’t have access to his building, so he knew that I wouldn’t be able to come inside; luckily for me, his friend was too prissy to hurry it along. I grabbed her by the back of her locks and pulled her towards me, halting them in their processes.

SLAP!

My wide hand laid against the side of James’ face, and he looked at me like he wanted to hit me back.

“Hit me! I dare you!” I screamed, turning toward his pretty little red boned side piece. What they were doing at his place at nine in the morning on a Monday when James should’ve been somewhere working confused me. I heard the valet attendants call for security down at the East entrance.

“Tiffany, go home,” James demanded.

“You do know he’s married, right?” I flashed my five carat diamond wedding band in her face and stopped myself from slapping her too. She stood tall in her red pumps, and placed her hands on her slender hips.

“I’ve seen the divorce papers,” she spat, as if I had no right to my own husband.

It was enough to make me change my mind about jumping on James, and jump on her instead. She fought me back as I grabbed her by her hair and slung her down to the ground. Her nice little black dress came flying up over her waist, revealing her naked bottom for everyone to see.

“TIFFANY! TIFFANY, LET HER GO!” James yelled, grabbing me and prying me off of his replacement wife.

“No, you let me go James! Get off me!” I yelled, scratching at his arms and fighting him to get back to the woman who now had a bewildered expression slapped across her face as she straightened her dress, and then her hair. Security arrived in record speed, and took over the job of guarding the way while James and his mistress walked past me and up the steps.

“I’m gonna make your life Hell, James! I swear, you gon’ wish you never met me! I’m not stopping, James! I’M NOT GOING NOWHERE!!” I continued screaming at the top of my lungs. I felt crazy, and I was sure that I looked crazy. This wouldn’t be the first time that a man left a woman scorned and looking like the crazy one in the relationship.

All eyes were on me as I pushed my way away from the security guards and crossed the streets back toward my car. I knew she’d probably come back with some kind of petty little assault charge, but I had something waiting for her if she did—a pretty little .22 to keep her quiet. She’d drop those charges real quick.

8 TIANNA

The Hilton Hyatt was the place Matthew thought he was meeting Bree. He was in a world of surprise when he finally stepped through the door to discover me instead.

I had the door slightly ajar, just waiting for his arrival as I lay across the king bed in the King Suite that I’d ordered on my mother’s credit card. My legs were cocked open, and I was shirtless and braless. A simple pair of purple lace panties covered up my goodies.

The look on Matthew’s face when he realized that he’d been set up caused the small giggle that had been trapped in my throat to escape.

“So you’re sending fake messages now?” he asked me, closing the door behind him. He looked so fine, oh so sexy wearing his teacher clothes, even though we both knew he no longer had a job to go to.

“Well I had to get your attention some kind of way. Besides, I don’t think it’s fair that you give all of your love to her. You know I’m better than any of them…including Stacy,” I bragged, flipping on my stomach and looking back at Matthew over my shoulder flirtatiously.

My long braids fell over my opposite shoulder, and I could see his mind working as he checked out everything I was offering.

“Tianna…we can’t do this anymore…” His voice sounded like he forced those words to come out. His eyes were definitely telling me that he felt otherwise.

“Matthew,” I interrupted him, “Tell me something. How long you gonna stand there trying to talk yourself out of what you know you want?”

Bringing my body onto my knees, I seductively crawled toward the edge of the bed. I had oiled my dark skin from top to bottom so that my body shimmered under the dimmed lighting of the room. Standing to my feet, I slowly made my way over to where he stood; then without warning, I hopped into Matthew’s arms and wrapped my legs around his waist.

I was pulling out all the stops to get him to stay.

I had plans for him—ones that involved a whole lot more than what he probably expected from me.

My mouth went to his neck, and holding onto his waist with all of the strength my legs had, I used my tongue to tickle his sweet spot right behind his ear.

“Tianna…” his voice was becoming inaudible, and his hands were now palming my behind, holding me up.

Leading me towards the bed, I felt him drop me down. Pulling his body from mine, our eyes connected as our bodies simultaneously disconnected. He looked at me, his eyes full of lust with a hint of mistrust.

I was sure that we were having a moment.

“Tianna…I’m sorry. I’m not doing this anymore. It’s wrong…it’s just wrong,” he told me, looking around the room like he expected Chris Hansen to jump out of the closet with a camera crew and a swoon of officers waiting to arrest him and splash his face all over the Channel 3 News. A pout spread across my face for a brief moment, but my next thought caused it to disappear.

“Just wait, Matthew. I need to show you something,” I pleaded. He sighed and then dropped to the bed. Perfect positioning.

I hurried into the bathroom, where I had all of my supplies already carefully plotted: a chloroform-drenched hotel towel, a roll of duct tape, my mother’s gun, and a handful of zip ties.

Quickly making my way out of the bathroom with the towel and duct tape in my hands, I didn’t even give Matthew a chance to turn around.

I hopped on his back and wrapped my legs around his waist again, just as my small arms wrapped around his neck. Rag to face, I held on for dear life while he bucked and bucked. I’d underestimated his strength though, and within seconds he swung me off so hard that my body went crashing into the coffee table.

I watched him try to stand and say something, but the brief moment that I’d had the chloroform over his mouth had him dizzy and unable to move. I ignored the pulsating pain near my ribs and grabbed the towel that had been slung across the other side of the room. Bringing it back to his face, he tried to fight me but he didn’t have the strength to even lift his arms.

In seconds, he slipped into unconsciousness and I quickly got to work. I’d done my research so I knew he wouldn’t be out for long, provided the chemicals didn’t cause heart failure or something else drastic that killed him.

His body was heavy as lead, but I worked him up toward the headboard, and tied him up well. I used duct tape to tie both of his legs together, and then I put a nice little strip right over his mouth. By the time I had him good and secure, he was waking up and I was breathing heavily from the manual labor it took to properly lock him down. Pain shot through my ribs, but the adrenaline coursing through me was an easy distraction.

Incapable of speaking, Matthew’s eyes were full of terror. The irony caused me to laugh out loud.

“Don’t be scared. I’m not going to kill you,” I told him, bending down to kiss him on his cheek. “Unless of course, you make me,” I laughed again. He was probably thinking that I was crazy, and I could see why.

Taking a seat on the bed next to my legs, I sighed in an attempt to calm myself down. Now that I had gone through with this part of my plan, I needed to figure out how to convince Matthew that I was the woman for him…not Stacy.

 

9 STACY

Two days. It had been two days since I’d heard from my husband, and now the information that was currently being given to me had me at a loss for words.

“Yes Ms. Cavanaugh, your husband put in his resignation over a week ago. Last week was his last week.”

I was stunned silent for a long moment.

Grabbing the bridge of my nose, I exhaled sharply as my mind flew through all the many explanations that could’ve possibly explained what this lady was saying to me. I didn’t know whether to think that Matthew was in some sort of trouble, or to think that he had run off with another woman.

He quit his job?

“Thank you, Sandy,” I managed to squeak. The secretary at the high school he had worked for seemed genuinely surprised that I had no idea that my husband had given up his job.

“I’m sorry to tell you like this, Stacy. We had a huge going away party for him and everything. He said that you couldn’t attend because you were home with your sick daughter,” she continued explaining, further increasing the intensity of anger flourishing through my body.

I hung up the phone without responding to her latest admission, and immediately tried Matthew’s cell phone for the hundredth time in the past two days. As usual, it went straight to voicemail.

“You low-down, no good, lying son of a… I just found out that your black…” sighing and willing myself not to get out of hand, I continued on with my rant, “…you just up and quit your job and didn’t tell me?! I swear you better be dead, because I plan to kill you myself as soon as I see you! I’m your wife Matthew, the least you could do is call me back and let me know that you’re alive!” I screamed. My hands shook, and I paced the length of our kitchen.

I felt like I was talking to a wall.

A fresh set of tears formed in my eyes, and my voice cracked as I continued with my message.

“I just want to know that you’re okay…please call me back. You owe me at least an explanation.” I ended the call and dropped my head.

“You still haven’t heard anything from him?” Alayna’s voice caught me off guard, and made me jump. She walked up behind me as I stood in the kitchen wondering if it was time for me to get the police involved. It had been well over 24 hours, and I couldn’t think of any other options.

“Something isn’t right,” I sighed, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I can’t see him just up and leaving Elise and I. He loves his daughter…and we had our problems, but for the most part I thought we were good,” I confessed to Elise’s babysitter.

She was pouring four glasses of lemonade for Elise and the friends that were currently over from school.

“I agree, Mrs. Cavanaugh. Something doesn’t feel right. I think it’s time to call the cops,” she confirmed my thoughts. I nodded my head, realizing that going to the police station was my next move.

“If you need to me to stay a few extra hours and help out with Elise, I really don’t mind. I’ve got my books here, so I can study and sleep in one of the guest bedrooms,” she offered. I dried the tears forming in the corner of my eyes before they could fall.

Alayna was a lifesaver. I met her a year ago, but she’d started working for us when Elise went into first grade six months ago. I didn’t trust just anybody to take care of my child, but Alayna was solid and had gained my trust fairly quickly. Plus, I knew for a fact that she wasn’t sleeping with my husband. As sad as it was, I couldn’t say that about every woman I met.

“I appreciate you so much, Alayna. If you could…if you could help out until I get this straightened out, you know, keep her busy. Elise has been working my nerves with all of her questions, and I don’t know what else to tell her.”

“I gotchu. No worries,” she smiled. She balanced four cups in her hands and then made her way outside. The girls were out in the backyard playing in our pool.

As soon as the patio door closed, my phone vibrated against my marble counter top. Matthew’s name and picture popped up across my lock screen. I quickly snatched the phone and opened up the text message. What I read made my heart sank.

Check the mail.

It took me a moment to figure out what he was trying to say, but then I was searching through the mail that lay on the bar. Alayna always brought it in on the days she was scheduled to pick Elise up from school.

Sifting through the multiple envelopes, I came across one that was addressed to Stacy Cavanaugh, and had no return address. I ripped open the envelope and several pictures scattered on the floor. Picking them up one by one, I noticed they were of naked and half naked teenaged girls. Then I came across one of Matthew that made me inhale sharply. He was tied up to a bed and his eyes looked low. I flipped it over and in scraggly handwriting, someone had written a message in red.

I’m pregnant with your husband’s baby. He gives me $2,000 and tells me to get an abortion. That ain’t Godly, is it? So I’ve got him captive. Money can’t buy me off cuz my mama makes plenty of it. But I do want to make him pay. I’ll return him to you after a week or two. Provided he learns the lessons I have in store for him.’

So he had been kidnapped.

By some deranged side chick, and by the sounds of her little note, I figured she was one of his students.

Truth was, I had a gut feeling that Cecelia’s daughter Bree wasn’t the only student that Matthew was messing around with, but I never did want to look too deeply into the situation to verify. I didn’t know what I’d find, so I avoided finding anything.

Grabbing the photos, the letter, my phone, and my keys, I headed toward the front of my house. I had planned to go the police station, but now I wasn’t so sure that was the best course of action. If the cops found out that Matthew was having several affairs with underage teenagers, they’d lock my husband up and throw away the keys. Instead, I was heading out to Tiffany’s.

My sister and I grew up in the same house and in the same small neighborhood, but our ways were drastically different from one another. Having been born with a zeal that I longed for, I used her for her no-nonsense attitude in times when I seemed to lack that ability. She was more cutthroat than I was. That meant she had cutthroat contacts, and I needed someone to figure out where Matthew was.

I needed a dang good private investigator.

Unlocking and then pulling open the large front door of my home, I jumped at the sight of two people standing on my front porch. What was Cecilia Parks doing at my home?

 

10 CECELIA

My child is pregnant. With your husband’s baby,” I told her flatly. I didn’t bother with pleasantries, because I wasn’t in a pleasant state of mind.

She was looking like she’d had a rough couple of days.

Her eyes were red, her hair un-brushed, and I knew the last thing she expected to see was my daughter and I standing on the front porch of her house. Stepping out on the porch and closing the front door, she looked at my daughter with an intensity that took me aback.

“Did you send me these pictures?” Her voice was firm as she sifted through a handful of naked photos, one of which included Bree. Shaking her head, Bree took a step back to force some distance between the two of them.

“I don’t even know what you’re talking about, I…”

“Where’s my husband!” she yelled, interrupting Bree.

“Hold up lady, you not gon’ talk to my child like that,” I stepped in front of Bree and closer to Stacy’s face. She shifted her eyes onto me next.

“So what are you here for? More money? Because you’re definitely not getting any more money from me. You knew they were sleeping together, and you did nothing to stop it. So that lil blackmail scam you’re running. Over!” she snapped her fingers.

“Hold up…wait one second. So you’re telling me that you knew your husband was sleeping with my child?” I asked her after her threat had settled in.

Was this what Stacy thought I was blackmailing her for?

She shifted her head to the side and rested all of her weight on one leg. Folding her arms over her chest, her head slowly shook back and forth as if she were trying to decipher what it was that we were actually talking about here.

The feeling of confusion was mutual.

“That is the big secret you have against me, right? I mean, why else would you be conning me out of a thousand bucks every month?”

Realizing that Stacy and I were on completely different terms, and had been this whole time made me want to take a moment and reset. I had come here to confront her, maybe even perhaps give her an incentive to pay me even more money than what she was currently paying. She had no clue what I actually knew about her.

“I gotta go,” I mumbled, turning from her incriminating stare. I expected Bree, who was now visibly upset, to follow behind me.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cavanaugh,” she cried, a host of tears free-falling from her eyes. I heard Stacy huff at my daughter’s apology.

“Bree, let’s go!” I commanded.

“I didn’t mean for this to go this far…but I love Matthew…he’s supposed to marry me one day…I love him,” she was saying next.

SLAP!

A slap across my daughter’s face left both of us in shock.

“Little girl, you better listen to your mama and get off my porch before I do something that I WILL regret,” she threatened. I would’ve been mad had she hit my child under any other circumstances.

Bree had told me all about how she had planned to marry this man, and how they had planned to move to Atlanta and restart their lives together. To say that I was disappointed in my child would’ve been an understatement.

I couldn’t even see how we’d gotten here. I was always under the impression that Bree was a smart girl, much smarter than I had been when I was her age, and was even destined for greatness. I had faith that she was destined to be something better than I was, and that maybe she’d go on to be some rich doctor who could hire a hitman to take out Scar.

“Bree, bring your behind on!” I screamed this time. The situation was tense, but she held her cheek where Stacy had slapped her and cried all the way down the porch. I quickly walked to my car thinking about how crazy my life suddenly was.

As I made my way toward my side of town, I thought about the day I’d first met Stacy Cavanaugh. I was a nurse in the Neonatal department of a hospital in Chicago. I was twenty years old, and fresh on the job. She had been the worst patient we’d ever had.

I’m not giving her a name!” Stacy Jeffries yelled at the lady who was responsible for registering the child’s birth.

Ma’am, you’re required by law to give your child a name. Please, understand that this process won’t take any more than five minutes.”

You name her then,” Stacy looked at the nurse with dark eyes. Her arms were folded across her chest, and she looked toward the innocent baby in the nursing bed next to hers with nothing but contempt and hate.

She’d come into the hospital in labor the night before, and had become one of the hardest patients that I had to work with. She had wild, dark eyes, bruises all over her body, and she cursed like a sailor. Stacy hated the child in her, and she hated her even more while having to endure horrible birthing pains. The nurse that I was shadowing had done everything we could to make her more comfortable, but none of our efforts mattered to Stacy. She was pissed off and kept referring to her baby as a fetus.

After several hours of trying to convince Stacy that she had to give her child a name, she eventually grabbed the clipboard of paperwork and wrote down a name that made me shed tears for that beautiful baby girl. Rape Child Jeffries. I ended up having to take a break to pray for the way I felt after witnessing that. Even the doctors on staff lost all respect for Stacy.

The next morning when I showed up for work, I found out that she’d up and left the hospital, leaving her child there. The baby girl ended up into protective custody, and out of the pure goodness of my heart, I kept up with the little girl as best as I could. It was pure fate that we all ended up in Houston, Texas. Stacy, me, and even the little girl.

11 CHARITY

I just don’t understand why you can’t just ask Stacy and Melinda for the money, Charity! I mean, they’re supposed to be your girls, right? They can come up with a hundred grand in a matter of minutes!” Stephen had the nerve to fix his mouth and say. I looked over at him and worked my neck.

“I know good and well you didn’t just say something like that to me. Who is the one that got us into this mess, Stephen?! Who went and gambled all of our money away like a dang fool!” I screamed, grabbing a lamp and jerking it off the nightstand. The plug came soaring out of the wall just as the lamp came flying out of my hand toward Stephen’s head. I didn’t care that he’d just now recovered from the injury that he already had, courtesy of Antonio Valdez.

“How you gon’ say something like that? I’m already the one struggling out of the three of us, because of you! I already got the smallest house. Now you want me to go begging them to fix a problem that you created!!” My voice stretched from the projection. I was so angry at Stephen that I could feel myself shaking.

I felt trapped, like my back was against the wall and for the first time since I’d married this man, I hated him. I hated that he could put our family in such turmoil.

Stephen was a gambling addict when I met him, but I’d profusely underestimated what that would mean for our future life. He was a part time musician, playing the saxophone in a group that him and his buddies from high school had formed many years ago. By day, he was a court appointed attorney. With the money he brought in, and the money I made as a physician’s assistant for a medical doctor’s office, we should’ve been doing well; and for a little while, we’d even managed to recover from all the debt that Stephen had racked up.

