Time passed, as time does, and before I realized it, I was in my last year of college. Soon I would be graduating and moving from school into the real world. While I was happy to be graduating, I was sad that it meant my stay with the Williams’ would soon be coming to a close.
I was NOT looking forward to leaving Brian and Denise (especially Brian!) but I did miss my mother. I had gotten a lot of very good work experience and had been told by my manager and the head of the company that if I needed a job reference or even wanted a full-time job, I could have them.
I was sitting at the breakfast table one morning feeling sad. Denise noticed my mood and was concerned. “What’s wrong sweetie, you look as blue as the sky!” she said.
“Oh, it’s just graduation. I’m going to be graduating in a little over a month and I really wish my mom could be here for it. I saw how thrilled she was when I graduated high school and I know she would be even more excited to see me graduate college.
But she barely has enough money to make the monthly bills–taking time off work and the cost of the trip here are just not possible,” I explained.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. Yes, I know what your mother is going through. I can’t go see Mark graduate either–not because of money, but because of my back. I would never be able to sit that long and God forbid there be any turbulence–it would kill my back!” She said. “I was lucky that Brian graduated from here so I got to see him up on stage.”
“Yeah. Oh well, at least I will be graduating. Maybe once I get home I can find a good job and take care of her for a change. Get her out of that dirty apartment and into someplace nicer. Maybe she could even stop working altogether–that would really be nice!” I said.
“You are a good daughter and a good girl, honey,” Denise said.
“Thanks,” I said with a small smile.
It wouldn’t be until the following night at dinner that the subject of my graduation would be brought up.
“Tawnisha, sweetheart, we wanted to talk to you about your graduation next month,” she said.
“What about it?” I asked.
“I’ve been thinking about it and talking with Brian about it. If it’s all right with you, We’d like to bring your mother down so she can see you graduate,” she said.
“WHAT?” I said, not believing what I was hearing.
“Well, like I told you, I’m not able to go see Mark graduate because of my medical condition. We had set aside money so I could see both my boys graduate. And if you don’t mind me saying so, since you got here you’ve become kind of like the daughter I never had.
So please let me give my ‘daughter’ a graduation present and let me bring your mother here to see you graduate. It would mean as much to me as it would to her. I know what it’s like to see your child take this big step. I’m sure she would like to see it too,” she said.
“That’s right, Sis. Mom talked with me about it last night and I think it’s a great idea. We would pay for her trip and a hotel room for you and her to stay in.
We would all go to the graduation together, and if she needed to go anyplace else, I’d be happy to take her. We really want to do this for you Sis,” Brian said.
I looked at Denise then Brian then back at Denise. From the smiles on their faces, I knew that they were serious.
“I-I don’t know what to say…” was all that I could get to come out of my mouth. To say I was stunned is an understatement!
“Then say yes, silly!” he grinned.
“YES! OH, YES!” I said, running up to them both. “Oh Denise, Brian, I am so happy! You two are the most wonderful people in the whole world! Oh, I can’t believe it! I can’t wait to call Mom up and tell her!” I said, in tears over this incredible news.
“Well, then you’d better do it then!” Denise said, handing me the phone. My hands were shaking so hard that I was in serious doubt that I even got the number straight!
“Mom, Guess what? The Williams’ here have offered to fly you here to Dayton for my graduation! Isn’t that wonderful–you’re going to get to see me graduate!
“They what?” Mom said, as blown away at the news as I was.
“That’s right, Mom. Mrs. Willams told me the news just a minute ago and I couldn’t wait to tell you! Just think Mom, you are going to see your little girl up on that stage after all!” I said.
“I can’t believe it. That’s the best news I’ve heard all day. Let me talk to her,” Mom said. I handed the phone to Denise.
(I didn’t hear the following exchange between my Mom and Denise and only learned about it later, but this is about how it went.)
“Hello Mrs. Williams, is what Tawnisha saying true? You want to fly me down to see my girl graduate?” Mom asked.
“That’s right, Mrs. Johnson. You see, I have two boys so I never had a daughter. And since she came here, she has been ‘my little girl’ and it has been wonderful.
“She has been such a delight and so good around here that I wanted to do something very special for her. My son and I want to bring you down here and put you up in a hotel so that you can see her graduate. She told me how much it would mean to you and her and so this is our graduation gift to her,” she said.
“Oh, Mrs. Williams, that is such an incredible offer. But there’s no way I could pay you back–you see I recently had my hours cut at the supermarket and it has been tough to even make the bills.
