A Wish and a Prayer, p.1Beverly Jenkins
A Wish and a Prayer
A Blessings Novel
To my sister Arlene for her wishes and prayers
About the Author
Praise for Beverly Jenkins and the Blessings Novels
Also by Beverly Jenkins
About the Publisher
Bernadine Brown’s vast wealth had gained her entrée to many top-notch places, but this was her first foray into the inner sanctum of NASA’s sprawling Florida complex. A member of security ushered her into one of the offices, then withdrew silently, leaving her alone with the woman she’d come to see.
She was across the room and standing before a window covered by partially opened blinds. Her name was Dr. Margaret Winthrop, and she was one of the nation’s foremost astrophysicists. Bernadine had been expecting a dowdy person in a lab coat. The reality was a tall, trim woman dressed in a fashionable black suit with assessing eyes set in a cocoa-brown face as beautiful as that of any supermodel.
She gestured Bernadine to a chair. “Have a seat, Ms. Brown, but I’m not sure whether I’m pleased to meet you or not.”
Bernadine complied without taking offense at the honesty. “Thanks for agreeing to see me anyway. My apologies for intruding into your life.”
“May I ask how you found me?”
“Your mother, Lenore Crenshaw, actually. She responded to the search Preston posted on the Internet. When we spoke, she told me where you worked.”
“And people wonder why I dropped the Crenshaw name.”
The bitterness in her voice was plain, and it gave Bernadine pause; Mrs. Crenshaw hadn’t indicated that she and her daughter were estranged. Winthrop turned her back to the room, as if needing to put some distance between herself and whatever information Bernadine might be seeking.
“What’s he like?” she asked.
Bernadine inwardly smiled, thinking about the fourteen-year-old affectionately known as Brain. “He’s scary smart. Big heart. Dry wit. Wants to grow up to be Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.”
Surprised eyes spun her way.
“ ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,’ ” she quoted. “Preston’s so intellectually gifted, we’ve had to bring in graduate students from the university’s physics department to keep him challenged. When he gets older and has the opportunity to really exercise his mind, he’s going to be a force.”
Winthrop had refocused on the view through the blinds, and stood so still Bernadine wondered what she might be thinking.
“His father’s name was Lawrence Mays. He was from Philly. Preston’s named for Lawrence’s grandfather. My parents didn’t care for Lawrence or our relationship because he didn’t have a pot to piss in, or a window to throw it out of, as my mother was so fond of saying.”
Bernadine assumed the mother’s intolerance was one of the reasons for the daughter’s acrimonious attitude.
“But he was scary smart, too. Funny, witty, charming. The consummate gentleman. We met at MIT during our junior year. He was on scholarship.”
“Do you know where I can reach him?”
“He died in a car accident two months before Preston was born. I was devastated. My mother said the death was a godsend.”
Bernadine felt sorry for her. The resonating pain was palpable. “Did he have family?”
“Yes. His mother and father divorced when he was young, and his mom raised him and his sister alone. I met them once, but I didn’t go to the funeral—my parents wouldn’t allow it.”
“Any idea if they’re still alive, or where they might be?”
Bernadine shook her head at what this meant for Preston. She doubted Lawrence’s family had been given any say in the decision to send him into foster care. She wondered if they even knew Preston existed. “Did his mother know about your pregnancy?”
“I’m sure she did, but if she tried to call after the funeral, my parents never told me.”
She went silent for a short time, as if thinking back. “You have to understand; I wanted to keep the baby, but they were so opposed and I wasn’t strong then. I was twenty years old—a sheltered little rich girl from Boston who’d always followed orders—but they kept hammering away at how an infant would mess up my career and keep me from finishing school, not to mention the stain on the great Crenshaw name, so I gave in and let them arrange for him to be taken away.” Her voice trailed off to a whisper.
“I’m not here to judge you, Dr. Winthrop.”
“I know. Maybe I’m trying to justify what happened in my own mind.”
“Would you like to see a picture of him?”
“Yes.” And she wiped away the tears pooled in the corners of her eyes.
Bernadine took out her phone and brought up a picture she’d taken of Preston, smiling and holding a clipboard during last year’s August First festivities.
Winthrop walked over and eyed the image. “He looks a lot like Lawrence.”
“He favors you, too.” There was a strong resemblance in their eyes and in the shape of their jaws.
After studying his face a few seconds longer, she returned the phone. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Are there any genetic health issues his foster parents need to know about?”
“Okay. Here’s my card. If you ever feel the need to get in touch, my number’s there.”
She took the card, but shook her head. “I won’t be barging back into his life, not after all this time. Is he happy?”
“Extremely, but reconnecting with you would make him even more so.”
She didn’t reply.
Bernadine told her sincerely, “Preston’s a very special young man. If you change your mind, I know he’d love to meet you.”
