What happens when two sisters believe the grass is greener on the other side?
What happens when they begin to believe that life would be much more satisfying if they could only switch places with each other?
Kimberla Lawson Roby took readers and bestseller lists by storm with her debut novel BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, “a vivid picture of two black women struggling to put their lives into perspective” Rockford, Illinois Register Star. Now Roby returns with HERE AND NOW, a captivating portrait of two women at the crossroads of life, and her most emotionally powerful story yet.
Two sisters, who are as different as night and day, are each so hungry for what the other has, they are tearing their lives apart. Brilliant and vibrant, Marcella Jones had the whole world in her hands, until she gave her heart to the wrong man. Tyrone was handsome and charismatic, but he left her destitute, raising two small children alone—and yearning for the kind of life her dead-end job will never provide. Marcella’s elder sister Racquel, lives in a fine home, has a fulfilling career and the love of Kevin, her handsome, successful, supportive husband. Yet her desperate longing for a child is driving her into a deep depression and away from Kevin.
In the tradition of Waiting To Exhale and Big Girls Don’t Cry, HERE AND NOW is the poignant story of two strong, intelligent women facing tragedy, surviving loss and terrible sorrow, and ultimately learning that only with each other’s help can they heal the hurt and celebrate the joy in their lives. At turns heartbreaking and hilarious, it marks the return of a wise, funny and fiercely passionate new voice in African-American fiction.
A wave of depression settled over Marcella as she drove her beat-up Cutlass into the low-income housing complex. Pierce Commons had been her permanent residence for almost five years, but today, the place looked different. It looked worse than ever before. Beer cans and liquor bottles thrown across the parking lot, trash spread over the sidewalks, and graffiti plastered across the once white, but now dirty-colored building. She couldn’t help but wonder how she’d been so silly as to get herself caught up in this poverty-stricken situation. And Lord knows she was worn out from struggling to make ends meet by way of a seven dollar an hour job, not to mention the child support Tyrone only paid whenever he felt like it. This wasn’t at all how she’d hoped things would turn out for them. And never in her wildest dream had she thought Tyrone, the so-called love of her life, would end up her worst nightmare. She regretted the day she’d ever laid eyes on him, let alone started dating him. And just thinking about how he treated her, and how he neglected Ashley and Nicholas made her sick to her stomach.
She parked directly in front of her building, turned the ignition to the off position, and stepped outside of the car. As she shut the door, she saw the children making their way off the school bus. She frowned when she spotted Ashley’s bare head and Nicholas’ pile-lined coat flagging wide open. No matter how often she lectured them about bundling up in the wintertime, it always seemed to ease through one ear and right out the other. Why did they always have to be so hard-headed? Didn’t they know she couldn’t afford to take off work when one of them got sick? If their sickness couldn’t be helped, that was one thing, but if it was primarily because they were being careless and absentminded, that was another. Of course Nicholas was like most boys and just didn’t have time to zip his coat up and put his hood on, but Ashley on the other hand was simply trying to be cute, and didn’t want some knit hat messing up her little hairdo.
Marcella started fussing as soon as they approached her.
“Nicholas, haven’t I told you a thousand times about walking around in zero degree weather with that coat wide open? And Ashley, you know you’re old enough to know better.” The children just looked at her in silence. And it was obvious that they didn’t have the slightest idea why she was so upset. She could see it in their faces, and that irked her even more. Marcella couldn’t remember ever being that forgetful when she was a child, and couldn’t understand at all where this particular generation had come from.
She shook her head and decided that maybe she was overreacting, which was possible since she’d had such a horrendous day at work. Right now anything would have stirred her nerves, and it wasn’t fair to be taking her frustrations out on the children. Especially since for the most part, Ashley and Nicholas were exceptional. They were obedient, intelligent, and had wonderful personalities. She loved her children and most of all, she was proud of them. Proud because, even though they hadn’t been born with silver spoons in their mouths or with the stability of a two-parent household, they were more well-mannered than some children who’d been blessed with all the financial advantages.