I had money in a fund growing for our children’s future college expenses, and we were slowly but surely building an investment portfolio that would’ve helped us climb out of the hole Stephen kept putting us in; so to find out that he had not only tapped out every single last one of our investments to fund his gambling habit, but had also spent every penny in our children’s college fund without my permission had me about ready to kill him.

“Charity, I can’t believe you would be so stubborn. So selfish. I mean, I know you don’t wanna ask for the help, but sometimes you gotta think about our family. They have the money…”

I crossed the room and grabbed his throat before he could even finish speaking. My husband was six feet two inches, and there wasn’t much that I could do with my strength alone to hurt him, but still I tended to avoid physical confrontation as much as possible.

We didn’t have an abusive relationship—until today.

“I hate you! I hate you!!” I screamed. My face was wet from the outpouring of pain he had caused in my heart.

“They threatened our kids! Our kids Stephen, and you swore to me that you had come to an agreement with him. He showed up to my house!” I spoke through clenched teeth. Letting his neck go, I could see that Stephen had utter regret in his eyes, but that just wasn’t enough for me. I wanted him to hurt like I had to hurt. I didn’t care if I was being prideful. I hated asking people for help, even if they were friends that I’d had since college.

“Mama,” I heard Nikolas’ voice call me from the doorway of our bedroom. Turning around, he and his twin sister stood with fearful eyes.

“Mama, is everything okay?” Nikita asked me. I usually tried to hide the problems that Stephen and I had from them, but this was one of those things that couldn’t be covered with a Band-Aid.

“Everything’s alright, guys. Mommy and me are just…having a conversation,” Stephen answered for me. I plopped down on the foot of our bed and let my head fall into my lap. I wished I had married a man like Matthew, or even Malachi. They were some cheating bastards, but they would’ve never put their families into these kinds of problems.

BZZZZZ!

My phone vibrated on my dresser. Looking up, my family watched me as I grabbed it and answered Stacy’s call.

“Charity,” she sounded like she too was crying.

“Stacy, what’s wrong girl?”

“Matthew’s been…kidnapped,” she told me.

“What?!”

“By some young girl he’s been sleeping with. He got her pregnant, and now she’s talking about she wants to make him learn his lesson,” Stacy filled me in. She sounded exhausted, almost as exhausted as I had been these past two days.

Hearing that Matthew had been sleeping with another woman didn’t surprise me one bit, especially a young girl.

“I need you to do me a favor. Alayna is staying tonight to keep Elise, but can you check in with them and make sure they don’t need anything? I know Alayna will be fine, I mean she’s been with us for a while now, but Elise has been asking questions about Matthew for two days,” she explained.

“He’s been gone for two days?” Stephen and my children were now staring into my mouth trying to figure out what was going on.

“Yea. I thought maybe he needed some space or something. I called the school, and they told me he quit his job a week ago. I just can’t believe this,” she sighed. I felt bad for Stacy. She was a good woman, and the greatest friend that a woman could ever ask for. Matthew had been stepping out on her since before he even said I do. I knew this because I was one of his favorite side pieces.

“I’ll check on her, Stacy. Don’t you worry one bit. You just call me and tell me what I can do for you, and I got you girl. Don’t worry, they’ll find him. You did call the police, didn’t you?”

“I’m on my way to meet with this investigator that Tiffany set me up with. I don’t know who the girl is that’s got him, but I have a feeling it’s one of his former students,” she explained. I shook my head after we ended the call. Matthew was a dog. Stephen was a dog. Shoot, I was convinced that all of our husbands were dogs, and I wasn’t much better.

12 TIFFANY

*B*eeeepppp!

I stood outside of the small warehouse and waited for Wolf to buzz me in.

Sliding the heavy metal door toward the left once the buzzer signaled that he’d approved my entry, I stepped through and let it automatically close and lock behind me.

“Mrs. Sharp. You’re gonna give me a raise after I show you what I’ve found,” he met me in the foyer. Standing tall, I didn’t know why he called himself Wolf. He didn’t look anything like a wolf.

He wasn’t a tall man, but he was still taller than me in my Louboutins. For a private investigator, Wolf never dressed the part. He was refined, clean, and classy. If I wasn’t a married woman trying to win back my husband, I may have taken him up for all of those dinner dates he kept offering me. Tightening the tie around his neck, he reached his arm out for me to hold.

“I doubt it,” I smirked, grabbing the back of his bicep and allowing him to lead me through the well-designed building that doubled as his place of business, and as one of his homes. We climbed a set of stairs before entering into his office, which occupied the entire second floor. I’d been here a few times before, so I wasn’t as taken aback by the beauty as I had been on my first visit.

Murals, enlarged sketches, and beautiful watercolor portraits were scattered all around his office—work that he’d done himself. I’d purchased one of his pieces that wasn’t for sale the first time I’d come here, and I let my eyes wander around the room for another one that could potentially catch my eye.

Taking a seat in the oversized leather chair in front of his desk, I crossed my legs and placed my purse on the floor next to my feet. He handed me a file which I flipped open immediately.

“Scarlett, the girl you asked me to look into, is actually Brenda Slater…a serial dater with a record a mile long down in Cleveland, Ohio,” he informed me. I smiled.

“No kidding,” I continued reading the work-up that Wolf had provided me with.

“Apparently, your husband met her at a bar about six months ago. They’ve been moving pretty fast…and as you can see by those photos that I was able to capture, they’re currently shopping for engagement rings,” he told me. Watching James and his red boned side chick picking out rings sickened me.

“A serial dater, huh?” I asked him, shaking my head. Trying to hold face, I took a deep breath and pinched myself to stop the tears from falling.

“Well, I must say that I am impressed,” I complimented Wolf to get my mind off of what I’d just found out. Crossing my legs and closing the file, I tucked it under my arm and rested my hands on top of my highest knee.

“About that raise…” he chuckled. I smiled.

“Actually, I have something else that I want you to look into,” I told him. He raised his eyebrows as I went inside of my purse and grabbed a manila folder.

“My brother-in-law has supposedly been kidnapped. We need to find out where he is,” I told him. He opened the folder and took a look inside, then sat back in his seat.

“I take it this is why you guys decided not to go to the police?”

“He’s been sleeping with God knows how many teenaged girls. My sister doesn’t want to see the bastard in jail. Figures,” I huffed, “but yes, this needs to stay confidential, and as down low as possible…”

“Baby, my second name is Mr. Down Low,” his baritone lowered even more as his eyes did the same. I blushed like I myself was a teenage girl.

“Well, Mr. Down Low…as you can see, this is a rather urgent case. I’ll pay you double for looking into Scarlett…Brenda…and whatever you need for this case.”

“Well first, I’ll need a retainer of $5,000 to even get started. I wouldn’t mind cutting you a discount though if you’re willing to meet me for dinner tomorrow night,” he offered. Grabbing my checkbook, I wrote him out a check for twenty thousand dollars and then ripped it out of my checkbook.

“I’ve got a husband, Wolf,” I laid his payment on his desk.

“I bet he can’t do for you what I would. I don’t take checks. Cash only, baby girl.” Standing to my feet, I hung my bag over my forearm and proceeded toward the staircase.

“I don’t deal in cash, Wolf. My money’s too long,” I cackled, making my way out of his office.

13 TIANNA

Girl, I need to tell you what happened this weekend,” Bree caught up with me in the hall. The final bell had just rung, and I was headed out of the school toward my car. The last thing that I wanted to hear was any of Bree’s irrelevant drama.

“So…you know how I told you I was pregnant?” I looked at her and nodded, but kept my fast pace up. Walking alongside me trying to keep up, she spoke with urgency.

“Well I told my mama, and she took me to Matthew’s house to see his wife,” she revealed. That made me stop dead in the middle of the hallway. High school students surrounded us, speaking loudly and playing around, but I was now completely focused on whatever it was that Bree was trying to tell me.

Realizing that she now had my attention, she started telling lies.

I could tell she was lying, because whenever she embellished the truth, she played with her hair.

“So we got into it and everything,” she was saying, twisting her neck and frowning up at the thought of whatever she’d concocted in her head.

“I slapped her, girl,” she told me next.

“You did not?” I planted my hand on my hip and looked at her skeptically.

“I sure did! She gon’ have the nerve to pop off at the mouth at me. I mean, it ain’t like I got myself pregnant. I almost beat that old hag down, but my mama was holding me back…but girl, guess what she tried to say,” Bree went on. I continued walking, now at a slower pace.

“She accused me of kidnapping her husband. She was trying to say that somebody kidnapped him,” Bree went on. “And I think she might have a point, Tianna. I mean, I haven’t heard from Matthew in days. That’s not like him.” She suddenly sounded worried. I remained silent as we crossed the parking lot toward my car.

“I think I’m gonna call the cops and report him missing.” She had her arms crossed, thinking out loud.

“What? Nah Bree, don’t do that,” I advised her.

“Why not? Cuz it ain’t like his wife gonna do anything about it. She didn’t seem all that upset that he was missing. She was more concerned about gettin’ all up in my face.”

“Yea, but what if Matthew’s not missing. What if he just needed a break from all her nagging, and he lost his phone or something. If you get the cops involved, you could get in trouble yourself for filing a false police report.” I tried to convince her as I walked up to my car.

“That’s a good point, T.” I slid in my car.

“Look Bree, I’ll call you later. I gotta go, my mama wants me to come straight home after school,” I lied.

“Call me later! You always say you will but you never do. I gotta head to practice anyway. Coach Nelson be tripping if we late, like we don’t already have every routine down pat,” she continued her ranting, something that Bree did quite often. Going our separate ways, I pulled out of the parking lot of our school and headed straight to the hotel.

My phone vibrated in my purse, and I used my free hand to dig around for it.

“Hello?”

“Tianna. So nice to hear your voice. I mean I am your mother, but it feels like I haven’t seen or talked to you in days. Where you been?” my mom pressed me. I rolled my eyes.

“Busy, Mom,” was all I responded. She became silent for a second, and I knew she was doing her counting again, trying to hold her horrible temper.

“Well get unbusy. We’ve got reservations tonight. I’ll see you at seven,” she told me.

“I can’t…”

“Yes the heck you can. I’ll see you at seven,” she hung up this time, and I chunked my phone into the seat next to me. She was always going off on me, falling into these episodes of rage, and then she wanted to make up and take me to dinner or on some extravagant shopping trip—sometimes both. Regardless, I knew to be at the restaurant. She didn’t have any sense of what was right and what was wrong, so going overboard was her middle name.

When I made it to the hotel, I let valet park my car and then headed up to the room. Matthew looked very uncomfortable and highly pissed by the time I made it.

“Where the heck have you been?” he spat, trying to adjust himself in the bed.

“School. You know, the place you used to go all day,” I laughed, slipping out of my shoes and heading over toward the bed.

“I need to go to the bathroom. Tianna, this has to stop. I can’t keep allowing you to hold me up like this. Stacy’s probably worried, my daughter…”

“Matthew, I don’t give crap about Stacy or Elise! What about the child in my stomach!” I spazzed out on him. Grabbing the gun out of my purse, I held it firmly by my side.

“Tianna, I’m sorry about that. I swear, if I could take it back I would. I should’ve been a man…resisted my urges,” he started pleading. His apologies calmed me down for a moment. I’d replaced the duct tape and zip ties with a sturdy set of handcuffs and some rope. Undoing the ropes, and then one of the cuffs, I let him up to use the bathroom but kept the gun steady on him.

“I promise you…no, I swear… I’ll kill you if you try anything.”

He looked at me like he couldn’t believe things between us had gotten to this point. I knew how he felt. I couldn’t believe that they’d gotten to this point either. I let him go to the bathroom, watching his every move. I let him stretch a little; I even let him wash his hair and take a quick shower, then I made him get right back in the bed. He had to re-cuff himself to the bed, and I secured his rope.

“Why you doing this, Tianna?” he asked me.

His question brought forth the tears that I’d been holding in.

“Because you hurt me. I’ve known you longer than any of them. You should’ve loved me more…or at least enough to keep things exclusive. You got my best friend pregnant, and me at the same time. Do you see how disgusting that is?! You slept with Rachel, Misty, and Kianna. What’s wrong with you?!” He hung his head, and I could see him becoming emotional as well.

“I deserve this,” he whispered. I couldn’t help myself. I slapped him smooth across his face. How dare he sit here and look sad? He wasn’t regretful yet. I planned to stop feeding him, and then maybe I’d leave him here for a couple of days to think about who he was, and who he’d turned me into.

“You need to talk to your mama,” he said after a while. I was surprised to hear that come out of his mouth. Matthew telling me to go to my mother, knowing what that would mean for him was the last thing I expected to hear.

“You need to tell her all about what we’ve been doing. What I’ve been doing for the last two years,” his voice was barely above a whisper.

“I gotta come clean. I gotta come clean,” he continued chanting, as if his current circumstances were finally starting to take a toll on him. I remained silent.

Coming clean was going to mean a whole lot of changes for our families. Telling everyone that Matthew and I had been sleeping together since I was fifteen years old would undoubtedly ruin our lives.

I hated him. I hated myself, I hated my parents—I hated everything and everybody. I wanted to kill him, and then me, yet I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I loved him all at the same time.

“We’ve got to…we have to…come clean.” His voice faded away.

14 STACY

Whew, Lord my feet hurt,” I complained, sinking into the table on the third floor of the mall.

“My feet don’t hurt, Mommy,” Elise told me, smiling as she stuffed a French fry in her mouth. Elise, Alayna, and I had been shopping for hours. I needed to do something to get my mind off of everything that had been going on. Tiffany had hired a private investigator, and I was so anxious to see what he would find out that I could hardly even think straight. Lord knows I needed the retail therapy right about now.

“Mrs. Cavanaugh, thank you again for all this stuff,” Alayna told me.

“No thanks necessary. You take care of my baby. Plus, I’m not about to have you watching me get all this stuff and not hook you up to. I don’t roll like that,” I told her, stealing one of Elise’s nuggets. I’d chosen a slice of pizza from the pizza shop up here, and as usual, all Elise wanted was McDonalds. Alayna chose Chinese.

“Stacy?” I heard someone call my name from behind me. Turning around, I choked on my spit.

“Gerald?” I asked him, standing up to give him a hug. Elise and Alayna were watching our exchange closely.

“In the flesh. Man it’s been what, 20 years? You look exactly like you used to,” he complimented, stepping back and checking me out from head to toe.

“Boy stop it,” I chuckled. Gerald looked as good as he always had as well. He was dressed in a suit, and his confidence made him look like a million bucks.

“Wow, I didn’t expect to see someone from Chi-town here,” he told me.

“Yep. I live here now. Living life and whatnot. You know how it goes,” I filled him in, wondering what he was doing down south.

“Well that’s good then. I see you’re still beautiful as ever.”

“Well thank you. Are you living here now?”

“I’m here on business,” he answered. “I’m a real estate investor, so you know, lots of travelling.”

“Well okay then, Mr. Successful. I’m not surprised though. I remember we used to spend hours in the library studying business books and calling folks we didn’t even know our mentors,” I laughed, recalling a memory that used to be so sweet.

“It worked for us, I see,” he motioned toward me, “what do you do now?”

“I’m an accountant of a firm here in town,” I told him.

“That’s cool. At least you using that degree, Lord knows you used to complain about those classes,” he chuckled. My thoughts were stuck on the good times with Gerald, but it wasn’t long before the bad times came creeping in as well.

“Let’s have lunch while I’m in town. You free tomorrow?”

He brought the conversation to another place. I lifted my ring to show him that I had completely moved on, and wasn’t planning to take a twenty-year trip back to memory lane.

“Then it’s not a date. It’s friendly.” Persistent as always. Just like an investor. Matthew was the same way.

“Gerald, this is my daughter,” I directed his attention toward my baby girl, more as a reminder for myself that I was married and had a duty to stay faithful, even if my husband was full of bull himself.

“Well hello, pretty little girl. How are you?” He stuck out his hand toward Elise. A wide smile spread across his face as she grabbed his hand.

“Good,” she responded.

“Question for you,” he bent down to become eye level with my daughter. “Can your mommy do lunch with me tomorrow?” he asked her.

“Gerald…” I started protesting before Elise interrupted me.

“Will Daddy be mad?” she asked him, shifting her eyes up at me. He fell out laughing at my outspoken daughter.

“Well, mommy and I are just friends. You think he’ll be mad if mommy has a friend?” he asked her. She shrugged her shoulders and bit into another nugget.

“Nope. He says Mommy can have friends. Mommy has lots of friends,” Elise blabbed. Alayna was cracking up at the predicament I’d found myself in. Gerald stood up and took a card out of his pocket.

“Well your daughter has spoken. Mommy can have friends, and I’d love to be one of those friends again, Stacy. Just think about it. I’ll be in town for the next week or so,” he told me. I took his card and told him that I would, but I knew I wouldn’t. I had too much on my plate as it was to be worried about starting or rekindling another situation.

I watched him walk away as I thought about the last time I saw Gerald. I was nineteen years old, and a freshman in college. That was one of the hardest years of my life, and I seriously didn’t think that I’d make it through, but when I met Gerald he’d literally found a way to take away all my pain.

