A second helping, p.8
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       A Second Helping, p.8

           Beverly Jenkins

  “Got that right.”

  “Me, I’m stepping up.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I told Tamar and my dad that I want to be a full member of the family.”

  “What? Now who’s lost his mind? Amari, we’re foster kids. You know better than that. What did they say?”

  “Dad was cool. Tamar said yes, almost.”


  “I have to do something called a Spirit Quest.”

  “Like the kind the tribes took back in the day with the hallucinogenics?”

  “The what?”

  “The Native American version of what folks today call acid?”

  Amari’s eyes popped. “Acid? She didn’t say anything about doing drugs!”

  “That’s just one way of going about it. I’m sure she’s not going to make you do drugs. Least I hope not.”

  “You’re scaring me, man.”

  “Sorry. So what did she say you had to do?”

  “Get a hatchet and a tent, and that she’s going to be the one doing the whole thing with me.”

  Preston asked doubtfully, “You sure being a July is going to be worth all this?”

  “There’s more. After I finish the spirit part, she wants me to do something to honor the town and the Dusters. She called it a project.”

  “Like in school?”

  “Same thing I asked.”

  “Sounds like a lot.”

  “No shit.” Amari sighed, then lay back on the table’s top and looked up at the blue sky. “But Trent’s the kind of dad kids like us always dream about.”

  “Wish I’d gotten him, although the colonel’s not too bad for a military hard-ass. Sometimes.”

  “Exactly. Ms. Bernadine placed us right where we were supposed to be. Zoey got a musical family. You got the colonel because he likes to read and has a big brain like yours. Crystal got Ms. Bernadine so she could get taught some class.”

  Preston grinned.

  “And I got the Julys because their ancestors were outlaws just like me.” He sat up straight again and looked Preston in the eyes. “I know hoping is hard. We probably could write a book on all the reasons why it’s bad for kids like us, but the Paynes are your rightful family. This is where we’re supposed to be, Brain. Henry Adams, Kansas. Everything’s going to work out.”

  “If you say so.”

  “And because I do, that makes it true. You got my back if I need you on this Spirit Quest?”

  “Whenever. Wherever,” Preston pledged with sincerity.



  Out in Las Vegas, Genevieve Curry and her old friend Marie Jefferson were on their last day in town, and Gen felt as if she’d let Marie down by being such a stick in the mud. Genevieve’s inner conscience kept her from playing the slots (it was gambling), checking out the shows (she didn’t want to see naked young men), or hitting the bars (she was a teetotaler). And because Marie chose not to leave Genevieve behind and take off on her own, they’d spent most of the time sightseeing and lounging beside the hotel’s massive indoor pool. She wanted to somehow make it up to Marie but had no idea how she might go about it. “Marie, I’m so sorry we didn’t get to do any of the fun things you wanted to do.”

  Marie, wearing her signature cat eye glasses, had her suitcase open on the bed, packing for the flight home in the morning. She looked over the rhinestone rims at Genevieve’s misery-filled face and waved her off. “No need to apologize, Gen. I had a lot of fun. I’ve been coming to Vegas for decades and had no idea they had such high-quality museums, or that you could sign on for a tour of the Hoover Dam. I should take you traveling with me more often.”

  “You mean that?”

  “I do.”

  That made Genevieve feel better. “You’re a true friend, Marie Jefferson. Without you these past few months, I would have been lost.” And it was true. Riley and that murderous hog of his had altered her life forever. Her home was gone, and with it all the little keepsakes passed down to her by members of her family long dead, like her mother, aunts, and grandmothers. Then to be told by Bernadine’s accountants that Riley had been systematically looting the annuities and investments left to her by her father made Genevieve realize she hadn’t known her husband at all. Luckily he hadn’t been able to get his greedy paws on everything in her portfolio, so there were ample resources available to start over, but she’d have to do it without her beloved heirlooms, and that hurt. “I should have married Clay.”

  Marie looked up.

