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Rita’S Saga: A Young Woman’S Journey Through the Seedy Side of Nashville

Rita’S Saga: A Young Woman’S Journey Through the Seedy Side of Nashville

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Rita’S Saga: A Young Woman’S Journey Through the Seedy Side of Nashville

Longueur:
613 pages
9 heures
Éditeur:
Sortie:
Dec 23, 2011
ISBN:
9781467039604
Format:
Livre

Description

Readers will marvel at this truly incredibility original and exciting romance novel that is filled with mystery, comedy and family dynamics.

Ritas Saga is a tale about Rita Annett Craighead a down-to-earth, unpretentious, unassuming natural beauty from a small farming town in west Tennessee. She moves to the metropolitan city of Nashville after receiving a full academic scholarship to attend the prestigious Commodore University.

Her sister, who lives in public housing ask her to care for her children for two months. Because of circumstance out of her control, she has to get a job as an escort. The characters she dates have eccentric personalities and ask her to perform bizarre task for which she is paid handsomely.

The saga takes Rita on a journey through Music City USA. She meets and falls in love with a wealthy and mysterious newcomer, Mason Grant. And when she does, she is unaware of the danger she is in. She is eventually kidnapped, drugged and dumped in an alley only to be discovered by a hound-dog police detective, Thomas Monroe who is convinced that it was not Rita the kidnappers were after, but information from about Mason Grant. To protect herself and the children in her care, she has no other recourse than to move in with the handsome stranger in his mansion in the upscale neighborhood of Belle Meade where she is held a virtual prisoner. Rita soon learns that Mason has a secret pass and in order to protect his true identity he would go great lengths.

You will laugh, cry and be encouraged as you read this page turner that will remind you of the value of faith, true love and family unity.
Éditeur:
Sortie:
Dec 23, 2011
ISBN:
9781467039604
Format:
Livre

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Rita’S Saga - Angela Michelle Grant

Grant

PROLOGUE

When Rita opened her eyes she did not recognize her surroundings and she thought she was dreaming. She closed her eyes again and saw images of two beastly creatures chasing her. Startled, she opened her eyes and in an instant she recalled many of the events from the night before and began to panic as the realization of her near death experience washed over her.

Where am I? She wondered.

She pulled herself up in the bed. The bedspread that was covering her fell from her shoulders and rested in her lap.

Oh, my God! she said as she looked down at her naked breast. She became horrorstruck and pulled the bedspread back up over her. Frantically she looked around the room, muttering, "Where am I? Where are my clothes? Why am I naked?

Three years after moving to Nashville this was the predicament Rita now found herself. How she got here and why is quite a tale that began while she was in her junior year of college at Commodore University.

Rita Annett Craighead was born on a farm in the rural community of Ridgely in Lake County, Tennessee. She was a bright young woman and in her senior year of high school she was awarded a full academic scholarship to attend Commodore University in Nashville, Tennessee.

She was an unassuming attractive young woman. At five feet, six inches tall, she had shoulder length brown hair, almond shaped, browns eyes, a slender athletic figure and tawny complexion. As physically attractive as she was her best quality was her unpretentious and down to earth demeanor that was both endearing and humbling to all who encountered her.

Sadly in the spring of 1990, before Rita was to begin attending college, her father, Louise who ran the small soybean farm that was handed down to him after his father’s death, and her mother, Clare who was an English teacher were both killed in a traffic accident.

Clare had been an only child of a wealthy family from Chicago, Illinois. She was afforded opportunities most black girls were not; such as membership to a social club and summer etiquette classes. She attended college at her parent’s Alma Mater, the historically black Fisk University in Nashville. In her senior year she announced to her parents she had met and fell in love with an agricultural student from Tennessee State University also located in Nashville and they planned to get married soon after graduation. Her parents were disappointed in Clare’s decision. They told her they had not raised her to become a farmer’s wife. They had far grander ideas for how she would spend her life. She was expected to become a socialite, marry a wealth man and raise proper children in the big city. She would travel and see the world and give grand parties and participate in political, social and cultural events. She would make them proud.

When Clare wrote her parents and told them she had married Louise Craighead, they sent her a letter telling her she was to never contact them again. She respected their wishes. Her parents died not ever meeting their only grandchildren.

Clare handed down to her daughters all she had been taught. From a very young age she coached her daughters on how to walk, talk, sit and stand. She taught them how to dress appropriately for the occasion and how to set a formal dinner table.

