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Authors: Beverly Jenkins

Bring on the Blessings

BOOK: Bring on the Blessings
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Bring on the Blessings
Beverly Jenkins

 

Blessings come in many forms, and the outstanding Avon editors I have worked with during my career have been blessings indeed. Ellen Edwards, Christine Zika, Cecilia Oh, Monique Patterson, Erika Tsang, Esi Sogah—this one is for you.

Contents

Prologue

Bernadine Edwards grew up with her two sisters in the…

Chapter 1

Trenton July, the mayor of Henry Adams, Kansas, called the…

Chapter 2

Naked and lying on the bed in the dark, Lily…

Chapter 3

When Trent awakened at dawn, Rocky was already gone, and…

Chapter 4

They got back into the truck and drove a short…

Chapter 5

The food was spread out buffet-style, and as guest of…

Chapter 6

Driving north on Highway 183, Lily Fontaine couldn’t believe she…

Chapter 7

For the next few days, Trent avoided Lily and Lily…

Chapter 8

Bernadine was swamped with faxes, contracts, e-mails, and tons of…

Chapter 9

Trent stopped by Tamar’s to see Bernadine. She and Lily…

Chapter 10

Because of the chasm between them, Trent didn’t like being…

Chapter 11

Speechless, Lily looked around the luxurious interior of the small…

Chapter 12

Bernadine had arranged for the kids to be taken back…

Chapter 13

Bernadine’s guest bedroom with its cream and beige color scheme…

Chapter 14

Clay Dobbs was tending the grills. “I hear you steal…

Chapter 15

The people from out of town were soon packed up.

Chapter 16

After lunch the next day, two big moving vans drove…

Chapter 17

Bernadine’s vision for Henry Adams was beginning to take shape…

Chapter 18

Crystal was having a ball. She and Bernadine were using…

Chapter 19

The next morning, the helpful clerk looking into the mortgages…

Chapter 20

The houses they’d moved into were close enough together that…

Chapter 21

There was no peace and quiet in Riley Curry’s life…

Chapter 22

Lily and Trent had dinner at a cozy little Italian…

Chapter 23

Genevieve and Marie watched the local morning news reports on…

Chapter 24

A few days later, Bernadine got a fax from the…

Chapter 25

As summer began to wane, Henry Adams’s new residents were…

Chapter 26

The air was pretty tense in the Bernadine and Crystal…

Chapter 27

Thursday night at the rec center was Movie Night. Tamar…

Chapter 28

Genevieve, Marie, and Agnes were having breakfast at Tamar’s the…

Chapter 29

It rained the day of the hearing, and for Bernadine…

B
ernadine Edwards grew up with her two sisters in the modest home of their loving parents on Detroit’s west side. The college scholarship Bernadine won to USC gave her entrée into a world she still found a blessing, but more importantly introduced her to Leo Brown.

They married the day after graduation. He went to work as a quality control manager for one of the nation’s big oil companies, while she commuted the ninety miles one way to her job as a social worker with the state’s Child Welfare Department.

For a man of color, Leo moved up the ladder quickly. Inside of ten years he was an executive vice president making enough money for her to say good-bye to her commute and hello to the lifestyles of the rich and famous. She’d hated it. Oh, the money was good and all the material things Leo showered her with were appreciated, but the more he made, the less she saw of him. They became distant strang
ers, going to dinner parties and attending charity events, always wearing false smiles.

At the age of forty-five Bernadine looked up and realized she had nothing to show for her high-class life except jewelry, furs, houses, and cars. There’d been no children because according to Leo, they’d have plenty of time for that after he made his mark, but the time never came.

Two days after their thirtieth wedding anniversary, and the day before her fifty-second birthday, Bernadine walked into Leo’s office and found him screwing his secretary on top of his desk. Bernadine was furious of course, hurt too, but not enough to cry, woe is me. Nope, she got herself a top-notch lawyer, hired a private detective, and took Leo to the cleaners. She got the house in the Hamptons, the condo in Atlanta, and the summer homes in Savannah, Miami, and Holland, Michigan. Thanks to California being a community property state, she also got half of his vast holdings in everything from computers to sex toys, along with half of the $350 million that her lawyer discovered Leo was really worth.

Once all the paperwork was signed and filed, Bernadine drove away from the courthouse on that sunny California afternoon with a cool $275 million and never looked back.