  “I should have, but I thought I was too good for a farm boy, didn’t I?”

  Marie kept her mouth shut.

  “I believed Riley would take me places Clay would never be able to, like New York and Paris.”

  Seeing Marie’s poker face, she paused. “Why aren’t you saying anything?”

  “Because I told you to pick Clay Dobbs forty years ago. No sense in me saying I told you so now. And with Clay you probably would have had those babies you always wanted.”

  Genevieve nodded solemnly. “Instead I had a six-hundred-pound hog shitting all over the place.”

  Marie fought hard to contain her laugh but lost.

  “Life sure is strange, isn’t it?”

  “To quote the kids, ‘True dat.’”

  They had the room’s wall-mounted, flat-screen television tuned to one of the twenty-four-hour news channels, but the sound was muted. Genevieve happened to glance over at it, and what she saw on the screen made her gasp. “Oh my word! Where’s the remote? Turn it up!”

  Marie grabbed the remote and complied.

  The female announcer was showing the Viral Video of the Day, a wedding involving two hogs that had taken place somewhere in Texas. On screen was Genevieve’s missing husband, Riley, standing beneath a rose-encrusted pergola. Walking down the aisle were Cletus and his bride, a sow named Chocolate.

  Marie’s jaw dropped.

  Riley and Cletus were decked out in matching tuxedos and sunglasses. Chocolate was sporting an off-white gown with a lace train.

  Genevieve’s eyes flashed angrily.

  According to the announcer, the short video was taken by the mother of the bride, a tall, redheaded woman named Pennymaker. She was on camera smiling with her hand tucked intimately into the crook of Riley’s arm. The humorous news report ended with the watching audience being told that the hog wedding had been viewed by over a million people on the Internet.

  Marie cut the sound. Outdone, she didn’t know what to say.

  Genevieve had no such problem. “Do you have Sheriff Dalton’s number in your phone?”

  Marie nodded.

  “Call him. I wish to speak with him. And when I’m done, you and I are going down to the bar so I can get very very drunk.”

  Marie’s eyes sparkled with amusement behind the glasses. “Yes, ma’am.” She picked up her phone.

  Riley and Cletus were ready to get on the move again. They were leaving Texas. Eustasia had gone up to Dallas for a few days to see her sister, thus presenting Riley with the perfect opportunity to vanish. Eustasia had called him last night to tell him she’d seen the video of the wedding on the news, and that at last count a million people had viewed it via the Internet. When he hung up he’d been worried to death that the video would bring law enforcement down on his head, so to eliminate that possibility, he and Cletus had to go.

  Because her mansion was on hundreds of acres of land, he didn’t have to worry about any neighbors seeing him leave. He’d also given the house servants and farmhands the day off, much to their surprise, so that no one would be able to report the time of his departure or the direction he’d taken.

  He’d already placed his personal belongings in his old white pickup. Only thing left to do was to load Cletus in the bed and get on the road.

  Problem was the hog wouldn’t come. Riley had explained the plan to him that morning, and Cletus seemed to agree to the necessity of it, but now he was refusing to leave Chocolate’s side.

/>   “We can’t take her, Cletus. I know she’s your bride but she doesn’t belong to me.”

  Cletus put his snout up and snuffled his displeasure.

  “She can’t go.”

  This went on for a while, then as if tired of arguing, Cletus sat down beside Chocolate in a huff.

  Riley sighed. “Cletus. Please. We have to go. If the law finds us here they’re going to turn us both into bacon.”

  But Cletus didn’t appear to care.

  “Dammit!” Riley swore. Eustasia was going to be distraught enough when she returned home to find him and Cletus missing, but realizing Chocolate had vanished too would send her into hysterics. And who was going to pay for all the food and other stuff the hogs would be needing? Riley still had a good portion of the money he’d taken out of Genevieve’s account last fall, but it wouldn’t last forever, especially with the price of gas. He couldn’t leave Cletus behind, however. They were in this together. His only option was to surrender. “Okay,” he said testily. “Bring her along. I’m going to be mad about this for the next couple days so don’t expect me to be chummy.”

