by Daniel Whyte III
with Meriqua Whyte
NOTE: This book was originally named “Ruby” in honor of a relative of the author who lives in North Carolina. We had never heard of a book with that name before, but since our little sister, Oprah, recently announced a new book club pick titled “Ruby” (which was published a year ago by a Random House imprint named Crown Publishing), we have decided to change the name of this story of our own volition to prevent confusion down the road. (We have changed the title to Giné after another relative of the author from North Carolina.) We have never been contacted by the publisher, Random House/Crown Publishing, or the author requesting that we change the name. We are doing this out of Christian love for the author, her editor, her publisher, and for sister Oprah as she has bought the movie rights to this book. The book is already a success and will be a bigger success in the future. We wish them all the best. May God bless this dear lady, Cynthia Bond, and her new friend, Oprah!
According to Circular 34 of the U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright law does not protect names, titles, or short phrases or expressions. Even if a name, title, or short phrase is novel or distinctive or lends itself to a play on words, it cannot be protected by copyright.”
“The grass ain’t never greener on the other side. It’s what you make of it on this side that counts,” Grandmother Belle frequently says to Giné. But Giné’s desire to experience how the other side lives drives her to join La Paz and travel on a three month-long modeling tour. What will life throw her way as she goes out with Chris? Along the journey, Giné wonders who her mother is—the mother she last saw when she was five years old, but who has kept up with her whereabouts. Will Isis, the pole dancer, be able to unlock the mystery to her mother’s disappearance? Giné begins to ask more questions and is determined to get some answers.
“The grass ain’t never greener on the other side. It’s what you make of it on this side that counts,” Grandma Belle always said.
Dang! Giné thought. For once I would like to see what the other side looks like because there has got to be more to life than living in this dump.
Seventeen-year-old Giné Burris lived with her grandmother in a duplex apartment on the south side of Atlanta, Georgia, courtesy of the government. She was five feet nine inches tall and her high cheekbones, caramel colored skin, and curly jet black hair gave away her Indian ancestry. Her grandma’s home was the only home she had known since her mother left some twelve years ago. In Giné’s mind, she seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth.
“You are free to decorate and beautify this apartment in any way you please,” Grandma told Giné. “Just because it’s government housing doesn’t mean we can’t take pride in it. I’ll do my part and make it as loving and as safe as I can.”
Grandma was very strict with Giné and kept a watchful eye on her when she could, especially monitoring her friends and everywhere she went outside of the house. Although Giné did not always like the tight reins Grandma kept on her, she appreciated it and felt secure in her Grandmother’s presence. She often wondered, though, about her real mother.
“Don’t worry,” Grandma told her every now and then. “She’ll be back soon.”
How soon is soon? Giné often wondered. No loving mother can just up and walk out on her children and not even keep in touch at least by phone. What is she ashamed of?
Ever so often, Grandma would show Giné a check or a money order signed by a Regina Burris. “That’s your mother,” Grandma would say.
“Well, Grandma, if she can send us so much money she must be doing real well. Why can’t she come home and we all just live together?” Giné asked.
Grandma would hug her tight and rock her a little. “She has her reasons, and God is watching over her even as He’s watching over us. He’s going to bring it all together in His time.” That was all Grandma would say. Giné could not help but think her Grandma was not telling her everything.
Giné lay on her bed one day listening to the loud music and laughter coming from outside. She often wished she could hang out outside with whoever. But Grandma had a rule: “Everybody living in my house must be in before sundown because all doors will be bolted tight.” She would then look Giné in the eye and say with a smile, “I do this because I love you.”
I don’t doubt Grandma’s love for me especially on nights like tonight, Giné thought as she listened to shouts and rapid footsteps coming from somewhere outside.
“He’s got a gun! Run! Call the police! Someone got hit!” Yep, some crazy person just drove by and started shooting—probably killed someone who owed him some money.
“I tell you what,” Ms. Nellie, a friend of Grandma’s, said to her more than once, “I don’t know what this world is coming to.”
“It’s coming to an end,” Grandma said. “That’s what it’s coming to. I never heard of no mess like this when I was growing up.”
Ms. Nellie lived in the apartment next to theirs. Her family had roots in Louisiana. “We’ve been trying to make it way up north, but we somehow never seem to be able to move out of Atlanta,” Ms. Nellie always joked. Every now and then she would fix a special meal such as Cajun rice and seafood gumbo, which she gladly shared with Giné and Grandma.
Ms. Nellie and Grandma had seen many good years together; they had seen some bad years, too. The two had fun trying to outdo each other in practicing their cooking skills. Grandma being of Choctaw Indian and African-American descent, would utilize what she learned from her mother in preparing the best Southern style banana pudding, collard greens with all the trimmings, and the crispiest fried chicken Giné had ever eaten. “This is the best, yet,” Ms. Nellie always complimented Grandma after partaking of some of Grandma’s cooking.
Ms. Nellie was always talking about ‘living like the rich folks.’ But she never made any effort to leave the projects. “Where would I go to anyways? Social Security don’t pay me enough to go elsewhere.”
“Just remember, Nellie, the grass ain’t never greener on the other side. It’s what you make of it on this side that counts,” Grandma would remind her.
The neighborhood was pretty safe during the daytime: mothers and fathers off to work; school buses loading and unloading; families off to church on Sundays; children playing outside in the early afternoons; friends meeting up on each other’s porches. It was quiet during the daytime, but some nights, it was as though a transformation would take place—a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde transformation.
“That’s why I don’t want you outside once it begins to get dark,” Grandma said to Giné as she bolted the lock on the front door and made sure the curtains were drawn tight.
“Here you go,” Giné said handing her grandmother an envelope. “My report card.”
“I am so proud of you,” Grandma said to Giné after viewing her report card. “Another 4.0 average. This will look very good for your entrance into college at Georgia State.”
“Grandma, why do I have to go to Georgia State? I really want to go out of state somewhere and live on campus—some place like Yale,” Giné said with a serious expression.
“Attending Yale is a good aspiration to have, but what’s wrong with Georgia State? And why do you want to go away from home and incur all that extra expense when you can get the same education right next to home from a reputable school? On top of that, I would have no idea where you’d be and what would be happening to you.”
Always one step ahead of me, Giné thought with disappointment.
“Oh, Belle, let her go off somewhere,” Ms. Nellie said after Grandma had told her about Giné’s college conversation. “It will be a reward for her maintaining good grades throughout high school. At her age, kids are adventurous and want to try something new.”
“Anything new she wants to try, she’ll just have to try it from right here,” Grandma said. “Nellie, you have never had any children. When they get into their teen years, they want to get away from their parents or whoever is over them, especially if they are as strict as I have been. They want to see what’s out there.”
Nellie thought for some seconds before speaking. “Belle, does this have something to do with Regina? Because if it is, it’s not fair to Giné for you to hold her back. I mean she’s not a problem child like other children.”
Grandma sighed. “Maybe it does. I just can’t take a chance letting Giné go off like that. I would never forgive myself if something were to happen to her. At least here I’d see her every day and know that she’s safe. She’s just not ready to go off on her own yet. Regina was not a problem child, but look what happened to her.”
“Well, you can’t keep blaming yourself for Regina leaving,” Nellie said placing a hand on Belle’s arm. “At some point you have to let the self-blame go and let God take over.”
Grandma had fought for Giné to attend a ‘safe’ school across town throughout her last year in elementary school and her high school years.
“But, Grandma, all my friends go to the other school up the street,” Giné protested when her grandmother took her to the new school to register her for classes.
“You just have to make new friends then,” Grandma replied with a smile. “Plus, you don’t go to school to make friends; you go to learn and to get yourself an education so you can live decently.” Grandma was firm in her decision. She would not accept anything below a B+ without a fuss, and her tongue could cut Giné’s heart to its very core. “Education is the key to getting up out of here and becoming a success, Giné, and I insist on you getting a good education. As they say, if you get that degree, nobody can take that from you.”
Giné often wondered why Grandma’s education never got her up out of here, but Grandma always had the same answer: “It was different back in my days.”
“You just go ahead on and get your college degree. I already see you marching up on that stage,” Grandma told her.
“Grandma,” Giné asked one evening, “who’s my dad, and where is he at?”
Grandma did not look up from the book she was reading. “God took your dad on home early, Giné. You were two years old when he died. God did not want him to go back to his old life, so God told him it was time to come on home. That’s when you and your mama came to live with me.” Grandma had a sad far away look in her eyes as though she was reliving the day of her son-in-law’s death.
Giné often looked at the only picture she had in her possession of her father, her mother, and herself when she was about two years old. “Your mother left it for you—something to remember her by,” Grandma said.
Giné was the spitting image of her father—no one could deny that. She treasured that picture. I will use it to find my mother some day, she told herself each time she looked at the picture.
“Well, Giné,” Grandma said to her after her high school graduation, “I am so proud of you. That was a touching speech you gave as valedictorian. You stay on the track you’re on and God will bless you. Let me tell you what I told your mother when she graduated: Put God first in all you do and you will live a blessed life. If people try to get you to do wrong, don’t listen to them. Some men mean you no good—stay away from them and you pray in a good and respectable husband. Don’t have sex with any man before he puts a ring on your finger because, as they say, ‘if the milk is free why buy the cow?’ and some men will milk you dry. You must finish college; that’s your ticket to a better life.”
Grandma ended her speech with a smile and the following words, “And don’t you forget your Grandma in the process.”
“I won’t, Grandma,” Giné said giving her a hug as she opened up the gifts her Grandma gave her: a pocket-sized Bible, two hundred dollars cash from her Grandma’s purse, her first iPhone, and an eight hundred dollar money order from her mother.
“How did she know I was graduating, and where is she?” Giné asked.
“Giné, I told you a loving mother never forgets her children. She has kept up with all your birthdays and your years in school. I don’t know exactly where she is. The last I heard from her, she let me know she wanted you to go to a safe school outside of the projects. She wanted the best education for you so you wouldn’t end up like her — those are her words. As you know, she drops a note and some money in the mail ever so often. That is one reason I am not too eager to move from here; I don’t want to lose contact with her.”
“Doesn’t she have a return address or anything?” Giné asked, turning over the envelope which contained only her mother’s name, Regina Burris, in the place for the return address.
“She used to have a P.O. box, but I guess she got rid of it.”
“What is she hiding? Is she ashamed of me, us, herself?” Giné said.
“I wouldn’t worry about her. God is watching over her and will work things out in His time. You just think about you and the plans God has for you, Giné, and don’t ever grow bitter toward your mama.”
Giné thought of all the things she could do with the $1,000.00 in her possession. She could add it to the $106,000 she already had in the savings account Grandma set aside for her. Most of the money they received from her mother was placed in that account, none of which was for college since she had received a scholarship to Georgia State. “I’m setting you up big time for when you are ready to leave here and be on your own,” Grandma told her. “You’ll be able to purchase your own car and buy you a good size house paid for in full. You won’t have to go through the headache of paying the bank each month and risking foreclosure and all that mess. And you definitely won’t have to live in government housing.”
“And when I leave, I will be taking you with me,” Giné said.
Giné sat on her bed the evening after graduation thinking on Grandma’s words. She looked ‘over yonder’ through the open curtains of her bedroom window into the twilight. She was curious as to what life was like ‘over yonder.’ She knew what it was like going to school ‘over yonder.’ The students seemed to have it all. Maybe I could take a casual trip and check out ‘over yonder’; after all, I have all summer. The question now is: how can I convince Grandma to let me go by myself? I already have my driver’s license, but I do not have my own car yet, and I just know Grandma is not going to let me use her car for something like this. Grandma always gave her a ride to wherever she needed to go—even to and from school. She only allowed Giné to drive by herself if it was a trip to the store or if she wanted to go shopping. I know, Giné said with a smile after weighing her options. I’ll tell her I’m looking for a summer job.
“Tell me something, baby, I thought you might want to relax after pushing it so hard this past school year and get rested up in preparation for college,” Grandma said when Giné asked her about getting a job for the summer. “Why do you even want a job when you got a place to stay and a scholarship waiting on you? I want you to spend the summer reading and preparing for college.”
“I just want something to do to keep me busy until I start college,” Giné said hoping to convince her grandmother.
“If you really want to work, you can babysit for some of the mothers in the community. We have enough room here for you to watch about four or five children. Mothers are always looking for private care for their small children especially for the summer months while the kids are out of school and their mothers still have to work. You could charge less and have a booming business. Or you could tutor young children over the summer. Parents around here would love to have someone tutor their children,” Grandma suggested.
Foiled again, Giné thought, frowning. Just like Grandma—always one step ahead of me.
Maybe it was fate; maybe it was not. Giné was thumbing through a fashion magazine Ms. Nellie had left when she’d dropped by one evening and saw an ad for new models. It immediately caught her attention:
Pass the Summer at La Paz!
Train to become a professional model!
Or just do it for fun!
June 2 – September 2
Highly qualified trainers
Who knows? You could become the next Top Model!
Location: Dunwoody, Georgia
Don’t miss the opportunity of a lifetime!
Must be: 18-28 years old
Dunwoody. That’s where the rich folks live, Giné thought. This just might be my ticket.
“Grandma, what do you think about this?” Giné placed the magazine on the kitchen table. It was opened to the page with the La Paz ad. Grandma had just returned from the grocery store and running other errands, including visiting one sick lady from the church. She was sitting at the table resting for a few minutes.
“Please, Grandma, it’s only for the summer, and it’s only $75.00, and it’s in Dunwoody; that’s not too far from here and it’s in a safe place. I can take the train or the bus, and I can pay for it myself. Please!”
“Slow down, girl,” Grandma advised. “The money is not the issue, and I thought you wanted to be a teacher.”
“I still do, but this would be something fun to join just for the summer—something different. Please, please, please! I’ll be good while I am over there. I promise,” Giné pleaded.
“Well, have you called them yet to check them out?” Grandma asked.
“Well, no. But I’m sure they’re all right. They are advertising in a reputable magazine. I am sure they screen and check out their advertisers to make sure they’re legit. Please, Grandma. I’d love to do it. I hardly get to do much.”
Grandma looked over the ad, then looked at Giné. “I’ll give them a call and let you know my decision.”
“How soon, Grandma?”
“Is tomorrow alright with you, young miss? Right now, we have to fix an early dinner, then I’m going down for a nap—probably call it a night.”
While they were cooking dinner, Ms. Nellie stopped by to drop off some of the chicken casserole she had baked earlier that day. Grandma showed her the ad. “What do you think, Nellie?”
“Looks legit to me. It’s only for the summer. Let her go and have fun. It’ll give her a little change of scenery from this ol’ place. Give it to her as a reward for sticking it out and finishing well at school—and with no drama,” Ms. Nellie said.
“I just don’t feel right in my spirit letting her go everyday like that at such a distance and for three months. I know I won’t be able to take her everyday myself,” Grandma said.
“You can let her drive herself up there when you don’t have the strength to do so. Look, Belle,” Nellie said to her, “you have to start lettin’ her go—snip the apron strings little by little. Let her do things on her own. She’s eighteen now, Belle. You can only hold on to her for so long.”
“It’s just that I’ve had her within eyesight and ear-shot since her mama left, and I don’t want the same thing happening to her that happened to Regina.” After giving it a few seconds thought, Grandma said, “I was going to call them tomorrow, but I got about fifteen minutes before they close. I think I’ll go call them now.”
After Grandma got off the phone, she did not look too pleased. “They sound legit, but there’s one catch I don’t like: they have to live on the facilities for the three months and something about them being able to come home every other weekend. No,” Grandma said shaking her head. “Can’t let her do that.”
“Is it just for girls?” Ms. Nellie asked.
Grandma nodded yes.
“What harm can a bunch of girls confined to a modeling facility do, Belle? Not much, if you ask me. And …”
The look Grandma gave Nellie stopped her in mid-sentence. “I hear you. Have you forgotten all the ‘harm’ you and I did and the ‘harm’ that could have come to us while we were living it up as teenagers on into our mid twenties? And … we both were from good homes with strict parents. How soon we do forget!” Nellie fell quiet as Grandma continued. “That’s why I don’t want her out of my sight.”
