March 6 is the release date.
Marie’s mouth was dry; her scalp felt as if thousands of ants were crawling on it. And the polyester jail jumpsuit made her skin itch as if the ants had jumped from her scalp to her skin. All she wanted to do was get out of this cell and into her garden tub with some jasmine oil and her cell phone by her side. The court was waiting for the results of Marie’s blood test, since she hadn’t taken a Breathalyzer test overnight. And, because she’d hadn’t been seen behind the wheel of the car, she was able to hold on to her driver’s license pending the results of the blood test. Not that it mattered, because her beloved Jaguar wasn’t drivable. Marie had to find out if this incident made the news. If it did, she’d have to spin the story to make herself look like another victim of the police; after all, no one like a drunk driver. She stood up and scratched her head, wishing for a hot oil treatment.
“Charles,” a jailer called out. “You’ve made bail.”
“Thank God!” she exclaimed as the woman opened the door. “This was hell.”
The jailer didn’t say a word as she led Marie to be processed out of jail. Marie smiled happily as she signed for her belongings, but then she realized that she had no way to get home.
“Marie Clare Charles,” a voice boomed, vibrating off the walls of the jail’s lobby like thunder or the voice of Jesus himself.
She dropped her head. “Hey, Daddy,” she said quietly. Marie looked up and stared into her father’s chestnut brown eyes; there was no warmth in them. Not today, anyway. His eyes screamed disappointment, dismay, and anger. Richard Charles III was a formable man, standing at six-five, with his hair graying at the temples.
“Don’t you ‘hey, Daddy’ me. Have you lost your ever-loving mind?” he asked as he folded his arms across his massive chest. “There I was sitting in my office drafting a brief for a case that’s going to trial in a week and my phone won’t stop ringing. I’m hopeful that it’s the district attorney’s office, and it’s Steve Crump, Jason Stoogneke, and some reporter from Creative Loafing.”
“Wow, channel three is talking about me?” Marie said with more cheer in her voice than should’ve been there.
Richard slapped his hand against his thigh. “This is not some damned joke. You’re facing a serious charge, Marie! If this isn’t the wake-up call you need to grow up, then I don’t know what it’s going to take.”
“It’s not as if I hurt someone,” she said flippantly. “It was a rough night and I wasn’t even . . .”
“Shut up!” he snapped. “Don’t admit to anything in here. We’re going back to my office and we’re going to have a serious talk.”
“Can it wait?”
Richard squeezed his temples and sighed. “Marie, ever since your mother died, I’ve done you a grave disservice. I’ve given you everything you wanted. Maybe I should’ve been a stricter disciplinarian, given you punishments, and stuck to them. But no more. I’m not saving your ass this time, because you obviously need to learn a lesson.”
“What are you talking about?” Marie asked, shrugging her shoulders. “I made a mistake. It was only a tree, Daddy."
Richard pointed his finger in his daughter’s face. “You keep making mistakes; you keep doing foolish things that make sense to no one but you. When you go to trial on these charges, you’re going to accept whatever punishment the judge hands down.”
“Why can’t you just make this go away?” She was tempted to tell her father the entire story, but that would’ve led to another lecture about honesty.
Richard shook his head. “I’ve made too many of your problems go away. That’s why you think it’s all right to get wasted and drive around Uptown, crash into a tree, and expect me to make it go away. Not this time, baby girl. Go on and go home, but we will have that talk.”
Marie smiled sheepishly. “I kind of need a ride home,” she said.
Richard dug into his pocket and handed her three one-dollar bills. “Take the light rail.” He stormed out of the jail as Marie stood there speechless. Did he think she was going to get on public transportation? A second passed before she ran out after her father.
“Daddy, come on, give me a ride. I’ll go to your office and we can talk now,” she said, though all she wanted was a hot bath and her bed.
Richard stopped as he got to his car, and glanced at his daughter. The older she got, the more she reminded him of Cela, her mother. He doted on his wife, who had told him not to be so permissive with Marie. But after Cela’s death when Marie was ten, he’d forgotten about not being permissive and became a welcome mat for his daughter.