What we had was so simple and so sweet, but I didn’t realize until after he left me for the campus whore that there was never really any longevity to what we had. Gerald didn’t settle down with me; he simply settled in my bed. We had plenty of sex and not enough conversation, and ultimately I’d stupidly put everything in him, and he’d never promised to put anything in me. I’d accepted a bad deal and then was pissed when he simply held up his end of the bargain.

“Mommy, what was that man’s name again?”

“Mr. Gerald,” I took a seat back at the table, trying to shake off old thoughts.

“He was funny,” Elise commented.

“Mommy, when’s Daddy coming home?” another question came spiraling out of her mouth.

“He’ll be home soon, Elise. He’s on vacation, remember?”

“I wish I could be on vacation too, Mama,” she countered. I heard her loud and clear, but I knew for a fact she wouldn’t want to be on the kind of vacation her father was on.

After leaving the mall, I let Alayna take Elise while I made my way to my office. I hadn’t been doing much work at all these days with everything going on, and I didn’t want to give Rodger any excuse whatsoever to come up to my office.

When I got there, it was just reaching five and most of the secretaries were preparing to leave for the day. I hoped Rodger wasn’t in the office today, because not only did I not feel like dealing with him today, but my patience was near gone.

“Hey Mrs. Cavanaugh, I didn’t think you were coming back in,” my secretary greeted me as I made my way past her desk. She was in the middle of logging off her computer and about to leave for the day, along with everyone else.

“Yea, I have a lot to get done and I haven’t been here hardly enough,” I told her.

“You need me to stay longer?” she offered.

“Do I have any meetings tomorrow? Any messages?”

“One message from Rodger,” she rolled her eyes when she said it. “I’ve already forwarded his foolishness to you. No meetings though.”

“Okay great. And T, thank you for everything you do for me. I really do appreciate,” I told her. She stood up and looked around to see who was within earshot of whatever she was about to say next.

“Mrs. Cavanaugh, why do you let him do what he does to you? I can hear him through the wall sometimes. You really do have grounds for a sexual harassment suit,” she told me. I didn’t want her thinking anything like that, even if it was true.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” I simply responded, heading into my office and closing the door behind me.

Getting started on the accounts that I was currently behind on, the sound of a knock on my locked office door made me jump. Grabbing my chest, I calmed myself down from the sudden loud sound and made my way across my office to answer it.

Rodger.

“Funny seeing you here so late, beautiful,” he stepped into the office and closed the door.

“Rodger, I don’t have time for this tonight. I’m not doing this with you,” I told him, rolling my eyes openly and heading back toward my desk.

“You act like I’m not your boss. You’re disrespectful,” he told me, slapping me across my butt. I turned around and slapped him smooth across his face, and then looked at him like I was daring him to have a problem with it. His eyes told me that my reaction amused him.

“You need to leave.”

“I’m not leaving anywhere. Not until you give in, Stacy,” he threatened. I took a seat and thought about leaving myself. I didn’t know what I was thinking coming up here after hours. If this dude got crazy, I wouldn’t have anyone to help me out of a bad situation.

Grabbing my purse, I shut down my computer in the middle of what I had going on and decided to just make my way up here early the next day.

“Where you going?” he asked me, grabbing me by the forearm as I tried to walk past him.

“Don’t touch me!” I jerked my arm away from him. I was close to the door, close enough to open it and at least get into the hallway where there was bound to be somebody near in case I needed to scream or something.

Pulling me close to him, his grip was like a death grip. Rodger’s strength made my own seem childish.

“You’re too sexy to be fighting against me, Stacy. Why you playing so hard? I know your husband ain’t hittin’ it like he could be,” he whispered in my ear. He had me pulled against him tightly, and I could feel him getting worked up behind me. Using one of his hands to grope my body and going up under my bra with his fingers, my helplessness made tears fall.

Knock, Knock, Knock!

The sound caused him to jerk his hands from under my shirt and release me immediately.

“Mrs. Cavanaugh, I’m sorry, I meant to ask if I could come in an hour later tomorrow,” Trice was standing at the door, and the look on her face told me that I needed to take her advice about the sexual harassment suit.

Lord knows I was so relieved to see her.

Stepping outside of the office with my assistant, I looked back at Rodger who was now laughing like a lunatic.

“I think both of y’all got me messed up. You two think you can play games with me?!” he shrieked. Simultaneously, the two of us began creeping up the hall again.

“I’ll show both of you. Both of you,” he emphasized, a threat to Trice as well. Rushing toward the elevator, I tried to stop the tears but it was no use.

“Stacy, we can’t keep doing this,” Trice sounded worried now.

“What if he rapes you?” she asked. The question took me to a place I had been trying to forget for years. Rape.

“I’ll kill him. I’ll kill his ass,” I told her, wiping the tears that kept right on falling.

We rode in silence the rest of the way down toward the garage level where the two of our cars were parked. When we split ways, I hated the way Trice looked at me with pity. It reminded me of a day over twenty years ago that had ruined so much for me.

15 STACY

Sometimes, I find myself wondering if anything I’ve ever done good in this world could take away the pain of what happened on that day,” Melinda’s hands grasped at her coffee cup, one that Elise had given her for Mother’s Day last year.

“Now I know…that it doesn’t,” she cried. I had never seen Melinda so broken in all the time I’d known her. She had Charity and I sitting there bawling like little babies.

The three of us were thick as thieves, and had been for a long time. Never had we fallen out, nor had either of us betrayed the other over the years. Having met on campus in our Master’s program the year I moved to Houston, Charity, Melinda, and I had become like sisters. I wasn’t used to seeing her like this. Melinda was always the strong one out of all of us. She always had it all together; her family members were some of the most achieved in Houston, and it was always me coming to her for a shoulder to cry on. Now I was finally getting to return the favor.

Charity was there as well to help comfort our friend, but something about her hadn’t quite been right in days, and I could see that whatever she was worried about was really starting to do a number on her.

“Melinda…I can’t imagine. I just can’t imagine what you’re dealing with right now. I’ll tell you one thing, though. Whoever is responsible for this…is going to have to account to God for this. Melinda, God has forgiven you girl. You gotta forgive yourself.”

Imagine me preaching to the choir, trying to tell someone else about forgiveness when I had so much that I still needed to forgive myself for. Charity sat staring at her own coffee cup in her own world. I watched her tears fall as if they were the only things indicative to her current mind state.

“Charity, you okay?” I asked her. One question was like tearing down the dam. She too fell into an inconsolable sob, one that even brought Melinda temporarily out of her own strife.

“Charity, what’s wrong? Talk to us girl,” my strong friend was back. She sat straight in her seat, and grabbed Charity’s hands into her own.

“You gotta talk to us,” she egged her on. Charity tried to catch her breath before she could even get a sentence out.

“They’re gonna kill my babies,” she finally managed to say. Those words sent her right back over the edge.

“Who? Who’s trying to kill your children?” I stood up and walked around the table, throwing one arm over Charity’s shoulders. It took some time for her to calm down enough to actually be able to talk to us.

“Stephen’s had this gambling problem…since we got married. He gambles away every dime we bring into the house. All our savings. Gone. Nikolas and Nikita’s college fund. Gone. It’s all gone,” she accepted a tissue from Melinda.

“He was trying to hide it from me. Even though I knew. I just didn’t say anything. I was waiting on him to be a man!” she filled us in. We sat patiently, waiting to find out how this put her children in danger.

“So while trying to hide what was really going on from me, he borrowed a seventy-five-thousand-dollar loan from this Italian man. He thought he was going to be able to double it, and have enough to at least restock what he took from our accounts. That stupid…” she went back into her sobbing fit. I shook my head.

“These husbands of ours,” I whispered.

The three of us to be going through the storms of our lives, all together and all at once, was enough to make me mad all over again. Standing again and walking back toward my seat, I couldn’t imagine how we’d all ended up here.

“So now he’s asking for a hundred thousand; we’ve got three more days to deliver, and I don’t know how in the world we’re going to get it.”

“Say no more,” Melinda waved her hand.

“If it’s money this bastard wants, we’ve got plenty of that. I wish you would’ve come to me sooner,” Melinda told her. Charity sighed and looked up to the ceiling in an attempt to settle herself.

“I didn’t want to bring y’all into this mess. You two have enough of your own drama going on. I mean, Matthew’s been gone for four days now, Stacy. The media is still all over your front lawn, Melinda. I can’t have y’all worrying about me too.”

“You are my friend, Charity. If that man had harmed a hair on the heads of my niece and nephew, all because you were too darn prideful to say something…to ask for help, I would’ve never forgiven you!” Melinda’s voice rose several octaves. I could see that this conversation was taking an unexpected turn. Charity didn’t even bother to get angry.

“So you’re still mad about what happened in the past, huh? Mad enough to let your own family run headfirst into turmoil because you can’t get over the fact that I married the man you used to love?” Melinda’s rant turned personal.

“Woah.” Looking back and forth between Charity and Melinda, I felt like I was being hit with a brick.

“He never should’ve been yours,” Charity’s eyes cut evilly towards Melinda. She sat with her arms now crossed, her eyes suddenly dry.

“He was always mine, Charity. From the get go. He only approached you that day for my number! You loved him, but he didn’t even know your name. Plus, you wait until the man proposes to me to tell me that you had feelings for him,” Melinda stepped forward into Charity’s face. This was the Melinda that I knew.

“So if you…a woman who’s married with two adorable kids, can’t get over the fact that you settled, if this is how you want to let our friendship dissolve, then so be it. I’ll have my assistant bring the cash by your place first thing in the morning, because I refuse to let anything happen to those babies. Y’all let yourselves out,” Melinda turned, and her housecoat flapped in the burst of air she created as she stormed out of her sitting room.

16 CECELIA

Bree and I sat in the small cold clinic, amongst a few other women and young girls. Most of them were alone and content with the decision they were about to make. Only my child and two others looked nervous. Bree’s legs were crossed, but they bounced so much she was starting to make me nervous. Slapping her thigh, I looked at her forcibly.

“Bree Parks,” a nurse with long blonde hair and convicting blue eyes called for Bree. She stood and then looked back at me.

“C’mon Ma,” she pleaded as I shook my head.

“You spread them legs by yourself Bree, you go in there and handle that like a woman,” I told her.

I watched her walk away from me, and wondered where my little girl went. I could remember the very first day I held Bree in my arms. I made her all these promises about the kind of mother I’d be. Her father wasn’t in the picture, having been taken from my life so dramatically. I didn’t have family, and he didn’t have any relatives who cared that another branch to their family tree had been developed. Everybody was just trying to survive, so a new member of the family was trivial. It was just me and my daughter. It always had been.

There was a day when Bree was just a baby, and now she was seventeen-years-old on her way to get an abortion. That must’ve spoke volumes about the kind of mother I was. All this time, I must’ve been foolish, letting myself believe that I’d done my best.

I bought her what she needed, slaved away at them hospitals day in and day out, working overtime shifts so that she could afford to go to the same expensive cheer camps that her friends got to go to. I had to make sure Bree never felt like she had to suffer because of any of my prior decisions. I even prayed for her when I could get to church. If God had expected me to do anything more for her, I wish he would’ve sent someone to tell me instead of making me suffer like this; making me hurt like this when I knew good and darn well I hadn’t done anything so horrible to deserve this kind of punishment—my first grandchild belonging to a pervert.

I huffed from my thoughts. Anger didn’t even begin to explain my level of frustration. I had so much up against me, and I was about ready to quit on life completely.

I waited on Bree for well over an hour, and when she finally came out I could see something in her eyes that made it hard to even look at her. She forced me to look at her though, and I had the responsibility in sharing some of my child’s pain.

“It’s done,” she mumbled. Grabbing her hand, I led her out of the clinic and into the sun. She grabbed her shades out of her bag and placed them on the top of her head. Bree didn’t let herself cry until we were on the highway headed back to the neighborhood. Then it all came out.

“It’s okay baby…I promise…I promise it’s okay,” my voice was soft and soothing. Bree’s seat was lowered all the way back, and her body lay on its side, her face toward the door. I let my right hand rub her back, and drove with my left. All I could do was plead for God to somehow intervene, and prove that he wasn’t against us for what we’d just done.

When we got back to the house and I saw Scar sitting in front of my apartment on the curb, and I cursed under my breath.

“Baby, you head on into the house. I’ll be in there to run you a bath,” I told her. She nodded and climbed out of the car. Scar’s eyes were drilled into her as she stepped around him and used her key to enter our home.

“It’s not the first,” I told him, looking around the neighborhood to see if anyone was in earshot. We were alone.

“I’m not here for that,” he stood up. “I should take my gun and put a bullet in your head for what you did to me. Twenty years of my life wasted in a cell, away from everybody I know and love. My mama died while I was in that cell, CeCe. She died, and them mofo’s wouldn’t even let me out to go to my own mama’s funeral. How I’m sposed to feel about that?” His voice was low and sounded angry. Then, with another thought running through his head, his eyes became amused. “I should run up in there and give your daughter what I wanted to give my ex all them years I was locked up.” He grabbed himself between his legs and laughed at how mortified I looked.

“I’m lettin’ you live for one reason only, CeCe. Because I don’t wanna go back to jail. And I no longer have the contacts to properly dispose of your body,” he told me. I watched him speak in circles and wondered where he’d ultimately land.

“But don’t let that fool ya. I’ll still leave you lifeless, if you force my hand.” He stepped closer to me, filling the space. I stepped backwards until I ended up falling into the hood of my car.

“I’m gon’ call this even between us.” His voice was low, and I momentarily exhaled.

“But you gon’ need to get me fifty thousand dollars in the next three or four days for me to do that. I gotta get out of town. Everything is…hot…right now,” he told me, speaking in code and letting me know that he was somehow running from the police.

“I don’t have fifty thousand dollars,” I told him forcibly. There was no way Stacy was going to give me that much cash, especially now that everything with Bree and Matthew had come out.

“Look CeCe, like I said, I’m tryna make this easy on you and that sexy, tight lil baby girl up in there. Help me make it easy. Cause if I have to,” he flashed the gun that was tucked into his oversized blue jeans, “I’ll handle up on you real quick.” He looked me in the eye to make sure I understood.

“I’ll be back on Thursday. I’m leaving out around midnight. Don’t get wet up,” he threatened.

With that said, he was gone.

17 TIFFANY

Please tell me you’ve been able to at least track down where my husband is,” were the first words out of Stacy’s mouth as soon as she laid eyes on Wolf. He gave her a short nod, and then beckoned for the two of us to follow him upstairs. It had been five days, and we’d all still been on the search for Matthew.

“Mrs. Cavanaugh, I don’t know exactly where your husband is, but I do have a few things to let you know. Firstly, I discovered that your husband got three high school students pregnant. He paid the family of one of those students a hundred grand to keep them quiet. I looked into the family, and was able to rule them out as suspects. Also, I’ve been able to track the others down, apparently you already knew about one of them?” He paused to look at Stacy with judgment in his eyes.

I felt his pain. I was sick to my stomach when Stacy told me Matthew had been sleeping with young girls. I found it awfully ironic that she’d ended up marrying a sick bastard like him, especially with all we’d both been through. In fact, the reason I’d agreed to help her find him was so that I could slap him myself.

“Go on,” was her only reply.

“Well, they’ve all gotten abortions, but your husband received a message just three weeks before he was kidnapped. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to trace the phone number that it was sent from. The strange thing about that is just three days later, he submitted a resignation letter at his job. If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say this has your husband’s secret life written all over it. Like I said, I’ve only been able to find three of the girls. But if there were more…” he let her infer his intentions. I felt like my mind was being blown.

“What did the message say?” she asked, sitting straight up, her chin held high. I knew my sister well. She was pissed, but more embarrassed than anything. Wolf slid over a piece of paper with the words scribbled in his chicken scratch handwriting.

You knew me longer than any of them broads. Then you have the nerve to try and pay me off? Nah, that’s not cool. Either you come clean to our family, or I will…and I’ll do it by having a parent-teacher conference with my mom.”

Stacy quickly read the note and then slid it back to Wolf, who put it back in the thick manila file he was building on Matthew.

“Anyway, I was able to locate his vehicle. It had been abandoned on the side of I-20, and towed. Here’s the information to the facility if you want to go pick it up. There could be something in the vehicle that helps us find out more information,” he told her. Stacy nodded, and I could see that she was trying to keep angry tears at bay.

Her husband was a dog.

He deserved to be under the ground for all that he was putting her through. Even with my drama with James, I would still choose him a million times before choosing a man like Matthew. He might’ve been a money making genius, but I made enough money of my own to never have to depend on a man for it—now that, I refused to do.

After the meeting with Wolf ended, Stacy and I made plans to meet back up with Wolf in a couple of days. He was still working on tracking down her husband’s whereabouts, or at least the sender of the message.

“Tiff, I’ll call you later,” Stacy lied, walking toward the driver’s side of her car.

“Stacy, tell me something. How can you trust this man around Elise knowing that he likes young girls?” I chastised. Her eyes. widened as if she’d never even considered the fact that Matthew could be doing something to the child that was right in their own home. If he could do it to somebody else’s child, I believed he would do it to theirs as well.

“I’ll call you later,” she mumbled again. I watched my older sister hurry away before climbing in my own car. I always was the stronger one.

18 CHARITY

Are you sure you want to go through with this?” my pale faced, red haired lawyer asked me. She slid the forms over to me, and motioned toward one the cups of pens she had sitting in front of me. I didn’t bother to look up at her. I nodded my head and grabbed a pen.

