EXCERPT FROM LOVE AN D LIES IN THE RIVER CITY
I called her. After weeks – no months- of waiting I called her because I wanted to know why. Why!? Why can’t women just let go of what isn’t theirs? Lawrence and I waited patiently for months for his wife, Adrian, to just sign the divorce papers – to agree to put the house on the market for what has seemed like forever but still she wouldn’t budge.
“I’ve had it!” I told Keisha after Lawrence told me again that he wouldn’t be able to see me that evening. He and his wife would be having another “sit down” to discuss their impending and altogether necessary divorce. He hadn’t even sounded optimistic.
“I have had it with that bitch! I have been waiting and waiting. We have just been taking it too easy on her!”
“Easy, Sis.” Keisha said, “No disrespect, but you’re the ‘home-wrecker’ in this equation.”
Ouch! I turned and looked at the phone in my hand. Ever since the night Keisha finally met Lawrence she’d been catty about our relationship. I knew how she felt about his divorce not being final but she didn’t have to run me down like that!
“What the fuck, Keisha!? How are you gonna call me that fucked up shit and say ‘no disrespect’? You’re supposed to be my friend!”
“Girl I am your friend.” Keisha said calmly, “which is why I am telling you the truth as opposed to what you want to hear. And I’m telling you some good shit, Dawn. What goes around comes around. You need to be oh so careful what you wish for because one day you’re going to look up and realize that you got that dirt bag son of bitch and it was the worst thing that ever happened to you.”
An hour later I sat alone in my bedroom. I stared from the cordless phone to the phone number that after careful investigation I had ascertained to be the “home” number. His wife’s number. Adrian’s number – not Lawrence’s – his home was here with me. I’d asked Keisha to come over for what she dubbed “immoral support” but she refused. After the way she’d run down Lawrence and our relationship I thought I was probably better off without her there anyway. Thinking I’d feel stronger and have more nerve sitting at my desk business style I went into my study. I took out a fresh pad of paper and a pen and even plugged in the head set that I never use. Now I felt like I was in the office on a business call. Now I could work from a place of power.
I took a deep breath and dialed. There would be no nervous hang-ups. No stuttering. I would be cool, calm and to the point. I could only hope that the “sit down” was over and that Lawrence’s wouldn’t answer the phone. I decided that if he did, I would just hang up. He would know it was me and he would be angry later but I wouldn’t let her hear us argue. That would just give her more hope. As the phone rang I congratulated myself on the decision to come into the study. I felt much calmer and I didn’t even miss Keisha. ‘As a matter of fact,’ I thought ‘I need to make some new friends.’ My girl was supposed to have my back but Keisha wasn’t even supporting my relationship. It’s wasn’t like when Lawrence and I got married she could be a bridesmaid seeing that she hated his guts.
“Hello?” Her voice sounded clear and confident. I couldn’t help noticing that she didn’t sound as if she’d just been “sitting down” with her husband discussing their inevitable divorce.
“Um, yes, hello? Um this is Dawn Roberson. Is this Miss Adrian Moses?” I threw emphasis on the “Miss” to make up for the “Um’s”. She didn’t seem to notice.
“This is Adrian Moses.” She said with a smile in her voice. ‘Well’ I thought, ‘the bitch won’t be smiling for long.’
“Well as I said this is Dawn and I think it’s time you and I had a frank discussion about Lawrence.”
“Oh really?” she said sounding surprised but not angry “And what is it exactly that you feel we need to discuss?” Lawrence had told me that she was cold hearted. She was so focused on her work and her image that she always kept very cool. It was one of the things he said had driven him away. He said she was all ambition and no passion. Her cool tone seemed to back up what he’d told me.
“I think we need to discuss why it is you refuse to give him a divorce.” For a moment there was silence on the line.
“Well my dear,” she said finally sounding a little rattled. “I’m sure the reason for that will be easily understood.” Her voice turned chilly. “The reason I have not granted Mr. Moses a divorce will be quite simply because he hasn’t requested one.”
What!? I felt my pulse quickening. My hearing became muffled by the blood thundering in my ears.
“L . . Li . .” I tried to get my mouth to say ‘liar’ but the word couldn’t make it past the sobs that were quickly clogging my throat. ‘I will not cry, I will not cry’ I kept telling myself.
