Time and Tide
Monica Styles was sitting in her office. It was a small space, but nicely decorated with a professional, yet cozy feel to it. She could have easily spent the money for a larger office, but it wasn't necessary. As an interior designer, the majority of her meetings were at her clients' homes. And while her business was doing great, there was no need to spend money unnecessarily.
'House of Styles', Monica's interior design company, had its grand opening at the home of DA Gerard Darnelle about two years ago. Monica used to work for Darnelle when she was in high school. And when she became friends with Harriet Delong after doing design work for Sheriff Bill Gillespie, nailing the Darnelle job was a breeze. What Monica hadn't counted on was Faye Darnelle.
Faye was the quintessential politician's wife. She was pretty, but not too much so, quiet, and an at-home mother to the Darnelles' only child, Becky. But when Becky left for college at the same time Monica showed up with her business plan, Faye Darnelle turned into a woman with a mission.
What was supposed to be a small gathering to showcase Monica's work turned into Sparta's social event of the season at the hands of Faye. Between the politicians, the socialites, and the newspaper coverage, 'House of Styles' ended up with more business than Monica knew what to do with. And she quickly became the most recognized black woman in Sparta, next to Harriet Delong.
"Are those pictures ready, yet?" Monica asked her part-time assistant.
A cute teen-aged girl with light brown skin and almost black eyes responded, "Did I say they was done yet?"
"'Did I say they were done yet.' And keep your attitude to yourself, Trina. Remember, I'm the master of that move!"
"Whatever! I'll let you know when I'm finished." Trina said as she turned back to her small desk and began arranging some recent kitchen photos.
Monica smiled to herself. She had been slipping Trina money for her report cards since the girl was eight years old. But now that she was 14, Monica wanted to give her something more hands-on to keep her focused. Like herself, Trina was from the Bottoms and was pretty much raising herself. If she didn't have something to look forward to, she wouldn't stay in school.
"All right, Shorty. I'm tired. We can finish the pictures on Monday afternoon. I need to go home."
"Fine with me. And I done…I've already told you about calling me 'Shorty'."
"Okay, okay. Look, let's stop and get some food on the way home."
"Cool. But I still get paid for the whole day, right?"
Lonnie Jamison was out in his front yard. He had been officially promoted to Chief Investigator of the Sparta City Police department a little over a year ago, after Virgil Tibbs moved to Jackson to finish law school. Since he hadn't had a full day off since the promotion, Police Chief Hamp Forbes had given him two consecutive days, with no phone calls. Lonnie was spending this time playing with his two year old son, Will.
"Ball, Da! Ball!" Will screamed between a mouth full of new teeth.
Lonnie smiled. "All right, son. Here it comes!" Lonnie rolled the ball to the little boy who squealed in delight as he chased it across the grass. Just as Will managed to pick the ball up, Lonnie's wife, Lana swerved into the driveway.
"Mommy!" Will ran to his mother, stretched out his arms, and started opening and shutting his hands. This normally meant he wanted to be picked up.
"Not now! I just got home. Here." Lana responded as she handed her son a lollipop.
Lonnie looked at his wife and shook his head in disgust. He never wanted to marry Lana. And to this day, he regretted ever having touched her. But when she told him that she was pregnant, he decided to do right by the child. He had hopes that their baby would make it possible for them to be friends and respect each other enough to make a home for Will. But that never happened. Lana had been a horrible mother, a worse spouse, and a terrible friend; not only to him, but to the woman he was truly in love with, Monica Styles.
Monica and Lonnie had been secretly dating each other for almost three years when they had decided to get married. While Monica was away at school, Lonnie had made a tragic error in judgment; he had a brief sexual relationship with Lana. He and Monica decided to put the affair behind them and made plans to marry. Lana knew she was pregnant the entire time, put kept it hidden until it was too late for her to consider other alternatives. At the exact same time that Lonnie and Monica were planning their wedding, Lana dropped the bomb on him and backed him into a corner. He had no choice but to end his relationship with Monica and to marry Lana.
Lonnie was thinking of all of this when he went and gave Will the hug he wanted from his mother. "Welcome home." He said to his wife. "It's only been, what, twelve hours since we've seen you?"
Lana rolled her eyes. "Like you care. I know you don't love me, Lonnie. So you can stop the concerned husband bit."
"We're adults, Lana. We have a responsibility to make a family for Will. That's kind of hard to do if you're not here. And our son's getting older. He's gonna start noticing that his mama don't want to be bothered with him."
"'Our son.' That's cute. Maybe you should call Monica the Great and ask her how to be a good mother. She seems to be so good at everything else in the world." Lana took her bags and stumbled into the house. She was drunk…again.
Lonnie looked at Will and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Ready to go see Grandpa?"