“Get in,” he said as he unlocked the doors of his Mercedes CL Coupe. They drove for about five minutes in silence. When they stopped at a red light, Richard turned to Marie. “What was last night about? Please don’t tell me it had anything to do with that slime you’re engaged to.”
Marie tossed her head back. “That’s over,” she said with a snort. “I just had too much to drink and I thought I could drive home.”
“That was very dangerous and stupid. Why don’t you think before you act? Two months ago, you almost got a public indecency charge for hopping into the fountain on the square wearing nearly nothing. You need to start acting your age. How are you a public relations whatever when you make a scene every time you go out?”
Marie sighed. “Because you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet,” she said. “This isn’t old-school Charlotte where you have to . . .”
“Your reputation is all you have and all that matters. You’re ruining it and . . .”
“Is it my reputation or yours that you’re worried about?”
Richard frowned at his daughter. “I have built my reputation and people know who I am and what to expect from me. You’re the one who’s going to wish she made better decisions in her life when you’re my age.”
Marie yawned and nodded as if she was really paying attention to the lecture she’d heard time and time again. Richard glanced at his daughter, and he knew it was time for a serious change if she was going to stop being a destructive party girl.
“That’s right,” Devon whispered over her shoulder. “Just pinch the edges gently. Yes.”
“Mr. Harris,” Skylar Thomas said happily. “Check mine.” Devon turned from the student he’d been working with and told Skylar he’d be right there. Then he focused on the young woman in front of him.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Bria,” she said softly.
“Your first time making a pie crust?”
She nodded and smiled. “Well,” Devon said, “you’re doing a great job.”
Again, she smiled, beaming under Devon’s compliments. He crossed over to the other students, checking the progress they were making with their pie crusts. He glanced back at Bria, wondering what her story was. She was so young and seemed passive and afraid. Perhaps she was running from something, or maybe she was like many of the other women here, just fallen on bad times and at the end of hope’s rope.
Over the last six months since he’d been volunteering with My Sister’s Keeper, Devon learned that homeless didn’t mean hopeless. These women were fighters, especially his new best friend, Shay. She knew computers like the back of her hand, but she when she was stricken with a rare blood disorder, spent eight months in the hospital, and everything began going downhill. She lost her job and her health benefits, so when she was released from the hospital, she had nowhere to go.
The women at the shelter came from so many different backgrounds; some of them had college degrees, were former professionals, or were escaping abusive relationships.
“You ladies are doing great,” he said, then glanced at his watch. “Now that we have the crusts done, let’s work on the filling.”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Shay said as Devon pulled a bag of apples from underneath the counter. He glanced at his watch again and saw that he needed to get to the restaurant to prepare for lunch.
“All right, ladies,” he said. “I need you to peel these apples and then I’m going to have to leave. But I do have something special for lunch.” He walked over to the oven and pulled out the tray of meat pies he’d made that morning. “Pie doesn’t always have to be dessert.”
Bria nodded. “My grandmother used to make potpies for us,” she whispered.
“This looks good,” Shay said as Devon set the pies on the counter. “What’s in it?”
“Beef, cabbage, carrots, and corn, with a special cheese sauce,” he said. “You ladies will be the first to taste this. I made enough pies for all of the residents.”
The women smiled at him. “When I get back,” Devon said, “we’ll make dessert.”
“All right, ladies,” Shay said. “Let’s get these apples peeled so that we can have dessert for a change.”
“Yes,” Adele replied, then smiled at Devon. “It’s so nice having you around, Devon.”
He returned her smile and nodded in her direction. “I’m happy you guys let me come around. I have to go, but I’ll be back so we can make dessert and talk about you ladies making lunch and dinner next week. I’m going to turn you all into a kitchen staff,” he said.
An excited murmur rumbled through the kitchen as Devon waved good-bye to the ladies. On the way out the door, Elaine Harper, the director of the shelter, stopped him. “Devon, I have to tell you that your work here is doing wonders with these women.”
“Thank you,” he said.
“I have a favor to ask you, though,” she said.
Devon tilted his head to the side and looked at Elaine. “What’s that?”
“Well, we’re been asked by the Mecklenburg County Probation and Parole Department to take in some of their nonviolent female offenders to do their community service. I just want you to supervise some of the women when they start coming here.”
