Happy Is On Hiatus
by AC Arthur
Part of the Stories that Stand Alone
Sisterhood is the secret weapon for two women at crossroads in a bighearted multigenerational novel about family, forgiveness, and fresh starts by the author of The After Party.
When Rita McCall discovers her husband’s affair, there isn’t a lick of surprise—not a single tear or broken heart. Just a wife and mother who’s over it and ready to watch her twenty-three-year marriage go up in flames. Sticking close, thick as thieves since childhood, Rita’s unfailingly loyal cousins Jemel and Sharae become her lifeline. They stand beside her as she contemplates a new career and navigates the murky waters of being a preacher’s daughter disgraced by scandal.
Although she would never turn her back on her cousin, Sharae has her own issues to deal with after learning of her father’s jailhouse death and an inheritance she doesn’t want. The last things she needs right now are a handsome lawyer snooping around in her business and a secret that comes back to bite.
With the cousins at life-changing crossroads, it’ll take the wisdom of the Aunts and their family’s legacy of feeding the soul to guide them through the painful secrets, betrayals, and empowering revelations ahead. They’ll learn that what matters most is holding tight to love, to the promise of happiness, and most of all to each other.
Happy Is On Hiatus
Part of the Stories that Stand Alone
Happy Is On Hiatus
Burn, baby, burn.
Margarita “Rita” McCall sat up in her bed, eyes half-closed, head still throbbing from the two cups of Bern’s spiked fruit punch she’d had last night. “What did you just say?” she said into the house phone because she couldn’t have heard what she thought she’d just heard.
It had to be a hangover. A nightmare she was stuck in and needed to scream her way out of.
“I’m pregnant with Nate’s baby.”
That’s exactly what she thought she’d heard this thot say. “Who is this, and how’d you get my number?”
“Is that really what you wanna know?”
“That’s what I asked.” Now Rita was pushing the sheet off her legs. Her feet hit the carpeted floor in her bedroom as her fingers kept a death grip on the cordless phone. Like her mother and a few other old-school folks in the family, she still had a landline, and one of Nate’s side chicks had just called at what . . . ? Wait a minute, what time was it anyway?
Turning to glance at her nightstand, Rita stood as she read the large white numbers from the alarm clock—5:18 a.m. In the freakin’ mornin’!
“Look, little girl, I don’t have time for games. If you’re sleeping with Nate, congratulations and welcome to the trick-of-the-month club. Now hang up, and call his phone with this foolishness.” At forty-two years old, after two daughters and being a member of the Brighton School District’s PTA for fourteen years, there were times when patience wasn’t in Rita’s vocabulary.
“I’m calling you ’cause I thought you should know.”
“Well, I’m not the one having another one of his kids, so your problems aren’t my concern.” Then, as it dawned on her that she was giving this woman way too much of her time and attention, Rita slammed the phone down on its base. The motion was made with such force that the base and the phone fell off the nightstand with a banging sound that echoed throughout the otherwise silent bedroom.
Silent because she was the only one in it. Nate was out of town on business. Or laying his sleazy behind in the bed right next to that slut, who had no clue who she was messin’ with. Rita balled her fingers into fists and closed her eyes. Expletives burned her tongue, and her lips thinned, ready to let them fly free. But she refrained. Cursing in a rage wasn’t her thing. That was more like Sharae or Jemel. Her cousins, who were as close to her as if they were sisters, both had potty mouths they’d inherited from their other relatives and owned up to it without remorse.
No, she wasn’t going to curse. Nor was she going to call Nate’s cell phone to tell him what his little girlfriend just had the balls to do.
Rolling her neck on her shoulders, Rita recalled the deep-breathing exercises her primary care doctor had told her to employ for quick stress release. She slapped her hands to her stomach and inhaled a deep breath through her nose. Seconds later she released the breath slowly, knowing she was forgetting a step but unable to worry about it at the moment. She opened her eyes, and her fingers unclenched. Start at the beginning and repeat. This time she tried to think of what she was missing. On the exhale, her belly pushed her hand out, but her chest heaved with the pounding of her heart as well.
Dammit. She tried again, this time visualizing the stress moving from the top of her head, down past her shoulders and torso, to her hips and knees, until finally blowing away past her toes. Her head throbbed.
This crap wasn’t working.
With a groan, she stopped. Unable to move or contemplate what to do next, she simply stood on the right side of the bed, where she always slept. A double set of windows with partially open blinds were a few feet away. No light poured through, not just yet anyway. It was still too early for sunrise, but the sky was that somber grayish blue, dawn just a whisper away.
A baby. Nate was forty-six years old. Taryn, their oldest daughter, was twenty-one, and Necole, their youngest, was nineteen. What was he gonna do with a baby now?
Never mind that it wasn’t his wife carrying the child.
Damn him! Her voice was loud in her mind. But it wasn’t enough. Those two words didn’t begin to express how it felt to have a hot ball of fury now forming in the center of her chest.
Her heart continued to thump wildly, as if trying to push back against the searing anger but failing dismally. She felt like she’d just run a marathon or had the crap scared out of her. No, she wasn’t scared, nor was she exhausted from exertion. She was tired of the bullshit. Also, she had no problem thinking curse words, she just tried not to speak them as much, lest she anger her father, Reverend Haley “Hale” Henderson. And yeah, she was a grown woman and all that, but old habits died hard.
