Jade opened her front door and her heart sank. “Oh, my God, not again!”
Her home had been ransacked. Jade’s friend Sheena pushed in front of her to get a good look at the disarray, while at the same time reaching for the cell phone in her purse.
Jade didn’t know where to look. Destruction was everywhere. She wandered into her bedroom, seeing that the contents of the drawers had been emptied onto the floor. “This makes the second time in three months, Sheena,” she said with a sigh. “I don’t have anything. Why do they keep messing with me?” She spoke so softly that Sheena could barely hear her.
The two women had known each other since they were teenagers. It was easy for Sheena to identify the mixture of frustration and sadness that clouded her friend’s golden brown face. Just moments before, Jade had been overjoyed as she told Sheena about the ninety-seven she had just received on the examination she had taken in her Judicial Politics class.
Now Sheena’s voice was terse as she spoke into her cell phone. “Yes, I want to report a burglary at 2431 Wainwright Street. It’s in the Fairview Manor section of Camden.” Sheena walked to the door of Jade’s bedroom. “Don’t touch anything,” Sheena cautioned her. “Maybe they can get some fingerprints this time.”
“Prints? These people are professionals. You can be sure they used gloves.” Jade moved past Sheena and walked toward her son’s bedroom. “Oh, no!” Desmond’s television was gone. Again.
She blew out a long sigh. “I need to call Darrell and tell him not to bring Desmond home.”
“Too late,” she heard a familiar voice say. Jade spun around, literally bumping into Darrell, who had entered the house unnoticed behind them.
“The police are on the way,” Sheena informed them, snapping her phone shut and reaching to take Desmond from Darrell’s arms. “Hey, there, Dee! Come on, let Aunty Sheena take you into the living room.”
Jade tried – and failed – to stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks. Darrell opened his arms to her and she couldn’t resist walking into the warmth of his embrace. Then the floodgates opened and she began sobbing openly. “I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to be a baby.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Darrell said, stroking her back. “I shouldn’t have let you stay here after the first time this happened.”
“It’s not your fault.” Her face was still buried in his chest. How could I allow myself to lose control like this? Jade wondered. She had always been a strong woman. In the past, a blow like this would have been nothing to take. I’ve been through worse! What’s wrong with me?
Darrell’s voice rumbled against her ear. “Yes it is. My job is to protect you and my son, and I’m not doing a very good job of it at all.”
Jade leaned back and looked up at him. “But it’s not your job. I’m not your responsibility.”
“Yes it is, and yes you are,” he said gently. “And you’re not staying here another night.”
She stepped out of his embrace. “You’re right. I don’t need to stay here. I’m going to call my mother. I’m sure she’ll let us stay with her.” Jade turned and joined Sheena and Desmond in the living room. “Can I use your cell phone?”
“Sure,” Sheena answered, reaching into her purse.
Darrell had followed Jade into the room and now he shook his head. “I really don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Jade hesitated before pressing in her mother’s number. “Why?”
“Well, for one, how are you going to commute from Sicklerville to Camden?”
Jade thought for a moment. It was almost a half hour drive from her mother’s house in Sicklerville to the Rutgers University’s Camden Campus. “That’s not a problem. I have a car, and I can also get the train. The Broadway terminal is only a few blocks away from the campus.”
He looked impatient. “Yeah, but it’s not practical.”
“Well, you know you can stay with me,” Sheena offered.
Darrell looked at Sheena. “No, she’s going to stay in my house.”
Jade gasped. “Are you crazy? I can’t stay with you!”
“I didn’t say you were going to stay with me. I’m going to move in with my parents. You and Dee can live in my house.”
Jade was feeling stubborn. “I can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can. My house is just around the corner from my parents and since Mom takes care of Dee while you’re in school, it’s more convenient for you and for me. Besides, Dee’s room is already set up there. It’s already his home.”
“Well, it may be home for Dee, but not for me.”
“Jade, don’t make this difficult. I didn’t just think of this. I should have done this the first time you were robbed. But you insisted on doing everything on your own.”
Jade leaned her back against the wall. “That’s because I don’t want to have to depend on anyone.”
“Well, we did this your way, now it’s time to try it my way.” He sounded reasonable.
Jade knew Darrell was right about the commute. With gas prices rising, it was sure to be a burden. She looked over at Sheena, still holding Desmond. “I don’t know, Darrell, people are going to talk.”
“So, let them! Besides, they’re already talking.” Darrell took her hand. “Look, we’ve done nothing wrong. It doesn’t matter to me what people think. I only care what God thinks.”
Sheena cleared her throat. “I think he’s right, Jade. It would take you five minutes to drop off Dee in the mornings. That means you’ll have a little more time for yourself.”
