“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 10:12).
The sun rays baking Elroy’s closed eyelids finally prodded him out of his deep sleep. He had overslept. Would Lacey forgive him if he turned over and got just five more minutes? It seemed he had been dreaming about her all night, but seeing her would be better. No turning over. Just a bit more time. He’d only take a shower. Breakfast could wait. He could take her up to Seattle and they’d eat outside at the vegan restaurant that sold the tastiest waffles and lentil burgers with fries that he had ever had. Weird breakfast for only what would probably be 9 or 9:30 in the morning but he wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. What they’d do after? Didn’t matter.
Had five minutes passed yet?
A light arm slung over his arm and across his chest. Elroy’s eyes shot wide.
“Did the baby wake up yet?”
In one move, he jumped out of the bed and pivoted, landing in a partial crouch and staring at the person who had addressed him. Elroy stumbled backwards and instinctually reached for the top of the dresser with his left hand. His heart crushed in on itself and stopped beating. He couldn’t stop gawking at her.
“Roy, what’s the matter?” Asha sat up in bed and swung her legs over its side, anxiety cast across her brow. “What…you look different.” She started to walk toward him and he thrust both hands forward.
“D-don’t!” He rubbed his eyes vigorously. He hadn’t woken up yet. Some bizarre dream had its grip on his mind.
His mother’s padding steps were in the hallway. The doorbell? Had that been the doorbell?! Lacey!!
Asha had stopped abruptly. “Roy, what’s wrong with you?!” She looked frightened.
Mom! He needed his parents. “Stay here!” he insisted, his tone boorish but he was only scared out of his mind.
He slid out of the dream into the hallway. Smiles fell from both of his parents’ faces.
“Where’s Nina?” he asked in hushed, panicked voice. In the bathroom, probably getting ready for the day. The bell sounded again and his head whipped toward the sound. What was he going to do?! How could Asha be…? Maybe she wasn’t really in there.
“Mom, Dad, what I saw, who I saw in the room.” His voice was shaking all over the place and their anxious frowns couldn’t have been deeper. Both his parents were in good health. He didn’t want to shock them, but if they reacted… They’d be okay. Ultimately anyway.
“El, what is it?” his father asked.
“Just come with me. But be prepared.” Was he crazy? Who could be prepared for this?
He opened the door and felt them come in behind him. “Lord, have mercy.” It was his mother. She had not taken His name in vain. It was her shocked prayer. Elroy managed to shut the door behind them. The last thing he wanted to do was allow Nina to see her mother before he figured out what to do. Her mother?! The bell sounded again. Lacey, or whoever was making the early morning call, had been waiting very patiently. No. The last thing he wanted to do was have to face Lacey.
Asha hadn’t moved but as his mother took measured steps toward her, she now did and sunk into her hug. “Mom, what’s wrong with everybody? Why do you and Dad look so different? Where’s the baby?” She actually didn’t look so changed. Her hair might have been a bit longer but other than that… What was wrong with him? Lacey could be standing on the other side of the door!
“I’ll be back. Keep her here.”
He ignored Asha’s protesting voice but listened at the door as he caught his mother telling her to sit down then saying with trembling voice, “Asha, where have you been girl? You disappeared 17 years ago.”
Elroy didn’t wait for her reaction. He went down that hall, into the living room into where the sunlight spilled, and as if in suspended animation, opened the door.
Vaguely he heard Nina calling him but he didn’t turn. He wondered at Lacey’s blush and the three heads that so rapidly turned. Then he looked down. He was wearing no shirt. Thank the Lord for the chill last night or he would have been in his boxers instead of sweats.
“Your shirt Dad.” He was holding it on his arm. How did that get there? A memory that seemed distant of his father throwing it to him came to his mind.
“I-I’m sorry.” He buttoned with shaking hands but Nina helped him because he wasn’t matching buttons with holes. A bit of a coy smile appeared on Lacey’s lips. ‘Oh, Lacey, darling, you won’t be smiling soon.’
He told them they could turn around and walked outside. Lacey, Alysha, Candy, and Nina walked down the steps. “Maybe you should get ready and we can wait out here,” came Lacey’s suggestion. She pivoted on the sidewalk, as did the others. Then her eyes locked on his and instantly filled with fear. She met him by the curb then reached up her trembling hand for his cheek. “El…what is it?”
He marked each of their expressions. Fright. Silence reigned.
Until the ear piercing scream from inside. What had Mom told Asha? Footsteps tumbling inside and untold commotion, he charged up the steps then rushed in his speech while his hand yanked the door shut.
“Lacey, Nina, girls, I woke up…and Asha was there.” The pause had almost been negligible and his speech so rapid that he wondered if they’d understood him. Lacey wasn’t moving. Her eyes, nothing. His daughter and the young women he saw as daughters remained on the sidewalk with their mouths as if gulfs. Nina was beginning to tremble and he wanted to reach for her. But she was too far and someone was pulling at the door. He resisted the pull. Lacey. Had she heard him?! Why wasn’t she moving?!
