The Prodigal Son
Release Date, May 13, 2014
Sample Excerpt Discussion Questions
The Reverend Curtis Black hasn’t spoken to his son, Matthew, in over a year-not since Matthew dropped out of Harvard to marry his girlfriend, Racquel, and be a full-time father to their infant son. Curtis knows that it was he and his wife, Charlotte, who drove Matthew away, but he prays that one day his son will forgive them and come home.
Matthew, however, can’t seem to forget the pain his parents caused him and Racquel. Still, he wonders if maybe they’d been right, as fatherhood is not what he expected, and Racquel’s behavior has become increasingly erratic. Matthew genuinely wants to be a good husband, though, and swears he’ll never repeat his parents’ mistakes. But when an old friend expresses her desire for Matthew, the temptation may be too great to resist…
Then, there’s Dillon Whitfield-Curtis’s long-lost-son-who has settled in as a member of the Black family. Yet the transition has been anything but easy. Charlotte, convinced he’s only after Curtis’s money, wishes he would move back to where he came from. Dillon, however, has no intention of going anywhere. After a lifetime in the shadows, he’s determined to take his rightful place as Curtis’s first-born son and heir, and he’ll do whatever it takes to win his father’s affection-even if it means playing dirty…
As jealousy builds and secrets pile up, both of Curtis’s sons will be pushed over the edge and forced to take drastic action. Can these two troubled young men find their way back into the Black family fold, or will their family ties be undone once and for all?
Matthew stared at his wife of ten months and shook his head.
Racquel, who was sitting at the opposite end of the chocolate brown, leather sofa, looked over at him and frowned. “What?”
Matthew shook his head again. This time, his eyes screamed disappointment. But all Racquel did was purse her lips and turn her attention back to the flat screen television. It was a noticeably warm Friday evening in May, and though Matthew was a bit tired from his long day at work, he would have loved nothing more than for the two of them to be out somewhere together; maybe have a nice dinner and catch whatever new movie was playing. But as usual, Racquel was contently curled up—like an unconcerned couch potato—doing what she did best: watching some awful, ungodly reality show.
Matthew leaned his head back onto the sofa and closed his eyes. Not in his wildest imagination—not in a thousand lifetimes—would he have ever pictured himself being so miserable. But miserable he was, and worse, he now realized that getting married at the young age of nineteen had turned out to be a horrible mistake. He’d now turned twenty, but he could kick himself for giving up a full, four-year, academic scholarship to Harvard University, something he’d worked very hard for his entire childhood—and now this was all he had to show for it? This, a tiny, two-bedroom apartment, a twelve-dollar-an-hour job at a bank, and no love life of any kind to speak of? Not since the day he’d been born had he ever had to struggle financially. Even before he’d met his father, which hadn’t happened until he was seven years old, Matthew had lived a pretty good life because his maternal grandparents had always seen to it. Then, of course, when his mom had married his dad, he hadn’t gone without anything.
He must have been crazy in love or crazy out of his mind to think he was doing the right thing by getting married. He also couldn’t deny how right his mother had been, every time she’d warned him about having unprotected sex. He still hadn’t spoken to either of his parents in more than a year—not even when they’d mailed him a ten-thousand-dollar check, and he’d torn it up—but his mom had been correct in her thinking. Matthew wasn’t sure why he’d been so careless and irresponsible. Although, he was proud of the fact that he’d immediately manned up as soon as he’d learned of Racquel’s pregnancy and had decided to be there for both her and the baby. Then, as it had turned out, Racquel’s parents had told him that they would take care of little MJ until he and Racquel finished college—since Racquel had been scheduled to attend MIT a few months after the baby was born. They’d also wanted Matthew to get his education without any worries, so off to Boston he had gone—and life had been great until that dreadful day in January when Racquel had gone into labor much too early. A huge blowup had ensued between his mother and Vanessa, the two grandmothers to be, at Racquel’s baby shower, and Racquel had gotten herself all worked up over it. Next thing anyone had known, her water had broken and she’d been rushed to the hospital.
