Sample of Calm Through the Fire



Copyright © 2017 Taretha Jones


All rights reserved. No part of the work may be reproduced without the expression written permission of the author. This book is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All characters, events, and incidents in this book are a product of the author’s imagination.



Do you want me to drop you off at home today, Dominique? Or are you taking the bus?”

Fourteen-year old, Dominique Mitchell, flashed her cousin a smile. "Thanks for the offer, Shonda. But I signed up for that peer tutoring program. So I’mma have to take the city bus home today."

As she made her way to the library of Dudley High School, Dominique was nervous. The director of the program that she was participating in had already given her the name of the fellow student she was going to be tutoring. It was none other than Kevin Gates.

Dominique was a freshman at Dudley, and Kevin was the senior she'd been secretly crushing on — ever since the first day she'd laid eyes on him six months ago.

By nature, she was a shy girl. Therefore, she had her reservations about finally meeting Kevin. She was so nervous that she had to give herself a little pep talk before pushing open the door and walking into the library after school that day.

"Hi," she said, right after giving him a tiny smile. "I'm Dominique. I'm supposed to be tutoring you in English for the next few months. I guess you’re Kevin."

Kevin didn't feel like having a tutor. But he knew he had to have one if he intended on graduating from high school that year and going on to the military.

He returned the pretty girl’s smile with one of his own. "Yep, I'm Kevin, alright. All day every day."

She took a seat at the long table that he was sitting at. "Good ‘All-Day-Everyday-Kevin. I'm ready to get started...that is if you are."

Yep. Let’s do this.”



When she'd first started out tutoring Kevin, Dominique hadn't been expecting them to become friends. But that's exactly what had happened. She’d been shocked that Kevin had been so far behind in his reading skills and whatnot. However, he was a hard worker and she had him reading on a twelfth-grade level — instead of the fourth-grade level that he’d started on — only in a matter of six weeks.

Sitting together in the library of their high school, Kevin cracked a joke and handed Dominique a piece of paper. "Here's that homework assignment that you gave me, Ms. Dominique, ma'am," he kidded. "I hope my work meets up to your expectations."

Dominique really did consider Kevin to be one of her friends now. She gave him a playful little punch in his muscular bicep. “Boy, I told you to stop playing. It's just Dominique. Not ma'am." She tapped her finger on the paper he'd handed her. "And your butt better have all of your assignment right this time.”

He laughed. "What are you gonna do to me if I didn't get them right, Teach? You gonna send me to the principal’s office?"

Dominique shook her head at her friend. "No, I'm not. I'm gonna send you to detention for some remedial training. That's what I'm gonna do."

Kevin leaned back in his chair and grinned at Dominique. "You’d make a good teacher when you grow up, Dominique. Is that what you're plan on doing with the rest of your life?"

Dominique was only fourteen, but she already knew what she wanted to do with her future. She shook her head. "Nope. My mama's a nurse and I intend on following in her footsteps. But I like social work, too. So I'm gonna major in both nursing and social work when I get to college."

Kevin frowned to himself. He understood exactly what she was talking about as far as following in her mom’s footsteps was concerned. He intended on following in his father's footsteps. His dad had been in the Army. Unfortunately, he'd lost his life in the line of duty. Despite the tragedy, Kevin still intended on being a military man...just like his dad.

Dominique noticed the frown on Kevin's face. "You okay, Kevin?"

He didn't like talking about what had happened to his father. So, he covered up his frown with a smile. "Yeah. I'm good." Then he reached over to her side of the table and picked up another piece of paper. "Is this the poem you were working on last night?"

Dominique nodded her head, but she snatched the paper out of his hand. "Yep. That's my poem, alright. I'm gonna use it as my entry in the state poetry competition this summer."

"Can I read it?"

Dominique shook her head. "Nope. It's private. Now let me check over your assignment. You graduate next week. I want to see for myself whether or not your work is up to par."

Kevin knew that his work was up to par, and he knew that he had Dominique to thank for that. If he hadn't improved on his English Arts skills, he wouldn't have had a chance at graduating from high school that year.

Seeing her smile, he couldn’t help but think how pretty she was. But he was smart enough not to go there with her. He was nineteen and she was only fourteen — practically still a kid. His mama worked a lot of hours, so she hadn’t taught him how to read and write. But she’d given both him and his brother plenty of lessons on avoiding jailbait.

She looked over his work. "You did real good, Kevin. I know you're gonna pass the end of grade test tomorrow and graduate with the rest of your class. I'm gonna miss you, boy."

He gave her the slow smile that always melted her heart. "I'm gonna miss you, too, Dominique."




Fifteen Years Later:

Dominique looked at her reflection in the bathroom mirror in her cheap motel room. “My life wasn’t supposed to end up like this,” she whispered to the image staring back at her in the cracked reflective glass.

