Love Knows No Color Pt. 07bybwwm4me©
Surveying the wreckage of the Carson Street store, Shavonda broke down in tears. There was nothing we could do until morning, but we couldn't leave the store either. Not with the front door and window broken. I sat her down in the back room, away from the damage, and handed her Brittany. She now had two sleeping kids, one on each knee. I left her to retrieve the cars seats from the Jeep, and brought them back into the back room. We settled the kids into their seats, and let them sleep. At least they were warm back here. They were safe, there was no broken glass or debris to harm them.
The police were finishing up their investigation. I talked for a little with Officer Waugaman, who was in charge of the crime scene. "We think we know who did this. The video should prove it. If it is who we think it is, she vandalized my car back in September. She's been warned to leave us alone. I'd like to press charges on the vandalism as well as this damage."
Rose wanted war. Now she's got it. You can mess with my material possessions, and I'll be mad but I will deal with it. You mess with my queen, a woman who's never done you any wrong, and you take the consequences. This was going to get ugly. Nobody messes with my queen.
Shavonda had fired up her computer in the back, and inserted the card. I led the officer back into the backroom to talk to him in private, when I noticed what she'd pulled up. The footage clearly showed the brick shattering the window. A few seconds later, a foot kicked in the door glass, and a hand reached in to unlock the door. A shadowy figure entered and looked around. We were able to get a clear view of her face. Rose, you are so stupid. Didn't you know a store that sold jewelry would have hidden cameras? What kind of woman throws a brick through a poster of her own son?
We watched in horror as she found the brick, wrote something on it with a paint marker, and used it to smash the glass in the cases that held the Jewelry. She threw the cash register off of the counter to the floor, then checked the door to the back. Fortunately, Ebony had locked it when she left. Rose stormed out the broken door. The time stamp was 03:17. Given the time and when we were notified, she must have barely escaped. The camera showed the first officer on the scene at 03:20.
"There's all the proof you need," I told Waugaman. "Rose Meredith Waite." I gave him her address.
"Right now, she's looking at vandalism, breaking and entering, malicious mischief, burglary, and ethnic intimidation. Because of the brick. It's not often you catch somebody actually writing the incriminating evidence on the evidence. We'll have a warrant out and she'll be arrested this morning. Come in this morning and press charges on the other incident, we'll pull up the police report and determine what additional charges we can add. Keep in mind that those are just the charges I can think of off the top of my head. There will be a lot more once we determine exactly what we can charge her with," Waugaman said. "I know you're angry, but don't do anything stupid, ok? Let us handle this. Trust me, she's in for some hard time for this. In light of the previous incident, I'm sure the judge will set bail pretty high." He jerked his thumb in the direction of the sleeping kids. "Would she happen to be their mother?"
"Yes, unfortunately," I replied sadly. I had an idea where this was going.
"When do they have to go back to her? Are you the dad?"
"Yes, I am the dad, and they go back at 8pm tonight."
"Well, I'm not allowed to give legal advice, but if I were you I'd look into hiring a child custody attorney. And, I wouldn't take them home tonight. Keep them at least until she makes bail," he said, adding, "Oh, and this conversation is completely off record. You didn't hear this from me."
By this time, James and Althea had shown up. Shavonda had called them while we were driving to the store. "My lord, did they trash this place," exclaimed Althea. She gave Shavonda a good long hug, comforting her. "Don't worry, baby. It will be all right."
James spoke to me. He was not happy. "Son, you know this is not going unpunished, right. Whoever did this has attacked my family now."
I told him we knew who did this, and charges were being filed. The police had a name and address. I also told him the kids would be staying with us for a while.
"Their mother did this?" James hadn't known. Now he did. "Well, she messed with the wrong folks this time. What do you intend to do about this?"
"Step one is to let the legal system take its course. She's looking at several felony charges. They are hitting her with ethnic intimidation as well. We will be seeking emergency custody on Monday morning, and after that if I can I will seek to terminate her parental rights. I'm not sure if I will be able to do that, but it won't be cheap," I told him. "As far as cleanup goes, I will take a day off from work and help however I can. I've already told Von, months ago, that anything I have is hers."
