The Pages We Forget
His touch ruined her life. It had been more than ten years since she last felt his touch, but June remembered that night like it was last night. She could still feel their bodies touching for the first time. His trembling lips. Her love enveloping him. Him surrendering to her. Nothing escaped her memory of that cool April night. She could still hear the rain playing pitter-patter against the window. Smell traces of his Eternity cologne on the green comforter. Feel his love inside of hers. She didn’t forget anything about the night they first made love. Not even the tears in his eyes as he tiptoed out of the room while she pretended to be asleep.
It had been ten years, two months and sixteen days, to be exact, since she gave herself to him, and seldom did a day pass when she didn’t find herself reliving all or some part of that night. The memories didn’t always replay in sequence. Sometimes they began as he took her in his arms while posing for their prom pictures, or two hours later when he opened the bedroom door at Mildred’s Bed and Breakfast Inn. And sometimes at the very moment he surrendered to her. But mostly they began at the beginning with her staring out of her upstairs bedroom window at his house next door. Then Keith, alluringly debonair in a sky-blue and white tuxedo, strode out onto the wraparound porch with his gushing parents, Reverend and Lucy Kaye Adams, right behind him. He stopped
at the bottom of the four steps and patiently posed for pictures with his mother and then his father before getting into Reverend Adams’ navy blue Lincoln Town Car and backing out the graveled driveway.
“Here he comes,” she shouted to her mother, who was in the next room putting film in the camera. She grabbed her pearl white clutch and white shawl off the bed and hurried out of the room. “Ma, come on!” She stopped at the top of the stairway and fidgeted with the spaghetti straps of the sky-blue gown, meticulously adjusting the opaque wrap until it draped perfectly. “Ma!”
“I’m ready,” Kathryn yelled and rushed in the hallway. She stopped in her tracks. “Oooh, my baby. You are so…”
The doorbell rang.
“Ma, it’s him,” she shrieked. “He’s here!”
“I’ll get it,” Kathryn announced and started down the stairs.
“And I’ll wait here.” She still felt butterflies whenever he came near, even after a twelve-year courtship that began the first time she saw him. His parents had driven from New Jersey to Hampton Springs so he could spend the summer with his grandparents, who lived next door. Her heart started racing and her legs began wobbling the moment she saw him get out of his parents’ car that day. She felt that same dizzying sensation as she waited for him at the top of the stairs. To stop her knees from knocking and her heart from racing, she took a deep breath and held it.
Kathryn opened the front door. “Good evening, Mrs. Thomas.” Keith greeted her with a regal bow of the head before stepping inside.
“Is Junie ready?” Lucy Kaye asked as she and Reverend Adams rushed to beat each other inside, almost knocking Keith over during their haste.
“Wait until you see her.” Kathryn closed the door, trying her best to contain her excitement.
Keith watched her descend the stairway. His eyes glazed over. She exhaled.
“Kathryn, she’s beautiful,” Lucy Kaye gushed. “Oh, my babies.”
He met her at the bottom of the stairway. “You look good.” He reached for her hand, his eyes conveying more than his lips could express in that moment.
“Good?” she hesitated.
“Better than good,” he corrected himself, trying to find the words that wouldn’t sound inappropriate in front of everyone. “You are beautiful.”
“Thank you. And I must say that you are quite handsome.”
Lucy Kaye nudged Kathryn giving a knowing wink. “They’re going to be the best-looking couple at the prom.”
“Turn around,” Reverend Adams told them, “so we can get a picture of you together.”
Keith put his strong, yet gentle, arms around her, and they both smiled as the cameras flashed. “Okay, I want you to change sides.” Reverend Adams took a look at the pose, shaking his head in his displeasure. “No wait. Keith, why don’t you let Junie stand in front of you?”
“Come on, Dad. That’s enough pictures.” Keith took her hand in his and led her out the door.
Outside, the scene, the moment, everything was perfect. It felt surreal. She paused to listen to the song of the redbirds as it floated melodically on the gentle breeze. It was a twilight symphony heard often in these parts. Majestic magnolias framed the yard and the ornately detailed Victorian house. The magnolias permeated the air with their pungent perfume. The sky, already painted in hues of faded blues, became even paler against the brilliance radiating from June and Keith.