Darrell smiled. “So, it’s settled. You and Dee move into my house and I’ll move in with my parents. This way, I don’t have to worry about you anymore.”
There was a loud knock at the door and a call of “police!”
“Well, that was quick!” Sheena went to answer the door.
Darrell turned to Jade. “Come on; let’s give the report so we can get out of here.”
More than a year later...
The first week of the spring semester had been tiring for Jade. And it wasn’t even over. She had to get started on a question that was due Monday morning.
“Don’t let him stay up too late!” she yelled out to Darrell from the door.
“I promised you I wouldn’t this time, didn’t I?” Darrell yelled back. “Say ‘bye to Mommy, Dee.” Desmond vigorously waved his little hand goodbye and Jade blew him a kiss. She stood at the door until the car turned the corner and was out of sight. She was grateful that Darrell had offered to pick up their son. It gave her the quiet time she needed to get that answer started – and hopefully completed! – So she could enjoy the weekend.
She leaned against the door after closing it. It’s funny how time changes so much, she thought. Places, music, fashion, hairstyles… and yet time can’t change my feelings for Darrell. She still loved him even more now than ever before.
She closed her eyes tightly and tried to push the thought of Darrell from her mind. For the life of her she couldn’t understand how or why he continued to creep into her thoughts and dreams.
Jade moved from the door, realizing that just being here was probably part of her problem. Living in Darrell’s house caused her to fantasize about the impossible. Marriage, more children, family vacations, late night… Stop, it Jade, she told herself. Back to reality, girl. The only reason you’re here is because you’re the mother of his only child.
That night when her place had been broken into – for the second time – Darrell had talked her into moving into his house. “The backyard is huge, Jade,” he’d said persuasively. “And the neighborhood is great for raising kids. He’s getting to the age where he needs the space to play and just be a little boy.” He looked at Jade with the puppy-dog eyes that had always made her feel weak, and she was won over. Just thinking about his eyes made her… Lord, you’ve got to help me. I’m reacting to his smile and the innocent touch of his hand and it’s only a memory.
Jade sat on the edge of her bed and picked up her book. A sheet of paper protruded from the book and she pulled it out. “That dang-gone list,” she murmured to herself.
Over the last few months, as part of his campaign to get her to marry him, Darrell and Jade had discussed at length the kind of wife he should have. He thought Jade was perfect; she, on the other hand, wanted much more for him than she felt she could give.
Her finger traveled over the list she had made. She knew that most of the things she felt he needed were not a part of her makeup.
One: A virtuous woman.
Two: Strong family background.
She laughed at that one, because she knew she was nobody’s dummy. She put a checkmark by number three.
Four: Strong relationship with the Lord.
She had been working on that one ever since Desmond came into her life. However, she still couldn’t place a checkmark there – yet.
Five: Saved, sanctified, and speaking in tongues.
Well, she was saved, but she certainly wasn’t sanctified and she didn’t speak in tongues.
Jade shook her head, balled the paper up and tossed it into the wastebasket beside her nightstand. She didn’t want to read the rest of it.
“Forget that list,” she said out loud.
Why had she made it, anyway? It only reconfirmed all her imperfections! Virtuous, sanctified, and speaking in tongues, that’s a laugh. And she knew that she didn’t have a very strong family background.
Jade sniffed and looked around the room. She hated being alone. Not only was she alone, but she was also lonely. She despised living in Darrell’s house. Being here forced her to constantly keep her guard up, protecting her innermost feelings. She couldn’t allow what she really felt for Darrell to show, and she certainly couldn’t allow him to get any deeper into her heart than he already was.
How in the world did I allow him to convince me to move in here in the first place? Jade laid back on her bed, staring at the ceiling. No: it’s not even my bed, it’s his bed, this is his room, his furniture, his everything. Her past had led her irrevocably, it seemed, right here to this place, this time.
Jade and Darrell had met when classes resumed one fall at Camden High School. Jade was a junior and Darrell a senior. Her family had moved from Rocky Mount, North Carolina to Camden, New Jersey, six weeks before school started. Jade had been Darrell’s first real girlfriend. Darrell entered Drexel University after graduating high school. One year later, Jade started attending Temple University. Their relationship grew and they were virtually inseparable. Everyone thought they would marry after Jade completed her undergraduate work.
However, it was Jade who decided to go on to law school, putting marriage off another three years. After completing the first year of law school, she packed up and moved to Maryland, baffling all her friends… and taking with her the secret of her pregnancy.
Jade contacted a temp agency and soon after they found her a job as a paralegal in Baltimore.
It wasn’t long before Jade found her medical bills mounting. Temp agencies have no health benefits. A coworker told her to apply to the board of Social Services for help; and, having no other alternatives, Jade finally did so. She was approved to receive Medicaid, which paid for her medical care during her pregnancy.
