A War of the Heart

Pixabay.com

Chapter 1

Another tense night in Milwaukee. Three separate shootings occurred on the same block of Vliet last night around eleven o’clock. 

The toaster popped. Suzanne reached over and put the pieces of toast on the plates alongside the scrambled eggs and sausage links. She had just turned to set them down on the table when Chad walked in. Without missing a beat, she turned the TV off and silenced the reporter.

She smiled at her husband. Water still glistened in his sandy-blond hair from the shower. Though he had looked good in the shower earlier, he was just as good looking in his dark blue uniform. The man made one sexy cop.

He gave her a kiss as she set the plates down. “Smells good.” He pulled out the kitchen chair and sat down. “What are you plans on your day off?”

Suzanne poured the orange juice and sat down across from her husband of three years. “I’m going over to Olivia’s. Getting my cornrows put in today.”

“Ouch.” Chad cringed. “Well, good luck with that.” He bit into his toast and winked at her.

With a laugh, she sprinkled salt on her eggs. “Thanks.” Her face sobered. “I wish you didn’t have to go….” She lowered her fork to her food and pushed it around the plate. Thoughts of the news reporter gave her a sinking feeling in her gut. 

Chad reached out and took her hand. “It will be alright. I’ve got a good group of men working with me.”

Suzanne pursed her lips and sighed. It was a tense time in Milwaukee. For several months, racial tensions across the nation had been increasing. It had not erupted in the city yet, but she wasn’t too sure that wouldn’t change. She had heard the grumbling and knew it wasn’t far off. Having her husband in the line of fire didn’t sit well, especially as a white man.

Later, the gnawing in her stomach intensified. She had been in her seat at the beauty shop for two hours listening at the conversation around her. At first, it had centered around the fact that Aletha’s husband had been seen leaving Josey’s place a little bit after dawn. Suzanne had just listened as she focused on not wincing as her hair was worked on. She hated the idle gossip that went around the shop, but she also knew she could do nothing about it.

Now, the conversation had taken a dark turn to the tension in the city. The body language around her let her know the topic even if the words had not. 

“Simon got pulled over this morning.” A woman who claimed her name was Cinnamon broke the lighthearted mood with just the one statement. 

“What he do this time?” Barbara laughed as she put the coffee cup near her lips. “Probably got caught with another bag of dope in his car.” Others laughed with her.

Cinnamon pursed her lips and glared at Barbara. “No, only because he was black.”

“Well, that’s no surprise.” Jada laughed. “They do it all the time.”

“So what happened?” The stylist, Chloe, spoke up behind Suzanne. 

“They roughed him up. What did you expect? Kept calling him nigga and such. Why can’t they just leave us alone?”

“Obviously all white cops,” Jada added.

Suzanne stiffened but kept her mouth shut. It wasn’t  the first time she had heard slams against police officers–particularly white ones. She was in a tough place, but she knew that it was safer to keep her mouth shut most of the time.

“Of course.” Cinnamon shifted in her seat and earned a glare from the stylist working on her.

“They always doing that. They just jealous and scared of us.” Jada waved a hand with long, painted nails.

“Did he have drugs?” Suzanne broke her silence. 

Cinnamon pulled her head to the side. “So what if he did? They didn’t know that when they pulled him over. They did that because he was black.”

Suzanne closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “It had nothing to do with him having a record and driving suspiciously through a heavy drug area. Maybe we need to point fingers when there are reasons to and not when we just want to divert blame.”

Chloe tugged on her hair, warning her to keep her mouth shut. The woman sighed when it was obviously too late.

“Just because you betrayed us by marrying one of them doesn’t mean you can come in here with your self-righteous attitude.” Cinnamon pointed her finger at Suzanne.

Chloe tugged her hair again. Suzanne sighed as she took the warning. It wouldn’t do her any good. Only trouble would come out of it.

“Anybody going to Summerfest this year?” Barbara saved the day by distracting them all.

Suzanne gave her a thankful smile. She should have kept her mouth shut, but that was one of her many weaknesses. The fact that she had kept her mouth shut as often as she had was a minor miracle next to the parting of the Red Sea.

The conversation moved to the biggest festival of the year. Suzanne kept her eyes straight ahead and stared at a large poster advertising hair products for women who wanted to look like a supermodel. She couldn’t wait until her hair was done so she could get out of the place and the women who were getting on her last nerve.

Chloe must have sensed her feelings for she leaned down and whispered, “Give me half an hour and we’ll be done.”

Suzanne smiled and reached up to pat Chloe’s hand. She sat back and let the woman finish her work.

She couldn’t understand why she tortured herself by coming to the beauty salon. It was the same one she had been coming to since she was ten years old. That was when her grandmother had passed away and the one woman who could get her hair just right. Her mother began to bring her to the salon with her from then on.

It only got to be hard to come in the last few years since she met Chad. At first, it was the teasing about having milk in her coffee. She took it well as it was just teasing. Yes, she knew a few meant it to be mean. There were always some people who couldn’t be nice for any reason.

The riots had changed so much of that. Weeks before the media jumped on cops causing the death of civilians everything was normal and fine. A few incidents hit the news around the country, including Milwaukee, where police had not followed procedure as they had and allowed young black men to die.  A few had even shot them with questions if they really did behave as if they had a gun.

Suzanne knew that not every cop was true and honest with a strong ethical streak. There were some bad apples in the bunch, but as she listened to the media and the talk around her she realized that too many people were trying to portray all cops as racial murderers.

The talk about her white husband had gotten less teasing and more vicious. Cinnamon was always taunting her about siding with the enemy. It had taken all of Suzanne’s power not to have a physical fight with her, but she had managed to control herself.

All she wanted was to live in peace with the man she loved.

Chapter 2

Suzanne rushed into the hospital as she glanced at her watch. She was barely going to make it on time. Stupid drivers who couldn’t maneuver through construction had gotten in her way. 

She shoved her purse in her locker and grabbed her badge and stethoscope. Heading out to the nurses’ desk, she ran into the nurse she would be relieving.

“Hey, Suzanne. It’s been a busy night.” Agnes stood up from the computer she had been working on. 

“What happened?” Suzanne reached in a drawer under the counter and pulled out surgical tape as well as a pen and sticky notes. Sliding them into her pocket, she clipped on her badge.

“Three gunshot wounds, four knives, and three heart attacks though technically only one was real. The rest was angina. Also, there was a broken arm of a three year old who fell down the stairs playing with his sister.” Agnes handed Suzanne a chart. “Two are still here, waiting on rooms to open up to move them to.”

Suzanne nodded as her eyes scanned the summary sheet. “Hopefully, it will not be as crazy this morning.”

“I do envy you on these shifts. Seems the morning is quiet until the fools wake up and start trying to kill each other.” Agnes pulled the pins that held up her red hair.

“Well, some mornings aren’t as quiet as they should be, but here’s to hoping.” Suzanne smiled. “Off with ya. I’ll read over the files and check on the patients.”

“Have a good one. I’m going home to bed.” With that, Agnes disappeared into the locker room.

Suzanne went about her early shift duties. It was slow, allowing her to do the organizing of the ER that can’t be done during the busy evening and night shifts. Through each room, she restocked supplies and noted objects they were low on.

It was mid-morning when an old man was brought in with complaints of severe stomach pains. Suzanne followed the EMT’s into the room and began entering information into the computer that was suspended from the wall. 

She enjoyed the activity of bringing in a new patient. Everyone moved in an urgent manner while knowing exactly what they were doing. They all moved as one unit which made her feel a part of something big and worthwhile.

As she turned around to ask the older man the required questions and put his medical band on his arm, she paused at the look on his face. A sigh escaped her. It was a look she was too familiar with.

The man literally recoiled from her touch as his nose and mouth pulled up in disgust. “I want another nurse.”

Suzanne pasted a smile on her face as she bit her tongue. It was not professional to respond the way she wanted. She had to be pleasant. “Mr. Hamilton, I need to get your band on your wrist.”

He pulled his arm away. “I demand another nurse.”

“There is no other nurse on duty. It’s just me. Let’s get the band on.”

“Don’t touch me.”

Suzanne breathed in deep. “Please, Mr. Hamilton.”

