No Ties, No Lies
Several months had passed since the wedding. It was now early May and a very pregnant Lana was sitting in the yard with her father and her husband. They were at the picnic table having lemonade and cake while Randy Calhoun, Lonnie and Lana's neighbor, was working in the garden. It was late evening, around seven o'clock.
"So, when is my grandson making his grand appearance?" Bill asked. He and his wife had lost a baby shortly before she died. And he never got to be a father to Lana; she was 19 when he finally met her. This baby was the center of his world right now, and it showed.
"Officially, not until July or so, but Dr. Day says I could go early." Lana lied. Bill noted the deception, but didn't acknowledge it. He knew that she was almost three months pregnant when she and Lonnie got married. Lonnie had told Bill himself. But Bill understood that no girl would want to admit such a thing to her own father. Instead, he just patted her hand. "Well, as long as everything's going okay. You ready for this, Lonnie?"
Lonnie had been completely silent during this entire conversation. He was indeed looking forward to the baby. But he couldn't help what he was feeling; he was wishing that he was having this baby with Monica and was blaming himself for hurting her and ruining their lives. He did manage to work up a smile and responded, "I think it's a little too late if I'm not."
Bill laughed as Lana began to stand. "Speaking of which, nature is calling. Again."
Lonnie helped her up and the two men watched her waddle into the house. When she closed the front door, Bill took the opportunity to address something with Lonnie.
"Jamison, when you came to my office and told me that Lana was pregnant, I wanted to choke you. I knew about Monica then, even though I didn't want to face it. But you knew that, didn't you?"
"Yes sir. I did."
"But I also respected you, too. It took courage to face me. Now I'm going to be courageous and show you the same respect that you showed me."
"After I stopped thinking with my heart, I finally admitted to myself that that baby is the only reason you married my child. I know where you want to be and who you want to be with." Bill took a swallow of his lemonade before he continued. "But you made a choice that had to be followed by a decision. You made that decision; it was the right decision. And this is coming from a man who learned the hard way, I might add. I just hope that you're man enough to stand by it. Completely."
Lonnie kept his voice even and flat as he responded, even though he was madder than hell and wanted nothing more than to shoot Bill Gillespie for what he had just implied. "I'm not going to lie to you, Bill. You're right, as far as where my heart is and what my feelings are. But I'd never disrespect my child with an affair. And neither would Monica, just so you know. I'd thank you kindly to never suggest something like that again."
"'Disrespect your child'? What about the respect you owe your wife, my daughter?"
Before Lonnie could answer, Lana came out of the house. 'Gentlemen, I think it's time!"
At about the same time Lana was going into labor, Monica was sitting in the backyard of Althea and Virgil's house in Jackson. She had been sitting out there for hours, watching Billy and Sarah play, but not participating. She had been living with them since December and her demeanor had not changed since she arrived. She was withdrawn, cranky, and sometimes downright mean. In short, the old Monica had returned. Even receiving her Bachelor's Degree did nothing to lift her spirits. Althea and Virgil were watching her through the window.
"I still can't believe it, Virgil. How could he do something like this to her?" Althea asked. She remembered the turmoil that she had invited into her home by trying to convince Virgil that Lonnie and Monica's relationship would work out. She felt betrayed and would never forgive Lonnie for hurting Monica.
Surprisingly, it was Virgil that was the voice of reason. "Althea, I know that you're hurting for her. And so am I. But he did get Lana pregnant. What was he supposed to do?"
"Well, she shouldn't have been pregnant to begin with!"
"True. But also not the issue. Pregnant is precisely what she is. And I'm not sure how I'd feel about Monica marrying a man who would abandon his own child."
Althea was getting angry. "Who said anything about abandonment? Lonnie could've still supported that child and been a part of its life! And he could've given the baby his name legally without causing… all of this!"
Virgil put his arms around Althea. "No, Thea he couldn't have. We're talking about Lonnie. And he would never allow any woman to have his child without marrying her, regardless of the circumstances. You know that."