  Cletus stood. Chocolate followed suit. They slowly waddled up the ramp, and once they were secured in the hay-lined bed, Riley slammed the gate closed and got in under the steering wheel. The engine of the old truck groaned under the excess weight but there was nothing Riley could do about it. Tight-lipped, he drove away from the pens and headed for the road.

  Ray Chambers was also packing. Coming back to Cleveland had been a bad idea. His pigeon du jour, a woman in the congregation of a storefront church calling itself the Grapevine Tabernacle of the Good and Holy, had kicked it with him just long enough for him to learn that she wasn’t the cardiologist she’d claimed to be, nor was she single. That shocking discovery occurred last night when her husband, a cop, came home and found Ray and his wife in the family bed. The cuts and bruises on Ray’s face bore witness to the husband’s claim of also being a former Golden Gloves champ. After treating Ray to a thorough ass kicking, the cop promised more of the same should their paths cross again, so rather than risk another round, Ray was leaving town.

  His search for his daughter and her rich foster mother hadn’t panned out much better. Because his parental rights had been severed by court order and because Crystal was still a minor, her files were locked up tighter than the thighs of a deacon’s wife. He’d tried to contact Nikki in the Illinois prison, but was told by the switchboard that she was in medical isolation. Only immediate family members were allowed access, and no, ex-husbands didn’t qualify. He’d had even less success with her sister, Jean. Bitch. She refused to give him any info on Crystal and warned if he called her again, she’d notify the police.

  All in all, he was SOL. He cursed her and the cop again. Ray was a lover not a fighter, which was why when he was on top, he’d had bodyguards and a few crooked cops on his payroll to deal with the riffraff. Back then, he’d’ve paid somebody to take care of the champ and Jean too but it was a new day now, and the only power he had now amounted to grabbing his old suitcase and waiting for a city bus to take him to the Greyhound station. Once there he planned to buy a ticket to Kansas City, Kansas. It was one of the state’s bigger cities, so he’d start his search for his daughter there.

  Roni Garland tapped lightly on the door to her husband’s study. She didn’t like to disturb him when he was working but she needed to talk to him. “Reg, can I interrupt you for a hot minute.”


  She entered and found him seated behind his desk. It was covered with stacks of medical catalogs. “How’s it going?”

  He set aside an open catalog. “Pretty good. Almost done with my wish list for Bernadine. What’s up with you?”

  “Zoey’s writing music, Reg.”

  Her face held so much concern, he paused for a moment before asking, “Is that a bad thing?”

  “No, but it’s scary. Look at these.” She showed him some of the music. The lined pieces of notebook papers were covered with musical staffs and notes done in green marker.

  “Baby, you know I don’t know what I’m looking at.”

  Roni pointed to one. “This one is for strings.” She placed another one in front of him. “This is for woodwinds. How can she know how to do this? It’s like that movie we saw over Christmas. The one with Robin Williams? August Rush.”

  “That the one with the kid with the music in his head looking for his parents? The one you and Zoey cried through?”

  She cut him a look. “Yes, that one. I know I taught her how to read music, but I didn’t know she was doing all this.”

  “How’d you find out?”

  “She just walked up to me a minute ago and handed them to me. There have to be at least fifty pieces of music here,” she said with astonishment in her voice.

  He smiled indulgently, “We knew she was special, Ron.”

  “Special yes, not possessed. This is like a musical remix of Chucky! And some of this is very dark. It’s like, if thunder could make music or storms on the sea. This is not that light, sweet minuet stuff, this is like Beethoven reincarnated!”

  Reg laughed. “Hold up. Take a breath.”

  “Reg, we have a certifiable prodigy on our hands and I have no idea what to do with her. I don’t want to screw her up. And…”

  He chuckled. “And, what?”

  “She wants a violin.”

  “We can afford one, right?” he teased.

