Monday, November 12, 2007

EXCERPT: Guilty of Love

Guilty of Love

Pat Simmons

How was Cheney Reynolds to know that the most important decision in her life was the right one? Parke Jamison VI, a direct descendent of a royal African tribe, argues it wasn’t. The incomparable and sassy Mrs. Beatrice Tilley Beacon aka Grandma BB becomes their self-appointed unofficial referee, but God had already reached the verdict.


Durham, North Carolina
“Larry,” a trembling voice whispered into the phone, “I’m pregnant.”
Gripping the receiver, Cheney Reynolds sniffed back tears. She waited and waited—for soothing words of comfort, shouts of jubilation, or any response from her boyfriend. Instead, silence ensued. Seconds dragged into minutes.
A boom of laughter exploded in the hall outside her dorm, startling Cheney. High-pitched voices consumed with gaiety seemed to belittle her predicament. Fellow Duke University students were making plans for a night of partying. Cheney had to think beyond tonight. Somehow, she had lost focus and allowed her promising, secure future to be in the hands of one man.
Larry Thimes exhaled a restless breath through the phone before speaking as if his teeth were glued together. His words measured, his tone stiff, like the ugly all-season brown curtains hanging at her dorm window.
“Then you know what must be done,” he responded in a clipped tone.
“No. What?”
“Get rid of it.”
“Just like that? No discussion?” Cheney shut her eyes as darkness invaded her mind. “But—” She tasted the bile racing up her throat. “Oh, my God, no. You can’t mean that.” The room began to spin. She closed her eyes, but the dizziness was already set in motion. This wasn’t suppose to happen. She and Larry had practiced safe sex. Now she wondered if the phrase was a misnomer.
“Sweetheart,” Larry said as if talking to a child, “you’re scheduled to graduate next semester, remember?”
“I know, but—”
“You’re enrolling in Duke’s Global Executive MBA program. Plus, I’m completing my J.D. and will be busy studying for the bar.”
“I can’t even support myself. Sorry, a baby isn’t an option for us right now.”
Stress deepened the lines in Cheney’s forehead. What Larry said was true. In addition, Cheney did want to be married before she had a baby. At least that’s what society deemed acceptable. Cheney didn’t think about etiquette when she was with Larry. What would her parents say about her pregnancy? Her mother would faint from the thought of embarrassment. Her philosophical father would gather his thoughts before advising her of his disappointment. Her older sister, Janae, would be shocked, and her twin brother—he would be ecstatic. Rainey always loved children.
Sifting through her situation for the third time that day, Cheney had to concur with Larry. A pregnancy wasn’t in their plans. After all, she had won a four-year scholarship. I can’t just throw it all away. She was an educated, up-and-coming professional, but her heart pounded against her chest, refusing to comply. “Larry, maybe we should think about this. There has to be another way.”
“No, Love. There isn’t.”
She gnawed on her fist, crying. Larry was the calm, reasonable and decision-maker in their relationship. He was the strong black man every sistah craved and every woman would endure drastic measures to keep. His charm opened doors for him as if he were royalty. He had showed her how to love and was now the father of her child. Larry mocked her when he didn’t hesitate to say, “kill it.” No, it was like a slap in the face from her lover.
A collage of their romantic moments played in Cheney’s mind. She sighed, visualizing Larry’s long, dark-chocolate fingers outlining her lips when she smiled or right before he smothered them with kisses.
Cheney remembered the night they shared their first slow dance at a campus fraternity party at the end of her freshmen year. At that magical moment, she wanted to be with Larry for the rest of her life. At the end of her sophomore year, she had shared her entire being with the self-confident, look-twice-handsome and sensitive Larry Thimes.
I could use some sensitivity right now, she pleaded silently. Didn’t Larry realize how much in love she was with him? Their souls had connected in passionate lovemaking that had produced a little miracle. A baby, their baby. Cheney shook her head in disbelief. She wanted to wake up from this nightmare.
“Cheney. There’s no point to keep discussing this.”
“There is no discussion. You’re dictating to me.”
We’ll have another child later,” he consoled before snapping, “How could you’ve been so stupid and allowed this to happen anyway?”
Did he just blame me? Larry’s harshness caused Cheney’s head to pound. Her heart ached as her stomach contracted. Suddenly, her prenatal, P-M-S, post-menopause, and any other hormones that scientists had yet to identify kicked in. I am not the one to mess with, she shouted inwardly. She couldn’t talk anymore, much less breathe. Without a goodbye, she slammed the phone down.
It had taken Cheney seven days to accept the fact that she was a pregnant, unmarried college student. Larry only needed five seconds to give a responding, “no.” At least she had juggled the idea of motherhood versus a career, and the sacrifice they would have to make.
“Why couldn’t he say, ‘A baby? Honey, that’s wonderful, or ‘What do you want to do?’ or ‘We can get married now or later’,” she fussed to no one. Instead, Larry had failed the ultimate test. Sitting still on her narrow twin bed, Cheney listened as water dripped from a corner sink and voices shouted in her head.
The boisterous women had moved inside to the adjoining suite connected by a small bathroom. Mentally tormented, Cheney collapsed against the wall, rubbing her belly. The phone rung, but it was her prerogative to ignore it.
She couldn’t stand Larry’s name at the moment. “I sure don’t want to hear your voice,” Cheney said, needing time to think and pray. She sobbed instead.
As an hour ticked by, Cheney’s swollen eyes half-registered the room’s blackness. To wake up from a bad dream, she forced her body to the sink and patted cold water on her numbed, red face. She sighed at her tousled reflection. “I’m pregnant.” Cheney yanked her long, black hair as if she was about to extricate weeds from a manicured lawn. “Career or motherhood, what am I going to do? God, if I ever needed you, it’s now.”