Althea began to cry. "She's just so pitiful. She won't return Sweet's calls or Harriet's. She's even ignoring Luann and Gerard."
"I know, honey. I know. Listen, I've been thinking that this may be a good time for me to take a little road trip."
Lana was still asleep. Her labor and delivery were surprisingly smooth for a first-time mother. After about 15 hours, Lonnie was holding his son, Willson Gillespie Jamison. Lt. Willson Sweet of the Jackson City Police department was grinning from ear to ear and trying to get his hands on his god-son.
"All right, man. You've got the rest of your life for this. Hand him over!"
Lonnie laughed and placed the baby in Sweet's arms. "Look at all that hair! Listen, J. I'm real proud that you named him after me, but can you do me a favor?"
"Sure." Lonnie responded.
"Please, please, get rid of one of those 'L's'! Trust me. Your son will thank you for it later!"
Lonnie and Sweet were laughing when someone interjected. "Hold on there, now. I do believe that one of those extra 'L's' is for 'William'!"
The two men looked up and saw Bill Gillespie entering the room with an arm full of flowers and stuffed animals. He placed his gifts by the bed, kissed his sleeping daughter's forehead and greeted Sweet.
"Well, good morning, Lieutenant. So we're about to share us a little boy, I hear!"
Sweet laughed. "Well, considering that you already have a god-son named after you, we might have to fight over this one." He was referring to Virgil Tibbs' son, Billy.
"That, my dear old friend, is a fight you will lose. Don't forget, I'm Grandpa!"
After eyeing the gifts, Lonnie realized that he had been at hospital all night and half the morning, and had not had a chance to get Lana a gift. He wasn't in love with her, but she did just have his baby. "Can you guys keep an eye on these two for me? I need to sneak out and get something for Lana."
Bill smiled. "Go ahead, son. Go ahead. She'll be mighty pleased."
Lonnie nodded a 'good-bye' to his father-in-law and left. He arrived at the square and quickly parked his car. Just as he was crossing the street and heading to the jewelry store, he heard a familiar voice. "Hello, Lonnie. I hear congratulations are in order."
Lonnie looked up and was face to face with Virgil Tibbs.
Monica was indeed depressed. She remembered Lonnie telling her that Lana would break her heart and he was right. And for months, she had hated him as well. But she was still very much in love with him, and still blamed herself for getting too busy to keep in touch with him and telling him to do whatever it took to be sure of their love for each other. Monica felt like she was losing her mind. Everything under the sun was happening to her and she had no idea how to get things back under control. She was beginning to have the same sinking feeling of hopelessness that she experienced when she was still living in the Bottoms. Suddenly Monica remembered how she had kept it together back then. She got out of bed, went to the small desk that was in her room, and began to write out a list.
A few hours later, she was downstairs in the living room looking at Althea.
"I need some advice," she said.
Althea took her time responding. Monica was as confrontational now as she had been when Althea was her counselor in high school. "How can I help you?"
"I've got about $65,000 left from my furniture sale. Is that enough to start my own business?"
Althea felt a smile coming, but she stifled herself. "It depends on what type of business it is. What are you thinking about?"
"An interior design company, of course," Monica snapped. "I shouldn't have that much overhead since I'll be meeting at my clients' homes. I have a strong educational background, too. But I don't have enough experience to start out on my own."
Since there was no way to know if Monica was asking a question or simply thinking out loud, Althea decided not to respond. She did, however, nod her understanding. After a minute, Monica spoke again. "When did you say Ms. Delong called?"
Monica chewed her tongue and then blew some stray hairs out of her face. She went into the kitchen and made a phone call. Althea heard her talking to Harriet, but she couldn't make out the details. Finally Monica hung up and returned to the living room.
"I'm going upstairs to pack. I may be gone for about a week or so, but I'll call and let you know."
"Pack? For where?"
Monica responded, "Sparta."