“I’ve been sure about this for years. I just never had the balls to go through with it until now,” I informed her, scribbling my name on all the pages she’d marked with an X. Afterwards, I placed the cap back on the pen, put it where I’d grabbed it from, and sat back in my seat.

“Okay, Mrs. O’Neal. I’ll make sure to get these filed, and your husband will be served within the next 48 hours. Do you have any questions for me?” she asked, placing the papers in her manila folder, and then folding her manicured fingernails together. Envy hit me in the gut when I saw how beautiful her hands were. My own nails had long chipped away, and the thought of not even being able to afford a manicure sent a fresh wave of anger through my body.

“Nope. No questions. I really do appreciate you,” I told her, standing and preparing to depart her office.

“You have my number should any questions arise. And Mrs. O’Neal…if you do change your mind, let me know. It’s not too late to try some of the other options I suggested,” she reminded me. I nodded and hightailed it out of her office. Mrs. Stokes was a married, Christian divorce attorney who was probably in the wrong line of business. Since the moment I stepped foot inside of her office, she had been throwing hints that there were other options besides divorce that I could take with Stephen, but she just didn’t understand that I hated the very sight of my husband. For me, there were no other options short of placing my hands around his neck and squeezing the life out of him.

Making it to my car, I popped open the trunk just to make sure that the hundred thousand dollars that Melinda had given me to pay back the gambling debt Stephen owed was still tucked safely inside of the black duffle bag. Closing my trunk, I hopped into my car and took a deep breath. I hated where I was in life, and I hated even more that I had become desperate enough to take money from the one person I hated the most—my so-called best friend.

Drifting onto the expressway toward my house, I thought about how her life should’ve been my own. With all the dirt Melinda had done in her life, I could’ve easily been a first lady too. I should’ve been Malachi’s girl all along, and then I wouldn’t have to deal with all the drama of having a worthless husband.

I’d seen Malachi first, before Melinda even knew he existed. Years ago, I attended a pastor’s conference with my aunt, one that I desperately did not want to go to. Malachi had just recently been ordained, and was ministering one of his first messages. He talked about love, and it was during that message that I fell for him. After the service, he was selling a book in the back that he had recently self-published, and I’d hurried to get my copy. We talked for a minute about God, and he’d signed my copy of the book.

I thought we’d connected, and I dreamed about him for two weeks straight after that.

I prayed that God would connect us again in some kind of way, and God definitely answered my prayers. I was shopping with Melinda the day I’d run into Malachi for the second time. She’d run into the Sephora store to grab another jar of her foundation, and Malachi approached me. My heart was racing, my stomach fell into a ball of nerves, and I waited for him to say that he remembered me. After all, our conversation, the way we connected, the way he locked eyes with me was certainly etched into my memory. Instead, he asked me if Melinda had a husband, or if she was seeing anyone. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life, and I was too caught off guard to even lie because had I been in my right mind at that moment, I definitely would’ve lied and told him that she had a fiancé, a baby daddy, something. Instead, I helplessly shook my head no and then watched him walk into the store, charm her for her number, and then commence to falling into a relationship that turned into a marriage, kids, and an empire. I’d been sick for years behind that, and had even let that be the thing that drove me to marry a man I really had no feelings for.

Pulling up into the driveway of my house, I saw Stephen’s car there and rolled my eyes as I sighed heavily. Lately, he hadn’t been doing anything but moping around the house, just waiting on the inevitable. I hadn’t even told him about the fact that Melinda had given me the money to pay back to Antonio, so he had no clue that we were actually in the clear. There was something satisfying to my soul about watching him suffer and stress over coming up with an impossible amount of money.

Seeing him fail miserably made me lose even more respect for my him. If this was left in his hands, our kids would be dead and gone, and he would still be moping around with those horrible sad eyes, the ones that made my flesh crawl. I’ve never hated a man like I hated Stephen.

Stepping into the door, the first thing that I noticed was that the house was a complete and utter mess. There was an empty pizza box sprawled out on the coffee table in the front room, and Stephen was laid out sleep on the couch with a beer in his hand, and at least six or seven empty beer cans littering the floor around the couch, and halfway about to fall off the table.

“Hey Mama!” Nikita greeted me. She and Nikolas had been parked in front of the TV as usual, watching some kind of show on Disney Channel.

“Hey baby,” I walked over and greeted my twins, trying to hold my peace. Lord knows I felt like flipping out once again. How could a man sleep when someone had threatened his children’s lives? I counted down from ten while I stood over Stephen with my arms crossed.

“Nikita, Nikolas, y’all go watch TV upstairs,” I told my twins. They scurried along, and as soon as they reached the top of the stairs, I brought my index finger into Stephen’s forehead and poked him until he began to slur from his drunken slumber.

“How can you sleep knowing that any day now them people can come up in my house and murder my children?” I asked him, resisting the urge to haul off and slap him across the face. He sighed before sitting up, setting the half empty beer that he’d been working on inside of the open, empty pizza box, then rubbing his large hands over his face.

“I’m sorry baby. I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” he yawned before looking back up at me.

“Look, I’ve tried everything I could to come up with the money. A buddy of mine lent me all he had. Twenty thousand. That ain’t nearly enough, and I’m thinking that I’ll just go to Antonio myself and try to talk him into making some kind of negotiations, or a deal or something…” he slurred. I already knew Stephen didn’t really have what it took when everything hit the fan, but the fact that he was pissy drunk was only proof of what I believed. He buckled under pressure.

I knew that if I told him that I had the money and planned on making the drop soon, he’d feel relieved. I knew that information would take some of the pressure off of his shoulders, but I wasn’t about to tell him anything. Stephen deserved every bit of the stress that he was currently under, and I was going to let him suffer for as long as possible.

“Get up and clean my house,” I told him, rolling my eyes before walking away from him.

“You’re a sorry excuse for a man.”

19 TIANNA

Tianna!” I heard my mother’s voice call me from downstairs. I was up in my room jamming to worship music, and trying to get over the fact that I’d committed a crime. It all seemed like such a good idea when I’d first made the decision to kidnap Matthew, but now I wasn’t so sure. Matthew was tied up in a hotel room that I’d purchased on my mother’s credit card. It was only a matter of time before this all came leading right back to me, and I had no clue how I was going to deal with it when it did.

“Tianna!” she yelped again. I heard her getting closer, and figured she’d find me. When she opened the door to my bedroom, she stood there in the doorway with her arms crossed. My mother was a beautiful woman, but her attitude made her so ugly. That, among other things, was probably the reason my father ran off in the first place.

“So you just gon’ sit up here and not answer me while I’m walking through this house callin’ your name?” she asked me as I snatched the headphones out of my ears.

“Ma, I couldn’t hear you. I was listening to music,” I lied.

“Mmhmm…” she didn’t believe me, and I didn’t care.

“You hungry?”

I shook my head no. I was planning on grabbing something from McDonald’s for both Matthew and I when I snuck back to the hotel after my mother was settled in her bedroom, doing whatever it was that she did.

Holding a man hostage was becoming exhausting.

Not only did I have to take care of myself, but I was stressed everyday fearing that I’d be caught.

“You talked to your daddy?” she asked, walking into my room to check herself out in my mirror. I really just wanted her to go.

“I never talk to him. And probably never will.” She turned toward me sharply.

“Why not? You ain’t got nothing to do with what’s going on with us.”

I shrugged as a response. She didn’t really want the truth. The truth was something my mother never took well. She didn’t want to know how I couldn’t wait until this year was up and I could head off to Spellman. I didn’t want anything to do with her or her husband for the rest of my life. They’d failed me as their child, and were too blind to even see.

I heard Tasha Cobb’s ‘For Your Glory’ come blaring through my headphones, and I was dying to listen to my song in peace. Music was the only thing left to convince me that I wasn’t some evil person beyond help. I had to know what my options were. I needed to know everything that was available to me as a person, because I refused to believe what kept swirling through my head; that I was beyond help and probably going straight to Hell.

“You know what your problem is, Tianna?” she turned towards me, ready to spew hate.

“You too spoiled. Me and your father give you everything you could ever ask for, and you run around here with an attitude like you entitled to anything. I don’t know where I went wrong with you,” she told me. It made me mad inside. Mad enough to curse her out, but I didn’t want to get into another fight. She just didn’t know how I really felt. She thought buying me a car, giving me access to her credit cards, and letting me fend for myself was what I really needed. I needed love from her. I needed love from her years ago, and not when all the damage had been done and left for me to deal with.

“Alright mama…”

“Don’t alright me! Tianna, don’t make me slap yo’ lil black behind,” and there she went; losing her mind because she didn’t know how to handle me when I wasn’t coddling to her, or sucking up to her. I let her say what she said, and ignored that it hurt me to my core. I wasn’t about to show her tears, because I knew that’s what she wanted. She wanted to know that she could make me feel something, and if it wasn’t love then she didn’t mind settling for contempt, hurt, and strife. I wondered what had happened to my mother to make her like she was.

“So what, me and your daddy take care of you all these years, and you just say screw us huh?”

“No,” I mumbled.

“I can’t tell. Sittin’ up here with your lip poked out like you so unhappy. I can’t wait till you get yo’ lil depressing self out my house,” she continued fussing. I watched her walk out after having successfully ruined my mood. Now the gospel music irritated me, and I slapped my laptop down to stop the sound of worship. Every time I tried to find a little peace, God let somebody come and snatch it away.

Slipping on my shoes, I grabbed my keys and phone, and slipped downstairs. I heard her calling after me again, but I wasn’t planning on stopping. I let myself fall into a light jog as I headed toward my car and climbed in, pulling off before my mother could even get to the front door. She would just have to be mad. I wasn’t scared of her anymore anyway.

Heading towards the McDonald’s, I ordered food and then made my way back to the hotel. By now, I’d started using one of the side entrances to avoid the attention of the front desk, and paid the bill on my mother’s card online. I was tired of being scared, and had every intention on finally letting Matthew go. I didn’t think he was dangerous, and since things hadn’t gotten out of control yet, I figured I was still safe.

Until I made my way into the elevator and rode up to the twenty fifth floor.

A strange man was standing in the hallway looking over something in a manila folder, and my heart told me that something was off. When he noticed me, his eyebrows creased and I had the mind to get back on the elevator and run, but my mind reminded me that a move like that would look suspicious.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” he called after me. I had the food in one hand and my room key in the other, prepared the walk past him in the long hall toward my room, just three doors down from where he was currently standing.

“Yes?”

“Have you seen this man?” He flashed a picture of Matthew, and when I brought my eyes up to his, I knew then that he must’ve known something. Shaking my head, I turned and headed back toward the elevator in a hurried fashion. I knew I looked suspect, and I knew that he’d know I was lying. My mind willed me to go back and to continue into my room as planned, but my flight response had kicked in and it was too late. My heart didn’t stop beating until I made it down the elevator and into my car. I had to do something, and quick. I needed to let Matthew go.

20 ALAYNA

Alayna! Hey Alayna, hold up,” I heard my name being called over the music that was blaring through my headphones. I was leaving my Analysis class on my way to pick up Elise from school when I stopped and pulled the ear buds from my ears.

“Shane? What are you doing here?” I asked my supposed-to-be boyfriend, cocking my head to the side. He grabbed the books out of my hand, and escorted me toward a brick wall.

“I missed you,” he told me, flashing a smile full of perfectly white teeth.

“Oh you did huh?” I rolled my eyes and strolled away from him. I was not going to be late fooling around with his lying self.

“Come on Layna, baby don’t be like that. You need to start trusting me,” he walked alongside me, easily matching my hurried pace with his long legs.

“I told you I don’t trust nobody. Especially not a dude who could have chicks all in his house at three in the morning. Then I walk in and they have the nerve to be looking at me like I’m the intruder? Nah Shane, I’m just not feeling that,” I complained. The thought made me angrier, and I had already spent the last two hours of class imagining that situation a whole lot differently. Instead of going off, I should’ve drug the one with the pink hair. She was the one who looked mostly offended.

“Babe, stop. Ain’t no need to be like that. I work with them girls. They’re on my team, and every single last one of them know who you are, and that you come first. Yesterday was just the first time you’d seen them.” I slowed down, but only to remember where I’d parked my car.

“It’s fine, Shane. I’m not trippin’.”

“Yea you are. That’s why I came up here to this campus…man this place big,” he laughed. It was, but I was cool with the fact that to get anywhere around here, it felt like you had to walk a mile. It kept my body tight and in shape naturally.

“Layna, come on baby. Let’s go eat. We’ll come pick your car up later…or I’ll have Tommy bring it to the house,” he spoke of his best friend/right hand man. I looked at him like he’d lost all of his mind.

“I’m not letting Tommy drive my car. Plus, I gotta go to work. I don’t have time to mess around with you.”

“Why you workin’ anyway? Playin’ nanny for some rich woman who won’t be bothered with her own child. I cover all your bills, don’t I? I take care of every little thing you could ever want, and you still be treating me like a chump. I ain’t used to that Layna, I ain’t gon’ lie,” he complained. It made me laugh because I could’ve sworn that I’d been told the exact same thing before, yet every guy always did end up playing the chump at my expense.

“Get out ya feelings. I keep my job because when you decide that you no longer want to do all the stuff you do for me, I need to be able to boss up. I’ll call you when I’m off,” I told him, reaching my car and digging for my keys. His face showed a flurry of emotions, and then he settled on one as he pinned my back against the door of my car. Students were walking past us, some sneaking peeks, but Shane didn’t care. He brought his mouth down over mine and let his actions tell me how he really felt.

“I’m yours, Layna. Only yours,” he told me, grabbing the bottom of my chin and refusing to release the intense stare he had going on. I diverted my eyes first, then he dropped his hand and kissed me again.

“Call me when you’re off. We need to hash this out between us. Like I said. I’m not no chump,” he shifted gears before walking off across the parking lot. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts. Something about the way he’d kissed me, then demanded me to call him had me angry inside. Shane didn’t own me, he couldn’t control me, and he would never rule me.

Finally finding my keys, I grabbed the books he’d sat on the hood of my car and climbed inside.

“Excuse me, ma’am!”

Another interruption caught my attention just as I was about to crank up. I watched an older lady dressed in nurse scrubs make her way toward my window.

“I need to talk to you,” she said with urgency that resulted in a bundle of nerves being formed at the pit of my stomach.

“Talk to me about what?” I asked warily.

“Can you step out of the car?” I looked at the clock on my dash and realized that I really didn’t have the time. Ever since Elise’s father had gone missing, she’d had this weird abandonment issue going on, and I didn’t want her worrying about the fact that I was running late getting her from school. I knew all too well how it felt to be left all by yourself, wondering if there was anybody in this whole world who thought about you at night.

“It won’t take long,” the lady persisted, seemingly sensing my hesitation. I gave her a brief nod before stepping out.

“What’s this about?”

“My name is Cecelia Parks, and I know you don’t know me, but I know you. I also know that you work for Stacy Cavanaugh,” she had me looking around to see if there were any potential witnesses for whatever would happen next. I stayed strapped, and I was a survivor at its finest. I wouldn’t hesitate to go upside this old lady’s head.

“Listen…Alayna… this is going to sound strange, but I really, really need you to get fifty thousand dollars for me,” she told me. Rolling my eyes, I huffed and attempted to get right back inside of my car. The lady had the nerve to come up to me asking me to steal money from a family who’d done nothing but take care of me since I’d started working for them.

“Please! Please, listen. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need it…”

“We all need it! Why don’t you get a second job, not steal from some innocent people cuz you can’t manage your money!”

“My life is at stake. My child’s life is at stake. I’m being blackmailed,” she persisted, putting a palm on the window of my car to try and stop me from opening the door. I turned and got all the way in her face. I guess I really was going to have to beat her down. She had tears spilling down her face, her hair looked unmanaged, and she was even starting to sweat a little from this hot Texas sun.

“Please…please…I know who you are,” her voice was now but a whisper. Yet I heard her next words so clearly that I felt my spirit shift.

“Rape Child Jeffries.

21 ALAYNA

Sitting here staring into the eyes of Cecelia Parks, my hands shook as I held onto my coffee cup. I hadn’t slept in two days, and had been avoiding every single last call from Shane, Stacy, and my girl Mona.

Cecilia had tears in her eyes like whatever it was that I was asking her to tell me was going to take the life out of her. Her silence put me on edge, and I tried to practice taking slow inhales and slow exhales as I’d been instructed by my therapist for times when my anxiety started to grow out of control.

Cecilia looked tired from life. She didn’t look like she was that old, but she had wrinkles in the corner of her eyes, and her brown skin looked faded. I wondered if holding all those secrets about my life for so many years caused any of her aging.

“I was a nurse…brand new at the hospital you were born in,” she finally began speaking. I was holding my breath in anticipation. She seemed to be the very person I’d been needing to speak with my entire life, and just when I was starting to get ahold of all of my inner demons, here she came. Waking them right back up.

“Your mother…”

“Stacy, right?” I interrupted her. I knew the answer to my questions, but my mind was testing me at every corner before I allowed myself to truly feel the magnitude of what this now meant for my relationship with Stacy Cavanaugh.

“Yes. Stacy…she was young. I could tell she was hurting from whatever caused her to be pregnant in the first place,” tears were now falling down her cheeks, but my eyes were dry as a bone. Instead, my mind was focused on every word falling from Cecelia’s mouth.

“She didn’t want you…she didn’t touch you…she didn’t hold you. And then, after naming you what she did…she just vanished.”

