FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART
On Monday morning, Monica went directly to Althea Tibbs' office. She still had no clue as to what Mrs. Tibbs wanted, but she sounded pretty excited when she called.
"Good morning, Monica. Have a seat!"
"A little giddy for a Monday, aren't we?" Monica thought to herself.
"I have good news, Monica. There's private girls' school in North Carolina that wants to admit you beginning with the next school term. It's one of the top girls' schools in the country and they also have a college program."
"Yes. I know that may sound scary, but this is a great opportunity for you. Here. This is the information package the administrator sent to me."
Monica took the package from Salem Academy, but didn't open it. Althea noticed her hesitation.
"Is something wrong, Monica?"
"It's just that you and I have been prepping me for the extension program at Sparta College so I could keep working with Mr. Darnelle. Now all of sudden we're talking about North Carolina."
"Sparta College was a good choice for you at the time we designed the program. While several schools wanted you, their scholarship programs didn't cover your travel and incidentals. You couldn't work and keep up with college level accelerated programs. Sparta College would've allowed you to keep working because their programs are less intensive."
Althea stood up and took a seat beside Monica.
"But Salem Academy is different. You would go in as a senior for one, because of your placement scores. And if you move on to Salem University, your senior year credits count towards your first year college credits. AND their scholarship covers all expenses. Besides, when you sell the items in your home, you won't have to worry about incidentals. We're talking about the difference between a good school and a great one."
Monica still didn't respond. Althea was worried that she knew why. She had kept her mouth shut so far, but this was Monica's future. She finally approached the subject she had been avoiding.
"Monica, I'm sure that everyone who cares for you would want this for you. Including Lonnie."
Monica suddenly looked up to face Althea. No one had ever mentioned Lonnie directly to her before now. For the first time in her life, she was speechless.
Althea sighed and asked, "Exactly what's going on there, Monica?"
As quickly as she lost it, Monica reclaimed her composure and answered,
"LJ is a very special person, Mrs. Tibbs."
"To you or in general?"
"Is there a difference?"
"There could be. If you're about to make a decision that could change the rest of your life, I'd say yes. There is a difference."
Again, Monica didn't speak. Althea knew that she wouldn't get any more out of her, so she decided to end the conversation.
"Will you promise me that you will at least think about it before you make a decision?"
"Yes, Mrs. Tibbs. I'll think about it."
After Monica left to go back to class Althea sat at her desk and wondered if she had been wrong in deciding not to interfere with Monica and Lonnie's relationship. And there definitely was a relationship, although Althea wasn't exactly sure what the relationship was. She knew it was stronger than friendship, but she couldn't see Lonnie crossing that line…unless his heart was telling him it was right.
Althea had tried to convince herself that she had remained silent because Monica and Lonnie were just friends and Virgil was over-reacting. But, she knew that wasn't true. She had said nothing because Monica had never in her whole life had anything or anybody. And in her heart, she wanted Lonnie for Monica.
If it had been any other girl in the school, Althea would've been outraged. But Monica was different. Her birth certificate said she was 16, but Monica Styles was no more a child than she was. Her mother had seen to that. And Althea had always thought that because of her maturity level, Monica would eventually end up with an older man anyway. She used to think it might end up being Willson Sweet, but in her opinion, Lonnie Jamison was just as good a choice if not better. There was something that passed between Lonnie and Monica, something special and almost magical. Right or wrong, Althea believed they belonged together.
The race issue would be a problem for them, definitely. There were already rumors flying about Chief Gillespie and Harriet Delong. The two of them were meeting secretly, but everyone in Sparta knew about. And they both were suffering personally and professionally because of it. She didn't know how Lonnie and Monica would be able to deal with that AND deal with the age difference, but Althea had no doubt that they could handle both if they chose to continue their relationship, whatever it was.
But that was before Salem Academy called. Monica now had a chance for something bigger than the Bottoms, bigger than Sparta. And her gut told her that Monica was hedging because of Lonnie.
Althea knew what she had to do. She hated it, but her job was to protect Monica.
Lonnie and Sweet were at the lake fishing. They both rarely had the day off together, so they always made plans to hang out on those rare occasions. Normally they would drink beer, catch each other up on their latest cases and love life, and drink more beer. Today, Sweet appeared to be a little on the quiet side.
"What's up, Man?" Lonnie asked. "You're haven't said more than two words since we've been here. That's normally my job."