When her eight-month-old daughter cried out from the makeshift crib that she’d fashioned for her from her collapsible playpen, Dominique frowned and went over to console her only child.

Maya, her daughter, was the best thing that had come out of Dominique’s marriage to James Bennett. When she'd first married James, she'd thought that she’d been the luckiest woman in the world. He was a very successful attorney, so he’d easily provided her with the lifestyle she'd always envisioned herself living.

When she'd first met James, she'd been one the account managers at her county's Department of Social Services. So, she’d been successful in her own right. She hadn’t been bringing in as many dollars as James, but she’d been making enough money to take care of all of her bills and contribute a thousand dollars every month towards a savings account that had been steadily growing.

She sat down on the motel bed and began rocking her daughter gently on her shoulder. Thinking about the past, she frowned. She didn't have a job anymore. Trying to hide from her abusive ex-husband, James, had made keeping employment an impossible task for her. She’d been on the run for seven months now. The thirty-six thousand dollars that she’d had in her savings account had ended up being her salvation.

James hadn’t always been abusive. In the beginning, he'd been quite the opposite — he'd been the model husband. It wasn't until Dominique had gotten pregnant with Maya that her ex's true colors had begun to show...his propensity to inflict pain and suffering.

Being a social worker, Dominique had dealt with many an abused woman. Since James hadn't struck her until she'd gotten pregnant, her work experience had had her wondering if it had been something in her ex-husband's youth that had triggered his behavior. Something from his past. A hidden unresolved situation that had popped up in response to her state of pregnancy.

Regardless of the cause of his actions, she’d been smart enough to get herself and her daughter out of that environment — especially after the man who’d promised to love and cherish her for life had threatened to kill both her and their child.

And what had the authorities done about it? The people who were paid by the taxpayers to protect every member of society? Well, they’d done absolutely nothing. Dominique had tried to get a restraining order against her ex-husband. But James Bennett was a very smart man...a deviously smart one. He’d taken every precaution to ensure that a restraining order against him hadn’t stuck.

Dominique was convinced that since he was an attorney, he somehow had the judge and various other government officials in his back pocket.

Then, when she’d tried to press charges against him for abuse, the police had literally laughed in her face. Her ex-husband had found methods to physically abuse her that hadn’t left marks. He’d done things like twisting her arms behind her back, and punching her in her stomach — which was an area that didn’t easily bruise, even for a person like herself who normally bruised from the slightest touch.

In Dominique's eyes, the psychological and emotional abuse — that came hand in hand with her ex’s physical assaults — were much worse.

As her daughter finally stopped crying, Dominique frowned. “This isn't the life that I wanted to give you, baby girl. You deserve so much more than living in grungy motel rooms — hiding out in the shadows.” She shook her head. “You're getting older. You need to be surrounded by loving people. You need a positive support system in your life.”

She immediately began thinking about her family. She was currently living in Florida. But she'd grown up in North Carolina — in a city called Greensboro that was located in the center of the state. Both her parents still lived there — as well as a host of aunts, uncles, and cousins. None of them felt like Dominique should've kept hiding out and running. But in the end, they’d all respected her decision. No one wanted to feel the inevitable guilt if she came out of hiding and was somehow hurt by her ex.

She let out a breath in a long, mentally anguished sigh. She was tired of running. Plus, only about ten thousand of her initial thirty-six grand was left. “I can’t keep doing this forever, Lord. I need you to remove this threat from my life. I don’t wanna keep hiding in the in fear.”

With that thought in mind, she placed her daughter back into her playpen and handed her a teething biscuit. Then she went over to the bed and started to pray. She talked to God for a good ten minutes or so, asking him what her next move should be. When she came up off her knees, she still didn’t know what she was supposed to do. She hadn’t gotten any type of immediate response from God. No answer to her prayer.

In the past, Dominique had been known as a woman of strong faith. But with the current obstacles she was facing, she was starting to feel her faith slowly slipping away. Bit by bit. Disappearing like grains of sand in an overturned hourglass.

Ten minutes later, in need of diapers for her baby, she bundled Maya up into her arms and headed out to her car. She pointed the newer model Jeep Grand Cherokee towards the closest Walmart — since they had the cheapest prices on generic diapers. Pampers brand was Dominique's preference, but now that she really had to make her dollar stretch, she was settling on the cheapest thing available.

She bought some cans of soup for herself and a few jars of baby food for Maya. Then she went through the self-checkout register and left the store.

When she got to the parking lot’s exit, she had to wait on the car in front of her because the individual in the car was handing some money to a homeless woman who seemed to be begging out there on the street.