“What’s the problem?”

She turned around to see the ER doctor on duty walk in. He gave her a reassuring smile which told her he had heard it all.

“Uh, Mr. Ham…”

The patient cut her off quickly. “I want a different nurse.” His voice was harsh.

Dr. Fowler looked down at the band in Suzanne’s hand. “Mr. Hamilton, I can assure you that Suzanne here is a first-rate nurse. You are in very capable hands.”

“I won’t have one of her kind tending to me.”

Suzanne didn’t let her face betray her feelings. It wasn’t that she was wounded by his words as much as wounded that people still walked the earth with such prejudices. She never failed to encounter someone at least once a day.

The doctor moved toward the bed as he took the band out of Suzanne’s hand. “Mr. Hamilton, you are here because you are experiencing pain. Is that correct?” 

The patient nodded. “Yes, in my upper stomach.”

“Can you verify your name and birthdate?” The doctor listened as the man rattled off his information. With a nod, the doctor quickly put the band on the patient’s arm. “Good. Now I’m going to examine you while Suzanne asks you some questions. Okay?”

The old man gave Suzanne a long look out of the corner of his eye as he nodded. He visibly relaxed, knowing she wouldn’t touch him.

Suzanne swallowed her pride and went about her work. Thirty minutes later, the exam was over and her and the doctor exited the room at the same time.

The doctor laid a hand on Suzanne’s arm. “I’m sorry about that.”

She shrugged. “I should be used to it, Dr. Fowler.”

He shook his head. “No, you shouldn’t be. Just because your skin is darker doesn’t mean you aren’t good at your job, and you’re one of the best. I’ll give him the pain meds and then he won’t be able to object.” He smiled.

Giving him a smile, she walked over to the nurses’ desk and sat down. Pretending to be working on the computer, she tried to calm down and focus on her job.

Racial prejudices were nothing new to her. There was always someone who had to react to her skin color, but she hadn’t had any in her life every single day. Growing up, the neighborhood was all black. The schools she attended mainly had black students with a few Hispanics and Asians. A few white kids went there as well, but they acted more ghetto than many of the black kids. As long as she stayed in her own neighborhood, the odds of facing racism was pretty low. 

Nursing school was where she first remembered experiencing such intense hatred based on her race. In her first year, one of the students she was partnered with on a project asked to be reassigned. When Suzanne had confronted her to get the reasoning behind it, she had been subjected to a diatribe of why blacks were inferior. Suzanne had been shocked speechless at the words flung at her. From that moment on, she noticed subtle reactions from other people, mainly white people. 

Not everyone treated her badly. She found most people treated her as an equal. Yes, they all had their differences, but most people she interacted with treated her as they would anyone. Maybe she just wanted to see that. Then she’d find herself faced with such hatred that it would be impossible to believe one person could harbor them. 

At work, she encountered it once a week. There was always someone who made snide remarks about her dark skin. Others never said anything, but their looks at her gave their thoughts away. Over the years, she had learned to read people. It had helped her to navigate the treacherous racial waters. 

The old man in the ER had affected her more than usual only because of the tension within the city. Those who would not act so in public were opening their mouths more. She was seeing it on both sides of the divide. Everyone was voicing strong opinions. She was beginning to think they just wanted to join the crowd.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the phone at the far end of the counter. She rose to answer it, but an orderly walked up to it and picked it up. The quick words of the orderly had her up and ready for action.

Hanging up the phone, the orderly called out, “Two gunshots on the way. One in trauma.”

Suzanne went into urgent mode. She rushed to the trauma room and made sure the staff was aware and equipment was ready to go. From there, she turned the light on in the room where the not-so-urgent patient could go.

As she stepped out of the room, she heard the doors open from the ambulance bay. The elevated gurney came through the door with two EMTs beside it yelling information they needed. Suzanne didn’t hear a word as she stared at the blue uniform darkened to a shiny black with blood.

She froze as the gurney moved closer. Her breath caught in her chest. It was the same reaction she had every time a cop was brought in, but this time she screamed, “Chad!”

Chapter 3

Jack Fowler directed the EMTs to the trauma room while he grabbed Suzanne by the shoulders. “Listen to me! Suzanne, I need you to pull yourself together. I don’t have time to search for another nurse. I’ll get a call in to send one down from upstairs, but right now I need you. I need Nurse Suzanne, not the wife. Can you do this so we can save him?”

Suzanne swallowed. His words reached through the fog and snapped her into reality. She had to push her emotions aside. Nodding, she looked up and said, “I can do this.”

Without another word, the doctor turned around and rushed to the trauma room. Suzanne was on his heels.

The next half hour moved quickly without Suzanne remembering much of it at all. She did everything required of her with a part of her hiding from watching the blood pumping from her husband’s chest. He was rushed into surgery, leaving a stunned wife behind. She looked down at the blood on her hands and felt the walls start to close in on her. The wife in her was resurfacing. She wanted to give into it and just lose herself, but she also wanted to rush into the operating room and watch the monitor as his heart beat. 

“Suzanne?”

She turned at the soft voice. Agnes put her hand on her arm. 

“You need to get cleaned up.”

Suzanne shook her head, “You…”

Agnes cut her off. “Don’t worry about me. I’ve pulled double shifts before. Now, let’s get you cleaned up.”

Later, Agnes directed Suzanne to the OR waiting room where she sat her down with a cup of coffee. “Want me to call someone to come sit with you?”

With a dazed look, she nodded and pulled out her phone from her pocket. She pulled up her messages and texted her mother: Hurry to hospital – Chad.

“I texted Mom. She’ll be here soon.” Her words were low.

Agnes patted her arm. “I’ll check back in a bit. I’ve got to get back.”

Suzanne started as her memory cleared. “What about the other one?”

“He’s fine. He has been taken upstairs. The shot was superficial but they are going to observe him due to head injury when he fell.”

“Who was it?”

“Richard Drake.” 

Suzanne watched as Agnes left her alone in the room. Ricky was Chad’s partner. Thank goodness, he was okay, but Chad….

The minutes ticked slowly by. She lost track of time as her mind stayed blank and her eyes focused on the woven pattern of the carpet. She was able to make out small specks of red in the dark fibers. Her mind drifted back to the day she had first seen Chad.

The morning was slow. In fact, she had organized more drawers than she had in the last five years put together. Nobody would be complaining for lack of supplies for a long time. 

The alarm went off that the ambulance was on its way in. Minor injury to a police officer. She had been relieved to hear the minor part. That meant there would be no death on her watch as it was up in less than an hour. 

The stretcher came in with the EMTs guiding it. The cop on it was protesting that he didn’t need to be treated like an invalid.

Directing them to a room, Suzanne helped to get the cop over to the bed. After finalizing the transfer with the main EMT, she opened the computer and began asking questions. 

“What is your name?”

“What’s yours?”

Suzanne paused in typing and looked over at the man. “Are you flirting with me?”

The blond man smiled and nodded. “Smart girl.”

Suzanne sighed and laughed. Not many white men flirted with her. The few who did just wanted to get into any girl’s pants. This one didn’t seem like he had any trouble. Even for a white guy, he was kind of cute.

“Susie!” 

Suzanne looked up to see Mabel Knight rush into the room. Her mother tossed her large purse on the floor next to her daughter and slid into a chair to pull Suzanne into her arms. 

For the first time in years, Suzanne let her mother fuss over her. Mabel was one of those women who always saw her children as the small ones she had to tend to when they had scraped knees and owies. It didn’t matter that they had been of legal drinking age for several years. They were still her babies.

“What happened, babe?”

Suzanne laid limp against her mother. It felt good to be back inside the warm cocoon. She wanted to stay there and forget what was happening just down the hall. She wanted to lose herself and feel nothing.

“Suzanne!” Her mother pushed her back and narrowed her eyes. “Talk to me. What happened?”

“Chad’s been shot.” Saying the words brought the harsh reality flooding over her. She couldn’t hold back anymore and let the tears flow.

After Mabel’s initial gasp, she quietly held her daughter. In her mind, she listed all the people she needed to contact. Sitting back and doing nothing was not in her.

“Suzanne?”