Louise and Clare always wanted what was best for Rita and her older sister, Elizabeth and gave their daughters every opportunity they could. They were adamant the girls spend several hours a week reading from the encyclopedia. They exposed them to classical and big band music and taught them to dance the Waltz. Louise even taught his daughters how to handle and shoot fire arms. They were determined to raise well-rounded young women.

Louise and Clare only asked their daughters to do their best in every endeavor they ventured and to look out for each other; advice that in time would serve them well.

Years earlier, after graduating from high school Elizabeth moved to Nashville to attend nursing school at Tennessee State University. Although her parents were not aware of it, Elizabeth was dating John Pearson, the local football star from Lake County High School who had received an athletic scholarship to play football at the historically black institution. As often happens with young lovers, Elizabeth got pregnant.

Clare was disappointed in her daughter for getting pregnant and scolded her for doing so. But she loved Elizabeth dearly and did not allow the mistake to ruin their relationship forever the way she and her parent’s relationship had abruptly ended.

After Elizabeth and John were married, they moved into the only place they could afford, John Henry Hale Homes. Unfortunately, due to complications of her pregnancy she was forced to drop out of nursing school.

Although Elizabeth and John were poor and barely getting by, they were happy. It was as if they did not need food or water and could live off their love for each other alone. That was until John injured his knee in football practice. He eventually lost his athletic scholarship and had to get a full-time job as a construction worker. Five years and two children later, John found it harder and harder to make ends meet.

With their parents and grandparents deceased, Rita and Elizabeth had no one to turn to except a friend of their parents, Mr. Douglas Johnson who was an attorney practicing law in Nashville. They were grateful that after their parent’s untimely deaths he was able to handle all of their legal matters. The young women were not aware of how much debt their parents were in. And although their life insurance policies were enough to cover the funeral expenses, there was scarcely enough left to pay a few bills and to move Rita and their parent’s belongings to Nashville.

It was a terrible time for Elizabeth and Rita and they missed their parents desperately. The young women had to come to the realizations that the farm that had been in their family for three generations would be sold.

Elizabeth had her husband and her children for support and comfort, but Rita was all alone. She had never felt more afraid in her life. She was beginning her college years with the death of her parents and the loss of her home. The only solace she had was that Elizabeth and John lived only a bike ride away from the university campus.

One cold evening in early February 1993, Rita received a phone call from Elizabeth. She asked Rita to come over for a visit as soon as possible.

Early the next morning Rita bundled up in her old heavy winter coat and put on her hat, scarf and gloves. She hopped on her bike then pedaled to Elizabeth’s apartment.

John Henry Hale Homes was a public housing development that was only a few miles from Commodore University. Often times when Rita rode her bike from Commodore to her sister’s apartment, she felt as if she was leaving one world and entering another.

The students, as well as many of the employees of Commodore University were wealthy by most folks’ standards, and very well educated by anyone’s. On the other hand, the residents at John Henry Hale Homes were amongst the poorest and least educated in the city. As Rita would ride her bike back and forth between these two parts of town it appeared to her that the contrasts between the two worlds were staggering and she felt it was harshly unfair.

THE FAVOR

Elizabeth and John lived in a small, quaint apartment. The walls were made of brick-o-blocks and were painted institution green and the floors were covered wall-to-wall with tan shag carpet. Elizabeth kept the apartment neat and made a nice home for her small family.

When her parents died Elizabeth brought with her from their farm as much of their furnishing as she could. An antique oak high post master bedroom suit with matching bureau and wardrobe; two twin cedar beds with a matching chest, dresser and end tables; an dark oak dining room set with a china cabinet with glass doors; and Elizabeth’s favorite, a deep red floral couch with matching solid colored wingback chairs and dark wood coffee and end tables. The accessories: lamps, vases, figurines, throw pillows and original oil paintings that depicted life on a farm all represented a simple earthy style that was elegant and tasteful in their simplicity.

By the time Rita arrived at Elizabeth’s that morning John had already gone to work. The children, four year old Lil John and three year old Meagan, rushed to greet their aunt and gave her loving hugs and kisses.

Elizabeth sent the children to their bedroom to play so she could speak privately with her sister.

Rita was curious and wondered what could be so important Elizabeth could not tell her over the telephone the night before.

Elizabeth was standing between the kitchen and living room holding two cups of hot tea when she said, You may want to take a seat, Rita.

Her tone was serious and gave cause for Rita to worry. She handed her sister a cup of tea and sat next to her on the couch.

What is it Elizabeth? Why are you being so mysterious?

The older of the two sisters took a deep breath then exhaled before beginning. I have to ask a huge favor of you, Sis.

Sure, what is it?

I need you to take care of the children for me for a couple of months.