Five years later
Ferguson, Missouri

Four-year-old Cheyenne Reynolds slammed the screened door, limping into the house. Tears trickled down her plump cheeks. Faint traces of blood and grass marks stained her pink-and-watermelon-green short set. Dirt played tagged with her once clean ruffled socks and new Keds.
“Mommy, I fell off my bike. I’m bleedin’. Am I goin’ die?” Her bottom lip trembled.
Kneeling, Cheney examined the scrapped skin below Cheyenne ’s knee, and relaxed—nothing requiring stitches. She was still amazed how her daughter’s temperament was so much like hers when she was younger, especially the over-dramatization about the smallest mishap.
“No, sweetie, you’ll live to be an old woman with a house full of your own munchkins.” Cheney smiled.
The child giggled, forgetting her mishap.
Cheney laughed and opened her arms wide to comfort her daughter whose eye lashes were saturated with tears. Meticulously, Cheney picked leaf fragments from her daughter’s hair, smoothing back wild black strands that had escaped from two braids.
Cheyenne laid her head against Cheney’s chest, casting an angelic upward look. “Ooh, Mommy, it hurts. It hurts,” she whimpered. “I can’t walk.”
“I bet a Bugs Bunny Band-Aid will make it feel better, and then you’ll be able to ride your bike again. Okay, sweetie?”
Liking the sound of that, Cheyenne nodded and squeezed her mother with all the strength her tiny arms could muster. “You’re the best.” She smacked a hard, wet kiss against Cheney’s cheek. “I wuv you, Mommy.”
Savoring the moment, Cheney closed her eyes, rocking the preschooler she had created with Larry—no doubt an established attorney by now, but a non-existent father who had fought her daily to terminate the pregnancy.
“Just do it! It’ll be over before you realize it, and we can get back to the way we were,” Larry had said in a frustrated whisper, waiting outside her dorm room. For days she hadn’t returned his calls and had avoided him in the dining hall.
Not to be disregarded, Larry had come to see her after a morning exam. Presenting a long-stemmed rose, he displayed an expression laden with guilt. Without much coaching, he guided her to a secluded bench on the other side of campus. Neither hinted at the turmoil raging between them as they walked unhurried.
Once they were seated, Larry intertwined his fingers through hers. He inhaled, held his breath, and exhaled as he stared at a passing car. Cheney didn’t rush him. Her heart was heavy, too. She turned and looked at his dark skin, high cheekbones, and large lips. She wondered who their baby would look like.
Larry allowed Cheney the scrutiny before loosening his fingers. He snuggled closer, cherishing her like she meant everything to him.
“You know I love you,” Larry whispered.
Cheney’s eyes welled with tears. She needed to hear that. “Larry, I love you so very, very much, but I’m scared, confused, and excited.”
Larry grabbed her around the waist, recoiling when he touched her stomach. “Baby, our love is strong and endless, we can’t let anything— I mean anything come between us, including this mistake. That’s all this is, a mistake, not a baby. We’ll get through this. I’m here for you like always. Just do it. “
Within days, their tranquility shattered. Tempers flared and disagreements became commonplace. Larry accused her of not thinking rationally about their future. To the contrary, that’s all she had been contemplating, and she was starting to accept the idea of becoming a mother. But the stress and despair overtook Cheney in her weakest state. She submitted to Larry’s demand, beguiled by a romantic dinner, a seductive body massage, and a dozen roses.
Honking horns jolted Cheney back to the present and the green traffic light. Fanning her sweaty face, she swallowed back tears. A trembling hand gripped the steering wheel. She cleared her throat, and mumbled, “It’s water under the bridge.”
