"You're going to be the first female mayor of Los Angeles!"
Thunderous applause exploded inside the Biltmore's Colonnade Room.
"You forgot the first black female mayor," a woman bellowed above the noise.
Grace Monroe smiled into the crowd of rainbow faces. She motioned with her hands to quiet her supporters. "Thank you, but my focus is not on the mayor's office. I want to serve the people of the Eighteenth District -- you, who with your confidence and countless dedicated hours have elected me today as your councilwoman."
A roar reverberated through the room. Grace glanced over her shoulder. Behind her, Conner beamed. Next to him stood their daughters, whose smiles matched the ones in the crowd. Jayde, her fifteen year old, raised her thumb in the air.
Grace turned toward her constituents as the cheers faded. Her smile disappeared. She scanned the quieting crowd for unfamiliar eyes. She shook her head to dislodge those thoughts. Out of more than two hundred people in the room, she knew fewer than fifty. Eager faces stared back at her, and she cleared her throat.
"I will fulfill my campaign promises -- the most important being that our children receive the education they deserve. We're going to begin with morals and ethics." Minutes passed before she was able to continue through the applause. "We will address the questions that are important to you. We will provide solutions to the challenges of drugs and teenage pregnancy." Another eruption of applause. "I thank you for your commitment, but remember, this is the beginning. We must work hard to make the Eighteenth District of Los Angeles a model community, an example for the nation." She paused for just a moment. "God bless you."
Silver globes, reminiscent of the disco decade, glittered from the high ceilings as strobes swept rainbow meteors across the room. Bass tones blasted, and then Jeffrey Osborne's baritone serenaded the crowd, turning Grace's feelings into song.
We're going all the way.
Grace swayed to the music as her family joined her at the podium. Conner entwined his fingers in his wife's and raised her hand in the air in victory. "I am so proud of you. Congratulations, Councilwoman." His lips grazed her ear.
She shined with pride as he kissed her cheek, and the crowd cheered their approval. She could feel her daughters on her other side.
Amber giggled. "Mommy, the music is so loud."
Grace laughed, stooped, and hugged her seven year old. Then she pulled Jayde into her arms.
"Congratulations, Mom," Jayde grinned.
Grace smiled, relieved that her teenager was in the mood for the celebration.
"Well done, dear." Grace turned at the sound of her mother's voice. Lily had squeezed between her grandchildren to stand at her daughter's side. Grace hugged her mother.
Lily patted her daughter's back as they embraced. "I'm proud of you." As Grace pulled away, her mother whispered, "The only thing missing is your sister...." Grace shrugged from her mother's arms, her smile gone.
Before a tick clicked on the clock, Conner stepped between the two women and put his arm around his wife. "The cameras, honey," he said through lips that hardly moved. He motioned toward the crowd with his dimpled chin.
dGrace returned to center stage, her practiced smile in place. She waved, then took Conner's hand and moved toward the curtains behind them. Lily and the girls followed. Before she was two steps backstage, Zoë, her campaign manager and now chief of staff, ran toward her with headphones covering her braids and a clipboard in her hand.
"Grace, Channel 2 wants the first interview. We should give it to them because their polls supported us, and they were the fairest in reviewing our platform." She took one glance at the clipboard, then added, "Next, we'll go to Channel...."
Grace held up her hand. "Zoë, take a breath."
Zoë stared speechless for a moment, then smiled. "Have I congratulated you?" She squinted, as if trying to remember.
"No, you haven't." Grace hugged her. "And I haven't thanked you." She squeezed Zoë's hand. "Tell Channel 2 that I'll be right there." Zoë nodded and rushed away. Grace shook her head, knowing that in five minutes, she'd be back with three more interviews arranged.
"Girl, girl, girl!" Devry clapped, and Grace laughed at her sister-in-law. "You did it!"
Grace hugged Devry, then stepped back when she felt the gentle swell of her sister-in-law's belly between them. "Don't want to hurt the baby."
Devry laughed. "Girl, Baby Monroe is having a blast. Just like the rest of us." She took Grace's hand. "I'm so proud of you."
"It's still unbelievable," Grace said. Then her eyes wandered over Devry's shoulder into the face of Conner -- only the man didn't have her husband's eyes. Chandler's were a tint lighter than Conner's dark brown ones. As she hugged her brother-in-law, she thought for the thousandth time that the doctors had been mistaken -- they couldn't be fraternal twins.