Rita was surprised and searched Elizabeth’s eyes for an explanation for such a strange request. Then she asked, What? Why? Are you sick? Is John alright?

First of all, we are healthy. But, we are not fine, began Elizabeth as she stood and walked across the room before continuing. John has to find steady work soon. If he doesn’t, I don’t know what is going to happen to us. We barely make ends meet—even in this dump.

Why can’t he find work?

Actually it is not his fault. He is a very qualified, hard working man trying to make a living wage. But in the past few years there has been an influx of immigrant workers who have settled in Tennessee and they have taken over the construction labor market. Men like John, particularly black men, are finding it harder and harder to find work. It’s a shame when a man like John can’t feed and clothe his family evening while living in public housing, explained Elizabeth as she fought back tears.

Our financial situation is getting worse with each passing week. I don’t know how much more John can stand and you know he hates living in public housing and would never agree to accepting food stamps or anymore government aid. He gets depressed when he can’t provide for me and the children the way he feels he should.

You see, Rita, the other day John’s friend Roger called from Florida and told him there is plenty of work for laborers with his skills there. Apparently a few months ago, parts of Florida were devastated by a hurricane and have since been declared a disaster area. So construction workers are in great demand and they need more labors than the city can provide. John figures it is at least a shot at starting over.

Rita seemed to be in a fog and did not respond. She felt pity for Elizabeth and John’s situation, but she had to consider how helping her sister’s family, who were clearly in dire need, would affect her reaching her own goal of finishing college.

Elizabeth was not sure she was making headway with Rita so she added, If I go to Florida with John, Mrs. P said she would take care of Lil John and Meagan during the day so you can go to school and we could pay her when we return home to pick up the children.

But why do you have to go too?

If John and I both go to Florida and find work we can earn the money faster. The faster we earn the money, the faster we could be reunited with the kids and make a new start. Besides, I’ll have to help find us a place to live and a babysitter to care for the children.

Elizabeth, you know I love John like he is my own flesh and blood. And you guys know I’d do just about anything to help, but, said Rita before Elizabeth cut in…"

But what? she asked in a disappointed tone.

It’s just I’ve got this full academic scholarship and it is great. But it is also demanding. I have to keep a very high grade point average to keep the scholarship. It’s a lot of very hard work all the time. If I lose the scholarship, I’ll have to move in here with you guys and not just for the holidays and summer breaks, but permanently! exclaimed Rita, I’ll really have to think long and hard about this Elizabeth.

I understand. And I know it’s a huge favor. But I wouldn’t think of asking you if I thought for one minute your scholarship would be in jeopardy. I know you, Rita. You are very determined and I’m sure you’d keep up your studies. And as I said, Mrs. P is willing to help out. You’d only have to care for the children in the evenings and on weekends, explained Elizabeth.

Rita felt conflicted. She wanted to help her sister but taking care of two children for two months was an awful lot to take on. When do you have to have an answer?

Roger is in Florida now and will be back in a couple of weeks to take care of some business and to move the rest of his belongings there permanently. He’s offered us a ride back with him then, she explained.

Rita did not say another word. Elizabeth knew her sister did not do anything without thoroughly thinking it through.

I know you have a lot to consider and I don’t want to pressure you anymore than I already have, began Elizabeth. Just know, Sis, whatever you decide, I love you very much and I won’t be angry with you if you say no; disappointed yes, but angry no.

The sisters hugged then Rita left to return to Commodore.

COMMODRE UNIVERSITY

Commodore University was founded in the late 1800s with an initial endowment from a wealthy philanthropist. Since its inception it has become one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning and research in the world. And its affiliate, Commodore Hospital is one of the finest teaching hospitals in the United States.

It was not until the 1930s that blacks were allowed to attend the institution and like most of the South, in the 1950s it simmered with political and social unrest that boiled over in the 1960s.

The campus buildings are eclectic in that they comprise of a blend of the original historic and modern structures making up the two square mile facility. The grounds are meticulously landscaped and are both scenic and functional.

Although Rita’s parents and grandparents had graduated from historically black colleges and had wished she had chosen the same path, they felt she made a wise choice when she chose to attend Commodore.

Rita has always wanted to attend college and graduating was her most important goal. She would not allow anything to prevent her from finishing her education, an accomplishment that would have made her late parents proud.

That night back at the dorm, Rita found it difficult to sleep. She had worked very hard to get where she was and she did not want to jeopardize her education. She was still contemplating her sister’s request when her roommate, Ana entered.