The neighbors gathered in the yard. Mrs. Croft, who made the
white lily corsages and boutonnieres that perfectly complemented their attire, fettered into the yard like her feet were shackled. Mr. and Mrs. Whitehurst, Coach Rickards, Mrs. Blue Hen, holding her four-year-old grandson’s hand, Mrs. Rosa Lee and her sister and brother-in-law, Mrs. Fannie Lou and Deacon P. H., and every member of the seven families who lived on Bacon Street were present. Inez, her best friend, and Inez’s date, Nathaniel, a young man from Perry, were pulling in the driveway. Mrs. Whitehurst, Inez’s grandmother, was already passing around Polaroids of Inez and Nathaniel. This was a proud moment for all of them. Three members of the Bacon Street families would soon be graduating from high school, and they knew that together they’d done a good job rearing these three exemplary young people. It showed on their gladsome faces and echoed in their jubilant laughter.
Inez, dressed in a lavender silk gown, got out of the burgundy Bonneville. Her fingers spoke for her. “You’re beautiful, Junie.”
She signed back, “So are you.”
“Reverend, get one of him opening the car door for Junie,” Lucy Kaye suggested, taking her by the hand and guiding her down the steps and across the mulch-covered walkway.
“Mom, don’t you think that’s—”
“Do what your mother says,” Reverend Adams told Keith.
“Turn around, Junie.” Kathryn was already positioned to take the photo that Lucy Kaye suggested. “Smile for the camera.”
She turned slightly so that she and Keith were facing both her mother’s and Reverend Adams’ cameras. As she turned, she glimpsed his face. He was smiling, beaming, laughing almost.
Almost in that instant, the same unpredictable and unannounced way they began, the memories ended, but not before picking away the scab of a wound that would not heal.
June’s life was over after that night, but she didn’t stop living. Not at all. She left for college two months later. Within a year of leaving town, she hit it big. Really big. But that didn’t surprise the folks in Hampton Springs. They always knew she was going to be the one who put the once famous North Florida community back on the map.
When June was eight, she strolled into the kitchen one Sunday morning as Kathryn was dicing an onion to go in a bowl of potato salad for Mt. Nebo’s first Sunday fellowship. She announced her new career plans. She no longer wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. “I’m going to be a star,” she foretold.
“What kind of star?” Kathryn asked without bothering to look back at June, who was wearing an afro-puff wig too big for her head, a pair of two-inch-heeled bare backs that were three inches too long, and a yellow and white ruffled skirt that fitted like a maxi-dress.
“The kind in the movies,” June answered, grabbing a wooden spoon off of the counter. “I’m gonna be like Diana Ross.” She sashayed around the counter, snapping her fingers to get a rhythm. She turned to her mother, who still hadn’t looked around. “Cause wherever my man is,” she belted with a voice well beyond her years. “I’m his forever…”
The jar of pimentos fell out of Kathryn’s hand and the sound of breaking glass brought her first performance to a sudden halt. Kathryn couldn’t believe her ears. It was the first time she, or anyone else, had paid attention to June’s captivating voice. “Don’t stop! Keep singing,” Kathryn cheered her on.
“’Cause wherever my man is, I’m his forever more,” June sang. Then she turned to her mother and said, “That’s all I know.”
“Junie, when did you start singing like that?”
“You promise you won’t get mad?”
“Mad about what?”
“Well, last night after you told me to go to sleep, I slipped back up so I could finish watching this movie on TV with Diana Ross in it called Lady Sings the Blues. You ever seen it, Ma?”
“Child, I done seen that movie more times than I can count. Now go on.”
“Well, I really liked it and I decided I wanted to be a singer like Diana Ross and the lady she was playing, Billie… Billie something.”
“Billie Holiday,” Kathryn informed her.
“Yeah, that was her name. Anyway, after I finished watching the movie, I started practicing.”
“You started practicing last night, and you already singing like that? Move over, Miss Ross! My girl’s on her way!”
June knew it and her mother did, too. She was going to be a star like she said she would. And it wasn’t because she had what Lucy Kaye, Mt. Nebo Baptist Church’s choir director, described as a blessed voice after hearing her sing later that day. It was more than mere talent or even desire. It was something else. Something preternatural. No one understood what made her so special, but everyone recognized that she was.
Me, her first album, released when she was nineteen and a sophomore at the University of Florida, proved how special she was with worldwide sales in the millions. That was followed by two other platinum CDs, two movies, both box office hits, and a multimillion-dollar promotion contract with a leading cosmetics line. The world loved her and watched her every move.
Junie Thomas became June, one of the entertainment industry’s brightest stars. As she sat in the parlor of her lakefront mansion in Grosse Pointe playing Joy, the black enameled Baldwin piano
she received on her thirteenth birthday, she quietly sang a song from her upcoming CD, The Pages We Forget. “Our eyes tell stories, of how we used to be. Memories locked inside, never to be free. And now after all this time…” She paused and studied the piano’s keys. “We pass like we’ve never met. Neither wanting to remember the pages we forget.”