“But, Belle, she’s been out of your sight going across town to school each day. She’s been to the library many times by herself. You’ve sent her to the store by herself. She went to church camp last summer for two weeks all by herself. And she came back with no scandal on her unlike a couple of the other girls. That child knows how to take care of herself, plus, she fears you,” Nellie said with a smile. “Let her go and have some fun.”
“I’ll pray over it tonight,” Grandma said in a tone that signaled the end of that conversation.
The next morning, Grandma gave Giné permission to sign up.
“Oh, thank you, Grandma,” Giné said.
“Just remember my five pieces of wisdom I gave you the day after your graduation. Nellie and I will drive you on up there. We’ll pick you up every other weekend and at the end of the summer. And always keep that cell phone on. That’s one modern technology I am mighty pleased with.”
Giné gave her Grandma a hug and a promise to do as she told her. She then hurried off to register.
Grandma and Nellie were very impressed with the two-story cream colored building with its four columns standing tall as they pulled up into the wrap-around parking lot lined with a rainbow of summer flowers. “I have never heard of this place,” Nellie said looking around at the neatly manicured lawn. “I certainly wouldn’t like to have his job,” she said nodding towards the man driving the lawn mower across the far end of the lawn. “But he’s doing a good job.”
“Wow!” Giné said over and over as her eyes took in everything she saw.
La Paz stood back on a slight slope away from the busy Dunwoody traffic. It was on the quieter side of town and at the end of a complex with large, beautiful houses. “Kind of reminds me of the White House,” Grandma said as they climbed out of her car and entered the building.
After registration and walking with the group for a tour of the facilities, Grandma and Nellie sat in the lobby where finger foods, cakes, and drinks were being served, while Giné and the other registrants went into another room to receive their welcome packages.
“The workers seem respectable enough and are polite, and the area seems safe,” Grandma said pleased with what she observed.
“And these finger foods are mighty delicious,” Nellie said biting off one corner of her ham and cheese cracker sandwich followed by a sip of pineapple punch.
“Our food is just as good as theirs,” Grandma said. “Giné seems to have made a friend.” She looked off to her right where Giné was walking toward them with a young lady about her age.
“Grandma, this is Fiona. She’s from Florida.”
“Hi, Fiona. Pleased to meet you. This is Ms. Nellie,” Grandma said. “You didn’t come up from Florida all by yourself, did you?”
“No, Ma’am. I’m spending the summer with my aunt in Dunwoody. I’ll be staying with her when I begin school at Georgia State University.”
“You don’t say. That’s where Giné will be attending college. I hope you two get to see a lot of each other,” Grandma said.
After Giné had settled in, Grandma prayed God’s blessings and protection over her and her roommates, then she and Ms. Nellie headed on home.
Giné made lots of new friends over the next three months. She and Fiona became fast friends. Fiona would not stop pressuring her into making a commitment to spend one of the weekends with her. Giné almost talked her Grandma’s ears off her first weekend home. Grandma took this as a good sign that she made the right decision in letting Giné join in the La Paz experience. But, she had learned over the years not to take anything for granted and prayed harder for Giné in the upcoming weeks.
Fiona received permission to spend the third weekend with her aunt. Giné was also given permission to go with her. Fiona was of Caucasian descent, and from her conversations with Giné and others she seemed to come from a well-to-do family. She mostly wore expensive brand-name clothing, had access to her aunt’s silver Audi, and had a cell phone with all the latest features.
Fiona’s Aunt Kera lived about thirty minutes from the facilities. Wow! Giné thought as they drove up the winding road that led to the mansion-like house. It was actually two houses in one. Fiona, who had her own private entrance, had one section of the house to herself with everything at hand — a living room, two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, a sunroom (which could also be used as a guest bedroom), a small kitchenette with a full range and a full size refrigerator, a dishwasher, and a dining room. All the rooms were fully furnished with exquisite looking furniture. Fiona’s aunt had the other part of the house to herself which was slightly bigger.
Aunt Kera was a fashion designer and a widow of five years. She owned her own business and worked with several top fashion designers. The house was surrounded by a well manicured lawn that seemed to stretch far into the rolling hills in the distance. Being set on a low slope, the view was breath-taking as the hills rolled away in the distance behind it. Giné drank in the striking view of the setting sun casting its red-orange rays behind the hills her first night there.
So this is how it looks on the other side, Giné thought looking around from the patio leading from the sun room. She had herself a blast with hours in the jacuzzi, splashing around in the outdoor swimming pool, learning to play tennis, watching movies, and playing around on the internet. Grandma has to definitely get me a new computer now, Giné thought. I can go places much faster than I can with that old dial up internet. Giné was no stranger to computers having used it at school and at the library.
Thinking church was a part of Fiona’s Sunday routine, Giné was up early, dressed and ready to go to church. She listened to some of the television preachers as she waited for Fiona to knock on her door. Boy, it’s amazing how much you can pack into one weekend, she thought as she waited. By the time Fiona got herself together, it was well past the eleven o’clock hour. But having had a tremendous weekend, Giné thought nothing of it.
“You’re all dressed up,” Fiona greeted her. “That is a beautiful dress.”
“Thank you. I thought you guys went to church,” Giné replied.
“I am so sorry. I wish you had let me know you wanted to go,” Fiona replied. “I didn’t think you’d be up to going after such a busy and long day on yesterday. Aunt Kera goes religiously. In fact, that is where she is now. I haven’t gone in a while, but I still believe in God and I do go ever so often.”
After a leisurely lunch, they headed for the mall. “We’ll come back and have supper with Aunt Kera. She’s normally in church all day on Sundays. I can smell something good coming from her kitchen,” Fiona continued as she closed the sliding glass door separating the two housing areas. She left a note on her aunt’s refrigerator door.
That was one shopping spree Giné would not forget. They continued their tour of the city visiting some expensive stores. Fiona bought them both a couple of outfits. They ended up at Baskin Robbins for a double hot fudge sundae each topped with nuts and dried fruit. So this is how folks live on the other side, Giné thought as they drove back to the house to prepare to head back to La Paz early Monday morning.
Ms. Gardena, one of the instructors, had her eyes on Giné, who proved to be a natural model. She took Giné under her wings and by the end of the seventh week, was presenting Giné with a three month contract to do photo shoots for various magazines and businesses advertising their products and services. Giné was overjoyed. “Grandma, I can’t believe it! They’ll take care of my hotel rooms, and food and travel expenses. Oh, Grandma, it’s only for three months, and Fiona and two other girls will be going as well. Please say yes!”
Grandma was happy for Giné, but all she would say was, “We’ll talk about it some more when you come home next weekend, and I need to pray about it. You know I don’t make any decisions without praying about it first.”
And talk they did.
“Where is this tour going to take you?” Grandma asked.
“The tour is going to be focused on Georgia and Northern Florida. It won’t be far and it’s gonna go by so fast, I’ll be back before you know it. Grandma, you hardly ever let me go anywhere. Please!”
“And who’s going to go with you now?”
“Ms. Gardena. The lady you met when you first took me up there. The one you spoke with about how things will run. She has become like a mother to me. She won’t let anything happen to us. Grandma, please, I have to go!”
“You don’t have to go anywhere,” Grandma said.
Giné looked at her Grandma. “I am going! Or my whole summer experience will be wasted. Why train to do something if you aren’t going to use it? That’s what you always say,” she said adamantly.
“Who’s in charge in here—you or me?” Grandma said surprised at Giné’s response. “Your negative attitude and that tone of voice is leading me to believe you have ulterior motives. Are those girls influencing you so strongly you no longer respect my word?”
“Nellie, I should have never let her go in the first place,” Grandma confided in Nellie. “She has never talked back to me with such defiance.”
“Belle, that’s because this means a lot to her. You can’t hold on to her for the rest of her life. I mean she’s eighteen; what do you think she is going to do wrong?”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Grandma said peering at Nellie. “Nellie, you know how cold and uncaring the world is. I am not afraid of what she will do. I am afraid of what the world will do to her. It will chew up an innocent girl like Giné, spit her out, kick her to the curb, and think nothing about it. Then she will come back broken-hearted, curled up in a fetal position, and then I am faced with having to go through that pain with her and putting her life back together. Why go through all that?”
“Well, the Bible says, ‘safety is of the Lord.’ We can do all the planning we want to do and take all precautions, but in the end safety is of the Lord. Just trust God to watch over her,” Nellie said.
“Yes, but why search for a cure when you can prevent the illness in the first place?” Grandma said. “Safety is of the Lord, but the Lord also gave us something called common sense.”
Although Grandma lovingly insisted on her returning home when her first three months were up at La Paz, Giné was determined to go with the tour group. She had tasted a bit of the other side and she was curious as to what else there was to see.
Grandma was despondent as she said goodbye to Giné after talking things over with Ms. Gardena. She chided herself for letting her go to La Paz in the first place, but consoled herself with the words her pastor had preached a few Sundays back: “You’re responsible for the teaching and training of your children, but you are not responsible for the choices they make after a certain age.”
Yes, Grandma had trained Giné in the right way and she had every confidence that Giné would do the right thing, but she also knew that life was full of surprises. She also consoled herself with the words of King Solomon that if you train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it. Grandma quietly prayed, “Lord Jesus, I am taking You at Your Word. Teach her what You want her to learn from this experience, but please bring her back to me safely. Protect her from tragedy, from trouble, and from anyone who would hurt her. I ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Ginè, Fiona, Kristin, and Blanche along with Ms. Gardena and another instructor left La Paz bright and early on Saturday morning after the three months of summer training was over.
“Try to go to church each Sunday, and I’ll be praying for you, baby,” were Grandma’s last words to Ginè.
“Thank you, Grandma. I’ll try to be in church and I’ll stay out of trouble.” Ginè felt a tinge of homesickness as she waved goodbye to her grandmother and Ms. Nellie. As Ginè looked forward to an exciting time, she thanked God for Fiona and the other girls who kept her spirits high.
Within the first month, they stopped in several cities in Georgia: Alpharetta, Stone Mountain, Gainesville, and Atlanta. They then moved on to Florida where they spent their last two months on the tour, stopping at cities such as Pensacola, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Miami. Ginè had never been to any of these cities before and was eager to take in the sights and experience the different atmosphere of each location.
Although the tour kept her and the other models busy, they still found time for relaxation and recreation in the evenings. Thursdays through Saturdays were their busiest show days. They were given Sundays off, but still had to stay together as a group. Ginè thought about finding a church to visit in whatever city they were in on the weekends, but she placed it in the back of her mind seeing that none of the other girls seemed to be thinking of attending church. Their curfew time was 10:30 P.M. Fiona and Kristin introduced Ginè to the fast-paced, partying lifestyle that they were used to. She soon put her Grandma’s words of wisdom to the back of her mind as she visited the cities with her group.
In the evenings after their photo-shoot was done for the day, the girls would, in Kristin’s words, go have some ‘real’ fun. “You can’t really party or have real fun without some guys,” Kristin said. Blanche being older and more mature was more cautious about things. She was a no-nonsense person and she designated herself as protector of the girls.
Ginè observed the free spirit with which Kristin and Fiona greeted the guys when they stopped off at one of the local bars. They turned heads without any effort.
Kristin was of Scandinavian descent. She had the healthiest looking skin Ginè had ever seen. Her blonde hair had a natural burgundy tint to it, and even though it was curly, it reached down to her waist.
Fiona was Caucasian and sported a natural tan having spent many days basking under the hot sun in Miami, her hometown. Her auburn colored hair was bobbed and she possessed a contagious laugh.
Blanche was of mixed race. Her father was African-American and her mother Scottish American.
Grandma had always told Ginè to stay away from alcohol and not to even enter a bar. But since she wanted to fit in, Ginè did a quick survey of the bar as she and the other girls entered. Nothing appeared ‘evil’ to her. People were just hanging around talking and seemingly having a good time. Fiona and Kristin each ordered a small glass of beer; Ginè declined when offered one. “Don’t be afraid,” Fiona whispered to her. “Just relax, have fun, and enjoy life. Meet people. Have a little beer.”
“One trick I learned,” Blanche told Ginè holding up her glass, “is to get a glass of soda water and sip on it. People think I’m drinking white wine.” Ginè took her advice.
How come I don’t feel good about this? Ginè wondered even though she camouflaged her thoughts with a confident smile.
On her second night in Orlando, Ginè met a man by the name of Chris. Grandma would kill me if she knew I was talking with this man, she thought. But he seems nice enough—polite and everything.
Even though Chris looked to be in his early twenties, he was nearly six years Ginè’s senior. He had a pleasant smile and an inviting spirit that arrested Ginè’s attention. He was neatly shaved and smelled of cologne. Chris treated Ginè with the utmost respect and showered her with attention that left Ginè thinking she was one of a kind.
“I’ll come pick you up tomorrow and give you a tour of the city. It would be my pleasure,” Chris offered.
Ginè accepted his offer at Fiona and Kristin’s prodding; Blanche warned her to be careful.
“I had a great time,” Ginè told her friends when they returned to their hotel room.
“Do you think you’re going to keep in touch with him?” Kristin asked.
“I don’t know,” Ginè said thinking of her grandmother.
“Well, enjoy him while you have him,” Fiona said.
On their last night in Orlando, Ginè got carried away. At Chris’ encouragement she sipped more than soda water. “You can just sleep it off. That’s what we all do,” Chris told her. She started to feel light-headed. Fiona, Kristin, and Blanche had gone off with their dates across the bar. Ginè and Chris were by themselves.
“Let’s go somewhere quiet on your last night here,” Chris suggested. As they were rising to leave, Blanche stepped out of nowhere and stopped them.
“Where are you going, Ginè? You know we have to be in our room in thirty-five minutes,” she said glancing at her watch. “Plus, I need to know where everyone is at all times, remember?”
“Oh, I just wanted to take her to this store a few blocks away to buy her a gift. I’ll have her back before the time is up,” Chris said. “The store closes in thirty minutes.”
Blanche looked from Chris to Ginè and back to Chris. “Oh, no you’re not,” she said.
“Blanche, we’ll be back in time. I promise you. I’ll be safe,” Ginè insisted.
“I’ll take good care of her,” Chris assured them. “And I will have her back on time.”
“Okay,” Blanche said. She watched as they left the bar.
Kristin walked up behind her. “Come on,” she said. “Ginè’s eighteen; she can handle herself. We’ll just wait here until she gets back. This is our last night here; let her have fun.”
“Yes,” Fiona piped in. “She told me she hardly ever goes out back home. It took a lot for her grandmother to let her take part in the La Paz experience.”
“I just don’t feel good about Chris,” Blanche said. “I will never forgive myself if anything happens to her.”
“Oh, come on, Blanche. Don’t be an old fogie,” Kristin said laughing and taking her by the arm. “I can look at Chris and tell he’s not going to hurt her.”
“Yeah, right,” Blanche said yanking her arm away. “I’m going to follow them. Ginè is as naïve as can be when it comes to men. She has a lot to learn. We should have never let her go. Sorry, girls, but I have to go get her.”
“I was looking forward to some more time with Jack,” Kristin moaned as the three girls hurried out to the small van that La Paz allowed them to use while on the tour.
“They just turned left out of the parking lot,” Fiona said as they climbed into their seats. “Hurry. It’s that white SUV. Shouldn’t be too hard to follow.”
“Watch them closely. We can’t afford to lose them,” Blanche said as she turned left onto the main street.
Blanche tried to switch over into the far left lane at Kristin’s directing.
“Look out! A car’s coming!” Fiona shouted.
Blanche swung back into her original lane.
“They just turned left. I think we’re going to miss them,” Kristin said.
“I’m going to have to go up and make a U-turn if someone does not let me in,” Blanche said. “I hope I don’t have to go up too far. My phone’s vibrating. See who it is. It’s in my pocket. Let me maneuver through this traffic.”