Matthew remembered how terrified he’d been that Racquel would lose the baby, but thank God, everything had turned out well. Little MJ had been born with a respiratory problem, but he’d ended up being released from the hospital just a few days later. Although, the more Matthew thought about all that had evolved, he was saddened further because none of what had occurred on the day of the baby shower could compare to any of what had happened a few weeks afterward. His mother had concocted the most outlandish scheme, and before long, the Division of Children and Family Services had come knocking at the front door of Racquel’s parents’, stating that they’d received two phone calls claiming child abuse. Of course, none of this had been true, and although in the end, the truth had been exposed and Charlotte had been arrested, the whole idea of little MJ being snatched away from Racquel had been too much for her to handle. It was the reason she now regularly obsessed over their one-year-old son, and she never felt comfortable leaving him with her own parents, let alone anyone else. She wasn’t even okay with Matthew taking MJ to see his sister, Alicia, or his great-aunt, Emma because she feared something might happen to him or that he might be kidnapped. That whole DCFS incident had ruined Racquel emotionally, and Matthew had a feeling things would never be normal for them again. As it was, she rarely left the house, and she no longer visited any of her friends when they came home from school for the weekend. She never invited anyone over to the apartment either.
Matthew opened his eyes and turned his head toward Racquel. At first she ignored him, even though he knew she saw him looking at her, but finally, she turned toward him in a huff.
“Why do you keep staring at me?”
Matthew gazed at her. “Because.”
“Because what, Matt?”
“Look at you? All that long, beautiful hair. When was the last time you even bothered to comb it? Or put on a little makeup?”
“Excuse me? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I have a baby to take care of. So trying to look beautiful is the very least of my worries.”
“Maybe. But have you taken a good look at this place?” Matthew scanned the living room and looked toward the kitchen. Her and MJ’s dirty clothes, were scattered everywhere. He also saw just about every toy MJ owned strewn across the floor. “It’s a complete mess, Racquel. We’re practically living in filth, and you stroll around here like it’s clean as a whistle.”
“Like I said, I have a baby to take care of.”
“Is that also the reason we don’t make love anymore?”
Racquel squint her eyes. “Is that all you care about?”
“No, but I think it’s a cryin’ shame that I’m a married man, yet I haven’t had sex in over two months. And even when we did it then, I had to nag you for three days about it.”
Racquel rolled her eyes and turned back to the television.
Matthew snatched the remote control from the sofa and turned it off.
Racquel stood up. “Are you crazy? What’s wrong with you?”
“Everything, Racquel! I’m sick of this. All you do is watch those mindless reality shows, eat a ton of junk food and then you watch more stupid reality shows. And I’m not sure how much more I can take.”
“Oh really? Well, why don’t you leave then? Why don’t you just file for a divorce, because nobody’s forcing you to be here.”
Matthew swallowed hard. He’d known for a while that they had major marital problems, but he hadn’t expected her to suggest a breakup so quickly. “Wow. So that’s how you feel about me?”
“You’re the one complaining, Matt, so if you want out I won’t try to stop you. If you’re that miserable and unhappy, then what’s the point?”
“Are you saying you don’t love me anymore?”
“I’m not saying that at all, but you’re mother ruined everything for us. She had my child taken from me, Matt. She made false accusations about me and my mom, even though neither of us would ever do anything to hurt little MJ. I nearly had a nervous breakdown over that nonsense.”
“I understand that, baby, but my mother hasn’t been in the picture for a while. I cut her off because of what she did, and then I married you. I stuck by you, because I love you.”
Racquel didn’t respond and walked into the kitchen. Matthew wasn’t sure whether to follow her or not. He knew she’d been traumatized, but he also didn’t think it was fair for her to blame him for his mother’s actions. He hadn’t done anything to cause her pain, and actually, all he’d done was try to love her and be there for her. He’d given up Harvard, a close relationship with his parents, and a comfortable way of living—all of which he hadn’t minded doing as long as he had his wife and son.
Racquel walked back into the living room with a can of orange soda in her hand and a package of cookies and dropped back down on the sofa. She sat as close to the arm of the couch as she could and as far away from Matthew as possible.
“Maybe we should see a counselor,” he said.
Racquel picked up the selector and turned the TV back on, but she never looked at him. “I don’t think so.”
“Because there’s nothing wrong with me.”
“Maybe not, baby, but you just said a few minutes ago yourself that you nearly had a nervous breakdown.”
“That was then, but I’m fine now. I’m good.”
“No, you’re not, and neither are we as a couple.”