The family's circle was infiltrated by others, from campaign workers to church members, all offering their congratulations. As she stood in the crowd's midst, Grace stepped away in her mind. With the music blaring at levels that would make an audiologist cringe, Grace felt as if she was in the middle of a Times Square New Year's celebration. She smiled. It was a new year -- a new beginning for a community that she loved and another new start for her. God just continued giving her new blessings.
Grace joined the crowd again and continued hugging and kissing her well-wishers until her cheeks ached from the smile she'd worn since all three networks declared her the victor.
"Honey, we should get out there," Conner said. "There're a lot of people to meet and greet."
She nodded and turned to Jayde and Amber. "Give me a hug, ladies. Are you sure you have everything?"
Amber nodded and embraced her mother. "Yes, Mommy."
When Grace turned to Jayde, her older daughter stood with her arms crossed. "I don't know why I have to go to Nana's. There are other kids here," she said, peeking through the stage's curtains.
Grace stroked Jayde's cheek. "You have school tomorrow, and that's all that counts." She kissed her, then stepped back as Conner kissed their daughters good-bye.
Grace turned to her mother. "Thanks, Mom."
"There's nothing I like more than having my grandbabies with me."
Conner motioned to Frank Austin, Grace's driver, that Lily and the girls were ready. He waited until they were out of view and then, with pandemonium still surrounding them, pulled Grace into his arms. "Well, Miss Councilwoman," he began, and kissed her nose. "It's time for my personal congratulations." He paused, becoming serious. "I wish we could leave now for our own celebration."
Her eyes glittered. She pulled away and faked a yawn. "It's been a long day." She looked at her watch. "Let's sneak out in five minutes."
"What would Channel 2 say?" He laughed. "But the quicker we make our appearance, the quicker we'll be able to escape." He put his arm around her waist. "Come on, Councilwoman Monroe, the people want you." He took her hand. "Just remember that your husband wants you more."
As Zoë led them into the waiting crowd, neither noticed the woman whose eyes watched them and whose steps matched theirs as she moved along the room's perimeter.
Grace leaned against the Suburban and laughed at Conner, whose arms were spread wide.
"I'm not kidding," he said. "I'm going to carry you over the threshold."
"You didn't have anything to drink, and you don't do drugs, so this must be mad cow disease."
He pursed his lips as if he was annoyed, but he couldn't hide his smile. "I've done this before."
"Fifteen years ago. You were younger, and I weighed...less." She paused when she saw the laughter in his eyes. "Are you making fun of me?"
He held up his hands. "Never, because you are more beautiful today than the day we married." He held his arms open to her again.
She shrugged. "Okay."
He lifted her, then grunted.
"I told you." She laughed as he struggled. A moment later, she squealed as he raised her high, letting her rest on his shoulder.
"Ssshhh. The neighbors," Conner huffed.
They laughed as he staggered into the house, wobbling through the long hallway, then letting her slip from his arms right under the living room arch, the special place where they had renewed their wedding vows ten years before.
"I can't believe you did that." She laughed and smoothed her red Tadashi suit over her waist.
"And I can't believe that you had doubts about winning this election." The smile left his face. "Grace, the city is blessed to have you...and so am I."
Her eyes burned with warmth. It was more than his words that made her want to cry. In his eyes, she saw their history. In his tone, she heard him say, "I forgive you," all over again.
She stroked his face, then brushed her lips against his.
He kissed her and, with his tongue, erased every memory of the election until their thoughts were of themselves alone. He took her hand, pulling her into the living room. He used the dimmer to lower the lights to their softest glow before he led her to the couch.
He kissed her again, then turned away, moving to the entertainment center that covered one wall. With the press of one button music, filled the room.
My love, there's only you in my life, the only thing that's right....
Grace's eyes followed Conner as he walked across the room and turned off the lights. The room was illuminated only by the outside streetlights that filtered through the sheer curtains hanging at the living room's tripanel bay window.
Conner stretched his hand forward, lifting her from the couch. They leaned together, two lines in poem, swaying to Lionel Richie's serenade.
Grace laid her head against Conner's chest, closed her eyes, and sank into the words that she and Conner had first danced to at their wedding.