Dominique frowned. “Lord,” she whispered under her breath. "Please don't let that be me in a few months from now when my money finally runs out. It doesn’t take much for a person to end up on the streets.”

When Dominique’s turn at the exit came, the homeless woman approached Dominique's car. Dominique shook her head, but gave the woman a friendly little smile. “I'm sorry, but I don't have it to give today.”

The woman gave Dominique a smile in return...a half-toothless one. “That’s okay. I got something to give to you. It’s a message. You should go home.”

Dominique wanted to ask the woman what she meant by that, but the truck behind her started honking its horn, prompting the woman to take off walking. Dominique raised her foot off of the brake. She pulled out of the parking lot and joined the traffic on the busy street.

"You should go home, you should go home," she whispered under her breath. "That's what that lady just told me."

The prayer she'd made to her God only an hour earlier suddenly came to her mind. She’d asked her Lord and Savior to give her guidance on her situation...some type of physical manifestation. Dominique now understood everything. She wanted to cry, laugh, and praise — all at the same time. “You sent me an answer, Lord. You sent me my answer.”

Behind Dominique, sitting in her car seat, Maya began happily gurgling, prompting Dominique to smile. “That's right, baby girl. It's time for a celebration. God just answered your mama's prayers. We can go home. We can stop all this running. It’s gonna be alright now.”




Over in Greensboro, NC:


Fifty-six-year old Marie Mitchell, a registered nurse at Moses Cone Hospital, finished her half shift of work for the day. It had been a half shift because she was semi-retired. Her husband, Louis, made enough money to make all their ends meet, so she really didn’t need the job. Plus, they’d been saving ever since the day they’d first gotten married.

Marie had grown up dirt poor. So, there was always a niggling thought in the back of her mind that she needed to work to keep herself out of poverty. That was part of the reason she was still employed part-time. It was a psychological security measure...a security blank if you will. The other reason was that she loved her job. She loved helping people.

She made her way out of the hospital building and over to the parking deck. Being a nurse, she normally had a fast gait to her step. However, ever since the trouble that had brewed up between her daughter and her daughter's ex-husband, the pep in her step had dwindled significantly. Worrying had taken it away.

She didn't take off in her car immediately. With a frown on her still-beautiful face as she sat out there in that parking deck, she closed her eyes and began praying for her beloved daughter and her only grandchild.

After she'd said ‘amen, she shook her head and whispered, “Heavenly Father, please bless my baby. Please bring her home. Bind that wicked husband of hers. In the name of Jesus, please bind him, Lord.”

She backed her car out of its narrow parking slot and hit the city street. When her cell phone began ringing, she'd only been driving about five minutes, making her way back home. She didn't know who was calling, but she suspected it was her younger sister, Pamela. One glance at the device confirmed her suspicions.

Hey, Pam. What's going on?”

Sitting over in her home alone, Pamela Riverton smiled. “Big sis, as soon as God dropped this message on my heart, I had to give you a call.”

Marie didn't know what her sister was about to say. But she suspected it probably has something to do with some type of revelation that she'd received. Nowadays, a good percentage of Pam’s conversations were of that vein.

Her younger sister, Pamela, was a woman who was strong in her faith. During revival a year or so ago, an evangelist had prayed over Pam and said that the Lord was going to bless her with the gift of prophecy. A lot of people hadn't believed her at first, but after a while, it had become evident that Pam indeed had been bestowed with the precious gift.

Pam's excited voice came over the phone line. “You’re not gonna believe this, sis. Are you sitting down?”

Marie smiled. “Yeah. You could say that, Pam.”

Pam bobbed her head up and down, then continued speaking. “Good. Check this here out. I was taking myself a nap a few minutes ago, and then I woke up with a vision. God done put it on my heart that my beautiful niece is coming home. Her and your grandchild!”

A feeling of excitement instantly began to build up in Marie’s heart. “My babies...home? Are you sure that's what God showed you in your dream, Pam? Are you sure?”

Pam nodded her head. “Just as sure as I am about the sun being up there in God’s big blue sky. She's coming home. Dominique's coming home, honey.”

A feeling of doubt descended upon Marie’s heart. She believed in her sister’s words. In her eyes, the timing was the problem. “Okay, okay. I believe you, Pam. But most likely than not, I'm gonna be around here waiting months and months...maybe even years to see my daughter and my grandchild.”

Pam shook her head. “Oh no, ain't nobody gonna be waiting months and months. God's bringing them back. And it’s gonna be real soon.”




The Following Morning in Florida:


Dominique packed all of her and her baby’s things up and put them into her car. The idea was for her to drive back home to North Carolina pronto. She estimated that the entire journey would take her about nine hours on the road, but that was okay with her.