“And where, you simple minded Jezebel” the smile had returned to her voice “would you get the idea that he had?”
I told her everything. It all poured out. I didn’t even know that I was saying. I’m not even sure that I was talking to her. More likely I was explaining to Fate that she had made a careless mistake with my future. Surely all the whispered conversations while entwined with each other after making love, all the plans, laughing together, crying together for the last 18 months had meant that we were meant for each other. Surely the way he wanted me, the way I wanted him meant that one day soon we would be together, really together. I told her everything. I told her about places we’d been, the letters, cards and roses. I told her we’d been happy for months.
“Hmm” Adrian said thoughtfully, still infuriatingly calm. “Do you have any proof of what you’re saying?”
“Yes! Lawrence loves me!” I shouted realizing how desperate I sounded and hating myself for it.
“Humph.” She said repressing a laugh. I was hating this wench more and more by the minute. “Hmm. You sound very upset.” Adrian said over my tears. Her voice dripped with false sympathy. “Why don’t you gather the things you call proof and come over here for a cup of coffee. We can sit down and talk about this like women.” Was she crazy?!
“I don’t think Lawrence would like that.” I said stalling. This time she laughed out right.
“What Lawrence would like, is of no consequence.” She said harshly, “Now you just find those steel balls you used to get up the nerve to call this house and be here inside the hour.” Completely shocked at the direction that the conversation had taken I said nothing.
“What car do you drive?” Adrian demanded, “I want to look out for you.”
“A Honda. A green Honda Accord.”
“Hmm mm. I’ll see you in 45 minutes, Dawn.” She said, then paused and added “I can feel that you’re hesitant about coming so I want you to understand, Dawn that I will see you here in 45 minutes or I will see you there in one hour. Now you found the number, I expect you’ll l have found the address as well. See you in a few.” She said, then the line went dead.
“Girl, are you crazy?! Jesus, Dawn, what were you thinking? I told you not to call her!” I’d called Keisha back as soon as I came to my senses after being commanded to appear before my fiancé’s wife.
“I was thinking it was about time she let go of my man!” I shouted. My anger with Keisha was returning. “I called you for support not judgment.”
“Oh, so you want me to support your bad judgment, is that it?” Keisha countered. I swear sometimes you would think that she’s lawyer instead of me. She heaved a huge sigh, “Look, you cannot go to that woman’s house. Dawn, this is a really bad idea! Furthermore I think you were just told in no uncertain terms what you should have known all along. Lawrence is not your man. Hell, he’s not a man at all!”
Keisha seemed really upset by the idea but by now I was driving to Adrian’s house. She’d been correct in assuming that I’d looked up her address as soon as I’d located the phone number. I’d never had the nerve to drive by but I’d thought about it several times and even had a map to her home already printed out. I was so busy driving and trying not to cry – trying not to explode - that I couldn’t even defend myself and my relationship from Keisha’s remarks.
“Look, Dawn,” she said “I know I’m being hard on you. It may be hard to believe but it’s because I care about you. You have to get your head on straight. And whatever you do, do not go to that woman’s house! She sounds crazy! I mean what if she’s luring you there to hurt you?” I hadn’t thought of that.
“She said she wanted proof.” I countered weakly
“Proof?! Hand delivered by you? In the middle of the night? Dawn, its 11:30 at night!” I looked down at the dash. How had it gotten so late? How long had I been pouring my heart out to Adrian?
“Girl, this will be just as bad in the middle of the day as it will be tonight.” I told her. I decided to leave out the part about Adrian threatening to make an appearance at my apartment if I didn’t show up. That would only convince Keisha that she really was a homicidal maniac.
“Well,” Keisha sighed. “If you insist on going I don’t want you to go alone. I’ll meet you there.” She told me. She really was my friend after all.
“No.” I smiled for the first time in what felt like an eternity. “I really appreciate you offering, but it’s O.K. Really. What I will do is text you the address once I get there. Just in case I go missing or something” I tried for a laugh but the joke wasn’t well received.
“Lord, Dawn, don’t even joke like that.” Keisha groaned. “Messing in people’s emotions is some serious shit. Just be careful, and do not forget to send me that text!”
“I won’t.” I promised.