“Asha, just give him a minute,” his father called. They must have told her about the four outside.
He hadn’t wanted to tell Lacey the way he had or to have a reason to tell her at all. Her almost indiscernible nod let him know that he shouldn’t keep fighting Asha. “Let go of the handle and I’ll open the door.” He forced calmness into his voice, as the memory of how she could be became present in his mind. Although uncommonly sweet overall, a raging bull would be more pleasant if she was really crossed and she was too unpredictable for him to chance what she might attempt to do to them. That’s how she was before anyhow.
He felt the release. He opened the door but his eyes were fixed on Lacey whose back was now to him. Candy and Alysha rushed to each side of her. He held his breath. If he could see her face, maybe he could detect what she was thinking or what she was feeling. The worry on all the girls’ faces made him want to join her with everything in his being. Her dark hair cascading in front of one shoulder, she made that semicircle and faced the four who had remained on the tiny porch. He heard Asha whisper, “Is that her?” Amazement filled her voice. Elroy didn’t know if she were referring to Nina or to Lacey. In either case, he understood.
Asha walked past him and his guard immediately surged. Elroy rushed after her. Lacey stepped forward and reached out a hand. About a foot away from her, he looked at her in awe. How could she do that? How could she maintain her poise? “I’m okay,” she whispered then told the girls to get in the van. Nina, looking as a frightened puppy, accompanied them. “I’m Lacey,” she offered as she held out her hand to Asha. Standing as the vertex in some angle between them, Elroy’s heart hammered, as he observed them both. Asha’s facial expression was pained and she did not offer her hand. Lacey had no readable expression. She was in shock. It had to be shock.
His own head was pounding. “Asha, give us 5 minutes.”
“What do you mean?” she snapped.
“You’ve been gone like two decades! The least you can do is give all of us 5 minutes!” He hadn’t meant his vocal quality to come out so harsh. “Please.”
His mom and dad came in behind her and his mother rubbed her shoulder. She nodded. He didn’t even bother to watch their return. Instead, he piled into the rental van with the four.
“Mom, I’m scared.” He would have expected the last two words to be directed at him from Nina, but she only clung onto him with her head down. Candy had spoken. There was a ghost in the house. Of course, she was scared. All of them should be terrified.
There was no dry eye but Lacey’s tears came slowly then sprung as if from a fountain. His did, too. They were supposed to be family. Alysha said she didn’t want to lose Nina.
“You won’t lose her,” he choked out. They were sisters and nothing nor no one would change that.
‘But I will lose them.’ He couldn’t be there for Candy and Alysha for advice on career, just plain life, or eventually marriage, if they wanted to come to him. There would be no long talks or barely any really talk anymore. No surfing, bike riding. Nothing.
And Lacey. In their time, he suggested that the woman in that house had been dead for years. Maybe they weren’t married any longer. Lacey shook her head. Subtly but he knew. Her meaning and that he was fooling no one. Not even himself. He was a married man. ‘Lord, how can this be happening?’
“You act as if you’re unhappy she’s alive.”
He realized Lacey was right. All those horrid things he’d thought happened to her, maybe none or few of them did. “I am glad she’s alive, but couldn’t she have waited a few weeks to show up?” He threw up his arms in agitation then placed them securely around his daughter who had remained silent and still clung onto him with her head down. He wondered what she was thinking and feeling. If he was giving her any real comfort.
Later, that night when all had gone to bed except the two of them, he would find out from her that she had felt extreme guilt for being virtually devastated to see the woman who gave birth to her. The mother she dreamed of as a little girl. The one she no longer wanted. Grangeline had been like a second grandmother. Miss Lacey was like her mother. She had sisters in Kihei who were as her aunts. And, of course, she had her grandmother and aunt in Washington. Through physical blood and through Christ´s blood, there were plenty of women who filled her life. Nina didn’t need another one. For what? To ruin her dad’s happiness with Miss Lacey? To break up the family they were finally going to have? Oppressive guilt is what she felt.
He knew none of this while they were in the van and did not suppress his own dismay. “Heck, she decided to disappear for all of Nina’s life. Why couldn’t she stay away longer?” The rage Elroy was feeling came out in his voice and Lacey shook. “I’m sorry Lacey.” He knew she knew he wasn’t angry with her. He wasn’t even angry with Asha.
“I just don’t understand. Jafari saw her body.” But it was mutilated almost beyond recognition, he recalled. The prints? Alysha had asked this but he knew no details. So dazed and distraught back then, he was able to take in few details. Her ring, the wedding ring with the special inscription he’d finally had enough to purchase for her, is the article that haunted him for more than a year.
What he would have done to have her back in those days. Now he only wanted her gone.
“Lacey…what are we going to do?”