After she’d turned in her key at the front desk of the motel she’d been living in, she made her way back out to her car with Maya in tow. She buckled Maya into her carseat, then claimed her space up front behind the wheel. She started the engine and looked in the back seat at her daughter. “Are you ready to go sweetheart? Ready to start on a new and improved life?” Being only eight months old, the baby just looked at her mother’s face in the baby monitor mirror and smiled. Dominique smiled right back. Then she hit the road.

It wasn't an easy road trip with an eight-month-old. She'd had to make frequent stops along the way. She hadn’t called anyone in her family to let them know she was coming. Everything she was doing was spontaneous. She was sure that her mother, her father, and the rest of her relatives were going to be surprised to see her. But she knew they were going to be glad to see her at the same time.

She also wasn’t worried about having a place to stay. Her parent’s large Colonial-style home was always open to their kids and their grands.

She did have the tiniest amount of doubt about everything. She wasn't going to lie to herself about that. What if I get back home, and James follows me? What am I going to do then? He's already threatened to kill both me and our baby.

The frown on her face deepened. “I'm gonna need you more than I've ever needed you before, Lord. You're the only way I'm gonna make it through this storm I’m in…through this trial…through this tribulation.”




Eleven Hours Later:


It had been a tedious journey, but Dominique finally whizzed past the sign on Interstate 85 that read: Greensboro City Limits. Welcome to the Gate City.

We’re home,” she whispered to her daughter who was fast asleep in the backseat. “We’re finally here.”

During her entire eleven-hour journey, she had imagined the joy she would feel upon passing that road marker. However, it didn't compare to the feeling she was actually experiencing. It was something above joy. It was peace, hope, thankfulness, happiness, and a whole plethora of other sensations...all rolled up into one.

It only took her fifteen minutes from that point to make it to her final destination — her parents house off of Phillips Ave.




Sitting with her husband, Louis, in their beautifully-decorated study sipping on a cup of coffee, Marie heard the engine of a car pulling into her driveway. Then it came to a stop.

Who do you reckon that is, honeybuns?" Marie asked her soulmate of almost thirty-five years.

Without looking up from the newspaper he’d been reading, Louis chuckled. “You know it's probably that sister of yours, sweetheart. Don't nobody show up at the house unannounced like that but her saved and sanctified behind.” He chuckled again. “I done told her that we gonna stop answering the door for her if she keeps showing up unannounced. But seeing that she hasn’t listened in the last thirty or so years, I figure it ain’t gonna do any good to keep telling her that. She gonna keep popping up anyways.”

Louis had nothing but love for his sister-in-law, Pam. She’d become like his own flesh-and-blood sibling over the years. So of course, he’d only been kidding about all of that.

Marie smiled. Then she grimaced, and accentuated her frown with a shake of her head. “No. That doesn't sound like Pam's Cadillac. It's somebody else out there, Louis.”

At sixty-six — which was ten years Marie’s senior — Louis' hearing wasn't as sharp as it had been back in his younger days. He could still hear, but he knew he probably needed a hearing aid to sharpen up his auditory skills a little bit. But being the type of proud male that he was, he refused to consult with a doctor and get one.

It had also been his alpha-male persona that had made him want to go have words with his daughter's ex-husband, James.

Louis Mitchell had a big soft spot in his heart for his only daughter, Dominique. Her persistent begging him to allow her to handle her situation in her own way had been the only thing that had kept Louis’ hands from around James Bennett’s neck. That, and his guilt that if something happened to his daughter because he’d insisted that she come home, he’d never be able to forgive himself. He’d never be able to live with the guilt.

Louis frowned to himself. It had been eight months since his daughter had placed herself in hiding from her ex. His daughter was a grown woman — she was twenty-nine — but Louis didn’t know how much more of doing things her way he was going to be willing to take.  All of his fatherly inclinations were telling him to intervene and make something happen.

He forcefully pushed all of those thoughts from his head and brought himself back into the here and now.

Marie stood up from her comfortable spot on the study’s sofa. She placed her coffee cup on the side table. “Let me go check to see who it is.”

Marie's front door had two beautiful, narrow windows on either side of it — only about a foot wide each. But seven feet tall. Louis could hear her turning the rod to move the mini-blinds that covered the windows to an open position. When he heard his wife scream, he thought something was catastrophically wrong.

He ran to the front of the house with a quickness, preparing himself to do battle with some unknown foe. He wasn’t a young man anymore, but he refused to not protect his wife — whom he loved with his whole heart. With his everything.

As soon as he hit the foyer, he took alarm from the fact that his wife had left the front door wide open. He was sure something bad was up now. With his heart pumping with adrenaline, he flew out on the front porch.