“It’s a text from Ginè. She says something about La Quinta Inn parking. That Chris…” Kristin trailed off.
“That lady’s letting you in, Blanche,” Fiona said. Blanche tooted her horn as she pulled into the lane in front of the lady.
“It seems like Ginè did not finish texting. I do not like this,” Kristin said. “Please hurry.”
“La Quinta is on the hotel strip down the same street as our hotel,” Blanche said turning left. “That’s strange, but I do not even recall seeing a La Quinta Inn off this street.”
“There it is. The sign’s kind of hidden,” Fiona said pointing ahead.
Blanche turned into the parking lot. They did not see Chris or Ginè anywhere outside. She pulled up in front of the lobby and the three of them jumped out and ran inside.
“Oh, man. How are we going to find what room they are in?” Kristin said.
Stopping by the front desk, Blanche frantically asked the lady, “Excuse me, Meghan,” she said glancing at her name tag, “we have an emergency here. Did a young lady and a man just come in here?”
The three girls described Chris and Ginè as best they could.
“Oh, yes. That’s Chris. He introduced me to his friend. I’m sorry, but I am not allowed to give out room numbers unless notified ahead of time,” Meghan said.
“Meghan, our friend may be in trouble. Chris just picked her up from a bar; she tried to text us, but did not finish her message. We just wanted to make sure everything is okay with her,” Blanche said.
“I’m sorry, but all I can do is give him a message. I cannot give out his room number. What message do you want me to give them?”
“You don’t understand, she may be in trouble!” Kristin said.
“We have to see for ourselves,” Fiona piped in.
“Look, Meghan,” Blanche said. “We do not have time to waste. I don’t trust Chris. She’s only eighteen and this is her first time away from home.”
Meghan’s eyes opened wide. “Chris is almost twenty-five and I’ve known him for a few years now; he’s not going to hurt her.”
“Meghan, we are losing valuable time going back and forth. We just want to go knock on his room door and make sure Ginè is alright. A phone call from you won’t do it; he may lie to you. I’m getting ready to call the police,” Blanche said pulling her phone out her pocket. “I’m sure you do not want any unnecessary publicity and on top of that, if anything were to happen to our friend—her getting raped or abused in some way—you would not want that on your conscience when you could have done something about it, now would you? La Quinta would be in the news—not just here locally, but nationwide. I’d see to that. And … I would tweet as many people as I know about this.”
“Okay, they’re in room 325,” Meghan said slowly. “The elevators are around the corner on your right. I think I’ll go ahead and call the police just to be on the safe side.”
“You do that,” Blanche said as they hurried toward the elevators.
“Hey, I’m not done,” Ginè said to Chris as he took her phone from her. “I was texting my friends to let them know we’d be stopping by the La Quinta Inn first.”
“There’s no need to. I’m just going to make a quick stop there to pick up something and then we’d head on to the store—maybe.”
“Maybe? What do you mean?” Ginè asked.
“Well, I actually picked the gift up already. In hurrying to meet you I forgot it in my hotel room. As I thought about it, I was not sure if you’d like the color. You never did tell me what your favorite color was.”
“Oh,” smiled Ginè. “It’s turquoise.”
“Close. I picked up aqua-marine. You can look at it and see if you’d like to keep it. That may save us a trip to the store.”
Ginè smiled thinking, That was thoughtful of him.
Once they got to the hotel, Chris guided Ginè by the arm as they hurried inside the lobby. “We have to hurry because I told your friends I would have you back in thirty minutes. I don’t want to give them reason to get worried.”
“Hey, Chris,” Meghan greeted him at the front desk. “Here’s your room key.”
“Hey, Meghan. How’s everything? This is a friend of mine, Ginè .”
“Hi! Pleased to meet you,” she said handing Chris his room key.
“Have a great evening, Meghan,” Chris said.
Once in the room, Chris locked the door. He turned the television on.
“You can sit down,” he told Ginè, “and here’s your gift.” He handed Ginè a flat white box.
Ginè gingerly opened the cover and lifted the soft tissue paper covering the gift. She lifted the gift out the box. What is this? she thought as she held it up. The lingerie unfolded by itself. A smile crept across her face.
“So, do you like it? What about the color?”
Ginè nodded slowly as she scrutinized the lingerie holding it out before her. She had never seen anything like that before. This is nothing but a very short dress.
“I would love for you to try it on first so we can see how it fits,” Chris said.
This is so thin. I can see clearly everything on the other side, Ginè thought.
“Go ahead and try it on. We only have about twenty minutes now. We do not want to keep your friends waiting.”
You want me to try this on? This is worse than a slip. Something is not right here, Ginè thought.
“Ginè? What are you thinking? Do you like it? Are you going to try it on?” Chris said taking her by the hand. “Come on. I’ll help you put it on.”
Ginè snapped out of her daze as Chris touched her. She shuddered as an uncomfortable feeling came over her. “I love the color. But I will not be trying this on. I cannot accept this.”
“I just want to see if it fits,” Chris said reaching out to her. “I’ll help you get in and out of it quickly. If it doesn’t fit, we can see exactly what we need to get once we get to the store. I even kept the tags on.”
Ginè took a few steps back as she held the lingerie up to her. She spoke slowly and deliberately choosing her words carefully. “See, it’s way too short and it’s too low cut. It’s too thin.” Ginè felt her voice tremble as she spoke. “Could you please take me back to the bar? I’m sure my friends are wondering where I am.”
“That’s how these things are supposed to fit,” Chris said ignoring her request.
Ginè’s hands trembled as she held out the lingerie for him to take. He picked up the remote and turned the volume up on the television. Ginè thought her heart would stop as each beat seemed to palpitate outside her chest.
“Not until after you try it on so I can see for myself how it fits,” Chris growled. Ginè looked at him, surprised at the change in his tone.
Dropping the lingerie to the floor she started to back up. Chris reached out for her, but…
“Hurry!” Blanche said running towards the elevator. Fiona and Kristin followed after her.
Meghan followed them with her eyes as she picked up the phone.
As they waited on the elevator, Blanche started to punch numbers on her cellphone.
“Who are you calling?” Fiona asked.
“I’m calling 9-1-1,” Blanche said. “I can’t trust Meghan to do that for us. She’ll probably just call up to the room and tell Chris about us. Next, I’ll call Ginè.”
The girls hurried into the elevator. “Her number’s just ringing. Let me try again… Still ringing. I don’t like that,” Blanche said as they hurried out the elevator once it got to the third floor. “Room 325.”
“There it is,” Fiona said. Hurrying to the door, all three started pounding on the door.
“Ginè! Chris! Open up! It’s an emergency! Ginè!”
“Well, how do you think Ginè is doing?” Ms. Nellie asked Grandma when she stopped by to visit her.
“I told her to call me everyday, but I have not heard from her for a few days now. The last time we spoke she seemed kind of evasive. She would not answer my questions directly. All she kept saying was that everything was going well. Now you know I’m worried.” Grandma looked at Ms. Nellie with a frown. “She told me they were in Tampa headed for Miami, then they would be heading on back here after their last stop in Jacksonville. So I believe that’s where she is now—in Miami. I knew I should not have let her go.”
“Don’t beat up on yourself, Belle. God will protect her. Our prayers for her will not be in vain. The Bible says God will protect the innocent from the wicked. Just believe God,” Nellie said.
“I can’t help but worry, Nel. Almost everyday the news reports of some innocent girl being kidnapped, raped, or mistreated in some way, and then killed. I can’t help but worry.”
“Cast your cares on Him, Belle.”
“Easier said than done. If anything were to happen to her I would never forgive myself. In fact, I may as well die after that. I’m going to call La Paz.”
“Then, we’ll pray after that,” Nellie said.
Chris stopped in his tracks. Now who could be calling up here? he thought without taking his eyes off Ginè. Ginè moved over to the door, but Chris blocked her as she attempted to reach for the doorknob.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Ginè! Chris! Open up! It’s an emergency! Ginè!”
“Don’t tell me that’s your friends.” Chris said frustrated that his plans weren’t going so well.
Ginè started to shout back to her friends, but Chris clamped his hand over her mouth. “Do not utter a word and no one will get hurt. Just be calm.”
“What’s all the commotion about?” the hotel manager said approaching Blanche and the other girls. “You can’t make all that noise. You’re disturbing the occupants in the rooms close by.”
“Listen, a friend of ours may be in serious trouble; so serious we had to call the police. She’s being held in there against her will,” Blanche said still pounding on the door. “Here come the police. Thank God!”
“What’s going on here?” one of the police officers asked.
“A friend of ours is being held in that room against her will. A man tricked her into coming here; he may be trying to rape her.”
“Open up!” the police officer said banging on the door. “This is the police. Open up!”
“Open up! This is the manager. I’m coming in,” the manager shouted.
Ginè bit down on Chris’ hand as he loosened his hold over her mouth. He pulled his hand away and cupped his other hand over it to kill the pain while gritting his teeth. Ginè grabbed for the door handle and flipped the security chain off as the manager unlocked the door from the outside. Chris stood erect feigning surprise. “What seems to be the problem, officer?” he asked slipping his hands into his pockets.
Ginè embraced Blanche as Fiona and Kristin asked questions: “Are you alright? Did he hurt you?”
Ginè shook her head, no.
“These young ladies reported that you were holding this young lady here against her will,” the police officer said. “Is that correct?”
“Well, not really. We met at a bar and I wanted to give her a gift before she left town. I left the gift here at the hotel and we came over to retrieve it. The gift is right here if you don’t believe me,” Chris said picking up the lingerie off the floor where Ginè had dropped it.
The police officers tried to hold a straight face. The girls looked at the lingerie with surprise.
“What’s your name and do you live in this area?” Officer Merckle, the taller of the two policemen asked.
“My name’s Chris, and I live not too far from here.”
“If you live not too far from here, why do you have this room here at the hotel? Seems to me you’d take her to your home. Wouldn’t you agree with that?”
Chris shifted his eyes to the floor without answering.
“How old are you?” the other officer, Officer Monroe, asked Ginè.
“And how old are you?” he asked Chris. “And don’t lie.”
Chris hesitated, then mumbled, “Thirty.”
“Don’t you think you are a little too old for her? It seems you had more in mind than just giving her a gift.” Not waiting for an answer, he asked Ginè what happened. Ginè told her side of the story.
Officer Monroe sighed. “Ma’am, because you’re of age and because you agreed to go with him, even though he was not completely up-front with you, if you press charges nothing will probably come out of it seeing he was not successful in whatever he had in mind. The judge may just let him off with a warning. All we can do is record what happened, record his name and address and phone number, and place it in our files.”
Ginè looked at Blanche. “Okay.. if that’s all you can do,” Blanche said glaring at Chris. Disappointment laced her voice. “Come on, girls. Let’s go,” Blanche said as soon as the officers finished recording what took place.
“Wait. My phone!” Ginè said.
The officer snatched it from Chris and gave it to her.
The girls quickly went to their van and drove directly to their hotel which was further up the street.
“How did he get your phone?” Blanche asked as soon as they were safely inside their van.
“I was texting you to let you know where I was when he took it from me.”
“That’s a snake for you,” Blanche said. She burst out laughing at the blank and puzzled look Ginè gave her. “I’m not trying to prevent you from having fun, Ginè, but you are quite young and very naïve to the ways of men.” Ginè looked even more puzzled. Blanche burst out laughing again. “Girl, by the look on your face, I can tell you have no clue what I am talking about, do you?”
Ginè shook her head, no. Fiona and Kristin chuckled then sobered up at the thought of what could have happened to Ginè.
“I never trusted Chris, and when he mentioned taking you to buy you a ‘gift,’ that gave him away. He could have just brought the gift to you. Plus, I kind of figured he was too old for you; but I wanted to let you have fun seeing this was our last night here. I scrutinized you both throughout the evening, though,” Blanche said.
“Thank you so much, Blanche,” Ginè said.
“No thanks needed. I should not have let you go with him in the first place,” Blanche said.
“We shouldn’t have either,” Kristin and Fiona said. “Forgive us for spurring you on and leading you to do something that just was not you.”
Ginè nodded. “No apology needed. I knew better than to go with him. I should have followed my better judgment.”
They entered their hotel room in silence, and after reporting to Ms. Gardena to let her know they were safely in their room, they prepared for bed. Engrossed in their own thoughts, they climbed into bed.
“I’ll share my story with you,” Blanche said. “I don’t share it very often and I won’t feel like repeating it once I am done, so listen. I was picked up by a gentleman just like you were getting ready to be picked up, Ginè. Well, this so-called gentleman turned out to be a scoundrel. He was nice—extremely nice. He was a gentleman all the way. He showed me the partying side of life—the good times. He treated me like I was the only lady on the face of the earth; he treated me like a queen. We ended up in a hotel. Naïve and foolish me thought he only wanted to talk—like he said. Well, we did talk, but then he started to ask me to have sex with him as a reward for his taking time to give me a good time. I thought he was bluffing, but he was dead serious. I kept telling him ‘no,’ but he forced himself on me; he raped me—twice in one night. And there was no one to witness this … and no one to turn to for help.”
Ginè’s heart almost stopped. I would have never thought Blanche went through such a horrifying experience. Her heart went out to Blanche who she could clearly see was still hurting over that experience in her life.
“He raped me; he took away my virginity—my innocence. I was only eighteen years old. Same age as you are, Ginè.” Blanche paused before continuing. “As soon as he fell asleep, I sneaked out of the room and ran. I kept running—running until I collapsed in front of someone’s front door. I was in shock. The people found me that morning and called the police. I was too scared and ashamed to tell. I could not even tell them who did this to me because all he gave me was a first name. The police tried to match his first name with some last names they already had on record but could not place the name with a face.”
Ginè closed her eyes in an attempt to block out from her mind what could have happened to her if her friends had not intervened. She could have relived Blanche’s tragic experience that very night.
“I was too trusting of men, Ginè,” Blanche said propping her head up on her hand and looking Ginè in the eyes. She swallowed hard. “That happened seven years ago and I am still hurting from it.” Looking across to Fiona and Kristin, Blanche continued. “Girls, some men do not mean you any good. You may find a few who are genuinely caring, but they are hard to find. My advice to you is: don’t take any chances. Use your head; don’t lose your head…and protect your heart.”
Blanche sat up. “When I look at you, I see myself seven years ago and I don’t want what happened to me to happen to you—any of you,” she said glancing at Fiona and Kristin. “I had to stop him, Ginè. I would never forgive myself if anything were to happen to you. You pray each day and ask God to give you wisdom in dealing with people, especially the opposite sex. God will let you know who to avoid and how to handle them starting with a check in your spirit. But it is also best to stay home with your parents until you are married, and when you go out, to go out with friends that you know well.”
Ginè told Blanche thanks again for reaching out to her and for protecting her from harm. “You’re welcome, Ginè. Just stick with me and I’ll get you back home safe and sound. I asked God to use me to help young girls like you, and this is one way He’s shown me I can help. You girls have the world before you. Just don’t mess up a good thing. Enjoy this modeling experience, but do not get carried away and drop your guard.”
That night, Ginè laid awake for a long time thanking God for sending Blanche into her life. She thought over the events of the day. She now appreciated Grandma’s rules and firmness. At that point she had a strong yearning for Grandma’s arms around her—a place where she always felt loved and secure. Little did she know that Grandma had been up the past four hours praying for her protection.
The girls awoke perky the next morning anticipating a safe trip back home.
“I know you’re all tired and ready for an extended vacation,” Ms. Gardena said. “But just hold on, we have one last stop to make in Jacksonville. It will be a four day stop and then we’ll roll it on home. I hope you all enjoyed yourselves.”
“We did,” the girls said.
“Please be thinking about whether or not you’ll want to sign another contract with us again. You can sign up for a year or for two years. If you do sign up with us, you’ll have to set your personal goals aside for the duration of the contract, so make sure this is what you really want. It’s been great working with you for these three months,” Ms. Gardena continued.
“Thanks for everything, Ms. Gardena,” the girls said.
