A second helping, p.15
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       A Second Helping, p.15

           Beverly Jenkins
 
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  “South L.A.”

  “You really from there, or just somebody claiming, like the suburban kids back home always claiming to be from Detroit?” Amari asked, his voice skeptical.

  Eli stared. “What’s it matter to you?”

  “It doesn’t really, but you’re either perping or you’re real.”

  Eli was busted, but couldn’t figure out how the kid knew the truth. “You from Detroit?”

  “Born and raised.”

  Eli looked at Preston, who responded, “Milwaukee.”

  “What in the world are you doing in Kansas?”

  Amari answered by saying, “This is where we live now.”

  “How do you stand it?”

  For a moment neither of the kids said anything, then Preston said, “It’s not that bad. Tamar’s ice cream alone is worth the price of admission.”

  He turned to them, “And what’s the deal on her? Is she some kind of witch?”

  “No, but she can make you think she’s one if you get on her bad side. Last thing you want to do is wake up the dragon.”

  “Tell me about it.”

  “Look,” Amari said, “We didn’t come out here to bother you, or get all up in your business, but you look like you got some issues. If we can help or you have any questions, let us know. We’ll be around.”

  “Yeah,” Eli replied.

  They went back inside.

  Eli looked up at the moon and after a few shivering moments alone, followed the kids back inside.

  Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were crooning “Ooo, Baby Baby,” and some people like Lily and Trent were coupled up slow dancing. Standing by the kitchen door and watching them were Malachi and Rocky.

  “No offense to you, Rock, but they make a nice couple.”

  “Yeah, they do.”

  “You handling it okay?”

  Rocky knew she could tell him the truth about her feelings, they’d been friends and neighbors for as long as she’d been alive. “On one level I am. I mean, we did break things off when I got married, but when I got back here yesterday, a part of me was thinking maybe we could hook up again and he’d finally admit I was the one. But guess not.”

  Mal nodded understandingly.

  “I hated her back in high school.”

  “Really? Why?”

  “What was there not to. She was the Fabulous Fontaine. Perfect grade point. President of the National Honor Society. Wore all the right clothes. Held the state record for girls’ hurdles in track, and she was Trent’s girlfriend.”

  “I didn’t know you had issues with Lily.”

  “Yeah, well, and you know what the worst part is?”

  “No, what?”

  “Talking to her today, I don’t even think she remembers me.”

  Mal couldn’t hide his smile. “Nothing like hating on somebody who doesn’t know you’re alive.”

  “Correct. So, I’m done. Gonna move on with my life. Preferably without any more male attachments.”

  “You’ll find someone worthy one day.”

  “Don’t want anybody. I’m through with men, present company excluded.”

  “Aw come on, Rock. Don’t be so hard on us.”

  “I’m not kidding, Mal. First it took me most of my life to find somebody to marry and we know how that turned out, and did I tell you why I came back?”

  “No.”

  “Was asked to leave the truck program because I had to bust the instructor in the head with a wrench.”

  “What?”

  “He kept thinking my boobs were his personal property. Kept trying to touch me. Warned him off the first time, but when he grabbed me again, I let him have it. Sent him to the emergency room. Twenty-five stitches and a cracked skull.”

  Mal chuckled. “Good for you.”

  “Yeah well, there were plenty of witnesses to his harassment so the school offered me a big fat settlement so I wouldn’t sue. May sue them anyway once I stop being mad.”

  The song was over and they both watched Lily and Trent smiling at each other like two people in love. In response to the applause, Lily and Trent bowed, and the next song up was Charlie Wilson and the Gap Band singing the hip-shaking “Gotta get up early in the morning to find me another lover…”

  But Mal was focused on Leo, who appeared to be making his way over to Marie. “What the hell is he doing here?”

  “Who?”

  “Bernadine’s ex. See the man talking to Marie?”

  She did.

  “I’ll see you later.” And he went off to investigate.

