Parked behind a cab van outside the William P. Hobby airport, Gabriel’s eyes scanned the crowd strolling out of the sliding door dragging their luggage onto the dock. He glanced down at his watch and clenched his jaw, wishing he’d taken his time driving. Now he’d have to wait a few minutes longer than anticipated.
Leaning back against the chair, he lifted his eyes to the rearview mirror, watching a woman run into a man’s arms and share a long kiss.
His brow furrowed slightly as a memory of the eagerness fluttering in his breast as he waited in the terminal entrance of the Abbeville airport many years ago, holding a bouquet of fresh lilies to give to her. Young and foolishly in love, he couldn’t wait to hold her in his arms and tell her how much he’d missed her.
A tap on the window pulled Gabriel from his reverie. He moved his eyes to the passenger’s window, his jaw tightening involuntarily. Jeremiah gravely watched him on the sidewalk, a bag slung over his broad shoulders.
Pressing down the lock button, Gabriel turned the ignition key to start the car just as Jeremiah slid into the passenger’s seat beside him.
“Thanks,” Jeremiah mumbled stiffly, buckling the belt across his lap. He folded his arms across his chest and propped his head back as if he meant to sleep immediately.
Gabriel didn’t respond at first, pulling out of the parking spot to merge onto the traffic lane. He glanced once at Jeremiah, clocking his friend’s disheveled appearance. Rumpled clothes and uncombed hair. Even his dark skin seemed lackluster and dry. Pulling his gaze back to the road, he sighed. “How did it go?”
Jeremiah had his eyes closed but he managed a tired smile. “It was a good service…” his voice shook and Gabriel peeked at him from the corner of his eye, noting the twitch in Jeremiah’s jaw. “She’s without pain now, so it’s good.”
Facing the road again, Gabriel squeezed the steering wheel. He should let Jeremiah grieve in peace but something bothered him. Once on the interstate highway to home, Gabriel cleared his throat. “Did you visit his grave?”
There was a noted pause before Jeremiah sighed. “Hmm. Aunt Neve’s in the same compound. A block or two down from his.” His eyes remained closed, his face turned toward the window.
Gabriel swallowed hard, flexed his fingers over the steering wheel. “It’s been a long while since we all gathered there. Is it being taken care of?” He’d been by there a few years ago, remembering how he’d spent time plucking out the weeds from around the site, mourning over the neglect of his friend’s grave.
“Seemed like it. Nothing out of place ever since you spoke with the custodian.” Jeremiah paused and Gabriel held his breath. “It’s a pity though….”
“What is?” Gabriel asked, glancing at Jeremiah’s profile before switching lanes.
Gabriel stiffened, fingers squeezing the steering wheel.
“It was the beginning of the end for all of us.”
Gabriel clenched his teeth tightly. “No it wasn’t. You and I know it wasn’t his death that caused that.” He didn’t apologize for his cold tone, righteous anger coming over him. He couldn’t stop the dark memories of their adolescence from crowding his thoughts. “Don’t make that mistake again.”
Jeremiah’s shoulders stiffened. “Are you picking a fight with me, Gabriel?”
Gabriel flicked the windshield wipers with great force, the traffic jam up ahead only provoking his anger. “Let’s just get one thing straight, Jeremiah. Whatever you’re referring to was severed long before Maurice’s death.”
“Right.” Jeremiah grunted, shifting closer to the window.
Gabriel threw a seething glare at his friend and faced the traffic with a scowl.
For the remainder of the long drive home, the two friends didn’t exchange a word until Gabriel pulled the SUV into the driveway.
Jeremiah didn’t bother offering a word of thanks, climbing down and slamming the door behind him.
Gabriel watched with clenched teeth as Jeremiah stormed off and just as he started to reverse out of the driveway, he caught Sheena waving furiously at him as she waddled down the pavement to meet him.
“Sheena…” he hesitated, rolling down the window. His brow furrowed in concern as she shielded her face from the drizzling rain.
“Gabe,” Sheena gave him a kind smile. “Thanks for bringing him home. You’re such a good friend to him.” She reached in to squeeze his shoulder before pulling up a covered bowl to the window.