Jade worked up until two days before delivering her son. The firm she worked for gave her three months to return to work. They were upfront and honest with her: they wanted her back. She was the best paralegal they had had in years, and it was no surprise that when she came back from her maternity leave, they offered her a full-time position.
Desmond was born on April first, and for the three months that Jade was out of work she received a welfare check from social services, who also helped her secure childcare so she could return to work. Jade accepted the full-time position offered by her law firm; it provided a salary of twenty-eight thousand a year and benefits.
Jade had just begun to build a new life for herself and Desmond when Darrell found them. That was certainly a trying time! Jade remembered how angry Darrell was with her for not telling him about their son. Only Jade’s parents and three closest friends knew she was pregnant, though she never admitted to Darrell being the father. Jade had told everyone the same thing she had put on the birth certificate: “Father Unknown.”
Once Darrell found her and the truth about Desmond’s paternity was in the open he – along with her friends – persuaded her to return to New Jersey and complete law school.
Jade remembered how Ivy Jones-Miller had gathered her three best friends together at her house, giving each one an envelope on which she had hand-written their names: Jade Sanders, Sheena Daniels, and Miranda Jones. They were put off for a moment when they found Ivy was giving them money.
Jade remembered thinking, is this real? Her deceased husband must have left her loaded. “Well, I’m so glad you’re doing this,” Jade had said happily. “Now I can put a nice down payment on a house and …”
“… move your behind back to Jersey,” Ivy completed her sentence.
“You can move back home. This fall I want you back in law school. If you run out of money before you finish, come see me. I need attorneys to watch my attorneys,” Ivy said, laughing. “So you can pack your stuff and move your behind back home. Dee needs a father and I need my godson.”
Sheena snickered at Jade.
“Oh, you find this humorous?” she snapped.
“Very much so. The money she gave me is a bribe and a wedding gift.”
Jade smiled at the memory. Sheena was still single, so the bribe apparently hadn’t worked.
Ivy was the widow of Raymond Miller, a professional football player who lost his life in a car accident, leaving Ivy with more money than she could spend in her lifetime. And Jade had to admit that she really did want to continue with her career, not just be a paralegal forever. Ivy was making that possible; her friend was giving her a future.
I should have put my furniture in storage, Jade admonished herself now. Before moving back, she had sold everything except her personal belongings; she had every intention of living with her mother. But after a week together, she realized that was impossible. Two grown women living in the same house didn’t work at all. Staring at the ceiling, her mind went back to the conversation she had with her mother on last evening chez Nora Sanders.
“Jade Marie Sanders, are you listening to me?”
“Yes, Mom, I hear you.”
Her mother was standing directly over her as Jade sat on her bed. Nora rarely gave her opinion, so Jade felt obligated to listen to her perception of what her daughter should do with her life. “What you need to do is marry that baby’s daddy, and you should do it now. Enough of these ideas about you not being good enough for this man! Enough, do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly.” But marrying Darrell would be both selfish and evil, she thought.
Nora sat next to her daughter when she saw her drop her head and twist the ring on her finger. She placed a hand on her shoulder. “Jade, baby, what’s wrong?” Jade looked down at the floor, unable to meet her mother’s gaze. “I’ll be the first to say that if you don’t love this man, then by all means, walk away! But I know that’s not the case. You love Darrell, Jade! I know it and you know it.”
“Mama, Darrell wants things that I can’t give him.”
“There were things I couldn’t give your father, but he loved me anyway.”
There was a pause as they both thought about him; Jade’s father had passed away almost two years before from a massive heart attack. She touched her mother’s shoulder.
“Your father, Oh Lord, I loved your father.”
“I know, Mama.”
“He left me in a pickle. But I’m sure God… will…” her voice trailed off.
Jade wondered what pickle she was talking about. It wasn’t the first time she heard her mother use that statement.
Nora straightened her spine and looked at Jade unwaveringly. “Name three things you can’t give him, three reasons why you shouldn’t marry him?”
“Well, for one, he wants a virtuous woman, and you and I know the real deal on that. Number two, he wants more children, and I never want to have another child: the baby factory is closed, thank you very much. And number three, I don’t want…”
“Jade!” Jade’s fourteen-year-old sister burst into the room to greet her.
“Hey, Theashia.” Jade hugged her and kissed the girl’s cheek.
“I didn’t know you would be here today!”
“I didn’t either. Mama wanted to talk to me about Darrell.”
“Darrell.” They said the name at the same time. “So when are you going to stop all the madness and let Darrell make an honest woman out of you?”
“Out of the mouth of babes.” Nora tossed her oldest daughter a look.
“Seems to me both of you need to mind your own business.” Jade frowned at her mother.