After I hung up I noticed that the directions I thought I’d committed to memory were taking me a little off the beaten path. As I continued I passed more and more trees. The houses were further and further apart. Each residence was surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns. A few even had circular drive-ways with lighted fountains in the center. Lawrence could never afford this neighborhood. I checked the print out to see where I’d gone wrong. According to the map I was on the right track. ‘Maybe I’m just passing through... .’ I thought. I knew that even if Lawrence could afford this neighborhood he wouldn’t want to live here. Too many “White folks”. It was the same complaint that he had about the upscale loft community where I lived. It didn’t look as though there were many more Black people around here than there were in my building. As far as I’m concerned as long as my neighbors are clean, pay their mortgages and don’t eat babies or anything I wouldn’t care if they were green with purple stripes. Being a Black female lawyer in Virginia kind of takes the novelty out of being the minority for me, but this definitely wasn’t Lawrence’s vibe. Eventually after a few hooks and turns through what turned out to be a carefully mapped subdivision I came to a stop in front of a house that was more modest than many of the others, but not by much. There was no fountain and no circular drive way but this was a choice lot twice the size of the others, two acres at least. Even in the dark I could see that the beautifully manicured lawn was emerald green. The brick and wrought iron fencing could have easily been scaled by a neighborhood kid, but the gated drive-way kept cars from entering the property unannounced. Welcoming but secure.
I stopped the car just shy of the drive way to look at the house and get a closer look at the scrolled numbers on the brick pillar holding the gate. The address was correct but this house wasn’t. Lawrence knew how to have a good time but he was a man with an eye for a bargain. His professional connections and charming nature allowed him to entertain me well beyond what I knew his means to be. We might see a Broadway show – but the tickets were comped, the B&B’s we went to were lovely but they were also a lot cheaper than say a luxury hotel. When we dined out he did it big but most evenings we opted instead for gourmet meals that I prepared at home paired with movies on demand. I ignored Keisha’s nagging that the real reason that we’d gone out so seldom was that Lawrence couldn’t be seen with me. My condo was the perfect place for two lovebirds who wanted to enjoy each other’s company exclusively. All that said, the material girl in me was stricken by the house. When Lawrence and I had shopped for engagement rings (yes that’s rings, plural, he chosen diamond engagement rings and wedding bands for us both) he had picked out descent jewelry but just descent. My ring was nice – but it was nothing like the one I would have chosen for myself on my budget. My immediate inclination was to do a Beyoncé and “upgrade” him but my mother warned me to let a man be a man. To make matters worse he hadn’t bought it outright or even purchased it with credit. He’d only put down a small deposit and was making payments on the rings insisting that they be paid off before we took possession. This house spoke of a man who had the cash or the credit to purchase such things outright. And why would they need a house this size just for the two of them?
“Unless they’re living beyond their means.” I said aloud to no one. Way beyond. That would explain why Lawrence couldn’t just whip out the AMEX and buy my ring. I turned off the car and got out. The serene beauty of the house, the sweeping lawn, and the old fashioned “gas” lamps somehow made me feel uncomfortable. There were a few lights on downstairs but the rest of the windows were dark. I checked the address one more time, comparing the skip trace a friend of mine had run on the phone number with the address I Google mapped. If I was on Live Oak Trace instead of Live Oak Terrace I was liable to get my black ass arrested lurking around this neighborhood near midnight. The addresses matched though I couldn’t understand it . . .
I pressed the buzzer on the speaker at the gate. Adrian’s voice sounded clear and sharp taking away any doubt that I was in the right place.
“You are very nearly late.” She said curtly. “You will need to drive up the lane. Do not walk.” Then just as abruptly as earlier, she hung up on me for the second time that night. The new quiet made the road seem even lonelier. I didn’t mind hurrying back to my car. As I started the engine the gates opened. I turned onto the pebble stone apron and drove up the paved lane careful not to disturb the pristine line of grass that ran up the middle. ‘This house!’ I thought to myself. As I neared the house I saw that the drive-way curved around to what I assumed in this neighborhood would be a two (or three?) car garage. I stopped just short of the curve. ‘No reason to go behind the house’ I thought ‘better for the neighbors and or the cops to be able to see my car from the road just in case this broad does kill me after all’ I got out and walked around the car. I came to a much shorter brick pillar that marked the start of a path leading up to the front porch. The pillar carried a large carved wooden sign. As I neared the house a motion light threw the post and the sign into greater relief. I nearly jumped out my skin. There was a gargoyle like face on the carving. When I looked closer I saw that the carving was not of a gargoyle but of an eerily smiling dog framed by the words “Become aware of the Dogs” in Old English script. ‘Who would want this creepy shit right in front of their house?’ I thought ‘Lawrence doesn’t even like dogs.’