Sweet put down his beer and got ready to ask the question that had been bugging him for the past several weeks.
"You know, I never got around to thanking you for watching out for Monica while I was on vacation," he said.
"Just doing my job, man." Lonnie responded.
That answer set Sweet off. He had planned to be cool, but Lonnie's answer somehow seemed disrespectful.
"Are you sure about that?"
Lonnie was caught off guard by the inflection in Sweet's voice. He turned slowly and stared at his friend while Sweet continued.
"I mean, is it your job to go over to her house everyday and sit on her porch, holding hands with her like you're her boyfriend or something? And spending the night with her after the break-in. That was in your job description, too?"
"Look Sweet. I don't know what you think you know, but…"
"What I THINK I know? Okay, Lonnie…okay. How about this? I got it from Jimmy Dawes that you've been screwing around with that girl, or at least trying to, since the day I left for vacation. And since I consider Monica family, and you and I are supposed to be friends, I thought that maybe you could find some time in your new schedule to explain to me what in the hell it is you're doing!"
Now Lonnie was angry. Sweet was the only person in Sparta he had ever opened up to, that he trusted. At least, until he met Monica. He couldn't believe that Sweet would think so lowly of him.
"First of all, Jimmy Dawes is wrong. Yes, I stayed with her after the attack, but I never touched her. She was scared so I stayed. A bad judgment call, I admit. But I didn't take advantage of her… and I wouldn't. YOU of all people should know that."
"Okay, you didn't sleep with her. But don't you think that the two of you spending time together is inappropriate at best?
Lonnie was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He didn't want Sweet to think badly of him, but he wasn't accustomed to disclosing details of his personal life either. On top of that, Sweet took his job as a police officer as seriously as he did. If he decided to talk to Virgil or the Chief about this, Lonnie could kiss his job good-by. At the same time, his friendship with Sweet was just as important to him as Monica was. So he gave in.
"Willson, here's the deal. I care for her. Very much. I think… I may even be in love with her. And no, I haven't told her that. And I won't. At least not for a while. Believe it or not, I happen to agree with you that 16, legal adult or not, is a little young to discover that a 29 year old cop sometimes has dreams about being married to you."
Sweet was in complete and utter shock. He didn't know exactly what he had expected Lonnie to say, but he sure didn't expect this.
"Monica and I have talked about our rela..friendship. We know where the other stands and why. For now, we're just really good friends who care very much for each other. In the meantime, we spend time together when we can. And yes, it is inappropriate. But neither of us is willing to give it up until we have to. Something…calls us to each other, Willson. We don't know what it is or why it is, but we need each other. At least for now we do. What happens later on is up to her. What I do know is that if we're still a part of each other's lives a few more years down the road….I'd probably want to…look, she's the TYPE of woman I've always imagined I'd spend the rest of my life with, okay?"
Lonnie was finally quiet and waited for Sweet's response. Sweet just stared with his mouth opened. Finally Lonnie spoke again.
After all he had heard, and after deciding that he believed every word of it, Sweet gave the only response he could come up with.
It had been a week since her conversation with Monica regarding Salem Academy, and Althea had not heard one word from the girl one way or the other. Althea gathered her senses and walked down to the track field.
It didn't take her long to spot Lonnie rounding the inside track with Eugene Glendon. They stopped just a few yards from where she was standing. She let them finish their conversation before she approached Lonnie.
"Hi, coach," she greeted him.
"Hey there, Mrs. Tibbs. Don't tell me Eugene's grades are slipping again. I stopped checking his so often because he seemed to be doing pretty good lately."
"No, Eugene's doing great. If he keeps it up you might be losing him to a great college program, though."
Lonnie smiled. "I think I could find a way to live with that."
Althea saw this as her way to begin her conversation. "That'll be two of Sparta High's finest gone."
Lonnie eyed Althea carefully. "What do you mean?"
"Monica Styles. She's been offered a full scholarship to a private school in North Carolina. They want her to start this Fall. But I'm sure she's told you all about it already."
Lonnie heard Althea loud and clear. "No, Mrs. Tibbs, she hasn't. But if I see her, I'll be sure to mention it to her."
"This is a great opportunity for her. And I want what's best for her, Lonnie."
"So do I, Mrs. Tibbs. So do I."