The little boy's eyes lit up and he clapped his hands. "Pop-pop house!"
After Monica dropped off Trina, she made her usual rounds through the Bottoms. She still owned the home that she grew up in and rented it out. When her design company began to turn a profit, she also created a small investment company and purchased two more homes in the Bottoms. After using her decorating expertise to fix the homes up, she rented those out, too. The investment company wasn't making the same kind of money her decorating company was. Monica kept the rent low and never hit her tenants with increases. Her goal was to provide the Bottoms with quality housing.
Monica was satisfied with her inspection of her homes. As she was getting back into her car, a familiar voice called to her. "Well, if ain't Lady Styles!"
Monica turned around and saw Jimmy Dawes. "Hey Uncle Jimmy! What's going on?"
Jimmy shook his head. "Nothin but the rent, baby. But, uh, you know that don't 'cha?"
The two laughed for a moment and then Monica spoke. "Jimmy, why don't you come work for me? You're too smart for this and you know it."
"What, you trying to buy a drug store now?" When Monica rolled her eyes and glared at him, Jimmy decided to get serious. "Listen babygirl. Everybody's got they place and they job. My place is in the Bottoms."
"And I guess your job is controlling supply and demand?"
"Yes ma'am it is." Jimmy smiled. "See, if I ain't here doing what I do, somebody else would be. Know who that somebody is? Some rich white man from Jackson or some paid Cuban from New York who don't know these people here and don't care about 'em. You think some I-talian would front Little Ricky his cut early so he could pay his mama rent? Or let Latisha only work from 9pm to 2am so her baby won't know she hookin'? Hell, no! They'd probably kill 'em both just for asking."
Monica wasn't buying it. She had grown up there and had seen everything that Jimmy described. But in her mind, her people had simply given up and had become lazy. She pulled herself out; why couldn't they?
Jimmy smiled again. He knew what she was thinking. He calmed down and spoke again, this time more softly. "You did real good, girl. Believe it or not, all us down here proud of you. You the first thing we ever had to brag on! But don't get it twisted. You ain't do nothing by yourself. A whole bunch of folks, just like me, stayed where we was and kept doing what we do, so you could get to where you are. You may have pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, but them bootstraps was provided to you by the hard-workin, honorable citizens of the Bottoms."
Jimmy winked his eye at her and walked off. She loved that man to death. He'd always been her favorite 'uncle', her word for the string of boyfriends her mother kept before she died. But he had a philosophical streak that, even with her genius capacity, she found difficult to keep up with sometimes.
Monica decided that she needed to go clear her head. And there was only one place in Sparta where she could do it.
Will was running around the backyard at his grandfather's house chasing Beauregard, his grandfather's dog. It was an easy task for the child, since Beauregard was now 15 years old and too tired to run away from him! Bill Gillespie and his son-in-law, Lonnie, were sitting on the deck. Lonnie had finally decided that it was time to tell the man the truth about his daughter.
"I guess I need some advice, Bill. I've tried to get her into counseling, but she won't go. She's hardly home, and when she is she's passed out. I'm raising Will by myself, but you know that's hard, with me being a cop and all. She needs help. And I thought she might listen to you."
Bill listened, but only with half of his attention. When Lana entered his life when she was 19, he was thrilled. And when he had heard that she and Lonnie were seeing each other, he couldn't have been happier. Of course, there had been talk about Lonnie and Monica Styles, but Bill wanted his daughter with Lonnie so badly that he ignored the possibility that Lonnie was actually in love with the young black girl. There had also been talk that Lonnie and Lana were simply having a casual sexual affair. That was something that Bill refused to accept. The boy had simply been torn between two women he cared for, that's all. And in the end he had chosen Lana. He knew that Lonnie still had feelings for Monica. But in time he would fall in love with his daughter if he would just try.
"Lonnie, I know this hasn't been the fairytale you were looking for. But look at this from Lana's point of view. She's young, she wasn't raised right herself. She doesn't really know how to be a mother. Maybe you could help her, show her what to do."
"Bill, how am I supposed to do that? I didn't have a mama either, not really. Or a daddy."
"I know that, son. I just hope your mother being an alcoholic isn't the reason you're so ready to slap that label on Lana. Maybe she drinks more than you would like, but does that mean she has a problem?"
Lonnie turned his eyes away from Bill for a moment. He knew this would happen, but it was too late to stop and the man had to hear it straight. "Bill, she's a drunk. And I need your help to take care of her."
Bill did something he very rarely did. He got good and damned mad. "How dare you sit here at my house and disrespect my child! If she is a drunk as you claim, maybe you ought to ask yourself why that is! Maybe that's what you need to be fixing and not her."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
Bill stood up and pointed his finger at Lonnie. "I mean you, Detective Jamison! You! Lana's told me how you've turned Will against her, always running to be the first to get to him so the boy doesn't want anything to do with her. And that you haven't touched her since Will was born. And don't you think for one minute that I don't why!"
