All Falls Down
James placed his warm hand securely at the small of Amina’s back feeling her relax against his palm. He knew she didn’t want to be a the Moorehouse estate any more than he did, but to make her father happy, she went. They sat silently at the gate while he buzzed their arrival.
“Everything will be okay.”
“No, it won’t. It’ll turn into fiery chaos.”
“And it’s my job to pull you out when I see you’re in danger. I won’t leave you to fry like an inmate on death row.”
“Ha. Don’t you have a way with words.”
“Anything to put a smile on your face.” The gates popped open as a wave of nausea threatened to overtake her. Breathe, just breathe, she instructed herself. As he wound his truck around the drive, she spotted her father waiting at the base of the porch steps for them, smiling. “Ready?” Amina nodded but made no movement to exit the truck. James hopped down and waved at Charles and strode around to let Amina out. Sighing, Amina grabbed hold of his extended hand then put her feet to the ground and got out. As she and James approached Charles, she kept her eyes to the pavement, silently counting her steps until she saw a familiar pair of black Oxford Docker’s adorning her father’s feet.
“Amina, are you alright?” Charles inquired, concerned.
“No, I’m not fine. You know what’s going to happen. Chaos happens every single time I’ve come home.”
“Relax. Everything is going to be fine.”
“I keep hearing that.”
“If James told you that, maybe you should listen, ‘Mina. Besides, your favorite meal has been prepared and I know how crazy you go over cherry pie. Come on in you two.” They followed in behind Charles and she felt like she was walking into a gas chamber to meet her dead. With every step, her heels clicked against the porcelain floor. She hadn’t remembered it looking so cold and sterile. Filing into the dining room, there sat Brenden, her brother, and Chaunice. Rania sat across from their father and the only person who greeted her was surprisingly her brother. Amina expected to be ignored per usual.
“Hey, sis.” he added with a hug.
“Hello…” she cautiously replied. What was going on with him theses days and why was he being so nice? He took his seat again as James pulled one out for Amina. His action didn’t go unnoticed by Chaunice or Rania, both their brows lifted to the sky with intrigue.
“Dinner will be served soon.” Amina’s eyes landed on the head cook, Lauren and beamed a smile that could rival the sun. Rania’s lips twisted as Amina pushed back from the table and flew over to greet the cook. Lauren fought the urge to smile back, but she couldn’t have been happier to see Amina again after so many years of her absence. “I have to go back,” she told Amina. Amina held Lauren tight as if she were a prisoner, but was dragged along as Lauren struggled her way to the kitchen.
“You haven’t aged a bit.”
“Yeah right, now move out of the way.” Lauren swatted.
“Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Of course, but I still have a job to do.”
“They won’t starve. Look at me. You’ve always avoided looking me in the eye.”
“I have to keep my eyes on the gravy to make sure it doesn’t scorch. How are those rolls looking?” she asked another cook.
“Fine. They need another five minutes. Hey Amina, long time no see.”
“Yeah. Are you doing well Miss Mae?”
“It’s Mrs. Mae now and I’m doing quite well.”
“When did you get married?” Amina asked, excited.
“Around the time you ditched us for the high life.” she joked.
“I didn’t ditch anyone and I live a modest life.”
“I know, I know. You’re different from the rest of them Moorehouse’s, with the exception of your father, of course,” she whispered. “But you know, Brenden has come into his own. He even helps us old ladies out in the kitchen whenever he visits.” Amina stared dumbfounded. “That’s how I looked too when he offered his assistance. There is a God.” Mae chuckled.
Somewhere between stirring the gravy and talking to Mae, Lauren disappeared, probably back in the dining room, adorning the table with various dishes. Amina pushed out to spy if Lauren was in the dining room, but she was nowhere in sight. Marching back into the kitchen, scanning the kitchen, he peered around corners until she saw a large bun that recently started to salt poke from behind the freezer door.
“What are you doing in there?”
“Just looking for something.” Amina thought she heard Lauren’s voice waver and came a little closer. “Stay there,” she ordered. Amina stopped in her tracks, wondering if her presence disturbed Lauren’s usual routine. So, she turned away and left the kitchen feeling hurt. Of all the people to push her away, Lauren would have been the last person to come to mind.
Once Lauren removed her face from the freezer, Mae eyed her as she walked back to the stove, pouring the bubbling liquid into a gravy bowl. She’d never seen a more miserable woman in her life and she was terrible at hiding it from experienced eyes like herself. Mae gave orders to the other cooks to carry the food out and set the table. Lauren’s mind was elsewhere as Mae was sure she forgot she was in the kitchen.
“Hmm?” her head popped up.
“When are you gonna tell her?”
“Tell who what?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” she tensed up.