Gabriel fought back a derisive snort as he accepted the bowl. “What’s this?”
“A new recipe for you and Dee to try,” Sheena said proudly, her eyes dancing with delight. “Don’t eat it until you get home.”
He managed a smirk, placing the bowl on the empty passenger’s chair before glancing over her head at the closed front door. His smile waned, guilt settling in. “Take care of him.”
Sheena nodded solemnly and stepped away from the car as Gabriel pulled out of the driveway. “Drive safely,” she called, waving.
Gabriel glanced down once at the bowl of food, his brow furrowed. Deidre would interrogate him about Jeremiah, ask if they’d reconciled. He scowled, turning back to the road. She couldn’t leave well enough alone.
As he turned the corner, something caught his eye just across the bend, at the kiddie playground. The car his son Obadiah had inherited on his sixteenth birthday. It was the only car in the graveled parking lot. Squinting at it just to make sure, Gabriel took a detour, uneasiness replacing his fury for just a moment.
“No word yet?” Deidre eyed the calendar up on the wall, frowning. “Didn’t Sammie tell you where she was going?”
“No Mom,” Karen replied, clearly exasperated. “She hardly takes vacation time off. Let her be for a little while.”
Deidre bit her bottom lip, feeling uneasy. “That’s what I’m worried about. Your sister’s a homebody. She’s not spontaneous like you or Obadiah. Why the sudden change?”
Karen sighed. “She’s stressed, Mom. If I was her, I’d take a year off and travel the world.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better, Karen.” Deidre leaned against the countertop. “Are you sure this is just a vacation? Something’s not right.”
“Mom, please relax. Sammie’s fine.”
And before Deidre could respond, the door swung open. She straightened as a stormy-faced Gabriel and a penitent-looking Obadiah stood in the doorway. “Karen, I’ll call you back.” She disconnected the call before hearing Karen’s protests.
“Get inside,” Gabriel snapped at their youngest, Obadiah. “Now.”
Deidre eyed Obadiah’s disheveled form, raising a brow at his wrinkled shirt. “What’s going on?”
Gabriel ignored her, scowling at Obadiah. “Go pack your things and meet me downstairs.”
Obadiah edged around both parents and stomped up the stairs.
“Don’t make me come after you!” Gabriel barked, eyes blazing with fury.
Cold slithered down her back at his fierce expression. She hadn’t seen him this angry in so long. “What’s going on? What happened?” she grabbed for his arm, eyes widening at his taut muscles. Her eyes jerked to his face, searching for any explanation.
His dark eyes flashed with rage. “You won’t believe where I found your son. What I found him doing.” His body shook with barely-repressed ire.
Deidre’s heart clenched painfully, terrible thoughts crowding her head. “What…” she licked her dry lips. “What did you see?”
Gabriel shook his head in disbelief as if he couldn’t even bring himself to tell her. “I…” He closed his eyes for a second, released a haggard breath that sent cold shivers down Deidre’s legs. “He was in the car. With a girl,” he said, his lips curling in disdain.
“W-what are you saying?” Deidre shook her head, throat tight. “No, don’t say that to me.” She suddenly felt light-headed and turned toward the couch.
He seized her shoulders and pulled her to face him, glaring at her. “Your son was in there, Deidre! Tangled up with a girl. In the back of my car!”
Her body swayed, blood leached from her face. Deidre shook her head, sagging against Gabriel. “No.” Not her baby boy.
Then Gabriel swung his furious gaze over her shoulder, to the stairs. To Obadiah. As he released her, she shivered, wrapping her arms around herself.
He breezed past her to the stairs. “Did you pack your things?”
Deidre whirled around with her heart in her throat. “W-where are you taking him?” She gaped as Gabriel grabbed Obadiah by the collar, pulling him down the stairs. She stood in his path, met his fierce glare. “Where are you taking my son?”
His jaw clenched tightly, eyes hardening. Obadiah’s eyes remained downcast.
She steeled her spine and tilted her chin. “He’s not going anywhere until we talk.”