Althea couldn't hold it together any longer. "Monica. I don't think that's a good idea, not right now. Maybe you should wait until…"
"Wait until what! I'm not going to waste my life away because of them! Harriet Delong is the best contact for getting my business started. I know her personally, I've done work for her, and she's well connected. Harriet is in Sparta; Sparta's where I'm going."
"Honey, you still have emotional ties to Sparta and a lot of unresolved feelings."
Monica stood perfectly still and gave Althea an ice cold stare. "'Unresolved feelings'? Have you been asleep for the past six months? There's nothing 'unresolved' going on here, Althea. I feel like shit and I just resolved to do whatever's necessary to take care of myself, by myself!"
Althea had no response. It wouldn't have mattered if she did. Monica was already in her room packing her suitcase.
Virgil and Lonnie were sitting on a bench outside of the jewelry store. Normally, Lonnie would've begged Virgil off. But he had been a dead man walking since December. There was absolutely nothing Virgil could say to him that could make him feel any worse.
"Lonnie, I know that I'm last person you want to talk to you. And I don't expect you to say anything to me. But I know what you're feeling, to a degree. And I imagine there aren't too many people who truly understand the situation, from your point of view that is. I just want you to know that...well, you're not completely alone in this."
Lonnie was watching Virgil intensely. He had expected a classic Virgil Tibbs 'I told you so', but shockingly, the conversation didn't seem to be going that way at all.
"You see," Virgil continued, "Ours isn't the only friendship I ruined with my attitude. Sweet had a few choice words for me before he left. We live about 15 minutes away from each other. I've seen him once in six months, and that was to check on Monica."
Lonnie flinched at the sound of her name. Virgil politely waited a few seconds and went on. "So after I lost you two, I started doing some soul searching, trying to figure out why I acted the way that I did. The best answer I can come up with is that I've been running from my past instead of dealing with it. At least that was my reason for attacking you; you and Monica brought back some terrible memories for me. And now, another memory from my past has resurfaced. I want to share it with you. And I truly hope that it helps you with what you're struggling with now."
Still not willing to speak, Lonnie just stared at Virgil. Finally, Virgil spoke. "I have a daughter, Lonnie. In New York. Her name is Michelle and she's twelve years old. I've never seen her, not once. And Althea doesn't know."
Lonnie was completely and absolutely dumbfounded. He remained silent while Virgil explained that he and Althea were still in college when they became engaged. After their graduation, Althea had immediately returned to her parents' home to start the wedding plans, while he stayed behind to pack up the apartment. An old girlfriend came by to congratulate him. One thing led to another and the two of them ended up in bed together. Virgil figured it wouldn't matter. He loved Althea and was going to marry her. His ex was leaving the state and he would never see this woman again. One last time for old times sake couldn't hurt anybody.
"I was wrong, Lonnie. She called me a few months later and told me she was pregnant. I did what the average man would do. I accused her of trying to trap me, of being with other men; I even told her that the child wasn't mine. But somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew that it was. I did everything except the right thing. Michelle doesn't even have my name."
Virgil reached out and took Lonnie's hand. "But you're not the average man, Lonnie. You made an average mistake, yes, but you did the hardest thing in the world for a man to do. You denied your own happiness to be a father to your child. I know you're hurting like hell. But the pain is worth it, believe me."
Lonnie finally spoke. "And exactly how would you know, Virgil? I lost Monica, remember? You still got Althea."
Virgil stood up and prepared to leave. "Yeah. Yeah, I did. But I never had Michelle. And more to the point, Michelle never had me."
Lonnie looked away from Virgil, trying to let everything the man had said sink in. Virgil patted him on the shoulder. "You call me if you need to talk. Anytime. Day or night. You don't have to be my friend again, Lonnie. Just as long as you know that I'm yours."
Monica arrived in Sparta just as Virgil had finished his conversation with Lonnie. She planned to stop in and check on Miss Etta, but her first meeting was with Ms. Delong. She pulled into the first empty spot in the square, and headed straight into the county office building.
"Yes?" Harriet responded to the knock on the door. She smiled when Monica walked in.