Ana Reilly was a lovely and spirited young woman. She had long, straight, red hair, green eyes and fine freckles sprinkled about her nose and cheeks. She was born into a wealthy family. Her father was a neurologist as was his father.

The young women got along well especially considering they came from completely different backgrounds.

Rita was sitting up in bed when Ana slipped into her pajamas. She was still preoccupied with the decision she would have to make. She wanted to help her sister, but she was not sure it was fair for Elizabeth to ask her to take care of two small children during a time when all her energy should be focused on her studies. Although Elizabeth’s explanation that both she and John needed to work so they could raise the money faster made sense to Rita, she was none the less concerned about her grades and what helping Elizabeth and John would cost her in the long run.

Maybe Elizabeth and John don’t understand how much time and energy I put into my studies. She thought.

As Ana snuggled under her olive green duvet, she looked over at her roommate and recalled when they met. It was the day they moved into their dorm room their freshman year.

At first glance Ana noticed how attractive and unpretentious Rita was. Once she got to know her roommate she liked her very much and was glad they could be roommates again.

Anna noticed although Rita was always neat and well groomed the nuances of her appearance that most young women cared about did not seem to phase her one bit. And to Ana, who always had to have the latest fashion, thought it was bizarre her roommate did not like to shop, wear make-up, jewelry or style her hair. To this day Rita still wears her hair in two cornrows pulled together in the back. She wears basic Khaki or denim pants, tee-shirts and brown Oxfords. She is about as unassuming an individual Ana had ever known.

Ana tried to persuade Rita to wear make-up and dress up a bit, but she always resisted. Ana figured Rita was depressed after the loss of her parents. That maybe going to class and taking care of her studies was all her roommate had the energy to do. She was unaware that looking like a plain Jane was part of Rita’s long term goal to stay single.

As Ana snuggled into bed she recognized a very familiar look in Rita’s eyes. It was the look she got when she was worried about a big test or when she had a paper due.

What’s the matter, Rita?

The sound of Ana’s voice forced the young woman to look over at her roommate.

Anything I can help you with?

Oh, no, sighed Rita, It’s my problem and you wouldn’t understand.

As soon as Rita spoke those words she regretted them. She looked at Ana and apologized immediately. I’m sorry, Ana. It’s just that…"

Before Rita could finish her sentence, Ana had pulled herself up in her bed and with a pleasant smile said, Try me?

Rita thought for a second and decided maybe talking through her dilemma with someone might help. Well, Rita began slowly while searching for the right words, What would you do if your sister asked you to watch her children for a couple of months while she and her husband went on an extended vacation to Florida?

Rita knew it was not the whole truth but Ana could get the gist of her problem without her having to divulge her sister’s personal matters.

Well, first of all, began Ana, My sister and I don’t get along and hardly ever speak.

I knew I shouldn’t have bothered you, said Rita.

Wait a second, said Ana. You and Elizabeth have a different relationship. You are very close. You visit with her several times a week and you watch Elizabeth’s children for her all the time, she continued as she climbed out of her bed and walked over and sat next to Rita.

I would do anything to be as close to my sister as you are to Elizabeth. The relationship you share is very special, even for sisters.

Ana is right. I consider Elizabeth and John’s home my home. And all the time I was eating dinner with them they never let on to me that they were having financial problems; although the cabbage, pinto beans and cornbread dinners should have been a clue.

Then Rita recalled Elizabeth and John did not exchange gifts at Christmas and the children’s clothes were looking a bit too small for them.

It must really be nice to be so close to your sister, continued Ana. But, I do understand your dilemma with school and all. Who would watch the children while you were in class or if you had to go to the library?

Mrs. Pennington. She lives right across the walkway from Elizabeth and John. She is a much older woman and only has one daughter who lives in another state and who doesn’t have any children of her own.

I know you adore your niece and nephew, Rita.

Very much; Lil John and Meagan are very special to me.

When Rita would get the opportunity to borrow John’s car, she would take the children to Centennial Park to play and to feed the ducks which the little tykes loved to do. She was always very gentle with them and they seemed to respond to her very well.

When do they want to go to Florida?

In a couple of weeks or so

Why, asked Ana as she snuggled back into her bed?

All I know is that they need an answer soon.

Whatever you decide, said Ana softly, You and Elizabeth have a bond that should be cherished and I’m sure she would not have asked you for this favor if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. However, two months is a long time to vacation, especially in Florida before its warm enough to enjoy the beach. Maybe there is more to this little trip to Florida than Elizabeth is telling you.

Rita felt herself blushing and she wondered if Ana noticed.

Well, began Rita, I’m going to forget about it for the rest of the night and try to get some sleep.