Marcella slid the key in the front door and opened it. They all walked in one by one, Ashley shut the door behind them, and they each kicked off their boots so they could dry. Marcella opened the hall closet, hung her black, wool scarf, charcoal-gray, winter coat, and then reached for Nicholas and Ashley’s outer garments.
“You two have any homework to do?” Marcella asked, closing the closet door.
“I don’t, Mom,” Nicholas quickly offered with a huge smile on his face.
“Good, then that means you can go work on those spelling words so you’ll be ready for your test on Friday,” Marcella responded back to him.
“Aw, Mom,” Nicholas said replacing his smile with a pout.
“Go on. I’ll be in there to test you in a bit.” Marcella knew if he didn’t have anything constructive to do, he’d spend the rest of the evening glued to Nickelodeon. Too much TV wasn’t good for anyone, and it especially wasn’t good for an eight year old little boy.
“What about you, Ashley?” Marcella asked.
“I have some math homework to do, but I finished everything else in class,” Ashley answered and headed toward her bedroom.
Marcella smiled to herself, because at that moment she saw something in her daughter that she hadn’t seen before. A ten year-old icon of herself. She’d been the very same way when she was growing up. She’d loved school from her very first day in kindergarten all the way through her graduation from high school. Ashley was a straight A student, and was clearly following in her mother’s footsteps academically. Which was fine. But when it came to falling hopelessly in love with some little boy, Marcella prayed that she would find her own path to follow. Because the last thing she wanted was for Ashley to end up pregnant; the way she had with her during the last month of her senior year in high school. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her daughter. Or both of her children for that matter, because she did. But she could kick herself a thousand times for not being more careful when she commenced to having sex with Tyrone. She’d loved him from the very first moment she laid eyes on him during their sophomore year. He, the school’s top performing football star, and she, the girl voted most likely to succeed. The world had been theirs for the taking, but without even having the sense to know it, they’d ruined everything. Marcella had received acceptance letters from colleges and universities all across the country, but she’d had no choice except to decline each and every one of them. She’d tried hopelessly to overcome this irreversible mistake, but now that almost eleven years had passed and she was twenty-eight, her efforts to do so still didn’t seem to be working.
Marcella dropped down on the beige, leather-like sofa, and leaned her head back. She closed her eyes and rested them for a moment. When she opened them, she gazed around her apartment. The desperately discounted furniture, dull-looking mini-blinds, and second-hand wall portraits were disgusting, and now she was even more depressed than she had been earlier. No matter how hard she tried, she was still barely making ends meet. Her salary alone just wasn’t enough, and the few food stamps she received each month never seemed to last more than two weeks. And the only reason they lasted that long was because of how conservative she was when it came to buying meat. If it hadn’t been for her mother and sister, she wasn’t sure what she would have done. They helped her out financially whenever she needed them to and they went out of their way to show Ashley and Nicholas how much they loved them.
Marcella could ring Tyrone’s neck. Sure, she’d been just as much at fault for not using the diaphragm, IUD, the pill or something, but he’d never made any attempts to use any form of protection either. She could still hear him now. “Baby, I won’t do it inside of you. I promise.” Hmmph, some promise. Because the only thing that had resulted from his promise was her realization that the withdrawal method just didn’t work. Somehow though, she hadn’t been the slightest bit upset when she’d first found out she was pregnant. If anything, she was thrilled. She loved Tyrone, he loved her, and they were going to have a beautiful baby girl that belonged to both of them. It was perfect. He’d go off to college on his football scholarship, marry her immediately after he graduated, allow her to work toward an accounting degree, and then she, him, and the baby would live happily ever after. And things just might have turned out that way, if he hadn’t injured his knee two weeks before the start of his freshman year. Marcella could still remember that day the sports medicine specialist informed him that his football career was over; that he would never play any sport on a professional or continuous basis ever again. Tyrone had cried like a baby, and for a while, she’d been worried that he was going to experience a nervous breakdown. Because not once had he ever imagined life without playing football. The boy ate, drank, and slept it. And it was his sole reason for existing.