They looked up at the nurse who had walked into the room. Suzanne jumped up at seeing one of the OR nurses. 

“Yes, is he okay?”

“Dr. Sloan asked that I come out to update you. Your husband is stable. They are still working on him.”

Suzanne nodded, knowing the woman couldn’t give her any more information. She’d have to wait to talk to the doctor.

“How much longer do you think?”

“Maybe another half hour or so.”

“Thank you,” Suzanne said as she sunk back down into her seat. “Thank you.”

“Why didn’t you ask more questions?” her mother demanded.

“She doesn’t know enough. Only the doctor knows exactly what is going on. He’ll be out when he can, Mom.”

“Still, she could have said something more.”

Suzanne sighed deeply. “Mom…”

A deep voice made the presence of another known in the waiting room. “Suzanne, how is he?” 

Looking up, she saw the Chief of Police, Guy Stokes, walk in. His police hat was in his hands as he respectfully approached her. His dark hair was speckled with grey and his cloudy eyes were heavy with concern. 

“He’s still in surgery.” 

Guy frowned at the weakness in her voice. He had never heard her sound so vulnerable. This was one of the worst parts of his job. He pulled a chair around to where he could face her.

Suzanne squeezed her mother’s hand. “What happened? How did he get shot?”

Guy sighed. He thought just being the first black Chief of Police was going to be the tough part of his job. Now he had riots all over town. “There was a call of a disturbance near Sherman Park. Chad and Ricky were the first to arrive.” Guy hung his head. “It was a trap. The kid on the ground acted like he was injured. When they got a few yards away from him, he sat up and pulled a gun on them. They didn’t have a chance to respond.”

Before Suzanne could respond, Mabel blasted, “You mean a young man set them up to be shot? One of our own?”

Guy nodded. “Yes, from there a full riot started as other officers showed up. It took a while to be able to get to Chad and Ricky. Sadly, several of the rioters were shot in the process. We’ve had to call the National Guard.”

“Stupid punks!” Mabel rubbed Suzanne’s shoulders. “Think they had no raisin’ the way they act. They can protest the rotten cops without killin’ the good ones.”

Guy gave her a sympathetic smile. “I wish everyone thought like you do.”

Mabel pointed her finger at him. “Now there is no excuse for the way those crackers treated that poor boy that died last month. I wish you could have fired their asses right then and there.”

Shaking his head, the chief answered, “There are procedures we have to follow. Most things are rarely how they first appear. They’ll get their due once the investigation is complete. I just wish the folks would understand that instead of taking to violence as an answer.”

Before anymore talk of the riots could be had, the surgeon walked in. He wiped his face with a towel and removed most of the sweat. Everyone stood up to face him. 

“Suzanne, he’s in recovery.”

Suzanne brought a hand to her chest and took in a ragged breath. “How is he?” 

“Stable. I managed to repair most of the damage. Two bullets entered his chest. One hit a rib which broke, but the bullet didn’t go any further. The other narrowly missed the heart and lodged against his shoulder blade. I’m amazed it didn’t do more damage than it did. He was very lucky.”

“What are his chances?” Mabel didn’t wait for Suzanne to ask any questions.

“Right now, they are pretty good. We’ll have to monitor him, but we should know more tomorrow.”

“When can I see him?” Suzanne clenched her hands together tightly as though holding herself together.

“It will be about half an hour before they’ll move him to ICU. They’ll get you when you can go up.”

Suzanne nodded and watched him leave. She never even noticed that her mother had guided her back to her chair.

“Well, I’m going to check on Ricky and then get back to work. I needed to check on how they were doing.” Guy reached out and took Suzanne’s hand.

“I’m sorry I didn’t ask this before. Did anyone else get hurt?’

“No.” He patted her hand and left the two women alone.

“Mom?” Suzanne stared at the now vacant seat where Guy had sat. 

“What dear?”

“What if he doesn’t make it?

Mabel pulled back. “You watch your mouth. I won’t hear none of that. He’ll pull through.” Her eyes narrowed at her daughter. “Now that we have some answers, I’m going to call the family.”

Suzanne just nodded. Her mind was still numb. She couldn’t let herself accept the fact that Chad was okay just yet. She needed to brace herself for the worst. As a nurse, she knew anything could happen. Things could be missed during the operation. Unseen damage might have occurred. She prayed he was alright, but she wasn’t going to rejoice just yet.

Her mother had moved to the far side of the waiting room which was only a dozen feet away. Suzanne could hear her talking to the various family members, but she couldn’t make out the words. It wasn’t for the lack of volume. Her mother couldn’t be quiet if her life depended on it. No, it was because the world around her was blocked; she had tuned everything out.

She couldn’t think of what was going on outside her own body. Her stomach was heavy. Her limbs were numb. Her mouth was dry. Her eyes burned from the tears that demanded to be shed. Her ears were filled with a roar that blocked out all other noises. 

The minutes ticked by without her being aware. She was lost within herself, trying to hold her sanity in check. Around her, Mabel moved as she talked on her phone. Others came in and out to look for people. Time was nonexistent for her.

A loud noise broke through. An orderly had walked in and turned on the television set high on the wall. The news was on showing crowds in the background. The announcer’s voice pulled Suzanne back to harsh reality:

“Marshall law is being enacted on the city as rioters burn through the neighborhood. Ten are dead and dozens injured including two police officers.”

Chapter 4

Suzanne listened as the announcer talked about Chad and Ricky’s conditions. She had only learned what it was less than an hour earlier. That was just like the press. 

The news crew interviewed a few locals near the riot area. Suzanne saw red as they screamed how the police were terrorizing them and trying to be Hitler by exterminating them. 

“Turn it off!” she screamed.

The orderly jumped and quickly turned the television off. Seconds later, he was gone. Mabel stopped in mid-sentence and gaped at her daughter. 

“I’ve got to go. Spread the word.” She ended the call. “What has gotten into you?”

Suzanne threw her hand in the direction of the television. “The stupid media is making this worse. They don’t interview everyone. Just the ones who can paint the cops in a bad light. They aren’t out to kill us all. They…” Suzanne collapsed back into her chair and sobbed.

Mabel rushed forward and held her daughter as she finally let it all out. Suzanne’s body shook as she let the emotions come to the surface. There was no being brave now. She was too angry and scared.

Several moments passed as she cried on her mother’s shoulder. Mabel understood her daughter’s frustration. She felt much of it herself though her own past experiences caused her conflict.

She had grown up in the inner city during the seventies and eighties. It was a tumultuous time in the decades after the civil rights movement. Yes, she lived in a world that wasn’t as segregated as her parents and grandparents had faced, but there had been a lot of improvements still needed. Now she felt like it was rearing its ugly head again and progress taking several steps back.

“Chad is being moved to a room now.”

They looked up to see a nurse motioning to them. Suzanne stood up and followed as her mother fumbled to grab her large purse and do the same. 

Down the hall, three turns, an elevator ride, and two more turns brought them to Chad’s ICU room. Suzanne stood still and kept her mother out as she watched the nurses working on getting him set up on the monitors. She knew the routine and gave them the space the needed to get it done. From where she stood, she could only see the form of his legs under the blankets. The nurses blocked her from seeing any more. Suzanne was partially thankful. Seeing him in that bed was going to kill her.

She felt her mother put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. A part of her wanted to shake it off while another part of her longed for its warmth. 

After several moments, the nursed moved back. One remained next to his bed watching the monitors. The others filtered out to resume their duties. Suzanne’s breath caught in her chest. 

Chad laid pale against the sheets. His normal color was faded under the loss of blood. Tubes ran from various directions and attached themselves to him. A central IV line led down the back of his wrist. Another line entered his other arm with blood. His chest was covered with dressings. She noticed the small amount of blood still on his chest where it had not yet been cleaned. 

An oxygen mask covered his face with electrodes attached to his skin, monitoring his heart. The blood pressure cuff was dark against his extremely pale skin.

“You must be his wife.” The nurse let the monitors and moved toward Suzanne as she spoke in a low voice. “I’m Whitney. I’ll be in charge of Chad for next ten hours. They told me you work in the ER.”

Suzanne nodded, her eyes never leaving Chad’s still form. Mabel took over the introductions. She put her hand out to the nurse. 