In spite of her best efforts, Rita did not sleep well. She was debating back and forth in her mind what to do about Elizabeth’s predicament. She loved her sister and absolutely adored Lil John and Meagan, but what Elizabeth was asking was a lot for a college student to take on.

Rita knew Elizabeth was the quintessential big sister. Any favor she had ever asked of her she always found a way to do it.

Elizabeth was very proud of her younger sister when she got the letter from Commodore University offering her a full academic scholarship. Rita recalled Elizabeth was so happy she cried. She also recalled Elizabeth telling her, ‘If there is ever anything you need, don’t you dare hesitate to call me.’

As Rita thought about Elizabeth and John’s problems, and how loving her sister had been to her, she had to fight back tears. It pained her to think of her sister’s family in dire straits.

When Rita woke up the next morning she had made her decision and could hardly wait to tell Elizabeth she would take care of Lil John and Meagan while she and John went to Florida for two months. She arrived at her sister’s apartment around seven thirty.

Elizabeth had gotten up with John, just as she did every morning to fix him breakfast and to kiss him goodbye.

When Elizabeth opened the door she was surprised to see Rita standing there. She hurried Rita in out of the cold and offered her some hot tea. They sat at the kitchen table then Rita told Elizabeth she would be glad to keep the children for her. She then said she was pleased Elizabeth thought she was responsible enough to care for Lil John and Meagan for two months.

Elizabeth’s was elated and she hugged and thanked her sister. Then she explained in order to get the money they needed to take the trip, John was going to sell his truck and pay two month’s rent and stock the freezer and cabinets with everything they thought Rita and the children would need while they were away. They would also leave some money for the telephone bill and gas for the car.

Is John going to leave Betsy here for me to drive?

Of course, Rita, you’ll need a car to get back and forth to school when the weather is bad.

It was no secret that Rita loved the old, yellow Mustang. It badly needed a paint job and although John did not think it was wise to trust the car to make it all the way to Florida, he felt it ran fine for short distances. Rita was happy to be able to drive it whenever she wanted.

As Rita was getting ready to leave John came home. It was obvious he did not find any work that morning. She thought he looked disappointed. But when John noticed his sister in-law was visiting he tried to pretend things were fine, but she knew.

Elizabeth rushed to him and told him Rita had agreed to take care of Lil John and Meagan while they went to Florida. John’s spirits were immediately lifted. He thanked Rita and promised to make it up to her someway. Then he picked Elizabeth up in his arms and spun her around. Everyone was laughing and the children rushed in to see what all of the commotion was about. The looks of surprise on Lil John and Meagan’s faces made John, Elizabeth and Rita laugh even harder.

After her visit with Elizabeth, Rita rode her bike back to Commodore. With all that had happed, she had not considered that after her sister moved to Florida it would be weeks before she would see her again and the realization of it caused her to feel blue. But her spirits were lifted when she realized that at the end of the school year she would join Elizabeth and her family in Florida for the summer break.

JOHN HENRY HALE HOMES

John Henry Hale Homes is a public housing complex that was built in the 1950s and held hundreds of apartment units on less than forty acres.

Years after Elizabeth and John moved into the complex, a huge brick wall was erected that concealed the apartments from the bustling Charlotte Avenue traffic. The residents of the public housing facility were told the wall was built to cut down on crime. But many of the residents felt differently and complained that the wall was erected to conceal the poverty that otherwise would be forced upon the sensibilities of the thousands of citizens who headed downtown each day.

The complex was massive and covered several city blocks. Each of its units housed a family with a story of poverty and a lack of opportunity. Most house wholes were headed by a single black female. Many had lived there their entire lives with no way out. The social barriers of poverty, teen pregnancy, ignorance, illness and crime held them prisoner in the place they called home.

Also living in John Henry Hale in large numbers were the elderly, like Mrs. P. Once a hardworking contributor to society, now in their senior years find themselves poor with no other place to turn except to the charity the government had to offer.

Then there were the disabled. Impoverished and handicapped, unable to earn enough money to live elsewhere. Those unfortunate souls where housed in what should have been a safe haven, but instead, were a dumping ground for the unwanted.

To visitor’s surprise, the grounds were well kept, except for the overfilled dumpsters and graffiti drawn by gang members made up of fatherless young teenage boys who showed their colors in their artistic display of unity as they marked their territory and boasted their strength.

Graffiti adorned the sides of the building, dumpsters and even the air conditioners that hung from the windows instead of flower boxes. Each with cardboard stuck on either end to conserve energy.