Yeah, right, but the recollections caused Cheney’s nostrils to flare. Anger rose up within her. She felt like she had enough hostility to beat down an army, agreeing to something that had succeeded in pulling her into hell.
She didn’t ask for them, but the memories had faded in and out during the past five years. Sometimes Cheney could still taste the fear and feel the uncertainty of being an unwed pregnant college student.
Their loving relationship disintegrated after she allowed Larry to take her to Crist Clinic in Jacksonville , North Carolina . She cried all the way; he concentrated on driving. Once inside, Larry didn’t hold her hand or glance into her grief-stricken eyes as they waited. To add further insult to injury, he had refused to go into the counseling room with her. “It’s nothing more than woman talk. I know you can handle it.”
Cheney found herself begging God for some guidance. When He didn’t answer, Cheney knew she was on her own. The nurse’s words of wisdom seemed to reinforce what Larry had suggested, “You made the right decision because your man doesn’t look like he wants to be tied down with a small fry.”
The final nail in her coffin was his nonchalance after their child was ripped from her womb. No whispers of I love you, or warm hugs. Basically, get over it. Larry wasn’t even cordial enough to ask if she was okay. “I should’ve recognized the signs,” she told herself. God didn’t give her any signs so the decision was hers.
Four days later, Cheney laid in Duke University Medical Center as blood drained from her body. The doctor who had performed the abortion had perforated her uterus. She endured fitful nights of excruciating pain—alone.
The physical loss was small, but her mind lashed out. Ashamed, she couldn’t tell her family. Only a close friend knew about her stupidity. Leaving the hospital, Cheney had experienced post-abortion stress syndrome.
The child’s spirit lingered, haunting Cheney when she least expected. If only God had spoken to Cheney, directing her. The beautiful child that God seemed bent on tormenting her with would be with Cheney now, strapped in a booster seat and singing a nursery rhyme. Thousands of women aborted their babies every year so what’s the big deal? They got over it, didn’t they? Sure.
She had read about other women’s grief on an internet website and learned even after ten or twenty years, some still regretted their decision. “I am not one of them, God,” she taunted as if God was a passenger in her vehicle. “The dreams are not funny, either. You gave me free will, and I used it!”
The move from Durham back home to Missouri was a big step. Remaining in North Carolina would only serve to remind her of the guilt from what went wrong in her life. For the pass five years she had been too ashamed to come home and tell her family the good, bad, and the extremely ugly decisions she had made. So she did what she thought was best. Shut them out.
Cheney didn’t want to admit it, but God helped her make that decision. A month before she had hesitantly asked for a job transfer, put her condo up for sale, and gave most of her belongings away like she was holding a public auction except her stuff was free.
The decision came after she sped pass a little storefront church and refused to give it a sideways glance. That didn’t stop the sensation that God was peeping out from the building watching her. God seemed to pluck her out of the car and thrust her into a tarnished Garden of Eden. Just like Adam and Eve, God was letting Cheney know she couldn’t cover the shame of her nakedness. She audibly heard a scripture whispered into her ear, but to this day, Cheney refused to read Revelation three, seventeen and eighteen. Besides, she didn’t own a Bible.

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