“I’m her mother.”

The nurse bobbed her head, causing her short blond curls to bounce. “I’ll give you a few minutes. After that, you can come in once an hour and only two people at a time for ten minutes. We need him to rest.” Whitney gave Suzanne a sympathetic smile and left them alone.

In a daze, she made her way to the bed. The sound of the monitors created a low buzz that hovered in the room. She reached out and picked up him limp hand. Fear gripped her as she noticed the contrast of their skin colors. They had always laughed at how pale he was next to her despite the tan he always acquired during the summer, but now…He looked like a ghost. His white hand drooped on her dark one. Tears fell from her eyes and landed on their hands.

Her eyes moved over his still form and stopped on the monitor. The nurse part of her pushed forward and absorbed all the information displayed before her.

Knowing her mother didn’t understand what she saw, she explained, “BP is low. They are still giving him blood. Heart rate is slow too.”

“Is that bad?” Her mother moved to the other side of the bed and looked down at her son-in-law.

“Expected after the loss of blood and the surgery. That’s why they need to monitor him so closely.” Her words were low.

Mabel’s heart broke as she looked at her daughter’s still face. Glancing down at chad, she realized that her own heart hurt for the man as well. That surprised her. Not that she didn’t feel bad when someone was hurt. She was not a heartless woman, but in the beginning she had despised the man.

She wasn’t one to have the need to control who her children married, but one of them? Never in her life had Mabel thought one of her children would have crossed the race line. It wasn’t that she hated white people. They were just from a different place that seemed unconnectable to her.

That first time Suzanne brought Chad home was something nobody in the family would ever forget. It had been the big family reunion at the park. She had to choose that day to let everyone know who she was dating. A few near coronaries had happened that day when she stepped out of the pickup truck along with a very white man. It was when she took him by the hand and led him into the family gathering when all conversation ceased.

The family had been respectful but far from welcoming. Mabel had been shocked that Chad continued to see Suzanne after that uncomfortable day. Yet there he was the next weekend with her and the weekend after that and then for the holidays. Mabel had to give him that. He didn’t back down from a challenge. 

That was one of the things Mabel had come to admire about him. Bravery coursed through his veins more than any other man she had ever met, which helped him in his job as a Milwaukee police officer. But Mabel had never fully accepted him as the man good enough for Suzanne…until now. 

The irony of it all didn’t miss Mabel. It hit her like a two-by-four. This man…this white man had rushed into a situation to help a young black man. What he had gotten was two bullets in him. Why? Because he was white. A battle waged inside Mabel and it didn’t set well with her at all.

Chapter 5

An hour later as Suzanne and Mabel sat in the waiting room, the first wave of visitors arrived. Marvin and Olivia walked in together. They looked like the oddest pair to have been married for ten years with three kids as well. 

Marvin was only about five foot ten inches but what he lacked in height, he had in width. He was far from fat. He was just wide with muscles that sent a strong statement. That all came from working out on a regular basis at the gym. Along with that message were the tattoos that covered nearly every inch of skin. Most of them were personal to him, but a few were from his days when he had joined a wannabe gang. They had found out quickly what it was like in the big league and had disbanded. He had taken up a job in his uncle’s garage and made a good living there.

Olivia on the other hand was a petite woman much like her sister, Suzanne, but Olivia was one who was delicate and small boned. Suzanne, on the other hand, was petite in height but was built from her own time spent working out. Olivia always wore clothes that told the world she was confident in herself and could mingle at any level of society. Paired that with Marvin’s ever present jeans and t-shirt, and it was not surprising how many stares they got out in public even in their own neighborhood.

Olivia rushed to her sister and pulled her into her arms. The coolness of her pearls felt good against Suzanne’s skin. Suzanne welcomed her sister who ushered in a sense of calm and stability in the midst of the rocking waves of uncertainty. 

“My dear, how is he?” Olivia pulled back and placed her sculpted fingers on Suzanne’s cheeks.

“Holding his own for now. They are watching for any other bleeding or if they missed something.”

“Why wasn’t the damn fool wearing a vest? He should know better.” Leave it to Marvin to not be subtle. That’s why him and his mother-in-law got into heated debates especially about politics…and religion…and the kids…and anything else they could possibly disagree on.

Suzanne shrugged. “I don’t know. I forgot to ask. He usually does especially lately.” She didn’t need to fill in the rest.

Marvin opened his mouth to comment, but Olivia raised her hand to silence him. He shut his mouth just as quick. With a grumble, he moved to sit in a chair nearby.

“Has anyone else been here?” Olivia asked in a soothing voice.

Mabel shook her head while Suzanne composed herself. “They’ll be here soon.”

They lapsed into a comfortable silence as they withdrew into their own thoughts. The minutes ticked by until the nurse stepped in to let Suzanne know she could go in.

She turned to look at her sister. “Do you want to go in? They allow two at a time.”

Olivia smiled. “Sure.” She turned to her husband. “I’ll be right back.”

Marvin nodded but kept his eyes on his phone where he was watching a movie. Mabel fidgeted. She could make more calls but she had already contacted anyone who mattered. Instead, she stood up to turn the TV on. Remembering what it was last displaying, she quickly turned the channel to one of her favorite soap operas. 

A few minutes later, Olivia walked in, her eyes wide as she made her way toward her mother. Mabel dragged her eyes from the dramatic scene on the television. She grabbed Olivia’s arm as she sat down. 

“What’s wrong?”

Olivia took in a deep breath. “My God, Mama. He looks horrible.”

Marvin raised his head at those words. He leaned forward to listen to his wife. 

“I know. I saw him.”

Olivia shook her head. “No, Mama. It’s just…he almost died.”

Mabel realized then that her daughter had just had the riots hit home. It was more than talk now. It was more than passion about something one held near. It was now about the life of someone they loved. 

And they loved Chad.

Mabel herself was just fully realizing how much she cared for that young man. She had to give credit where it was due, and he deserved it. He knew he was the minority when he hooked up with Suzanne, but it didn’t deter him from loving her and trying to be a part of the family. He had taken the name calling. He had taken the snaked looks. Nothing stopped him, and he always was respectful. Well, except for that time when Marvin was drunk and said some nasty thing about Chad and Suzanne. If Mabel had been there, she’d have wiped the sidewalk with Marvin’s sorry ass, but Chad had done it for her. Afterwards, they had been found drunk as skunks in the bed of Marvin’s pickup, laughing like they were best friends. Both were bloodied from the fist fight. Since that day, Chad was treated with respect though Marvin refused to acknowledge how the truce came about. Stupid, male pride.

Patting Olivia’s hand, Mabel nodded. “No, I understand, sweetie. Thought we understood what it was all about.”

“What what is all about?”

They looked up to see Jimmie, Suzanne’s little brother, walk into the room. Mabel frowned. As usual, he was wearing his pants below his butt cheeks, showing off his skull printed undershorts. She had already thrown a few of them away. Next she was going to pull them down including his underwear. 

“Can’t you dress like a human before coming to the hospital?” Mabel pursed her lips.

Jimmie glared at her.

“And take that cap off when you are indoors. You’d think I didn’t raise you any better.”

“Whatever,” he grumbled as he moved to the seat next to Marvin. Slouching down, he whispered, “How is he?”

Marvin slid his eyes over to the young man who had become everyone’s project in trying to reform. While Marvin had found a way to escape the gang life, Jimmie refused to find any other course. He wanted to be in a gang, and there was so stopping him.

“Why don’t you ask your punk friend who shot him?”

Jimmie sat up and leaned into Marvin’s face. “I don’t know who did it, but do you blame them? Cops ask for it.”

“Jimmie Grant Parker!” Mabel stood up. “How dare you say such a thing!”

He threw his hands up in the air. “What? Don’t act like you haven’t said the same thing. I’ve heard it all from all you’s mouths. The cops are trying to kill us off one by one.”

“You shut your mouth!”

The room grew quiet at Suzanne’s words. They stared at her stormy face. Her body was framed in the doorway with fists clenched.

“How dare you say such a thing! Chad risked his life to save a young man, a young black man. How dare you!”