“Oh, I almost forgot. Ginè, the La Paz office called me. Your grandmother called them asking about you; she has not heard from you for a few days now and is asking you to give her a call,” Ms. Gardena said.
Oh, man, Ginè thought ashamed at what she had done. I got so carried away, I forgot to call her these past few days. She is going to be so mad.
Ginè immediately called her grandmother.
“Hello, Grandma, this is Ginè.”
“You don’t have to tell me. I know it’s you, baby. I believe you have something else to say.”
“Grandma, I’m sorry for not calling you these past few days, but we have been so busy; it slipped my mind,” Ginè said. “We’re almost done with the tour. We only have one more stop to make in Jacksonville, Florida, for four days, then we’ll be heading home.”
“Do you have something else you want to tell me?” Grandma asked.
Ginè swallowed hard. “No, ma’am.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ginè said hoping she would not probe.
The few seconds of silence that followed left Ginè feeling uncomfortable.
“Now, you know I don’t appreciate not hearing from you these past few days—seven days to be exact. What would hinder you from calling me for just one minute each day as you had been doing to let me know all is well with you unless all is not well?”
“All is well, Grandma, and I’m sorry for not calling. It just slipped my mind.”
“Well, don’t let it slip your mind again. You make sure you call me everyday until you get back home. Do you hear me?”
“Now are you absolutely sure you don’t have anything else to tell me?”
I hate it when she asks me that question. She can read me like she’s reading a book. Man, I don’t even know if I should tell her about Chris. I mean, nothing happened, thanks to Blanche. “I’m sure,” she told her Grandma.
“Now you know you missed early registration for school to start in September. What do you plan on doing about that? You don’t want to waste your scholarship,” Grandma said to her. “You may never get another chance.”
“I can register in December when I return and start in January. That will be early enough to begin, and, if not, I believe they have late registration. Remember the scholarship is open for a year. I’ll still be able to use it,” Ginè assured her.
“You have some letters from your advisor waiting here for you when you return. I took the liberty to open them up and to call her and let her know you were on a three month modeling tour and will be back the week of Thanksgiving. To make sure you did not waste your scholarship, I went ahead and filled out the registration forms for you to begin in January with the help of your academic advisor. So, she’s expecting you to give her a call when you return. Didn’t you want to sign up for a degree in Early Childhood Education? I already signed you up for that, but feel free to switch when you return. You’re still interested in teaching little children, aren’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, Grandma,” Ginè said with a smile. Just like Grandma to get things going.
A despondent feeling laced with guilt came over Ginè as she hung up the phone. She was torn between making two decisions: signing up with La Paz, at least for one year, or going on to college. Ginè was loving the fast-paced life. She and Fiona along with Kristin talked often about signing another contract with La Paz. Fiona invited her more than once to room with her at her aunt’s place if she decided to go on with the tour and even when she started college—whichever Ginè chose. Fiona was seriously thinking of putting off college for a year to travel with La Paz.
“Is everything alright back home?” Blanche asked Ginè after she got off the phone with her grandmother.
Ginè nodded. “She’s upset I did not call her the past few days like I promised.”
“Well, six more days to go then she won’t have to worry about you anymore,” Blanche smiled. “Have you decided whether or not you are going to stay on with La Paz?”
“No. What about you?”
“I’ve had fun these three months. I just wanted to do something different, but modeling isn’t for me,” Blanche said with a chuckle. “On the other hand, I may just sign up as a chaperone because you young, inexperienced ones need someone to protect you from unscrupulous men.”
“We sure do,” the girls said laughing.
“I want to thank you again,” Ginè said, “and if you ask me, you still look young and beautiful. Well, what about you Fiona? Kristin? Are you guys going to sign up?”
“I’m definitely signing up,” Kristin said. “And for two years. I’ve always wanted to go into modeling and acting. I’m done with college. Books are not for me.”
“You might want to seriously reconsider that,” Blanche said. “Modeling is a great career, but you might want to go to college or a fashion institute or an acting school before you take off with La Paz or any other modeling company. I would check with Ms. Gardena to see if they have some program where you can go to school while training with them. This modeling thing is a touch and go situation as there’s a lot of competition out there and it takes a lot of work.”
“It couldn’t be too much more work than what we just went through,” Fiona said.
“Well, when I say work, I am talking about watching your diet, exercising, taking care of your skin, your hair, working on a schedule—a sometimes rigid schedule. Would you be willing to change your unique personality to fit the occasion—like cutting your hair into different styles, dyeing your hair, wearing all different kinds of makeup, changing into different clothes—modest and immodest?”
“Well, we haven’t had to wear anything immodest for this trip.” Kristin said making air quotes when she said ‘immodest’.
“This trip was just to whet your appetite. And,” Blanche said, “will you be able to handle men’s constant attention?”
Fiona laughed. “I think so. Just say ‘no’ loud and clear.”
“I don’t think it will be that easy,” Blanche said. “What are you going to do, Fiona?”
“I was thinking of going on with La Paz—not to make a career of it or anything like that—I just see it as something fun to do and I don’t think another year with La Paz would hurt me as far as my schooling goes. I still plan on going to college at Georgia State. And, Ginè, you are still welcome to room with me at my aunt’s. Talk it over with your grandmother. I’d love to have the company.”
“I will,” Ginè said. I doubt if she’ll let me, but it won’t hurt to ask.
On the second to last night of the tour, in Jacksonville, the girls visited a local strip joint just for fun.
I had no idea anything like this existed, Ginè thought wide-eyed as all four girls slipped into seats around a small table close to the back of the room so they could exit quickly if the need arose. Three woman were on stage. The men, mostly middle aged on up, were all googly-eyed as they made snide remarks intended to be compliments to the dancers. Ginè could not figure out what these men saw in a woman stripping herself down to nothing but a two-piece bathing suit dancing around a pole. It was hands off, so all the men could do was stare, holler, and toss coins and dollar bills on the stage.
“Don’t you girls get any ideas now,” Blanche giggled. Fiona, Kristin, and Ginè nudged each other as they tried to smother their laughs.
“Can I get you gals anything?” a waitress asked. She was dressed in a cheerleader type outfit with laced stockings.
“No, thank you,” Blanche quickly answered. “We’re just passing through.”
The waitress peered at them for a few seconds. “Y’all sure do look mighty young to be in a place like this.”
“Don’t worry. We cleared at the door. We have our IDs if you want to check for yourself.” Blanche started to pull her ID out. “And, we won’t be drinking any alcohol. In fact, we’ll just have some water.”
“I can get you that, and you don’t have to show me your ID. Y’all just look as young as my daughter. Keep safe now. By the way, it’s ‘hands off’ on all females whether you are dancing or just visiting, so if any of the men touch you or make obscene remarks at you, just let me know or ask for Joey.”
One of the dancers arrested Ginè’s attention. She was very beautiful and despite the nature of the job, carried herself with dignity and class. She was about business. From the applause and the cheers coming from the men and the tips she received, Ginè could tell she was a favorite. Ginè observed her every move. There was something about her that arrested Ginè’s attention. She looks so familiar. Ginè quickly dismissed the thought as Jacksonville was quite a distance from Atlanta and this was her first time visiting Jacksonville.
The more she watched the dancer, the more Ginè felt for sure she looked familiar, but as much as she racked her brain she could not put a finger on where their paths may have crossed—if their paths had crossed at all. Where would we even have met? Ginè thought. “Do you girls recognize any of the dancers—that one in particular?” Ginè asked her friends. They shook their heads. Ginè could not get the dancer out of her mind.
The girls gave Ginè the honor of choosing where she would like to spend their last night of the tour. Without hesitation Ginè chose the strip joint.
“You’re not interested in a job like that, are you?” Fiona joked.
“Oh, no. It’s just something about that last dancer. It’s far fetched that we have met before, but I would just like to see if I can talk with her,” Ginè shared with her friends.
Iris, as Ginè found out was her name, was the second one to perform that night. The men went wild. “You can come home with me any time, baby.” “Toss me your number and address.” “I’ll give you a ride home.” “My wife cannot match up to you at all.” “Oh, mighty Iris.” These and other remarks were thrown her way, but they did not seem to move her as she smiled pleasantly and did her thing.
Once done with her performance, Iris left the stage and slipped through a door behind the stage. A third dancer replaced her. Taking advantage of the distraction of the patrons with the third dancer, Ginè whispered to her friends as she slipped out her seat. “I feel like I need to talk with her. About what, I don’t know. I’ll be right back.” Ginè slipped back stage and through the door just in time to see Iris enter a room midway down a dimly lit hallway.
“Who is it?” a voice said in response to Ginè’s knock on the door.
“It’s Ginè. I was wondering, could I please speak with you for a few minutes?”
Iris cautiously peeked through the door. “Come on in,” Iris said with a warm smile as she swung the door open wider. Ginè stepped into a dimly lit dressing room painted burnt orange. The floor lamp in one corner cast a soft glow across the room giving off a certain ambiance—one that lent itself to relaxation. Two dressers occupied one wall. There were also two sofas, a love seat, two side tables, and a bathroom off to the back. “Have a seat. How can I help you, Ginè?”
“Ms. Iris, I just wanted to meet you and I was wondering, may I please have your autograph?” Ginè said sitting down on one of the couches to Iris’ right.
“I’m honored,” Iris said placing a hand over her chest, “but I do not give out autographs. Does Joey know you are back here? I mean, it’s no problem.”
“Joey? Who’s Joey?”
“He’s the manager.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know I had to get his permission,” Ginè said.
“Never mind, you’re back here now.”
“Um, I just wanted to meet you in person because for some reason you look kind of familiar. We came by here yesterday and I have not been able to get you out of my mind since.”
“Oh, me and my friends. We slipped in and sat at the back. This is our last night here in Jacksonville and I just had to talk with you before we leave,” Ginè said.
“Now where do you suppose we could have met before?” Iris asked thoughtfully as she stared at the mole on Ginè’s lower left cheek.
“I really don’t know. Maybe you just look like someone I probably have met somewhere. Have you ever been to Atlanta? That’s where I live,” Ginè said.
“Well, I used to live in Atlanta, but that was many years ago,” Iris replied handing Ginè a bottled iced tea from the tiny refrigerator. “But tell me a little about yourself, Ginè. That is such a pretty name, and you’re a pretty girl yourself. I hope you’re not thinking of getting a job here,” Iris said.
“Oh, no,” Ginè said. Ginè told her everything about herself and about Grandma, about her getting ready for college on a full scholarship, about her La Paz experience, her love for God, and so much more. Surprisingly, Ginè, normally a reserved person, felt relaxed sharing her life with Iris. She felt as though she already knew her.
“What’s your last name Ginè?” Iris asked.
“Burris.” As Ginè drank down the last of her iced tea, she wondered why Iris was staring at her so hard.
“Oh, forgive me for staring like that. I was just wondering if I knew any Burrises in Atlanta. It is very refreshing to find a young lady your age who seems to be enjoying life and who seems to have purpose and direction in life. Tell me a little bit more about your grandmother. She sounds like a good person. What’s her name?”
“Belle Grant,” Ginè replied.
“What a beautiful name. How about your parents? They must be proud of you,” Iris said with a smile.
“Well, my dad died when I was only two years old. My mother kind of disappeared a few years later.”
“I am so sorry to hear that.” Iris placed her empty bottle on the side table.
“No need to be, Ms. Iris. You had nothing to do with any of this. Me, Grandma, and Ms. Nellie are praying for her. Grandma says no loving mother would leave their children so we believe she will come back.”
Iris picked up her empty iced tea bottle and went to throw it in the trash can across the room. “Ginè, I wish we could talk all night, but I have to head on home and get some sleep so I can be ready for my other job in the morning.”
“Forgive me. I didn’t mean to keep you so long, and forgive me for barging in without an invitation.”
“It’s no problem. In fact, it was refreshing talking with you,” Iris said as she slipped into her black coat. “There’s a pen and notepad on the dresser. Leave me your name and address. I may just drop you and your Grandma a note, and Ginè, it was a pleasure meeting you.”
Ginè extended a hand, but Iris wrapped her arms around her in a warm embrace. On exiting the room, Ginè turned right to return to her friends; Iris turned left and headed out the back door.
Grandma hadn’t been able to sleep until she had engaged in serious prayer for her granddaughter. As soon as God gave her peace that His angels would protect Ginè, she fell off to sleep.
Iris hurried to her red Ferrari. It can’t be. It just can’t be, she thought as she drove off the property. Giné took a business card from off the corner of the bar as she made her way back to sit with her friends. It may come in handy one day, she thought. “We can leave now,” she told her friends. “I’ve had just about all I can take of this place.”
“Me, too,” the others voiced as they scooted out of their seats.
“How did your meeting go?” Blanche asked. “Did you two know each other?”
“It went well, but, unfortunately, we have never met before. She asked for my address; says she might drop me a note.”
Fiona started to chuckle. “I can just envision the look on your grandmother’s face when she finds out you visited a strip joint.”
“Yeah. I don’t even want to think about that,” Giné said.
“Well, you have my number. If she does not believe you then you can have her give me a call so I can put in a good word for you,” Fiona said.
“Me, too,” Blanche and Kristin said together.
Grandma and Ms. Nellie were happy to have Giné back safely. “See, Belle, I told you not to worry. Let her have fun. Let her experience the world,” Ms. Nellie said looking at Giné out of the corner of her eyes with a smile. “And just in time for Thanksgiving.”
Grandma fluttered around Giné like a butterfly.
“Grandma, you’re going to wear yourself out,” Giné said even though she soaked up every bit of the pampering that she missed greatly.
“Tell me all about your trip, Giné,” Grandma insisted once things settled down, “and don’t hide anything because I know you weren’t perfect the whole trip. I was an eighteen-year-old once.”
Giné told Grandma almost everything: about Fiona, Kristin, and Blanche; about Fiona’s home; about their trips to the various cities; about their stay in the different hotels; the different companies they modeled for; about meeting Iris at one of the bars they visited.
“One of the bars?” Grandma repeated.
Giné tried to look away from her grandmother’s stare, but couldn’t. The embarrassment came over her. “Yes, ma’am. We visited about three bars on the trip.”
“No wonder you stopped calling me. It was weighing on your mind. Did you drink any of the alcohol? And you know I can tell when you’re lying, so don’t lie to me.”
Relief came over Giné as she told her grandmother about their visits to the bars. Grandma did not bat an eye as she told her about her near tragic encounter with Chris and how Blanche and her friends rescued her, and about Blanche’s advice to them.
“I see you did not take the advice I gave you when you graduated,” Grandma said after giving some thought to the matter. “Remember I told you most men mean you no good; to stay away from them and to pray in a good and respectable husband. Even some of the seemingly nicest of men are full of bad intentions, and most only want one thing from a young, beautiful, innocent girl like you. That one thing is sex, and they will take advantage of you and think nothing of it. They will use you and cast you to the side and move on to another young, beautiful girl and repeat the cycle again. And I do not want that to happen to you.”
“Grandma, you’re right,” Giné said resolutely. “He seemed so nice and caring. Thank God for Blanche who saw right through him.” Giné shared with her Grandma Blanche’s story.
“That’s so sad. I want to thank Blanche personally for being there and for looking out for you. We have to do something for her.”
“Yes. She acted like a mother to me, Fiona, and Kristin.”
“I also told you that if people try to talk you into doing wrong not to listen to them,” Grandma said. “You should have never gone to that bar. I’ve always told you to stay away from anything that looks evil. I don’t just share things with you for my health.”
“I’m sorry,” Giné said. “The girls said they were just having innocent fun, and that we would look out for each other.”
“Well, innocent fun can turn into a tragedy. Now do you see why I hesitated to let you go on the tour especially for that length of time? Anything could have happened to you. You don’t have to explore the other side of town to find out what is going on. And like I always say: The grass ain’t never greener on the other side.”
Giné swallowed hard.
“All that stuff you see on television,” Grandma continued, “is real and at the same time not real. All that Hollywood glamour is pumped up fake mess, so don’t get sucked into believing that that is the life.”