And the most obvious display of poverty was the groups of unemployed men loitering near trees for shade and on street corners with seemingly nowhere to go or no place to be. Mrs. P called it their social club. ‘The Elm Tree Men’s Social Club,’ she would say and shake her head.

Then there was the high crime rate in John Henry Hale Homes. Many of the residents would go inside their apartment at sundown and not leave out again until sunrise unless it was absolutely necessary to do so.

Folks who moved to John Henry Hale Homes from other places seemed to notice there were no animals. No barking dogs or scurrying cats. Even the trees lacked squirrels. This leaves a lasting impression on a soul. So much so that if you lived there and were ever lucky enough to move out of, you would never want to return. That is unless you moved somewhere even more dangerous, like some of the more affluent parts of Nashville where crime goes unpunished.

THE SAGA BEGINS

As promised in mid February Rita moved into John Henry Hale Homes with Lil John and Meagan. Every morning for nearly two month she was awaken by Lil John tickling her feet and singing, ‘Aunt Rita, wake up, we are hungry!’ After the children were fed and dressed she would walk with them across the walkway to Mrs. P’s apartment.

Mrs. P seemed to know everyone who lived on her strip. There was the wheelchair bound Vietnam veteran who lived next door. He was known as Wheelchair Willie. Each morning he would sit on the porch and turn on his cassette. He would play his music for most of each day. Rhythm and blues, pop and jazz music were his favorites, but at times he’d play rap, and hip-hop.

It was not enough for Wheelchair Willie to enjoy the music; he wanted everyone else to listen to Stevie Wonder, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The Spinners, the Jackson Five and a variety of other musical legends.

No one seemed to mind the old man and his pleasure. Not even the old woman who lived across the walk from him and next door to Elizabeth and John. Off and on all day she would peep out her blinds. Mrs. P mentioned in the year since she had lived in John Henry Hale she had never seen the woman. According to neighbors’ gossip, someone would check on her a couple times a month to bring her food and take out her trash, but she had never come out of her apartment since the day she moved in nearly fifteen years ago.

Mrs. P looked to be in her early 60s. She had a cinnamon complexion and wore her kinky salt and pepper hair pressed and pulled back in a bun. She was a little on the heavy side, but not too much for a woman her age. She wore inexpensive house dresses and sturdy shoes. After the death of her husband of 40 years, she could no longer afford to live alone so she had to move into the public housing development.

‘I was glad to find this place cause I was bout to be put out on the streets,’ she would say.

Mrs. P made a living as a cook for a wealthy white family in Belle Meade, a tiny municipality all to itself. Most Nashvillians think of it as the rich folks’ part of town, not a city within a city. She worked in Belle Meade for decades until she retired last year.

‘The folks who live in Belle Meade are wealthy and come from old money,’ Mrs. P would say.

Mrs. P’s only daughter, Mary never married and did not have any children. Mrs. P would always say Lil John and Meagan were good company for a lonely old lady. She treated them like they were her own grandchildren and when Rita would pick them up each evening Mrs. P would hate to see them leave. She would stand in the doorway and give Rita every detail, no matter how small, about Lil John and Meagan’s day. ‘Today we went to Bethlehem Community Center and played on the playgrounds. Lil John was so sweet to push his sister in the swings,’ said Mrs. P then she would give a hardy laugh. She loved the children with all her heart.

After dinner Rita would give the children their baths, read them a story, sometimes several stories until they were able to settle down and fall to sleep. Then she would study.

On the weekends, no matter how cold it was Rita would take the children to Centennial Park to play and to feed the ducks. This was their favorite time of the week.

It seemed every day Rita would either have a test to take or a paper to write or both. Keeping the children required that she stay up late into the night studying.

Elizabeth made sure to call Rita once a week, usually on Sunday evenings from a payphone. Most times the children were still awake and could speak to their parents. They could not talk long, but Elizabeth told her she and John had made it to Florida fine and had landed in a city that was hit terribly hard by Hurricane Andrew a few months earlier. It was the small city of Homestead, in Miami-Dade County. John found work with Roger immediately on a construction site. But it took Elizabeth nearly a week to find a job as a waitress at a small diner.

Elizabeth explained the tips she earned got them by and they were able to save most of John’s salary and Rita should expect them at the end of the two months, maybe sooner. She went on to explain how beautiful Florida was and she thought they would be happy living in Homestead.

While studying one evening in early April, the telephone rang. It was Elizabeth and she sounded excited. She told Rita she and John would be leaving out in a couple of days to come home and pick up the children and their belongings. She explained John had to finish the job he was working on and they would be on their way.