“Come on, Suz.” Jimmie stood up. “Stop playing house with the other side. You need to get back with your own kind.”

“What?”

Jimmie shrugged and looked at everyone with a confused look. “I don’t get why you all looking at me like this. We all know he’s just a white dude.”

“He’s my husband!” Suzanne’s chest heaved.

“He’s white!” Jimmie shouted.

“What is your problem? So, he’s a white man. Does that mean it is okay that he got shot?”

“They are oppressing us! Black lives matter!”

Suzanne’s mouth tightened. “All lives matter. What is wrong with you? This is my husband fighting for his life.”

“Why do you have to betray your own kind? Wake up, sis!” Jimmie shoved past his sister and disappeared down the hall.

Suzanne stared at the space where her brother had been and stood to confront her. His words had ripped her bleeding heart even wider. Her body began to shake. 

“Suzanne.” Olivia beat her mother to her sister’s side. “He shouldn’t have said that.”

“Why?” Tears trickled down Suzanne’s cheeks, leaving a dark trail. “Why?”

“He’s stupid. Don’t listen to him.” She directed Suzanne toward a chair. 

Suzanne jerked her arm away from Olivia. “What do you think?”

Olivia pulled her neck back. “What?”

“Do you feel the same way about Chad?”

“Like Jimmie?” Olivia’s voice was full of disbelief.

Mabel stood up. “Stop it! There’s no need to go down this road.”

Suzanne nodded. “Yes, there is. You never liked Chad. All of you wouldn’t let the fact that he was white alone.”

“Stop it!” Mabel screamed. Taking a deep breath, she lowered her voice. “You are upset. I get that, but you need to ignore stupid talk and focus on your husband.”

Drawing her eyebrows down, she glared at her mother. “How can I when I hear how he deserved the bullet? How can I when I feel like I have to decide…” She closed her eyes tightly. “I won’t turn away from him.”

Mabel gently took Suzanne by her shoulders. “No one is asking you to. Forget Jimmie’s foolish ass and focus on that man in there who loves you like no one else.” Mabel smiled as she knew she meant it.

Chapter 6

The hours passed by in a slow daze. Suzanne went in every hour to see her husband and sit by him. No matter who went in with her, she stayed longer to have that alone time with him. The nurses never said anything for half an hour. Rules could be bent once in awhile.

She ran her hand over his cold one. “I don’t know if you can hear me babe, but I’m going to keep talking to you anyway.” She licked her lips. “I hate seeing you like this.” 

A sob caught in her throat. Suzanne didn’t think she had any tears left to shed. A quick glance at the clock on the wall showed that she had been waiting for her husband to wake up for twelve hours. Family and friends had come and gone. Nursing staff had changed. Suzanne remained.

She ran a finger up Chad’s arm. The contrast between them was more evident due to his state. “I’m having a hard time, babe. I thought we were passed all this, but I’m battling it all over again. Why can’t we just…be?”

The soft sound of the door opening drew her attention. The nurse gave her a smile as she walked in.

“How is he?” She moved to the monitors and looked them over.

Suzanne shrugged. “Seems to be no change.”

The nurse moved around the bed and patted Suzanne’s shoulder. “Takes time. Tomorrow could bring good news.”

Nodding, Suzanne stood up. “I know. Just hard waiting.”

“Never fun to be on the other side. Why don’t you go get something to eat? I think some family brought in some food for you.”

With one last look, Suzanne left Chad and returned to the waiting room. Her mother was still presiding over the room and keeping order as people came and went. Olivia was assisting while Marvin remained in the corner with his head buried in his phone.

A new addition was Mabel’s brother, Bradford, who came to lend his support. It was mostly to be right in the middle of the drama. The man had to know everything going on in everyone’s life. 

Suzanne heard a soft voice and turned around to see that Chad’s family had finally arrived. They had been up north at their cabin when Suzanne had called them. 

Before they noticed her, Suzanne took in their appearance. Closest to her was Chad’s sister, Jean, and her husband, Warren. Suzanne couldn’t help the tightness in her stomach. Jean and her had never truly gotten along. Yes, they were polite to each other at all the family events, but the undercurrent was always present. Jean didn’t like her little brother with a black woman.

Suzanne had to give the woman credit. She never said anything to Suzanne’s face. She never caused a scene, but Suzanne had overheard her on more than one occasion. The first time was the night Chad had brought her over for a family dinner to meet them all. Chad had warned his mother ahead of time so she would not visibly insult Suzanne, but no one had warned Jean.

Jean’s smile had frozen on her face when her eyes had landed on Suzanne’s dark skin. Slowly, that smile faded. She was polite as she was introduced to Suzanne, but her words were stiff. Later as Suzanne was helping to clear the table, she had overheard Jean and her mother in the kitchen arguing. She was the topic. Jean was not hiding how displeased she was that Suzanne was not white. 

An invisible knife had pierced Suzanne’s chest. Knowing that his family didn’t accept her was painful to her. She didn’t want him to have to choose her or his family. She didn’t want him to feel any pain. Then she heard their mother say that if he loved her they would support him and do nothing to interfere. Hope bubbled up. Her family struggled to accept him based on his skin color. She shouldn’t condemn his for the same. When she walked into the kitchen with the dirty dishes, Jean had turned to the sink to run the water and his mother had treated Suzanne like a friend.

Over the years, Jean had not changed and neither had her husband. They were the perfect couple. Both had the appearance of being poster children for the suburban family lifestyle. They wore expensive clothes that were never creased. Their hair was always just styled. They worked hard and vacationed harder. No children because they were career-minded.

Suzanne and Chad were the opposite. They lived in the city in a diverse neighborhood. They wanted children and enjoyed going to festivals instead of the country club. They felt more comfortable in jeans and Packer jerseys than in silk and name brands. 

Regina Hopkins was the person in the middle. She never rejected Suzanne. From the beginning, she had welcomed her son’s girlfriend and treated her…as just another girl. 

Once a week, Regina would call Suzanne and set up a lunch, breakfast, or dinner based on Suzanne’s shift. They hung out together and prepared family meals and picnics throughout the year. Never did Regina act ashamed or uncomfortable around Suzanne. Even when she met old friends while they were out, Regina would introduce Suzanne as Chad’s girlfriend or later wife. Yes, a few reacted to Regina being with a black woman, but most didn’t and Regina moved on as though nothing was wrong. 

Regina sat next to Mabel, listening intently to Suzanne’s mother. Her blonde hair turning white was pulled back with a silver clasp. While she always dressed nice, it was not an uppity style she had. She was a figure that invited people in and treated them with respect. A widow for ten years, she had made a good life of her own and was very active. 

“You made it,” Suzanne said as she moved toward her in-laws. The fact that Jean and her husband remained seated while Regina stood up to meet her wasn’t missed by anyone in the room.

“Oh, Suzanne! How is our Chad?” Regina pulled Suzanne close.

Suzanne buried her face in her Regina’s shoulder and choked by a sob. She refused to break down especially in front of Chad’s mother.

Pulling back, Suzanne gave her mother-in-law a smile. “Come on. You can see him?”

Regina pulled back slightly. “I thought it was only once an hour.”

Suzanne gave her a smile. “I’ve got a little pull. Plus, his momma needs to get in there.”

“Am I allowed to come?”

They turned at Jean’s whine. It was a sound that reminded her of nails on a chalkboard and continual. Jean sat on the edge of her chair with a frown.

“Of course, you can come,” Suzanne answered with a forced smile.

Jean stood up with her shoulders back and her head held high as though she was in a beauty pageant. She walked up to the two women and waited for Suzanne to lead the way.

Pushing her feelings aside as she usually had to around Jean, Suzanne walked down the hall with the other two women following her. At the nurses’ station she paused and leaned over the counter.

“His mother and sister just got here. Can they go in?”

The nurse gave a quick glance at the monitors that reflected Chad’s status in the room. With a smile, she answered, “Five minutes.”

Suzanne turned to the other women. “Come on. They are giving us five minutes.”

Regina nodded and mouthed a thank you to the nurse at the desk. They followed Suzanne into the room.

At the door, Regina paused and gasped. Her hand moved to her mouth and then down to cover her heart. Her face paled as she swallowed hard. 