Upon hearing his wife loudly rejoicing and saying, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!”, and upon hearing a baby starting to cry in the background, he knew that everything was alright. He hadn’t even needed to lay eyes on his only daughter for confirmation of that.

Tears of happiness were already in Dominique’s eyes when she zeroed them in on her father. “I’m home, daddy. Your baby girl’s home now.”



Being back home felt good to Dominique. Just like she knew was going to happen, her parents had insisted that she reclaim her childhood bedroom. Her father had been so excited, that he'd gone out the very day that she'd come home and bought a brand-new crib for his adorable granddaughter.

Dominique hadn't wanted to be a burden on her parents, so she'd insisted that they allow her to kick them down a little something for rent. They of course had declined her offer. But that still didn't mean that Dominique didn't intend on getting herself a job to pay for her and her daughter’s expenses. She was an independent type of woman. She believed in taking care of her own business. And that’s exactly what she was going to do as soon as she got her life back in order.

She'd been home two days and the pampering that she was getting from her parents had been wonderful. She hadn't heard from any of her other family members as of yet. But that had only been because she’d asked her parents not to tell anyone that she was back.

Yes, she wanted to see the rest of her relatives. However, she needed some time and peace to herself for a little while. She needed a little time to get her thoughts together, to get her bearings about herself.

When she'd gone into hiding from her ex-husband, she’d switched out her cell phone number, as well as her cell phone carrier — all because she hadn't wanted James to be able to track her. She'd given the new phone number to her mother and her father, but not to anyone else. Therefore, no one besides her parents had been able to contact her recently.

Lord,” she whispered under her breath as she dusted the house down for her mom. “I sure miss Aunt Pam and Cousin Shonda something fierce.”

She smiled as she thought about Shonda. Since Dominique was her parent’s only daughter, Shonda had ended up being more than a cousin to Dominique. She and Shonda had been more like sisters.

Marie made her way into the living room where her daughter was dusting. She had her grandchild in her arms. “Dominique, I have a confession to make, honey.”

Dominique turned around and smiled at the woman who’d given birth to her. “What, mama?”

A look of guilt made its way into Marie’s eyes — which looked so much like her daughter’s.

Marie continued speaking. “Um, well, I kinda—”

On account of the front doorbell beginning to ring, she couldn’t complete what she’d been about to say. It wasn't just one or two peals, someone was out there persistently ringing the thing.

A look of fear came into Dominique's eyes, causing her mother to frown and shake her head. "You've only been here a couple of days, sweetheart. I'm sure it's not him. Stop worrying.”

Dominique nodded her head. She realized that her mother was probably right. She smiled. “I’ll go get it, mama.”

Honey, your behind should've known that I wasn't gonna stay away from my sister-cousin. As soon as my mama told me that you were back in town, I drove right on over here.” Those had been the first words to come out of Dominique’s cousin, Shonda’s, mouth — right before Shonda leaned in and gave Dominique a warm hug.

Marie made her way to the front of the house. She grinned at the little interaction taking place in her foyer. “That's what I was trying to tell you before the doorbell started ringing, Dominique. I accidentally let it slip to your Aunt Pam that you were back in town.”

Dominique pulled back from the hug that her cousin had just been giving her. She laughed. “It's okay that you let the cat out the bag, mama. I was gonna let you know later on today that I was ready to come out of hiding.”

Shonda's eyes zeroed right in on Maya. Shonda held out her arms. "Let me hold that adorable lump of sugar, Aunt Marie. Oh my Lord. She’s so cute, Dominique. She looks just like you did in those baby pictures that Aunt Marie has of you in y’all’s photo album. You literally created a mini you, cuz.”

Since Shonda and Dominique hadn’t seen each other in almost a whole year, the two sat down in the kitchen to catch up.

Dominique smiled. "It seems like a whole lot of good has happened to you in the last year, Shonda. You and your friend Lexi's business has really, really started to boom. My mama told me that you guys did your first million dollars in sales last year. Is that the truth?"

Shonda was a humble type of sista. She simply nodded her head and said, "Yeah. Something like that. We've grown so fast that we're having trouble hiring reliable people to help meet the demand. You wouldn't happen to want a job, would you? At least until you can find something here in Greensboro in your field."

Dominique had actually followed through with her plans from high school. She'd double majored in college. It had taken her five years to complete both degrees. But she held a Bachelor’s in nursing, and also one in social work. She knew she wouldn't have a problem finding a job in either field. It would just be a matter of time. However, she wanted to do something different at this particular junction in her life.

Her eyes met Shonda's. "What would working for you for a little while entail, cuz?"

"Well, Lexi and I need help in the administration department. I think you could handle that. Don’t you? I’d love to show you the ropes.”

Dominique nodded her head. “You know what, Shonda? I’d love to take you up on that offer.”

"You would, boo?"

"Yep. When can I start?"

"How about day after tomorrow?"

Dominique grinned. "That'll work for me."

"And while we're on the subject, you know my company specializes in high-end security systems… Right? As your very first perk for coming to work for me, I'm gonna get a couple of my guys to come over here and hook this house up. I'm talking state of the art, cuz. Security cameras, monitors, everything programmable from your cell phone. You name it, you're gonna have it here.” She frowned. “That should give you a small measure of protection from that crazy ex-husband of yours.”

Dominique grimaced as well. “Yeah. I appreciate that, Shonda. You know, I never thought I’d need protecting from James.” She sighed and shook her head. “In the beginning, he was so loving and kind. Seeing that I had a job in the social work field all those years, you would've thought that I would've seen some type of sign. But I didn’t see no signs at all. None whatsoever, Shonda."

To Shonda, it sounded as if her cousin was trying to blame herself on some type of level for what had happened. She reached across the kitchen table and covered Dominique’s hand with her own. She shook her head. "Sometimes, the signs aren’t there in the beginning, sweetie. People are continuously changing. Nobody is the same person today as they were yesterday. That fool was a different person when you first married him. In no way, form, or fashion should you be blaming yourself for any of James Bennett's behavior. All of that was entirely — and I do mean a hundred percent — on him." She gave Dominique's hand a little squeeze. "You hear me, boo?"

Dominique nodded her head. She gave her cousin a tiny smile. "I hear you loud and clear, Shonda. Once again, thank you for hooking me up with a job."

Ten minutes later, Shonda got into her Lexus and pulled out of her aunt’s driveway. As she hit the interstate, she had a frown on her face. "Lord, please keep James Bennett out of my favorite cousin’s life. And please heal her heart. If something like that ever happened to me — such an outright betrayal of trust — I don't know if I'd ever be able to love again."




Two Days Later:


Dominique had met her cousin Shonda's best friend and business partner, Lexi Kirby before, and she liked the high-spirited sista with the bubbly, friendly personality. Dominique was sure she was going to enjoy working at Blessed Security with the pair. They had a third office worker named Juanita, who was pretty tight with both Shonda and Lexi. As soon as Dominique met Juanita, she realized that she liked her, too.

Juanita was quieter and more reserved than Shonda — and especially Lexi. But she was real nice and seemed to have a positive outlook on life.

I can use as many people with positive outlooks around me that I can get, Dominique thought to herself as she settled down in front of her new desk. She had to admit that she'd been sad many days during the last year or so. Downright depressed on many of them. She was praying that now that she was back home, all of that would change. And I’m not giving up on my belief that you’ll somehow, someway remove these threats out of my life, Lord. I have to keep my faith that you’ll do that.

"Morning, cousin," Shonda quipped wearing a cheerful smile on her face as she walked into the large, open office area. "You ready for your first day at work?"

Dominique flashed her cousin a smile. Then she frowned. "I'm gonna miss my little princess. But it’s comforting to know that she'll be taken care of by my mama."

Shonda gave Dominique a grin of commiseration. She knew exactly where her relative was coming from. "You'll be okay, boo. I'll always remember how I felt when I first started dropping the twins off at nursery school. Seeing that I work for myself, I was able to have them here with me in the office often during the first year of their lives. After they hit around eleven months old and started walking, that became impossible. I missed my babies like the dickens during those first few weeks. It'll get easier. I promise. Plus, you're only working four hours per day. That'll make it a little easier on you. It won't be too bad. You'll see."

Lexi had three kids of her own, so she understood as well. She gave Dominique a smile of support. "Listen to your cousin." Lexi laughed. "She's actually right about all of that. Now I can’t exactly say that applies to anything else..."

Shonda knew that her bestie was kidding. So she gave her a pretend stink eye and said, "Nobody’s gonna pay your behind any attention Lexianna Kirby. And on that note, we need to say all the positive stuff we can about motherhood around here." She pointed at Juanita. "Juanita just got married a little over a year ago, Dominique. She’s thinking about honoring her husband's request for them to start a family. She's never gonna do it if all she hears us hens in here talking about is how bad motherhood is."

There was one thing that Dominique was definitely sure of, and that one thing was that the best thing to ever happen to her had been her daughter — despite the type of person Maya’s father had ended up being.

Dominique threw a smile Juanita's way. "Being a mommy is awesome, Juanita. My little angel brings the sunshine into my life every single day. I couldn't imagine living life without her."




The next couple of months flew by in a flash for Dominique. When she’d first moved back to Greensboro, she’d been living in total fear — she’d also been having panic attacks. But now, as her third month back home approached, she was feeling more at ease...more comfortable...more confident. Through prayer and positive thinking, she’d begun to actually believe that James Bennett had decided to honor her wishes and leave her and the child he hadn’t wanted her to have alone. She prayed every day to God to keep James permanently away from her. And she truly felt like the Lord had and was answering her prayer.

Despite her new feelings of peace, Dominique knew the day would never come where she’d forget everything she’d been through. After all, she was still subconsciously checking corners and around bushes, making sure that James wasn’t there. I can’t be too careful, she thought to herself as she made her way out to her vehicle, and peeked inside to make sure no one was hiding in there.

This particular evening, she was about to do something that she hadn’t done in a very, very long time. She was about to hit the city and have a girls-night-out with some friends.

Dominique, Shonda, Juanita, and Lexi had developed a pretty tight friendship in the last few months. A lot of that had to do with them working side-by-side for hours on end. Even more of it had to do with the fact that they’d simply clicked. They were all women of faith who shared a lot of the same beliefs about life in general. A lot of the same goals.

Twenty minutes later, Dominique was walking into a beautiful restaurant called Blue Moon. The waitress flashed her a friendly smile. "Are you dining alone this evening, ma'am?"

Dominique grinned right back. "No. Actually, I'm meeting a few friends. My cousin told me to tell you that we're at the 'Open Arms' table."

The pretty, young waitress began nodding her head. Her smile broadened. "You must be Dominique. My cousin, Lexi, told me to expect you." She reached out her palm for a handshake. "I'm Sierra, by the way."

Dominique shook the young lady's hand, and the girl continued speaking. "I'm a college student over at A&T. In addition to waitressing, I also babysit. I heard from Lexi that you have a super-cute daughter — a real sweetheart. If you ever need anyone to babysit on the weekends, I'd be happy to help you out." She giggled. "I'm sure my cousin Lexi would vouch for me. I've babysat her kids plenty of times. Your cousin Shonda's twins, too."

By this time, they'd reached the table. Lexi, Shonda, and Juanita were already sitting there. Lexi smiled at Sierra and Dominique. "I suspect my favorite little cousin here is trying to make you one of her babysitting customers, Dominique."

Dominique laughed. "I don't think she's trying. I think she's already succeeded. They’re having crocheting classes downtown at the Civic Center on Saturday afternoons. I've been thinking about going." She winked at Sierra. "Now that I have a weekend babysitter — one who comes so highly recommended — I think I'll go ahead and sign up."

Dominique looked all three of her girls in the eye, one after the other. With a playful little grin on her face she asked, "You guys do recommend Sierra, don't you?" Dominique already knew the answer to her question.

Lexi laughed again. "Yeah. I'm giving little cuz my vote of approval."

"Me, too," Shonda chimed in.

Juanita smiled. She nodded her head. "Sierra gets my vote, as well. I don't have kids yet. But if I did have them, I’d call Sierra in a heartbeat."

Dominique took the vacant seat at the table. She smiled up at Sierra. "I guess it's settled then. You're my new babysitter for the next several Saturday afternoons."

The beautiful, young waitress was happy to hear that. She proceeded to take everybody's orders. After she'd left, Dominique glanced around the restaurant and nodded her head in approval. "This place is really nice. I can definitely understand why you guys suggested that we have a girls night out here."

Shonda nodded her head. "Yeah. I love eating at Blue Moon. Lexi's brother and sister-in-law, Serenity, own the place. They have two other restaurants in the city, too... ‘Heavenly Blueand ‘Heavenly Blue Too. Both of those are high-end, fine-dining type of eateries. This one is more laid back and casual." Shonda waved her hand around a couple times for emphasis. "But as you can tell, it may be casual, but it’s still very nice."

Dominique had a very good time with her girls that evening. They stayed there in the restaurant a couple of hours laughing, chatting, and enjoying each other's company. At a little past nine, they finally hugged goodbye and left. Dominique had just pulled out of the parking lot when she realized that she’d accidentally left her Cashmere sweater behind. She frowned and made a U-turn at the next intersection, then made her way back to Blue Moon.

Sierra, who was still on waitressing duty, flashed her new babysitting client a friendly, genuine smile. “Did you forget something, Dominique?”

Dominique nodded her head. "Yeah, I believe so. I think I may have left my sweater at our table. The lighting is kinda low back there, and the ladies and I were chitchatting and whatnot as we left, so I didn't notice it was missing."

Sierra nodded her head in understanding. "I'll go check for you. Okay?"

The second those last few words had come out of Sierra's mouth, three couples walked through the restaurant’s front door. That prompted Dominique to shake her head and say, "You have customers to take care of. I'll just go take a quick peek for myself. That alright with you?"

Sierra nodded her head. She flashed her new friend a grateful smile. "Thank you, Dominique."

Dominique made it to the table that she and her girls had shared. She took a quick look, but her sweater was nowhere in sight. Then she remembered. I left it hanging on one of those hooks in that pretty bathroom that they have in here.

She made a beeline towards the other side of the spacious restaurant. The ladies restroom was a multi-stall type of affair. They had a couple of comfortable sitting chairs in there — much like Dominique had seen in some of the more upscale restaurants she'd been in — and a woman who looked like she was about to give birth any day was sitting in one of them.

Dominique was a friendly type of person, so she flashed the woman a smile as she collected her sweater. The woman smiled back and said, "That sweater is absolutely gorgeous. I figured whoever it belonged to would come back and claim it."

Dominique let out a tiny tinkle of laughter. "Yeah. As soon as I realized it was missing, I turned my car right back around and came to look for it." She pointed at the woman's very pregnant belly. "You're due any day now, aren't you?"

The woman nodded her head. "Yeah. I'm actually past due, by three days."

"The very same thing happened to me when I was pregnant with my daughter. I didn't want the doctors to have to induce my labor, so I took up jogging. I was outside of my house trying to run up and down the sidewalk when my water broke."

The woman smiled. "You know...a couple of people told me that exercising would help bring on labor. But I didn't entirely believe them. Now I have proof, so I guess when I get home tonight, I'm hitting the pavement with my running shoes on.” She rubbed her belly. “My husband’s gonna get a laugh out of seeing me trying to run with all of this.”

Dominique grinned as well. Then she wished the beautiful pregnant sista good luck with her jogging, and proceeded to leave. When she almost collided with a solid wall of muscle, she'd only gotten a few footsteps away from the bathroom.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Dominique said to the man who still had his back turned to her. "I almost ran you over."

The second the man turned around, Dominique's apologetic smile turned into an excited, happy one of remembrance. "Kevin… Kevin Gates. I can't believe it's really you!"

Kevin turned his lips up in the slow, lazy smile that had always made Dominique's heart go pitter patter.

Lord have mercy, he’s just as fine as he was back in highschool. She took in every detail of his physical persona, almost at once. Broad muscular chest, chiseled facial features that looked like they belonged in a men’s fashion magazine, brooding dark bedroom eyes. No, correction...he’s finer than he was back in highschool. He’s matured like a vintage wine.

Kevin’s eyes met those of the beautiful woman who was standing in front of him. “Hello, Teach. Long time no see. Almost ten years.”

Dominique considered herself to be an intelligent, level-headed type of sista. But standing there with Kevin, she felt as if she’d been transmuted into the insecure, shy girl she’d been back in the ninth grade when they’d last laid eyes on one another. Still grinning, she began nodding her head. “Yes. Almost ten years.”

She was about to ask him how his life had been going. However, before she could get around to doing that, the pregnant woman she’d just been talking to stepped out of the restroom with a pained, yet excited look on her beautiful face. She lumbered straight over to Kevin and grabbed him by the arm. “My water just broke. I’m having the baby.”

Kevin’s eyes lit up. “Let’s get you to the hospital, Kanisha.” He threw Dominique a quick, cheerful glance. “Nice seeing you again, Dominique.”

As Dominique drove herself back home that evening, she was a little bit sad. She refused to lie to herself...part of her had been hoping that Kevin had been single. She didn't think she was ready for a relationship just yet — seeing that her marriage had ended so badly — but she couldn’t deny that her crush on Kevin Gates was still there.

Guess there's not gonna be a second chance at romance for the two of us. He has a beautiful family. His wife is so lucky. She shook her head. No, not lucky. I can tell that Kevin’s one of the good guys. I always could. He has this glow about himself. That woman is blessed.

Her mind immediately flashed back to how things had been for her when her big day to rush to the hospital to give birth to Maya had come along.

I had to drive myself to the hospital. James didn't want anything to do with any of it. He’d said that he hadn’t wanted Maya in the first place. He’d said that bringing her into the world was my problem. She frowned.

Sitting out there in her parent’s driveway, Dominique began berating herself again. How could I have been so stupid to have married him. The signs had to have been there. Somehow I overlooked them... Pretended they didn't exist.

As a smiling image of her daughter's adorable little face popped up in her mind’s eye, she decided to push all those types of thoughts to the side. God blessed me with my beautiful baby because of that whole ordeal. I have to remember that. Everything that happens, God allows it to happen for a reason. If I hadn't married James, I wouldn't have Maya right now. I committed my daughter’s life to the Lord. He has big plans for her someday. She’s his and I’m happy to be her mom. She brings me so much joy.

Thank you Lord for your blessings,” she whispered under her breath. Then she proceeded to say a quick prayer for Kevin, his wife, and their unborn child. Because that's the type of heart she had.