Eventually his depression passed, but everything changed for the worst when he slipped into a horrible and unbearable mode of bitterness. He snapped at Marcella for just about everything, and was angry at the world. Her wonderful pregnancy had become a total nightmare, and she regretted the day she conceived his baby. By the end of her third trimester, he was barely speaking to her, and rumor had it that he was messing around with a girl she’d been friends with since third grade. At one point, Marcella hadn’t known whether she was coming or going. Her parents were completely put out by the fact that she’d gone to such an extreme to disappoint them, and they proved it by not offering her one ounce of moral support. Partly because they spent the majority of their time arguing, but mostly because they each worked tons of overtime trying hard to make ends meet. All they saw when they looked at Marcella was an extra mouth they were going to have to feed, and they weren’t at all happy about it. Which is exactly how it had turned out, too. They’d been stuck with a two thousand dollar hospital bill and the responsibility of purchasing Pampers and formula for a baby they hadn’t asked for.
Her sister, Racquel had been wonderful throughout the entire pregnancy. She’d been away at school during most of it, but she always called to talk with her. And when she came home on weekends, she spent the majority of her time with Marcella. Racquel had thought having a baby was the most joyous and precious gift there was, and at the time Marcella had agreed with her. But now, she felt like a failure. Here she’d had a child at the age of eighteen, and then gone on to have another child out of wedlock by the same man who hadn’t shown any interest in taking care of the first one. Things could have been so different had she gone to college, gotten married, and then took the time to plan for children. Children didn’t ask to come here, and the very least a parent could do was make sure they could take care of them and give them the best possible life available.
A sadness engrossed Marcella, and she could feel the tears building as fast as the thoughts were twirling through her mind. She’d been sure that the children would bring her and Tyrone closer together. How could she have been so selfish? And so stupid? She’d had no right bringing Nicholas and Ashley into such a cruel world without the means to support herself let alone the resources to provide for them. If only Tyrone would pay his child support, things would be so much easier. Their lives could be so much more happier. If only he would spend more time with them. Didn’t he know that little boys needed their fathers? Didn’t he know that Nicholas needed him? How could someone simply walk away from the innocent little faces of their own children, and pretend they didn’t even exist?
Marcella tried to blink back the tears, but she was unsuccessful at doing it. She placed her hands on each side of her head and looked down. “How could I have screwed things up like this?” she whispered softly.
“Mom, what’s the matter?” Nicholas asked walking towards her with a confused look on his face.
Marcella wiped the wetness from her face as best she could, looked up at him, and tried to smile. “Nothing, baby. Mom just had a hard day at work. That’s all.”
“Don’t worry, Mom. Everything’s gonna be okay. And things will be better when you go to work tomorrow because that’s what you always tell me and Ashley when we have a bad day at school.”
Marcella smiled, but the tears were still rolling. Nicholas was so considerate and so loving where she was concerned. Both of the children were. Especially, if they thought something was bothering her. Which was even more the reason why they deserved so much more than she was giving them.
She noticed a piece of notebook paper in his hand. “Is that your spelling list?”
“Uh-huh. You said you were going to test me on it, and I’m ready.” Marcella smiled, pulled him closer, hugged him as tight as she could and then let him go.
“What was that for, Mom?” he asked frowning like boys his age do when they think they’re too old to be hugged by their mothers.
“It’s because I love you.”
Ashley had been listening from her bedroom and decided to come out to see what was going on.
“I love both of you so much. And don’t either of you ever forget it,” she said reaching her hand out to Ashley.
Ashley looked at her still trying to figure out why her mother was acting so strangely.
“We know that, Mom. We love you too,” Ashley said leaning down to hug her mother.