  “Of course.”

  “Then what’s wrong?” he asked gently.

  Roni shook her head in an effort to clear her mind of all the emotion. “I’m just amazed, that’s all. I’ll order the violin. Since I can’t play, I can’t teach her, but knowing her, she’ll probably just pick it up and start sawing away.”

  “Probably, and I wouldn’t worry about screwing her up. She’s getting lots of love. God will handle the fine print.”

  “You’re right.” She sighed, then flashed him a smile. “Thanks for talking me down.”

  “Any time.”

  She leaned down and kissed him softly. “You’re the best.”

  “Because I’m married to the best.”

  Downstairs, Roni found Zoey and Devon sitting side-by-side on the bench of her baby grand. Zoey was scratching out notes on another sheet of lined paper.

  “Zoey, this music you’ve written is fantastic. What do you want to do with it?”

  She shrugged.

  “Okay, then I’ll put them in a folder so they don’t get lost. What are you all doing?” She walked closer to get a better look at what Zoey was doing.

  Devon explained, “Zoey’s writing down the music for ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’”

  That caught her by surprise. “Okay.”

  “We’re going to sing it in church on Sunday.”

  “What church?”

  “My church,” he replied proudly. “I’m the pastor and Zoey’s the musical director.”

  She smiled at that. “I used to play church when I was little too.”

  “This isn’t play church, Ms. Roni. This is going to be a true house of the Lord.”

  Feeling herself about to climb back up on the roof, Roni took a breath and asked carefully, “Does Ms. Lily or Ms. Bernadine know about this?”

  “No ma’am. They’re too busy for me.”

  That tugged at her heart. “I see.” She needed to talk with Lily. “And where will the service be?”

  “We were going to ask if we can use this room so Zoey can play the piano.”

  He looked so sincere, what could she say but, “Sure, Devon. Dr. Garland and I would be honored. What time?”

  “Ten o’clock. Will you sing?”

  “Of course, if you want me to.”

  “We do. Don’t we, Zoey?”

  Zoey nodded enthusiastically.

  Roni looked at the amazing pair and wondered if they were really angels in disguise. “You two go ahead with your practicing. I’m going to go find a folder for Zoey’s musi
c. Then I have to go to my closet and pick out a very special hat for Sunday service.”

  She placed a solemn kiss on the crown of each small head, then left them and walked into the kitchen. Wiping at her eyes, she picked up her phone and called Lily.

  When Lily hung up the phone after her talk with Roni, she sat back in her chair and shook her head in amazement at the wonder that was Devon Watkins. He was starting his own church, to hell with her and Bernadine. Getting up, she walked across the hall to Bernadine’s office.

  “You busy?”

  “Nope. What’s up? Have a seat.”

  Lily told her about the conversation she’d had with Roni.

  When she was done Bernadine shook her head just as Lily had done. “That boy. He’s going to do his thing with or without us.”

  “Pretty much. Even asked Roni to sing.”

  “Amazing. I have been putting him off, I have to admit. I didn’t know what to do about an eight-year-old boy wanting to be the town preacher. When I see him, I owe him an apology for not taking him as seriously as I should have.”

  “So do I. Are you going to the service?”

  “Of course, and wearing one of my hats.”

  Lily smiled. “Good, me too. If you don’t need me for anything earth-shaking, I’m going to go pick up Devon and take him home. He and I need to talk.”

  Bernadine nodded understandingly. “Think I’ll head home too. I promised Crys she could call about her mom this afternoon and she’s supposed to be cooking dinner.”


  “Yes, and I’m terrified, believe me. The girl has a mother lode of creativity beneath that ugly weave, so this week it’s the Food Network.”

  “What’s she cooking?”

  “Too scared to ask.”

  Lily chuckled. “Good luck.”

  “Have Devon say a prayer.”

  Lily left to return to her office and Bernadine was just about to power down her computer when her phone sounded. It was Trent.

  “Are you still in your office?” he asked.

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