"Just keep that bitch in line. Von's been through enough. This business is her dream. I'm not going to let anybody destroy that," he replied. "If you can't handle things I will, and it's not going to be pretty."
"I understand," I said. "But I don't want anybody on our side to go to jail. We've done nothing wrong. I know people in Zone 3, who may be able to help us."
By this time, it was almost 6am. We woke the kids, and told them they were going to 'Grandma Althea's' house. We also told them that we'd be there later in the day to get them. At this point, I didn't want to upset them, so I didn't tell them that they'd be staying with us for a few days.
Damn, I thought sadly. This changes everything. No ring for Christmas, I'll have to propose on Valentine's Day instead. I'll also have to cancel our trip to my parents' house in West Virginia.
"I hate to ask this," I said to Althea, "but since we are going to be tied up here all week with cleanup, would you mind if we spent Thanksgiving with you?"
"Why would you think you'd have to ask? And bring the kids," Althea had a sly grin. She knew the kids weren't going home tonight. Shavonda and I would have to figure out where to put them during the week when we both worked.
After everybody was gone, Shavonda and I took inventory, and compared it to what was listed in the computer. Luckily everything was accounted for. We started to clean up the mess, starting with sweeping the floor. After that, I made a trip to Lowes, where I bought plywood to cover the broken windows until we could get them repaired. With the store secured, we went over to Zone 3 and had them file a criminal complaint for the damage to my car in September. We also requested copies of the police reports for the two incidents.
I got a call from Rose's mom telling me that Rose was in jail. She requested that I bring back the kids at the usual time. "I don't think so," I said. "Nothing personal, Mrs. Meredith, but I am the biological parent. It is my right to keep them. Your daughter should have thought about this before she did what she did. I intend to keep the kids until we get this straightened out. You are welcome to visit them at my house, but call first so we can be there. Right now, we're busy cleaning up the mess your daughter made."
At 10:30, Ebony and Velma showed up for work. They didn't know. We'd forgotten to call them, so they were surprised to see us there. They took over the cleanup. Shavonda said she needed some Jesus, so I accompanied her to church for the first time since we met. I held her in the pew during the service, arm around her shoulder. We got a few looks.
The service was a stark contrast to the staid, understated Methodist services of my childhood. Even though the church was AME, and related to the Methodists, it was far more enthusiastic than I was used to. It was truly a celebration. This was going to take some getting used to. But Shavonda had calmed down quite a bit by the end of the service. Afterward, she introduced me to the pastor, Reverend Frazier. I instantly liked him, and he thanked me for coming to the service. "Shavonda's told me about you and how good you are. I wondered how long it would be before she dragged you in here."
We were soon surrounded by members of the congregation curious about who I was. "My future husband, I hope," Shavonda told them with a smile. If only she knew I'd been plotting on her since late summer when I picked out and laid away the ring.
It was late afternoon when we picked the kids up. It would have been almost sunset had the sun been out, but this was November in Pennsylvania. We weren't going to see much sun for a while, or warmth either. We took the kids to Burlington and bought them winter coats with matching mittens.
Monday, we left them with Althea again, while we went to Family Court to file for emergency custody, then visited an attorney I'd called the previous afternoon. In between, we went to the criminal court building for copies of the two police reports. I'd called off from work, burning another vacation day. I had been very lucky to find a child custody attorney who actually answered the phone on the weekends, and even luckier that he had an appointment available the next day.
The consultation went well. We explained that we didn't seek to terminate parental rights at this time, but wanted primary custody. We also explained that we'd filed for emergency custody, given that the mother was in jail. We were more than happy to grant visitation to Rose and her mother, as long as we were otherwise left alone.
The attorney read the two police reports, saying, "She's a real piece of work, isn't she?"
"You don't know the half of it," I explained. "She also filed for an increase in child support based on Shavonda's income, without ever bothering to check if we were living together. She also has filed at least 6 times with Family Court to have my wage attachment shifted to companies I never worked for."
"Given what is in those police reports, she is looking at serious jail time. I think your case is pretty solid."