  Leo waited until most of the crowd had drifted away from Marie Jefferson before making his approach. He wanted to congratulate her on her new honor and to see if she was really as pretty up close as she appeared to be from where he’d been sitting across the room. “Ms. Jefferson?”

  Marie looked away from the hilarious sight of Bing Shepard doing the bump with the wife of one of his farmer buddies. “Yes.”

  “Name’s Leo Brown. Just wanted to congratulate you on your honor.”

  “Why thank you. Have we met before?”

  “No. I’m visiting.”

  “Leo is my ex husband,” Bernadine said, suddenly appearing at Marie’s side.

  “Oh, really?” Marie said, looking from Bernadine to Leo.

  Mal walked up. “He bothering you, Marie?”

  She drawled, “Hard to tell since the man’s barely had time to say more than a few words.”

  Bernadine wasn’t sure whether she was being chastised but it sure felt that way, so she glared at Leo and said, “Excuse me for butting in.”

  “No problem,” Marie replied.

  Bernadine departed but Mal stayed put.

  Marie said quietly, “Mal?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Bye.”

  His lips tightened, but after giving Leo a sharp look, he made himself scarce.

  Leo said, “Pretty protective.”

  “Yeah they are. So, Leo Brown, what can I do for you?”

  “Would you have dinner with me?”

  Marie studied him for a moment. “Are you trying to make Bernadine jealous?”

  “No. I’d just like your company and maybe get to know you.”

  “Why?”

  “I just would.”

  She assessed him a bit longer, then made her decision. “Okay. I’ll bite. When?”

  He shrugged. “I don’t know. Tomorrow?”

  “That’s fine. Here. Seven. Dutch.”

  He grinned. “Gotcha.”

  “Oh, and Leo. If this is about you trying to stir something up with Bernadine, I’ll have Malachi dump you in a manure pit. You got me?”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “See you tomorrow.”

  He nodded.

  As the exuberant Leo made his way across the crowded diner and over to the exit, more than a few pairs of eyes followed his departure closely, but he paid them no mind. He had a date with Marie Jefferson and he’d be back tomorrow, seven o’clock sharp.

  CHAPTER 12

  In the dream, Amari and the hawk were driving again. The GPS said they were still traveling west. It was dark this time, so he couldn’t see the landscape, but the convertible’s top was down, the music thumping, and the moon was fat and bright. Suddenly, a tall, old, dark-skinned woman appeared in his headlights. She was standing in the center of the road. He hit the brakes. When the car stopped, the hawk let out a loud call, raised its wings, then flew out and came to rest gently on her shoulder. The woman stroked the hawk’s head and fed it a strip of meat. They appeared to talk for a moment, though Amari couldn’t hear what they were saying. She was wearing a long brown skirt. It had brightly colored symbols all over it and it brushed her bare feet. Her blouse was brown too, and on her head she wore a strange-looking, red head wrap that had a bunch of feathers sticking out of it.

  Next thing he knew she and the hawk were in the seat beside him.

  “Hello, young July,” she said. Her smile looked familiar b
ut he couldn’t place it.

  “Hi. Who are you?”

  “I’m called Tamar.”

  “You don’t look like Tamar.”

  Another smile curved her lips. “Drive on young July and all will be well.”

  Amari had no idea what that meant but he put the car into gear and continued the drive into the night.

  Amari came down to breakfast that next morning and found his dad watching over a skillet of bacon on the stove, and the O.G. at the table reading a newspaper.

  “Morning,” Amari said as he took a seat.

  “Morning,” both men replied.

  Amari said to Mal. “Thought you’d be over at the Dog this morning.”

  “Nope. Now that Rocky’s back. I can go back to my gentleman’s life of leisure. Just teasing. I’m going over later.”

  Trent rolled his eyes and asked Amari, “Sleep well?” He walked over to the table and set down a plate filled with fragrant strips of the now done bacon.

  “Had this really weird dream.”

  Mal leaned his paper down. “Scare you?”