"Oh, child!" Harriet hugged Monica, but pulled back when she felt how tense the girl was. Harriet thought it best not to mention it. "I'm certainly glad that you finally called me back. And I was thrilled to hear that you wanted to start your own business. That was actually why I was calling you."
"Good. I'm ready to put this degree of mine to use. What did you have in mind?"
"Bill and I have hosted several dinner parties at his house and everyone loves what you did out there. Now, I'm thinking you should do a design for free, provided that the owner allows you to host a 'House of Styles' party when you're done."
"'House of Styles'?"
"Well, your company has to have a name, doesn't it? And while I'm more than happy to help you, I certainly am not looking for a career change!"
Monica smiled a little, and when Harriet saw it, she smiled a lot. "I love it!" Monica said. "And I know exactly whose house it needs to be."
Neither woman said a word. Instead, Harriet picked up the phone and dialed. "This is Harriet Delong. May I speak to Gerard, please?"
For the first time in almost half a year, Monica was happy. She had a meeting with Gerard and Faye tomorrow morning. She was a little nervous, though. Although Harriet was more than happy to use her connections to get Monica started, she made it clear that Monica was on her own to take the ball and run with it.
She was half running to her car, still excited about the day's events. As a result, she wasn't looking where she was going. When she finally realized who she had bumped into, she was staring straight at Lonnie.
For a moment neither of them spoke; they just looked at each other. Finally Monica said. "You look horrible. But under the circumstances, I'd say that you should."
Lonnie swallowed hard, and let the sting of her comment pass. "I've been at the hospital all night. We had the baby. It was a boy."
"Congratulations. I'm glad you finally got the son you always wanted." Lonnie shuddered. When they thought she was pregnant, Lonnie had told her how badly he wanted a boy.
"How've you been, Monica?" He asked.
"Lovely." She stared at him so hard that his hands actually began to shake. Satisfied that she had rattled him, Monica spoke again. "Well, it's been real. Bye!"
"Monica, wait!" Lonnie cried. Monica whirled around with fire in her eyes.
"The last time you asked me to wait, I ended up slapping the living shit out of you. Shall we go there again?"
"I don't want us to be like this. We can't end up like this, not me and you."
At first, Monica wanted to scratch his eyes out. That feeling of being out of control was creeping up on her. But she had too much to do, too much to look forward to, even though she was still in pain. Today had to be the day that she let it all go. And now was as good a time as any to start. She closed her eyes, let out a sigh, and addressed Lonnie calmly.
"Remember telling me that fate would bring me back to you if we were meant to be? Well, the fates were speaking loud and clear, but we weren't paying attention. You and I fall in love, and I'm sent to school in North Carolina. Lana shows up just as you're watching Bill lose his job over Harriet. We think we're having a baby, but it's a false alarm. You finally have your son, but it's another woman's child. Lonnie, don't you see? We were wrong! There never was a 'me and you'. Just us in some fantasy world that never had a chance."
Lonnie tried to stop the tears were forming in his eyes but he couldn't. Monica felt hers coming as well. "I'll never intrude on your family, Lonnie. I hope you know that. And I know that you'll be a wonderful father. Please, stop blaming yourself for this. It's not your fault. It's not anybody's fault. Fate just… finally got tired of being ignored."
Monica ran to her car, opened the door and got in. She wanted to leave the square before anyone saw her, but it was too late. She laid her head on the steering wheel and cried. When she finally pulled herself together, she noticed a long jewelry box on the passenger side seat. In the box was a silver hair comb with a note attached to it that said, "You might want to start using this before you start going on job interviews."
Monica couldn't stop herself from laughing, and then she noticed the receipt. She picked it up and stared at in bewilderment. Lonnie had purchased this gift for her in November in anticipation of her graduation. She put the box and the note in her glove compartment and let the receipt fly out of her window. As she watched the small slip of paper blow in the wind, she finally felt at peace for the first time in months. "No more ties, Lonnie." She said out loud through the last of her tears. "No more ties."
Stay Tuned for Story 5?