She swallowed and swiped a hand across her flooded cheek. “Candy, Alysha, and I are going back to Maui.” She took a deep breath and with surprising vocal strength declared, “It’s more than 5 minutes. You and Nina need to go inside.”
Elroy sneered as he looked back at the house. “Five minutes,” he whispered. His eyes fell on Lacey’s beautiful face. Just like an angelic little girl.
Nina hugged her sisters. All three were bawling. He hugged Candy and Alysha. Elroy was sure his heart was tearing from the inside out. He stepped out and helped Nina. His eyes were drawn to Lacey who was buckling up then staring straight ahead as the vehicle ran. Was this the last time he would see her? Would he never be able to hold her again? She wasn’t going to look at him and out of a strength he pleaded God for, he took his eyes off of her. Lacey surely could feel him looking at her and she didn’t need him to hurt her worse.
He slid the door closed and he and Nina watched, hand in hand, as they drove out of view. The young lady he had at his side, the one who was still his little girl, sobbed into his chest and he held her, unable to control his own tears. They were going to have to return to that house. He just didn’t know how to control his emotion and didn’t know if she could manage hers enough to do it.
Elroy wasn’t sure how long he and Nina stood on that sidewalk hugging each other. In the past, he would have feared that Asha would have thought he’d spent all that time with Lacey. Presently, he didn’t care at all.
When they walked in the house, Asha jumped up from her seat on the couch between his parents. Then she stood there, her entire body giving signals that she wanted to approach Nina. Nina, the absolutely darling girl that she was, glanced up at her father then took slow steps toward her mother.
“Are you Nina?” Asha whispered with a tenderness that brought guilt to Elroy for his hereto lack of concern for her. She must be so confused. Nina nodded slowly. Asha reached her hand out to her. “I’m so glad to see you again.”
Nina went past the hand and hugged her. Elroy doubted it was because she wanted to but more out of compassion for Asha. The woman was so obviously trying to mute her body language of visible trembling and eagerness in her face for the embrace from the daughter she had not witnessed grow up. Then Nina began to sob again. “It’s okay Nina. I’m sorry I was gone so long.”
As Asha rubbed her back, Elroy felt a slight sense of gratitude that she didn’t seem to get the reason for Nina’s tears.
A minute later, Nina had calmed and was asking her if she had any clothes. Asha’s eyes widened. “I don’t…well, I don’t know. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll see?”
They returned with the verdict. Nothing. Only the pajamas on her back. So…huh? What was she wearing when she returned last night? Assuming she had come in the night.
This, Elroy’s mother asked her. The last thing she remembered was coming to bed after nursing Nina. Her eyes told Elroy what else she remembered. They had made love that night, something that was later held against him. Then she disappeared.
Nina suggested that the two of them go out to purchase some clothing for her. “You can borrow an outfit of mine. It should fit…well sort of.” Both were tiny but in different ways. Asha smiled at her gratefully. She had apparently already washed and was currently wearing a bathrobe.
Elroy would have loved to see Lacey in a bathrobe. To smell her after a shower. To just be with her at all. Controlling his jaw from quivering so firmly that it felt as if he were being prepped for dental work, he asked them all if they’d excuse him. He needed to shower and dress.
El rushed into the bedroom, snatched clothes out of the suitcase he’d packed, and fled into the shower. Even after viewing how she handled things with incredible maturity, he didn’t want to leave Nina. He didn’t know what battle she was dealing with inside and being face to face with Asha probably didn’t help. Yet he couldn’t stay in that living room one more second without crumbling in front of them. Beside, his parents were there and they’d be there for Nina if she needed them. They had called out to him that they were all going to go shopping. That was a relief. It hadn’t even registered that the two might be alone. If Asha were to disappear again, Nina couldn’t be with her. That would just completely take him over the edge.
Elroy let out a ragged breath. He heard someone enter the bedroom. After all these years, how could his mind recall the sound of Asha’s footsteps? She probably needed to change but she was always quick with that. He shaved in silence and barely managed to hold it together until he heard the front door slam.
Crumble. That’s exactly what he did in that shower. El had not cried since two years after Asha’s death. Her death. She never died. He hadn’t wailed as he was doing now even when his natural mother died.
‘Oh, Lacey. God, why aren’t we going to be together?!’ His heart and gut both feeling as if they were splitting in half, he crouched down on the shower floor and let his face fall into his knees, as the hot water beat on the back of his neck and puddled around him in his pool of despair.
K. Lumpkin began writing and illustrating books at the age of 4. Currently, she is a wife and mother of two adolescents who make the simplest things in life exciting . K. Lumpkin and her family have lived in Latin America and various states in the U.S. When not homeschooling and learning with as well as from her teens and when a breath can be caught, she enjoys the pleasures of her early years — writing, reading, dancing and painting. She is also the author of Fire, River, Beauty and Nothing in Time Separating.
Categories: book excerpt