“Chad,” Regina whispered.

Jean pushed past her mother and imitated her gasp. Suzanne turned her back to them so they didn’t see her roll her eyes. Jean never could let anyone out do her. Chad’s condition gave her so much to work with.

Jean rushed to Chad’s bedside and looked down on him. “Chad! How could you let this happen?”

“I doubt he did this on purpose.” Suzanne frowned.

With narrowed eyes, Jean looked over at Suzanne. “Why didn’t he have his vest on?”

Suzanne shrugged. “We don’t know yet. His partner was hit too. I was going to go visit him later.”

“What was he thinking?” Jean lamented as she leaned down and laid her cheek against Chad’s.

Suzanne clenched her teeth and stepped back to lean against the closed windows. She glanced over at Regina whose eyes were glued to her son lying still in the bed.

Suzanne walked over to Regina and took her arm. “Come over to the other side.”

“He looks so…” Regina shook her head as she let Suzanne guide her to his side.

“I know, but he’s doing good. They got the bullets out and stopped the bleeding. He’s just being monitored now.”

Regina reached out and touched Chad’s cheek. Jean pulled back and dramatically sighed. 

Suzanne decided to step out and let them have some private time with Chad. As she let the door drift closed, she heard Jean say, “I knew one day it would catch up to him.”

Chapter 7

The evening wore on with more family dropping in. Members of Regina’s church visited for a few minutes and left after praying over Chad. They were polite, though Suzanne felt a wall between them and her family. They were all there for Chad, but a wall still separated them. 

A few members of Mabel’s church also made an appearance. Everyone brought food. There was no chance of going hungry. There was so much that Suzanne invited the nursing staff to have some as a thank you. They all took part.

Each visitation hour, Suzanne and Regina went in. At first, Jean protested, but Regina had a talk with her privately in the hall. She went every third visit instead with Regina. Suzanne was okay with that. She just wanted the entire ordeal to be over with.

Regina and Jean walked out of the ten o’clock visitation, looking as haggard as everyone else was who had been there for all those hours. Suzanne looked up from her phone where she had been texting a friend who lived in Texas. 

Jean walked to her husband and whispered in his ear. He woke up and nodded. Jean picked up her purse and went over to where her mother and sat back down by Mabel.

“We’re going to go on home. Call if there is any change.” Jean leaned down to give her mother a quick kiss. She looked over at Suzanne. “Take care.”

Suzanne watched them leave. A sense of relief swept over her. Just having Jean and her disapproving demeanor out of the room and out of the hospital gave Suzanne peace.

“Want to go get some good coffee?”

Suzanne looked up to find Regina standing over her. The woman looked tired around her eyes.

“Where?” Suzanne’s mind was too exhausted to think where the coffee could be found.

Regina laughed. “Starbucks two blocks down. It’s a nice night. Let’s take a walk. Might do us both good.”

Suzanne looked over at her mother who was starting on a new crochet project. She had finished one while she had waited with her daughter. Mabel nodded. 

“Go on, dear. I’m okay. Uncle Bradford is snoring away. I’m fine.”

Everyone else had left for the night. They had families and jobs to take care of. Only those closest to Chad remained.

Suzanne sighed and nodded. She picked up her purse that Agnes had brought up after her long shift. Following Regina, she left Chad for the first time that day.

Down the elevator, the women remained silent. Suzanne stared at the closed doors in a daze. The stress was catching up to her. She felt like a tractor trailer had run over her. 

As the doors slid open, they stepped out. Regina took in a deep breath as they moved through the doors to step outside. 

“It was supposed to rain. I’m glad it held off.”

Suzanne looked up at the sky. All she saw were the lights that filled the parking lot. While it was late, the lot was still full with all the visitors who still moved in and out of the large complex. 

“It’s good to see so many people come by and check on Chad. So many people who care.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Suzanne’s words came out in a whisper.

“Whatever for?” Regina glanced at her daughter-in-law with a concerned look.

“He got caught up in all this mess.”

Regina stopped and laid her hand on Suzanne’s arm. “Are you blaming yourself?” Without letting the younger woman answer, Regina continued. “Chad is a police officer. That means he would have been on that scene no matter what. He was just doing his job.”

Suzanne blinked as she processed the words. “I…I thought for sure that you would blame me…us.”

Regina looked over Suzanne and realization sunk in. “There is no ‘us’ in this unless you were one of the group who shot him.” She pressed her lips together. “We’re here. Let’s get some coffee and talk.”

After getting their specialities coffees, they made their way outside to a bench next to the sidewalk. Sitting down and taking a sip, Regina turned to Suzanne.

“Honey, I’m going to be very blunt. I realize Chad was shot partly because he was a white man. I’m not naive, yet I’m not a dramatic extremist either. He’s a cop which also makes him a target, especially right now.”

Suzanne bit the bullet and squared her shoulders. “How upset were you when Chad brought me home?”

A chuckle escaped Regina. “I was wondering when that question would come up. I’ll be honest with you, it shocked me.” Regina leaned back against the seat.

Suzanne felt her chest tighten. This was why she had yet to ask that question. She didn’t want to hear how she had not been as welcomed as she had told herself she had been. Jean was one thing, but Regina was someone she had come to respect and care for.

“You always wonder what type of person your children will bring home and tell you that they have handed their heart over to that person. Warren was exactly what I had imagined for Jean. To be honest, she doesn’t do much that surprises me. She has her little hole in this world she has carved, and she keeps it exactly as she wants it. Chad on the other hand always threw curveballs.”

An ambulance with sirens flew past them. Out of habit, Suzanne closed her eyes and sent up a small prayer for the occupants and family. The sirens faded as it wound through the medical complex and to the emergency entrance.

“I never really had any preconceived notion for who Chad would fall in love with. He brought some home who were intelligent, pretty, dumb, and plain as could be. Only when he brought you home did I see satisfaction in him that he had found the one.”

“How long did it take you to get over my dark skin?” Suzanne sipped her coffee as she watched Regina out of the corner of her eye.

“It was a bit. I think even now we both have adjustments to make.” Regina met Suzanne’s gaze. “I don’t know if it is us or what society has conditioned us for.”

Suzanne tilted her head and creased her brow. “What do you mean?”

“I think we both can agree that there are many different cultures in this country, even in this city. You come from one and we come from another.” Regina looked around them. “We walk these same streets and move amongst each other, but we still separate ourselves and look at everyone else as different. I think that is a natural instinct, but I also think the media and society play a big role.”

Silence hovered between them for a minute until Suzanne spoke. “It is a different world when I enter your house. Not a bad difference, but a difference.”

“I don’t think it is much difference than it would be to go into anyone else’s house, but we are taught to see a bigger difference because of our skin color.” Regina turned to Suzanne. “When I see you, I see a young woman whom my son loves very much and who has since become a daughter to me. Yes, I see that you are black, same as I see that Warren is getting prematurely grey around the temples.”

Suzanne laughed softly. “Yes, I noticed that too.”

“But we don’t make a big deal about it. So you are black. Big deal. I’ve gotten past the uncomfortable stage because I refuse to let society tell me I have to let that difference cause a gulf to appear between us.” Regina took Suzanne’s hand. “I don’t want that to come between us now. Yes, Chad was shot because he was a cop and a white man. Yes, a black man shot him. That is between that man and Chad. We don’t have to condone his actions, but I refuse to blame all black people. Might as well blame all men if we are going to talk like that. Why stop with black men?”

The two women smiled at each other. Suzanne squeezed Regina’s hand. “I feel the same way. The differences are there, but I feel forced to see them.”

“Then we can’t let these stupid people out there bring their troubles here. Maybe there was something horribly wrong with that first death by the police. It happens. Right or wrong, but they can’t lump all cops into that category. I can’t lump all blacks into being murderers. You’ve taught me a lot, Suzanne. I’m proud to call you my daughter.”

A tear pooled up in the corner of Suzanne’s eye. “Even when I talk all ghetto and shock you?”

Regina laughed out loud. “Even then. Yes, that can be shocking, but I’m getting used to it.”

