Stepping to a new day, p.1
Stepping to a New Day, p.1Beverly Jenkins
Map of Henry Adams by Valerie Miller
To everyone searching for a new beginning
About the Author
Also by Beverly Jenkins
About the Publisher
Riley Curry, the former mayor of Henry Adams, Kansas, stood on the balcony of the seedy LA motel he now called home, and wondered how he was going to sneak out of town. He owed money to everyone from his landlord to the utility company to the trainer boarding his six-hundred-pound hog, Cletus, and he didn’t have a dime to his name.
When he first came to LA a year and a half ago, he just knew Cletus would be the next big thing and make Riley so much money he’d be swimming in it. Hadn’t turned out that way, though. The only thing he was swimming in was debt. None of the big-time movie producers or television execs would see him so he hadn’t been able to pitch the scripts he’d written, or show them just how smart his hog was. He was told he needed an agent to get a foot in the door and after weeks of poring over the Internet, he finally found one. However, when the only acting job she could find Cletus was a walk-on in a no-budget horror flick, Riley fired her. Cletus was talented enough to star in his own project and Riley wasn’t about to let all that charisma go to waste in a slasher flick headed straight to DVD.
“Hey, Mr. Big Time! You got my rent?” It was his landlady, Vera, a mean-eyed, foul-mouthed, purple-haired, ex-professional wrestler as seedy as the motel she owned. She was on the walk below standing next to an industrial-sized laundry hamper filled with the dirty sheets and towels she’d collected from the rooms.
“I’ll have it for you on Monday.”
“Friday!” she shot back, “or you’re out on your ass!” She and the hamper moved on. Riley hated her as much as he hated LA.
He had to find a way back to Henry Adams. It was the only place he knew to go. He’d called his former wife, Eustacia Pennymaker, hoping to get a loan, but the maid said she was in Spain and wouldn’t be back in the States for a month. His calls last winter to Bernadine Brown and his other ex-wife, Genevieve, weren’t even answered. In Riley’s mind, his life being in the toilet was still Genevieve’s fault. If she hadn’t walked out on him, he and Cletus would still be living in the house her father gave her as a wedding gift, the old loan shark Morton Prell wouldn’t be dead, and Riley would still be secretly tapping into Genevieve’s bank account. Having access to her money would also solve another looming problem. Wheels. Or lack thereof. His old truck died last week and the jackleg mechanic he’d found quoted him a repair price that almost gave him a heart attack. The little bit of cash he had left was enough to pay for the gas needed to get him and Cletus back to Kansas, but not if he had to repair the truck, too. What he needed was Bernadine Brown’s junior felon, Amari, to steal him a car, but that wasn’t an option, so he’d have to come up with another way to escape LA before Vera tossed him out on his rear.
A couple of time zones away, TC Barbour drove his brand-new silver Dodge Ram the short distance from the home of his nephew, Gary Clark, to the building the Henry Adams locals called the Power Plant, site of the town’s administrative offices. He’d arrived a week ago on a cross-country drive from his hometown of Oakland, California. Being retired, he had no real destination in mind, but he hadn’t seen Gary in decades, so when they talked on the phone TC decided to accept his nephew’s offer to stop in and stay awhile with him and his teen daughters, Leah and Tiffany. TC’s business at the Power Plant had to do with a part-time job Gary mentioned in passing, one that entailed being the driver for the town’s owner, Ms. Bernadine Brown. He’d driven a big rig at one point in his life and having never gotten a ticket driving it or anything else, he figured he was qualified. TC didn’t like taking handouts, even from family, so if he was going to be bunking at Gary’s and eating his food, he thought it only right that he contribute.
The town wasn’t large by any means and the last time he’d visited, a good thirty years ago, it was so isolated and undeveloped it could’ve passed for the setting of the Little House on the Prairie television show. The surrounding area was still nothing more than wide open spaces with a house here and there, but the town center had changed dramatically. Paved streets replaced the dirt roads. There were streetlights and sidewalks. He drove past a diner with the head-scratching name of the Dog and Cow, a large school, a church with beautiful stained glass windows, and a long building with a sign out front that read: “Henry Adams Recreation—Senior Center.” None of this existed on his last visit, and even more surprising was how cutting-edge they all appeared—as if they rightly belonged in a big metropolitan location like his hometown or LA. TC was impressed. After pulling into the parking lot of the equally impressive, low-slung red building that was the Power Plant, he got out and walked to the entrance.
This was his second interview. He and Ms. Brown met briefly a few mornings ago when he turned in the required resume. Gary’s teenaged daughter, Leah, had helped him with the computer typing and formatting—a blessing, otherwise he would’ve never gotten the thing done.
Now, inside the office, TC sat patiently while the woman he hoped would hire him went over his resume.