After the divorce she spent the next two years traveling the world; Paris, Spain, Egypt, South Africa. She ordered haute couture fashions from the shows in Milan and New York, went whale watching in Alaska, and toured Machu Picchu in Peru. She had as good a time as a woman could
have with $275 million in the bank drawing interest every day, but having been raised in the church she knew that when much is given, much is expected, and so she got up every morning and asked God to send her a purpose.

Then, two things happened to change her life. She was going through some old boxes stored in the house in Miami, which she was putting on the market, when she ran across an article she’d clipped from a magazine a few years back. It was entitled, “A Place Called Hope,” and it detailed a small town where older people, foster children, and potential foster parents lived together in an intergenerational community. The town was the brainchild of a professor of sociology from the University of Illinois and was set up on a closed-down U.S. Air Force base. Bernadine found the stories of the residents and their interactions so moving and inspiring that when she was done her eyes were misty. The children picked to live in Hope were the hardest to place: teens, sibling groups, children with special needs. Even though she’d spent most of her adult life as a pampered queen, the social worker she was inside had never died. As she put down the article, she felt as if her prayers had been answered. She now knew what God wanted her to do.

And then the second thing happened. That evening, while eating dinner and checking out the news, one of the reporters profiled a tiny Kansas town that had put itself up for sale on eBay. The place was going under financially, and with no money to pay a mountain of outstanding tax bills, the residents were hoping to find a buyer to rescue them. As the story went on to reveal that the area had been settled
by Black folks in the 1880s and had a deep-rooted history, Bernadine was so excited she could barely sit still. When the TV story ended she put down her fork, looked up, yelled out, “Thank You, Lord!” and ran to her computer.

 

Hidden under the overpass of a Miami highway, seven-year-old Zoey Raymond pulled the big cardboard box over her head and closed herself inside. Night had rolled in, and in the darkness, she maneuvered herself so the box’s flaps were firmly closed under her thin hips. She tried not to cry because it wouldn’t change anything. Her mother, Bonnie, was dead. Zoey had covered the body with all the rags and newspapers she’d been able to scrounge while out looking for food, but the shroud wasn’t enough to keep the rats from desecrating her corpse. This was the second night and they were on her again; squeaking and snarling and fighting each other. She’d tried to run them off the first time, but there’d been too many, so to protect herself, she scrambled under the box and sat quiet with her hands over her ears and the screams stuck in her throat until the sun came up and they went away.

But tonight they seemed to know she was inside. They were scratching at the cardboard and bumping the box, and she was shuddering with terror and fear. She tried to keep the box level so it wouldn’t tip over, but seconds later light appeared from a hole made by teeth. It grew larger. The assault on the box became manic and then she and her box toppled. They swarmed over her like flies, and the last thing she remembered was the sounds of the rats and the night-piercing screams of a little girl.

T
renton July, the mayor of Henry Adams, Kansas, called the emergency town meeting to order with a bang of his gavel. “All right. Let’s get this started. Who wants to go first?”

Riley Curry, the former mayor, rose to his feet. He was wearing his favorite pinstriped suit with its ever-present fake red carnation pinned to the shiny worn lapel. As always, he looked around for a moment to make sure all eyes were on him before speaking. “I’ll start by demanding we rescind the offer.”

Murmurs of agreement rose from some of the thirty or so folks seated on the worn wooden folding chairs in the church’s small sanctuary, but Trent saw disapproval on the faces of those who disagreed. “Offer’s already been accepted, Riley. We signed the papers two weeks ago. Next person.”

“I’m not done.”

Trent sighed. “Go ahead.”

Riley cleared his throat, nodded at his wife, Genevieve, who was smiling up at him as if he were the Second Coming, then declared, “The idea that you held this vote behind my back speaks to the underhandedness of the whole affair. I say we vote again.”

Some people clapped loudly.

“We’re not having another vote,” Trent replied evenly. “And nothing was done behind your back. You knew what day we were holding the vote, just like everybody else.”

“But I had to leave town. Which wouldn’t have been necessary if we had a competent vet instead of that drunken—”

“Watch it,” Trent warned coolly.

Riley puffed up and whined, “Okay, but if we’d had a real vet, I wouldn’t’ve had to drive Cletus fifty miles downstate to get him treated.”

Cletus was Riley’s hog. Every three or four months, Cletus had to see a vet. It’s a necessity when you feed a hog stuff like Doritos, Twinkies, and ice cream and cake because it doubles as the child you and your wife could never have.

Trent told him, “Sorry about Cletus, but there was no reason to change the date. Your one vote wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. Proposal passed thirty-five to seventeen.” There were only fifty-two registered voters on the town’s rolls, and for once everybody turned out to have a say.