Suzanne leaned over and hugged Regina who returned it just as strong. Both women sat like that for a few moments. One car driving by slowed down as it looked at the scene of a black woman and a white woman hugging in the late night. It was not something they usually saw and gave them something to chew on that night.

Chapter 8

The next morning brought lots of sunshine and activity as the new shift came into the hospital to relief those who had spent the entire night taking care of patients. The individuals in the waiting room roused themselves slowly and fought the sleep that wanted to remain behind.

Suzanne glanced up at the wall clock and noted she had managed a little over half an hour of sleep. Mabel still snored in a corner. Only Regina was left as everyone else had gone home. She was sitting up from where she had laid down across a row of chairs. Her normally well-styled hair was standing up on end.

Regina looked over at Suzanne’s giggle. She raised one eyebrow which brought more giggles as her mascara had given her a raccoon look.

“Sorry,” Suzanne gasped. “But right now you might actually wish for cornrows.”

Regina’s eyes moved up to Suzanne’s cornrows. As the understanding hit her, she smiled and laughed. “Maybe. Do I dare look in the mirror?”

Suzanne nodded. “You should before they call for help.” Another round of laughter caught her. 

“Wonder how Jean would react if I had cornrows.”

Suzanne laughed so loud that it woke Mabel up. With a snort, Mabel sat up straight and looked around with eyes wide. That sent Suzanne and Regina into more laughter. 

“Wh…what’s so funny? What did I miss?” Mabel raised a hand to wipe the drool from the corner of her mouth. 

“Regina is thinking of cornrows.” Suzanne waved a hand at her mother-in-law. 

Mabel turned to look at the woman a few seats down and chuckled. “Would be an improvement this morning.”

Olivia walked in to find the three women doubled over in fits of laughter. She paused just inside the door and frowned. With arms full of brown bags, she asked, “Did I miss something?”

They laughed again, causing Olivia to shake her head. Moving on into the room to set down the bags, she began to pull out styrofoam boxes. 

“I brought breakfast. So when you are done cackling, you can grab some here.”

Mabel pointed at Regina. “She’s thinking of cornrows.” The three women’s laughter grew louder.

Olivia turned to face Regina. She tilted her head and squinted. “Would be an improvement.”

As the laughing increased, Olivia stopped trying to join in and let out a loud laugh. All four women cried until tears flowed down their face which made Regina’s odd look even wilder. 

After they managed to contain their laughter which was only after Regina ran to the bathroom to wash her face and comb her hair, the women dug through the boxes of food. Biscuits, grits, sausage, bacon, gravy, and hashbrowns filled the various containers. Olivia had thought ahead and even brought paper plates, napkins, and utensils. Orange juice finished it off. 

Regina walked in and gave Olivia a wide smile. “Thank you so much, Olivia. This looks great.”

Olivia gave Regina an intense look as she handed the other woman a cup of juice. “It’s the least I can do.” She looked over at her sister. “How is he?”

“BP is up a little. So is his pulse. Doctor should be in sometime over the next couple of hours. We’ll know more then.” Suzanne took a bite of a biscuit.

Olivia slid her eyes over to Regina again. “So, cornrows?”

An hour later, the doctor took his leave. Behind him, four women reached out and grasped their hands together tightly. Tears coursed down Suzanne and Regina’s cheeks. 

“I told you he would be okay.” Mabel gave them a knowing smile. 

Suzanne raised her face up toward the ceiling and took in a deep breath. Chad was going to make it. He had steadily improved throughout the night with no signs of further bleeding. It was just a matter now of him regaining consciousness and to continue to improve. 

“Oh no!” 

They looked over at the door to see Jean staring at them with her hand held against her chest. A look of horror filled her face.

“Tell me he is okay!”

Regina laughed. “He is perfectly fine.”

Jean gave an exaggerated sigh.

Continuing, Regina explained what the doctor said. Jean moved into the room and gave a cursory glance over the breakfast. None of them missed the slight curl of her lip at the food.

Mischievousness prodded Suzanne. After hearing the great news about Chad, she felt nearly giddy. When Regina finished, Suzanne blurted out, “And to top it off, Regina is going to get cornrows put in.”

All but Jean laughed. She looked around at them with a very confused look.

“Cornrows?”

Regina pointed to Suzanne’s hair and then her own. “Cornrows. I’m going to change my hairstyle.”

Jean gasped. “Seriously? No, Mother!”

“Oh, Jean, chill! It’s called a joke.” Regina rolled her eyes. “I woke up with severe bedhead. Suzanne pointed out how cornrows would have solved that problem. We started laughing and couldn’t stop.”

Jean sighed. “Oh, thank goodness. You had me scared there for a minute.”

The other women exchanged looks. Before they could respond, Bradford and Jimmie walked in. 

Suzanne tightened her lips. She also didn’t miss Jean tensing up. Could she really blame her? Looking at Jimmie, she knew exactly what her sister-in-law saw: a hoodlum. 

Jimmie dressed like a gang member. It was the image he wanted to portray. Suzanne recalled how a cousin was going off on how all white people reacted to blacks as though they were going to cap them. Well, looking at Jimmie she understood why. He brought out that response even with black people. It was when they reacted that way to Marvin that got Suzanne riled up.

Suzanne pushed aside her irritation at Jean. While she knew the woman had a racist vein in her, this time Suzanne couldn’t blame her. Doing so brought a bile to her throat. 

She gave a visible sigh of relief when Jimmie moved back into the far corner and ignored them all. Yes, she was irritated he didn’t ask about her husband or herself, but at least there wouldn’t be a scene. 

Her uncle, Bradford, walked over to her and leaned down to give her a kiss on the cheek. He followed suit with his sister while asking how Chad was. As he listened, he shook hands politely with Regina and Jean.

“Well, that’s good to hear.” Bradford pulled a chair over to the ladies. “It’s getting hot out there.” He waved a hand toward the windows.

“I thought it was only going to get in the low eighties,” Mabel replied.

Bradford gave his sister a scowl. “Not the temperature, woman. The tempers.”

“Ah.” Mabel shook her head. “Stupid fools.”

A sad look passed over Regina’s face. “Why do they have to resort to violence? The young forget the peaceful protests of my younger years.” 

Mabel and Bradford nodded. With a wave at the three older people in the room, Mabel added, “Yes, there was violence sometimes, but the most successful protests were the ones that got sympathy instead of anger. The public loves to support sympathetic causes.”

“That’s what you think this is?” Jimmie voiced from the corner.

They all turned to the young man who was still slouched in his chair. With a shake of his head, he pushed himself up and waved his arm around the room. 

“Protests? Naw, this is more than just some stupid ol’ protest. We are mad. We’re angry. We’re far past protest.”

“Jimmie,” his mother warned.

The boy shook his head. “Naw, Ma, I won’t be quiet. I’m tired of being quiet.”

Bradford turned around in his chair. “When have you ever been quiet, boy? You need to sit your ass down.”

“Stop telling me what to do. No one wants to listen to our voices. We might be young, but we need to be listened to. You talk about your protests. Those were young folks too. Why is it a young black man is shushed?”

“Because you only want to fight.” Bradford stood up. “You won’t listen to anyone. All you want to do is spill blood. What good does that do ya? A black man kills a cop. What an achievement!” Bradford mocked.

“The cops are targeting us, man. They want to kill all the blacks.”

Suzanne had sat through the exchange of words with her eyes fixated on the pattern of the wallpaper in the room. That changed when Jimmie turned on the cops. She jumped up and faced him.

“How dare you? I’m your sister, and you are saying my husband wants to kill me? I’ll slap the spit right out of your mouth if you say anything like that again.”

“Go ahead, but you know it’s true. Thinking you are so hot because you did something daring and married a white cop. You just betrayed your own kind.”

Jimmie’s rant was halted as Suzanne made her way to him and slapped him hard across the face. The impact caused his face to move hard to the side. As he faced his sister again, his eyes narrowed. 

“You chose your side. Now face the consequences.”

Suzanne moved up against him and forced him against the line of chairs. “I’m not choosing any sides. You are trying to make this all about being black or white, but it is much more than that. It’s about good versus evil. The good guys are trying to avoid violence and protect people. The evil ones want the violence. So, if I chose a side, it is the side of peace.” She raised her hand as he opened his mouth to speak. “No, you talk and talk but now it’s my time. So sit down, boy!” She shoved Jimmie into the chair behind him. Behind her, the four others gasped. 

