A struggling African American musician, Renay married Jerome Lee when she discovered she was pregnant with his child. Yet even before their daughter, Denise, was born, Renay realized what a terrible mistake she had made, tying herself to a violent, abusive alcoholic. Then, while performing at an upscale supper club, Renay met Terry Bluvard. Beautiful, wealthy, and white, Terry awakened feelings that the talented black pianist had never realized she possessed—and before long, Renay was leaving the nightmare of Jerome Lee behind and moving with little Denise into Terry’s world of luxury and privilege.
Now, in this strange and exciting new place, Renay can experience for the first time what it is to have everything she needs for herself and her little girl. The rules here are different—often confusing and sometimes troubling—but in Terry’s home, and in Terry’s arms, Renay can be who she truly is . . . and be loved with caring tenderness and respect. Yet the storm clouds of her previous life still threaten, and Terry’s love alone may not be enough to protect Renay and her little girl from the tragedy that looms on the horizon.
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About the Author
Ann Allen Shockley is an acclaimed writer of novels and short fiction, as well as a librarian, critic, and editor. She is best known for her book Loving Her, which was the first novel to feature an interracial lesbian relationship. A self-described black feminist, Shockley writes about the struggles and the achievements of individuals battling sexism, racism, and homophobia. Her other works include the novel Say Jesus and Come to Me and The Black and White of It, a collection of short stories. She currently lives in Tennessee.
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By Ann Allen Shockley
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1974 Ann Allen Shockley
All rights reserved.
The April rain, insistent in its steady drumming, forced itself like an angry intruder against the narrow apartment windows, awakening her. She lay very still in the bed, not wanting to open her eyes to the grayness she knew was stalking the room. There were no sounds from the tiny alcove across the hall: Denise was still asleep. Despite last night, her daughter could yet sleep the child's rest of quick forgetfulness.
She moved her foot tentatively across the bed to assure herself that he wasn't there. No, he really wasn't there. The realization drowned out the rain and caused new life to flow within her. She opened her eyes in relief. He was gone. This meant it had to be today that she would do what she should have done long ago.
She sprang up, throwing the covers back in wild disarray. Quickly she ran across the hall to where the little girl slept curled up with her arms above her head.
If she wouldn't think about it—just do. Don't think. Not one second for thought. "Denise—darling—wake up!" Impatiently she shook the child. "We have to go away. Hurry!"
"Mommy?" The dark eyes, so like his, opened slowly. "Away?"
"Yes. Come. I have to pack our things."
"We going to Aunt Fran's?" Anticipating adventure, a new game, the child sat up quickly.
Opening drawers and flinging the child's clothes into a suitcase, she shook her head. "No, not this time."
"You and Daddy had a fuss again last night, didn't you?"
Had she heard it all? But hadn't she been exposed to the other nights and days of ceaseless argument? The hate spilling out in spiteful memories, the garbage accusations. Marital war more deadly than impersonal group battles. Two people piercing the armor of emotional frailty, crippling the spirit, wounding the heart, making each less human in the other's sight.
"Hurry and get dressed," she urged, moving to her room, where she continued to empty drawers and fill suitcases with the clothes she would need—especially the two black dresses for work. A whiskey bottle on the dresser blocked the path to her lipstick and powder. Reaching behind it, she saw that he had emptied it. Going to the kitchen to pour Denise a glass of milk, she found a half-empty bottle on the kitchen sink. When she handed Denise the milk, she saw a third smaller bottle, unopened, partially hidden near the bathroom.
"What's wrong with your face, Mommy? It's all puffed up." The milk made a light, thin handlebar curving the mouth where dimples garnished each side in deep half-moons. Born for luck, they all said, just like her daddy had spat her out.
"I must have slept too hard on it," she replied, averting her gaze. Lies, pouring out with ease once the stopper's been released. The back of a large black hand striking out in angry rebuttal against her and all the other black women before and after her.
She dressed quickly, putting on her raincoat and helping Denise into hers. "Let's go," she said, handing Denise the smaller bag and picking up the others.
"Where we going, Mommy?" Uplifted face brimming with excitement.
How to tell a seven-year-old where you were going? Was it even possible she was going there? "To a friend's," she replied quietly, and that was all.
She closed the door, knowing it was for the last time. She would never go back again. Not to that, or to him.
"We going to leave Daddy?"
Had she spoken the words, or were the thoughts that strong? "Yes, we're going to leave Daddy." To go where she wanted to go—the only place she wanted to be.
The rain made sounds like mockery against the cab's windows.
"Renay—you came!" The woman stood framed in the doorway, surprise and happiness brightening her face.
Renay's thoughts went first to the child, holding trustingly to her hand, staring up at a woman whom she had never seen. Had she done what was right? If only the child weren't involved, she thought, looking at the tall, slim woman with the shag-cut auburn hair, breasts small and firm under the white blouse opened low at the neck, hips slim in the blue slacks. The face was not pretty; it was too pale, as if she weren't out in the daylight enough, and the pointed nose was slightly too long over the thin lips. But the countenance showed strength and kindness, and the gray eyes were warm with a concern Renay hadn't seen in eyes for a long time.