This song was special because she wrote it for Keith. Well, not exactly for Keith, but about him. She didn’t know if he listened to her music, saw her films or even glanced at the magazine and tabloid covers she often graced as he went through the supermarket check-out lanes.
June stopped singing and peered out the window at the two men applying a fresh coat of paint to the exterior of the house. One of the men, a blond-haired, blue-eyed reincarnation of Paul Newman, was looking at her. She knew from the look on his face that he was excited about seeing her in person. He stopped painting and smiled at her. June straightened the sash on her white satin robe and then adjusted the hairpin that held her hair in an upswept twist. She smiled invitingly at the young man. Although his wide-toothed smile was nothing like Keith’s timid smile, she was reminded of the last time she had seen Keith smile—the night before he ran away. No one saw or heard from Keith after he left except for his parents, who received an occasional letter or a brief phone call every few months. He made them promise to keep his whereabouts a secret and that they wouldn’t come after him.
Three years passed before he came home again and then it was to attend his father’s funeral. Kathryn called and told June that Reverend Adams had passed away as she prepared to perform in front of a sold-out crowd. She could not go on afterwards, so she canceled the show and caught the next flight to Tallahassee, which
departed at four-thirty that morning. A few minutes after sunrise, June was speeding along the two-lane stretch of highway between Tallahassee and Hampton Springs.
Only a stone’s throw from the marshy coast of Florida’s Big Bend, Hampton Springs’ destiny could have easily been like those of its nearby neighbors. The coastal fishing villages of St. Marks and Apalachicola were havens of born and bred fishermen and their families struggling to make a living plucking oysters, shrimp, blue crabs and mullet from the gulf and inland bays. However, the sulfuric spring that gushed what was once believed to be medicinal waters out of a small enclave near Rocky Creek reversed the town’s fate.
B & G Railroad owner John Bacon, who suffered from rheumatism, stumbled on the springs during a 1913 hunting and fishing trip in Taylor County’s bountiful pine forests which were filled with deer, raccoons, squirrels, quail, and wild hogs. The creeks overflowed with bream, catfish, and speckled trout. After bathing in the spring and sipping its bitter brew, Bacon proclaimed himself healed of the stiff joints and muscle swelling that had nearly crippled him. Within a year, he constructed a magnificent 45-bedroom resort, the Hampton Springs Hotel, on the site. Then he placed colorful advertisements on his trains and in stations around the country touting the spring’s healing waters, the forests’ abundant wildlife and streams, and the fresh Florida air. The hotel’s mineral-rich bathing pools began luring wealthy guests from across the country, many of whom settled in the area.
When the hotel burned down in March 1952, most of the town’s three hundred residents were wealthy white landowners who made their living selling timber to the pulp and saw mills in nearby Perry and by harvesting and selling turpentine to medicinal distilleries.
June’s family and the other six black families who lived on Bacon Street inherited their lavish homes and enough land to buy their dreams when Old Man Bacon died in 1956. He bequeathed most of the property to the indentured black servants who still resided in Brown Quarters, a shantytown of shotgun houses behind the hotel. This benevolence gave them a chance to rewrite their lives and their children’s lives.
June longed to see her hometown after the two-year whirlwind of appearances and touring that followed the release of her first CD and the recording of her second. She pulled out a Newport as she counted down the ninth mile of her thirty-two-mile journey. She wasn’t sure what made her purchase the pack of cigarettes because she didn’t smoke, but she’d instinctively walked in a store at the airport and asked for a pack of Newports.
“Long or short?” the clerk asked.
“Short, I guess.”
“Box or soft pack?”
“Box,” she answered. “I also need a lighter.”
The clerk, who looked to be in his early forties, stroked his long curly hair behind his ear and stared over his wire-framed glasses at June as he rang up her purchase. “That’ll be four dollars and seventy-nine cents.”
She handed him a five-dollar bill.
“Out of five,” he said, and counted out twenty-one cents. He hesitated before handing her the change. “Are you…?”
“No.” She hurried her answer, hoping to halt the conversation before it continued.
“You could’ve fooled me because you look exactly like her,” he remarked, looking closer. “Did you know she was from ’round these parts?”
“I may have read that somewhere,” she replied, taking the change out of his hand. “Thank you.”
He nodded and watched as she walked out the store through a terminal full of pointing fingers and curious glances. She turned and headed toward the Enterprise Rent-a-Car counter.