“Some of those beautiful girls on television, after their makeup is removed, and the heels kicked off, and the beautiful dresses hung up, their life is just like ours. Always remember: The grass ain’t never greener on the other side. It’s what you make of it on this side that counts.”
Giné felt a pang of guilt knowing that the only reason she was interested in going to La Paz in the first place and insisting on taking the trip was because she wanted to experience the fast pace life of the folks who lived on the other side.
“You know,” Grandma continued, “I would rather live in this dump of a place in comfort knowing I have no monthly stress on me, knowing my granddaughter is safe, and be praising God at the same time with true peace of mind than have what the rich folks have with all the headaches that come along with being rich or trying to appear rich. When all’s said and done, Giné, we are all going to stand before the same God and give an account for how we lived this life. That is all that will matter in the end. I think it is in Proverbs where it says, ‘Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.’ Yes, child, I’d rather have me dry spaghetti with a little sauce and no meat with peace of mind and quiet than steak and ale with constant fussing and unrest of soul.”
Giné smiled. They had had so many days of just plain spaghetti she had lost count.
“When I spoke with the director at La Paz, she shared with me that their students have the option of signing up with them again for one or two years. I hope you did not sign up for anything without my permission,” Grandma said.
Giné sighed a sigh of relief. “No, Grandma. I thought about it and at the moment I wanted to because Fiona and Kristin said they were going to sign up, but I didn’t. Blanche said she was not going to renew the contract with La Paz. Fiona even said I could room with her even when I started school. ”
“What did you tell her?”
“I just told her thank you for the offer, but I did not give her anything solid.”
“That’s good because that’s not for you; God has something greater for you. He wants to use you to impact the lives of many for His glory,” Grandma said. “Now I want you to pick back up on your praying and Bible reading because I know you slacked off on that, and I won’t even ask you what church you went to.”
Giné smiled. “Thank you, Grandma. I will get back on track, and it’s good to be back home.”
Laying in bed that night, Giné reflected on her grandmother’s words and on the whole La Paz experience. Grandma was right. For her, the La Paz experience was mostly unfulfilling. Nothing lasting would come out of it with the exception of Blanche’s advice and words of wisdom.
“Lord, I really want something more fulfilling out of my life. I want to do something that will help others live a better life—something eternal,” Giné prayed that night. “Modeling clothes is far from that.”
Giné turned over in her mind a portion of her pastor’s sermon from a previous Sunday to the youth of the church. Solomon said:
I made me great works…
I made me gardens and orchards…
I made me pools of water…
I got me servants and maidens…
I gathered me also silver and gold…
And whatsoever mine eyes desired, I kept not from them…
But Solomon with all his wisdom had to conclude:
“Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity (futility) and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.”
I have to agree with Solomon, Giné concluded.
Iris pulled up before her apartment. It was in a gated community alongside a few private houses. The security guard, Miguel, who was doing his rounds when she exited her car, appeared on that side of the apartment complex. For some reason, he had taken a liking to Iris and made sure she got in safely each night. They exchanged the usual greeting as Iris keyed in the security code to unlock the door to her apartment building.
Iris was still deep in thought as she stumbled into bed. She reached over to her bedside table and pulled out of one of its drawers the pictures Grandma had sent her of Giné. The last picture of her was at her eighth birthday party. I can’t believe how much she looks like my husband. She has blossomed into a beautiful young lady, full of life and having positive dreams and goals. I have no doubt the young lady I just finished talking to is my flesh and blood daughter—Giné Rachel Burris; the mole on her left jaw gave her away.
Sleep did not come easily that night. All the guilt of leaving her daughter to the care of her mother came crashing down on her. Is this another way God is telling me I needed to go home and reclaim my daughter? She’s been searching and wondering just who her mother was. I have been ignoring God’s constant promptings and Grandma’s pleadings for me to come on home for the sake of my daughter. Now that God has literally dropped my daughter into my lap, I’m not sure I want to reveal to her who I really am. What child would be proud to have a mother who dances before men in scanty clothing? What if she does not accept me? What if she is bitter at me for abandoning her? She did not express that while we were talking. Regina cried herself to sleep thinking how she had missed out on the most important part of her daughter’s formative years.
Giné signed up for classes and started college at Georgia State in January. Blanche returned to Alabama to finish college. She was pursuing her doctorate in Business Management. As she shared with them, “La Paz is not for me. I will never forget the experience though.” She gave each girl a hug as they parted ways.
Fiona and Kristin both signed the one-year contract with La Paz. Giné was happy for them, but she only wished she had witnessed to them. They had it all materially but were still chasing for something more. Giné resolved to pray for them both each day.
“Grandma, I have what they need; I had it throughout the whole La Paz trip. But I was so busy trying to get what they have that I failed to give them what they needed,” Giné shared with her grandmother.
“And what’s that, baby?”
“They need Jesus. He’s the only One who can give you peace and purpose in life. As I look back on the experience, I was only ‘chasing waterfalls,’ and that is what Fiona and Kristin are doing. What I was doing served no purpose at all without Jesus.”
“Well, you can still share Jesus with them. You can talk to them on the phone about Jesus, or you can get their address and mail them some of the Gospel tracts from the church, and you can also pray for them,” Grandma told her.
“I think I’ll do all three,” Giné said. “I kind of feel bad I did not even attempt to do so.”
Giné continued to excel in her studies and was committed to helping Grandma as much as she could. Using some of the money that was put aside for her, Grandma bought her a four door sky blue Ford.
“I’m doing this because you have proven yourself to be a mature and responsible young lady down through the years, of course, minus the silly act you did while in Florida, which thank God, He heard our prayers and kept you safe,” Grandma said. “I believe that experience has left you a wiser person.”
Giné had put Iris out of her mind until she received a note from her a month after starting college. It read:
I don’t know if you remember me, Iris, from the strip joint in Jacksonville. As I promised you, I am dropping you a note to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. It was refreshing talking with you as you shared your dreams with me. It is not very often that I encounter a young lady who has a sense of purpose and direction for her life. I trust that you have enrolled in college now and are enjoying it. Whatever you do, please get your education. I feel funny writing this, but make sure you stay in church and always remember God. Tell your Grandma ‘hello’ for me.
There were blotches in several places on the pink sheet of paper. That did not dampen Giné’s spirit as she read the note aloud to her grandmother. “She told me she was going to write. I can’t believe I had forgotten about her.”
“Who is Iris?” Grandma asked taking note of the blotches.
“I thought I told you about her. I’m sure I did. I met her at one of the bars we visited in Jacksonville. It was actually a strip joint.”
“A strip joint! Does she work at a strip joint? Did you go to a strip joint? Why in the world did you not tell me you went to a strip joint! You mentioned the bars, but you did not tell me anything about a strip joint.”
Giné jumped at the sudden rage in her Grandmama’s voice. “How could you not tell me you went to a strip joint? Do you know that kind of thing can pollute your mind for life? Is that what you’re interested in? What else are you hiding from me?”
Giné’s voice trembled as she spoke. “Grandmama, I’m sorry. I just saw it as a bar. We just went there for fun. I got so caught up telling you about her, it somehow slipped my mind to tell you where she worked. I didn’t mean to hide it from you. I didn’t do anything while I was there. I spoke with her right after her performance and left as soon as I finished talking with her.”
“Who told you about such a place?”
“Fiona, Kristin, Blanche and I went together—more out of curiosity. They said it was a surprise. I didn’t know where we were going until we got there.”
“Well, the surprise is on me,” Grandmama said. “Did any of the men mess with you? And why didn’t you leave as soon as you saw the kind of place it was? After all I taught you, you are going to go to a strip joint!”
“I should have left, Grandmama, and I am sorry I didn’t, but Iris grabbed my attention. It was as though I had seen her before. I could not shake that thought. I just had to speak with her,” Giné confessed. “And, no, none of the men there messed with me or the other girls. They were too busy watching Iris and the other dancers.”
Grandmama studied Giné for a minute. “All right, I believe you. But remember, God was watching over you and He saw everything you did.” After a long sigh, she added softly, “Giné, I know you think I’m being hard on you at times—maybe more times than not. I set rules that I know you think are unreasonable; I don’t deny that. But I do that because I’ve been there and done that. I’ve been where you’re trying to go and have a desire to go, and I’ve done what you have a desire to do. As Solomon says, there’s nothing new under the sun.” Grandmama chuckled. “Yes, I remember those days when Nellie and I used to hang out with the cool crowd. But guess what? Some of the cool crowd ended up in jail, got pregnant, spent months hiding from the police, or dropped out of school; some are depending on the government to take care of them and their children now.”
Grandmama fell silent for a few minutes, and it seemed her attention was given over to an unpleasant movie playing in her mind. She shook her head and shuddered. “I don’t want you to ruin your life. But for the grace of God, I wouldn’t have overcome my foolish-acting years—curious years were what they really were. Anyway, I came out of them safe. I got saved and began spending more time in the church and in reading my Bible. I made up my mind to do what the Bible says. And, you know what? Going the Bible way works, and has worked for me for forty years now. I would not give it up for anything.”
Looking into Giné’s eyes, she continued. “I want you to have fun and to enjoy your life. Why live life if you’re not going to enjoy it? But you can live a clean life and at the same time have fun. Like I always tell you: the grass is never greener on the other side. It’s what you make of it on your side that counts. You remember that.”
“Yes, Grandmama, I will,” Giné said. “And I am truly sorry.”
“I know you are,” Grandmama said.
Grandmama looked at the letter in Giné’s hand. “You say her name is Iris?”
“Yes. She’s as nice as can be,” Giné said.
“That was nice of her to write. Make sure you answer her back,” Grandmama said, studying the handwriting on the letter. She turned the envelope over, but there was no return address. “Well, I guess you can’t reply.”
“I got her address. I picked up a card from her workplace on my way out,” Giné said. “I didn’t know why I even picked it up, but I can see now that I need it.”
Grandmama studied the handwriting on the note some more. She was sure she had seen it before, but could not immediately place it. That night as she pulled out her Bible for her regular night-time reading, an envelope fell out. The handwriting on the envelope was similar to that on Giné’s note. It can’t be! Yes, she had no doubt it was Giné’s mother — her daughter, Regina. But a strip joint? No wonder she stopped putting a return address on her letters to us. She was afraid I’d pop up and catch her in the act. Oh, Regina! Why a strip joint of all places — especially when you could have just come home? She pulled out a few of the letters she had received from Giné’s mother. Yes. It’s definitely her.
Things are adding up now, Grandmama thought as she stretched out on her bed. The last time I heard from her was a few months after she had been hired on at the bank; she wrote saying another door was opening up for her to get another job. She did not say what the other job was. The large amounts of money she has been sending for Giné did not add up; but with the money from the strip joint, it all adds up now. I’ll just have to do some investigating on my own starting with the info on the business card.
Giné was thumbing through her bedside table drawer that evening and picked up the picture she had of her father, her mother, and herself as a baby. She looked at the picture through new eyes. That’s where I’ve seen her before. That’s Iris; she looks just like my mother. Unless… As Giné thought about her talk with Iris, she began to put it all together. No wonder she was asking so many personal questions. She recognized me. Even after these many years she still looks the same.
Giné had no doubt that Iris was her mother—her real mother; the mother she often thought about; the mother who sent her money every so often; the mother Grandmama said loves her; the mother who kept up with her whereabouts, but for some reason chose to remain anonymous. But why? Grandmama must know something.
Giné was a little surprised when Grandmama borrowed the business card from her the next morning and copied the information off of it.
“Grandmama, I did not do anything wrong,” Giné said after asking her why she needed it.
“I believe you. To tell you the truth, something came to my mind after I spoke with you. I just need to make a few phone calls. I’ll let you know whether or not I’m just going on a wild goose chase.”
After Giné left for school, Grandmama took some of the letters Regina had sent to her over the years and the note Giné received from Iris and went to see Nellie.
“What do you think, Nellie?”
“Mmm. The writing looks mighty close,” Nellie said, peering at the letters. “See how she curves her S’s. And look at the T’s. Yes, I’d say you’re on to something. But why would she get a job at a strip joint? You don’t suppose she’s, you know, involved with any of the men there, do you? I just hope she’s not selling herself.”
“Nellie, how could you even fix your mouth to say that?” Grandmama shuddered to even think that about her daughter.
“We have to deal with reality, Belle. You have not heard from her for some years now. Hopefully, she kicked the drug habit as she told you. She did not leave you a forwarding address,” Nellie said, raising her hand in resignation.
“You’re right,” Grandmama sighed. “From what Giné told me she carried herself with class, even as she performed.”
“I don’t see how you can carry yourself with class with a job like that,” Nellie muttered.
“Well, Giné said ‘hands off’ is the number one rule. She said all the men did was watch – ”
“All googly-eyed,” Nellie chuckled.
“As I was saying: the men could only watch, yell snide remarks supposedly in the form of compliments, throw money on the stage, and laugh and act like overgrown schoolboys. She also said the lady serving drinks on the floor told them if any of the men messed with them to just let her know or to ask for Joey.”
“Oh, well,” Nellie said, shrugging her shoulders.
“Plus, Giné said she followed Iris back to her dressing room without her knowing and she let her in without hesitating. After they spoke, she left right away by herself. She asked her a lot of personal questions as if she was trying to catch up on the years she lost out on by not keeping in touch.”
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt to call and see if it’s her for sure,” Nellie said. “I’m curious myself. We’ve been praying for her — for what? — over twelve years now?”
“Yes. Since Giné was five years old.” Gathering up the letters, Grandmama said, “It sure would be nice to have some good news to tell Giné when she comes home from school. She hasn’t asked too many questions about her these last few years. I guess she’s just accepted her leaving as permanent.”
When Grandmama returned home, she called the strip joint.
“Hello, Mademoiselle. Joey speaking.”
“Hello, Joey. This is Belle Grant.”
“Hello, Belle. What an exotic name. Are you looking for a job, Belle, because we sure could use another beauty. One of our dancers is leaving in a couple weeks.”
“No, no. In fact, I’m trying to get in touch with one of your dancers. I believe her name is Iris.”
“Oh, yeah. Iris works here. She’s the best we have. But, sorry, I can’t give out any information on her. We keep all information about our employees confidential.”
“No, I don’t want any information on her. Is she there now? I need to speak with her,” Grandmama said.
“No, ma’am. If you tell me who you are I can give her a message when she comes in.”
“Could you? Just tell her Belle called—Belle Grant—and tell her to give me a call at this number any time.”
“Okay, ma’am. I sure will,” Joey said after writing the number down. “You sure you don’t want a job? We could use another dancer, especially one with a pretty name like Belle. Your voice sounds just as pretty, too,” Joey said.
Grandmama laughed. “No, thank you. I did so much dancing during my young days I had to hang up my dancing shoes and give my aching feet a rest. Just make sure you give Iris my message. It’s very important. Okay?”
“I will,” Joey laughed.
Deep in thought, Grandmama sat around the kitchen table skinning potatoes. Iris. At least she chose a pretty name. She got through three years of rehab and she left—just came and said ‘goodbye’ to me and Giné. Emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, she was a mess. Lord, after all the Bible I tried to put into her, how could she have turned out like this? It’s good to finally hear something, though. I believe God is bringing closure to this situation. Grandmama remembered the day Regina left like it had happened yesterday.
“Mama, I’ll be back for her. I promise. I just can’t be a mother to her right now,” Regina said.
“You ought to stay with your daughter, Regina. That will help stabilize you,” Grandmama insisted. “We’ll get you through this together. You’ve already crossed the main hurdle: you’ve been through rehab successfully. You are drug free. And what about your college? You can’t just give up on that. You’ll need support, people you can lean on like me and Nellie and the church, to help strengthen you.”
“Mama, I’ll make it. I just can’t do it around here. Things are too familiar. The people are too familiar.”