As I climbed the steps of the wraparound porch the lights snapped on. The door opened and there stood my rival. Adrian was my height and my complexion with differences in build and appearance that spoke more of differences in personality than beauty. I could tell that we were about the same age but she felt older. We were both Southern Girls but the way she looked down her nose at me like an antebellum belle let me know that she was from a lot further south than Virginia. She wore her thick wavy hair naturally. It was long and wild while my sleek short cut was relaxed and perfectly coifed - just the way Lawrence liked it. In fact from her stuck up demeanor, to her wild assed natural, to that floor sweeping skirt, she didn’t look like anything Lawrence would even be interested in. How could this be his wife?
“Adrian?” I asked just to be sure.
“Of course.” She said simply, stepping out onto the furnished veranda. She took a deep breath as her bare feet landed on the porch and it seemed to fortify her. She turned her gleaming eyes onto me looking refreshed and smiled.
“Why don’t you come this way?” She said pulling the door closed behind her. Apparently I wasn’t good enough to use the front door. I couldn’t help but feel that it was just like a Geechy to use “Massa’s” old tricks to make you feel like dirt. Added to that was the fact that now that I was talking to her in person I could hear the southern drawl that she must work hard to mask. For that I couldn’t blame her. In a professional environment a Southern accent can curry favor but usually only among other Southerners – especially white men. Unfortunately most others seem to see a Southern accent as a sign of ignorance.
We walked the length of the front and side porches before we descended to a pebble stone patio that stretched the width of the back of the house. A lit fire bowl and comfortable patio furniture awaited us. Here there was a fountain playing softly a few yards away to a beautiful and fragrant garden. From where I stood, I could see that while there was a parking pad there was no garage at all. What had looked like a dimly lit living room from the front the house was actually a brightly lit kitchen in the rear of the house. Adrian reclaimed her seat at the patio table. She sipped her bare feet into a small tub of water with fresh lavender and rose petals from the nearby garden floating on top. I stared at her incredulously. An hour ago I’d called this woman and told her that her husband was engaged to marry another woman. Her reaction been to come out here and pick some flowers? ‘So much for the image I conjured of her weeping into her alcohol in the near darkness.’ I thought. Karma is a funny thing. My intention that night had been to devastate Adrian but I was the one feeling more pathetic and miserable by the moment. I raised an eyebrow at Adrian and her foot bath as if to question her timing but she just began tapping away on the lap top that sat open and waiting on the table.
“As I said” she began “You are very nearly late and I have not got all night. The children and I have an early morning.” At this I sank onto a nearby bench.
“Yes of course.” Adrian said impatiently. “Lawrence and I have four children. Surely you know this thing about the love of your life?” She sneered momentarily looking up from the computer. My eyes started to tear.
“I take that as a ‘no’.” she sighed as if she were suddenly weary. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Yes!” I answered a little too quickly wiping my eyes. “I would like whatever you’ve got in your glass that has you so mellow right now.”
“This is an Arnold Palmer.”
“What’s in that?”
“Lemonade and iced tea.” Adrian said turning up her nose as if this were something any descent Southerner should know.
“Long Island Iced tea?” I asked hopefully.
“No, regular assed iced tea, Dawn. Haven’t I just told you that I have an early morning with four children ahead?” I choked on my response. Adrian rolled her eyes.
“Help yourself.” She said motioning toward a pitcher and glasses on the table. “And now, tell me again what has been taking place between you and my husband.”
“Lawrence and I have been dating for 18 months.” I told her. “He told me that he was married but that he was getting a divorce.
“So you actually believed he was ‘getting a divorce’ for more than a year?” she asked disgusted.