My eyes were narrowed and my breathing became constricted. Any anger management technique that I’d ever learned went right out the window, and the side of me that I’d been trying to get rid of came barreling forward full force.

“I kept track of you ever since that day. I followed you from foster home to foster home, and I didn’t have much, but I knew that God wanted you to know that there was a person in this world who knew when your birthday was. I didn’t know if they gave y’all gifts or anything on your birthdays,” she kept explaining, this time rattling off at the mouth. Hers were the only gifts I’d ever received in eighteen birthdays. In fact, I once lived with a foster family who didn’t believe that we should care so much about our birthdays. I tried their ways, but every time January 29th came around, I found myself in an anxious state, just waiting on the mail man to come. She never let me down, not once.

“I thought all these years, maybe it was my mother sending me those cards. In fact, I was sure that it was my mother, and it was that alone that made me have hope of one day finding her. I’ve been looking for twenty-three years, and I’ve been working for her for six months now,” I spoke deeply, yet from a place of betrayal. Was God playing some kind of cruel trick on me? He knew how badly I needed to believe that my mother was thinking about me all this time, and how bad I needed to believe that maybe she just didn’t have what it took to be a mother, so she did what she thought was admirable rather than just aborting.

“So I suppose you think I owe you for caring all those years, huh? I guess you think it’s my duty to steal fifty grand from Stacy, huh?” My anger shifted to Cecelia, who sat before me. It was the case with everyone I met. They’d do something for me and then expect me to return the favor. Like I asked her to keep track of me for all these years.

“I’m not saying you owe me…”

“Bullcrap! Don’t sit up here and think you can outthink me!” my voice projected. I could feel myself going to that place where I would eventually lose touch.

“Look. I owe this man money, and he’s on my back. I got a child to take care of, you think I wanted this? I thought I was doing a good thing for you all these years…and now…my life is at stake.” The muscles in her neck bulged to show me her desperation. She was as desperate as I was, but for two different reasons. She wanted safety; I wanted justice.

“She won’t even miss the money.”

Cecelia was right about that. Stacy and Matthew were loaded. I’d even looked up to them, working as hard as I did in school, taking eighteen-hour semesters and pushing myself harder every semester. I looked up to people like Stacy, black women who were able to rise above their circumstances, marry good men, and make it in this world.

Stacy and I had a conversation when I first started working for her, and she’d briefly expressed to me how she’d been through a lot, how she and her sister had to make it from nothing; how they didn’t have the parental support that the rest of her colleagues had growing up. I thought we had something in common. She inspired me during that conversation. I remembered leaving after having spent a full afternoon with Elise, thinking that I finally had a strong role model to look up to. Now I was realizing that Stacy wasn’t strong. She was weak. She was weak, and she was going to feel my pain. I didn’t know how, but some kind of way, I was going to make her feel my pain.

“Get out!” I yelled suddenly at Cecelia, sending my coffee cup crashing into the wall of my apartment. The brown liquid quickly stained my cream carpet, and I stood to my feet and stormed toward the back of my place. I was almost there. I was almost in a happy place, and I’d even started going to church for the first time ever. I was learning all about God, and all about His love, and then he just snatched that false reality from me. I was tired of being the scapegoat.

No love or no respect for anything tangible, I used my hand and raked every possession I owned off the dresser of my room. Perfume bottles, nail polish, and jewelry went flying toward the floor as a simultaneous scream escaped from my soul; then came the suicidal thoughts, the ones that had tempted me for so long, and seemed so much more possible now. I needed to make Stacy pay. I needed to hit her where she would hurt the most.

22 TIFFANY

It was two in the morning, and my phone was ringing off the hook. Squinting my eyes from the blare of the phone, I saw that it was Wolf calling.

“Hello?” my voice creaked as I sat up to take the call.

“Tiffany. I’m sorry to be calling you so late. I’ve got something you need to hear,” his voice sounded urgent. Flipping on the small lamp next to my nightstand, I yawned and unconsciously checked to see if my satin bonnet was still in place on top of my head.

“What’s up?”

“I think I know where Matthew is being held,” he told me. That woke me up quickly.

“Okay, where?”

“The Hyatt Regency hotel, not too far from your house. I hacked into the hotel systems, and it shows that the room was purchased on a credit card that you own,” he continued. I bunched my eyebrows, and by now I was all the way awake.

“What?”

“Tiffany, the room is registered in your name…but I believe that it was ordered by Tianna,” he told me. By now, my mind was swarming in confusion. Stumbling to my feet, my stomach sank all the way down to the ground.

“I was up on his floor a couple of days ago, trying to see if I could hear any activity in the room she’s had for the past week, and I ran right into her. I showed her a picture of Matthew and she ran,” he continued explaining. By now, my mind was blown.

“Wolf…I’m gonna call you right back…” I hung up before he could even protest. Slipping a silk nightgown over my bra and panty set that I’d been sleeping in, my mind blacked out as I stalked down the hallway toward Tianna’s room.

Flipping on the light to her room, she sat up in bed with a quickness, trying to quickly adjust her eyes.

SLAP!

My hand struck against the side of her face. I watched her grab the place I’d hit her and scamper toward the other side of the bed.

“Ma, I’m sorry!” were the first words out of her mouth. That confirmed that she knew exactly why I was pissed.

“Tianna you better get to explaining, and I do mean now!” I yelled. Tears were streaming down her face, but her tears only made me angrier.

“Now!” I repeated, my voice so loud that I could feel my vocal chords stretching. She looked like she was having a hard time even explaining her actions.

“Ma, I’m sorry. I just wanted to make him pay,” she told me. Her voice was soft, and so familiar to me.

“Make him pay for what?” I asked her, this time my voice octaves below my previous sound and full of fear. I didn’t know what she was about to say to me next.

“For cheating on me, Ma…sleeping with all those other girls when he promised me he wouldn’t,” she admitted. I felt like I was being punked, and for the first time in a long time, I was afraid. I was afraid of who my child was, and afraid of what I was now seeing that I had been blind to for a long time.

“Cheating on you? Tianna…that is your uncle.”

I didn’t even realize that tears were coming out of my own eyes until I tasted the saltiness in my mouth. I watched as Tianna’s tear-stained face hardened right before me, and it was like my own child became a new person right in front of me.

“He’s not technically blood,” she countered. I felt sick to my stomach, utterly sick to my stomach, and I didn’t know who this person was standing before me—this seventeen-year-old girl who I’d birthed and raised and took care of to the best of my abilities. Suddenly feeling light headed, I sat at the foot of her bed completely lost. She slowly moved toward her dresser and began changing out of her nightgown. My eyes drifted to a large old looking bruise that extended across the area where her rib cage and back met.

“What happened to you?” I asked her, suddenly the one crying like a child. She looked at me for a long moment as she slipped a shirt over her head and a pair of tights over her underwear.

“It was a casualty of trying to kidnap a grown man,” she answered emotionlessly.

“Tianna…what’s wrong with you? How…how long has this been going on? You’re a child!”

“Mama please. I’m much growner than you give me credit for. And don’t even start thinking nothing foul like Matthew raped me or some ish. I’ve been with him for two years, and trust me…I knew what I was getting into,” she chuckled. Blinders off, I saw the failure of my parenting right before my eyes.

“I’m surprised you’re crying, Ma. You don’t cry…remember? Tough mama with the tough mouth crying cuz she finally see the monster she created?” she laughed again, now slipping sandals on her feet.

SLAP!

I stood up and hit her again. She looked at me like she wanted to hit me back, but I wished she would.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you Tianna, but you done lost every piece of your mind if you think I’m about to let you sit up in here and talk to me like you’re grown!”

I watched her grab her keys to the car that I’d purchased.

“You’re not going nowhere! What you will do however, is tell me what is going on!” I screamed again, snatching the keys right out of her hand. Her arms crossed across her chest, and in another quick moment her tears came back. She’d gone through so many emotions so quickly that I didn’t know what to do with her.

“What you wanna know, Ma?! Huh? You wanna know that your precious little girl ain’t no precious little girl, Ma? Huh?! You wanna know that I’m damaged, and broken. That I’ve been this way for years, but you’ve had your head stuck so far up your own behind that you ain’t know nothing about it?!” she screamed. I was hanging onto her every word, because I needed to make some sense of this. My brain needed sense at all times; otherwise I felt unstable.

“Ma you been chasin’ after a man who don’t want you no more cuz he don’t like grown women!” she yelled.

“Your father? What you mean he don’t like grown women?” Fear beyond comprehension rose up inside of me, and I wished I could stop the question that I was asking. It was too late though. It had already come out.

“Since I was six years old…up until my thirteenth birthday. Don’t act like you didn’t know,” she told me, grabbing her keys back and storming out of her room, leaving me there and frozen in a place of disbelief.

23 STACY

It was five o’clock in the morning on the seventh day of my husband being gone. I was sitting with a cup of coffee, and the issues of my heart were pouring through my own consciousness. I wondered why I wasn’t as hysterical as I should’ve been. Was I reacting like a normal wife whose husband had been kidnapped would be reacting?

Thoughts ran rampant through my mind as I realized just what this meant for Matthew and I. I didn’t even get to finish receiving clarity when he walked in, still dressed in the same clothes he’d worn when he left seven days ago.

“Stacy…I’m sorry,” were the first words out of his mouth. His eyes looked different in a way that I’d never seen from Matthew. It was almost as if maybe he’d been broken down into the shell of the man he once thought he was. Where was the confidence in the Matthew Cavanaugh that I’d always known?

“The investigator you hired…he told me you’d been searching for me.”

“Kiss your daughter, get your stuff, and get out.” I told him calmly, raising my coffee mug up to my lips. Our home was dead silent, the perfect example of who we were in this moment. Silent. Hopeless. Lost.

“Stacy…”

“Get your stuff, and GET OUT!” My scream came so sudden that something shifted inside of me.

I’d never raised my voice at Matthew in all of our years of marriage. I’d played the good wife, turning my back on all the things I knew he was doing because I knew that I had some secrets of my own. I figured my current situations were punishments from my past mistakes, and anything I had to suffer through in my marriage was justified. I deserved this.

“I didn’t mean to hurt anybody,” he pleaded with me. He had tears in his eyes. Another first from my husband. He never cried.

“Well you did a piss poor job with your intentions, huh? I hate you so much right now,” I admitted.

“Daddy?!” Elise’s voice interrupted what was an extremely intense moment between Matthew and I.

“Baby girl?!” He turned and scooped his daughter up in his arms, holding her close. The only person he’d ever done right by in all of his years of living. That was the only thing that I could say with fact about my husband. He loved his child, and he would never harm her.

“Daddy, you’re back from vacation?” she squealed, throwing her small arms around her daddy’s neck. Quickly wiping the tears from my eyes while Elise was temporarily distracted, I watched their reunion and thought about how the split my heart desired might hurt my baby.

“I’m back, baby. I won’t leave you again,” he was promising. just as I was calculating what it took to get a legal separation from him.

“Elise…” I interrupted their reunion. Sliding down to the floor, she came to give me love as well.

“Baby. go get ready for school,” I told her, forgetting that it was only five in the morning. She wasn’t due to wake up for school for another two hours.

“Maaa…but it’s still dark outside,” she countered, bringing my attention to my mistake.

“Baby. go play upstairs then while daddy and I talk. It’s time for grown up conversation now,” I told her, lifting my eyes up to meet Matthew’s.

“Awww. but do I have to…”

“Don’t make me tell you twice. girl,” I gave a motherly look that made her scatter away seconds later.

“Don’t go making promises to her that you can’t keep. Matthew. I want you out of the house by the end of the day.” I told him. He didn’t respond; he just scoffed and exited the kitchen through the living room.

Gone seven days and he comes back like nothing ever happened.

Like I was supposed to be excited as Elise was to see him. I let him walk away and spared the two of us the drama. I was giving him the chance to leave with his dignity. I didn’t want to be that woman that threw his possessions all over the lawn, but if his things weren’t gone by the time I got back from work later today, then I would definitely be that woman. Matthew and I seemed to have finally reached the end of our evil reign in marriage, and as much as I didn’t want to admit this was coming, my heart expected it all along. That still didn’t stop it from hurting though.

By the time I got through the rest of my morning, searching all through my bible for some kind of word to get me through the rest of the day, I was on the brink of peace yet still emotionally distraught. I dropped Elise off at school right on time, and then headed into work myself. I was grateful that for the past couple of days I hadn’t seen Rodger, and I was hoping that it would stay that way.

“Hey Trice,” I greeted as I huffed my way down the hallway. I really needed to get back working out.

“Hey Stacy. Your messages are already on your desk,” she told me. By the tone of her voice, I immediately knew that something was wrong.

“Is everything okay?” I asked her. She nodded her head and told me that everything was fine, but I wasn’t sure if I believed her. I let it go, because I had plenty of my own issues to handle.

“Alright girl, well if you need anything, I’ll be knee deep trying to finish up all this work I’ve let pile up,” I told her. She gave me a small smile, and I wondered if her eyes were pleading with me to dig deeper into her solemn mood. I didn’t have room in my spirit to deal with anyone else’s mess, so instead I made my way right into my office and closed the door behind me.

That was when the tears came again.

I had worked hard to be happy over the years, and maybe I had even made myself believe that Matthew and I were happy. To find out that my husband preferred seventeen-year-old girls over me had me self-conscious in the worst way. I worked hard to keep everything tight, and to stay sexy. Obviously it wasn’t enough.

Beep!

“Mrs. Cavanaugh, I have a call on line one from some guy named Gerald Carter,” Trice’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts.

“Okay, Trice, thank you,” I told her. Gerald had never called me at my office, and I didn’t even know that he knew where I worked.

“Gerald?”

“Hey, Stacy. I hope you don’t mind that I did my investigating and found your number,” he crooned through the phone. I could tell just from the sound of his voice that he probably had a silly little smile on his face that was a direct result of the fact that he had been successful at locating me.

“Gerald, how can I help you?” I kept my voice smooth.

“Go out to dinner with me, Stacy. I want to see you.” He was honest.

“Gerald, I’m married,” I reminded him.

“So.” His response caught me off guard.

“Seriously, what is it with America these days. Doesn’t anyone respect the sanctity of marriage these days?”

“I respect the sanctity of true happiness these days. I just want to see you, Stacy. Truth be told, I never did stop thinking about you,” he countered. Sighing, I didn’t know what to say next, because he did have a point. Gerald Carter; a man who had my heart, and then smashed it in two. I couldn’t lie and say that I didn’t want the chance to turn that L into a win.

“I’m married, Gerald. We won’t be rekindling anything, unfortunately for you,” I gave him his final let down with a smile on my face.

“Alright. Well I’m heading back to Illinois in the morning. You have my number if you change your mind,” he extended the olive branch. After hanging up with Gerald, Matthew’s name popped up on my phone next.

“Can I help you?”

“Stacy, we need to talk. Have lunch with me,” came my second lunch invitation of the day, and it wasn’t even nine in the morning.

“We’ll talk when I’m ready, Matthew. How about you go talk to all those seventeen-year-old children that you were so interested in,” I countered, hanging up right in his face.

24 TIANNA

There was something freeing about the fact that I didn’t have to coy around my mother anymore. Now that the truth was out about Matthew and I, I could do what I needed to do to get my man back.

Rolling by the house he shared with my aunt Stacy, I was glad to see that her car wasn’t home. His wasn’t either, but I was hoping that he was inside the house anyway.

I parked on the curb and walked up the long driveway that led to their home. Checking to see that the door was open, I pressed down the handle and let myself into the house. Everything was quiet and immaculate as usual.

“What are you doing here?” Matthew’s scowl met me right in the foyer of their home.

“I’m here to see you,” I told him, ignoring the dramatic sigh that came next.

“This has to stop, Tianna. Now, I understand that you’re upset, but what you did was unacceptable. You need to leave,” he tried kicking me out.

“Stop tripping. Matthew, what I did to you was nothing in comparison to what you did to me,” I laughed. Smoothly walking toward him to close the distance between the two of us, I ignored the fact that he looked highly irritated at my existence.

“Let yourself out of my house, Tianna. Whatever we were doing. I’m sorry it happened. I was wrong…but it’s done.” He was still singing the same old tune, and I was about sick and tired of hearing it.

“Matthew, you and me been rocking for two long years. You telling me you can just throw that away?” I cocked my head to the side and planted my hand on the side of my hip.

I watched him process several thoughts before grabbing me by my arm and leading me out of his house. I tried to jerk away from him, but his strength wouldn’t allow me to do that.

“Get your hands off of me!” I yelled, trying to plant my feet into the ground and stop myself from going anywhere. I used my nails to dig into his flesh, but Matthew’s will to put me out of his house overrode the pain of my nails causing his arms to bleed. Swinging open their front door, he used all of his strength to hoist me onto the front porch. I landed on my butt and looked at him with a face drenched with tears.

“This is over,” he told me with finality, breathing hard. I could see the fear in his eyes. That was new. Matthew Cavanaugh had never been afraid of anything, but I think he knew that he had messed with the wrong girl this time.

I wasn’t going away anytime soon.

He slammed the door in my face, and for a moment I considered picking up a brick and breaking all the windows on the first level of his house. I was tired of people thinking they could mess over me and treat me any kind of way, and I wasn’t going to play that game with Matthew any longer.