“Come on Mom, test me on my spelling words, so me and Ashley can watch Nick at Nite after dinner.”
“Ashley and I,” Marcella corrected Nicholas.
“Boy, I’m not even finished with my math homework yet,” Ashley said to Nicholas and frowned.
“So what. You will be by the time Nick at Nite comes on.”
“But that doesn’t mean I want to watch TV with you.”
“You just want to get on that phone with your friends. Mom, make her watch it with me.”
“Okay you two. That’s enough. Ashley, you go finish your homework. And Mr. Nicholas we’ll see how many of these words you can spell before we discuss watching any television.”
“I know them all, Mom. I promise.”
“We’ll see. You keep studying while I go change out of my work clothes, and I’ll be back in a few minutes to start warming up dinner,” Marcella said rising from the sofa.
“Okay, Mom, but I’m telling you, I already know them all.” Marcella shook her head and smiled at him. When she arrived into her bedroom, she shut the door behind her. It was so amazing how the children always managed to eliminate her depression. They were such a joy and they were so special. All children were special to their mothers she guessed, but hers were special because they were surviving a way of life that was barely one step up from living on welfare. They didn’t live in the projects, but still, there were roaches, drug dealers, and gangs to contend with just the same. So as far as she was concerned, it was the next best thing to being there.
Marcella pulled her black, sweater dress over her head, hung it in the closet and walked toward the dreadful-looking wooden dresser. Then, she slid off her black tights, stuffed them into the top, right drawer, and slipped on the royal blue, jersey-textured sweat suit she’d left scattered across the bed earlier that morning. She never liked leaving her clothing all over the place, but after pressing the snooze button on the alarm clock twice, there hadn’t been any time to hang them. Tomorrow, though, she was going to make time because she despised keeping a messy apartment. She hadn’t been raised that way, and she made sure Nicholas and Ashley weren’t either. And even though the three of them didn’t have any luxuries worth writing home about, they went out of their way to take care of what they did have. Ashley understood that no dinner dishes were to ever be left in the sink overnight, and Nicholas automatically took the garbage out without being told. That’s how it had been for her and Racquel when they were growing up. And she was glad her mother had taught them as well as she had. Her father had been the only messy one in the household. Walking across their off-white kitchen floor, and their light-tan carpet with his filthy work boots had just about run her mother insane, but no matter how much she complained, he never stopped doing it. If they hadn’t gotten divorced, she supposed he still would be. It was almost as if he did it just to get under her mother’s skin. Her parents were at each other’s throats constantly, and the only time there had been at least some peace in their household, was when one or both of them were gone. They’d had the perfect marriage until she and Racquel became teenagers. They seemed perfect for each other, and everyone said so. But, somewhere along the line, their father started staying out till midnight. And it wasn’t long before midnight became one, two and even three in the morning. And finally when that wasn’t good enough, the wee hours of the morning had become the next day’s afternoon. It was obvious that he’d found someone else, but didn’t have the guts to leave. Then one Friday night, her mother decided that enough was enough, and that she wasn’t, in her own words, “putting up with his shit any longer,” she dragged every piece of anything that belonged to him out to the street, called the locksmith to change the locks, and flipped through the yellow pages until she found a reputable divorce attorney, who she hadn’t hesitated to call first thing that Monday morning.
Marcella could still see the look on her father’s face when he’d finally arrived home that Saturday morning. She and Racquel had stared at him through the window from the moment he’d pulled up until the second he’d thrown the last of his things in the car and sped off. They’d wanted to help him, but their mother had promised each of them two weeks on punishment if they did. And they’d had no choice but to obey her.
As the weeks continued on, their parents started seeing each other again, and it wasn’t long before their father moved back into the house. Their mother stopped the divorce proceedings, and for the most part, they seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. It was almost as if they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other.