That was the last Grandmama saw of her daughter. Regina was never a problem child. She made it through high school without causing a stir in the family or outside the family, but something happened when she entered college: new environment, new friends, and as the saying goes, “Bad company corrupts good manners.” Yes, she got into bad company less than two years into college. I told her to stay away from her so-called college friends. I saw them leading her astray. But she would not listen. She started delving into drugs and alcohol behind my back; always going off to one party after another at the last minute—telling me where she was going as she walked out the door so I would not have time to argue and try to talk her out of it.
It was in college where Regina met Demetrius, Giné’s father. No one could doubt the love he had for Regina, but he had a drug problem. Grandmama told her daughter to leave Demetrius alone; she told Demetrius to leave her daughter alone. But the two would not leave each other alone. Demetrius not only pushed drugs, but as the drug demon took control of his life, he pulled Regina down into the abyss with him. Word on the street was that he was beyond help. Demetrius ignored the law; he ignored his family’s pleas for him to get help; but at least he listened to Grandmama. “Okay, Ms. Belle. I’ll get help.”
“Dear God,” Grandmama pleaded each night, “please help him and Regina because only You can help them.”
One Sunday Grandmama managed to talk Demetrius into coming to church with her. Demetrius got saved. He asked Jesus to forgive him of his sins, to come and live within his heart, and to give him a new life. For about a year and a half, he miraculously let go of drug pushing and drug taking. Regina still struggled with it, but now she relied on old friends to supply her. Demetrius started traveling with a Bible and people dubbed him “the Bible Man.”
Having a mind like a sponge, Demetrius soaked up Bible verses quickly and could quote them at the snap of a finger. He wanted to do right, so he married Regina. God blessed them with Giné within a year’s time. Doctors called Giné a ‘drug baby,’ as she was born with traces of drug content in her system. She went through a short but traumatic withdrawal period. Even though she had a rough beginning, God’s hand was on her, she pulled through and turned out to be an exceptional child.
The state threatened to take Giné away from Regina if she did not sign up and participate in a drug rehab/counseling center for a year. Not able to bear the thought of losing her daughter, she enrolled and tried to kick the habit. However, she secretly started doing drugs again. This time, the drug demon overpowered her, and together, with former drug-taking friends, they coaxed Bible Man back into the habit.
“Awe, come on D,” Regina said to her husband. “If you really love me as you say you do, then you will join me. We used to do it together.”
“Demetrius, you can do it without hurting yourself anymore,” one friend said.
“The Bible Man ought to be protected by the words of the Bible,” another friend said.
“I thought God gave you freedom,” Regina said. “Come on. It won’t hurt you any more than it has done, and you already know you can get out of it at any time.”
Grandmama stopped by their apartment one evening. It seemed chaos was bursting through the walls: the baby was screaming, loud music was playing, the telephone was ringing off the hook. Something did not set right in Grandmama’s spirit about the whole thing. She called the police before even knocking on the door herself. No one answered the poundings on the door so they broke the door down. Regina, Demetrius, and two others were so strung out they did not even realize the police had entered the apartment. All four were taken into custody and all four were put through the prison’s rehab program. Sadly, Demetrius did not make it through rehab.
“God saw it best to take him home,” Grandmama told Regina who sought her for comfort and answers when she visited her at rehab. “If he had continued living he would continue doing drugs, polluting his body, which was God’s temple, and bringing shame to God’s name. Sometimes it’s best for God to take us on home when we struggle with a certain sin and refuse to let it go. And, Regina, that is what might happen to you if you don’t straighten up and get your act together.”
Demetrius’ unexpected death was a wake-up call for Regina. She enrolled in the rehab/counseling center for the second time, but she failed to get rid of her friends who kept enticing her back into that lifestyle. She moved into a halfway house but kept sneaking out and breaking many of the rules of the house. At her breaking point and as a last resort, she decided that the only way out was to leave town to get away from it all, and to settle down somewhere new, get a decent job, and in her own words, “Break this cycle so that I can take proper care of my daughter.”
“Mama, I have to leave here for my sanity and for the protection of Giné. I am being constantly tempted to go back into the drug world. Mama, I have to leave soon, or I’m going to end up killing myself.”
Regina and Mama argued for a while, but Grandmama wanted the best for her daughter and grand-daughter. She knew they had to somehow get Regina away from her drug-addicted friends.
“I’ll be back for her, Mama. I promise you, I will. Once I get settled and get things going and don’t even have the urge to do drugs for a year or so, I’ll come back and get her.”
For the first few years, Grandmama could not keep up with her and the many jobs she held: waitress, housemaid, cleaning hotels. “You’re beyond all that, Regina. Don’t limit yourself,” Grandmama told her. “You are too smart for those kinds of jobs. You need to enroll in college and get your degree. That’s your ticket. Think big! I’ve always taught you to think big and not to settle for mediocrity.”
Regina took her mother’s advice and enrolled in night school. She finally got her Bachelors in Business and landed a job at the bank. Life was going well for her, but she somehow slacked off on keeping in touch with Grandmama.
Regina did get a second job; one she knew Grandmama would not approve of. Both jobs kept her busy and kept her mind off her troubles and constant guilt—guilt that kept flooding her world especially at nights when she was alone with her own thoughts. Grandmama’s words often pricked her. “You have enough bitterness and fear in your heart to paralyze you and to cause you much internal hurt. Your moving away from here is not going to detach you from the bitterness and fear within you. Regina, you cannot escape from yourself. You lost your husband. Grieve, but don’t get bitter. Who are you bitter towards anyway? Don’t cause yourself further pain by trying to run away from yourself or from your responsibility. You owe it to Giné to come back into her life before it is too late. Don’t let fear drive you away; you drive fear away, And remember the Bible says, ‘God has not given you the spirit of fear, but of power, and of a sound mind.’ Fear is of the devil and he will use it to defeat you.”
How did Mama get my number here? Regina wondered after Joey gave her the message. Giné showed no sign of having recognized me. I’m sure Mama’s shown her pictures of me. Ever since a child, it never ceased to amaze Regina how Grandmama could, for the most part, tell what was going on in her life. That was one reason she left off communicating by telephone with her. Is Grandmama contacting me God’s way of telling me again it is time for me to go home? Dear God, I so want to return home and be a part of whatever is left of my daughter’s life, but I am so scared; I feel so unworthy; so inadequate … so guilty.
As soon as Giné returned home from school she went into her room, got the picture out again, and carefully examined it as she tried to gather her thoughts. Finally, she knocked on Grandmama’s bedroom door.
“Come on in,” Grandmama said.
Giné handed her the picture. “Grandmama, that lady, Iris, I told you about from the strip joint, is my mother. This picture looks just like Iris and I don’t recall you telling me my mother had a twin. Why would she not reveal to me her true identity when I spoke with her? I’m sure she recognized me. That’s why she was asking me so many questions. Grandmama, I’m almost nineteen, you can tell me the truth now. You don’t need to hide it anymore,” Giné pleaded with her grandmother. “You have to know something.”
“Come sit beside me,” Grandmama said softly, rising up from her reclining position on the bed. “I knew this day would come. I did not know when, but I tried to prepare myself and you for it. Now I don’t know if I am ready for it or not.”
Grandmama scooted over to the middle of the bed and adjusted her pillows. Giné sat down beside her.
“Your Mama was a smart girl just like you, and beautiful, too. She turned heads wherever she went. After she entered college, she got into bad company. That’s why I am so particular about the friends you keep and must know your whereabouts at all times. Anyway, her so-called friends took her down with drugs and alcohol and the party life. She became strong-willed and disrespectful. I knew that was not her; that was the drugs affecting her mind. She met your father, Demetrius. He was heavy into drugs also. He was in and out of jail, but one thing I must admit: he loved your mother and she loved him too.”
Giné cuddled up to Grandmama. She closed her eyes as she listened to Grandmama relate to her the missing parts of her family’s life as it affected her life also. Tears forced themselves through her closed eyes when Grandmama told her of her father’s untimely and unexpected death.
“He fought a brave fight against the drug demons that were out to get him, Giné. But they were too strong for him. So for him to win, God called him on home.” Grandmama hugged her tight. “Don’t worry, you’ll see him again in Heaven. Remember, death has no victory over the Christian. That’s how your daddy won. The main thing is, he gave his life to Jesus before he died.”
Giné nodded. “What about Mama?” she asked. “What happened after my father died?”
Grandmama sighed. “Giné, your mother took your father’s death real hard. It shook her up. She felt her life was over; he was her all. It did lead her to check into a rehab center, and she did put up a brave fight against the constant temptation to return back to her old lifestyle, but, unfortunately, she would always fall back into it and her friends did not help her any. They could not even help themselves.”
Grandmama paused for a minute as if in deep thought. “She felt it was best for her to move to a new location and begin life again away from her old drug-using friends and from familiar places. I was all for that, but I also knew she had responsibilities here—you for one, and also to finish college. The truth is, she never accepted your father’s death; I believe she was running away more from your father’s death and from anything that reminded her of your father.”
“Did you know she was in Florida?”
“Yes. When she first moved out, her return address had a Florida street address on it; then it had a post office box address; then she stopped putting a return address on her letters. I sent a couple of letters to the street address after not hearing from her for a while, but they were returned marked ‘undeliverable as addressed’.”
“Why didn’t she take me with her?”
Grandmama pulled her closer to her. “I hate to say this, Giné, but she was running away from you, too. You reminded her too much of Demetrius. You have the same mole on your lower left cheek as your father. If you ever want to see a girl who looked just like her father, you are that girl. She felt it best to leave you here until she settled down with a good job, a place to stay, and had overcome her temptation for the drugs and alcohol. I tried to talk her into staying here with you, that we would work it out together, and that she had a strong support base right here with me, Nellie, and the church, but she insisted on leaving. She kept assuring me she would come back and get you. I turned her over to God, trusting Him for the best.”
“But, Grandmama, it’s been twelve years now. I’ve never received a personal letter from her except for a birthday card, not counting the Christmas and Easter cards she’s sent. You’re always giving me messages from her and showing me money she sent. The money is fine, Grandmama, but I want more than the money. I want her,” Giné said as she tried to hold back the tears.
The phone rang. Grandmama thought to answer it but ignored it. Being here for my grand-daughter is more important right now, she thought as she adjusted her pillows. “Don’t hate your mother, Giné. We all handle life differently. She was immature when she married your father and gave birth to you. She had a lot of growing up to do. All we can do is pray for her. I know she loves you. For the events to unfold as they did since your trip with La Paz, I believe God is about to answer our prayers for her. Let’s just keep on praying and trusting God.”
Giving Giné a squeeze, she continued, “She used to write a note keeping me abreast of what was going on with her, but for the past few years she has just enclosed the money for you except for Christmas and on your birthdays when she sends a card. She’s stopped calling for years now. I can’t even thank her. That’s one reason I have stayed here; this is our only link to her right now.”
“Why would she not want to keep in touch with us more?” Giné asked.
Grandmama thought for a while. “I believe she’s still trying to find herself. She does not have the assurance in herself as she once did. Taking drugs and living a life of disobedience will do that to you. In my last conversation with her, I told her — and these were my exact words — ‘Regina, you have to grow up and face reality. You can’t just act as though the past never happened. Your husband is dead. You have a daughter to take care of. You have to deal with that chapter of your life before you can properly move on into your next chapter.’”
Giné turned the picture over to look at it. So this is Regina Burris, my mother. “Grandmama, can we drive down to Florida and visit her?”
“I’m expecting a phone call from her soon,” Grandmama said. “Maybe that was her who called while we were talking.”
Giné looked at her grandmother with a puzzled look.
“I kind of put two and two together after you showed me the note she sent you. Go get the note and I’ll show you. I left it on your dresser.”
While Giné left to go get the note, Grandmama pulled out a couple letters from her drawer. Upon Giné’s return, they compared the handwriting.
“Amazing,” Giné said. “You’re a genius, Grandmama. They are exactly the same. And you never let on,” she said smiling at her grandmother.
“I had to be sure. I went further than that. I called the strip joint and asked for Iris. I left a message for her to call me, so I’m hoping she will. They would not give me any information on her. Pray with me that God would touch her heart to call. I’m giving her a week, then maybe we’ll take a trip down there and surprise her. I need a little vacation myself.”
Giné smiled at that. As far back as she could remember, Grandmama’s idea of a vacation was to turn in for bed early every day.
“Giné,” Grandmama said. “I need for you to forgive me for not telling you more about your parents. I should have done so. I was trying to respect your mother’s wishes. I kept hoping she would return soon. Plus, I did not want to get your hopes up lest she did not return.”
Giné gave Grandmama a hug. “Of course, I do, Grandmama. There is nothing for me to hold against you.” She returned to her room, happy, but anxious as to how things would turn out. Questions she had about her father and mother were finally being answered. She felt the gaps closing in her life.
Iris performed well that night in spite of the heaviness on her heart. She knew the time had come for her to return home. I have to stop running at some point. Lord, I’m not sure I can handle this pending reunion. Right now, I am drained in every way—spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and even physically. I do thank You for this another chance to get things right with my family and especially with my daughter. I feel within my spirit that if I don’t get things right now, I may never get another chance to get things right with my daughter.
Regina made it to her apartment safely and was grateful for Miguel, the security guard’s faithfulness in seeing that she made it safely into her apartment each night. There was an unspoken respectful friendship between them. The usual ‘Good evening, how are you tonight?’ ‘Fine, thank you,’ was exchanged. Tonight, however, Miguel extended the conversation.
“Excuse me, Ms. Regina, have I offended you in any way? You have appeared to be so distant lately.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Miguel. I just have so much on my mind. But, no, you have not offended me,” Regina said.
“Is it something I can help you with?”
Regina hesitated at first, but she was so burdened, she felt she had to get it off her chest or she would break. She confided in him a little of what she had been going through. Without hesitation, Miguel said, “You’re right. God is telling you to go home and make amends with your daughter and mother. I’d hate to see you go, but you must do the right thing for your peace of mind. You can only run away for so long.”
That night, Regina poured out her heart to God. She felt some relief but knew full relief would not come until she faced her past and reclaimed her role as the mother in Giné’s life and as a daughter in her mother’s life. She put in her two weeks’ notice at the bank and at the Strip Joint the next day with plans to drive on up to Atlanta and surprise them. Regina went over what she would say again and again in her mind. She thought about what words of apology she would give, the questions she would ask, and the answers to possible questions they may have for her. She picked up the phone a few times to call her mother over the next few days, but decided against it. I would rather just turn up.
Close to the end of the week, Grandma had not heard from Regina. “Well, Giné, it looks like we’re going on a short trip to Florida. Pack your things. We’re pulling out early in the morning.”
By eight o’clock on Thursday morning, they were on their way to Jacksonville, Florida. After checking into the hotel, and getting some sleep they stopped by the Strip Joint. Iris would be performing that night.
“Don’t tell her we stopped by,” Grandma told Joey when she called to find out whether Iris would be performing. “We want to surprise her.”
At about nine that night, Grandma and Giné slipped into two of the back seats with a table small enough for two. They were easily concealed by the dimness of the room. The men’s full attention was given to Iris’ performance. “I’m impressed,” Grandma said to Giné. “Surprised, but impressed. She puts on a good show. Not my cup of tea, though. Don’t you ever think of doing something like this. I do not care how hard life gets for you.”
Giné smiled. She did not know whether to be happy or embarrassed. All she knew was she wanted her mother back in her life, and now that it was about to happen different emotions kept plaguing her.
After Iris’ performance, Joey escorted them to her dressing room. “Ms. Iris, it’s me, Joey. Are you decent? I have two visitors for you.”
Regina’s eyes popped wide open and her knees buckled under her when she opened the door to reveal her visitors.
“Mama? Giné? I … I … can’t believe it. How did you … ? Oh, come on in.”
“Surprise, Regina. How have you been doing, baby? I told you that you can’t hide from me,” her mother chuckled as she reached out to give her daughter a hug. Regina fell into her mother’s arms and tears of relief began to fall.
“Oh, Mama, thank you for coming. Thank you for coming,” Regina sobbed. Giné handed her some Kleenex from off her dressing table as she waited.
