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Authors: Kimberla Lawson Roby

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BOOK: The Perfect Marriage
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D
enise clicked on her nightstand lamp, sat straight up in bed and stared at her husband like he was crazy. “Derrek, where in
the world have you been?”

Denise noticed that he could barely look at her and how it had taken him just a wee too long to answer her question. “Baby,
I don’t know what happened. I stopped by Warren’s and the next thing I knew, I’d fallen asleep.”

“Warren’s?” she yelled. “What were you doing over there?” She already had a pretty good idea, but she still wanted to hear
him say it.

“I just went to visit him.”

“Until almost five in the morning? That sure was a whole lot of visiting for two men to be doing. And what about that friend
you told me you were going to see?”

“I went there first, but after that I dropped over to Warren’s, we had a little too much to drink and I guess I passed out.”

“Yeah, right,” she said, getting up. “And anyway, Derrek, who is this so-called friend of yours that works downtown, anyway?”

Over the last few hours, Denise had taken some time to think, and that’s when it had dawned on her that Derrek had never once
told her this friend’s name.

“Leonard Weaver.”

“Really? Funny how you’ve never mentioned him before.”

“I met him through Warren a long time ago. He watches games with us sometimes.”

“This is crazy. Sixteen years of marriage and now you’re suddenly staying out all night? Did you need to get high that badly?”

“Baby, that’s not why I went over there. I just wanted to talk to Warren.”

“You’re such a lying bastard.”

Derrek squinted his eyes. “Baby, where is all this coming from? Why are you so upset? I made a mistake, and I’m sorry.”

Denise rolled her eyes in disgust and brushed past him, almost forcing him into the dresser. She kept going, though, without
looking back and as soon as she entered the bathroom, she slammed the door. She wondered what was wrong with her because it
was so unlike her to blow up at anyone, let alone Derrek. She certainly had never called him a bastard before. There was no
doubt that she had every right to be angry with him for staying out so late, but she still couldn’t explain her impromptu
mood swings. She was outraged and completely irritated, and she wondered if it was because she’d snorted the last of their
cocaine supply shortly after finishing her conversation with Mackenzie, when deep down she’d wanted more. She’d tried not
to think about it and now that Derrek had lost his job and they had no savings to fall back on, she’d told herself a few hours
ago she was done with coke for good. She’d made this decision because there was no denying their cocaine use was the cause
of all their problems, but what had grabbed her attention more were her daughter’s words. Her sweet, kind, and considerate
little Mackenzie had actually suggested they take her entire college fund to pay the bills. Denise had tried to keep her composure
as much as she could, but as soon as Mackenzie had gone back upstairs, Denise had cried a puddle of tears. Her daughter’s
gesture, along with the troubled look in her eyes, had torn Denise apart, and she hated what all of this was doing to her.
Mackenzie had just turned thirteen a couple of months ago, yet here she was worrying about household finances the way adults
did.

Denise stared into the mirror over her vanity, seeing how exhausted she looked, and felt her hands shaking. Her nerves danced
all over the place, and now she wished she could have just one or two more lines of cocaine. For the first time ever, she
truly felt like she needed it. But maybe that was only because this was the first time in a long time she didn’t have access
to any. For months, she and Derrek had made sure to never run out completely, so this was different. There was no coke in
the house—not a single speck of it—and Denise felt more and more anxious by the second. Finally, when she couldn’t take it
anymore, she pulled a bottle of Vicodin from the lower right-hand drawer. She hadn’t taken any of this in a while, but at
the moment, anything would be better than nothing…and after all, these were nothing more than a couple of pain pills.

Denise filled a cup with water, tossed the pills into her mouth, and washed them down. She knew they wouldn’t work as quickly
as the coke did, so she strolled into the toilet area, shut the door, sat on top of the lid and waited. In the meantime, she
picked up a copy of
Essence
magazine from the wicker basket in the corner and read a couple of articles. When she finished reading those, she picked up
an old issue of
More
magazine and read some of those stories, too, and soon, a warm feeling eased through her body. She even closed her eyes and
smiled about it.

But then to her great dismay, Derrek came into the bathroom and started talking to her. The door was still closed, but apparently
he didn’t care about that.

“Baby, how long are you going to be in there?”

“Why?”

“Because I need to use it, and because I want to talk to you.”

“You do realize we have three other bathrooms, right?” Denise didn’t want to speak to Derrek so coldly, but he was getting
under her skin and she needed him to go away. All she wanted was to be left alone, so she could enjoy her amazing euphoria.

“Baby, I’m really sorry about everything. My job. Last night. Everything.”

Denise wasn’t sure what he wanted her to say, so she didn’t say anything.

“Baby, are you listening to me? I’ll get three jobs if I have to. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep us afloat.”

She still didn’t say anything, and she sort of felt bad about the way she was treating him, but she couldn’t help it. For
whatever reason, she couldn’t seem to shake her hot-tempered attitude.

Finally, after Derrek spoke a few more words, he walked away.

Denise leaned back and relaxed against the tank, closed her eyes and folded her arms. How had their lives turned into such
disarray? How had it changed so drastically in such a very short period of time? Yes, she knew drugs had played a major role
in how they’d arrived where they were currently, but it still didn’t seem real.

Not one time since meeting Derrek had she ever felt such scorn and lack of respect for him, but she knew part of her anger
was much bigger than that. She knew much of her fury was geared toward herself for ever trying cocaine, and she also worried
about what her father would say if he somehow found out about it. He’d be completely incensed if he knew Derrek was unemployed,
and worse, Denise and Derrek had both spent thousands of dollars on drugs over the last twelve months. No matter how many
times Denise played the whole scenario in her head, she still couldn’t fathom it. She knew the money was gone, but she kept
hoping that at some point in time she’d wake up from a torturous nightmare and that would be the end of it. That way her parents,
especially her father, wouldn’t have to find out about anything. It went without saying that she was a full-grown woman, but
after all these years, she still felt obligated when it came to making her father proud. She felt this great need to uphold
their family’s reputation in the community and if any of her parents’ friends or her father’s colleagues ever got wind of
Denise and Derrek’s troubles, her father would never forgive her. He loved Denise, but he expected perfection with everything,
including the way his daughter and son-in-law lived their lives, and he would never understand or tolerate something like
drug use or
his
son-in-law being fired. To him everything was about decorum, restraint, and good manners, no matter how impossible that might
be to portray sometimes, and it wouldn’t be beyond him to disown them if they forced him.

Denise was glad the Vicodin had finally taken effect because she couldn’t imagine having to think about her father any longer
without it. She also prayed those two pills she’d taken would get her through the next few hours, but truthfully, she knew
she would likely need something more—more Vicodin…or more cocaine.

D
errek sat in his Escalade, debating whether he should go inside the building he was parked in front of. On the one hand, he
knew it might be best to figure out another way, but on the other, he really needed to make a purchase from Butch, and since
Denise had confirmed that there was no money available in either of their bank accounts, he didn’t see how he had any other
choice: he had to use Mackenzie’s college CD. He felt bad even thinking about it, but the more he continued weighing things
back and forth, something struck him. If he played his cards right, he could walk away with not only enough money to pay Butch,
but he’d also make enough money to add to Mackenzie’s twenty thousand dollars instead of deducting from it. There was no guarantee,
but he also knew the plan he had in mind was worth taking a chance on.

Derrek got out of his vehicle, set the alarm and headed toward the front entrance of the credit union. It was still early,
so thankfully, not many customers were inside when he walked in. He looked over at the teller line but then saw a couple of
customer service representatives, sitting inside separate cubicles. He walked over to the receptionist.

“Good morning, how can I help you?” a twenty-something young woman asked.

“Uh, I’d like to withdraw a CD we have deposited with you.”

“Sure. Megan should be able to help you with that. Please have a seat.”

The young woman picked up the phone and dialed Megan, and Megan immediately walked out and greeted Derrek.

“How are you today?” she said.

“I’m well.”

“Please come in,” she said, turning and walking back toward her work area.

Derrek followed her and sat down.

“So what can I do for you?”

“I need to withdraw a CD.”

Megan placed her fingers on the keyboard of her computer. “Do you have the account number?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Name?”

“Derrek Shaw.”

Megan typed in the information and clicked through a couple of different screens. “Derrek and Denise Shaw, address 5562 Winter
Brook Lane?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“And for security purposes, I’ll need your date of birth and Social Security number.”

Derrek recited the information, and wished the woman would hurry up. For some reason, it was starting to feel very hot in
this place.

“Thank you. The account is owned by both you and Mrs. Shaw, but it looks like only one signature is required for withdrawals.”

Derrek was relieved. He’d been pretty sure this was the case, but it felt good knowing there was nothing to stop him from
getting the cash he needed.

“I do see, though, that this is a five-year CD, and since you still have two more years before it matures, you’ll have to
pay a penalty for early withdrawal.”

“I understand.”

Megan clicked on a few more items. “It looks like you’ll be forfeiting six months of interest.”

“That’s fine.”

Megan clicked to another screen, and Derrek wished she’d move on with it. He was so hot now, he was sweating.

“So will you be needing a cashier’s check or would you like to place this in your savings account?”

Derrek had forgotten about the small account they had there. They’d opened it when they’d gotten the CD, but if he wasn’t
mistaken they’d never added to the initial one hundred dollars they’d deposited in it. “I’d like a thousand dollars in cash,
and yes, the rest can go to savings.”

“Not a problem. I’ll get this taken care of as quickly as possible.”

“Good,” Derrek said to himself.

While Megan printed out the appropriate documents and did whatever else was required, Derrek thought about Denise and how
upset she’d been this morning. She’d eyeballed him like she hated him, and acted as though he were the enemy. Derrek was still
pretty shocked about that because no matter what had happened in their lives over the years, their love for each other had
never changed, and they had one of the most stable marriages he knew of. Yes, he’d stayed out way too late and he was sure
she’d been worried to death about him, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t a little bothered by the fact that Denise had
obviously forgotten the vows they’d taken. She was overlooking her agreement to stand by him and love him for better or worse,
and Derrek wasn’t too happy about that. As far as he was concerned, they were in this thing together, and whether he had a
job or not shouldn’t have made a difference.

Megan passed a few documents to Derrek. “If you’ll verify all the information on each form and sign and date at all of the
Xs, we’ll be all set. Oh, and please sign the savings account withdrawal slip as well. I’m going to deposit the entire balance
and then withdraw the money you want to take with you.”

Derrek leaned forward, skimmed each sheet, wrote his signature and date multiple times and passed everything back to her.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll walk over to the teller station right now to get your cash.”

“Thank you.”

Megan went on her way, and returned in only a few minutes. She counted ten one-hundred-dollar bills, folded Derrek’s document
copies from the CD withdrawal, and placed everything in an envelope. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“No, I think that’s it,” he said, placing the envelope of money inside his black leather jacket. “And thanks for all your
help.”

“It was my pleasure.”

Derrek got up. “Thanks again.”

When he made it back out to the parking lot, he climbed inside his vehicle and turned the ignition. He’d left his cell phone
lying on the seat, but when he picked it up he saw that he’d missed a couple of calls, both from Denise. She hadn’t left any
messages, so he decided it was better to call her back after he took care of business.

He drove out of the credit union’s parking lot, headed two blocks down the street and turned into a gas station. When he got
out and walked inside, he waited for the man in front of him to finish paying for the gas he’d pumped, and then the silver-haired
man behind the counter smiled at him. “Can I help you?”

Derrek prayed he was doing the right thing. “Uh, yes. I’d like to get ten thirty-dollar scratch-off tickets.”

The man hesitated and looked a little surprised. “Did you say ten?”

“Yes.”

The man pulled ten tickets from the roll and scanned them. “That’ll be three hundred dollars.”

Derrek removed three bills from his jacket and slipped them into the slot under the security window. The sales clerk took
them and passed the tickets over to him. Then Derrek walked off to the side, pulled a quarter from his jean pocket and scratched
immediately. He scratched and scratched and scratched the silver squares off the first ticket until he’d revealed every one
of them, but he’d won nothing. He did the same with the second, third and fourth tickets, but still nothing again. At this
point, old memories resurfaced, and his heart raced a mile a minute. A few years ago, he’d become interested in the Illinois
State Lottery, and what had initially started out as a small habit had eventually turned into a big one. In the beginning,
he’d purchased several one- and two-dollar tickets every now and then, but soon he’d begun spending five to ten dollars on
the lottery every single day. This had gone on for a couple of months, however, it was after that particular point that he’d
moved on to five-, ten-, and twenty-dollar tickets and then ultimately thirty-dollar tickets. Over a two-year period, he’d
won a few thousand dollars, but the only problem was, he’d always played just about every dime of it back and had ended up
with…nothing.

But not today. No, today, he would win at least a couple thousand dollars, so he could return the thousand he’d gotten from
the credit union back into the savings account and then he’d have another thousand to pay Butch with and also buy anything
else he needed. All he had to do was scratch maybe another two or three tickets, and that would be it.

Derrek scratched more silver squares, but when he scratched the ninth ticket, he smiled like a Cheshire cat.
I knew it!
He’d won a hundred dollars. That wasn’t the full amount he needed, but it was something. Next, he scratched his tenth and
final scratch-off, but sadly, it was another bust the same as the first eight had been. Derrek wondered if maybe he should
cut his losses and leave now, but he had a feeling that if he kept at it, he’d be glad he had. So he went back up to the window
and purchased ten more thirty-dollar tickets.

However, with the exception of a few free tickets and fifty dollars, all the others had been losers. Of course, he’d already
scratched the free tickets, too, and used the fifty dollars to buy another thirty-dollar ticket and one twenty-dollar ticket,
and those had let him down, as well.

It just didn’t make any sense. He’d lost six hundred dollars of Mackenzie’s college fund, yet he still hadn’t won anything.
He really needed this to work because if it didn’t, he’d have to go back to the credit union again, and he didn’t want to
do that.

Derrek went back over to the sales clerk and took his chances. “I’ll have ten thirty-dollar and five twenty-dollar tickets.”

This time the man shook his head, and Derrek was ashamed. But he had no choice and had to do what he had to do.

Once again, he scratched and scratched and scratched to no avail, but then, finally, he won five hundred dollars on his last
twenty-dollar ticket. The grim expression on his face softened—until he realized that five hundred dollars wasn’t enough.
He needed a thousand to replace the money he’d taken from Mackenzie’s account and a thousand to pay Butch. So what was a measly
five hundred dollars going to do for him? Maybe if he kept his faith strong and bought another two or three tickets, that
would do the trick. Yes, that’s what he would do—and he did. Except once again, he couldn’t stop, and the next thing he knew,
he was flat broke. The entire one thousand dollars, along with the money he’d won while playing, had vanished and he was sick
to his stomach. He felt queasy and he was light-headed and depressed, so he hurried out of the gas station and sat inside
his SUV.

Dear God what have I done?
Derrek wasn’t sure what to think, and he certainly didn’t know what to say, not even to himself. If only he could have won
the money he’d come there for, his problems would have been solved—at least in the meantime, anyway. Now, though, he had no
choice except returning to the credit union. He didn’t want to, but it was his only viable option.

But first Derrek picked up his phone, ignored another call he saw from Denise and dialed Butch.

“What’s up?” Butch said when he answered.

“Don’t even ask. But hey, can you meet me?”

“I’m tied up for the next hour, but I can meet you after that. Your normal two grams?”

“No, a couple of bags of rocks.”

“Whoaaaa. When did you start hittin’ those?”

“Last night.”

Derrek thought about the crack he’d smoked over at Warren’s and how quickly his high had worn off. The other thing he’d noticed,
too, was how the second rock hadn’t seemed to get him as high as the first. He wasn’t sure why but all he knew was that he
would give just about anything to reach that first crack high he’d experienced just one more time. Subconsciously, he’d been
reliving those particular moments and dwelling on how good he’d felt, but now he was slowly slipping into an uncomfortable
state of depression. The money he’d lost inside the gas station had made him feel bad enough, but the depression he felt now
was much worse, and he had to fix it.

“Rocks?” Butch asked him. “Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

“How much?”

“Three or four hundred dollars’ worth. And can you sell me a pipe?”

“Not a problem. I’ll bring it with me, and it’s on the house.”

“Oh and just so you know, this is between you and me. No need to mention this to my wife.”

“Of course. See ya soon.”

Derrek hung up, drove out of the parking lot, and turned in the direction of the credit union. This really would be the last
time he went there to withdraw any of Mackenzie’s money.

It truly would be.

He promised.

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