“Talk about what?” he gritted out. “I refuse to have any son of mine acting like a good-for-nothing.” He jerked Obadiah’s collar. “Get in the car.”
Deidre had no choice but to step aside, her heart racing in her chest as Gabriel pushed Obadiah out the door, wondering what possessed her once gentle husband.
Later that night, Gabriel stood in the doorway of the empty room, staring at his son’s empty mattress. He’d been too harsh tonight, lashing out at his son without stopping to listen. Stepping inside, he flicked on the light switch. Regret squeezed his chest as he surveyed the room.
He trudged to the bed, perching on the edge just beside Obadiah’s open book bag. Tugging out a textbook, he skimmed the pages, reading his son’s illegible scrawl along the margin.
His lips twitched at the highlighted print.
This was the studious work of his son who dreamed of becoming an engineer one day. The thought of anything jeopardizing his son’s future had him seeing red.
Spotting that car today sent him on a tirade he hadn’t experienced since college. It beckoned a very dark memory he preferred hidden, never to remember again. But it came anyway and Gabriel closed his eyes, reliving it once more.
On a dim Wednesday in the fall of 1970, Gabriel stepped out of the Long-Jones hall in Grambling State University, jumpy with excitement. He could barely contain it, his footsteps quick and light as he crossed the lawn toward the Auditorium building where Odetta waited for him.
Passing Jewett Hall, Gabriel grinned at a group of classmates strolling his way. “Congratulations,” one of them called out as he passed. With a smile and a wave, he strode past them, Odetta on his mind.
Though he was a few minutes late, he knew she would wait. He knew how to make it worth her while. Grinning, Gabriel rubbed the envelope in his right pocket and quickened his steps toward the clubhouse.
Rounding the front of a one-story brick building, Gabriel recognized the tail end of Jeremiah’s beat-up Impala parked on the corner of a rock-paved intersecting road.
Shrugging off the niggling sensation creeping up the back of his neck, he took a detour to investigate. Approaching the back of the car, he heard muffled voices inside. He slowed his steps, curious.
The annoying sense of unease returned, warning him that Odetta would not appreciate his delay. That he could seek Jeremiah out later. Still, he had to wonder why Jeremiah avoided him since he announced his intentions to propose to Odetta after his fellowship application was approved. Though his friend expressed his well wishes, there was sadness in his smile that stayed with Gabriel all week.
He had to know if Jeremiah was okay. Then he’d go find Odetta.
Moving to the driver’s side, Gabriel bent and squinted in through the foggy window. He could make out the broad back of his friend and his lips quirked mischievously. Jeremiah was with a woman. Finally!
Unable to help himself, he grabbed the rusty door handle and jerked it open. “Jere, you sneaky dog—” the rest of his teasing taunt trailed off.
Jeremiah and his lady friend sprang apart.
Gabriel’s smile faded quickly as Jeremiah moved slightly, his gaze falling on the wide-eyed stare of none other than his Odetta.
He took a step back, Jeremiah stumbling out of the car after him. “Gabriel…”
He couldn’t hear or see Jeremiah, only Odetta’s beautiful eyes filled with tears, dark mascara running down her soft cheek and her rose-bud lips trembling. Gabriel inhaled sharply, his constricted lungs screaming for air.
“Gabe, I—” Jeremiah grabbed his hand.
Seeing red, something snapped in him. Gabriel flung a fist into Jeremiah’s face, sending Jeremiah staggering backwards onto the hood of the car.
Odetta’s frightened screams rang in his ears as he grabbed Jeremiah by the collar and flung him toward the dewy grass.
“Gabe…?” Deidre’s soft voice pulled him out just before he drove another fist into Jeremiah’s face.
He jerked his eyes to the door just as Deidre clad in her nightgown stepped into the room, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Dee…” he croaked through dry lips.
“What are you doing in here?” Her voice was still affected from her crying.
His chest tightened with regret and sadness. Gabriel looked down at the open textbook in his hands, feeling the tears well up in his eyes. “I just don’t understand why this happened. What did I do wrong?”
Deidre quietly settled beside him on the bed and gently rested her head on his shoulder.