Her mother led Regina to the couch and signaled for Giné to sit on the other side of her mother. After the sobbing subsided, Regina turned to face her daughter. “Oh, Giné, let me give you a long overdue hug. I guess you want some answers,” she said pursing her lips together. “I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I don’t see how you can forgive me. But, please forgive me.”
Giné had long ago forgiven her mother—or so she thought. Now she was struggling with various emotions: happy to finally meet her mother; anger at her mother for leaving her and, worse, not keeping in touch; wondering why her mother did not reveal who she really was on the night they first talked.
“I … I … don’t know where to begin,” Regina stuttered.
“I’ll get you started,” Grandma said. “After Giné returned from her modeling experience with La Paz and told me about you and the conversation you all had, and then she showed me the note you sent her, I put things together by matching the handwriting on the note you sent her with a few of the letters you had sent me in the past. But after Giné told me this Iris resembled the picture she had of you, I knew for sure it was you. I went ahead and told her everything about her father’s death, your drug and alcohol problems, and why you left. Now you can really help her by filling in the gaps such as why she didn’t hear from you for these years. She needs to hear everything, Regina. It will heal both of you.”
“Mama’s right, Giné. Both your father and I had a drug problem. He became a Christian and I believe God delivered him from it. I was already a Christian, but being accepted by my friends meant more to me than what God had to say. I stopped paying attention to what God had to say shortly after I entered college. I kept on doing drugs and drinking even after your father gave his life to Christ. It had such a strong hold on me that I kept pushing him to take a little with me. One night I had a couple of our old friends over. We ganged up on him. It was supposed to be a joke. I knew he could handle it, but we kept taunting him telling him that God would protect him. Well, he took a little. We spurred him on to do more and more.” Regina’s voice broke.
“Everything was such a blur after that. I heard crying—a baby crying. I tried to get up to stop the crying; it was as though something was holding me down. The phone kept ringing and ringing. I tried to get up to stop that noise, but something kept holding me back. It was as though I was tied to the chair. The next thing I knew, I woke up in a room tied to a bed. I was at the rehab center. They were flushing the drug out of my system. I thought I was going through pure hell those fourteen days I was in rehab. After I recovered enough to act sane, the people there told me your father did not make it.” After a long pause, Regina said, “I caused his death. I caused your father’s death.”
Regina burst into tears as twelve years of trying to run away from herself, from her reality, from her past caught up with her. She no longer had the energy to keep on running. Her mental faculties were exhausted. Her spiritual fervor was gone.
“Let it all out, Reg. Let it all out,” her mother said rubbing her daughter’s back.
Giné remained motionless. She did not know what to do or to say. Whatever anger she may have felt in her early years that she had managed to place in the back of her mind seemed to suddenly surface.
“Let it all out,” her mother continued. “God has forgiven you. He wants you to accept His forgiveness and to forgive yourself and to stop blaming yourself. He wants to be a part of your life again, Regina.”
It took a while for Regina to pull herself together before she continued. “When I think of the damage I almost caused you, Giné, I just could not face you. I am an unfit mother. I could have caused your death, too.”
Giné sat numb. I want to forgive you, Mother. How strange that word—Mother—sounds. She closed her eyes as she listened to her mother’s next words.
“The truth is, I was taking drugs while I was pregnant with you. Even though the doctors warned me and told me to stop taking them, I still continued. The doctors had to bring you through a withdrawal period. It was terrible. It’s a miracle you pulled through. You’re a miracle child.” Regina reached for her daughter’s hand. “I did not trust myself to raise you by myself. But I knew you’d be safe with Grandma.”
“But why did you stay away so long?” Giné asked, “And you did not even keep in touch. Didn’t you think I would be curious as to who you were? All my friends talked about their mothers: their mothers helping them with their homework; their mothers going shopping with them; their mothers making them a cake for their birthday; and their mothers coming to pick them up from school; and even their mothers getting on their cases. I could only listen with envy. They had their mothers there. I did not.” Giné tried to stop her trembling voice.
“Oh, Giné, please forgive me. Please. I was being nothing but selfish and foolish,” Regina said wiping tears away from her eyes while reaching out to touch her daughter’s hand. “If I had just stayed on the right road and avoided the bad company to begin with … I knew better, but I chose to go that route. I allowed myself to get pulled in by the lure of what was on the other side of the fence.” Pausing to steady her voice, Regina continued. “It’s strange how words of wisdom come to haunt you throughout your life. Mama was always saying to me, the grass is never greener on the other side of the fence. It’s the same as on your side. It took my near destruction and the destruction of the man who meant the world to me to help me to realize that. Would you please forgive me?”
The more Regina spoke, the lighter the burden of guilt became. The more she faced her reality, the easier self-forgiveness became. The more she looked her daughter in the eyes, the easier it was for her to keep talking. “I’m sorry for hurting you, Giné. I just never thought … I was scared to come back lest you shunned me. But God knows I wanted to.”
Clearing her throat, her mother asked, “Regina, I thought you worked at the bank. What’s going on with this?” her mother waved her hands around the strip club.
“I do. That’s my day job. This is just something I do on the side for extra income. Mama, I know this is one job you would never approve of. That’s why I didn’t tell you. That’s why I stopped writing. I was too ashamed.”
“But why, Regina? Surely the bank pays enough at least for you as a single person; unless you are trying to live beyond your means,” Grandma said.
“It pays enough, but I wanted to send a lump sum each month for Giné for her schooling and to help you out and to help get her ready for her future. I did not want all that burden on you. She was not your responsibility. Plus,” Regina added, “sending large amounts helped to assuage my guilt.”
“Now, you should have known that would not have been a burden at all. It’s been a pleasure taking care of her. Like you said, she’s a miracle baby,” Grandma said with a big smile at Giné.
Turning to Giné, Regina said, “You know, I beat myself up everyday for not being there as you were growing up. I missed out on your best years.” Swallowing hard she continued, “I have been in a state of anxiety since you stopped by during your modeling tour. Giné, I won’t blame you if your answer is no, but will you let me back into your life? Will you at least allow me to enjoy your college years and beyond with you?”
“Mama, how did you know I was graduating to even send me such a large gift? And why didn’t you tell me who you were the night I stopped by here on my tour with La Paz? I happened to look at the picture you left for me, the one with you and my dad and myself as a baby. That’s how I recognized who you really were. As I thought about it, I knew you recognized me or had an idea of who I was because you asked so many personal questions,” Giné said. “And, as Grandma pointed out, the mole on my lower left cheek was a dead giveaway.”
“By a stroke of luck and making a few phone calls, I found out you graduated highest in your class and that you gave the valedictorian speech. Several years ago, Mama had written to me in her last correspondence that she was transferring you to the elementary school and the high school across town. I would call there every now and then to keep up with you when I stopped keeping in touch with your Grandmother. I also ordered a copy of your yearbook. When you came to my room that night, I had no doubt who you were. You are the splitting image of your father and that mole on your lower left cheek was a dead give away—your father had one also.”
Regina and Giné stared at each other. Grandma cleared her throat.
“Oh, Mama, of course, I forgive you,” Giné finally said. “I forgave you some time ago; I just wanted to meet you. We have a lot of catching up to do. I have been waiting for this day. Grandma’s told me so much about you and Daddy. I only wish he were here too. But I’ll be seeing him in Heaven.” Giné held on to her mother as though she was afraid of losing her again.
A smile spread across Grandma’s face. All her prayers had not been in vain after all. “Well, Reg, what are your plans for the future?”
“God has been dealing with me for years now about coming home. I have been ignoring Him. He has especially been dealing with me ever since Giné dropped by that night. I put in my two weeks notice a few days ago. My plan was to come home and surprise you, but you both beat me to it,” she said with a smile. “I’m sure my bosses will let me go before the two weeks unless you all want to vacation for an extra week down here, help me make plans as to the best way to make this important move, and then we can ride up together.”
“Please, Grandma, can we?” Giné begged.
“Well, what about school?”
“Oh, Grandma, I can easily make it up. My grades are already good and I have not missed any of my classes since I started. Plus I took my textbooks with me and the syllabi. Please?”
“Oh, Mama, let her have another week off,” Regina piped in. “She can call her teachers and explain to them what has taken place. I’m sure they would understand.”
“Oh, all right. You both win,” Grandma said with a smile.
“Why don’t we go get your belongings from the hotel. Your first night of vacation begins at my apartment,” Regina said. “Let me make one phone call to Joey and let him know tonight’s my last night.”
Joey expressed disappointment but was happy for Regina after she shared with him why she needed to quit that night. “I wish you all the best,” Joey said to her as they left the building.
The three of them had a tremendous week together as they toured the city of Jacksonville and made plans for the return trip.
“I tell you, Mama, God sent you both down to get me because He knew I probably would have gotten cold feet again and delayed my coming home,” Regina told her mother.
“God has a way of working things out—but in His time,” her mother said. “I’m sure we all learned some things as we waited for Him to answer our prayers.”
After settling back down in Atlanta—with Grandma in her room, Mama in her room, and Giné in her room, Giné stretched out on her bed—thinking. The color of the grass on the other side did not matter anymore. The flashing lights on the other side did not matter anymore. The beautiful clothes, the fine houses, the expensive restaurants did not matter anymore. All that matters is that on my side of the fence I have a grandma who loves me, a mother who loves me, and we are together as a family. That’s what is important to me right now. The grass certainly ain’t greener on the other side of the fence, Giné thought as she fell off to sleep. It’s what I do with it on my side of the fence that counts.
Ms. Nellie was beside herself when she stopped by to visit Grandma the next day.
“Regina, it’s so good to see you. You’re looking great. God has certainly been good to you, and He’s answered our prayers,” she said as she hugged Regina. “I just know you and Giné have a lot of catching up to do. You would have been proud of her if you’d been here.”
A rush of guilt came over Regina as Ms. Nellie’s words sought to take residence within her.
Yes, had I been here, I would have been proud of her. But which is the better? Which is the worse? To be here and have her see me struggle to kick the habit and possibly lose that fight? Or doing what I did: getting away from that familiar environment that kept pulling me in and get complete deliverance from the drug demon?
“Yes, ma’am. You would,” Ms. Nellie continued. “And–”
Grandma forcefully cleared her throat as she gave Nellie a sharp look—a look that said ‘that’s enough, Nellie.’ Nellie fell silent.
“Now why are you going to try to bring up her past?” Grandma said once she and Nellie were alone.
“I wasn’t trying to bring up her past,” Nellie said.
“Well, you were making reference to it.”
“No harm meant, although I am curious–”
“Curiosity killed the cat. Don’t you look at me like that? Whatever she did while she was gone is her business. She’s grown.”
“Well, she’s still living in your house, Belle, and as your daughter, her business is still your business.”
“Inquiring minds want to know,” Grandma said. “Yes, she’s my daughter, and she can live here for as long as she wants to. I’m just glad she’s back home,” Grandma said.
“You mean to tell me you didn’t ask her any questions about her whereabouts? I mean, aren’t you even curious as to what she did while she was gone? It’s been thirteen years, Belle. A lot of interesting things can happen in a person’s life in thirteen years. I’d be asking a lot of questions. ”
“Inquiring minds still want to know,” Grandma said with a chuckle. “Look, Nellie. She’s been through a lot. Right now, she just needs to rest and to refocus. She needs assurance now more than anything that we love her and that we are not holding anything over her head. Our reunion was a very emotional one and you know that can drain you. So let’s give her time to fully recover and one way we can do that is to not bring up the negativities of her past.”
“I understand, but don’t you think that just being back on familiar ground will remind her of her past?” Nellie asked.
“I’m fully aware of that, but we don’t need to add to her wounds. We just need to pray for her more and let God do the cleanup. He’ll do a better job at that than we ever will.”
“You’re right,” Nellie finally said after a few seconds of silence.
* * * * *
After a week of resting, Regina set out to put in applications for a job at the banks in Atlanta.
Things have not changed much, she thought as she drove around town. Although she tried not to think of her old friends, she could not help but to wonder what had become of them. How could I have been so stupid to go that route? I almost destroyed my life.
Reluctantly, she drove by the apartment where she and her husband Demetrius had spent their last horrendous hours. What was I thinking? How could I have lured him back into taking drugs even if it was done in jest? If Mama had not come by when she did there is no telling what would have happened. I could have met death also. Bible Man: a fitting name for the new life he had chosen—the life he wanted me to share with him; a life which I already knew but which I foolishly refused to live because I wanted to be with the in-crowd. If I had just chosen to walk with him in his new life I have no doubt that he would still be alive and we would be living the blessed life together with the daughter that I almost lost. Dear God, why You have chosen to spare my life, I simply do not know; but I do thank You for sparing my life and for sparing Giné’s life also. Thank You for protecting her from harm while she was in my womb. No telling what crazy thing I would have done being drugged out that would have brought harm to her. God, You’ve been good to me.
* * * * *
Giné was thrilled to have her mother home with her. She now felt whole. Thank You, Lord, I no longer have to live in the land of imaginations as I did when I was younger. Thank You I no longer have to imagine going to the playground with my ‘unknown’ mother, or going to the library with my ‘unknown’ mother, or imagine my ‘unknown’ mother baking the biggest and most delicious birthday cake for my ‘sweet sixteen’ birthday which would have been much sweeter had she been here. Thank You, Lord, that I can now smile instead of cry when I pray for my mother. I no longer have to be envious whenever I see other girls shopping with their mothers because now I can go shopping with my mother. And finally, when Mother’s Day comes around, I don’t have to feel like I’m going to a funeral when I go to church.
But even though that gap in her life was now filled, there was still something missing—a little something, but something critical.
Regina and Giné said goodbye to Grandma on a sunny Saturday morning.
“Anywhere special you want to go?” Regina asked Giné as she placed her Corvette in reverse.
“We could go to Lenox Square and see what’s new in the world of fashion,” Giné said, “although I don’t really need anything in particular.”
“I figured we could spend some time alone and get to know each other and hopefully get caught up on the years I’ve missed out on. I’m sure you have some questions and some thoughts about the past thirteen years,” Regina said. “I can understand you feeling a little . . . you know . . . uncomfortable, but share with me what’s on your heart.”
Not waiting for Giné to respond, Regina continued. “I don’t know whether or not this is a good place to begin, but like Mama always said, ‘just begin some place and all the pieces of the puzzle will eventually fit together.’ Anyway, I’ve noticed when you address me you throw your statements or questions out there; it seems to me you’re having a hard time deciding what to call me. I hope I’m not just reading into things.”
Regina glanced across at Giné. Their eyes met. As if carefully weighing her words, Giné slowly replied.
“I would always ask Grandma about you: what do you look like; did you have funny mannerisms; why didn’t you take me with you; why didn’t you want to talk with me over the phone; why didn’t you write me letters telling me what you were doing; why didn’t you leave an address so I could write to you; would you ever come back and get me. I always wondered if we would ever be together. I’d tell Grandma all the time how I wish you were here. It’s funny but now that you are here, I’m having a hard time adjusting.”
Regina swallowed as she waited for Giné to continue speaking.
“You’re like the stranger I’ve so eagerly wanted to meet, the stranger I’ve heard much about, the stranger who in her own way was trying to reach out to me, the stranger who others told me I resemble in some degree and whose mannerisms I share to some degree. Now that I have finally met you, I have all these questions and thoughts bombarding my mind—questions and thoughts that have become somewhat of a justified barrier between us.”
“What do you mean by a ‘justified barrier’?”
Giné took a deep breath. “Justified in the sense of can I trust you to not walk out for another thirteen years?”
Regina swallowed hard. She blinked a few times to stop the tears that had sprung up in her eyes from falling. Giné interlocked her fingers and stared straight ahead.
Not knowing what to say, Regina flipped the left blinker on and changed lanes.
“You’re right,” she said after a few minutes of driving in silence. “And I don’t blame you for having those thoughts. I would be thinking the same thing. As I told you, I don’t know how to make it up to you. I want to, but I guess it’s one of those things you can’t ever fully make amends. I wish there were some magic words I could say that would erase the past and set everything right. I’m sorry, Giné. I’m truly sorry for skipping out on you. But you have my word, I’m here to stay; I won’t leave you.”