Lonnie and Monica were sitting on her porch as usual. He had just finished telling her about Virgil Tibbs starting law school over some iced tea he had brought from the Magnolia Cafe.
"What's up, LJ?" Monica asked.
Monica laughed. After all this time, he still gave her the same answer to the same question even though he knew she knew better. Lonnie caught it and began to chuckle himself.
"Okay," he said. "I was wondering how long we were going to sit out here before you told me about your scholarship offer."
"You know… for a little woman, Mrs. Tibbs sure has a big mouth."
Lonnie smiled. "Considering that her husband is indirectly my boss, I'm not going to respond to that. But I would like for you to tell me about this scholarship."
"Some school in North Carolina has a high school and a college. I would go in as a senior and start their college program in a year. If I decide to take it."
"Why wouldn't you take it?"
Monica was shocked and a little hurt by his question. "Why would you want me to?"
"Because it's a great opportunity and a chance for you to leave Sparta."
"I didn't know that leaving Sparta was the objective here. For some reason, I thought my staying in Sparta would be the objective. But then again, since you've banned us from discussing it, I really don't know what the objective is, do I?"
"Don't what? Don't ask you to explain why it is you won't stay away from me, and yet you won't touch me? Don't ask what your intentions are? Don't ask why you all of sudden want to send me away? Fine, I won't ask. I think I already know. You were bored, and I'm so very glad that I've been able to keep you entertained!"
"Now what a minute..."
"No! I've been waiting long enough and I'm sick of it! You're free, Lieutenant, dismissed! You are free to congratulate yourself on being able to break Monica Styles! And you are more than free to get the hell off of my front porch!"
Monica ran inside of her house and slammed her front door. Lonnie sat completely still for a few minutes, and then stood up.
When he walked into the house Monica was standing in her now empty living room. Her shoulders were heaving and Lonnie knew that she was crying. He put his arms around her, but Monica fought him and tried to break free. Lonnie just kept his grip on her until she stopped fighting. He felt the side of his face rest upon hers, and he closed his eyes to shut out the feelings of guilt mixed with passion he was having. He kissed her cheek, opened his eyes, and finally said the words he had sworn he wouldn't say until she was older.
"I love you, Monica."
Monica looked up at him in disbelief. "You're just saying that so I won't be mad."
Lonnie smiled at her from the side of his mouth. "You're always mad about something or another, so trying to avoid that is useless. I said it because I mean it. I love you. I love you so much that sometimes it hurts to look at you. I see you running down the hall at school and I wonder what you'd look like chasing our kids around the house. I hear your name and wonder if you'd take mine if we ever got married or if you'd go Yankee on me and decide to hyphenate it. I love you so much that….that I can't let you throw away what's best for you because some corn-fed white boy is completely and totally gone over you."
Monica buried her face in Lonnie's chest and wrapped her fingers in his hair. Finally she looked up at him and spoke.
"What if some corn-fed white boy is what's best for me?"
Lonnie kissed her forehead and looked deep into her big brown eyes.
"Then he'll be here when you get back."
Summer finally came to Sparta, hot as always, but welcomed just the same. Monica and Lonnie continued to meet on her front porch even though she was now staying at the Tibbs'. There was no furniture at all in Monica's house anymore since Harriet Delong had arranged for the sale of her furniture. And to Monica's surprise, both Ms. Delong and Parker had been way off regarding the value. When all was said and done, Monica cleared a little over $100,000. She paid off the remaining $15,000 owed on her house, and Mr. Darnelle helped her arrange for the house to be rented after she left for North Carolina.
Monica and Lonnie never spoke about the afternoon he finally told her that he was in love with her, and he had never said it again. They also never actually said outright that she was definitely going to North Carolina. They both just knew. They knew that she had to go and that if they were meant to be, the Fates would lead her back to him when the time was right. That was what they both loved about being together; that both seemed to know when nothing needed to said. They had a way of feeling each other without touching, sensing the other's need without asking, and instinctively knowing when something just simply needed to be left alone.
The Tibbs' loved having Monica at the house. She was great with the twins and Aunt Etta liked her. Virgil had finally given up on finding out if Lonnie and Monica were seeing each other. Since she was leaving for North Carolina, he had decided that was one door he would leave shut, for Lonnie's sake. Besides, Willson Sweet had told him that Monica was perfectly safe with Lonnie, and Willson wouldn't trust the girl with just anybody.