But Riley wasn’t having any. “My constituents demand a revote. Who knows what this person’s real agenda is? And a white woman too? Suppose she’s just a front for people who want to build a casino or God forbid a strip club?”

More murmurs of agreement were heard.

Trent’s jaw tightened.

“What do we know about her? Suppose she’s one of those Aryan Nation folks wanting to turn Henry Adams into a terrorist training camp?”

Trent opened his mouth to argue but knew it wouldn’t matter so he closed it.

Riley, on a roll, slowly took in the faces of those supporting him and those who didn’t and asked, “Is the buyer even American?”

“Ms. Brown lives in Florida,” Trent drawled. “Last I heard it was still part of the U.S.”

“My constituents and I—”

Marie Jefferson snarled, “You don’t have any constituents, Riley. That’s why you’re the
former
mayor.”

“Ouch!”
someone cringed loudly.

Snickers greeted that.

Marie, the town’s retired school teacher stood up and glared at Riley from behind her signature cat’s-eye glasses. “This is ridiculous. Henry Adams needs help now! Not tomorrow, not a year from now, but now, and Trent’s found a way to make that happen.” She looked around the sanctuary. “No, we don’t know who this Ms. B. E. Brown person is, and we don’t know what she plans to do, but she’s agreed to keep the town intact and keep the Henry Adams name.”

“What if it’s a mistake?” Riley’s wife, Genevieve, threw back.

“What if it’s not?” Marie countered. “We don’t know how this will play out. Before it’s over we may regret selling, but the only idea Riley had was for us to be annexed by
the city of Franklin. Annexed! The ancestors didn’t build this town out of blood and sweat for it to be annexed and assimilated and forgotten.”

Applause filled the church.

She added, “If this buyer, whoever she is, can come in here and save this place, I’m all for it. And all y’all who voted against the sale—get over yourselves.” She sat.

More applause. Trent wanted to kiss her.

But Riley was still on his feet. “I will take this to the highest court in the land. Selling a town on cyberspace can’t be legal anyway, no matter what Trent says!”

His side erupted in agreement. The other side yelled for Riley to sit his you know what down. Tempers flared. Verbal shots began to fly. Folks stormed to their feet in defense of themselves and their positions, and before Trent could tell everybody to sit down, all perdition broke loose.

“Order!” Trent yelled over the chaos. He banged the gavel against the table with so much force its head went flying across the room. “Order, dammit!”

But the shouting combatants, people who’d been friends and neighbors all their lives, weren’t feeling him.

In the middle of the melee, Agnes Jefferson, who was Marie’s mother, a Riley supporter, and a descendant of the town’s first Black sheriff shook her cane in the face of her best friend, Tamar July. “You traitor! You voted to sell our town!”

Tamar, Trent’s grandmother, snapped back. “Yes I did because I’m not stuck in the past, Agnes. And if you don’t get that damn cane out of my face, it’s going to be me and you!”

“You touch me and I’ll take you down like Hulk Hogan!”

They were a nose a part.

Trent watched wearily. With his gavel dead and no one paying him a bit of attention, he threw up his hands and walked out.

The cool night air was a blessed relief to the heat and anger swirling around inside. Sighing, he pulled out his cigarettes. After lighting one, he drew the smoke deep down into his lungs and slowly exhaled.

“Thought you were quitting?”

The voice belonged to the town vet, Trent’s father, Malachi. “Dealing with those folks in there, be glad I’m not shooting heroin.”

Malachi chuckled.

Both men could hear the argument still raging inside.

“This buyer is our last hope, Dad.”

“I know. They know it too. They just don’t want to deal with it.”

Surprised by the words, Trent turned to view his father’s face. “I thought you were against the sale?”

“I am, but you said it, it’s our last hope. I don’t want to see this town disappear, and that’s what’s going to happen if we don’t do something.”

“Ms. Brown is going to give us 3.5 million to pay the overdue taxes. We can’t turn down that kind of money.”

“You’re right, but—”

“But what?”

“Don’t expect the folks against this to come around any time soon. You may have saved us, but no good deed goes unpunished.”

Trent smiled. “Any pie left at the diner?”

“If there is, it’s on the house for putting up with all this.” Malachi patted his son on the shoulder. As they walked up the deserted street, they left their neighbors to the swearing and arguing.