We won’t be able to stay but a few short days because John has another job lined up and he has to report to work soon or lose his slot to someone else, explained Elizabeth. As soon as we are packed and rested, we’ll be heading back.

I see, said Rita.

I’ve got to go now, Sis, but I’ll call you before we head out. Kiss Lil John and Meagan for us. I love you, bye, said Elizabeth.

I’ll see you soon, Sis.

When Rita hung up the telephone, she was filled with conflicting emotions. She could hardly believe nearly two months had passed. Although taking care of the children had not been as taxing as she first thought it would be; it was a big responsibility that she was glad would soon end because she missed living at the university. But, she also knew she would miss her family when they moved to Florida.

Two days had passed since Rita last spoke with her sister. She was running low on food, and Elizabeth and John had received a notice from the apartment manager regarding the rent and she did not have the four hundred fifty dollars to take care of the bill.

Elizabeth will call before she heads home so I’ll tell her then that the rent is due. Hopefully, she and John will be home in time for me to study for my final exams.

Another three days had passed since Rita last spoke to Elizabeth and she began to worry because Elizabeth said she would call before they headed home.

Maybe John’s job took longer to finish than they’d first thought. Surely they will be home any day now.

One night while Rita was studying at the kitchen table, she heard noises coming from outside. Mrs. P had mentioned there had been an increase in violence in the area recently so Rita decided to investigate. She walked into the living room and peeped out the window. She saw a stranger at Mrs. P’s front door. When she opened the door the stranger walked into the apartment. Rita knew Mrs. P would not open her door for just anyone. She figured she must have known the person.

All the same, Mrs. P is an elderly woman and I would feel awful if something happened to her.

While Lil John and Meagan were sound asleep, Rita went to the kitchen to get a coffee cup and her keys. She locked the door behind her and walked the few feet across the walkway to Mrs. P’s and knocked on the door.

She was surprised when a tall, dark haired woman answered.

May I help you, the woman asked in a harsh tone.

Well yes, said Rita. Is Mrs. Pennington here?

Mrs. P heard Rita’s voice and called, Come in, Rita!

The woman stepped aside while eyeing Rita suspiciously as she entered the quaint apartment.

To Rita, the woman was very exotic looking and she moved in a slow and deliberate fashion as she surveyed the young woman from head to toe as if she were intruding.

I just wanted to borrow a cup of sugar, Mrs. Pennington, Rita said speaking loudly enough for Mrs. P to hear her from the kitchen.

Mrs. P walked into the living room and said, Rita, this is my daughter, Mary Pennington. She has come home unexpectedly to surprise me. She’ll be staying with me for a few weeks.

Rita felt relieved and smiled broadly as she offered the stranger her hand to shake and said, Hello. It is nice to meet you.

The woman folded her arms and refused Rita’s gesture. Rita felt awkward so she asked Mrs. P for the sugar again so she could hurry out.

Help yourself to the sugar, Sweetheart, said Mrs. P while pointing towards the kitchen. The canister is on the counter next to the toaster.

Rita excused herself and went to the kitchen. As she poured sugar into her cup, she overhead Mary speaking harshly to her mother, How often do people come over here to borrow things this late at night, Mother!

Rita then noticed the clock on the wall and saw it was nearly midnight.

Keep your voice down, Mary, she might hear you.

I don’t care if she does hear me!

Rita felt she had better explain herself and she walked into the living room and said, I apologize for coming over so late, but I heard a noise and looked out the window. I saw you let what seemed to me to be a stranger in to your home and thought I’d check to see if you were alright Mrs. P. I’ll be leaving now that I see you are with family, then she placed the cup of sugar on a nearby table.

Realizing Rita was not someone who was taking advantage of her mother, suddenly Mary demeanor changed and she smiled broadly then said, Oh, Rita, is it?

Yes.

I apologize for being so rude and I hope I did not embarrass you. It’s just that I worry so much about my mother living here all alone that… well never mind. Then she walked up to Rita and extended her hand to shake and the young woman accepted.

Mrs. P smiled then said, Well, now that the two of you have met, would you like a glass of tea, Rita?

No, Ma’am. I need to get back to my apartment in case the children wake up. Besides, I still have a lot of studying to do.

The following week seemed to have gone by quickly and Rita was concerned that she still had not heard from Elizabeth or John. She was running out of food, but trusted they would call her soon so she put her concerns aside. She was glad she had not told the children their parents would be returning soon because they would have been very disappointed.

Rita continued her daily routine and decided worrying about when Elizabeth and John would be getting home would not help.