Two hearts. Two hearts that beat as one.
Grace was sure the song had been written for them.
Our lives have just begun.
As the music continued, Conner lifted her chin and pressed his mouth against hers, gently pushing her back until her legs pressed against the couch. They continued their horizontal dance until they heard the three beeps of the alarm indicating that a door had been opened.
Startled, Conner and Grace slipped from their embrace and jumped from the couch. The chandelier in the foyer brightened the entire front of the house.
"Mommy, why are the lights off?" Amber asked.
Grace smoothed her skirt as she rushed toward the foyer, while Conner turned off the music.
"What are you doing here?" Grace asked, glancing from her mother to her daughters.
Jayde yawned. "Amber wanted to come home."
"You did too," Amber asserted. Then she leaned against Grace.
Grace looked at her mother. "Mom, it's almost midnight."
"I know, honey, but when Amber started crying, I thought it best to bring them here. I didn't think you'd be home. I was going to put them to bed and wait for you."
Grace opened her mouth, then shook her head. "Come on," she said to her daughters. "Let me get you to bed. You have school in the morning." She looked at her mother.
Conner said, "I'll take care of the girls."
"I told you we should have stayed with you," Jayde smirked, as she trotted up the winding staircase.
Grace was silent until her husband disappeared with their daughters. "Mom, they should be in bed."
"I'm sorry." Lily moved toward the kitchen. "I thought this was better than having Amber cry all night. She's so spoiled."
Grace followed her mother. "It must have been the excitement. Amber hasn't done that in a long time. Anyway, do you want to stay here instead of driving back home?"
Lily shook her head and ran her hand through her closely cropped white-gray afro as she sat at the kitchen table. "No, I just want a quick cup of coffee." When Grace stood still, with her arms folded, staring at her mother, Lily added, "Decaf, of course."
With a sigh, and a shrug, Grace set the coffee maker, then pulled a mug from the cabinet, setting it heavily on the counter.
"I said I was sorry," Lily exclaimed, then paused, twisting her lips into a lopsided grin. "And I'm sorry that we interrupted you and Conner. Looks like you weren't expecting anyone."
Grace smiled and sat with her mother. Her fingers danced on the table to the rhythm of Lionel still singing in her head.
"You have a good husband."
Grace's smile widened.
"Not every man would stand by his wife...."
Grace's fingers stopped. "Mom!"
Lily held up her hands. "I'm just speaking the truth."
"And you speak it every chance you get."
"I want you to remember."
"With you, there's no chance of forgetting." Grace paused. "Mom, my mistakes were long ago forgiven and forgotten. I know I have a wonderful husband, and now Conner knows that he has a terrific wife." Another moment passed. "Can we change the subject?"
Lily shrugged, giving herself just enough time to gasp new air. "When was the last time you called your sister?"
"Argh!" Grace stood, walked to the counter and opened the cabinet above the sink. The blue plastic cups were stacked, waiting for her to fill one with coffee, drop in a plastic stirrer, and send her mother on her way.
"I guess the subject of your sister is off-limits too," Lily huffed.
Grace raised her glance toward the ceiling. "Help me, Lord," she whispered, before facing her mother with the coffee pot in one hand and the mug in the other. She walked toward the table, feeling the heat rise through the pot's cover.
Lily held up her hand, stopping Grace. "Not too much. I don't want to stay long."
Grace had a myriad of retorts but said nothing. She poured the coffee, filling the mug less than a third full -- just enough for a few sips. They sat in silence as Lily blew on the liquid and then swallowed the coffee in just a bit more than a gulp. When she finished, she stared at her daughter.
Grace tried not to sigh as she refilled her mother's cup. When she finished pouring, she said, "No, Mom. I haven't spoken to Mabel."
"Your sister's name is Starlight now."
Grace groaned inside and hoped her silence would keep her from being pulled into this conversation. But silence didn't stop Lily. "I wish you two would settle your differences. The only thing that matters is that you're sisters."
"Mom, we'll never agree, so can we not talk about this?"
Lily shook her head, and tsked. "You should have included your sister tonight. Don't be judgmental, Grace. Conner forgave you."