But she was back in front of the window again, seemingly staring out at the sunset. “Is there anything else, Ms. Brown? I’m meeting some of my colleagues for dinner.”
Bernadine hadn’t expected such an abrupt ending, but she didn’t hold it against her. The visit had obviously opened up lingering, unhealed wounds.
“No, but thank you again for your time. Would you like Preston to know we’ve spoken?”
“No, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t contact me again.”
That was disappointing, but Bernadine let it go. “Thanks again for seeing me.” Giving the back of the black suit one last glance, Bernadine rose and walked to the door.
She stopped. “Yes?”
“My mother’s poison. Don’t let her worm her way into your lives. She only cares about herself.”
Bernadine acknowledged the warning, and softly closed the door behind her.
Later, on the flight back to Kansas, Bernadine sat alone in the passenger compartment of her private jet and thought back on the meeting.
Henry Adams, Kansas
If you don’t open it, you’re never going to know.”
The unopened e-mail had been languishing in fourteen-year-old Preston May’s in-box for more than a week, but as he and his best friend Amari July sat in Preston’s bedroom in front of the computer monitor, Preston, aka Brain, was still unsure what he should do.
“Brain, didn’t you want your birth family to contact you?”
“Yeah, but what if it’s something bad?”
“Like maybe your family doesn’t want contact, the way my birth mom didn’t? Your grandmother could’ve told Ms. Bernadine that on the phone back in November.”
Brain, ever the brain, replied, “Logically, I know you’re right, but emotionally—that’s another story. Tired of getting my feelings hurt.”
“Understandable, but suppose it’s something good?”
Preston sighed. Like Amari and the other kids in Henry Adams, he’d spent most of his life in foster care, living in a stream of homes that went from bad to worse until Ms. Bernadine swooped them up in her white jet and brought them to Kansas. Since then, life had been good. All the other kids had made contact with their birth parents in some way or another, and the experiences had gone from pretty cool, in Amari’s case, to scary, in Crystal’s, when she was kidnapped and held for ransom by her birth dad. Preston figured his encounter would be somewhere in between.
When he first began searching for his birth parents, he’d been confident about his ability to handle the results. Now he wasn’t so sure. “But why would she wait so long to send this?”
Amari shrugged. “Maybe she’s rich like Ms. Bernadine and spent the winter in France or someplace. Maybe she’s been in the hospital. I don’t know.”
Preston didn’t either.
Amari stood. “Look, I gotta go. Told my dad I’d meet him at the garage for lunch. Text me later if you want to play chess.”
Preston nodded, but never took his eyes off the screen.
“Are you still trying to decide?” The question came from his foster mom, Mrs. Sheila Payne. She was standing in the doorway of his room. He couldn’t have asked for a better parent. She understood him, supported him, and cared enough for him that he now thought of her as Mom. He never called her that to her face, because he didn’t think it was right until he was officially adopted, but in his mind he was her son.
Her husband, Colonel Barrett Montgomery Payne, was a different story. He was a retired marine drill sergeant and a hard-ass. He and Preston had been making progress in their relationship, but the colonel was having issues with Preston’s search for his biological parents, and their clashing led to them backing off each other, again. “Yeah, I am.”
She walked up behind his chair and gently placed her hands on his shoulders. “You really should open it, son. It’s the only way you’ll know.”
“Amari said the same thing, and you’re both right, but—”
“Scared there might be drama?”
“Yeah. I’ve had enough of that in my life.”
She squeezed his shoulders affectionately. “It’s up to you, but the not knowing is adding its own drama. Might be best to read it and get it out of the way.” She paused as if to let that sink in for a moment. “Lunch’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
“What’re we having?”
“I’m not sure. The colonel’s cooking.”
His panicked face met her kind eyes. “But it’s Saturday—aren’t you supposed to cook today?”
“Barrett volunteered. It’ll be okay. Promise.” Giving him a supportive squeeze, she left him alone with his screen and his thoughts.
When he and the Paynes first came together as a foster family, everything ran on a tight, no-nonsense schedule. The household awakened at a precise time, Mrs. Payne served breakfast promptly at 7:00 A.M., and the rest of the day followed suit. But now she had a job as the Henry Adams VP of social affairs, and one of the first casualties had been what the colonel called household discipline. He and the colonel were now responsible for their own laundry and for cleaning up after themselves, and meals were no longer served at the exact same time each day. In fact, on the evenings Mrs. Payne worked late, the colonel was forced to cook dinner. Because of all the foster homes, Preston knew his way around a kitchen and didn’t mind making himself the occasional grilled cheese sandwich. Plus he had a standing invitation for dinner at Amari’s or Tamar’s, so getting a good home-cooked meal wasn’t a problem.