Malachi could make the offer for free pie because he owned the diner. The dilapidated building with its tar-paper roof and sagging porch was short, squat, and narrow. It sat in the center of what used to be downtown and went by the name of the Dog and Cow, aka the D&C.

Inside, the D&C was empty, so Trent and his father took seats in one of the back booths. There were five booths in all, and their once fancy red leather seats now sported silver duct tape over the large cracks. Five equally taped-up backless stools were lined up around the well-worn wooden bar. The lone bathroom lacked any gender designation because everybody used it. Just make sure you knocked first.

The kitchen was housed in a room behind the bar. It was run with smooth efficiency by Rochelle “Rocky” Dancer, who was two years younger than Trent. Stacked and smart, she was in the words of the the Commodores,
a brick house
. She was also a Henry Adams native and one of the people who’d supported the decision to sell.

The listing jukebox played only old-school selections. At the moment, Martha and her Vandellas were imploring an old lover to “Come and Get These Memories.” Usually, there were at least a few people sitting around inside talking, drinking coffee, or having the day’s special, but this
evening everybody was either at the meeting or at home with better things to do.

Rocky came out of the back with a pot of hot coffee in hand. She placed two mugs on the table and poured. “How’d the meeting go?”

Trent shook his head. “They’re still over there arguing.”

Rocky sighed. “Left up to Riley, this town would’ve blown away like tumbleweed ten years ago. You just keep the faith. You two hungry?”

“Any pie left?” Malachi asked hopefully.

“Yep. Figured you’d need something after the meeting. Saved a couple pieces. Be right back.”

“When are you going to marry that girl?” Malachi asked his son.

Trent eyed him over his cup but remained silent.

“She’s been sweet on you since elementary school.”

“Rocky and I get along just fine the way we are. I don’t want to get married, and far as I know, neither does she. Why marry and mess things up?”

“You need to make an honest woman out of her.”

“This from the playa of Graham County; a man who had women fighting over him in
church.

The two women, one local and one from out of town, had come to blows over which of them would sit beside Malachi in the pew that Sunday. When the dust settled, there were wigs, earrings, and pieces of clothing all over the church floor.

“A simple misunderstanding.”


Uh-huh.
More like the Thrilla in Manila.”

Rocky returned with two small plates holding pieces of her famous apple pie. She set both down and asked Trent, “Can I bring my car in for an oil change in the morning?”

He owned the town’s only garage. “Sure.”

She nodded. “If you all need anything else, just yell.”

She left them alone.

Malachi watched her walk away. “Man, if I was ten years younger.”

“She’d still hurt you, so put your eyes back in your head and eat your pie.”

“Yes, Dad.”

Grinning, Trent started in on his own.

 

“Bobby Lee asked me to marry him last night.”

Rocky and Trent were lying in his bed in the dark. The revelation made his heart catch, not because he loved her, but because he didn’t want her leaving his life. “What did you tell him?”

“Yes.”

In the silence that followed, he could hear the sounds of the prairie through the open windows; the crickets, the dark rush of the breeze in the grass. “He’s a good man.”

“He is.”

She turned over to face him. “You don’t think I’m crazy?”

He studied her silently for a moment. “Do you?”

She shook her head. “No, but he loves me. Really loves me, and I’m tired of being alone. Tired of getting up ev
ery day and having nothing to look forward to but making more coffee and apple pies.”

“You tell Malachi?”

“Not yet. Telling him in the morning. Wanted to tell you first.”

“Appreciate that.” And he did. He didn’t want to think about her not being in his life anymore; at least not then. “Folks are going to miss your cooking.”

“If Malachi finds somebody good, they’ll forget about me the next day.”

Trent knew Bob had two boys. “Get along with his kids?”

She lay back down and replied almost wistfully, “Yeah, I do. They’re good boys. I could do worse.”

“When’s the wedding?”

“I told him to give me two weeks so Malachi could find a new cook, then we’ll set a date.”

The silence crept in again as they both mined their own thoughts. Finally, she said, “You’ve been a good friend, Trent.”

“You too, Rock. Wish you had told me about Bob proposing before we did what we just did.”

She laughed. “I know, but you can be so honorable sometimes, and I wanted one last go for old times’ sake.”

“You’re gonna make us both burn in hell.”

She chuckled in the darkness. “I know. Selfish I guess.”

“You’re Bob’s lady now, Rocky. No more knocking boots with me.”

“I know. It’s been mighty good though.”

He grinned. “Go on to sleep.”

“Good night, Trenton July.”

“Night, Rock.”

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