Grace's eyes thinned to slits. The ticking of the pear-shaped clock above the sink that Conner helped Jayde make in a fifth-grade science project punctuated the seconds of their silence. She finally cut through the quiet. "Mom, I don't have to forgive Mabel. She didn't do anything to me. I just don't like how she takes advantage of women." She stood from the table. "Second, I am blessed that my husband has forgiven me. But that's between Conner and me only."
Lily glared at her daughter.
Grace leaned against the counter and folded her arms. "Are you finished?"
Lily looked down at her mug still filled with coffee. She returned her glance to Grace. "I've had just about enough." She stood and marched through the hallway back to the foyer. At the front door, she whipped around. "I forgot my..."
Grace handed the oversized Coach bag to her mother.
Lily slung the purse over her shoulder, then lowered her eyes.
"Mom, are you going to be okay? Conner can follow you home."
She waved her hand. "I don't want to be any more trouble...."
"I know you want Mabel..." Grace paused at Lily's disapproving glance. "You want Starlight and me to be close, but we're not. You have to accept that."
Lily shook her head. "Family is the most important thing." She looked into Grace's eyes. "And now that you're both successful, you should stop this stupid competition."
She wanted to tell Lily there was no competition, but she said nothing.
Lily continued, "Make peace."
That will never happen, Grace thought. But as she looked at her mother's mournful eyes, she said, "Maybe one day, Mom."
Sadness slumped Lily's shoulders, making her five-foot-two frame even more petite.
Grace softened and pulled her mother into her arms. Lily felt like a porcelain doll that would crack under the slightest pressure. It always amazed Grace that such a small woman had birthed two daughters, who with their five-foot-eight and -nine frames were Amazons compared to their mother.
The strain of her daughters' estranged relationship weighed heavy on Lily; Grace could see that. And since her second husband's death over two years before, it seemed even more important for Lily to bring her daughters together.
"Mom, I'll give Mabel...Starlight a call." Grace wasn't sure if she was speaking the truth, but when Lily smiled, she was glad she'd spoken.
Lily planted a soft kiss on her daughter's cheek.
Grace opened the front door, and together they stepped onto the brick walkway into the coolness of the April night. Lily slipped inside her Toyota Camry and, through the closed window, wiggled her fingers, waving good-bye, saying thank-you. Grace stood in place until her mother's car vanished into the night.
Grace returned inside, slumped against the door, and wondered how the sweetness of the day had shifted to the sourness she now felt.
"I heard some of that."
She raised her glance to the second-floor landing and smiled when Conner stretched his arms, beckoning her. Weariness pressed her down as she climbed the stairs. Conner held her for several moments before he switched off the light, darkening the house's interior.
They took two steps when Grace stopped. "Let me check on the girls."
Conner took her hand before she could turn away. "Already done." He pulled her into their bedroom. "It's time for you and me." He lowered his lips to hers, pressing her against the closed door. "Where were we?"
Grace shut her eyes, trying to fall into the feeling, but she couldn't find the place where she'd been before the girls burst in. It took only a minute for Conner to lean away. Her eyes apologized, but he brought his finger to her lips, telling her there was nothing to be sorry about. Then he took her hand and moved to their hand-carved canopy bed. As she sat on the edge, he removed her pumps, then massaged her feet before he stood and slid her jacket from her shoulders. He lowered his lips to her neck as he unbuttoned her satin blouse.
Grace moaned, dropping her head back so that she could receive her husband's warm lips. In less than a minute, Conner had his wife naked above the waist, but when she reached for his belt, he pushed her hands away. He laid her on the bed, rolled her onto her stomach, and slipped her skirt from her hips.
She closed her eyes and moaned even before his fingers began to push and pull against her skin. Her gasps were deep under his touch, and she melted under his fingers. Moments later, she drifted asleep.
Grace wasn't sure how long Conner worked, providing her pleasure, but she didn't awaken until he turned off the light and slid onto the cool sheets next to her.
Conner pulled her against him. She stretched, pushing her back against his chest.
"I love loving you," he whispered.
"Hmmm," was all she could manage, weak from the release Conner's fingers had afforded her.
He squeezed his arms around her. "I would do anything for you, Grace."
She was almost asleep again when he spoke, but she heard him. She snuggled deeper into his arms, secure in knowing his words were the absolute truth.
Copyright © 2004 by Victoria Christopher Murray