That lasted for two years, but then suddenly Daddy starting staying out during all hours of the night again. Their mother had wanted to kick him out for good this time, but her financial situation hadn’t allowed her to. She needed help with paying the household bills, Racquel’s college tuition, and yes, supporting Marcella and her new baby. But it wasn’t long before she realized that she couldn’t take it anymore, and that it wasn’t worth living with a man who spent all of his time with some other woman. So, again, their father moved out, and this time when their mother filed for a divorce, she went through with it.
Marcella shook her head as she reminisced on her past. Her unnecessary mistakes had caused financial problems not only for her, but for everyone involved. And the more she thought about it, the more convinced she was that her situation had to change. She was born, raised, and still lived in Covington, a working-class suburb just south of Chicago, but her dream had always been to work for a prestigious accounting firm somewhere downtown in the Loop. Actually, part of the dream had come true, because she did work for an accounting firm, but not as a CPA, like she’d planned. Instead, she’d been hired as a glorified administrative assistant who spent the entire day greeting uppity clients and answering umpteen phone lines. She was capable of so much more, and each of the partners at the firm knew it. And they would have loved nothing more than to promote Marcella, but since she didn’t have a four-year degree, their hands were tied, and there really wasn’t much they could do to help her.
Marcella stepped in front of the mirror attached to the back of her bedroom door, pulled back her jet-black, shoulder-length hair, and wrapped a beige rubber band around it. As she scanned her face, she noticed a pimple just under her right cheek bone. It took everything she had in her not to squeeze it. She hadn’t had any problems with acne since adolescence, but this past year, facial breakouts had become common. Of course, her medium-chocolate skin had never been baby-like smooth, but at least, it had always been above average. Maybe it was stress, but more than likely, it was because of her terrible eating habits. She was average height, but had lost close to fifteen pounds over the last six months. Which wasn’t good, given the fact that most everyone she knew had always thought she was way too thin in the first place. She tried to make a conscious effort toward eating more regularly, but most of the time her stomach felt nervous. And it was obvious that it was because of all the worrying she’d been doing about bills. Why were there so many bills? And how was she going to pay them?
And she worried about just about everything else she could think of, too. Like, why she’d gotten pregnant at such a young age? And why on earth had she been crazy enough to make the same mistake twice? Why couldn’t she have been blessed with a wonderful husband like her sister, Racquel? Or even better, why couldn’t she have married someone who earned a decent living? And most of all, why couldn’t she have had the sense enough to go to college? Her sister had been blessed with everything any woman could ever hope for, and although Marcella loved her children more than life itself, she’d trade places with Racquel in a second. Marcella knew the grass usually appeared a lot greener than it actually was, but compared to her lifestyle, anything would be an improvement. Anything at all for that matter. But she knew all this wishful thinking was nothing more than some farfetched fantasy, and that no miracle was going to just happen. And that in order for her life to become better, she was going to have to take matters into her own hands. Make some very drastic changes in the way she viewed life in general, and the way she dealt with Tyrone James. No more feeling sorry for herself and no more complaining. Her decision was made. She was going to give her children the decent life that they deserved. If it was the last thing she did.
2. Do you think that Larry should have been less tolerable of Racquel’s obsession?
3. Should Marcella have reacted in a more severe manner after reading Ashley’s diary?
4. Do you think that many women feel the way Sharon felt about Marcus and the way Marcella felt about Darryl in terms of sexual compatibility?
5. Do you believe that Marcella and Racquel’s relationship with each other is comparable to the relationship between most sisters?
6. Prior to reading Here and Now, were you aware of the trials and tribulations that couples sometimes endure when dealing with infertility?
7. In your opinion, when do you think Marcella and Racquel each realized that the grass is not as green as most people think on the other side?
8. Have you ever thought that you wanted to walk in someone else’s shoes, were able to do it, and then regretted it afterwards?
9. Do you believe Marcella did the best she could with what she had?
10. Do you think that Darryl was fair to Marcella?
11. Do you think the 4th of July cookout was typical of most family get-togethers?
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