“As I stated during your initial interview, you’ll be the town driver,” she explained, looking at him from where she sat fine and brown behind the desk. “Mostly taking folks back and forth to the airport down in Hays. Nathan Nelson, the young man you’re replacing, left to attend college in Lawrence.”
TC knew from Gary that Bernadine Brown’s hand turned the world in the small town of Henry Adams. It was founded in the 1880s by freed slaves and she’d bought the place a few years ago, hook, line, and sinker. He’d never met a woman who’d owned a town before, and true to Gary’s description, she was both classy and professional. She also had a man, which was fine with TC because he hadn’t come to town to get tangled up with a woman—especially somebody else’s.
“This is a pretty extensive resume,” she continued, sounding impressed. “You’ve done everything from working as a longshoreman, to short-order cook and driving a big rig.”
He’d also lost his wife, Carla, to lupus back in the ’90s, but resumes didn’t cover heartache or the challenges of raising three kids alone.
Ms. Brown went on to explain his benefits package, one he found surprisingly generous considering the job was only temporary. “We ran a background check and there are no red flags, so if you want the job it’s yours. Just need you to sign the agreement.”
She passed the document his way and the words on the paper swam before his eyes like letters in a bowl of alphabet soup. He patted his empty shirt pocket and sighed audibly. “I forgot my reading glasses. Can you show me where to sign?”
She smiled and pointed a perfectly manicured indigo-polished nail at the line needing his signature. He quickly scrawled Terence C. Barbour and handed it back.
“Welcome to Henry Adams, Mr. Barbour.”
“Glad to be on board. When do I start?”
“Okay. What does Ms. Gibbs look like?”
“Caramel skin. Gray bob. Elegant.”
“Gotcha.” He stood. “Thanks so much, Ms. Brown.”
“You’re welcome, and please, call me Bernadine. We’re pretty informal around here.”
“Then call me TC.”
She nodded and TC made his exit. Being born and raised in Oakland, he knew next to nothing about living in a small town, but he was looking forward to the new experience.
Over at the church, Reverend Paula Grant glanced at her schedule for the afternoon. Having earned degrees in both theology and child psychology, she was actually Reverend Doctor Paula Grant. She served as priest at the Henry Adams African Episcopal church and as counselor to the town’s lively children. The day’s docket included a session with twelve-year-old Devon July, the adopted son of mayor Trent July and his wife, Lily. Devon started life in Henry Adams wanting to preach the Word but had given that up, and now Paula, his parents, and everyone else in town was trying to help the boy find himself. His acting out and rigid opinions had earned him two serious beatdowns from his BFF, Zoey Raymond Garland. As a result, he’d sort of gotten his act together, but his counseling sessions remained ongoing. She was also scheduled to meet with high school senior Eli James, whose dad, Jack, taught at the local school. Eli had never been one of her regulars. His dad had suggested the visit in order to try and determine what was going on with his son. Apparently Eli had become withdrawn and moody. It was a common stance for kids his age but Paula wanted to talk to him to make sure there wasn’t something serious happening beneath the surface.
Devon arrived after school.
“Have a seat, Dev. How was school?”
He shrugged off his backpack and sat on her orange office couch. “It’s school,” he replied unenthusiastically. “Mr. James gave us a lot of homework. As always.” Devon was thin, the color of a chocolate drop, and had a round head. He’d grown a few inches over the winter and was significantly taller than he’d been when Paula first came to town three years ago.
“Mr. James gives you lots of homework because he wants you to be as smart as you can be. Helps out when you become an old adult like me.”
He flashed the smile that had won him the hearts and screams of the groupies he’d collected during last winter’s performance of the band he was in before his parents, Lily and Trent, made him cut his online and off-line ties to the girls. “When’s the band’s next performance?”
“Not sure, but we’re still practicing on the weekends.”
“You guys are really good.”
“So you and Zoey still BFFs?”
“Yep. No more fighting.”
“Good.” Although everyone understood why Zoey reacted the way she had when Devon pushed her buttons, she too was one of Paula’s clients because of her sometimes over-the-top temper. “Anything you want to talk about today?” She watched him think that over.
“I think I want a girlfriend.”
Knowing what she did about him, Paula wasn’t surprised by the response. “May I ask why?”
“Amari has one—at least he used to until she moved—but Preston does, and Zoey likes Wyatt, so I need somebody to like, too.”
Amari was Devon’s older teenaged brother and Preston was Amari’s BFF. Wyatt and his grandmother were recent arrivals in town and he was Devon’s age. “Do you have someone in mind?”
He shook his head.
“Then I wouldn’t worry about it. The right person will show up at the appointed time.”
“You think so?”
She nodded. “And whoever it is should like you for being Devon—not because you can sing and are in the band.”