Rita wasn’t heartbroken, because that ship had sailed a long time ago. This wasn’t Nate’s first affair, and she was smart enough to know it wouldn’t be his last. That little trick on the phone didn’t have a clue. Nate McCall didn’t know how to be loyal, and he didn’t want to learn. He had one focus in life—to rake in the cash from McCall Motors, the auto dealership he’d started three years after they married. There were seventeen dealerships now up and down the eastern region, enough to keep Nate on the road seven to ten days out of the month. At least he liked to use that as his excuse.
Rita didn’t care. Not anymore. It’d been too long, she’d shed enough tears, and life was too damn short.
Sighing, she turned away from the window and walked across the room. The first thing she’d fallen in love with about this house on Windsway Lane was the large master bedroom. In addition to the space to fit her California king–size bed, two dressers, and a bench at the foot of the bed, and still more room to perform her exercise routine, there was a sitting room that she’d been considering turning into a home office. The master suite also contained a massive walk-in closet and spa bathroom. For twenty of the twenty-three years she’d been married, this had been her oasis.
This morning, the walls felt as if they were closing in, and she gasped for breath. Rubbing her hand along the inside wall of the closet, she braced her eyes for the burst of light as she hit the switch. After blinking a couple of times, she stepped farther into the space and spread her arms as wide as she could, grabbing a bunch of clothes from Nate’s side of the closet.
With purposeful steps she walked out of the room, down the hallway and the stairs. The house was still in mild disarray after last night’s cookout. Jemel, Sharae, and some of her other family members had helped her clean up after the Johnson family’s annual Memorial Day cookout. But folding chairs were still stacked against one wall in her entryway, along with a rolling cart that belonged in her garage. She dropped the pile of clothes onto the bottom of the cart and went back up the stairs.
When she was in her bedroom again, Rita went around to her side of the bed and slid her feet into her favorite microterry Isotoner slippers. She headed back to the closet and grabbed more clothes, being sure to snatch all the NFL and NBA jerseys Nate had collected over the years. All of it went downstairs to be piled on the top shelf of the cart. Then she went back again, this time grabbing boxes of the tennis shoes and designer loafers Nate coveted.
The cart was overflowing with his stuff now, and she stepped back to stare at it for a few moments. Her heart was still beating fast, but at least now she could attribute it to the mini–cardio workout going up and down those steps had been. Dragging her hands down her face, she turned and walked back to the kitchen. Switching on that light, she glimpsed unused leftover aluminum trays—long and short ones—on the table. She’d pack those away in the garage for the next cookout, which would be the Fourth of July. Another trip to Sam’s Club would still be in order to get more paper items, but at least she knew she had some leftovers. Without hesitation she walked over to the sink, bent down, and opened the cabinets beneath it. The two large bottles of hand sanitizer she’d bought from Sam’s to replenish the smaller containers in the bathrooms throughout the house were right where she’d stored them. Rita pulled them out. Then she went to the drawer closest to the refrigerator, where she kept all her odds and ends. One of the many multipurpose lighters she owned was inside, and she picked it up.
Her thoughts circled back to her children. Necole would be starting her sophomore year at Coppin State this fall. Taryn would begin her nursing master’s program. Neither of them lived at home anymore. They were grown, as her mother would say. Grown and able to get out and take care of themselves. But, with the free car, free car insurance because they were on the family policy, and a monthly allowance, courtesy of Rita and Nate, those girls weren’t hardly taking care of themselves.
How were they going to take this news? Who was going to tell them?
Rita sat the two containers of hand sanitizer on top of the heap of clothes and went to open the door. She tucked the lighter under her arm, pushed the cart through the open door, and moments later huffed as she had to maneuver it down the three front steps. Once it was on the level pathway, she knelt down to pick up the pieces that had fallen, tossing them back on top. Then she wheeled the cart down to the end of the driveway.
Her black Volvo XC90 was parked inside the double-car garage. Nate had driven his gold Lexus GX to the airport or wherever he was.
Nathaniel Geoffrey McCall, the finest dark chocolate–complected brotha her seventeen-year-old eyes had ever seen in person. Her parents had been a little wary about her dating a college student four years her senior. But Rita had fallen in love the moment Nate brushed that first soft kiss across her forehead.
With a quick motion, Rita pushed the rolling cart to the side until it tipped over and all the clothes and shoeboxes fell onto the driveway. She righted the cart and wheeled it behind her. Turning back to the pile of clothes, she had to pick through them to find the jugs of hand sanitizer, but when she did, she opened them both and poured the contents all over the clothes. Grabbing the lighter from under her arm, she flicked the switch and touched the glowing flame to the red Michael Jordan jersey first. Then she moved over a little to the box of Air Jordan tennis shoes and let the flame touch that now-damp-with-sanitizer box. Another flick, and the flame was set to a black pinstriped Tom Ford suit and then to a Walter Payton jersey.
Golden flames caught on quick, licking at the pile of clothes with savage glory. Rita took a few steps back until she bumped into the rolling cart; then she folded her arms across her chest and watched Nate’s shit burn.