“He didn’t mention the kids.” I added lamely
“And you didn’t ask!” she snapped. Her manner of going back and forth between very calm and almost friendly to waspish and angry started to unnerve me. It reminded me of the creepy sign out front. ‘Maybe this lady is crazy.’ I suddenly remembered Keisha and the text that I’d forgotten to send. In fact my cell phone was in the car! Suddenly I felt a panic that had nothing to do with my relationship. Where are those dogs anyway? I scanned the yard for evidence of them until I saw Adrian watching me and decided to stand my ground.
“Look, that’s neither here nor there.” I told her “Clearly there are some discrepancies that need to be sorted out but that’s between Lawrence and me. I love him and I can’t simply sit here and take your word for the fact that you and he aren’t in the midst of a divorce right now. Especially when you are a woman scorned.” I only half believed the words but they still felt good. “I love him and he loves me and it’s about time you knew it.” I added. “You should also know that I am an accomplished attorney so if you intend on trying to fleece him in court you can forget it. I’ll be by his side.”
Adrian’s eyes glinted and she got up quickly. Too quickly. Before I could stand she’d crossed the patio and was standing over me, her wet feet dripping onto the patio, her right arm raised poised to bruise my face with the huge citron she wore on her right hand. I hated myself for it but I couldn’t help flinching. She’d caught me off guard. Before her hand fell and I could actually manage to get pimp slapped, Adrian took another one of those huge breaths that seemed to suck in all the air around her and said,
“No. No, no, no. Instead of the least you deserve, sister, instead of that I have gift for you. A gift to reciprocate all that you have given me tonight”
‘This bi-polar bitch is freaking me out!’ I found myself feeling glad that I’d passed up the “Arnold Palmer” she’d offered me. There was no telling what was in that glass – the woman really was crazy.
“First things first.” Adrian said lowering her hand, “The letters?”
I handed over the box of letters I’d brought with me. She took it and began to eagerly open each one. There in Lawrence’s handwriting were all his feelings for me but she didn’t read them. Instead she unfolded them and began feeding them one by one through a portable scanner that I hadn’t previously noticed on the patio table. She appeared to be more and more satisfied as each letter went through the machine and fluttered to the ground where she left them as if she couldn’t be bothered to pick them up again. They were trash to her. ‘What have I done?!’ my mind screamed as it finally slid into place what was really happening here. Adrian didn’t care about Lawrence. She was just using my emotions to set my baby up to get hosed in divorce court. I could see now that having called her would get me exactly what I’d wanted. The divorce would be finalized but I had also ruined any chance Lawrence had of avoiding getting brutalized in court. Those letters in his handwriting would finish us both. Not only would Lawrence be subject to astronomical child support and alimony payments, I’d left myself vulnerable to being sued for alienation of affection, something that would ruin my legal reputation even if there was no monetary award. Either way every dime either of us made after we were married would go straight to support for those four kids and alimony to keep her in this beautiful house. As the last letter was scanned I hurried to collect them from the ground where she’d let them fall. What would I do? Lawrence would never forgive me for ruining our future this way. This time my tears were tears of anger at myself. What had I been thinking? Lawrence was probably at my condo waiting for me, wondering where I was and I was out ruining our lives.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Adrian snapped irritated by my tears. “There’s no need in crying now. You got what you wanted.” She said. “Besides, I have a present for you. Come with me.”
Because there was nothing left to do I followed her lead through the French doors and into the bright kitchen. The kitchen was cheerful with beautiful cabinetry that even camouflaged the high end appliances. We walked through the kitchen to a downward stairwell. ‘Great’ I thought, ‘Now she’s going to lead me down to the basement and shoot me.’
“Come on.” Adrian said encouragingly as if sensing my hesitation. At the bottom of the stairs the basement opened into a large den. I could tell right away that this was Lawrence’s space. There were three different gaming consoles on the large entertainment center along with a massive television. There was one beaten and abused couch and at the other end of the room a pool table. The room even carried his scent. Beside the couch there was a large plastic packing crate filled with what was unmistakably a bunch of Lawrence’s clothes and shoes.
“After you interrupted my foot bath this evening,” Adrian began, “I took the liberty of packing a few of your lover’s things.” As she spoke she threw other things from around the room wily nily on to the already stuffed crate. “I imagine that in the days ahead the two of you will arrange to have professional movers pick up the rest of what I will allow him to take from this house.” She scoffed, “There won’t be much so the move shouldn’t be very expensive.”