It was the first of May when Rita started studying for her exams. In less than a week, she would be out of school for summer break and imagined she would move with Elizabeth and John to Florida and hoped there would be room in the car for her.

Another week had come and gone. Rita had just finished taking her last exam and she still had not heard from Elizabeth. Now she was running out of money and food. She decided to walk to Commodore University to pick up her bike and ride it back home. She had less than twenty dollars left and she did not want to waste it on gasoline when she had no idea when her sister and brother in-law would be returning.

As Rita rode home from school, she was feeling pretty good about her exams. She was sure she had done well and that her academic scholarship was in the bag.

As she rode alone, she began to worry. She knew she would need some money and she needed it soon. She had received a call from the manager of John Henry Hale and he told her a twenty five dollar late fee was being charged to her bill on top of the four hundred and fifty dollar rent that was past due. He wanted to know when he could expect her in to take care of the bill. She did not bother to tell him she was not Elizabeth. She told him she would try to get the money to him in a few days. She hoped Elizabeth or John would at least call home and maybe they could wire her some money for food and to pay the rent even if they could not come home right away.

Rita was worried about Elizabeth and John and stayed up all night waiting on them to call. She did not know what to do or think about their absence and she wanted some answers. The children would often ask when their parents were coming home, but they were beginning to ask their aunt several times a day.

When are Mommy and Daddy coming home? asked Lil John with tears in his eyes.

Rita would try to comfort the children and tell them as soon as their parents could find them a nice home to live they will be back to get them. There were times when Rita could not console the children, and they would start crying for no apparent reason and she knew they missed their parents as desperately as she did.

Rita was down to her last twenty dollars and had no idea where she would get any more money. She decided she would try to get a waitress job and live off her tips like Elizabeth and John did when they first arrived in Florida. She may not be able to pay the rent, but she could buy some food and gasoline.

Rita was familiar with the establishments near Commodore and concentrated her job search near the university. She went from restaurant to restaurant to find work. Most of the restaurants near the campus were not hiring because their customers were largely students who attended Commodore and with the spring semester ending, most of them had already left Nashville and would not return again until the fall semester.

Rita went to four restaurants and felt all she was doing was wasting gasoline. She decided to make a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some wieners to go with some beans she had in the cupboard.

It was five o’clock when Rita got home. The children were exhausted after playing outside all day. After they had eaten dinner and had their baths they went straight to sleep. Rita was grateful that they did because she had a pounding headache caused by the stress of all that had happened in the past week. Studying for exams had been brutal. She had not heard from Elizabeth or John. The rent was due and she was running out of food and gasoline. She was also disappointed she had not found a job to hold her over until her sister returned.

I’ll talk to the apartment manager tomorrow and maybe he’d understand my situation and give me a little more time to raise the money to pay the rent.

Rita’s headache was becoming a migraine so she took two aspirin and curled up on the couch and fell asleep. She slept soundly until she was awakened by a knock at the door.

During the entire time she stayed at the apartment she had never received a single visitor. It must be Elizabeth and John.

She glanced at the clock and noticed it was just past nine o’clock. She hurried to the door and with a big smile she flung it open. But when she saw the person on the other side of the door Rita’s smile disappeared.

Who were you expecting? asked Mary with a mischievous grin.

Oh, I thought you were Elizabeth and John. Would you like to come in?

Mary entered carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses. She looked quite lovely in a white pantsuit, sandals and gold jewelry.

Mary dresses very glamorous.

Mary was in her thirties, tall with a smooth coco complexion. She wore her hair very short and natural and wore heavy makeup that was beautifully applied.

When Rita noticed how lovely Mary looked she was forced to look down at herself. She was barefoot and had on faded jeans and a tee-shirt.

I saw your light on, Rita, and hoped you would be awake. Mother has gone to bed already and I was getting stir crazy.

Rita invited Mary to have a seat on the couch. Then she sat in a chair across from her.

This is a nice apartment. I love Elizabeth’s style. It has a down home country ambiance. Very welcoming, said Mary.

These are mostly my parents’ furnishings. They passed away, explained Rita.

I know. Mother told me and I was sorry to hear that, responded Mary.

Then Mary quickly changed the subject, I’d hoped you were in the mood to celebrate, she said looking at Rita while holding up the wine glasses.

Celebrate what? asked Rita still disappointed it was not Elizabeth and John at the door.

The end of another school year of course, said Mary smiling. Mother told me you were a bookworm. It’s been a long time since I attended school and I didn’t care for it when I did attend. But, I do remember we celebrated the end of the school year.

Mary could see Rita’s thoughts were

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