“I want to believe you,” Giné said turning to face her mother. “Please understand the position I’m in, and please be patient with me as it might take a while for that to get settled in my heart.”
Regina placed a hand on Giné’s arm.
“Well, we’re here. I hope we can find a parking spot that’s not too far from the main entrance,” she said. “What store do you want to visit first?”
“We can begin at one end and walk the entire mall. I have nothing else to do except for some studying later. There’s a parking spot right up there next to that silver car. Hurry before that other person takes it,” Giné said.
“Yes!” Regina said as they pulled into the parking spot.
“I appreciate all the money you sent me,” Giné said as they walked across the parking lot. “But how come you never wrote to me or at least called and talked with me? That would at least let me know that you did care and love me.”
“I should have and I did think about it many, many times, but I felt so ashamed. I was ashamed of my past life, ashamed because I was an unfit mother, ashamed because I caused the death of your father, and believe it or not, I felt ashamed that I left you behind. I felt you were safer with your grandmother. I got that night job at the club foolishly thinking that sending you a lot of money would erase the guilt and shame I felt. It temporarily lessened the guilt whenever I’d send a check. I kept myself busy to keep my mind off you and all the negativities of my past life which were affecting my future peace of mind, and when I wasn’t working I would try to sleep my guilt away. But that did not work either. I was always faced with the reality that I do have a daughter and I needed to return home to.”
* * * * *
“For two people who were only going for a stroll in the mall we certainly have a lot of bags,” Regina said laughing as they placed their purchases on the back seat of the car. “I don’t think we can fit anything else back there. Is there any place else you would like to go?”
“Yes. Home. I’m looking forward to Grandma’s fried chicken, homemade potato salad, turnip greens, and her sweet corn bread. Then a nice long hot soak. After that, I should be energized enough to do some serious studying,” Giné said. “Thanks. I had a great time.”
“You are more than welcome,” Regina said. “And I look forward to us making more trips together.”
Grandma had a hot, tasty meal awaiting them when they returned home. “Nothing like a filling meal after shopping all day,” she said as they sat down at the dinner table. “So did you two have a good time? Did you shop till you dropped?” she chuckled.
“Yes, ma’am. We sure did,” Regina and Giné both said as Regina placed her arm around her daughter.
* * * * *
“Mama, this is going to be harder than I was hoping,” Regina said to her mother after Giné went to her room to study.
“What are you talking about?”
Regina shared with her mother the conversation she and Giné had while on their outing. “I just kept hoping we could just pick up where we left off.”
“Don’t be surprised if she chooses to call you by your first name,” Mama said. “On a more serious note, what did you expect? You’ve been gone since she was five years old; she really does not know you and you do not know her. She knows about you from what I have shared with her. She’s been living a dream wishing and hoping you were here. I’d watch her and listen to her as she played with her dolls when she was younger, and I’d hear her say things like, ‘I’m not ever going to walk out on you like my mother did and if I did leave you, I would definitely call and talk with you over the phone.’ She told me several times she did not want to have a birthday party because you were not here to bake her cake. But I overlooked it and had her a party every year anyhow. I saw the sadness in her eyes at her sixth grade graduation when other mothers were there to congratulate their daughters. That was a big event for her. It wasn’t until ninth grade, I believe, that she finally settled in her heart that she would probably never see you. She was disappointed when you were not around for her high school graduation. She had thirteen years without you and now that you’re here, you’re really like a stranger.”
Regina was at a loss for words. “Giné used the same word when she was sharing with me how she felt. She said I was the stranger she had always wanted to meet. I guess I’m expecting too much from her too soon,” she finally said.
“I guess you are, and there is nothing you can do to make it happen the way you’re hoping for it to happen. You just have to slow down, see things from her viewpoint, not push it, and let it happen naturally,” Mama said. “You’re coming to take up permanent residence in her life when you have not been here for thirteen years. It’s an anxious and scary time as neither of you really know what to expect. You’ll have to fill in the gap and you don’t do that by bogarting your way into her life with an ‘I am your mother and I have a right to be here so you do as I say’ attitude. That’s sure to turn her away from you. You have to do a reality check.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You have to ask yourself: Why do I want to rush our relationship as though nothing happened? Why do I want to pick up where we left off and just blot out those critical thirteen years? Am I consciously or subconsciously trying to cover my guilt? Am I trying to justify what I have done?”
Regina sighed. “Oh, what a tangled web I’ve weaved. This is a delicate situation I’ve gotten us into.”
“But it’s a web that can be untangled, and, yes, it’s a delicate situation but it can turn out great,” Mama said. “Don’t get jealous or begin to feel bad or even angry if she does not respond to you like you are hoping she would. And don’t get angry if she communicates more with me to the point of seeming to ignore you. You have to keep in mind that I’ve been her mother-figure during her formative and most critical years and I’m the only mother-figure she knows. My suggestion is that you treat Giné like the nineteen-year-old that she is. Approach her from a friendship standpoint, from an ‘I would like to get to know you’ standpoint, and the mother-daughter part will fall right in place. Remember she’s not the five-year-old you left behind, so many of the things you may desire to do with her you won’t be able to do. You have to accept it. You cannot recapture those lost years.”
Even though it was hard medicine to swallow, Regina allowed her mother’s words to sink in. “You’re right,” she eventually said. “And it’s all my fault for acting stupidly.”
“You’ve blamed yourself enough. You’ve taken responsibility for your actions, confessed your sins, and sought forgiveness. Now let it go. The devil wants to beat you up about it for the rest of your life; don’t let him do that to you. Just be thankful to God that the situation is as good as it is,” Mama said.
“How can I not blame myself? Look at what I could have been a part of — a beautiful, smart daughter who is on her way to a successful life.”
“You can still be a part of her life, and she wants you to be a part of her life. You just cannot rush it. I don’t believe God brought us back together in answer to our prayers to break up the family again. He’s about families sticking together through thick and thin,” Mama said. “The best thing you can do for both of you is to pray and ask God to give you wisdom in handling this situation. You’re not the only one who has gone through something like this. Others have and they have come out of it and you can too.”
“I want that more than anything,” Regina said with a sigh.
Grandma stopped by Giné’s room before retiring for the night. Giné was already dressed for bed and was sitting up against the headboard reading one of her textbooks.
“I thought you’d be asleep by now,” Grandma said as she sat down on the bed facing Giné. She picked up the other textbook that was laying on the bed and read the title. “Meeting the Psychological Needs of Young Children. So how is everything going in school? And what are your plans for the Easter break and for the summer? And please don’t tell me La Paz for the summer.”
Giné laughed along with her grandmother.
“No more La Paz for me,” she said. “Talking of La Paz, I was on the phone with Blanche. She’s inviting us to her church’s anniversary the second Sunday in June. She lives in Alabama. She says if we do decide to come that we could spend the entire weekend at her place. She was so happy when I told her my mother was back home, and she did wish us a happy lifelong reunion.”
“Let’s add that to our summer vacation list of places to go to. That would be an awesome way to either begin or end our vacation. Remember, you’re in charge of planning and putting together our vacation now,” Grandma said. “Now tell me: how have you been doing since your mother’s been back? Are you finding it a little bit harder to study, or is it easier now that you don’t have to wonder about where she is?”
“To tell you the truth, I’ve had to put out more effort to study since she’s been back as I’ve had to fight off the disturbing thoughts that keep coming into my mind.”
“What kind of disturbing thoughts?”
“It’s funny but I’ve always wished for her to come back, but now that she’s back she seems out-of-place; you know, like she does not belong here. And I can’t help but to wonder is this just a temporary thing; will she leave again?” Giné said.
“I don’t quite know how to relate to her, and on top of that, I don’t know how much to open up to her; I don’t know whether or not I can fully trust her when she says she is here to stay. If she left me when I was five years old when I needed her the most, what’s to say she won’t be more inclined to leave now that I am almost twenty years old and I don’t really need her? That’s kind of disturbing.”
“Then whenever I ask you a question she’ll pipe in and answer, and I’m thinking ‘you don’t know me that well to answer that question.’ Grandma, I’m used to having you around; I’m used to doing things with you; I’m used to you telling me how it’s going to be. I know you; I don’t know her. I mean, how am I supposed to respond to her as a daughter should to a mother?”
“She? Her? Who’s she? Who’s her?” Grandma asked.
“That’s it! I don’t know how to address her.”
“How about Mama? Mommy? Mother? Mom? Come on closer,” Grandma said sliding closer to Giné who scooted closer to her grandmother. Giving Giné a hug, she said, “I know it’s a little confusing now and you’re not sure which way to go. Your mother is going through the same thing. She is not sure how to respond to you as a mother. It’s all strange to her as well. She’s going to tend to overcompensate in how she responds to you. You know, over do it. Don’t take it personally. That stems from guilt — guilt from leaving you for so long. Now she’s trying to make up for those lost years. Don’t be too hard on her. I don’t know if you’ve studied the effects of drugs on people yet, but it can do some terrible things to the brain and cause one to not act like themselves.” Grandma then chuckled. “Don’t be surprised if she takes you to the park and insists on pushing you on one of the swings. Or if she takes you to a kiddie cartoon movie.”
Giné giggled as her grandmother continued speaking. “Give her time. Give yourself time. I’ve told her the same thing. It’s a time of adjustment for all of us, but more so for you two. Do as you know God would have you to do and everything will work out. And I’ll be praying for you. And remember, I’ll still be here for you.”
“Let go and let God, and you can only do that through prayer. Alright, dearie?”
“By the way, it would be nice and respectful of you to begin addressing her by an appropriate name rather than throwing words out into the air,” Grandma said with a smile.
Ms. Nellie dropped off a freshly baked zucchini bread and visited with Belle for a while.
“How are things going with Regina? She seems to have settled in nicely. Did she get that job at the bank?”
“She sure did, and she’s not just a regular teller; she sits at one of the desks,” Belle said proudly. “I’d say she’s on her way. She’s been talking about starting her own consulting services where she would help people locate and apply for jobs and she would also post job openings for businesses to help them get employees.”
“What kind of money is she going to generate from that?” Nellie asked.
“The businesses would pay her to post their openings, and those seeking a job would pay her to post their resumes and things like that. She’s still looking into it,” Belle said.
“Good for her. I know she’s happy she got that position at the bank with the economic condition in the country as it is. Now is she going to quit her position at the bank when she starts her consulting business?”
“No, I think she plans on doing both, at least until the consulting business takes off,” Belle said.
“There’s nothing wrong with her doing both. Neither of them seem to be taxing on the body,” Nellie said. “Now that’s the Regina I know — a go getter, a visionary. I know you’re proud of her and the comeback she’s made.”
“I sure am.”
“How’s Giné adjusting to having her real mother around?” Nellie asked.
“She’s adjusting quite well.”
“I was in the store the other day and I ran into one of Regina’s old friends from her past. Tootsie. I don’t know if you remember her. I tell you, she looked a mess. After thirteen years of wheeling and dealing, being in and out of jail, running and looking over her shoulders, seeing her friends die premature deaths because of the drug taking I would think something would go off in her head to steer her away from that lifestyle. Her eyes were red. I can’t even begin to tell you how crazy and incoherent she was talking,” Nellie said. “I call myself trying to encourage her by telling her about Regina and how well she was doing, how she had kicked the habit and is looking great. Do you know what she asked me? She asked me how much money Regina was making.”
“I said, what is that to you? And she said ’cause I’m in need of some dollars to take care of my business’.”
“We know what kind of business,” Belle said with a laugh. “I hope you did not tell her Regina was staying here, or where she works. Did you? Cause Regina does not need that right now lest she gets pulled back into that mess.”
“No. I did not tell her a thing. She tried to wheedle it out of me though,” Nellie said with a laugh. “’I just want to renew our friendship cause I really miss her,’ she kept saying. When she saw I was not going to give her any information, she stormed off in anger saying some words I cannot even repeat.”
“Good for her,” Belle said. “I was telling Regina not to even drive by where she and Demetrius used to hang out with them. She has come a long way and I do not want her to revert back to the old ways. I see a bright future ahead for her and Giné.”
Grandma received a call later that evening after Nellie visited with her. It was Giné.
“Grandma, I’m stuck at the college. My car won’t start,” Giné said.
“Lock yourself inside the car and stay put. I’ll have someone to come and get you if not myself. Tell me exactly where you’re parked,” Grandma said.
Grandma immediately gave Regina a call. Regina pulled up next to Giné’s car the same time the mechanic pulled up in the wrecker. After securing the removal of the car, Regina and Giné left for home.
“So how was school today?” Regina asked.
“I had a great time. I can’t wait to go for my teacher training in the classroom,” Giné said. “I was talking with my counsellor and she said it would be great if I could specialize. She said the market’s wide open for work with children with disabilities. So I’m leaning towards that possibility.”
“That would be a great field for you to go into,” Regina said. “I told Mama I’d pick us up something to eat. What do you have a taste for?”
“Church’s Fried Chicken with fried okra,” Giné said.
“You know I’ve thought of so many ways to make it up to you,” Regina said after they had driven up the road a piece, “but nothing seemed right. Shopping takes away the guilt temporarily; staying busy does the same. But when I lay in the bed in the quietness of the night all kinds of thoughts begin to bombard my mind, and I have to face it. I cannot make it up to you no matter how hard I try. Those years are long gone. I’m not coming back to a little girl; I’m coming back to an adult — an adult who has her own thoughts and ideas, an adult who knows what she wants out of life.”
Regina pulled up in the drive-thru of a Church’s Chicken restaurant. While waiting in line to place her order she turned to face her daughter.
“Giné, can you ever forgive me for not being there for you? And I’m sorry, but I’ll never be able to fulfill your little girl dreams.”
Giné’s eyes filled with tears as did her mother’s.
“I’ve imagined us doing so many things together,” Giné said. “baking cookies, popping popcorn and sitting down to a good movie and getting popcorn all over the floor, going to the park and me sitting on your lap while we swing as high as the sky, and splashing in the pool. Did you know I had joined the Girl Scouts? I dropped out when I saw all the other mothers standing with their daughters saying the pledge and helping out. I never told anyone my real reason for dropping out—not even Grandma. I felt so left out—so all alone,” Giné said trying to hold back her tears. “I kept hoping you’d return. After a while I stopped hoping. Then I started to blame myself. Maybe you did not want me. Maybe as a baby I was a burden to you and I was hindering your plans for your future. Then Grandma explained everything to me, and I started hoping again, but it was a thin hope. A hope against all hope.”
Giné paused and tried to pull herself together.
“Here you go,” Regina said pulling some Kleenex out of her pocketbook. “I don’t know what good this little bit of Kleenex will do for both of us.” She dabbed at her eyes and then spoke.
“After about a year, God kept telling me to come home, but I was scared. I was scared I would fall right back into the same mess I had gotten myself into. I was scared because I knew I had failed God. I was scared because I knew I was to be blamed for your father’s death. I was scared because I didn’t think I was strong enough to trust God to say ‘no’ when I was being enticed by my old friends. I kept telling God, ‘No, not yet. I’m not ready to face my reality yet.’”
Regina pulled out of the drive-thru line. “I don’t think I can place an order just yet. Bear with me.”
“I’m not asking you to make it up to me,” Giné finally said. “I, too, have to accept that those years are lost. It does not matter how they got lost; they are lost. But like Grandma told me, ‘Don’t focus on the past, just look ahead to the future.’ So, Mom, I’m willing to move forward with you into a bright future with us accomplishing much together.”
“It sounds so strange being called ‘Mom.’ How I have longed for that. Yes, Giné, I’m ready and willing to move forward with you into a bright future with us accomplishing much together,” Regina said. “Thanks for accepting me back into your life.”
“And thank you for being willing to come back into my life,” Giné said. “Do you know what I’d love to do?”
“I’d love for us to go to the park and for you to push me on the swings,” Giné said with a giggle.
“No, you wouldn’t,” Regina said laughing.