An hour and five cigarettes later, she steered the Toyota Camry into a cramped parking space in front of her mother’s downtown bakery. She had not been home in almost two years because she had been busy recording and promoting her first album, which she immediately followed up with the recording of her second album, Feel My Love. Still, she didn’t expect the whole town to turn out simply to see her. The majority of Hampton Springs’ 824 residents were gathered inside the bakery, next door in Inez’s Beauty Salon, outside along Willow Street’s wooden covered sidewalks, and in the shade of the moss-covered oaks and dogwoods that lined the street. No one had to tell the town folks June was on her way home. They knew she would be there as soon as she heard about Reverend Adams. Some came clutching yellowed scrapbook and grade-school photos, while others brought copies of her first album, Me, for her to autograph. The entire town was happy to see her. Everyone…except Keith.
It was early the next morning when she saw him. She was sitting in her old bedroom staring out the window when a black and white Toyota Corolla pulled into the Adams’ driveway. Her heart stopped. She pressed her face against the window to get a better view of him. She gasped when she saw the forlorn look on his face as he got out of the car. “Ma!” June rushed out the room and almost fell running down the stairway. “He’s home, Ma! He’s home!”
Kathryn ran out of the kitchen just in time to stop June from running out the front door. “No!”
“You can’t just run over there, Junie,” Kathryn advised and closed the door.
“Because of everything that’s happened.”
“No buts, Junie! You can’t rush this. You’ve got to wait for him. Give him time.”
June stared into her mother’s eyes. “I can’t, Ma. I’ve been waiting three long years. Three years that feel like a lifetime. I can’t wait any longer. I have to see him now!”
“I know how you feel and I know—”
“Do you, Ma? Do you really know how I feel?”
“Junie, I’m trying to understand.”
“How can you, Ma? He was the first man I ever loved! The first one I made love to. And after I made love to him, he disappeared. He didn’t say good-bye. He didn’t say anything. He just left. Has that ever happened to you, Ma? Because if it hasn’t, you can’t begin to understand how I feel!”
June reached for the doorknob, but Kathryn stood firm. “No, that’s never happened to me,” she tearfully replied. “But I’m your mother, and every time you hurt I hurt. My heart broke too when he left, and my heart is breaking right now because I see how much you’re still hurting. But please, Junie, trust me on this.”
June reluctantly consented. During the next two hours, she paced back and forth through the living room and trampled up and down the stairway. In between the pacing, she kept staring out the windows hoping to catch another glimpse of him. She couldn’t wait any longer. While Kathryn wasn’t looking, she dashed out the front door, down the steps, across the yard and through a gap
in the azalea hedges separating their yards. Kathryn heard the door open and rushed out of the kitchen. It was too late. “Junie!”
Keith didn’t see June coming up the walkway when he opened the screen door and walked onto the porch. When he did see her, it was like seeing a ghost. He stood frozen.
June stopped at the bottom of the steps. “Hi,” she said nervously, looking directly into his eyes, hoping they would tell her what she knew he wasn’t going to. “I saw you when you got in this morning, but Ma told me I should wait until you got settled before I came over.”
His face turned stolid. Without saying a word, he turned and bolted back in the house. June ran up the steps and tried to snatch the screen door open, but he had already latched the door. She stared through the screen at him as he hurried through the living room and up the stairs toward his bedroom.
“Why? Why won’t you talk to me?” she yelled as he disappeared up the stairway.
She didn’t cry the morning he first ran away and she had not cried once since then. No matter how much it hurt, she wouldn’t let herself cry because she couldn’t be sure the tears would stop falling if they ever started. So she played it safe and never consciously questioned why he left. Or why he refused to see or talk to her. But now, after seeing his face again and looking into his deep, despondent eyes, she could no longer make herself forget what happened that night. She remembered touching him. Then slowly undressing him. Making love to him. She remembered everything. Even the words she’d tried so hard to forget: please don’t. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t forget those two words. “Please don’t” echoed down the stairway, through the living room and onto the porch as he walked out of her life again.
Scared that Keith might not show up for his father’s funeral, June and Kathryn decided it was best for her not to attend. So, June flew back home to Detroit that afternoon, promising herself she would never interfere in his life or attempt to contact him again. Her tears started falling that day seven years ago.
June wiped a tear from her eye, then turned and looked at one of the three framed pictures of her son, Trevor. There was Keith’s smile again. Trevor’s eyes were his, too. So was his straight black hair and caramel complexion. They could pass for twins.