"Are you all right?" the woman questioned anxiously, voice low. "Renay—"
Renay swayed, feeling weak from the night and the morning, and from seeing the woman now as she had always seen her, but not as she thought the child saw her. "Yes, Terry, I'm all right—now."
In the large apartment there was a small room just off the den where Terry did her writing. Here they placed Denise. It was a pleasant room with a television set, a studio couch, a large square window overlooking the park across the street, and shelves of books filling the walls.
Then they sat in the kitchen: Terry drinking coffee, and Renay coffee laced with brandy because Terry thought she needed it. She had not known that she needed it, but Terry had known, as always. It seemed to pour strength back into her and to warm her. Even the rain seemed cheerful now.
"He hit you."
It was a statement, not a question. She saw Terry's long fingers tense around the cup.
"Yes," she said quietly, ashamed that Terry should know.
Terry's hand trembled slightly as she reached for a pack of cigarettes. Lighting one, she tossed her head back in the familiar way, blowing wavering smoke trails above her head. "She's a darling—your little girl. I'm glad you brought her."
God, how she can read my mind. The words made her want to reach over, and she did, warming the woman's hand with her own.
"She apparently looks like him, but I think she's like you. Does she play the piano too?"
"A little. I've been giving her lessons." She took a deep breath, her cup making a jarring sound against the fragile saucer as she set it down. "The piano's gone. He sold it."
"What! How could he? Music is you!"
She shrugged, thinking, how can he do any of the things he does? "Drinking is an expensive habit. He said he needed the money." She gazed reflectively into the bottom of her cup. "Living with an alcoholic is hell—almost unbelievable. What he does, how he thinks and acts—everything is dependent upon how each drink affects him. One can put him in good spirits, two make him sad, and a lot of them, angry and belligerent. Then he just strikes out at everything around him. He starts pitying himself, and each drink helps him more to blame his weakness on someone other than himself—usually me."
"Are you going to work tonight?" Terry asked through tightened lips, deliberately focusing on the cigarette.
"It's Sunday, remember? The club's closed," Renay laughed, not really laughter but a spring of release.
"You don't ever have to go, you know."
"I want to. I'm lost without my music. I have to keep that part of me." Something to take her out of herself, to keep her from wallowing in the mire of self-pity.
"Sunday ..." Terry savored the word, crushing out the cigarette. "For the first time, we have all day together."
"We have to be careful," Renay reminded her softly, thinking of the child.
"I know. Like married people," Terry smiled, bending to brush her cheek against the hand holding hers. "They wait for night."
Before the night came, they made a game with Denise of unpacking the suitcases and filling drawers. Because they were hungry and Terry didn't like to cook, Renay dug deeply into the kitchen cabinets and huge refrigerator for food. She came up with a dinner of broiled lamb chops, canned peas, instant mashed potatoes, and pear salad. They ate with undisguised delight. It seemed like a banquet.
"I can see that you seldom eat at home," Renay admonished as they did the dishes.
"It's too much trouble. I like your cooking, though. Tomorrow we'll stock up."
That evening they read the New York Times while Denise eagerly scanned the mountain of comic books Terry had gone to the drugstore
to buy. In between, they worked a puzzle with Denise, listened to records, and said unspoken things to each other with eyes and touches and thoughts.
Finally Denise said: "Mommy, I'm sleepy."
"Off to bed then, darling." Renay took her hand, but the girl drew back.
"Are we going to stay here with her?"
Renay closed her eyes and tried to frame words, but they had already been framed.
"Of course, dear," Terry said gently. "Don't you think you'd like to live here with me?"
"Is Mommy going to be your maid?"
"No. Your mommy's my friend—my very dearest friend."
The girl frowned. "Daddy says the only thing we are to white people are maids and cooks and people who do dirty work. But Daddy's a salesman. He goes to beauty shops and sells stuff for hair."
Terry bent low, bringing her face close to the child. "I'm sure he must be a very good salesman."
The girl looked steadily at her. "I like you. You're not mean and evil like Daddy says white people are."
"There're mean and evil and good people everywhere. And I'm glad you like me."
Suddenly Denise smiled. "Can I call you Aunt Terry, since you're my Mommy's best friend?"
"Goodnight, Aunt Terry."
All the lights were out in the apartment except the one in Terry's room. Terry had made them a nightcap while Renay showered, and now Renay was in the bed, sipping from a tall glass. Terry, still dressed, was sitting in a chair near the bed.
Finishing her drink, Renay set the glass on the nightstand. It seemed as though she had been here many times like this, watching Terry with her head back, eyes half- closed, drink held in her long fingers.
After a while, Terry got up and sat beside her on the edge of the bed. Her fingers traced a feather-light path across the high golden-hued cheekbones, the small nose and full mouth, lingering at the mass of black hair fanned out on the pillow. "Do you think it's all right now? Is she asleep?"
Renay trembled, as she always did when Terry touched her. The contact was electric, causing her body to shudder in a fine, delicate storm. "Yes —," she said almost inaudibly.