He was one of the most talented kids in the state and his parents, who’d turned away more than a few unscrupulous would-be agents, were determined he not be sucked into the hype tied to that. He’d been raised by his now-deceased grandmother and she’d spoiled him rotten. His adoptive parents were doing a great job of undoing that as well. “So how are you and Amari getting along?”
“He’s an awesome big brother. Makes me think about stuff.”
“Like what kind of person I should be. I told him I want to be him but he said he’s already taken so I have to be myself.”
“And what do you think about that?”
“I want to be a boss like him but I’m boring.”
“I don’t think you’re boring.”
“Girls think I am, at least when I’m not on the stage.”
“Your time will come. Just keep doing the right thing and believing in yourself.”
“Okay.” But he didn’t look convinced.
Because Devon’s early life had been steeped in the Bible, Paula counseled him differently than she did the other kids. “God knows what your future holds so just wait and let Divine Order do its thing. Everything in its own time, right?”
“I guess.” He still didn’t seem convinced.
“You’re still real young, too. Amari didn’t get a girlfriend until recently. You have plenty of time.”
He nodded and said, “Okay.”
“Anything else for today?”
“Then I’ll see you next week. Give me a hug.”
As she held him, her heart filled with the love she had for this special young man and she whispered, “You’re going to be such a boss one day.”
He smiled. “Thanks, Reverend Paula.” He picked up his backpack and put it on. “I’ll see you later.” He exited and closed the door behind him.
In the silence that followed she’d be the first to admit that in the past few months Devon had come a long way. He still had miles to go, but that was okay.
A few minutes later Eli walked in. Tall, with dark hair and eyes, he was looking more like his handsome George-Clooney-resembling dad, Jack, every day. “Hey, Eli.”
“Hey.” He didn’t take a seat. Instead he stood, as if not planning to stay.
She gestured. “You’re welcome to sit.”
He did, but she noted his reluctant body language. When he and Jack first moved to town Eli had been surly and hard to like due to the pain he’d been carrying inside over the recent loss of his mother, but Henry Adams filled him with the tough love it was so famous for, and over time the poison drained away, leaving behind a kid who was no less hurt but seemingly focused on looking forward. In the fall he’d be enrolling in community college, as would Bernadine’s adopted daughter, Teen Queen Crystal. “So, how are you, kiddo?”
He shrugged his thin shoulders. “I’m good, I guess. Not sure why Dad wanted me to come see you. Nothing’s going on.”
She noted the way he wouldn’t meet her eyes. “All set for school in the fall?”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“Yeah.” And he gave her his first smile.
“What are you looking forward to the most?”
He shrugged again. “Living in an apartment and being sorta on my own.”
“Ready for Eli unplugged, huh?”
“You’ve earned it. You pulled your grades up. Got your head together. We’re all really proud of you. Losing your mom when you did is not an easy thing to handle. When I lost mine, all the light in my world seemed to disappear.”
Surprise brought him up straight. “You lost your mom? How old were you?”
He sat back, seemed to think on that for a moment, and said finally, “So you know how it is.”
“I do,” she answered softly. Only sh
“I still miss mine, too.”
“I don’t think it’s anything we ever get over, but we get through it. Does that make sense to you?”
“It does. I dream about her a lot.” He glanced her way as if needing the reassurance that it was okay to share his feelings. “For a while I thought I might forget what she looked like, but Dad has a bunch of pictures, so every now and then I take them out and look at her. God, I miss her so much,” he whispered. Tears shone in his eyes and he hastily dashed them away. “Sorry.”
She handed him a tissue from the box sitting nearby. “No shame here. It’s a measure of how much you loved her. Has losing her been hitting you pretty hard lately?”
“Yeah. Like out of nowhere almost. I thought I had the grief thing under control. Guess not, huh?”
“Nothing wrong with admitting that, nor do you have to apologize to anyone. Okay?”
He gave her a tight nod. They spent a few minutes sharing stories about their mothers. Paula told him about the birthday cake her mother would bake for her every year, and Eli told her that his mom always took him to the zoo on his birthday—even if it was a school day. “She made sure I got my homework the day before, though.”
“You have an advantage I didn’t have when my mama died.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have your dad. My mom was a single parent.” And she’d never shared the name of Paula’s father.
“He probably didn’t think it was an advantage. I treated him like crap.” His eyes were earnest. “I want to apologize to him but I don’t know how.”
“Admitting that you do means the right moment will show up.”
“You think so?”
“I know so. You’ll feel it. Just promise yourself you won’t let it slip by, okay?”
He nodded. “I won’t.” He was silent for a long moment before saying, “I’m glad I came to see you today.”
Stepping to a New Day by Beverly Jenkins / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes