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Authors: Kimberla Lawson Roby

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BOOK: The Perfect Marriage
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N
o matter how many years passed, no matter what they’d gone through, there was nothing that compared to lying in Derrek’s arms.
As it had turned out, Denise had found herself completely overwhelmed with work and for the first time in a while, she’d told
Mr. Hunter she needed the afternoon off. She’d left the nursing home around eleven thirty and had arrived home by noon, and
it wasn’t until then that she’d learned Derrick had taken the rest of the day off, too. Now, they lay together, basking in
the afterglow. They’d always heavily desired each other, but now it seemed as though they couldn’t get enough. They had exceptionally
strong urges to have sex all the time, so not only was the cocaine doing wonders for Derrek’s depression, it was doing the
same for their overall intimacy and Denise had no complaints. It was also helping her cope with all her work stress, along
with her great desire to be the best director she could be. She was still overloaded and understaffed, but after Dixon’s funeral,
she’d made a conscious decision: she would do what she had to do to make things better. Sometimes she still took Vicodin and
she’d even tried those Dilaudid pills Butch had given her, but neither compared to coke. They just didn’t relax her in the
same manner or provide the same intense euphoria.

Denise nestled closer to Derrek and exhaled. “I’m so glad we both decided to come home.”

Derrek stroked her hair. “Me, too. And to be honest, I wish I never had to go back.”

Denise wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that, but she also knew Derrek was still in mourning and that it might be a while
before he was his old self again. He was hurting, and she understood the reason he felt the way he did. “You’ll feel better
in time.”

“I hope so. But on another note, we need to call Butch. We’re running a little low.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Denise agreed but thought about her pledge to stop doing drugs altogether, the one she’d made the day
that police officer had pulled her over. She’d truly wanted to quit for good, but for now, drugs helped her and Derrek cope
with Dixon’s death.

She also knew Derrek was totally right about them needing more because not only had they gone through the cocaine supply she’d
purchased the Friday Dixon had died, they’d also purchased another thousand dollars’ worth three days later, along with another
thousand’s worth every week since then—and used most of that up, as well. Initially, they’d been able to cut ten to fifteen
lines from a gram, but now they were lucky if they cut six or eight because they’d increased the size they snorted. They would
never exceed spending a grand a week, though, so Denise wasn’t worried.

Derrek lifted his cell phone from the nightstand and dialed Butch’s number.

He answered right away.

“Hey, how’s it goin’?” Derrek said.

Denise couldn’t hear Butch’s response but after he and Derrek made a bit of small talk, she heard Derrek saying, “I think
we’ll get a full twenty grams this time.”

They’d never gotten so much in a single buy before, but actually Denise was sort of glad Derrek was purchasing as much as
he was because this way, it would last them for two full weeks. It was easily going to cost about two thousand dollars, but
that was okay.

Derrek and Butch exchanged a few more words and then Derrek told him he’d meet him in a couple of hours. When he laid his
phone down, however, he sat on the side of the bed and pulled a square mirror from his drawer. Denise got to her knees on
the bed, positioned herself behind her husband and hugged him around his neck. She hadn’t thought about it before, but now
she was glad Mackenzie didn’t have debate practice today, which meant she could ride home with Alexis, and Denise wouldn’t
have to go back out to get her. This also gave her and Derrek more time to relax together.

Derrek cut four equal lines, snorted two of them and then passed the mirror to Denise. She sat down in the middle of the bed,
picked up the dollar bill, and snorted the lines Derrek had left for her. They both moved their bodies toward the headboard,
leaned back, and let the drug do what it did so well: send them to a whole other planet. They sat still for a while longer,
but then Derrek slid farther down on the bed and pulled his wife on top of him.

“Baby, I love you so much.”

Denise smiled at him. “I love you, too. I love you with everything in me.”

Derrek gently grabbed both sides of her head and kissed her forcefully. Denise kissed him back, and she couldn’t wait to make
love to him again. Her high was in peak range, she was in bed with the man she loved to pieces, so what could be better?

The answer: not a single thing.

  

Derrek had just pulled out of the driveway, and Denise walked into the study on the first floor. She and Derrek had taken
a shower together, but as they’d gotten dressed, she’d sort of been thinking about their monthly budget, something she’d always
kept tabs on like a hawk. She still wasn’t worried about anything, but she also wanted to see exactly where they were financially.

She clicked on the Internet Explorer icon, typed in the HTML address for their bank, and entered her user ID and password.
She waited a few seconds, and before long, a balance summary displayed on the screen for their three accounts. Denise carefully
scanned the totals and was soon a bit more at ease; mainly because even though they’d increased their monthly spending, they
still had a pretty good nest egg. Five thousand in savings, three thousand in checking, and thirty-five thousand in their
money market account. The other great thing was that she’d already paid bills for the month of October, so once she and Derrek
got paid this Friday, they’d be depositing more than enough to cover the two thousand dollars Derrek would be withdrawing
from checking this afternoon. He was on his way to the bank now to get the cash he needed for Butch.

The other plus was that while they had spent an extra four thousand over the last month, they’d still been able to save a
little. Not nearly as much as they had every two weeks over the past five years, but something was better than nothing. She
also knew this kind of spending wouldn’t last forever. Sure, as of late, because of the pain Derrek was struggling with, they’d
upped their cocaine usage a few notches, however, once things returned to normal, they would only use it socially the way
they had in the beginning. Not to mention, knowing Derrek, it wouldn’t be long anyway before he woke up some random morning
with another huge epiphany: that he’d had enough and he was giving up drugs for good. When he did, Denise would give up everything,
too, including pills, and that would be the end of it.

This would be all good news for their family as a whole because the last thing the two of them wanted was to become financially
drained and jeopardize Mackenzie’s future. Actually, they’d already saved around twenty thousand toward her college expenses,
funds that were tucked away separately in a CD account at their credit union, and they were also hoping Mackenzie’s glowing
academic history would qualify her for scholarships. She earned As in every subject pretty regularly, and Denise didn’t see
where that would change once she was in high school.

Denise signed out of the online banking system, but just as she did, the home phone rang. She leaned over to see who it was,
and smiled when she saw her mother’s cell number.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Hey, sweetie. How are you?”

“I’m good.”

“And Derrek?”

“He’s still not completely okay, but he’s getting there.”

“Glad to hear it. Also, I called you at work and they said you’d taken the afternoon off. Then, when I tried your cell and
didn’t get an answer I got a little worried.”

“Everything’s fine. Just needed some time at home is all.”

“It’s your job, isn’t it? Honey, how long are you going to keep this up?”

“It’s rough now, but it’ll get better.”

“Maybe you should look for another position. Maybe something at a smaller facility.”

“That might work except I really love my boss and the nursing home as a whole. I just can’t see myself going somewhere else.”

“Well, I wish you’d at least think about it, because you seem so exhausted and stressed out all the time.”

“It won’t always be this way, Mom.”

“I hope not. Also, how’s my beautiful granddaughter?”

“She’s good. She can’t stop talking about our Christmas trip to Jamaica, but she’s doing well.”

“I wish your dad and I were going with you, but unfortunately, I have to work as closely as possible with the coordinator
for the firm’s Christmas party. It wouldn’t be so bad, but of course, this year we’re having it much later in the month than
usual, and you guys will already be gone.”

“I understand,” Denise said but deep down all she could think was how this was the way things had always been with her parents,
even when she’d been growing up. Her dad’s career and business associates had always taken precedence over anything family
related. She even remembered the time they’d missed a family funeral simply because her parents had planned a massive shindig
at their home for all her father’s partners, associates, and their spouses. Her mother hadn’t wanted to miss her sister’s
funeral, but as always, her father had made it clear that business obligations and social appearances were priority. He’d
told her mother that there wasn’t a lot they could do for a dead person, anyway, and that it was better to be strong and to
cherish her sister’s memory.

“Maybe next year, though,” Wilma added.

“Maybe so. It would be a lot of fun.”

“Okay then sweetie, I won’t hold you but please give my love to Derrek and Mackenzie.”

“I will, Mom, and tell Daddy I said hello. Love you.”

When Denise hung up the phone, she stood and went into the kitchen. She pulled the refrigerator open and while she saw a few
leftovers, a package of string cheese, some cups of yogurt, juice, soda, cold cuts, and water, she suddenly felt restless
and closed the door. She wasn’t sure why, with all the rest she and Derrek had gotten this afternoon, but for some reason,
she felt out of sorts. She didn’t want to think it had anything to do with the conversation she’d just had with her mother,
but in the back of her mind, she knew the thought of her “perfect” childhood tended to bother her much more than she was willing
to admit. She guessed because it hadn’t been perfect at all, and what no one else knew—except she and her parents—was that
they had skeletons just like anyone else. They had secrets, and no matter how much Denise tried to forget about them she couldn’t.

Denise casually walked back upstairs to the master bedroom and pulled out a couple of Vicodin, but then she dropped them back
into the bottle and pulled the coke baggie from the box they kept it in. She knew she and Derrek had already snorted some
twice this afternoon, but she still poured enough onto the mirror to make two more lines. When she separated the powder, she
sniffed it into her nostrils one at a time and then lay across the bed, curled into a ball. She lay there, waiting for the
fabulous feeling she knew it would give her, and it didn’t disappoint.

She felt wonderful. So, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, relishing every moment.

D
errek dashed inside the elevator as fast as he could, pressed the button for the fifth floor at least eight times, and waited
for the car to arrive on the floor his office was located on. He’d overslept yet again, and he was officially two hours late.
“Come on,” he said panicking and beating the button another couple of times, praying it would somehow force the elevator to
move more rapidly. It didn’t, of course, but soon the doors finally opened, and Derrek hurried down the hallway. He ignored
any and everyone who spoke to him, quickly walked inside his office and shut the door. Thankfully, he hadn’t run into his
boss or anyone else who might have something to say about his tardiness, so maybe he was safe this time. He wasn’t sure how
this had happened again because he’d made it a point to set the alarm clock for five thirty. At least he thought he had. And
he also remembered Denise coming into the bedroom telling him it was time to get up or he was going to be late. But somehow
he must have gone back to sleep when she and Mackenzie had left. Either way, he was late, and it wasn’t good because, as it
was, John had already written him up a couple of times. There had been more than a few conversations about his attendance
and tardiness issues, and John had also talked to him several times about his quality of work. Derrek knew things hadn’t been
right for a while, but he truly was trying to get his act together. He was doing all he could to get himself back on track
in every area of his life, but maybe he wasn’t trying hard enough.

But just as he attempted figuring things out, there was a knock at his door. At first, all he did was close his eyes, but
then he willed his body out of his chair and moseyed over to see who it was. He had a feeling—a bad feeling—that it was John,
and suddenly he felt faint. “Dear God please let it be someone else,” he whispered. Derrek stood for a few more seconds without
moving, and then he opened the door. Sadly, it was in fact John who was standing there.

“Derrek, I need to speak to you,” he said, walking in and closing the door behind him.

Derrek had never been more nervous, and he’d also never seen such a stern look on John’s face.

Derrek leaned against the edge of the desk. “Okay. What about?”

“I’m sorry to have to do this, but we’ve decided to let you go. Effective immediately.”

“What? But why?”

“Look,” John said, already losing his patience, “I’ve given you chance after chance to turn things around, Derrek, but you
just can’t seem to do it. As a matter of fact, you’ve gotten worse.”

“I really apologize, John. I’ve been through a lot over this last year, ever since the loss of my brother, but now I know
I need help.”

“You really do, and I hope you get it. But this is your last day working here. We’ve done all we can, and I can’t cover for
you any longer.”

“John, I know I have a problem, and I’ll see a counselor. I’ll even join that support group here at the hospital for people
who’ve lost loved ones.”

“Derrek, please…please don’t make this any harder than it already is.”

“But I’m really gonna get help this time. I’ll do whatever I have to.”

John shook his head. “Derrek, that’s all fine and well, but you and I both know that the reason you’ve missed so much work
is because of your drug use. I knew something was very wrong the first time I spoke to you a year ago. Remember when you’d
first come back to work, and I noticed all the sweating you were doing?”

Derrek was speechless. He wanted to deny everything John was accusing him of, but no words he wanted to say would leave his
mouth.

“The best thing you can do now,” John continued, “is start packing your personal belongings.”

Tears welled up in Derrek’s eyes. “John, I’m begging you. If you’ll please just give me a chance to show you how serious I
am about fixing things.”

“The decision has already been made, and security is waiting right outside your door with boxes. I’ll also be staying while
you gather everything together.”

“I don’t believe this. After all the time I’ve put into this hospital, you’re going to escort me out like some criminal?”

“You’re an illegal drug user, Derrek, and we simply can’t take any chances. I’m sorry, but we have patients to worry about,
and this is policy.”

Derrek couldn’t recall ever feeling more humiliated than he was right now. He was actually being fired from a six-figure management
position, and security was going to usher him out of the building in front of everyone. The whole idea of it was ludicrous.

John opened the door and two security guards strutted in with boxes. They never made eye contact with Derrek, but he could
tell they meant business, and that they wanted him to start packing without delay. They wanted him out as soon as possible.

Derrek hated what was happening to him, but in a split second he thought about something much worse than being fired. How
was he going to break this kind of news to Denise? Tell her that he’d lost his job and that she would now have to take care
of all of them? How would he ever find the courage to look his daughter in the face again?

Derrek tried gaining his composure but before long, his knees buckled and he dropped down in his chair. What in the world
was he going to do? He literally had no idea, and while he would never say it out loud, he felt like dying. He’d felt the
same way the night Dixon passed, but for some reason, today, his thoughts of killing himself were much more real. This time,
he could actually see himself doing it.

  

Hours had passed and no matter how many lines of coke Derrek had done, he still didn’t know how he would break the news to
Denise. He was a nervous wreck, and he had a feeling that maybe he’d snorted just a little too much because his heart raced
frantically. He also thought he’d heard voices but every time he’d gone to check downstairs, there had been no one in sight.
He paced back and forth and back and forth again, and then looked out of the bedroom window when he thought he heard a car
pulling up. Sure enough it was Denise and Mackenzie waiting for the garage to open. Now, Derrek paced even more, and he hoped
he wasn’t having a heart attack. His chest tightened, and he also had difficulty breathing, so he sat down in one of the chairs
over in the sitting area. He tried to calm himself as best as he could, but within minutes, Denise strolled into the bedroom
and smiled.

“Hi, honey.”

Derrek burst into tears, and she closed the door.

“Oh my God, honey, what’s wrong?”

Derrek grabbed hold of her. “Baby, I’m so, so sorry. I really messed up.”

“Honey, you’re scaring me. Please tell me what happened.”

Derrek released her and took a couple of steps back. But he just couldn’t make himself say the words.

“Baby, what is it? Why are you so upset?”

Derrek dropped to his knees and grabbed her around her waist. “I lost my job today. They fired me and then escorted me out.”

“They what? What do you mean they fired you?”

“Baby, they let me go.”

“But why?”

“Performance, attendance, tardiness, you name it.”

“I don’t understand,” she said, pushing him away from her.

Derrek stayed on his knees but looked up at her. “I didn’t wanna worry you, but I’ve had some problems over the last few months.
I’ve been late, I’ve missed days, and I’ve missed a number of deadlines.”

“Oh my God!” Denise hugged herself, drenched with anxiety. “Derrek, what in the world are we going to do?”

Derrek got to his feet and took both her hands. “Baby, I can fix this, okay? I promise you, I’ll take care of things, so please
don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry?” she yelled. She never even usually raised her voice at him, so Derrek knew she was livid. “How can I
not
worry?”

“I know this seems like the worst thing ever, but I’ll get another job. I’ll do whatever I have to. You just have to trust
me.”

“Oh…my…God,” she said again. “Dear Lord, what are we going to do?”

Derrek wanted to say something, anything to reassure her, but when he saw extreme panic in her eyes, he kept his mouth shut.
He remained quiet because he knew they were in deep trouble—he knew this because Denise loved cocaine as much as he did, yet
now they would have to figure out how to pay bills and support their drug habit on one income. Yes, they were definitely in
deep, deep trouble for sure.

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