“What will I have to do?”
“Sign their papers and make sure they reach their hours, nothing hard. I would put a staff member on it, but we had to let two people go and I can’t afford to hire anyone right now,” she said.
“I’ll do it,” he said. “But, I have to go right now. Will you be here at five?”
“Yes,” she said. “Will you bring me some dessert from the restaurant?”
Devon laughed and closed his hand on Elaine’s shoulder. “I sure will. I’m making a chocolate cake for dessert today.”
“I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but I thank God for it every day.”
Devon smiled at the older lady and wished that he had that effect on a woman he could start a relationship with. As he headed for the restaurant, Devon thought about the work he was doing at the shelter and how it gave him a feeling of peace. He wished he could do more. Then it hit him like a ton of bricks; Hometown Delights could host a fund-raiser for the shelter.
When he pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, he parked his classic Ford Mustang next to Alicia’s Lexus Coupe. Rushing into the office, not even checking on his lunch staff, Devon called out Alicia’s name.
“What’s going on, Devon?” she asked as she returned the phone to its cradle.
“I have an idea for you and the ladies,” he said, smiling at her.
“The way you were screaming out my name, I thought there was some kind of emergency out here. You can’t scare me like that!”
“There’s no problem, but an opportunity for us to make a difference.”
“I’m listening,” Alicia said as she leaned back in the leather seat behind the desk.
“I’ve been working with My Sister’s Keeper and the women who live in the shelter.”
Alicia nodded. “You’re doing a great thing over there,” she said.
“I think we can do more,” he said as he leaned against the wall. “What if we hosted a fund-raiser for the shelter? Times are tough and they’re having a hard time keeping the staff together and providing for the women.”
“I bet. The economic news makes me count my blessings every night. We can do that, but I’d better run it by Jade and Serena just to make sure,” Alicia replied. “Maybe we can get Maurice and some of his football buddies involved.”
“That would definitely ramp up the amount of donations,” Devon said as he nodded.
“Let me ask you a question, though,” Alicia said as she ran her fingers through her hair. “Is this new and improved socially conscious Devon Harris doing all of this charity work because he can’t get a date?”
“Getting a date isn’t the problem. Finding a woman in Charlotte who doesn’t have more issues than Ebony, Essence, and Jet is.”
“Thankfully, I don’t fall into that category,” Alicia quipped. Devon raised his right eyebrow as he looked at his friend.
“Alicia, lie to yourself, darling; don’t lie to me.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
Devon cocked his head to the side and laughed. “The scowl on your face says it all. Brother to sister, you are the kind of woman that makes a man feel as if he’s never going to measure up.”
Alicia fanned her hands and sucked her teeth. “Whatever. You’re just mad because your perfect woman is married to someone else and about to have his baby.”
“Let the Kandace thing go. I have, and God knows Solomon doesn’t need to think I’m hoping to rekindle the romance with his wife.”
“I can’t help but tease you about that; it makes my day.”
Devon wagged his finger at Alicia. “You need to get a life,” he said. “Let me go check what the staff is doing for lunch, and I have to make a dessert.”
“What are you making for dessert?” Alicia asked with a gleam in her eye.
“Nothing for you. Oh, you’re going to have to come by the shelter and try the pies the ladies and I are making.”
“Sure,” Alicia said. “As long as you give me some of what you’re making for lunch.”
Devon sighed and winked at Alicia. “Do I need to make enough for your non-cooking married friend?”
“Are you talking about me?” Serena Billups asked from behind Devon. “Because I did come to get lunch for my husband and his crew.”
“How do you all make a profit when none of you can cook and you’re always eating like this is your own personal kitchen?” Devon said when he turned around and hugged his friend.
“Please,” Serena said when he let go. “You’ve been cooking for us for years.”
“Yes, I’ve spoiled you all terribly,” Devon said. “Have you ever cooked for Antonio?”
Serena shrugged. “I boiled hot dogs once,” she said.
Devon shook his head. “And on that note, I’m going to the kitchen.” He turned and headed for the kitchen to get ready for the lunch rush.