Racquel sighed loudly and pulled her legs under her behind. She flipped through a few channels and finally settled on…another reality show.
Matthew wanted to protest—wanted to shut the TV off again, but instead, he got up and went into their bedroom. He dove face first onto the bed and took a deep breath. A ton of thoughts gyrated through his mind but there was one thought that troubled him a great deal: he regretted ever marrying Racquel. He did still love her he guessed, but he was starting not to like her very much and this wasn’t good. As a matter of fact, to him, not liking the person you were married to was a lot worse than not being in love with them. If you didn’t like someone, you almost hated having to be around them. Then, you eventually got to a point where you avoided them completely, and there was usually no turning back from that. Matthew hated the way he was feeling because something told him that his once happy marriage was only going to crumble even further—not just slightly but to the extreme.
Dillon smiled at his stepmother, but silently, he hated her. Charlotte was a real piece of work, one of the wickedest women he’d ever met, and he couldn’t stand her. The only reason he pretended that he was genuinely fond of her was for his father’s sake, because he could tell that this relationship between his new son and the wife he loved so much made Curtis happy. Dillon lived for the day when he would no longer have to deal with Charlotte, but for now he tolerated her. He did whatever was necessary to remain in his father’s good graces.
Take this evening for instance, he would have much rather been spending some one-on-one time with his father, but instead, he sat there laughing and chatting with that witch, Charlotte, his bratty baby sister, Curtina, his spoiled twenty-seven-year-old sister, Alicia, and her ex-husband, Phillip. Of course, his fiancée, Melissa, had also accompanied him to his dad’s house, but to be honest, he didn’t want her there either. Last year, when they’d first moved to Illinois—before Curtis had learned that Dillon was his son—Melissa had sneakily helped him get close to his dad. However, as far as Dillon was concerned, she had served her purpose and he no longer needed her. He had in fact given her an engagement ring, but that had only been so he could convince his father that they were about to be married and that they needed pre-marital counseling sessions with him. But Dillon certainly didn’t love her—not even with as tall and beautiful as she was. Still, Melissa wouldn’t leave and move back to Atlanta the way he’d tried to persuade her. He’d even offered her a few thousand dollars as a way of saying “thank you”—something he could definitely afford since his father had gifted him with such a large chunk of money a year ago—a half million dollars to be exact. But Melissa had turned it down and then made it clear that all she wanted was to love him and be with him. Right now, though, his only priority was building the best father-son relationship he could with his dad, so for the most part he didn’t have much time for Melissa. She was good to have around for sexual purposes and she took care of their condo pretty well, but she would never be his wife.
Dillon watched and listened as his father played with little Curtina and for a moment, a tinge of rage and resentment overtook him. Curtina had just turned six last month, and she was having the time of her life. She was by far one of the happiest children Dillon had ever seen, but what angered him was the fact that he was Curtis’s child, too—his first born—yet Dillon hadn’t been given the same opportunity to grow up in a loving environment the way his baby sister was. His dad had slept with Dillon’s mom, denied that he was Dillon’s father, and then he’d blackmailed Dillon’s mom in such a cruel way that she’d taken her own life. Dillon had only been a newborn at the time, but fortunately, his aunt had been kind enough to take him in and raise him. Still, he hadn’t lived the kind of life Curtina was living because his aunt worked a lot of hours, and she was forced to leave him with a lot of different babysitters; not to mention, on most weeks, she’d barely been able to make ends meet.
Which was the reason that even today, there were times when Dillon felt like an abandoned orphan. He felt as though he were alone in this world, and that he would never fully know what it felt like to truly be loved by someone. He wasn’t looking for the kind of love Melissa and other women had tried to offer him, no, what he wanted was unconditional love from a parent. Love from his biological father. Love from the man who was sitting a few feet away—the man who everyone said Dillon looked like. Love from a father who was having a joyous time with the baby of the family and not paying much attention at all to his son. More than anything, what Dillon wanted to know was when it would be his turn? In the beginning, his father had seemingly gone out of his way, trying to welcome him to the family, and yes, he’d also included Dillon in all their gatherings, but every time they seemed to be getting closer, Alicia or Curtina always interrupted them. Two months ago, when Curtis and Dillon had planned a trip to downtown Chicago to see the car show, Charlotte and Curtina had decided at the last minute to join them. Then, there was the time when Curtis had invited Dillon to drive up to a church in Milwaukee where he was scheduled to be the guest speaker, but Alicia and Phillip had met them there as well. Or like tonight, when they’d originally planned on ordering Mexican food for dinner—because Mexican was one of Dillon’s favorites—they’d decided against it because Queen Curtina had wanted pizza. So, needless to say, Dillon was starting to realize that Curtina would always get what she wanted, and that she would always be more special to Curtis than he was. Everything was always about Dillon’s two sisters, and had his brother, Matthew not ended his relationship with his parents, Dillon was sure he’d have to compete with him, too. So again, every time Dillon looked forward to spending good quality time alone with his father, someone always went out of their way to ruin it—and Dillon was becoming a little tired of it.