“You are my business,” Nora said without missing a beat. “I only want to see you happy.”
“I am happy.” Jade said with a smile. “In just a few months I’ll be graduating from law school. I already have a job offer and I’m…”
“You have a job offer?” Nora interrupted.
“Yes, I do.”
“Just last week I received a letter offering me a position from a firm called Jefferson and Mann.”
“That’s great, Jade,” Theashia exclaimed with excitement. “Now you can buy me that new Xbox I want!”
Nora frowned. “Go to your room, young lady, and let the grown folks talk.”
“I knew that was comin’.”
“Bye, Ashia.” Jade waved to her.
“I want to talk to you before you leave, okay?” Theashia lingered in the doorway.
“I’ll be sure and stop by your room before I go,” Jade assured her.
Theashia smiled and closed the door.
Jade looked at her mother. “Do I really need to tell you what number three is?”
Now the phone interrupted Jade’s memory. She sighed, flipped over on the bed, and reached for the receiver. “Hello?”
“Hi, Jade. It’s Pastor Owens.”
“I apologize for calling you so late. But I’m leaving early tomorrow morning for a conference and I’ll be gone for a week.”
“Oh, that’s okay. What can I do for you?”
“We’ve had seven more kids register for math tutoring and I know you told me you didn’t want any more students in your class, but I think I’ve come up with a solution: have two classes.”
“That’s sounds like a good idea. Who do you have to teach the other class?”
There was a long pause. Jade wondered if they had been disconnected. “Pastor Owens, are you still….”
“You, Jade,” he answered finally.
Jade was silent. He didn’t just say me, did he? “I can’t teach two classes at the same time, Pastor.”
“Well, they won’t be at the same time. You’ll teach the class you have now, just a half hour earlier, for one hour. Then you’ll have a fifteen-minute break, and then you’ll start the second class.”
“I can’t do that!” she protested. “I’m having problems making it on time as it is. Now you want me to start a half-hour earlier? I can’t do it.”
“Jade, I’ll triple your fee. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to these kids. They rave about you.”
“Pastor, I can’t do it. I have a full load and I have to study for my own classes.”
“Please, Jade. Just pray about it. The parents enrolling their children are specifically asking for you.”
Isn’t he listening to me? “Pastor, I told you I couldn’t take any more students. I’m at my limit.”
“You don’t realize the difference you’re making, do you?”
“And I’m glad about that. It’s just…”
“The kids that you’ve tutored say that their grades have risen from Ds to Bs. A few of your students are making As. Each time we get a new enrollment, they want you, and only you, as their child’s tutor.”
“Pastor, God knows I’m already stretching it.”
“Jade, I know that you graduate from law school in just a few months. However, I really think your calling is in teaching. Teaching is a gift and you have a natural talent for it.”
“You’ve been tutoring since you were in high school.” There was a silent pause. “Now, I know that the teaching profession may not be as lucrative as becoming an attorney, but I think teaching is your passion as well as your calling.”
This is sounding a little like blackmail, she thought. “Pastor, I only participated in this program to help some of the kids who told me they had problems with mathematics. I never expected it to go this far. This was never meant to become my career.”
“I know that. But what I want you to do for me is meet with the parents on tomorrow morning.”
“You’ve got to be joking! All I have to myself are my Saturdays, it’s the only time I can take care of my personal business and…”
“Jade, it’s only one Saturday morning. We had a church meeting last evening, and most of the meeting was about you.”
“Look, I’m sure that the parents are grateful that their children are doing so much better. But I can’t add another class.”
“Jade, you do remember James Johnson, don’t you?”
She sighed. She knew what was coming. “Yes, of course I do.”
“You do remember that he was labeled perceptionally impaired, and the school system wanted to place him in a special school? Taking the short bus?”
“Look at him today, Jade. It was you that said he simply learns in a different way. You are the one that figured out how to reach him so he could learn. You know he took the SATs last month and scored a 975.”
“His mother was at the meeting. She came with her son and brought the report with her. You should have seen the gleam in that kid’s eyes! And do you know who he gave credit to?”
Pastor Owens laughed. “Well, he should have given the credit to God! However, he gave it to you. He stood up and told the church that if it had not been for Jade Sanders, he wouldn’t have tried to get into college. He said that you took the time to teach him and you never made him feel like he was stupid.”
“Well, that’s because he’s nowhere near stupid.”
“Jade, as a favor to me, just get together with the parents tomorrow. Be at the church at ten o’clock in the morning. Hear them out and then when I get back you and I will meet and discuss your decision.”
“You’re twisting my arm, Pastor Owens.” And it doesn’t feel good to get railroaded into this.
“Well, maybe just a little. But you’ll meet with them, right?”
Jade paused a long moment before giving in. “I’ll be there.”
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