Standing to my feet, I started walking off and then decided that I would in fact throw that brick. Picking up a random one that was carefully placed around their perfectly landscaped yard, I let it go sailing out of my hand and crashing into the window next to the front door. The alarm sounded, and I ran.

I was only getting started.

I flew back to my house with so much running through my head. I was due to graduate in only a few short months, and now that Matthew was flipping the script on me, I didn’t know what that would mean for the rest of my life. I’d always wanted to go off to Spellman and get far away from home, especially since my mother was one of the main people I wanted to get away from. She’d changed drastically though since I’d filled her in on what kind of man my father really was. Ever since telling my mother the truth, she’d been moping around like a zombie.

Walking in the house, I didn’t expect to be bombarded by a police officer, and for a split second I wondered if Matthew had called the cops on me. If so, he didn’t want to know what I planned to do to him in retaliation.

“Tianna. This officer is here to take your statement. Baby, I’m filing charges on Matthew for statutory rape,” she told me, walking toward me as if she was really a loving, caring mother.

“What? I don’t want to file charges.”

She had a tissue and was wiping at her nose, and I couldn’t help but think that she looked really pathetic. This was my mother we were talking about. She always had something smart to say, but her fire seemed to have died out completely.

“Baby, we have to. I can’t let him get away with this.”

“So you filing charges on James too?” I asked her, looking at her with disgust.

“It ain’t Matthew Cavanaugh that you need to file charges against, sir,” I turned towards the officer, “It’s my father. James Sharp. He’s the bastard who made me this way. Raped me for seven years and then walked away like he had never done a thing. Yea, he’s the one you need to arrest.”

With that, I pushed past the man who looked like he didn’t know whether to chase me down or start writing in his little pad, and headed right toward the staircase. By the time I made it to the stairs, I could hear my mother’s annoying sniffling. She was going to have to cut all that crying out. The worst of it was already done.

25 CHARITY

Pulling up to the drop off location, my palms were sweaty against the steering wheel of my car. I could feel my armpits sweating too, despite the fact that the sun had long gone down and I had the air conditioning blasting full power. I swiftly turned off the ignition and grabbed the duffle bag of cash out of the passenger seat. I might’ve hated how Melissa came off at me when it came to this money, but I was glad she’d come through.

I hadn’t even told Stephen that I’d come up with the hundred thousand that we needed. He was still nervous and busting his butt trying all of the unconventional ways of making quick money, and not even admitting to himself that he was failing miserably.

Just as Antonio’s contact had told me, someone was waiting on the bench in the deserted park. I felt like I could potentially be walking into some kind of danger zone, but since this was for my kids, so I pushed through how I felt.

The guy who was waiting on me didn’t say a word. He just grabbed the bag out of my hand, then quickly unzipped it to get a visual of how many stacks were in the bag; without even looking at me, he threw the bag over his shoulder and hopped on his motorcycle.

Dang, that’s not at all how it goes down in the movies, I thought to myself, quickly scampering back across the parking lot toward my car. It was way too dark, even with the street lights, and I was ready to get home and move on with my life.

I hadn’t told Stephen that I’d went and filed for divorce either. I guess he’d figure that out soon enough.

Stephen and I had run our course as far as marriage was concerned, and the only good thing that had come out of it was the fact that we had two beautiful children. Now I was ready to cut ties with a man who wasn’t doing anything but holding me back, and move on with my life. I wasn’t too old. I could still get back out there and live my life for a few years, and find another husband somewhere along the caliber of Matthew or Malachi. That much I was sure of.

Pulling off, I jammed to 97.9 The Box all the way home. My babysitter, who was the high school girl who lived across the street, was up watching some show with the kids when I walked in.

“Hey Mama!” Nikita greeted me as I walked inside.

“Hey baby, what y’all doing still up? It’s almost ten and you know y’all supposed to be in bed by nine thirty,” I chastised, looking at Sarah—the one who was supposed to make sure that they followed the rules.

“Sorry, Mrs. O’Neal. The show ends in like five minutes. I didn’t think you’d mind,” she shrugged, standing to her feet and slipping a sweater over her tank top. After worrying for the last few weeks over how I would even come up with an impossible amount of money, and then realizing that all of those worries were over, Sarah was right. I didn’t mind. I was grateful to be past this, and as soon as the ink was dry on my divorce papers, I would be even more grateful. I watched her leave and then ordered the kids right upstairs to their bedrooms. Nikolas kept his eyes glued to the TV until the credits on whatever show they were watching rolled, then he turned to see me looking at him and scattered.

Collapsing on the couch, I flipped the TV off and sighed when the room went completely silent. That silence didn’t last long because moments later, Stephen came waltzing through the door with a somber expression on his face.

“I think I’m going to go ahead and offer myself up to Antonio. You and the kids mean more to me than my life…and baby I’m all out of options,” he told me, standing over me with his hands in his pockets. His eyes were red like he’d been crying all day long, and I could see that the stress of his perceived burden was stressing him up to the max. It was strange that I got so much satisfaction from seeing him like this. I should’ve been told him that he no longer needed to worry because once again, one of my friends had bailed him out of his mess; but instead, I felt satisfaction that he was feeling the heat behind one of his stupid decisions.

Stephen was never good at being a husband anyway. I figured it came from his father, who also had his own share of a gambling habit; but I wasn’t Stephen’s mama, and I’d be dang if I would spend the rest of my life fighting to pay back his debts. If he thought I was about to sit here and feel bad for him, he had me all the way messed up.

Standing to my feet, I let him continue to wallow as I made my way to the bottom of the stairs.

“Melissa gave me the money a few days ago. I paid the debt tonight. And tomorrow…you’ll probably be served with divorce papers,” I told him simply, continuing on up the stairs and exhaling.

I felt like I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. Truthfully, I was glad that I was getting the opportunity to get away from this man. I was going to get back into the gym and work off the weight that I’d gained since I’d been in this marriage; then I was going to find the richest bachelors in Houston, Texas and I was going to make them fall in love with me. I was finally going to have a rich husband like my friends, and no longer would I have to settle for side chick to a rich man. I could be the main. Yep, that sounded good to me.

26 STACY

Walking toward my office, for the first time in a while I was the one with two coffees and some other goodies. I had noticed that Trice had been down these last couple of days, and I was hoping to give her a little bit of pick-me-up with the surprise coffee. As I approached her desk, the first thing that I realized was that the area where she usually sat looked strange. Seeing Trice’s desk completely cleared off concerned me. She hadn’t called in and even so, she had never completely cleared her cubicle before leaving work. It looked just as it had the day I first hired her. Her son’s pictures were no longer even propped up by her computer like usual.

Using my key to enter into my office, I balanced all the stuff in my arms, which I also hadn’t had to do in a long time, and mulled over what could be the reason behind Trice’s not being here. The first thing on my agenda was giving her a call and finding out just where she was.

Setting down the two coffees and the box of donuts, I fished around in my purse until I found my phone. Trice wasn’t too far down my recent calls list, and as soon as I pressed her face the call went to voicemail.

“One of those coffees for me?” Rodger asked, walking in behind me. He scared the mess out of me walking up on me like that. I motioned my hands toward the coffee as if giving him free reign, and hoped that he wasn’t here to start any trouble. Not only was Trice not here to back me up, but I just wasn’t in the mood for him.

“I noticed that your secretary seems to be…M.I.A.,” he told me, closing my office door and then approaching me as I stood next to my desk.

“Rodger, I’m not taking your mess today. I swear to God, if you touch me, I’ll pack everything I own and you won’t see me again,” I told him. He held his hands up submissively and looked at me with his mouth hanging partially ajar, as if I didn’t have every reason to come at him like this.

“That won’t be necessary, Stacy. Look, I’m actually here to…call a truce,” he told me, extending a hand to me and replacing the stupid look on his face with a fake smile. I looked down at his hand and rolled my eyes with disgust before turning to take a seat at my desk. Trice was really heavy on my mind. I couldn’t afford to lose another assistant, and I definitely couldn’t lose one as good as her. I was praying that this was not her way of telling me that she was quitting on me.

“Rodger, Hell will freeze over before I ever willingly shake your hand. I have work to do…boss. And from the looks of it, I need to go tracking down my assistant,” I told him, willing him with my eyes to leave me be. He was clearly offended that I left him hanging as he pulled his hand back in and began to absentmindedly straighten out his tie, which was already perfected adjusted.

“Actually, that’s what I’m here to let you know. Don’t worry about your secretary. I fired her,” he told me, this time leaving me to be the one with my jaw hanging open.

“You did what?!”

“I had to let her go, Stacy. I caught her…stealing from the company. You know we have a no tolerance policy for theft. I’ll have Jamie set up a few interviews for her replacement. Have a good day, Stacy, and by the way…I’ve been told that you haven’t been as responsive these last few weeks. Keep it up and you could be going right behind her,” he threatened, allowing a smug look to settle on his face as he winked at me, and then grabbed one of the coffees off of my desk. I watched him walk out and I knew right away that he was lying through his teeth. Trice would never steal from this company. I didn’t trust Rodger as far as I could throw him, and my gut was telling me that I needed to track her down and find out the real truth behind why he’d let her go.

Pulling out my phone, I sent her a text message to call me as soon as possible, and then moments later my phone vibrated. I thought that it may have been Trice calling me, but instead it was my husband. Scoffing, I sent my hand across the screen to ignore his call, but then he called right back again.

“What? I’m working,” came my response. After I’d come home after giving Matthew that ultimatum, I was pleased to find that he had in fact gotten most of his things. I didn’t know whether he was staying in a hotel, or whether he had a second home that I knew nothing about, and I hadn’t even cared. I had been lying to myself about the state of my relationship with my husband for far too long, and truth be told, him getting kidnapped had forced me to stop lying to myself.

“Stacy…we need to talk. There’s something that I need to let you know…” the tone of his voice had me thinking that he was in some kind of trouble.

“What is it, Matthew?”

“Stacy, please meet me for lunch. I feel like I should tell you this kind of thing face to face.” He was buying time, but I didn’t have any more patience left. Plus, I would be working through lunch today—not because I was afraid of Rodger firing me, but because he was right. I was seriously behind on a lot of things.

“Whatever it is that you need to say to me Matthew, you can say it right now over this phone. And you better say it quickly too, because I don’t have all day,” I warned him. He sighed and then gave me this dramatic pause that was really unnecessary.

“Stacy…I’ve been…” he struggled to get whatever he was trying to say out.

“Have you spoken to your sister?” he asked, cutting off his last sentence. Scowling, I shook my head as I responded.

“I haven’t talked to her a couple days. What are you trying to say…just be a man and say it!”

“Stacy, one of the girls that I’ve been fooling around with…is Tianna,” he blurted.

I went stark silent as my mind processed what had just come out of his mouth.

“Tianna? As in my niece Tianna? My seventeen-year-old, you-held-her-when-she-was-just-a-baby Tianna?!!” My voice rose three octaves. My heart was beating through my chest and I really hoped that Matthew was not about to confirm to me that he was talking about my sister’s child.

“I don’t even know how it started,” he went on, his voice weak and confirming my worst nightmare.

“Are you trying to tell me that you had sex with our niece, Matthew?” Something inside of me was shifting in a major way. When it came to my husband, I’d always been passive and even when he was doing things I knew he had no business doing, I would let it slide. I got real good at putting a smile on my face and faking the funk. After all, I was a Christian woman and was committed to making it work with my husband. We had a child, we had money, and we looked good as a couple, so I figured that eventually his shortcomings would fade away and in the end everything would work out; but if Matthew had the audacity to do anything to a child who was nearly like our own, I was about to lose my mind.

“Matthew, tell me your playing. You better tell your playing because I swear to God, if you’re sitting here telling me that you been molesting my…”

“Stacy I didn’t molest her…it was consensual….”

“How can you have consensual sex with a child, Matthew?! That’s rape!” By now, I was on my feet and shouting into my phone. What I was hearing had me shaking.

“Stacy, please stop yelling. I don’t know who’s around you and…”

“I don’t care who’s around me!” I cut him off again.

“Stacy, I think we should just finish talking about this in private,” he spat, then he had the nerve to end the call. I called him back and left a voicemail so ugly and so out of my character that even my mama wouldn’t know who I was, then I followed it up with a text message that took me a whole five minutes to type out because my phone kept autocorrecting me.

By the time I’d sent Matthew the nastiest text he’d probably ever receive in his life, I had tears flowing out of my eyes and I was so angry that I couldn’t even breathe. Screw working. Behind or not, there was absolutely no way that I was going to be able to concentrate on anything after what I’d just found out. This took the cake; I was definitely divorcing Matthew now.

27 ALAYNA

Where we going?” Elise asked me, climbing into the backseat of my car. She had a smile on her face, and she was genuinely excited since she wasn’t expecting me to be the one to pick her up from school.

“Well…we’re going to the zoo, then we’re going to have dinner…maybe some ice cream, and then we’ll go to my house and have a slumber party. How does that sound?” I asked her, shifting my phone to airplane mode.

“Good,” she agreed, nodding her head. I smiled in agreeance, and then pulled away from her school. It did sound good.

Heading towards the zoo, I put on the radio and zoned out with thoughts of who I’d just found out was my mother. It took me a while to come to grips with the information that Cecelia had given me, and truth be told, I still hadn’t come to complete understanding. I knew one thing; it was awfully coincidental that I would end up not only in the very same city as both Stacy and Cecelia, but that I would also be working for Stacy Cavanaugh.

Palming the steering wheel of my car, I took a look at Elise in the backseat, who had fallen to sleep without a care in the world. A jealous pang hit my chest. I was the abandoned one. She was the loved one. In that moment, I realized that Elise was my little sister. She trusted me. That’s why she could peacefully sleep in the backseat of my car even though I was driving a hundred miles per hour, unbothered by the fact that I could possibly wreck and kill the both of us.

Maybe that’s what I should do.

Since Stacy didn’t want one daughter, maybe she shouldn’t be allowed to have either daughter.

I should’ve been talking to God about how broken my heart was feeling, but I had been avoiding all conversation with him since the day Cecelia walked up to me in the parking lot. A part of me wanted to believe that despite the countless years of torment that I’d had to deal with, God still loved me. Now I was certain that he didn’t. He hated me, and chose to inflict every amount of suffering on me that he could, and for what?

Tears blinded me as my mind ran a million miles per second, and my foot floored the gas pedal. Zipping in and out of cars, I held the steering wheel tight and screamed so loud that Elise started crying in the back seat.

“I hate you!!” I continued yelling, banging my fist on the steering wheel. I didn’t even know who I was talking to. I just knew that I hated this all. I hated how sometimes I hurt so bad that I couldn’t breathe. I was getting myself together. I was getting my mind right, and just as soon as things started coming together for me, here comes God, ripping my heart right back out of my chest.

“I don’t deserve this…I don’t deserve this!”

“Alayna?” Elise’s voice was small, and I could barely hear her whimpering over the loudness of the radio and my own screaming.

“What?! Why are you calling my name?!” My anger directed toward Elise caught her off guard, and now her tears were competing to match mine.

“Stop all that crying! You ain’t got a thing to cry about! Freaking spoiled brat!” I yelled again. My foot now had the gas pedal mashed down to the floorboard, and I was contemplating purposely flipping this car.

I had no reason to live.

Zipping in and out of cars, my rampage continued on while I had appeared to have turned on the God I used to worship, the God I gave the credit for having not lost my mind when I was bouncing around from foster home to foster home. I praised God when Stacy hired me to help her out with Elise, and not only overpaid me for a job that could’ve been done by any high school neighborhood kid, but she also allowed me access to her home and any of her resources. I thought she was a blessing, and now finding out that she was my mother made me feel tricked. Did she know who I was this entire time?

“God, if you love me…. if you say you love me, then why do you make me hurt this bad? I need you right now…”

My voice was near a whisper by now, and my hands were so tight around my steering wheel that I could see the green in my veins starting to pop out. I was desperate for stability, and I needed it quickly before I did something that I could never come back from.

The flashing blue lights behind me brought me back to reality, and as if I didn’t just have a meltdown with God in the midst of the most chaos I’d had in a long time, I was suddenly overtaken by an overpowering sensation of peace.

Slowing down to ninety, then eighty, seventy, and then fifty, I pulled over on the side of the road and tried to console Elise, who was still crying in the backseat.

“It’s okay baby,” I told her, reaching back and rubbing her leg, “I’m so sorry, Elise.”

The officer approached my car with caution and a flashlight, even though it was still broad daylight.

“License and registration, please,” he asked me, peeping through the tinted windows of my car into the backseat. Elise should’ve been in a booster seat because she was so small for her age, but I didn’t have one for her in my car. I hoped he wouldn’t notice.

Handing over my information, he looked at it and then back at me with restraint.

“Ma’am, I clocked you at going over a hundred miles per hour. Now the speed limit is 65 miles per hour. Do you have some type of emergency that has you going so fast?” he asked, staring me intensely in the eyes and waiting for an answer.

“I’m sorry sir, I didn’t realize that I was going that fast. I guess I just have a heavy foot sometimes when I let my mind wander,” I chuckled, and then matched his stare and hoped that he chose to ticket me and keep it moving. I didn’t have time for the drama. Flashing his light into the window of my backseat, he questioned me about Elise’s age.

“She’s seven,” I lied, “she’s just small for her age.”

Quickly checking out Elise in the rearview mirror, I was grateful that she was at least buckled up. She was still visibly upset, but at least she’d cleaned the tears off her face.