But then, maybe if he hadn’t gone public on television about what his father had done to his mother, his father might work a bit harder at making him a priority. Dillon hadn’t wanted to go that far, anyway, placing his father on blast on live television, but that was a whole other story and now he had to live with his decision. Although, actually, what he’d done hadn’t seemed to bother his father so much at the time, and to prove it Curtis had apologized profusely to Dillon for disowning him for so many years and he’d given Dillon that huge windfall. So now Dillon didn’t know what to think or what he needed to do to become his father’s most beloved child—the child he cared about more than he did any of the others.
“It’s getting real close to your bedtime, little girl,” Charlotte said to her daughter.
Curtina was still playing with her dad but said, “Can’t I stay up just a little while longer, Mommy? I don’t even have school tomorrow.”
“I know, but around here curfews don’t change just because it’s the weekend. Little girls need all the sleep they can get.”
Alicia got up, walked over and tickled her baby sister out of the blue, and Curtina squealed with laughter.
“Stop it, Licia!”
Alicia tickled her more, and Curtina squealed louder. Curtis, Charlotte, Phillip, and Melissa laughed out loud, but Dillon wanted to slap that little brat. Once again, Curtina had stolen the show, and Dillon just sat there like a stranger.
Thankfully, Charlotte told Curtina again that it was time to head up to bed.
“We’ll be up to kiss you goodnight,” Curtis told her, and she ran on her way.
“Oh well,” Charlotte said scooting to the edge of the grained-leather loveseat that she and Curtis were sitting on. I think I’ll turn in myself. I have to be up pretty early for the women’s breakfast.”
“Me, too,” Alicia said, “so I think I’ll head upstairs also.”
“I’m so glad you’re going,” Charlotte said. “It’s gonna be a great time.”
“I’m glad you invited me.”
Wait a minute. Was Alicia spending the night here? Dillon knew she still had her own bedroom here, but all this time Dillon had thought she and Phillip were only visiting and that they would be heading back to Chicago tonight. But, apparently not. Even more so, where was Phillip staying? His dad’s house was nearly a mansion, but clearly Phillip wouldn’t be shacking up in the same room with Alicia, because it wasn’t like they were still married. Dillon shacked up with Melissa every night, but he would never do something like that in his father’s house. He had better respect for him than that.
Charlotte looked over at her former son-in-law, and it was almost as if she’d been reading Dillon’s mind. “Agnes freshened up one of the guestrooms for you, Phillip. The one toward the end of the hall and around the corner.”
“I really appreciate that,” he said. Especially since your husband and I will be getting up earlier than you and Alicia.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” Curtis said, laughing. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into goin’ fishin’ at the crack of dawn.”
“Best time to go,” Phillip said, chuckling.
Dillon looked at his father and Phillip, as they laughed together like father and son, and his heart dropped. A part of him wanted to burst into tears, but he would never give any of them the satisfaction of seeing how hurt he was. Not only were his sisters sucking up all his father’s time but now some ex-son-in-law was going to spend an entire Saturday with him? This was dead wrong on so many levels, and Dillon could barely think straight.
“It was good seeing you again, Melissa,” Charlotte said, hugging her and staring coldly at Dillon. Charlotte was so slick with her dirty ways, and Dillon knew no one else had seen the way she’d looked at him. She did this all the time, even at church on Sunday mornings, and she always got away with it.
“Thanks for having us over,” Melissa said, smiling.
Alicia hugged Melissa, too. “Maybe one day my brother will step up and make you my sister-in-law…isn’t that right, Dillon?”