What was a problem for him was the colonel’s inedible food. Out of respect, Preston always ate as much as he could, but the man couldn’t cook, period. And now to find out that the colonel was in the kitchen fixing lunch made Preston sigh.
He got up however, washed his hands, and prayed he and Mrs. Payne didn’t end up in the ER.
Taking his seat at the table, he nodded hello to the colonel, who was wearing a camo green apron tied around his waist that read “Marines Burn!” That the man burned food a lot made the words very apropos in their own sarcastic way, Preston thought.
The day’s concoction looked to be rice mixed with a bunch of vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and tomatoes. The sight made Preston wish for lunch from the Dog and Cow instead. He glanced over at Mrs. Payne. She looked back at him. After taking a bite, she set her fork down on the edge of her plate.
“Barrett, what is this?”
“Just a little something I threw together. Healthy-looking, isn’t it?”
“Have you tasted it?”
“Not yet, no.”
She folded her arms across her chest in the way she’d taken to doing since getting her new job. The stance reminded Preston of how Amari’s mom Lily looked when she caught Preston and Amari doing something dumb.
“Are you feeding us bad food on purpose?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been married to you for almost thirty years, and I know you can cook better than this.”
The way the colonel stuck out his jaw made Preston think Mrs. Payne was on to something.
“Forcing us to eat inedible food isn’t going to make me quit my job to come home and run Camp Payne again, no matter how much you may want that. I’ve put up with these awful meals since the winter, hoping you’d get over yourself, but I’m done. No more awful food, Barrett Payne. You hear me?”
Preston wanted to leave the table and let the married couple work this out in private, but he didn’t know how to do it without calling attention to himself. Although Mrs. Payne hadn’t raised her voice, he could tell she was none too happy. To be truthful, if what she was saying was true, and he’d been eating all this bad food just because the colonel didn’t want her to have a job, Preston was none too happy either.
She got to her feet. “I’m going over to my office and grab some files. I’ll see you both later.”
Preston wanted to protest at being left in the kitchen alone with the colonel, but she’d already made her tight-lipped exit.
In the silence that followed, the colonel met Preston’s eye. “Guess I blew that.”
“You think? Why are you trying to wreck her new life? You’re supposed to be proud of her.”
“I don’t like the way things are changing.”
“So you cook whack food? How’s that supposed to help?” Preston realized he sounded just like Amari’s mom. He wished she were there. If anybody could make the colonel get a clue, it was Ms. Lily.
But the colonel didn’t have a response.
“I know I’m only fourteen, but maybe you need to talk to Reverend Paula.”
The jaw hardened again.
“Or not.” He got to his feet. “I’m going to hook up with Amari over at the garage. I’ll text you when I’m on the way home.”
As he rode his bike into town, his stomach reminded him that he was still hungry, so he headed for the Dog.
It was lunchtime, and the place was packed. Mr. Mal July, affectionately known to Preston and the other kids as the OG, was on the cash register, and old-school music was pumping, as always.
“Hey, young gun.”
The OG must have seen something in Preston’s face, because he asked, “What’s wrong?”
“The usual,” Preston replied. “The colonel’s being a dumb-ass again.”
Mal shook his head with what appeared to be disappointment. “You’d think Doc Reg would’ve found a pill for that by now.”
“Well, things have a way of working out. You come for lunch? Be a few minutes before I can find you a place to sit. All the booths and tables are filled.”
“That’s okay. I’ll do takeout. I’m going over to the garage. I can eat there.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Preston gave the OG his order and went outside to sit on the bench by the door.
The construction workers had taken off for lunch, leaving their earthmovers and cement trucks and the rest of their equipment idle along Main Street. While he waited for his food to arrive, Preston nodded in silent greeting to some of the adults going inside, but mostly he thought about all the changes in his life. Three years ago, he’d been an overweight kid with braids and asthma, struggling to breathe in an environment that didn’t care if he lived or died. He’d had no friends, and had been forced to hide his brain power to keep the bullies from using him as a punching bag every day after school.
Now he was in Henry Adams, and happier than he’d ever thought possible. He had friends, family, and people who cared and considered him special. He even had a mom who’d gone from being a meek little lady mouse to the VP of social affairs. He was real proud of her, even if the colonel wasn’t. And now he’d been contacted by his birth family. He turned his mind to that. All his life he’d wondered who his real family might be, and why he’d wound up on the garbage heap of foster care. He’d imagined all kinds of scenarios, from having been stolen from the hospital as an infant by some psycho to having been given up because he wasn’t wanted. The latter held the most pain, and the reason he hadn’t opened his e-mail. He didn’t want to learn that he’d been discarded like an old Game Boy, but as everyone kept reminding him, he’d never know the truth if he didn’t read the message sent by his biological grandmother, a woman named Lenore Crenshaw.
A Wish and a Prayer by Beverly Jenkins / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes