Love Knows No Color Pt. 10bybwwm4me©
Shavonda and I stared at the two women glaring at us from the couch. They were a study in opposites, each wearing the same expression. Althea was an older version of Shavonda. She had the same dark complexion, almond shaped eyes, wide nose and full lips. She had the same build with a couple extra pounds. The same wide hips and narrow waist. Barbara couldn't look more different. She was a short, stout woman with pale white skin and long blonde hair streaked with gray. But both were madder than hornets. This wasn't going to be good.
"Kids, go play in your room. The grown ups need to talk," I sent the kids scampering off, oblivious to what was about to happen.
"Rose told me everything," Barbara started, staring at Shavonda, who looked wide eyed like she'd seen a ghost. Barbara turned her gaze to me. "Every thing," she repeated, looking me dead in the eye.
"Shavonda Jenkins, how could you?" Althea said in utter contempt. "We raised you better than that. And you, Jason. I'm truly disappointed in you. You two had no right to hurt Rose like that. What would possess you to do something like that? We've lost so many in this family to the streets. I never thought you'd be one of them."
"I'm so sorry, Ms. Barbara," Shavonda said, voice cracking on the verge of tears. "I snapped."
"Rose told you everything?" I asked Barbara. "Or did she only tell you her version? I bet she left this part out." I reached in my coat pocket and pulled out the certified letter. The one from Family Court detailing Rose's attempt to terminate my parental rights, based in part on allegations of Shavonda being a prostitute. I handed it to Barbara who read it and passed it to Althea. "I'm not saying what we did was right, but at least know the whole story before you judge us."
Althea read the letter and gasped. "Shavonda, when did you get arrested for prostitution?" she asked. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"She wasn't arrested." I answered for Shavonda. "We were set up coming home from our engagement party. Somebody called the cops, gave them Shavonda's description, right down to the clothes she wore. They also gave my license plate number and said they saw the 'prostitute' get into my car. The cop followed us, and took Shavonda for questioning. Funny thing. She was never arrested. There was never any evidence. Another funny thing, only the person who'd called police would have known what they were questioning her for. But they wouldn't have known she wasn't arrested."
"It gets better," I continued. "The "arresting" officer decided that since Shavonda was a "prostitute" she wouldn't mind giving a freebie in exchange for her freedom. He was about to assault her, cuffed in the backseat of the patrol car, but luckily got called to the stationhouse before he could do anything. A couple of days later we get this letter, telling us they want to terminate our parental rights over that fake phone call. Funny thing, that call. We had stopped at the gas station on the way home, and Rose saw us in the store. When we came out, she was on a payphone talking to somebody. Rose has, or had, a cellphone. Why would she need to use a payphone?"
"Mrs. Jenkins, the reason we didn't tell you about the incident on Valentine's Day was we didn't want you and your husband taking matters into your own hands. We know people down in Zone 3. They are investigating the whole incident," I explained.
The ladies' expressions had softened. "Don't think I'm not still mad at you two," Barbara said sternly. "But now I understand better. That letter explains a lot. I told Rose to let me handle it. I'm not going to have you two arrested, THIS time. But this isn't going to happen again, is it?"
"No ma'am," I said, Shavonda repeated. "Not ever."
"Because if anything like this EVER happens to my daughter again, not only will you face charges for that incident, but this one as well. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," we replied.
"Honey, I know she's put you through hell," Barbara said to Shavonda. "I don't agree with what she's done. Especially not this." Barbara waved the letter. "But she'll have her day in court. I've tried to tell her to stop. Lord knows I didn't raise her like that. And this thing with family court? I'd have probably kicked her ass myself. You sure put the fear of God into her. She's afraid every time she hears your name. I told her, 'leave that girl alone or next time she'll kill you.'"
"You should have told us," Althea shook her head sadly.
"And what? Have your husband try to hurt the cop that tried to molest his daughter? A black man against a cop? We all know how that'd turn out. You can't tell him about that, ever. You'll lose him," I reasoned with Althea. I turned to Shavonda. "I talked to Ziggy today. He told me some things, off the record. I can't tell you what I know, Ziggy would lose his job. But heads will roll over this."
I turned to Barbara. "How is Rose doing?" I asked.
"She came home from the hospital. They don't want her doing anything for a week. Thursday, she has an appointment with the doctor. He'll determine then if she can go back to work," Barbara told me. "I've known you for ten years now, Jason. I don't know Shavonda well, but she seems like a good girl. I know you two are happy together. I know neither of you would do something like this normally. That is the ONLY reason I've shown mercy. If I thought for one minute you'd be beating my daughter I'd be the first one to call the law."
Althea looked at us, wagging her finger. "Y'all ain't getting off that easy. You're going to pay for a new cell phone for Rose. A good one, as good or better than what you destroyed. You are also going to pick up any costs on her medical care. And you're going to pay to fix her window. You're also going to pay her lost wages until she can get back to work."
"Fair enough," I said.
"Also, I want both of you to apologize to Rose," she said.
Shavonda scowled. "Like HELL I will! She's afraid now. She'll think twice before she tries anything else. If I apologize she'll think I am weak. I ain't no fool!"
"She's right," Barbara agreed. "As long as Rose is afraid maybe she'll act sensibly. Rose wasn't concerned when all she got were court cases. Now that she's gotten hurt maybe she'll think before she acts out."
"Shavonda, baby," Althea questioned, changing the subject. "It's 35 degrees outside. Why were you wearing slippers? You'll catch cold."
I had brought one of the plastic chairs in from the kitchen so Shavonda could get off her feet. She sat down and took her slippers off. The women stared at her slowly healing soles.
"What happened to you?" Barbara asked.
"I took my heels off for the fight. I stepped in the broken glass from the car window. Jason spent a lot of time picking all the glass out of my feet, and he's been pampering me ever since. That first night, until he could get me these slippers, he picked me up and carried me everywhere, even to the bathroom. Just so I wouldn't have to walk on my feet," Shavonda explained. "We haven't been out partying like nothing has happened. We had a rough weekend trying to deal with what we did. Don't think it's been easy for us."
"Honey," Barbara asked Shavonda, "Rose told me you said I was family now. Is that true? Is that how you see me?"
"Yes, ma'am. You ARE family now," Shavonda replied. "Since Jason's kids are my family now, and you're their grandma, that makes you family too. And Rose would be family as well if she wasn't calling me out my name every chance she gets. That's how we are. We embrace people like that. Mama did it with Jason the first day she met him."
"That I did," Althea affirmed. "I was about to cuss that boy out and he hands me his camera and asks me to take their picture. Who does that?"
The women were calmed down now, and we carried on a friendly conversation. Soon they got up to leave. "One more thing, Barbara," I said. "Our hearing for custody is on Friday. I want you to know that no matter how it goes, you'll have access to the kids. You want to see them, just call us. You're welcome anytime."
The rest of the week went fast. Friday morning, we met our attorney before the hearing in Family Court. As attorney of record, he'd gotten served with a copy of the termination papers. Since the court date was so close, the hearing would determine not only the validity of Rose's charges against us, but also determine the permanent custody arrangement. He'd done a good job with researching the added developments in the case on short notice, and had copies of the relevant police reports, and the report from child welfare.
"Rose didn't hurt Ethan physically, according to the report. Wait until the hearing and you'll see what really happened," he told us. "And the prostitution arrest? There is no public record of it, so you're clear there."
Because of the severity of the charges made against us, our case went directly before a judge in a courtroom, instead of a hearing officer in a cubicle. We were assigned to a Judge Suber, who turned out to be a heavyset black woman. Rose had looked uneasy in the waiting room before the hearing, staring at Shavonda nervously the whole time. There was no yelling like she would have done before the fight. Barbara had told us Rose was afraid. Now we saw it with our own eyes. When we entered the courtroom, Rose was visibly shaken. We were all sworn in and testimony began.
Rose represented herself. She had no corroborating evidence of the arrest, because there was none. And she had failed to get a copy of the Child Welfare report as well. The judge was ready to scold Rose, but our attorney provided a copy of the report. He handed it to the judge. She read it, she looked pissed.
"Mrs. Waite," Judge Suber said sternly. "Do you mean to tell me you're going to say Mr. Waite abused your son based on THIS report?" She read out loud from the report. "Anna Butchko, a preschool teacher, told the investigator that Ethan Waite had been told to help the other children pick up the toys in the classroom. Ethan responded by throwing a temper tantrum. When Ms. Butchko tried to hold him to calm him down, Ethan broke free and threw himself against a free-standing toy shelf placed against the wall. His impact rocked the shelf, and it fell over on top of him. There were numerous toys on the shelf when it toppled, and Ethan was pinned under the shelf and toys until help could arrive. "
"Ms. Butchko immediately notified the school nurse via intercom, who notified the mother, Rose Waite. Both arrived soon afterward, and the nurse helped Ms. Butchko lift the heavy shelf from Ethan. During this time, Mrs. Waite loudly berated Ethan, calling him stupid and generally hindering the rescue effort. She had to be escorted from the room and calmed down by security."
"The nurse examined Ethan for injuries and determined that bruises and possible fractures to his legs were severe enough to require emergency care. Mrs. Waite insisted on transport Ethan to the hospital, against the wishes of staff, who wanted an ambulance."
The Judge peered over her glasses at Rose. "There's more." She continued to read. "Ethan was examined by Dr. Bruce Metcalf at Mercy Hospital. The doctor stated that Ethan's injuries were limited to severe bruising to the legs. He also stated that Ethan, in the presence of his mother, said his daddy hurt his legs."
Rose looked white as a ghost. The judge addressed her. "Mrs. Waite, it is reprehensible that when your child sustained injuries requiring hospitalization, your first reaction was to yell at your son, and your second was to blame the child's father for something that happened while he was miles away. And you want me to terminate HIS parental rights?"
The attorney asked, "May I enter into evidence the following on behalf of the plaintiff? I have here two police reports, one from September, and one from November, detailing vandalism of both the plaintiff's personal vehicle, and the plaintiff's fiancé's place of business. Also, I have an arrest report from November detailing the felony and misdemeanor charges the defendant is currently awaiting trial for, pertaining to the incidents previously mentioned. Charges include, but are not limited to, harassment and ethnic intimidation."
The judge looked over the reports, and pointedly asked Rose, "Are these all directed at the father of your children and his fiancé?"
"Yes, your honor," said Rose dejectedly.
"And in light of all the evidence presented here today, you expect me to terminate HIS parental rights and award the children to YOU? It seems to me that he's done an excellent job of trying to put back together what you've actively tried to destroy. You're lucky I don't terminate YOUR rights."
The judge dismissed us to wait her decision. We all sat out in the waiting room along with the other pending cases. Rose sat in a single chair along the wall, while the three of us sat discussing the case, in one of the rows of chairs that filled the waiting room. "Look," I elbowed Shavonda. "We're being watched." Rose was staring at us intently, probably trying to hear our conversation.
Shavonda looked Rose directly in the eye, and mouthed the word "Muncy." Rose's eyes widened and she turned white as a ghost. She quickly got up and moved to another seat.
"What did you say to her?" the attorney asked, curious.
"Muncy. I reminded her where she was going to end up after everything is done," Shavonda explained. She left out the part about Rose thinking Shavonda had people on the inside at Muncy.
A short time later, Judge Suber entered the waiting room, papers in hand. Spotting us, she walked up and handed us a copy of the verdict. "Mr. Waite, I think you'll find my decision to be fair and just. You can appeal within ten days if you disagree, after that the decision is permanent. Good luck to you and your fiancé."
We watched as the judge walked over and handed Rose her copy. I could tell by Rose's body language she was not happy.
The verdict was all we could have asked for. The children were to remain with us. Rose would have visitation every other weekend, from 6pm Friday to 8pm Sunday. She would also have to pick up child care costs and pay $300 a month in child support.
"Let me know if Mrs. Waite is foolish enough to contest this order," the attorney stated. "This is about the best possible outcome for her, another judge might not be so lenient. She could have gotten contempt of court and perjury charges for what she did here." We shook hands and told him we'd keep him posted. "One more thing," he added. "If I were you I would sue that daycare for gross negligence on Ethan's behalf. Those shelves are supposed to have a strap connected to the wall so they can't fall over. Ethan could have been killed."
In the elevator on the way out of the courthouse, Shavonda kissed me deeply. "They're ours now, Jason. We raise them. Nobody else." Her eyes sparkled with elation.
That night, we took the kids out to Chuck E Cheese to celebrate. "It's official," I said to the kids. "You're going to live with me and Ms. Von. Mommy will come to visit you, but you are with us now." I knew, though they were too young to understand what had just happened, they had to have felt the disruption.
Planning the wedding was coming along nicely. We'd picked out the dress the first weekend, and selected the wedding party. Ziggy would be best man, and Tamika the maid of honor. We'd also picked out the wedding invitations and sent them off to the printer.
The invitations read: Mr. and Mrs. James Jenkins are pleased to announce the engagement of their daughter Shavonda Marie Jenkins to Jefferson Scott Waite. You are cordially invited to attend the wedding ceremony, to be held Saturday, May 18 at Bethel AME Church.
We had worked out the list of invitees, there were over a hundred. Most of them came from Shavonda's much larger family, but my whole family and my close friends, those who weren't already in the wedding party, were invited as well.
I had noticed Shavonda had seemed moody lately. It was now mid-March and with the warmer temperatures and increased sunshine, my seasonal depression had waned, but Shavonda's had showed no change. I wondered if the stress was getting to her.
Shavonda had insisted on getting me an engagement ring, even though I told her simply having her say yes was good enough for me. She picked out a simple gold band, encrusted with tiny diamonds, that looked good with her rings. I wore it with pride.
The day came for traffic court. I had to contest the tickets, because they would affect my commercial driver's license. I was prepared with photos of the intersections where I'd allegedly run the stop signs, showing that the signs didn't exist. I knew I had the case won. But something told me to also take the photos I had of the engagement party. I went to the courtroom alone. Shavonda had to pick up the wedding invitations from the printer, but promised to join me when she was able.
Traffic court was held in a courtroom where the spectators' seats were filled with other pending traffic cases. The police officers had their own separate waiting room. I sat in a seat and waited for my case to be called.
When it came up, I approached the bench to plead my case, folder in hand. It was then I noticed Officer Shoemacher. I'd hoped he wouldn't have shown up, I would have won the case by default. No matter, I was on solid ground. The magistrate swore us both in, then Shoemacher laid out his case.
"The defendant was reported to be in Colver way picking up a prostitute. I observed him in a car matching the description down to the license plate, with a black woman in his car. I followed them down Colver way for several blocks, then observed them pull into a secluded parking space between two buildings. When I circled the block and pulled up in the alley behind their car, I got out and observed the defendant kissing the woman with his hand up her dress."
"Prostitute? Are you sure you want to go there?" I asked the officer.
"Mr. Waite, you'll get your turn!" The magistrate seemed pissed. This was not going well.
Shoemacher continued, "I detained the prostitute and took her to the Zone 3 police station. I also wrote Mr. Waite tickets for running 3 stop signs and told him not to let me catch him in that alley again."
"Mr. Waite," the magistrate growled, "Present your defense."
"How dare you call her a prostitute!" I was seething.
"Mr. Waite, you will address the court, not the officer." I was certainly not making friends with the magistrate.
"Your, honor," I began. "To start with, the woman involved was not a prostitute. She was my fiancé." I heard the door to the room softly close. My back was to it, so I didn't see who came in. The magistrate looked up to see who entered. Shoemacher looked like he'd seen a ghost. I turned around. Shavonda and Ziggy were standing against the wall next to the door. "Officer," I asked, "Do you see the alleged prostitute in this room?"
The magistrate looked at the Shoemacher, who responded. "Yes, she is standing against the wall next to the police officer."
"Your honor, may I call witnesses?" I asked. The magistrate nodded. "I'd like to call Shavonda Jenkins to the stand." Shavonda steeped forward and was sworn in.
"Ms. Jenkins," I started, feeling like Matlock. "Where were you on the night of February 14, just before midnight?"
"I was in your car. We'd just returned home from our engagement party."
"Did you say home?" The magistrate's eyebrows raised as he looked at her.
"Yes, home. We were pulled into Jason's parking space, preparing to go into the house. He kissed me. Then the cop showed up, called me a prostitute and cuffed me and threw me in the back of his car."
"And you say that you are engaged?" The magistrate was really interested now.