What? Alicia couldn’t have been serious? And what gave her the right to meddle in Dillon’s affairs, anyway? She had better be glad they were at their father’s, because what he wanted to tell her was, “I’ll ask Melissa to marry me just as soon as Phillip makes the stupid decision to marry you again.” But Dillon kept his mouth shut. Instead, he sat for a few seconds thinking about how badly Alicia wanted to remarry Phillip, even though she’d messed around on him with a drug dealer. This was how she’d lost Phillip in the first place. The reason Dillon knew this was because she’d shared that pathetic story with Melissa, and Melissa had told him everything. For some reason, Alicia had taken a liking to Melissa, so maybe she hadn’t seen anything wrong with fessing up about her indiscretions. Alicia had talked a lot about how even though she’d messed up her marriage, the important thing now was that she’d learned her lesson and that she was a changed woman. She’d claimed she would never hurt Phillip again, no matter what. That sort of sentiment was all fine and well, but from where Dillon was sitting all he could think about was one thing: once a slutty whore, always one. This was especially true of ridiculously-spoiled women like Alicia who’d been given the best of everything since the day they were born. It was also women like Alicia who never learned from their mistakes and who always ended up doing whatever they wanted, regardless of whom they hurt in the process. Phillip would be a fool to marry that woman again.
But instead of airing such sinister thoughts verbally, Dillon finally said, “I don’t know. Maybe sometime soon.”
“I hope that’s true.” Alicia said. “She’s a really good woman, Dillon.”
Melissa smiled but didn’t say anything.
Of course, Charlotte just couldn’t help dipping in her two cents either. “She really is a wonderful person, and any man would be lucky to have her. Any man at all.”
It was at moments like these when Dillon wished his father would divorce this tramp. Charlotte had made it known very early on that she didn’t care for Dillon and that she would never accept him, so Dillon knew she’d only made that comment as a way to annoy him. She was indirectly taunting him, making it known that Melissa would be much better off with someone else, and it took everything in Dillon not to physically hurt her. Sometimes he even dreamed about hurting her, and he’d be lying if he’d said those dreams didn’t give him great satisfaction. Charlotte was such a hypocrite and from what Dillon had heard, she’d done a lot of whoring around, herself, the same as Alicia. So, no matter how much his father loved his wife and had forgiven her, Dillon knew who Charlotte was. He knew how deceptive she could be, and that he had to watch out for her. He needed to be ready for any tricks she might toss his way, and he would be. That was a guarantee.
1. Given his personal history, are Dillon’s feelings of jealousy towards his siblings justified? What would you advise him to do to get his feelings under control? What could Curtis, Matthew, and Alicia do to help Dillon—or should they not have to?
2. Have you ever experienced sibling rivalry? If so, how did you cope with it?
3. Should Matthew have been more willing to forgive his parents sooner? Was he right to walk away from Racquel when she was in need of help? Can all breaks be mended, or are some actions simply unforgivable?
4. Was it okay for Matthew to talk to another woman about the problems in his marriage? How would you feel if your spouse opened up to a coworker or neighbor rather than a counselor, minister, or family member? Who do you turn to when you have problems you need to discuss?
5. Is Racquel responsible for the problems in her marriage? If so, why? Is she still a victim of Charlotte’s action from a year ago? Is she a victim of mental illness? Is there anything Raquel could have done to help heal herself, before things got out of hand? Should her family have done more to help her? If so, what?
6. Should Matthew and Raquel have gotten married at all? Would they have been better off to have waited? Would little MJ have been better off? Can young marriages ever work? What advice would you give a young couple about marriage?
7. Did Vanessa and Neil make the right decision by not telling the judge Racquel’s full backstory? What would you have done in their position?
8. Do you believe Dillon really regrets how he treated his aunt, or is he just feeling sorry for himself? Can bonds with friends be just as strong—or stronger—than bonds with relatives?
9. Do you have an Aunt Susan in your life?
10. Why do you think Melissa stayed with Dillon for so long? Did she truly love him or truly fear him?
Both Melissa and Matthew try to hide the abuse they suffer. Does spousal abuse carry a social stigma? Does it matter who is doing the abuse and who is the victim? What advice would you give someone who you knew or suspected was being abused?