Adrian snatched the gaming consoles from the entertainment system and pressed them into the crate along with the cartridges.
“These were gifts.” She said bitterly smashing the lid closed on top of them deliberately damaging them. “As for your misinformed threats regarding divorce court, you needn’t worry. As long as Lawrence will consent to signing the divorce papers that my lawyer will have delivered by courier to your office on tomorrow afternoon, we should never end up there. They will have to be delivered to your office because Lawrence works for me and as of tonight, he no longer has an office.” When once again my face registered surprise at this newest revelation Adrian just shook her head and tossed her wild mane
“Well, Sister” she said, “Let’s get your “man’s” shit in the car.” It was the first time she had cursed at me that night. It startled me not because she had cursed but because she hadn’t done so before. Adrian winked and smiled. She patted me on the shoulder before walking over to the crate. She squatted down to lift it. As things had gone the rest of the night I followed Adrian’s lead. I helped her to move the over-packed crate up the stairs and out to the car. Luckily we were both in pretty good shape. We managed to get it outside and lifted into the trunk of my car without too much trouble.
“Good thing the trunk’s not junky.” Adrian said cheerfully as we hoisted the crate in. “Don’t forget the T.V.” she added before heading back through the kitchen and downstairs again.
The large television was a bit more trouble than the crate had been. Still we managed to haul it upstairs and eventually slide it across the back seat of my car.
“Well, honey,” Adrian said at last, “Go, in relative peace. Go and do not come again. Take your man away and stay away. Should he care to visit the children, I’m sure he’ll find he’s welcome to do so. And don’t worry about your money. As I said I’ve been paying your man’s salary. As he’s no longer a liability I think we’ll be alright without him. You can let him know from me that he’s fired.”
Adrian stretched shaking out what ever kinks had worked their way in while we moved Lawrence’s belongings. Her back and shoulders seemed yet straighter than they had been. She seemed lighter. Her hair seemed practically alive. I’d been dumbfounded from the moment she’d asked me to help her with the box. Now I couldn’t say a word. Adrian seemed not to care if I ever spoke.
“Well Jezebel,” she said slipping into full drawl “now, you got to get the hell off my property. I’m fitna let these dogs out.”
Without another word she turned and walked away. She pulled a lever that I’d previously mistaken for a sconce on the side of the house then stepped through the front door and closed it behind her. A second later all the porch lights were off.
I rushed to the car. As I hurriedly pulled the car door closed behind me I heard the tinkling of dog tags. When I turned on the head lights I illuminated two huge Dobermans. They watched me back all the way down the drive way and off the property before losing interest and wandering over to the front porch. As the wrought iron gates closed behind me I took one last look at the beautiful neo classical home. Now the house was completely dark. Apparently, her mind now at ease, Adrian had turned in in anticipation of an early morning. With four children. What circumstances, I wondered, could cause a woman to welcome a life of single parenthood with four children. With this thought Keisha popped into my mind. I found my phone in the center console. I’d missed 11 calls from her. Knowing it would disturb her rest more if I didn’t call her back I hit the send button to dial her back.
“Hello?!” she answered right away with worry in her voice. However judgmental she could be Keisha really was my friend. I couldn’t believe I had cut her out of my make believe wedding. As I opened my mouth to return her greeting my eyes fell on the expensive flat screen T.V. in the rear view mirror. The one Adrian had happily slid into the back seat of my car as if she were throwing down a burden.
“Oh my God, Dawn! I thought Geechy assed Adrian had put a root on you or went “culture of honor” on you and threw your ass down in a hole somewhere!” Keisha blurted.
“Christ’s Church, Ke!” I used my Aunt Cookie’s favorite curse. Tears were streaming down my face. “What have I gotten myself into? Wait . . . What? What did you say?”
For a moment there was silence on the other end of the line.
“I never told you her name.”
“I told you, she has accounts at the bank.” Keisha said, but I could tell by the sound of her voice that she knew it was too late.
“How would you know where she was from, Ke?” My voice cracked again at this new betrayal. “Keisha! How do you know where she’s from?!” I demanded.
“I tried to tell you, Dawn. Adrian Moses is one of my oldest friends. I’ve known her my whole life.”