ou have been so wonderful, taking your brother in hand,” LaTonya said, sitting across the long shiny black table from her son Dwayne.
She was careful to keep her voice modulated, mindful that, above all else, what Dwayne needed to hear was praise. That’s what Cora McAdams had told her, anyway.
She’d gone to Cora for help getting Darrell back, or advice, or — well, she wasn’t sure what. She just didn’t know where else to turn. George had his hands full now that he was back with his wife. DaShawn, never. She couldn’t reveal herself to the women who worked for her at the spa. And friends — she hadn’t had time for friends in more years that she could remember.
But Cora’s daughter, she was friendly somehow with Darrell. Cora was a single mother, dealing with difficult circumstances. Of all people in the world, Cora, LaTonya hoped, could help.
“I certainly feel it’s my duty under the Lord to help,” said Dwayne now, nodding his big head, accepting his due.
He wouldn’t think any of it was bullshit, Cora had said. He’d lap it all up.
“The boy needs a strong role model,” LaTonya said.
“Of course,” Dwayne said, nodding again. His father’s head had been huge like that. They were both bull-headed, in every sense of the word.
LaTonya gazed at her hands, laid flat out in front of her on the table. Give me my son, she thought. Give me my fucking son.
“I’m so glad I was able to rely on you to vouch for him with the police,” LaTonya said.
“I was happy to do it,” said Dwayne, “since you could not be found.”
“I was at work, and then at class, and then I was studying for my medical school tests with George Forrest….”
“Pursuing your own ambitions when you should have been home with the boy.”
LaTonya breathed in deeply through her nose. “I am that child’s sole support, just as I was your sole support. I am trying to make a better life for him, to send him to college, as I sent you and your brother to college….”
“A child needs a parent at home.”
“And what would you have me do then, go on welfare? I’ve heard you rail against that, from the pulpit….”
“The boy is out of control!” cried Dwayne, waving his finger in the air.
“He is not out of control,” LaTonya said, her voice rising. “He’s a good boy, Dwayne. Maybe not as almighty perfect as you, but….”
Oh no, she was losing it now. Don’t get angry, Cora had said. This man will not be bullied…..
LaTonya took a deep breath. “I just want to see my son, Dwayne.”
Dwayne’s wife Meredith was sitting on one of the white-cushioned dining room chairs at the side of the room. She leaned forward. “He’s right downstairs,” she said in her sweet voice. “I’ll get him….”
“No!” Dwayne roared, getting to his feet. “This is none of your affair, Meredith. The boy is under my care now, Mother, and I think it’s best that he not have any contact with you until he makes substantial changes in his attitude.”
Dwayne had taken away the boy’s cell phone, had not allowed him near a computer.
“But he’s my son. My child, Dwayne. I have a right to see him.”
“Not in the eyes of the police, you don’t. Or in the eyes of the Lord.”
LaTonya rose up. As she lifted her hands from the table, she was dismayed to see her handprints outlined in sweat on its glossy surface.
“Give me my son,” she said, her voice rising. “I want my son. Darrell,” she called out. “Darrell!”
There was the pounding of footsteps on the stairs and Darrell burst into the room.
“Mom!” he cried, sounding like the child he still was. “Mommy!”
He made a move for her and she toward him, arms open. But Dwayne was too fast. He angled himself between them, grabbed Darrell by the front of his shirt.
“Meredith, call the police,” he said through clenched teeth.
LaTonya shrank back. It seemed a miracle that no one, including Cora, knew about Darrell’s involvement in the fire, and she wasn’t about to do anything that might enlighten them. She wanted her son home with her, but more than that, she wanted him free, and whole. “Don’t do that, Dwayne.”
“I will do that,” said Dwayne, “unless you leave immediately.”
“Mommy, please,” Darrell pleaded.
“I’m sorry, son,” said LaTonya. “But you’ll have to stay here with your brother.”