Coming back face to face with the officer, it seemed as if each second began to creep by and when he finally announced that he was letting me go with a citation, I unconsciously began to thank God.

Pulling away and back onto the road, I switched my phone back into service, expecting a call from Stacy as soon as she realized that someone else had grabbed Elise from school. I then decided that I would spend the day with Elise anyway. I needed to get her calm, because the last thing I needed to do was get into it with Stacy behind her child. That would surely not end well.

28 CECELIA

Girl, you know you’re the last person that ought to be coming up in here.” I chastised myself as I stepped into the small, empty church. I had to force myself to quiet down the voices that were sounding off in my head as Bree and I made our way down the middle aisle. The church was quiet and cold, but beautifully decorated. It reminded me of the last church that I’d been to in Chicago, nearly twenty-seven years ago. Central Hill Missionary Baptist Church was my mother’s favorite church to attend, and we went religiously every Sunday until she died. I hadn’t set foot inside of a church since.

Taking a seat on one of the empty pews about halfway to the altar, I took a deep breath and motioned for my daughter to sit next to me.

“Ma, how is coming to a church gonna help us?” she asked, looking out of place herself. It wasn’t that I’d taught my child not to believe in God, but religion had never really been a topic in my household.

“Cuz if my mama didn’t teach me anything else, she always did say that when you have nobody else, and no way out…that God is your way out,” I told her, trying to even convince myself that I truly did believe in what I was saying.

It was funny how you end up turning to everything and everybody except for God—until your back was completely against the wall. I hadn’t gone through anything, including the death of Bree’s father, that was enough to make me come to God; but after Scar’s last visit, I was seeing that I didn’t have any other options.

“God, why couldn’t she have just given me the money,” I spoke out loud in my attempt to pray. I let my head fall completely into my lap. I still had on my scrubs, and the exhaustion of not getting any sleep the past three nights in fear that Scar would track us down to make good on his promise had caught up to me. I had tried reaching out to Alayna again, but she still wasn’t picking up. She could’ve gotten the money I needed from Stacy, and I could guarantee that Stacy wouldn’t have even missed the money. I knew that Scar would probably be making his way toward the house, and though Bree and I had been spending the last few nights in a hotel, I was still afraid.

Tears fell down my face as Bree and I grabbed hands with one another. This moment felt so familiar to me. I thought back to a time when I was thirteen years old. My mama loved God with all her heart, mind, and soul, and she would drag me to church religiously. As a young girl, I didn’t know much about religion, but being poor and having no family around to help us out, my mama used to always say that she was depending on God, and God only to make a way for us. I figured he’d been doing that. We might not have been able to afford to get me the best clothes, or to get my hair done professionally like some of the other girls I used to go to school and church with, but we were eating and we had a place to live.

My mama was a housekeeper for this white man who had even given my mother a car when she first started working for him. Everything was normal in my opinion, until my father walked back into our lives.

Four years prior, we’d escaped to Chicago from Mississippi where my daddy thought that it was his duty to beat on my mama for any little mistake. My mama didn’t want me growing up like that, so we escaped all the way across the country and with nothing, my mother made a life for us in that brand new city.

The night my father tracked us down, I prayed that God wouldn’t let him do anything bad to my mother. I figured he’d answered my prayer because their exchange started out with him apologizing, and begging my mother to show him some mercy. When my mother agreed to let him stay for a couple of months while he got back on his feet, I thought that maybe my daddy had changed. Truthfully, I was still scared and when they started arguing only a few weeks later about the fact that my father was making himself too comfortable in our new home, I prayed and prayed for God to stop him from jumping on my mother. That time, God must’ve not been in the prayer answering services because my father beat her to death. Till this day, I don’t know what kind of drugs would make him crazy enough to be able to beat a person who hadn’t done anything but love him like that.

I never went to another church, and as I bounced around from foster home to foster home throughout the duration of my childhood, my heart grew cold to God and it remained that way when I met Bree’s father, and even when I moved here to Houston. It wasn’t until this situation with Scar that I even considered that I truly needed a God who could move mountains.

Neither Bree or me knew how to pray, but we spoke to Him in the best way that we knew how. Eyes closed and tears flowing, I begged for a miracle.

“Excuse me,” a voice interrupted our moment. Shifting my eyes up to a tall man, I looked around and for a moment considered that maybe he was an angel or something.

“I’m Pastor Bryant. Do you need me to pray with you?” he asked, reaching his hands out to Bree and I. I apprehensively nodded my head. Surely this man of God could get a prayer up to Heaven.

“If you wouldn’t mind, we would love for you to pray for us.”

“What’s your name?” he asked, leading us from the safety of our pew.

“I’m Cecelia, and this is my daughter Bree,” I told him. He simply nodded his head without another response. I followed him and Bree followed me all the way down to the altar. The lights seemed to shine bright down at the altar. Pastor Bryant dropped down to his knees right on the steps, and slowly but surely Bree and I followed suit, eyes closed and heads bowed.

“Heavenly father, we come to you humbly offering you our hearts, Lord. Father God, we come to you in assurance that you are the God who can hear the cries of our hearts, Lord. You are the God who knows just what we need, and Father I lift you and only you up. Heavenly Father, we thank you for life. God, we thank you for another opportunity to breathe, and to come to you with the faith that you will supply all of our needs. God, your word instructs us to draw near to you, and Lord God you will draw near to us. Heavenly Father, I ask that you see the faith that Cecelia and Bree have by coming to you in their time of need. Lord, you are the God who sees all, and who knows all, so Lord you know exactly what the very crevices of their hearts desire. Father God, it is your word that declares that no weapon shall prosper, and Heavenly Father we thank you that nothing coming up against your children will prevail. Father God, we understand that there may be weapons drawn and even formed, but Lord God we thank you tonight that your word has declared that those weapons won’t prosper! Lord God, we thank you for the kind of love that you show us, even when we don’t show you any of that love in return. Lord God we thank you for being the forgiver of our sins, and Heavenly Father we ask for a miracle in the name of Jesus. God, we ask that you move mountains in Cecelia’ and Bree’s lives tonight. Lord God, we ask for you to make a way out of no way, and Lord God we will know that it was nobody BUT God who made all these things possible. Lord God, we thank you for the many ways that you have protected us thus far, and Father forgive us for failing to acknowledge you in those ways. Father God we love you, and we thank you that under your wings, we find comfort. We thank you that your faithfulness will be our shield and rampart. Father God, give Cecelia and Bree peace beyond their understanding. Lord God, give them the supernatural power of your Spirit to move in their lives, and reward them for coming to the throne. Lord God, do a mighty work within them, and in Jesus name their lives will be used for your Glory, Lord. Father God thank you for your presence. I feel your presence in this place, oh heavenly father. God I feel your love, and Father God I sense a shifting in this atmosphere. God I sense a shifting in the hearts of these two who have come before you with broken hearts. Father God you know the journey they’ve traveled thus far, and God you have the ability to make their paths straight. Thank you God for hearing and receiving this prayer. In the mighty name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.”

29 CECELIA

After leaving the church, there was a sense of peace in my heart that I could honestly say I had never felt. Even Bree seemed like she’d been touched by that heartfelt prayer that the kind pastor prayed for us. We rode back toward our home in silence. This was the definition of having faith in God. Only the Lord knew what we were heading back to, but I could no longer afford for us to stay another night in a hotel, and I couldn’t keep running from Scar.

As we pulled up into my apartment complex, I was nearly blinded by the flashing blue and red lights. Multiple cop cars were spread out across the parking lot, and I couldn’t even park in my normal spot in front of my house.

“I wonder what happened?” Bree questioned. Crowds of onlookers were standing around, and as Bree and I climbed out of the car, our eyes followed theirs towards the apartment two doors down from mine.

As we approached our house, a cop who was protecting the premises of what I assumed was to be a crime scene even though I couldn’t see a victim placed a hand out, stopping us from getting any closer.

“Sir, I live here. What’s going on?” I asked the police officer.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but right now no one is allowed access to this crime scene. We’re doing our best to be swift, but we have a threatening situation that needs to be handled with care. Please step back,” he explained. I didn’t even get the chance to ask any further questions, because moments later I saw the man who’d been torturing me for months now being carried down the stairs in handcuffs. Angry curse words spewed out of his mouth as he fought against the three officers that it took to apprehend him. I could tell that they’d had a fight on their hand, because Scar’s head was bleeding as was one of the officers.

During the midst of the shuffling and Scar fighting against the cops even while in handcuffs, it caused him and the officer leading him to fall down the rest of the way. They came crashing onto the sidewalk, and Scar used the opportunity to shove his boot into the officer’s face. Suddenly, all of the officers joined in and began stomping and kicking a handcuffed Scar in retaliation. It was like a scene out of all the viral videos that I’d seen on social media. People in the crowd watching began yelling at the police officers, and then the chant ‘black lives matter’ ensued. Some people began videotaping, and in the midst of all the chaos, Scar shifted his head and looked me right in my eyes as the cop he’d kicked roughly yanked him up from the ground.

The hatred that fell over Scar’s face while he looked at me brought chills over my whole body. Bree stood next to me with tears streaming down her face, and without warning Scar shifted quickly before being forced into the police car, grabbing ahold of the gun on the hip of one of the police officers who was standing near.

POW! POW!

Two bullets flew from Scar’s newly obtained weapon.

POW! POW! POW!

Three from the weapon of another officer.

Bree and Scar’s bodies seemed to fall simultaneously, and as my attention shifted down to my child, a scream from my soul escaped my mouth. Blood was everywhere, and I couldn’t even tell where her injuries were coming from.

Within what felt like seconds, I could hear emergency vehicles swarming the area, and then a pair of strong hands lifted me up away from my child. Kicking and screaming, whoever was behind me had to be strong to keep me from getting back to my baby. Her eyes were closing, and the emergency personnel went to work on her so quickly that I couldn’t even tell what her status was.

“Let me go! I gotta get to my baby!” I cried out, only able to think about whether Bree was going to live.

“Ma’am, you’ve got to calm down and let them do their job. She’s going to be okay…she’s going to be okay,” the soft voice of the officer holding me finally broke through my thoughts and calmed me down.

They loaded her up into the ambulance, and she was steadily losing blood. They didn’t even wait to see if I wanted to ride in the ambulance or not; they simply rolled off, sirens blaring. I took off toward my car and ignored the people calling for me to wait. I didn’t care anything about cops, or anything else for that matter. I hopped in line behind that ambulance and prayed my whole way to the hospital.

***

Playing the waiting game had to be the worst part about everything. They’d taken Bree into surgery and no one was telling me anything. If I lost my daughter, I would be in this world all alone. She was literally all I had, and I made sure to let God know that several times. It was funny how I could live my life without God, and suffer the way I had to suffer when a soul tries to live without the spiritual guidance of the Lord; but when you mess with the one thing that I would die over…when my child’s safety is called into question, I would do whatever it took and make all kinds of promises to see her through.

It took the doctors what seemed like forever to come back with some kind of news, and when the doctor stepped into the waiting area, my stomach was in knots.

“Hi, are you the mother of the gunshot victim?” he asked. I was currently the only one in the waiting room. I nodded my head, barely able to speak but willing him to tell me what was going on.

“Your daughter is okay. Fortunately for her, the bullets entered and exited without hitting any major arteries. She did have a lot of blood loss; however, we were able to stabilize her. Give us about five minutes to get her moved into ICU, and you can come up to see her,” he told me. I sighed and thanked God a million times when he walked away. Hearing that my child was okay and would live through this was a relief to my spirit, and I knew that it was nobody but God who had spared my daughter.

30 TIFFANY

I had plotted James’ murder in my mind a thousand times, and I still hadn’t yet come through with a good enough way to kill him without being implicated. We were in the middle of a divorce, and I had been seen attacking him in public, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was on somebody’s surveillance camera. With the way the DA in this city played, I’d be carting my behind to jail simply because I looked guilty.

Tianna’s confession of what her father had done to her for seven years literally left me sick. I never would’ve pegged James as a child molester. I thought I watched him well, and when I let my guard down and decided to trust him with our child, that dirty bastard violated her. Oh, the ways I was plotting this man’s murder!

I hadn’t been out of the house in days, and I wasn’t taking calls from anyone, including my own assistant. Stacy had called a couple of times, but I was also avoiding her phone calls. If I found out that she knew what Matthew had been doing to Tianna, just like she knew about all the other little seventeen-year-old girls he was getting with, I wouldn’t hesitate to add her right on the list of my potential murder victims. I needed to see about that immediately, because Elise was coming up on the age that James started messing with Tianna, and I would never forgive myself if I didn’t at least do something to try and stop her from having to go through this same cycle that her mother, aunt, and now cousin had gone through.

Throwing my legs off the couch in the basement that doubled as a second den, I couldn’t sit around any longer and wallow in the misery of my past mistakes. Tianna hadn’t come out of her room all day long either, and the silence of our home was killing me. I made my way upstairs to her bedroom and gently knocked on her door, but she had music blasting so loud that I didn’t think she could hear me.

“Tianna…” I pulled on her door knob, but it wouldn’t budge. I hated when people locked doors in my house, and Tianna knew that. Using my fists, I pounded hard on the wood until the music turned down, and then she swung it open.

“What Ma?” She stood before me with her hands on her hips. That’s why she thought she was grown. James was using her like a grown woman so she ran around the house with that smart mouth, leaving me always one word from showing her what being grown really meant. I was trying not to cry again, but being able to look back and see what I should’ve been able to see all along was sending me into a state of depression. Both Stacy and I had blamed our mother for years for not doing anything when daddy snuck into our rooms at night, and I swore up and down that she knew. We’d done an unforgivable thing based on the assumption that she knew, but as I looked into Tianna’s eyes and saw her for the baby that she was, I could honestly say that I had no clue her father was doing those things to her.

“Let’s go see your father. It’s time we make him pay for what he did to you,” I told her, stone faced and rechanneling my sorrow into anger. Her face flashed a moment of disbelief at first, and then she quickly shook her head. She started to say one thing and then I could see her considering my idea, clearly conflicted and caught off guard by my suggestion.

“What should we do?” she asked, her voice evident of her heart’s desperation. Her eyes told me that she wanted revenge, and I could relate because I wanted it just as badly as she did. This moment reminded me of a moment years ago when Stacy and I were staring into one another’s faces having the exact same conversation.

What do you want to do, Tiffany?” Stacy whispered, sitting on the twin bed parallel to mine. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew Stacy wasn’t as ruthless as I was. Some might have called me mean, but I was just sick and tired of rolling over and letting life beat me down like it had beat my weak minded mama down.

I wanna kill him,” I told her, meaning evert word that came out of my mouth. There it was. That shocked look on her face that told me that she wouldn’t be down for it. I was fifteen years old, and Stacy was sixteen. We weren’t technically old enough to live on our own yet, but the both of us knew enough to survive in this world a couple of years, especially since I knew Daddy had just gotten his income tax check in. I’d already planned how we’d clean out his bank account and spend the money slowly. Then Stacy and I both could find some kind of work and we’d make it just fine. I had it all figured out in my mind, but I needed my older sister to not be afraid.

You’re serious, aren’t you?” she asked me, standing to her feet and letting her permed hair fall over her shoulders. I didn’t bother to answer that question with a response. She should’ve been able to see it all over my face that I was serious.

Tiffany…we can’t kill him,” she told me in a whisper, as if someone could’ve been standing outside of our door at this very moment listening in on us. Tears were falling from my eyes now because I knew what I wanted to do, and I was convinced that this was the only way to make things right again. Our father had started on us the day I turned five. He came in like clockwork the nights he didn’t have to work, and as if one of us wasn’t enough, he’d always have his turn with me and then go have his turn with Stacy. Over the years, I’d dropped so many hints to my mother, but she was blinded by the fear of his fist. Daddy had her so afraid that she never questioned him about a thing, especially him visiting us after midnight in our shared bedroom. I hated my father, and couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t hate him. Over the years, that hatred hadn’t done anything but build up, and I couldn’t see how Stacy didn’t feel exactly as I had. She reminded me so much of mama that I sometimes hated her too, but she was all I really had.

I’m killing him Stacy, even if I have to do it myself. You can either help me, or you can be like mama and keep letting him walk all over you! I’m sick of this though! I’m so sick of it, so this ain’t up for discussion,” I decided right then and there. I left Stacy sitting on her bed to simply ponder what I’d just said to her. I meant every word, and when I finally allowed myself to make the decision that my father’s life had to end, I had to admit that for the first time since I could even remember, I felt like I could breathe. Turned out, that was the best decision that I could’ve ever made.

31 STACY

Pulling up into Tiffany’s driveway, my level of anxiety was overreaching. I hadn’t heard from her in days, and I knew that if I was right about my sister, she was already plotting to kill both me and Matthew for what he’d been doing to Tianna. If I hadn’t heard it from his own mouth, I would never believe that Matthew was a child molester. We had a daughter.

Cutting off the ignition in my car, I took a deep breath and said a prayer to God. I hadn’t been back to church since the thing with Melinda and Malachi had happened, and I could feel it. My spirit was getting weak, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with everything that was hitting me all at once. The very thought of my husband taking advantage of my niece, a little girl we’d both watched grow up, made me sick.

“Lord, give me strength. Give me strength…” I whispered before climbing out of my car and heading to the porch. The front door swung open before I even had the chance to knock.

Tiffany stood staring at me with hatred in her eyes, and I half expected her to slap me across my face. Instead, she did something that completely surprised me, and then she broke all the way down.