“The years have healed the pain and we’ve learned to love again,” she sang and watched her fingers caress Joy’s keys. In her mind, she wiped away the tears she had seen in Keith’s eyes that morning ten years ago. “Until that moment in time, when again we feel the rhythm, we hear the rhyme, slowly start to beat. Then those chapters of our lives start to repeat.”
She remembered how hard it was to let go, to simply give up on the life she was supposed to share with him, but she did it. She made the painstaking decision to go on, to live, even though the life she would be living would not be her own. She couldn’t forget him though. Not the smile on his face as they backed out of her driveway that night. Nor his telling eyes. His touch. Once, when she couldn’t recall the sound of his voice and the silence had become too unbearable, she phoned his mother back in Hampton Springs and asked her to make a three-way call to him, so she could hear his voice.
“Remember, you can’t say anything, Junie,” Lucy Kaye reminded her as Keith’s phone rang. Lucy Kaye didn’t know what happened between the time Junie and Keith backed out of Kathryn’s driveway and the next morning. But she already knew that whatever happened, June and Keith were keeping it between them. And she
knew what Keith had said about telling anyone his whereabouts. “If it was left up to me, I’d give you his phone number and address.”
“I understand, Mrs. Adams.” The phone continued to ring. Please be home. Please be home, June repeated in her mind when he didn’t answer after five rings. Please.
Finally, a wavering voice answered, “Hello?”
He sounded the same. His voice still gravelly. She wondered if he looked the same. Was his hair long or short? Was it still straight and jet black? Did he ever grow the mustache he always wanted? Did he learn to smile again? Hearing his voice wasn’t enough now. She wanted to see him, but seeing him was out of the question.
“Ma, I’m sorry I forgot to call you back the other night,” he said, “but I got a little busy.”
June wanted Lucy Kaye to ask him what he was busy doing. Did some friends drop by? Was it his girlfriend? Did he have a girlfriend? Did he go over to her place? Did they go out to dinner? Did they watch a movie? Listen to music? What did she look like? Was she pretty?
“I’m rewriting a story for a nature magazine, and the editor needs the rewrite plus a few more photographs by next week,” he explained. “So, that’s been keeping me busy.”
“Well, let me know when the magazine will be out so I can pick up a copy at the supermarket,” Lucy Kaye uttered, trying to lengthen the conversation for June’s sake, if not her own.
“You probably won’t find it in Hampton Springs. It’s a regional magazine, so I’ll have to send you a copy,” he said. “Now tell me, are you calling just to say hello or are you still trying to get me home for the Fourth?”
“I was calling to see how my baby’s doing,” she answered. “But I really would like to see you next month. So why don’t you come
on home and see about your lonely old mother? It’s been five years.”
“I can’t promise you anything, but I’ll see what I can do,” he said. “So…” he started to say but suddenly stopped. “Ma?”
He knows I’m on the phone, June told herself. He feels me. He knows. I have to say something. She opened her mouth to say his name but nothing came out. She tried again and still nothing. “Hello,” she finally mumbled.
“Ma, who was that?”
Lucy Kaye didn’t answer immediately.
“That was Kathryn,” Lucy Kaye responded. “She just walked in.”
“Then, I better let you go,” Keith said. “I’ll call you next week.”
“All right,” she replied piteously. “I already know you’re going to eventually say no, but please think about coming home for the Fourth.”
“I will,” he said.
Afterward, June apologized to Lucy Kaye. She didn’t know what made her say something while Keith was on the phone. It had not been her intention because she remembered the promise she made to herself. She had already broken it by having his mother call him.
That was two years ago.
June looked up from the piano keys and stared at the gold and platinum records lining the parlor wall. She looked at the framed magazine covers: Rolling Stone. Ebony. Esquire. Vibe. People. Cosmopolitan. Essence. Vogue. Redbook. Good Housekeeping. Even, Time magazine. She’d done good for herself, had nearly everything she wanted.
She felt the compelling urge to say his name, which she rarely allowed herself to do. “Keith,” she whispered and glanced around to make sure she was still alone in the parlor. It felt good. And
since there was nobody around to hear her, she said it again. And again. But this time she played a few keys on the piano and crooned each letter and every sound associated with his name. “K… Kei… Keith. Keith.”
She closed her eyes so she could see his face. She looked in his eyes and felt his fingers touch her. She felt his lips tremble when she kissed him. Then she heard the door close the morning he left her in bed pretending to be asleep. “Why?” she asked and then waited for his reticent eyes to answer her.
His eyes refused to disclose the answer she sought.