“I may not know all the details but I know what you’re hiding and it’s better you come to clean now, rather than later. I wasn’t out there when Amina greeted you but I know you’re not blind to how Mrs. Moorehouse feels about Amina being around you. Even as a child, Amina took to you instead of the Mrs. Your secret is going to blow up in your face if you don’t fix things and soon. Mark my words.”
She thought she hid it well but she should have known Mae would find out, she watched her like a hawk. All the cooks mourned for her when she informed them of her miscarriage, except Mae. But she couldn’t see a way to fix the situation that she’d let go on for decades, it just wouldn’t turn out in her favor. When Charles told her Amina was coming over for dinner, she hadn’t believed it. Why after all this time would she? Lauren stayed at a distance feigning a blind eye to how Amina was treated by Rania and her siblings, it was as if she hadn’t existed. She was the odd one out, always blamed for not being enough or being too much. She just couldn’t win. Rania repeatedly tried twisting and molding Amina into a carbon copy of herself, but thank God Amina fought back, she was like her father in a way. She had planned to live with her shame until her last breath, but today could spell disaster for her. Please, please let dinner get off without a hitch, she prayed.
Lauren made her way to the dining room and stood next to the table, “I hope everything is to your satisfaction.”
“We never have to worry about anything you prepare, it’s always perfect.”
“Thank you Mr. Moorehouse.”
“You should sit with us and eat, Mae too.” Amina invited.
“I have other duties to attend to, but thank you.”
“Lauren, you should rest. Have dinner with us.” Charles pressed.
“I appreciate the offer but, no thank you. What I can do is serve you all.” Amina hated it, Lauren groveled to her parents like she owed them something. Brenden declined and made his own plate, as did their father along with James. But her sister sat back taking in all the perks that came with being Moorehouse. When it was her turn, Amina took the plate from Lauren’s hand and placed it back on the table.
“You know I’ve never let you serve me. You’ve done enough. Please go rest your feet.” Lauren backed away, slowly, lowering her head and scampered back into the kitchen.
“What exactly is your problem?” Chaunice finally addressed her.
“My problem? What’s yours? Your fingers aren’t broken, you could have served yourself.”
“Why would I when we have maids for that.”
“Lauren isn’t some slave you take her for.”
“Who are you to say anything about what goes on in this house, we haven’t seen you in years?”
“It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been away, she’s still not a slave.”
“Ladies…” Charles interrupted. “We are not here to fight-”
“So, what have you been doing with yourself?” Rania cut in.
“I’ve been working.”
“Are you seeing someone we should know about?” she pried.
“Why are you curious?”
“After what happened with Reginald, which I still don’t understand, surely you’ve found someone to take his place.”
“There is no place to take.”
“He’s with an Amina look alike which means he’s clearly not over you. Whatever happened between you two, you should think about giving you two another chance.”
“I just don’t understand you Amina, you had a perfectly good man who was willing-”
“A good man? He’s not a good man, he’s a monster! All you see is status or how much money that’s stuffed in a bank account. Did it ever occur to you that I’m not like you?”
“Obviously, because I wouldn’t have lost someone who could secure my future.”
“Well, dollar signs is all you see when you look at dad. You should be so proud of yourself.”
“Let’s just stop.” Brenden snapped. “Why can’t we ever have a family dinner without bickering?”
Everyone quieted for a spell, and all that was heard was forks scraping against plates. James looked around at everyone, then back at Amina. Her face was blank but her fingers curled tightly around the fork until her palms turned a shade of white.
“What about you Varberg, found that special someone yet?” Chaunice broke the silence.
“I have.” Everyone except Amina looked at him, shocked.
“Don’t tell me…” she cocked her head to the side, looking back and forth between him and her sister.
“Amina?” Rania asked taken aback.
“Yes, Amina.” Amina felt hot as if a gigantic sized spotlight was shining directly down on her.
“You’ve to be kidding me?” Chaunice spewed.
“It’s not a joke and don’t talk about your sister like that.”
“You couldn’t do any better that her?”
“Watch your mouth,” Charles demanded. “What’s the matter with you?”
“You’re actually going to sit back and let this happen?”
“I am not going let anything happen. Amina and James are adults, they can make their own decisions.” he addressed his daughter.
“You knew about this prior to Amina coming here, didn’t you?” Rania challenged her husband.
“Just forget it, I’m leaving.”
“You’re not going anywhere.”
“Amina is not a child you can scold because you don’t agree with her choices.”
“I don’t believe I was addressing you, James. Furthermore, you’re not good enough for her. You’re not and never will be apart of this family.”
“You’re not going to get away disrespecting James. He’s been good to all of us, and I consider him a friend. He’s very much part of this family, Rania.”
