Deneisha was stunned by how comforting working in a funeral home was. The proprietors, an older couple, the Hollomans and their forty something, embalming daughters ran it. The older Holloman’s only came in as a formality but Debra and Donna were the directors. Debra was tall and square and had never met a smile she liked. Donna was shorter, softer and rounder but they were definitely sisters with short wavy hairdos, penny colored skin and an affinity for grey clothing. The main difference was Donna was quick to smile and often brought Deneisha food or coffee. When they hired her six months for six hundred per weeks ago that was a bargain. She sent Fletcher three hundred each week for the boys and gave her grandmother, Minnie the same for room and board. She could afford her own place but she loved living with Minnie. Minnie was more mama to her in less than a year than Rena had ever been. The one thing she missed was sex. She needed a boyfriend or something. She giggled, causing Donna to peer at her.
“Donna I was thinking of getting me a man, you got any suggestions?”
The older woman's face colored as she shook her head no. That only piqued Deneisha's interest.
“Have you ever had a man Donna?”
The way she ducked her head let Deneisha know she hit the nail on the head. She could only imagine a forty three year old virgin. She started humming, Like A Virgin by Madonna which sent Donna into peals of laughter. Debra appeared at the door with a dour look and Donna immediately stopped laughing. She shot Deneisha a look which she returned. Debra turned on her heel, walking out. Deneisha was irreplaceable by this point and the older Holloman’s loved her sassy spirit. Left to her own choice, Debra would have never hired the red haired harlot but Nelson Holloman was near seventy but made it clear Holloman Funeral Lodge was his and he would run it as he saw fit. He promised Minnie he would hire her granddaughter and he had. Deneisha added something to the environment, the same way Minnie had years ago.
Fletcher was glad Deneisha called the boys regularly and visited every few weeks but Marc hadn't warmed up to her. He tolerated her but wouldn't go out with her or spend time alone with her. He didn't seen traumatized, just disinterested. He had been advised by counselors not to force anything. As long as he slept well, did well in school and wasn't acting out, he was okay. He wasn't doing any of those things but the minute Deneisha showed up he became a somber little man. He also stayed close to Mic who adored his mom and looked forward to her visits. Marc was much closer to Dena, his mother's sister who read to him and taught him to play soccer and checkers.
“Mom, do you think it's normal?” He was talking to Cynthia about his concerns. Deneisha wanted them to visit her but Marc refused and Mic wasn't going without his brother.
“It's his normal Fletcher. He's not even five. Give him time. Marc is his own individual self.”
“I agree. He just seems so grownup.”
“That's Marc. I'm concerned about my son. When's the last time you went on a date?”
“I date but that's about it.”
He wasn't going to share with his mom he was talking to Teri. She was married with a three year old daughter but there was something between them. She had shown up at his job a few weeks ago and they shared conversation and coffee. She burst into tears confessing she still loved him.
He told her she was married and he wasn't interested in dealing with that but it hadn't stopped her from stopping by or him from talking to her.
His feelings for her still ran deep.
“Be careful son. You have a weakness for damsels in distress.”
She never looked up from frosting the cupcakes but Fletcher shuddered. Cynthia always knew when he was up to something. She was that kind of mama.
Dena enjoyed her nephews and the time she was allowed to spend with them. She had become especially close to Marc. He was a kid who watched and weighed before moving in. She understood his reticence where his mother was concerned. She would mention little things about Deneisha from their childhood but he usually didn’t respond but he would listen. Mic on the other hand was more emotional and trusting. He craved Deneisha’s attention but worshipped Marc. Mic was sleep but Marc was leaning back on the sofa as if deep in thought.
“What’s up little man?” He never turned to look at her.
“I’m thinking. You act like my mama but you my Auntie D. Mama is not like you.” Her heart stilled at his words.
“Everyone is different.”
“Can I have cereal?” She knew he was done talking about it. She watched him wake his brother and stroll into the kitchen like a little soldier.
Smiling, she followed him. No one would ever trick Marc. When Fletcher arrived, they were going to talk about something else that was pressing her.
Drenched in sweat, Fletcher stood from the bench. Standing in front of him was Chad, Teri’s husband. Wary, he squared his shoulders. It was too early in the day.
“I need you to stay away from Teri. She is my wife and the mother of our child.” Fletcher stared into the face of the man married to a woman he still had deep feelings for.
“You should talk to your wife. Not once have I initiated contact with her. I am not your problem.” Chad stared at Fletcher, knowing in his gut that what he said was true. Teri had grown distant in the past few months and he figured Fletcher was in the mix somehow. “Brother, I don’t know you but by the time a man steps to another man…” The words hit Chad’s heart and he nodded in acknowledgement. Truer words were never spoken. He felt foolish as Fletcher walked away to the showers. He knew he was talking to the wrong person, marrying a woman in love with another man was not his finest hour but he loved his wife and wanted his marriage but in that moment he realized it really had nothing to do with Fletcher.
Standing in the shower with hot water pouring over him, Fletcher thought of his conversation with Chad. He had convinced himself it was harmless to have coffee and conversation with Teri but he knew better than that. It was risky and disrespectful to her marriage. He needed to get back out there. He had sons to raise and didn’t need any drama in his life.
Ron lay awake wondering where Rena was. In the past few months, she would take off. After her confrontations with Minnie, Dena and Deneisha she hadn’t cooked any meals, had sex with him or said much. Every day he tried but to no avail. He was tired of trying. He was married to a woman who openly disrespected him and everyone thought he was weak. He didn’t have any connection to his family because of Rena and now she treated him like a house pet. He was mostly concerned about her disappearances. Sometimes she came home from work and other times it would be near midnight.
She never provided an explanation and ignored him if he asked. He was at the end of his rope. She was going to give him some answers or else.
Rena spent most evenings when she didn’t come home in bars. Not clubs but bars. Sometimes she would sit and drink wine, other times she would pick up a guy and go to the nearest motel for quick sex. It didn’t bring any real pleasure. It was simply something to do that was hers. She would always drive at least a hundred miles or more away from home and never the same bar twice. It never occurred to her she was the very thing she hated in her mother and youngest daughter.
After her latest assignation, Rena made her way home near one in the morning. Her plan was to shower and go to bed but she was startled to find Ron waiting for her, fully dressed.
“What are you doing up?”
“No, the question Rena is where the hell have you been? For months, you are rolling in here whenever you feel like it. It needs to stop and stop now.” Reacting as she was prone to do, she reached out her hand to slap him but he caught it in a tight grip. “And don’t put your hands on me.”
Surprise flared in her eyes at him handling her and his tone. In over thirty years that had never happened.
“You need to get your hands off me before I…”
“Before you what Rena, hit me, slap me, and spit in my face? You have done all that and more. I am a man got-damn it and I am tired of being disrespected in a home where I pay for everything! You earn money and spend every dime on yourself. I have no issue with that but you have kept me from my family and tried to keep me from my children and now you have taken yourself away. Maybe I should go!”
“Go where? I will ruin you!” She screamed with spittle flying from her mouth.
“Rena, I am already ruined. All you can do is take half of my military retirement and keep this damn house and you can have it. I am not even fifty years old!” Dropping her hand, he grabbed the bag he packed and walked out the house. Dropping to the couch, she suddenly felt afraid. Ron was all she had and he walked out on her. How was that possible? Screams tore from her throat as she walked around throwing things until she was exhausted. She sat fully dressed staring at the door, waiting for Ron to return but he never did.
Ron felt exhilarated as he got in his truck and drove away. He was going to Jacksonville to see Dena and then was making his way to Montgomery to see Deneisha. Let Rena wonder where the hell he was for a change.