  Amari shook his head. “No, it had this old lady in it, and this hawk. Had a dream about the hawk before, but the lady was new. She said her name was Tamar. She didn’t look like herself though. Called me young July.”

  He saw Mal and Trent share a silent look.

  “What?” he asked.

  Trent was scrambling eggs. “Did she say anything else?”

  “Just gave me her name and then told me all would be well.”

  Mal smiled. “Wow.”

  “What?” Amari asked urgently. “Do you know who she is?”

  Trent brought a bowl of fat yellow scrambled eggs to the table, then took a seat. “Sounds like the first Tamar.”

  “Who?”

  “Our Tamar’s great grandmother.”

  Amari’s mouth dropped. “Her name was Tamar too?”

  Mal put some of the eggs on his plate, “Yep. Legend has it, she used to walk in the dreams of her children.”

  “That’s crazy.”

  Trent said. “Nope. Make sure you tell our Tamar about her.”

  “Why?”

  “Because far as I know, Old Tamar has never talked to her.”

  “Is it going to make her mad?”

  Mal answered. “Hope not. Pass the pepper, would you?”

  Amari complied, all the while wondering where he could get a dream book so he could figure out what this all might mean.

  After breakfast, Amari went next door to hook up with Preston and found him home alone. “Where’s the colonel and Mrs. Payne?”

  “Airport. She’s flying to Chicago today.”

  “You didn’t want to go?”

  “No. I mean I did, but figured they didn’t need me standing around watching.” Preston took in Amari’s subdued manner and asked, “What’s up? You look pensive.”

  “Pensive?”

  “Like you got something on your mind.”

  “Yeah. Had a dream last night. The hawk was back, and he had an old lady with him that dad says has been dead for probably a hundred years.”

  “Whoa.”

  Amari told him about the dream, and the woman who called herself Tamar, then what Trent said about her.

  “Freddy Krueger showed up in people’s dreams too. Remember him?”

  “I know, but it wasn’t like that, at least not this time.”

  “You’re creeping me out, so how about we finish up the proposal for the parade?”

  “Sounds good.”

  They got out the paper they had everything written on. “Doesn’t look like it’s gonna cost Ms. Bernadine anything,” Preston said. “We may have to pay for those flag things you wanted, but just to have a bunch of people march down Main Street shouldn’t cost much.”

  “Did you ask the colonel about the Blue Angels?”

  “No.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because he’s too busy right now dealing with Mrs. Payne.”

  “But you are going to ask him, right?”

  Preston hesitated.

  “Come on, man. Tell him this is the kinda stuff dads are supposed to do.”

  Preston wasn’t so sure about that, but nodded. “Okay. I’ll ask.”

  “Good. Now, who signed up to be in the parade after the meeting last night?”

  Preston surveyed the list. “Mr. Bing and the Black Farmers. Your O.G., Mr. Dobbs and the Buffalo Soldiers. Tamar said to add the Historical Society, and Zoey and Devon.”

  “Zoey and Devon? What are they going to do?”

  “They just want to be in the parade.”

  “Okay. I guess that’s okay. We’re off to a good start, but I want the parade to be bigger than that. With that little list it’ll last all of maybe ten minutes.”

  “I know. Tamar has some of the old newspapers the college preserved for her. Remember she showed them to us last summer?”

  Amari did.

  “Maybe one of them has an article on the old parades and we can see what kinds of things they did and we can look online and see what other cities did in theirs.”

  “That’s why you’re the Brain. I never would’ve thought of that.”

  Preston beamed.

  “So let’s take our proposal over to Ms. Bernadine and Dad and they can look it over.”

  “Good idea but I can’t go. The colonel wants me to stay here until he gets back.”

  “Why?”

  Preston shrugged. “Said it had to do with safety. Doesn’t want me leaving the house if no parents are here.”

  “What, he thinks you’re gonna get hurt or maybe kidnapped or something?”