Things got a little hectic when August rolled around. Chief Gillespie and Harriet Delong were now seeing each other openly and were taking quite a few hits. Sweet was secretly looking at other job opportunities with more room for advancement. And Virgil was trying not to fall apart between work, law school, and the twins! So when Althea suggested a dinner party for Monica the night before she was to leave for school, they all thought it would be a welcomed break. Everyone was invited, DA Darnelle, the Chief and Harriet, Sweet, and even Parker! Just to be on the safe side, Virgil scheduled Lonnie to work that night so he wouldn't be able to attend.
Everyone left at around 10pm. Monica had seen Lonnie earlier that morning, but neither of them could bring themselves to say good-bye. They did agree that they would write to each other, but no phone calls. They felt that hearing each others' voices would make it impossible for Monica to stay in North Carolina and finish school. Monica was thinking of Lonnie when Althea interrupted her thoughts.
"Yep. I can't believe that I'm actually leaving tomorrow."
Althea giggled. "I know. I remember when I left for college. I was so excited that I couldn't sleep the night before. Now, you remembered to write down our home and office numbers, right?"
Monica patted her briefcase, a gift from Mr. Darnelle. "They're all in here!"
Althea eyed the briefcase and smiled. "You don't think your former boss is pushing for a criminal justice major, do you?"
"Mr. Gerard Darnelle? Why Mrs. Tibbs, whatever would make you think such a thing?"
They both laughed and Monica told Althea that after all the discussion of antiques and watching Ms. Delong and the dealers at work, she had decided to major in Interior Design. They chatted a bit more and finally Althea asked about Lonnie.
"He's been very supportive. He's a little nervous, though he's trying to hide it. He won't admit it, but he thinks I can't take care of myself without him."
Althea smiled. "Don't worry. All men think that way."
Monica looked around the guest bedroom for a clock, but didn't see one. "What time is it?"
"It's about 11:30. Why?"
"I'm going out for a while. There's something I need to take care of."
"Well, okay. But…where are you going?"
Monica looked down at her feet and then back up at Mrs. Tibbs.
"I need to say good-bye to someone."
Lonnie finally got home from work at around 12:45am. As soon as he opened his front door he knew that something was wrong. His end table had been knocked over, and when he looked back at his door lock, it had been jimmied opened, then locked back.
He drew his gun and moved slowly through each room until he got to his bedroom. He opened the door slowly.
His intruder was sitting on his bed. Lonnie moved slowly and when he did, the intruder stood up. Lonnie stopped and finally spoke.
"You shouldn't be here."
"Why?" the intruder asked.
"Because I'm not as strong as you think I am."
"Good. Because I'm not as naïve as you think I am." The intruder said.
"Please." He choked. "Please go…before we do something we may end up regretting."
"Regret? We were sent to each other, LJ. You know that as well as I do. No matter what the future holds for either of us, there could never, ever be regret."
Lonnie tried to speak, but he couldn't find the words. He tried to walk away, but he couldn't find the strength. He tried to close his eyes, but hers held him captive.
Suddenly, Monica moved towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck. He kissed her, gently as he always had, and tried to remove her hands from behind his neck. But this time, Monica kissed him back, ran her hand up his chest and began to unbutton his shirt. Lonnie tried to stop her, but for reasons he couldn't explain, his hands wouldn't move. When he felt her fingers on his bare chest, he lost what little sense of control he had. His kisses became more passionate, almost savage in nature, and when his tongue found hers for the first time, he moaned. Somehow his lips found their way to Monica's neck, and then her shoulders.
She whimpered softly and finally whispered, "I love you, Lonnie."
At that moment, Lonnie cradled her in his arms and carried her to his bed. He had finally lost his battle with his soul. And he didn't care.
When he woke up the next morning, Monica was gone. He knew that she would be, and he loved her for it. She left to spare him the pain of facing her after acting against his principles, even though what happened between them was the most natural and perfect experience of his entire life.
He stayed in bed for a while, remembering how good it felt to have her in his arms and how good it felt to hear her say 'I love you'. He finally got up, showered, and went into the kitchen to get something to eat. When he went to open the refrigerator, he found a note that said, "I'll love you always."
Lonnie smiled and fought the tears that were forming in his eyes. He took the note and gently placed it in his wallet next to the picture of his mother.
"Me, too," he whispered out loud. "From the bottom of my heart."