“I wanna kill him, sis…I wanna kill him…” she was muttering. I led her deeper into her home, closing the door behind me and settling on her couch. Her tears drew out the ones that I had been trying to hold in. Tiffany and I were both extremely sensitive when it came to molestation issues, because the both of us had suffered in unspeakable ways. I’d never told Matthew about how traumatic my childhood had been, and I was sure that Tiffany hadn’t told James either, especially considering how our parents’ lives had ended. It was an unspoken rule between the two of us that we were taking that secret to our graves.

“I’m so sorry, Tiff…I had no idea,” I told her, rocking my sobbing sister back and forth. Looking up, Tiffany tried to calm herself down but every time she tried to speak, the words would instead get caught up in the back of her throat, and she’d end up choking back more tears instead.

“How could you have known? I didn’t even know! I didn’t even know, and it was happening right in my own dang house!” she exclaimed. Looking at my sister, I found it incredibly bold that Matthew would take advantage of Tianna in her own house.

“And Tianna never gave me any kind of hint or anything. What if he’s been touching Elise too…oh Goddd…” I muttered, making a mental note that I needed to have a serious sit down with my daughter. If I didn’t know that anything was happening to Tianna, then I definitely could’ve missed it in my own child.

“Stacy, I’m not talking about Matthew,” Tiffany’s voice was low. Turning my head towards her, I cocked my head to the side in confusion.

“It was James,” she admitted. “James has been touching my baby since she was six years old,” Tiffany clarified. Inhaling sharply, chills consumed my body and my hand covered my chest in astonishment.

“James?”

“Yes. And I want to kill that bastard!” her voice was heavier this time. Looking toward the stairs, I could see Tianna coming down fully dressed, with her keys in hand.

“Hey Aunt Stacy,” she greeted me. There was nothing in Tianna’s eyes that told me she was the least bit bothered by what Tiffany and I were over here breaking down about. Had all that had happened to my niece made her as cold hearted as her mother used to be?

Standing to my feet, I rushed over and grabbed my niece into my arms, and pulled her into my chest. Her refusing to hug me back didn’t even register to me at first.

“Tianna, baby girl I am so sorry that all of this was happening to you. Why didn’t you come to me? I would’ve protected you…from James and Matthew,” I told her. She stared at me blankly at first, and then a smile spread across her face. That smile turned into complete laughter.

“Stacy look…I think you’ve got it all wrong. Matthew is nothing like my father,” she countered. “Matthew loves me…and I love him. And you should know… I’m having his baby,” she proudly announced, pulling up the hem of her shirt and showing off a small, but well-hidden baby bump.

“What? You’re pregnant?” Tiffany stood from behind me and walked toward her child.

“Yep. You’re gonna be a grandmother,” Tianna plainly told her, as if she wasn’t completely dropping a bombshell on her own mother. I was suddenly feeling lightheaded, and completely confused by Tianna’s attitude regarding this all.

“Aunt Stacy, I’m sorry you had to find out like this. Look, I love you, and I love my little cousin, but I love Matthew too. He may not act like he realizes that now, but I have faith that he’ll come around. So don’t even go thinking that he did anything bad to me. I wanted it just as much as he did. In fact, I encouraged it,” she confessed before walking past her mother and I, and out the door as if she didn’t just leave us absolutely mortified.

“She’s crazy…” Tiffany mused. “She’s crazy….my child has absolutely lost her mind.”

Staring into the eyes of my younger sister, I no longer knew how to feel or what to believe. Tiffany was right though. Tianna had absolutely lost her mind.

32 ALAYNA

*“R*aaapppeee!” Mother Zeal called my name at the top of her lungs, making me jump up immediately from in front of the TV. I’d been watching TBN listening to Joyce Meyer talk about the ways God had brought her through, and I was wondering if God was in the business of freeing young girls too.

“Yes ma’am?” I crept up to Mother Zeal’s door, a nervousness settling into the bottom of my gut. Mother Zeal’s full head of gray hair was neatly pinned back and resting across her shoulders as usual.

“Come on in here, gal,” she patted the bed next to her. A ball of yarn and two large, purple crotchet needles perched between her fingers were working overtime on the sweater that Mother Zeal insisted on making for me. I took a seat on the bed next to my third foster mother, a sixty-year-old woman with an obsession with God and the scriptures. I’d been studying all night and all day long. I only hoped that I wouldn’t mess up this time.

Grabbing the yard stick from beside the nightstand, Mother Zeal put some distance in between us on the bed and faced me with a face void of love.

“Start with the bible books,” she directed. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and performed what I’d been rehearsing for days now.

“Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers…” I continued all the way to Revelation. When I opened my eyes, Mother Zeal had a smile that was threatening to appear, which let me know that she was pleased. I huffed a short breath.

“Matthew twenty-four and sixteen?” she asked, her hand running along the length of the ruler.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the son, but only the Father,” I quoted with confidence. The fear of what she’d ask next did nothing to ease my nervousness. I had only gotten through Mother Zeal’s scripture test once before. That was on a good day when she only tested me on easy scriptures though.

“Proverbs twenty-two and six?”

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it,” I spit out with ease. She allowed the smile to spread fully on her face now.

“I see you’ve been studying. I’m pleased with you Rape, and I know God will be too. One more, and you can go start dinner,” she complimented. I exhaled and was now ready to answer her last scripture test with confidence.

“Second Timothy, chapter one verse seven.”

That confidence was yanked away in an instance, and when Mother Zeal noticed the hesitation cross her face, her smile fell from her face as well.

Tears dripped down the corners of my eyes before she even had the chance to lift the wooden yard stick.

WHAP!

Right across my face, the force of her weapon sent me flying off the bed.

“I“m sorry Mother Zeal,” I covered my body with my arms, but to be sixty-five, Mother Zeal had power behind her hits.

WHAP!

“How dare you fail God, child?!” she shrieked, lifting the stick to hit me again.

“I“m sorryyy…I’m sorryyyyy…” I cried, trying to endure another few lashes until Mother Zeal became winded.

“Now you go on down to that basement, and I don’t want you coming back upstairs until you’ve read that scripture out loud a hundred times!” she yelled.

“…power…and of love…and of sound mind…I’m sorryyyy…power…and of love…”

“Alayna! Alayna, hey baby wake up,” the sound of Shane’s voice woke me from only one of the horrible dreams that had been recurring every time I closed my eyes lately.

“Baby, you alright?” he asked, wiping at the tears that had fallen in my sleep. Just going back to those places, having such rich dreams of what used to happen to me, broke me down all over again. The Hell that I had to endure made it impossible for me to believe that God loved me sometimes. Shane’s arms wrapped around me, but they did nothing to make me feel any better.

“What’s up with you lately, girl? Having bad dreams, ignoring my calls?” Shane stood up over me with concern etched all over his face. I threw my legs over the side of the bed and tried to shake away the feelings that were enveloping me.

“I just got a lot going on,” I muttered, standing up and moving past him. Walking in my bathroom, I wished I hadn’t given him a key to my place.

“So what’s good then? What’s up with you ignoring my calls lately? I don’t usually pull up on females like this…”

“So why you here then, Shane? I don’t have time to maintain this with you,” I told him, slipping out of my clothes and turning the shower head on. He looked like what I’d said had offended him, but I had long ago ran out of caring about how my honesty cut other people.

“Don’t come hittin’ me up when whoever got you trippin’ leave you. I don’t play second, Ma,” he told me, stepping away from the door of the bathroom and out of my house. I let him leave and dropped my head in frustration.

Climbing in the shower, I knew I was taking my anger out on Shane. That was who I was. I’d been angry for a long time, but I thought that maybe God had healed me from it. I was now realizing that I hadn’t been healed from anything. My old feelings were simply dormant.

I wouldn’t let myself cry, but I felt every bit of my anger and frustration. My earliest memories were of Mrs. Zeal, and her equally overbearing husband. After a few years of permanently scarring my body up from their multiple punishments for me failing them when it came to the bible, I’d been shifted right to another home…and then another…and then another, each time stepping into a new set of demons that were fighting to break me down and make me lose my mind. I lost myself within so much trauma, and after taking a fresh start and moving to Houston, my only goal was to rebuild not only myself, but my life.

That’s why I worked so hard…taking double a usual load in school, refusing to ever let a man distract me from what I needed to do. I had nobody to carry me through this world, but I learned early on how to survive. Survival was where I excelled, and I knew how to do it despite my broken heart.

34 STACY

Mommy, whose house is this?” Elise asked me as we walked onto the porch of the small brick house. Ever since finding out what Matthew and Tianna had been doing all this time without anyone knowing, I hadn’t let Elise out of my sight. I’d already made an appointment with her pediatrician to get her checked out, but honestly just the thought of anything happening to my child made me want to lose my mind.

Knock, Knock, Knock!

I used my fist to bang on the door, letting Elise’s question hang in the air. She slipped her hand into my free hand, and the two of us waited.

I had been visiting Trice’s house, or at least the address she had on file with us for two days in a row now. She stopped answering my calls and she wasn’t responding to my visits, but I knew she was home because her car was sitting in the driveway.

Knock, Knock, Knock!

“Trice, I know you’re in there! I don’t know what’s going on, but at least talk to…” the sounds of the door locks clicking, and the chain being slid from the door stopped me midsentence. I watched the door part, and then Trice stuck her head out. Her appearance caused me to suck in a gulp of air.

“Oh my God, Trice…what happened to you?” I could tell that the injuries I was seeing were old.

“Stacy, you can’t be here. You need to leave,” she told me, not even allowing me to come inside. Her eyes drifted down to Elise, who was looking up at Trice and trying to figure out if she knew who she was.

“Trice, I’m confused. You gotta tell me if something is going on so that I can help you,” I told her. She shook her head. I could tell that something had her in a lot of fear.

“Stacy, I just want to be left alone. Can you please just go on with your life? I can’t talk about this, and I have a son who I need to make sure stays okay. Just go on and pretend you never saw this,” she pleaded. There was no way I would be able to do that. Something had Trice shook, and I had to know if Rodger Penn had anything to do with it.

“Trice, I’m not leaving until you tell me what happened. I refuse. Now if Rodger has anything to do with this, let me handle him…”

“How are you gonna handle him? That man will do anything to protect his position and his father’s company,” she began opening up.

“Can we at least come inside?” I asked her. It was strange having this conversation with her on the porch, and if Rodger did in fact have something to do with the fact that Trice looked like she’d been attacked, then something was going to have to be done about him immediately. Opening the door further, she allowed Elise and I to step inside. Her house was beautiful, but then again I wouldn’t expect anything less from Trice.

“What happened to you?” I asked her, taking a seat on her couch. Trice sat in a recliner across the room from me, and my daughter sat beside me. I handed her my phone to play games on, because otherwise she’d be glued into our conversation.

“Rodger happened to me,” she began crying.

“I don’t understand, Trice…” I told her. She slowed down her breathing while trying to keep herself calm enough to explain whatever was going on.

“I had evidence of his harassment…of not only you, but of me as well. I threatened him with the evidence, told him that I planned to expose him. I had enough of going to my own job and feeling like I had to tip toe. I needed my job though, Stacy. I couldn’t just quit…” she explained.

“So Rodger did do this to you?” I asked her, grabbing my chest at the thought of Trice dealing with all of this without me ever knowing it.

“He hired someone to. They attacked me one night while I was coming home, and then he sent me a message and told me not to bother and show back up to work. He told me that if I tried to tell anybody what I knew that he would personally ruin my life. Rodger is an evil man….”

“Trice, you could’ve come to me,” I told her. I hated that she had to deal with this by herself, especially considering the fact that she had helped me avoid Rodger’s craziness so many times.

“I know Stacy…and I probably should have. I wasn’t going to go through with anything I threatened, but…I guess I just got desperate. I needed him to leave me alone…and now look at me! I’m jobless, and soon to be without a place to live. My son has needs, and I have needs, Stacy,” she started to cry.

“I can’t believe he would hire someone to do this to you?” I felt disgusted.

“I didn’t deserve all this. He’s the creep. He’s the one always feeling me up, and then getting away with his crooked ways,” she continued venting, a hint of anger creeping up in her voice.

“You still have that proof?” I asked. I felt every bit of her frustration, and looking back on all the times Trice tried to warn me about him, I felt responsibility for what she was dealing with.

“Yep. I have video footage, and audio too,” she confirmed. I sighed as I tried to come to terms with how I was feeling in my gut. After the way the drama of my life had unfolded over the last few weeks, I knew that it was time that some wrongs be righted. I wouldn’t be able to undo the things that had happened to Tianna, nor would I ever be able to get past what Matthew had been doing all along behind my back, but in this situation I had some power. I could take the steps to right some of the wrongs that had been done to both Trice and I, and I could stop Rodger from doing anything like this to any other woman. It was time for me to finally stand on my own two feet and stop being a victim in every situation. It was time for me to fight back.

“Trice, I don’t think you need to worry about money,” I told her, sighing and crossing my legs.

“What do you mean?” she asked me, her legs tucked under her. Her eyes told me that she felt defeated, but she wouldn’t feel that way for long.

“We’re pressing forward with that lawsuit. We’ll meet with my lawyer, show him the evidence…and while we get through this thing together, I want you and CJ to come stay with me until this all blows over. Trust me, Rodger won’t be showing up at my house if he knows what’s good for him.”

I could see relief flourish Trice’s entire being. More tears fell from her eyes, and I had to fight to keep mine at bay. I was tired of crying.

“Thank you,” she whispered, standing to her feet and then coming over to me. We hugged one another for a long time and when we parted, even I felt better.

“You know we’re going to have a long road ahead of us…especially bringing a lawsuit against a company as reputable as Penn’s Accounting.”

“Stacy…no defense attorney in the whole United States of America is going to be able to fight against the kind of evidence that I have against Rodger,” Trice was finally starting to sound like her old self again.

“Good. Cuz we’re gonna need it. Go ahead and get yourself together. You can meet me at my house whenever you’re ready,” I told her. She exhaled once more.

“Thank you,” she thanked me again.

“You’re welcome. Call me if you need anything,” I told her, standing and grabbing Elise’s hand and making my way out of her home and back to my truck.

35 STACY

I wasn’t expecting to see Cecelia at my house when I made it there, and I rolled my eyes at the sight of her.

“Elise, baby go on through the garage and wait for mommy in the kitchen. I’ll come make you something for dinner in just a moment,” I told my baby girl. She happily obliged and scurried along. Stepping out of my car, which I’d pulled up to my garage, I watched Cecilia as she stepped out of hers as well.

“What are you doing here at my house again? Do I need to get some kind of restraining order on you?” I asked her, holding my purse firmly against my side and surveying the area. It was nearing dusk, and I wanted to make sure she hadn’t brought some guests with her to maybe make me pay for my husband’s transgressions.

“Listen Stacy, I come in peace,” she told me, holding her hands up in surrender. Folding my arms across my chest, I stood at the back of my car and let Cecelia approach me. Something was different about her, but I couldn’t exactly pin point it.

“Look, I just came to apologize,” she spoke quickly. Those words certainly caught my attention. I hadn’t received an apology from anybody in a long time except maybe Matthew, but a verbal apology from him meant nothing to me.

“I’m sorry Stacy…I’m sorry for blackmailing you, I’m sorry for everything,” she told me, choosing to stop with about five feet in between us.

“So your daughter…is she keeping the baby?” I asked the question that I’d been wondering since the two of them had shown up to my house. Cecelia shook her head and loose tears dripped from her eyes at the mention of her daughter’s baby.

“She got an abortion,” she told me. Looking into Cecelia’s eyes, I hated to see the damage that Matthew had caused yet another family by sleeping with their underage child. I wasn’t a soulless person. I felt real sympathy for Cecelia.

“So that’s why you were blackmailing me, huh? Because you knew that my husband was…sleeping with your daughter?” I asked her. Cecelia shook her head no again, and this time the tears were virtually flooding down her face.

“Stacy…there’s something that you need to know. There’s something that I need to tell you…something that you probably haven’t thought about in many years…and it might be hard for you to hear,” she warned me. I had to listen hard to catch all the words that were coming out of her mouth. Having found out so much new information over the last couple of weeks, I couldn’t imagine that there was anything that Cecelia had to tell me that would really be hard for me to hear. I couldn’t imagine that there was anything harder to hear than hearing that your husband had been molesting your niece, and that your niece was now pregnant with his child. Or that there was anything harder to hear than the fact that your boss had attacked your secretary to keep his own personal secrets hidden.

Staring into the eyes of Cecelia Parker, I waited patiently to hear whatever it was that she was about to tell me, and I was sure that whatever it was, it couldn’t hurt me like I had already been hurt over these last couple of days.

“Alayna, your babysitter…she’s Rape Child Jeffries.”

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Love,


Love & Other Lies We Tell

Stacy Cavanaugh has the perfect life from the outside looking in, but the unspoken lies between her and her husband Matthew have the potential to ruin everything. 'Till death do us part' becomes impossible when Matthew suddenly disappears, and Stacy learns truths about her husband that spiral into her having to confront a few of her own. Dive into the lives of Stacy and four other women connected to her, as we explore the ways your past can really haunt you, and learn just what was meant when Jesus warned that whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. This is book one of a two part series.

  • Author: C. Harris
  • Published: 2016-11-07 18:05:19
  • Words: 40519
Love & Other Lies We Tell Love & Other Lies We Tell