At this moment, Lonnie stood up for a good old-fashioned eye-to-eye with Bill. "Don't say it, Bill. You'd be wrong. And I'd be real mad."
"You've got a beautiful, young wife who'd do anything for you. And here you are, still pining away over that Styles girl! I know it, and Lana knows it. You might've married her, but you've never really tried to make this a real marriage. No wonder she's drinking, if that's the truth. You drove her to it!"
Lonnie was motionless. His arms were at his sides and his wiggling his fingers to help relieve some tension before he hauled off and hit his father-in-law at his own house. He decided to change the subject before things got worse.
"You want me to pick Will up or are you dropping him off?"
"I'll drop him off. It will give me a chance to check on my little girl. You go do whatever it is you do when you're not with your family."
Lonnie stomped down the steps of the deck. He gave his son a hug and a kiss 'good-bye' and left to go somewhere quiet, and to think.
Monica reached her destination. She hadn't been here in years and she wasn't even sure that the key still worked. But when she heard the latch turn and the door opened, she smiled. Everything was exactly where she had left it. She put her iced tea into the refrigerator and sat on the futon she had purchased three years ago. She closed her eyes and thought about everything that Jimmy had said. And to a degree, he had been right. She laughed out loud at herself. "You're getting soft-hearted in your old age, girl."
"That could be a good thing. Depending on what you're getting soft-hearted about."
Monica opened her eyes and saw Lonnie standing at the front door of their trailer.
Lana was well into her fourth martini by the time her father arrived with her son. Bill had arrested many drunks during his time in law enforcement. He knew one when he saw one. Normally when he found Lana in this condition, he would try to convince himself that she was tired, that she didn't feel well, or that the problems with her marriage had stressed her out. Today, he couldn't do it. He knew exactly what he was looking at. His daughter was completely intoxicated. Bill took Will upstairs to his room for his nap and then went back downstairs to talk to his daughter.
"Hey, there honey. How's daddy's little girl?"
"Been better, Pop. Seen my husband? I haven't." she lied.
Bill lowered his eyes and then answered her. "Lonnie brought Will over to me. Weren't you here when they left?"
Lana began to cry. "Yes, but I was asleep! He took Will while I was sleeping. I didn't even get to tell my baby 'bye'!"
'No wonder she's in this state!' Bill thought. "Don't worry, Lana. Your daddy's gonna sit right here 'til you feel better."
Bill wrapped his arms around his daughter and rocked her, while Lana laid her head on her father's shoulder…and smiled.
Lonnie had been standing in the doorway for about five minutes, watching Monica sit on the futon with her eyes closed. He knew that he should have left; he shouldn't have come in at all when he saw her car. But he couldn't stop himself. He missed her. And at that moment all he wanted was to be near her. When she opened her eyes and saw him standing there, he thought that she'd leave. But she didn't. Instead, she gave him a weak smile and said, "I saw your little boy the other day. He's beautiful, Lonnie."
Lonnie smiled back. "Thanks. Your business seems to be doing great. I'm proud of you."
Neither of them knew exactly what to do next. They hadn't spoken in two years, since the day Lonnie's son was born. The conversation was filled with rage, sadness, and then finally acceptance. Being in each other's presence again was awkward for them both. Sensing the uneasiness, Lonnie turned to go at the exact same time that Monica stood up to leave. As a result, the two of them slammed right into each other. Lonnie caught Monica by her waist to keep her falling, and then the two of them started laughing.
"Isn't this how we ran into each other the last time we spoke?" Monica asked.
"Yeah. I think you have an understandable desire to do me bodily harm."
Monica laughed again and stepped back out of Lonnie's arms. Or at least she thought about stepping back. But somehow, her feet wouldn't move. Lonnie tried to let her go, but his hands seemed to be frozen. He let out a breath and said, "I messed up, Monica. My life's pretty bad right now, except for Will. I probably deserve it. If this is how you felt when we broke up, then I know I deserve it. But I can't keep doing this. I just can't."
Lonnie turned his eyes away from Monica. Without thinking she stroked his face with the tips of her fingers. "LJ, what's wrong?"
Lonnie looked at her and smiled. "It's been a while since I've heard you call me that. It feels good."
Monica took Lonnie's hand and led him outside to the porch. They sat down beside of each other. For a moment, they simply sat there. Then slowly, Monica inched her way a little closer to him. And in turn, Lonnie put his arm around her. When she looked up at him, he brushed her hair away from her face and kissed her forehead. Monica laid her head on his shoulder and said, "So… do you want to talk or do you want to just sit here?"
Lonnie rested his head on top of hers. "For the first time in my life, I think I want to talk."