We paid him a retainer and had him work on filing the suit against Rose. One way or another this was going to get resolved. We held all the cards at this point, or so it appeared.
We had one last stop. I wanted to see if Brittany and Ethan could continue their day care in the current facility, to lessen the disruption in their lives. It turned out we could. We made arrangements for Shavonda to be listed as one of their guardians, so she could pick them up after work if I was running late, which I usually did 3 days a week.
Knowing Rose's financial situation, I figured it would be at least 3 days before she made bail. We had until after Thanksgiving before we had to worry about the childrens' future. When we picked them up from Shavonda's parents' house, we told them what had happened and that they'd have to stay with Daddy and Ms. Von for a little while. They cried a little, they missed their mommy. It was heartbreaking.
I called my parents that night to tell them we wouldn't be able to make Thanksgiving dinner. They were disappointed, but understood when I told them the situation we'd been unexpectedly thrust into. "I never trusted Rose," Mom said.
"Well, this is going to work out for the best," I told her. "We have the kids while she's in jail, and we're filing for primary custody. She's looking at felony charges, with serious jail time. We'll have no trouble winning the case. By Easter we should be able to bring them down to see you."
"Good luck, son. Kiss Von for us and tell her we love her. Oh, and good luck with the kids. Let us know if there's anything we can do," she said, hanging up the phone.
The next day I ended up taking another vacation day while we attended the emergency custody hearing. We were granted custody pending the outcome of the custody suit, which we had 10 days to file. The kids were ours for the next week and a half, at least.
By the end of Tuesday, the store was back to normal. The glass and cases had been repaired at considerable expense. Luckily, Shavonda had the store insured so when the settlement check came in we would be reimbursed for what we'd spent. The best thing was, when she filed the claim the insurance company told her it intended to sue Rose for the damages. In other words, they would argue the case with their attorneys, and we would merely be witnesses. Karma is a bitch.
Tuesday was also Ethan's 4th birthday, and we had a small celebration at Shavonda's house, with her family present. There were about twelve people total, including Shavonda's sister Shaunice, Velma and Tamika, who'd also brought Brian. Evidently things were getting serious between then two of them.
Everybody had toys for him, trucks, a lego set, a wooden train set painted like Thomas, and other boy toys. We had cake and ice cream, along with a pizza from Salvatore's in Wilkinsburg. Soon the kids were sound asleep on the floor. I carried them into the space bedroom, which Shavonda had subdivided into a small office on one side, and a storage room on the other side. I'd bought a small mattress for the storage room, which sat on the floor. I laid the kids on this makeshift bed, and tucked them in.
Out in the living room, we played cards until after midnight. I still had a 5am start the next day, so I turned in about ten. Later in the night, I felt Shavonda crawl into bed with me, naked as usual, and snuggle up against me. I now knew what I'd been missing in my marriage. The warmth, physically and emotionally, of somebody who just wanted to be with you, touching you, not expecting anything other than your warmth.
In light of all that had happened, I was glad we hadn't taken matters into our own hands. While it would have been temporarily satisfying to go after Rose with a baseball bat, the legal repercussions would have robbed us of all our aces. We were holding all the high cards and I wanted to keep it that way. Besides, as Shavonda had told me, I didn't have a violent bone in my body, and if I'd done what I fantasized about doing, the guilt would have eaten me alive.
Wednesday night the guys came over for train night. But with the kids there, we didn't formally operate the railroad that night. Instead, we let the kids watch the trains while we ran them about aimlessly. They were enthralled. I'd never really let them in the cellar before, so they'd never seen the trains run. Brittany was old enough that I felt she could handle things, so I taught her how to use one of the controllers, and helped her run a train.
Later, after the kids were asleep, we all sat around the kitchen table. Fred, who had been an occasional visitor, had replaced Vince and was now a regular. Along with Shavonda, Danny and Ziggy, we formed a regular crew of 5. Fred had gained a lot of respect for Shavonda after the blowup with Vince, and her explanation of things from her perspective. In reality, I think having a black woman's perspective helped all of us to see things differently. The world looks a lot different from the other side.
I asked Ziggy if he knew anything about Rose's case. "Well," he replied, "From what I saw they have charged her with two counts each of malicious mischief, ethnic intimidation, vandalism, harassment, and disorderly conduct, and one count each of defiant trespass, breaking and entering, burglary, and risking a catastrophe. It gets better. When she was apprehended, she was hiding out at a friend's house. She attempted to sneak out the back and drive away. We chased her and her vehicle was out of inspection and had an expired plate. We impounded her vehicle. We also added Fleeing to avoid prosecution to the charges. Plus, when she gets out of jail if she so much as spits on the sidewalk she's going to be cited. If all charges stick she's going to get at least ten years."
Shavonda was grinning from ear to ear, with that big beautiful smile of hers. Her eyes were sparkling. "Thank you, Ziggy. We needed some good news. It'd been a rough week. Now it doesn't matter if she leaves us alone. She won't be able to bother us from inside prison. And we'll get to raise the kids right."
After everybody left, I checked on the kids in the upstairs spare bedroom. Still sleeping. Shavonda called my name softly. I watched her disappear naked into the bathroom, her beautiful brown booty swaying provocatively as she disappeared. She peeked around the corner of the door and beckoned. "Come get you a bubble bath. Let's celebrate." I followed, shedding my clothing as I went. In the bathroom, she had a bottle of cherry rum, one of Dr. Pepper, and two glasses filled with ice. She also had her candles placed around the tub, which was filling with warm soapy water.
It was funny. I'd never really liked rum until I met her. Now her favorite drink, black cherry rum and Dr. Pepper, was mine also. Funny, also, how my house displayed her presence a little more every day. Candles. I'd never had candles before her. She loved them, made them, sold them. Her handmade candles were now everywhere in both of our houses. But these were special. When we'd made our first road trip Memorial Day weekend, I'd told her the scent of a pine forest was my favorite scent in the whole world. One that I'd never been able to find in incense or oils. Everything marketed as "pine" smelled more like roach spray to me.
Shavonda, though, had experimented with scented oils until she found the right scent. The one I'd pointed out to her in the mountains. The one that smelled like the shale barrens of my home state. She'd mixed that combination of oils into the candles she was lighting now. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. It smelled like home. "I made these especially for you," she said, reaching out her hand and helping me into the tub. She flipped the light switch and joined me in the bubbles. "I've been working on these for months when I had some down time. I finally found the right scent." Her eyes sparkled in the dancing light.
"I love you, Jefferson Waite," she continued. "You fought for me. If I ever had any doubts I possessed your heart, this week dispelled them. You found a way to get rid of Rose without losing our kids. Notice I said 'our.' I want to spend my life with you, raising them together. You have given me the children I can't have. I love you for that."
What had I said earlier about Leo-Scorpio relationships? That they were filled with intense passions and loyalties? This was all true. But instead of the internal conflicts that astronomers predicted, our relationship had a different arc. Our conflicts came from outside the relationship. And they only made us closer, stronger as a couple. We'd conquered all adversity so far. We still had more adversity to come, but we were in a good position now.
It was sobering to think back on it. In less than a year, we'd gone from a random post on messenger, to being an integral part of each other's lives. And a little over six months since we first met in person, we'd become each other's pillar, the source of strength and comfort everybody needs. We'd celebrated our differences as we built on our commonality. And isn't that what true love is all about? Building a common ground while preserving the very things that attracted us in the first place?
So, there we were, sitting in a tub full of bubbles, facing each other, our legs straddling each other, holding hands and staring into each other's eyes. We'd become completely comfortable with each other, yet we still had that utter fascination with each other that we'd had that first night together.
"You have the most beautiful eyes," Shavonda said. There was no longer any embarrassment for me in her compliments. In fact, they meant the world to me. The fact that the most beautiful woman in the world thought I had beautiful eyes was an affirmation to me that we were right for each other. How could a love so strong be wrong? This wasn't a lopsided affair like I'd had so many times before. This was a partnership of equals, built on friendship and mutual respect.