Suzanne leaned down into Jimmie’s face, but her voice was far from quiet as everyone else in the room heard each and every word. “You talk how you hate how the black man is treated. Well, you are right. They are treated bad quite often, and it’s not fair. Neither is being looked down upon because you are a woman which I’d like to point out to you is done by the white man and the black man. I get it from the racist and the sexist. So don’t cry me a river when I’m the one in the flood.

“There are black cops. Some of them are crooked as can be. There are white cops. Probably same percentage of crooked ones, but the vast majority of cops are good. They protect us. Who was there for Aunt Josie when that neighbor of hers broke in and tried to rape her, which I want to note was a black drug dealer. It was a cop, a white cop. He got there in time only because he was cruising the neighborhood and noticed something strange. She is alive today because of him. I don’t see that on national news. I don’t hear you praising the man for risking his life for your aunt.

“I won’t argue how the death of that young man a few months back was wrong. It was. Those cops failed on their duty, but guess what? That has nothing to do with the businesses you looted or my husband who was shot protecting one of your friends. It’s about time we all grew up and acted like adult citizens. Take your anger out on the cops who did it and do it legally and ethically. Don’t cry how you are being mistreated when you act like the animals you are.”

The fire had consumed Suzanne. It was time to get all her frustrations out. She whipped around and pointed a finger at Jean.

“And it doesn’t help when white people don’t want blacks in their world. Don’t act surprised. I know full well what you think of me. I’m the black trash your brother brought home. Well, I’m here to stay. He’s not taking this trash out. He’s found a treasure in it. Just because my skin is dark doesn’t mean I’m worthless. It’s about time people like you learned that.”

She looked around the whole room. “It’s time we all accepted our part and stopped pointing fingers. I’m sick of having to choose sides. There shouldn’t be sides. I’m not choosing white or black. I’m choosing my husband. I don’t care if he has orange stripes, he is mine and I’ll stand by him. And I’ll fight anyone who says differently.” She turned to Jimmie. “Even so-called family. Just by saying I have to take a side tells me you don’t care about me or anyone else. You care about the anger inside of you. Chad didn’t deserve that anger. The kid who tricked him into getting shot needs to be left alone with me for a few minutes and see how he likes to get his ass kicked by a black woman. Maybe he didn’t get enough whippings when he was younger.”

“I agree. Jimmie should have gotten a lot more from me.” Mabel jumped up. “I spoiled you too much. I see that now. You’re nothing but the very thing you claim to be fighting against. Chad went in to save one of us. What did that poor boy get? A bullet. How is that right?”

“You act like you care, Ma.” Jimmie stood back up. “I heard what you said when she brought him around. He was a white joke. Now you act like he is one of us.”

“He is one of us.” Mabel drew herself up with her shoulders back. “He is family. He is the other half of Suzanne. Doesn’t matter where he came from or who he is. He is now one of us.”

“As Suzanne is one of us.” Regina moved to stand beside Mabel.

“Mom!” Jean gasped.

Regina turned around and laughed. “I guess Mabel and I are an unlikely pair to stand here together, but we are.” She looped her arm around Mabel’s. “We both love our kids and are not going to let what others tell us is wrong to change that fact. Suzanne is my daughter as much as you are.”

Jean’s eyes grew big. “Mother! I don’t understand you. You were just as shocked when he brought her home. He had never dated a… black woman before.”

“So? There is a first time for everything. There was a time when he had never dated before. He’s a man. She’s a woman. We were shocked only because we are taught that we should be.” Regina moved to Suzanne’s side and put her arm around her. “I have never regretted welcoming her into our family and home. She has been a delight.” She gave Suzanne a wide smile and then looked at Jean. “Yes, there are differences that will always be there, but who doesn’t have them. Why make it all about her skin color? Shoot! I just might try those cornrows.”

Suzanne squeezed her arm. Mabel chuckled and moved up to Regina and touched her hair. 

“Might not be too bad looking.” 

The three women burst out laughing with Bradford joining in. He slapped his leg at the idea.

Around them, Jimmie and Jean looked at each other in confusion. Standing on opposite sides of the room, they were alone in their positions. A united front had broken the barriers and created a middle ground like no other.

Suzanne looked over Regina’s shoulder and nodded at the nurse in the doorway. She turned to her two mothers and said, “I’m going to see Chad.”

Regina and Mabel watched as she left the room. Bradford stood up to join them. He looked Regina up and down.

“Cornrows, hey?”

Suzanne kissed Chad’s forehead. She smoothed back his hair. At that moment, his eyes fluttered open. A dazed look swam in them.

She pulled back and smiled. Her chest hurt from the joy gripping her heart. She leaned down and whispered, “Hey, sexy.”

Chad’s eyes slowly focused on her. “Hey.” His voice was rough from no use. 

“You had me scared.”

His lips pulled up on one side. “Not you. Not my warrior princess.”

Suzanne laughed at his nickname for her. “Oh, yes, me.”

“What have I missed?” His eyes moved about the room.

“A little surgery. A little family fighting. The usual.”

He tried to laugh but groaned instead. “Maybe I should be glad I was out of it.”

Her face became serious. “Maybe, but don’t ever do it again. Never!”

 Chad smiled. “I wish I could promise you that.”

She took his hand. “I know. But do you know how proud I am of you?”

“Why?’

“Not only are you a cop doing a hard job, you took on my crazy family.”

“That wasn’t hard. That’s easy.”

Suzanne leaned down and kissed him. “Thank you for marrying this crazy black woman.”

Chad’s mouth pulled into a larger smile. “Life is an adventure.”

Epilogue

The weather was still warm when the family gathered for the annual Labor Day picnic. The park was full with families occupy all the picnic areas. Mabel and a few of her cousins were directing this year’s event. Every other year, they had the responsibility and the headache to get it all moving along smoothly.

Suzanne was in charge of the food table and getting it set up in an orderly manner. She knew how her mother and cousins wanted it done. They were very specific and vocal about it. 

Moving a sweet potato pie away from the pumpkin pie, she placed a pecan pie in the middle along with a banana creme. Suzanne glanced over where Chad was sitting up for the basketball game with Marvin. She smiled as her eyes moved over his body. It still appeared too pale, as though he hadn’t recovered from the blood loss. A chuckle escaped her as she thought maybe it was because he was in the middle of all her family.

“Well, I didn’t think they’d actually show up.”

Suzanne turned around to the voice. Her cousin, Tamara, was staring at the road with her arms crossed. Turning to see what she was focused on, Suzanne’s lips curled into a smile. 

“Yes, they did.” Suzanne moved the last of the items in place on the food tables and walked toward her in-laws.

Warren’s car had just pulled up to the curb several yards down. Regina had called the Friday before to accept their invitation. It hadn’t been offered lightly. While Suzanne sincerely wanted Regina to come, she knew that not all her family was ready for such a step. But then again, it was now or never. If they weren’t willing to be acceptive after Chad’s near-death experience, they never would. And Suzanne needed to know.

A few feet from the car, the doors opened. Warren stepped out. He gave a nervous look over the large group that had stopped all activity and stared at the new arrivals. With a hesitant smile and nod, he moved to the back door. Jean stepped out of the passenger side with a dish in her hand and looked as though she had just stepped into a locked tiger cage. Suzanne suppressed a laugh. Jean might be more right than she realized, but deep down she knew it would be alright.

She gave Jean a reassuring wave. Jean showed a little less discomfort. That was a big step in the right direction. Then she stopped cold. It wasn’t until she heard Chad behind her did she blink.

“Mom?”

There was Regina. Carrying another dish. And…

“Cornrows?” Suzanne couldn’t believe her eyes.

Regina gave her do a pat after handing Warren her dish. “You like?”

Suzanne nodded silently as Chad stood with his mouth gaping open and his eyes looking over his mother’s new look. Suzanne jumped again when another voice broke the silence.

“Damn, Regina. Woman, you looking good!”

Suzanne and Chad turned in unison to see Bradford grinning ear-to-ear.

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