  “I don’t know. I think it may have to do with the dad thing he’s learning how to do.”

  “Oh. That’s okay then, I guess.”

  “Yeah. I’ll humor him.”

  “I have my phone with me, so text me when he gets back.”

  “No problem.”

  While Eli slept in, Jack James was outside seated in one of the lawn chairs that had mysteriously shown up this morning. He assumed Tamar had provided them and he was grateful. It gave him the opportunity to sit in the silence and sunshine and think back on last night. He was still marveling over the meeting and the warmth he’d been shown. He’d been a bit worried about being accepted because of his race, but that didn’t appear to be a problem. He and Ms. Marie would be getting together later so he could get a look at the new school. She told him that many of the items like desks and tables and chairs had already arrived and that there would be a community effort to get everything moved in after the ribbon cutting on Saturday. As far as he knew there was just a handful of students ranging in age from seven to fifteen, sixteen if he counted Eli. Eli. Thoughts of his troubled son weighed heavily. All he wanted for his son was peace but Eli didn’t seem to want it for himself. The therapist who’d treated Eli for depression said he was stuck on Eva’s death because he didn’t want to move forward in life without her. Both Jack and the therapist agreed that moving forward was essential, though, otherwise he’d never heal. Jack understood Eli’s anger at being uprooted from his friends, but for the past few months he’d been drifting into new relationships with people more bent on drinking and stealing than anything else, and Jack’s worry for him was part of the impetus for leaving California. He wanted to take him away from an environment he found not only dangerous physically but dangerous to both Eli’s spirit and future as well. Eli was a gifted sculptor but hadn’t touched clay since his mother died. Although Jack wasn’t an artist it seemed to him that bottling up a gift that way couldn’t be good. No, he and Eli had never been as close as some fathers and sons, mainly because Jack had been raised in a home where academic achievement was the only thing celebrated, so he had no idea how to coach Little League or how to fish. He couldn’t fix a bicycle chain or tell you whether a baseball glove was worn on the right hand or on the left. What he did know was that he’d been blessed with a wonderful, talented son who had his mot
her’s eyes, and no idea that his father loved him, nor did he seem to care.

  But the peace Jack wanted for his son was the peace he wanted for himself. He was battling not only a broken heart, but also a guilt that said that maybe they’d hadn’t tried every avenue in the search for a cure. Eva worked in a bookstore and he was a college professor. Neither’s health insurance plan had been the best, so all the experimental drugs and therapies the doctors wanted to try hadn’t been covered, so for the last year and a half of her life, he’d worked from sunup to sundown, teaching more classes than he’d ever done in the past in order to amass the money needed to pay for her drugs and her care. He knew Eli felt as if he’d neglected him, but Eva had been the love of Jack’s life and he’d been hell-bent on doing whatever it took, if it meant she’d live to grow old with him, but she hadn’t.

  And now here he sat in the peace and quiet of the plains in a tiny town called Henry Adams. He could very well have wound up teaching anywhere; he’d just wanted to leave California because losing her hurt so much it was hard for him to breathe, let alone go to work every day and face the bright young faces of his students who had their entire lives ahead of them. In the end, he’d resented them, their freshness, their optimism, their dreams. The day he buried his wife, the world stopped, and all Jack could hope for was that one day soon, the Good Lord would take pity on him and his son and help them find a way to get it started again.

  Seated at the kitchen table, Preston heard the garage door close and looked up from the Stephen Hawking book he was reading. The colonel entered the kitchen minutes later. One of the things Preston had learned early on as a foster kid was how to read the moods of the adults in his life, especially the drunks and the ones who liked to beat on kids. Both kinds were dangerous and could take a kid’s life if the kid wasn’t careful. That wasn’t the situation he was in presently with the Paynes, but the colonel always wore such a poker face, Preston found him hard to read. Like now for example, Preston couldn’t tell if the colonel was sad or glad that Mrs. Payne was gone. “Everything okay?”

 
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