Quickly, Terry turned off the light. There was a rustling of clothes and Terry was there inside with her, exactly as she wanted her to be. The familiar smooth nakedness of Terry's skin pressed against hers as the long arms drew her close. It was then, at that moment, that she began to cry.
"Hush, darling. Don't. Everything is all right now. Forget him. You're here with me. You both are."
The tears subsided as quickly as they had come. They had been like a summer rain, light, elusive, over in a moment, but bringing with them the relief she so needed.
Terry's lips stroked her forehead, brushed her cheeks to dry the tears, and moved to burn her mouth. It was always like this—evoking the same weakness, draining her, plunging her into a raging sea. It had never been like that with him. Terry's hands were so light, so knowing, like whispers on her breasts, wings on her stomach, so vibrantly alive in the dark mass where love is made. Her fingers probed tenderly, touching, causing Renay to moan slightly in anticipation. Her hips moved gently, urging the perceiving hands, while her own hands smoothed the ivory back poised above her. It had been done like this before, so there was no need for words. Only the slight pressure of her fingers told Terry that she was ready, more than ready, and the fastening together of woman and woman began.
Then the unison of love: the rhythm like a slow mounting blues that grew and grew into a crescendo that left her weak, but still strong enough to make the music and the feeling better. The indefinable pain lifted her to the point where her arms and legs clasped the back that was making the music heighten until the blues ended in a cry of ecstasy—the pain so sweet and yet so sharp that it hurt before subsiding in a low tremor.
"Terry—oh—God, I love you," Renay whispered in weak, spent passion.
Terry placed a kiss smaller than a second on her mouth. "Are you all right?"
"Yes —" The sweat stood out in tiny beads above her lips and her body was damp. The love-smell surrounded them.
"I've made you happy. I'm glad. We have all night—tomorrow—forever, if you want it. Rest now."
Renay turned toward Terry, resting her head in the crook of Terry's arm. For the first time in a long while, she slept soundly.CHAPTER 2
On Monday, Denise had to go to school. Routines had to be followed again. Terry gave Renay the keys to her car, and she and Denise drove back into the part of town they had left the day before. Here the fringed grayness was encased in crumbling, low- rent apartment houses inhabited by struggling blacks and a few blue-collar white immigrants who had not yet saved enough money to move away. In this part of the city, the streets were narrow and crowded, inflamed with wasted grown-up faces and too-old aggressive children.
As she let Denise out at the large faded brick building, she thought again about transferring her to the modern new school near them as Terry had wanted her to do. Again, she decided against it—the school year was almost over.
On the way back, she stopped at the huge supermarket near Terry's apartment to buy food with the money Terry had carelessly stuffed into her purse. Inside, she took her time wheeling the cart slowly up and down the sparkling aisles, noting the contrasts between this market and the markets where she usually shopped. There the floors were cracked and dirty, littered with cigarette butts and decaying scraps of produce; the meats were tinged with brown, as were the wilted vegetables marked with exorbitant prices. Here she carefully scanned the cans for the best brands and lingered over the choice meats with their bright red colors temptingly encased in cellophane wrappings. She found herself humming along with the soft music siphoned in from nowhere.
She shopped in careless pleasure, knowing that she did not have to worry about prices or about embarrassment at the checkout counter at having to put back some of the items because she did not have enough money. She surveyed the exotic food section, picking up caviar, terrapin stew, turtle soup and rattlesnake meat like a child marveling over the wonder of it all. It was so different. Even shopping was fun for a change.
Next, she inspected the wine counter with its various cocktail mixes. Knowing that Terry liked to experiment with drinks, she chose a bottle of Bristol Cream and one each of manhattan and martini mix. Moving on to the bakery section, she selected, for Denise, dainty pink and white frosted cupcakes sprinkled with nuts. The cart was soon full, and she felt a twinge of conscience as the clerk handed her the small amount of change.
It was a twenty-minute drive back to the parkway where Terry lived in the expensive high-rise apartment house with its self-service elevator, echoless carpeted halls, and people whom you rarely saw but knew were there.
By the time she had returned with the groceries it was noon. Terry must have been listening, for as soon as Renay set the bundles on the floor to fumble for the key, the door opened.
"Where on earth have you been?" Terry questioned anxiously, helping her with the heavy bags. "I have a surprise for you. Come and see!"
There it was: a shiny new baby grand piano in the corner by the fireplace, just as if it belonged there and had in fact been there all the time. "Like it?"
Renay was so long in answering that a shadow brushed Terry's eyes. "Well—do you?"
It was what she had always wanted but what her mother could never afford. The one piano in her Kentucky home had been a second-hand, yellow-keyed, scarred upright. To pay for it, her mother had scrubbed white folks' floors and washed their clothes. But she had loved it. She had kept it polished, and she practiced every day.
From sixth grade through high school, she had taken one lesson a week, walking three long blocks through the so-called uppity black residential section, to Miss Pearl Sims's place. Miss Sims taught music at the high school where her father was principal. On Saturdays, she gave piano lessons in her home, mostly to help promising young black musicians. There was no one else in town to teach them.
Excerpted from Loving Her by Ann Allen Shockley. Copyright © 1974 Ann Allen Shockley. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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