“Charles, I’ll deal with you later. Amina, face me and tell me what’s going on with you. You disappear, bust up your engagement and now you’re here doing what you always do, pick fights. What’s more, you end up with him.” Rania pointed at James.
“James is a good man. He’s better than that monster you shoved me to.”
“I did it so you wouldn’t be left out.”
“Of what? You were looking out for your interests, so you could brag about having a son-in-law of a politician attached to the Moorehouse name.”
“You are the most ungrateful-”
“You’re the one who’s ungrateful. Everything has to be your way, if not you do your darndest to break it. You only have what you have because of dad and furthermore, I never liked being in this family.”
“You ought to be grateful we let you into our family!” she snapped. Frowns flowed across the table and shock stretched Amina’s face south.
“Excuse me?” Rania’s temper got the better of her and now there was no way to retract her words.
“Wait, what are you saying?” Brenden asked. “Dad, what is she talking about?”
“Why don’t we all settle down.”
“Let’s just cut to the chance, are you saying Amina’s not our sister?” Chaunice asked.
“Sit down and be quiet, everyone!” Charles directed his anger at his wife and daughter then turned to a confused Amina. “Amina, listen to me.” Her head snapped to his sorrowful gaze and she knew it was true.
“Oh, God.” she thought she was going to be sick. The closer he got, the further Amina backed away. “Stay away from me. I don’t know who you are.”
“Honey, you know that’s not true.” There weren’t many times when he cried, or let anyone see him in a weakened state, but this took the cake. There was no hiding how crushed he was with her denial. He wished things hadn’t turned out this way but there was no changing his mind, Amina would always be his daughter.
“How could you lie to me?”
“It wasn’t intentional.”
“You knew I wasn’t your blood and you watched your wife try to break me. You knew I didn’t fit, that I was the outsider that could never measure up to the Moorehouse standard. It was a living hell growing up in this house!”
“I didn’t everything I could…I stayed away because I thought if you knew about what happened to me, you’d do something stupid. I tried to protect you, but none of you cared about me in the first place.”
“You are my daughter and I love you no matter what.”
“You love me? You lied to me, you don’t lie to the people you love.” Amina marched over to the table and began breaking china that had been in the family, no been in their family for God knows how long. She listened to Rania howl to the moon over her shattered china.
“Stop! Are you crazy? Who’s going to replace this, you?” she was seething now. Rania rounded the table and slapped Amina across her face. “You can’t even afford you!”
Amina pushed Rania away yelling, “All you care about are these shattered plates, well what about me? Thanks to you, I’m shattered. Thanks to you I ended up tied to a bed, raped repeatedly by the man you paired me with! That’s why I’ve been confined to my house for the last five years, afraid to leave because I was afraid Reggie would find me. He had plans on killing me, and you’re crying over broken china?”
“I- I,” Rania started but couldn’t piece words together. For the first time, devastation made it’s home, plastered over Chaunice’s face. Brenden sat with his head bowed, hands covering his face. She hadn’t seen where Charles went but Rania had dropped to her knees, staring up at Amina bewildered. As much as she wanted to gloat at the crumbled woman before her, all she felt was pity and resentment that her life was about to become a three ring circus act. News traveled fast on chattering lips willing to spill juicy information and no doubt her former sister would be behind it. She’d personally watched Chaunice crush life after life without a second thought and now that it was exposed that she wasn’t a Moorehouse, she would be extended no mercy.
As she turned to walk away, Lauren arrested her attention. There she stood with swollen eyes tears streaming down her checks dampening her apron. Hurriedly she scampered over Amina directions and flung her arms around her body, squeezing her tight.
“I’m so sorry.” she went on, repeatedly.
“What are you sorry for, you didn’t do anything?”
“This is all my fault.” she cried. “You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me.”
“What are you talking about?”
Suddenly, realization crashed on her head like a boulder. “No, no, no!” This was not happening, she couldn’t deal with another blow to the heart.
“I’m so sorry sweetheart. I would have never given you up for adoption if there wasn’t another choice.” she sputtered. Lost for words, Amina broke for the front door, not wanting to listen to more deceptive secrets. As she opened the door, she bumped into a firm body that was much taller than she. With her vision somewhat cleared, she saw that it was Nora and Simon.
“Oh, it looks like we showed up at a bad time. Charles invited us over for dinner but Nora and I were running extremely late.” James came up and stood behind Amina, hating how inconvenient their timing was.
“Oh, my, James!” Neither Nora nor Simon had seen their son in years, naturally, they were stunned to discover him here of all places.
“Hello, mother, father.” Amina turned opened mouthed at James and just gave up. She couldn’t trust anyone. Everyone has either lied to her face or kept something from her. She just couldn’t take another thing right now. So, she did what she was used to doing, running away and hiding in complete seclusion.
The next chapter here, Rocking the Boat