“I haven’t told Tawnisha because she has enough to worry about, but if things don’t get better pretty soon, I might get evicted from here. I’m behind in my rent and I’ve had to cut out cable TV and pare down on food and other things,” Mom said.
“Well, you don’t worry one bit about paying us back or any such nonsense. This is our way of thanking her for giving us such joy while she was here. I’m going to be sorry to see her go!” Denise said.
“Thank you, Mrs. Williams, for taking such good care of Tawnisha and for this opportunity to see her graduate. I don’t know how much she told you about us, but she hasn’t lived the easiest of lives. Her father has been in prison since right before she was born.
“She hasn’t ever even seen him except when she was very little–she doesn’t remember anything about him. And she and I have had a difficult time since then. When she graduated high school I was so proud of her. Now she’s is going to graduate college. Thank you for helping her,” Mom said.
“It has been our pleasure, believe me,” Denise said.
Graduation day got closer and a few days before the big event, I was at the airport with Denise and Brian waiting for Mom’s plane.
“Mom!” I screamed out as I saw her come into the terminal building. I ran to her happy as could be that I finally could be with her. We held each other and cried “I missed you so much, Mom!” I said looking up at her through tear-filled eyes.
“I missed you too baby! You’ve grown since I saw you last! You’re so big now!” Mom said.
“Yes I’ve grown and grown-up,” I said. “Come on and meet the Williams’,” I took her hand and brought my two “families” face to face for the first time. “Mom this is Mrs. Williams–Denise. Denise, this is my mother, Desiree.”
“I’m pleased to meet you,” Mom said.
“I’m very pleased to meet you too,” Denise said.
“And this is Brian, Mom,” I said introducing him to my mother.
“Very nice to meet you, Mrs. Johnson. I can see where Tawnisha gets her looks from!” he said. Always the charmer!
“It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Brian. My Tawnisha hasn’t told me too much about you and I think I know why!” Mom said, looking at me with playful scorn. She had already figured out there was more to Brian and me than roomies!
“I was thinking we could drive you over to your hotel so you could put your bags in your room then the four of us could go get some dinner. There’s a very nice family-type restaurant not far from your hotel It would give us all a chance to talk and get to know each other a little,” Denise said.
“That would be nice,” Mom said. “This was my first time on an airplane and it’s got me a bit unnerved!”
“Your first time, huh?” Denise said.
“Yeah, I have never been out of Detroit except once to Grand Rapids to visit Tawnisha’s father’s parents. We were still dating at the time but we had talked about getting married. But then he got into trouble and is now in prison. Tawnisha was actually born not too long after that trip,” Mom explained.
“I see. Well, putting something in your stomach will help with the flip flops!” Denise said. And so with Brian and I in the back seat and Denise and Mom in the front seats, we headed to the hotel they had arranged for Mom and me to stay in.
The hotel was a nice place–not the Hilton, but it was clean and it was close to the William’s house and the college. We got Mom and I checked in and dropped off Mom’s bags, then went to dinner.
At dinner, we talked and had a good time. We discussed what we thought graduation would be like with Denise giving us more idea of how things would go. Since Brian had graduated from the same school only a few years ahead of me, she knew more about what a college graduation entailed than Mom and I.
After dinner, they drove Mom and me back to our hotel room. I must admit I had mixed feelings about staying in the hotel–on one hand, I was with Mom again, but on the other, it reminded me that soon I would be leaving Columbus and going back to Detroit and leaving Brian. Graduation would be a bittersweet thing indeed!
It was when we were in our hotel room and the Willams’ had left to go home that I learned what had really been going on back home.
“Sit down, honey, I had some things to tell you to catch you up with what’s been going on lately,” Mom said.
Our hotel room had two double beds so I sat on the other one across from her. “What is it, Mom?” I knew that starting the conversation like that was not a good sign and there must be something wrong.
“Sweetheart, things have not been so good back home the last year or so. The supermarket has fallen on tough times and they have had to cut people’s hours in an attempt to save money.
“My hours have been cut so much it’s hardly worth going to work and I’ve contemplated just going on Welfare. The only reason I don’t is that I’d still have to work someplace and there isn’t much your old Mom can do anymore.
“I’m afraid I haven’t been able to keep up on the bills too well and we are behind a couple of months in our rent. The landlord has been pretty nice about it so far but I’m afraid if we get any further behind he won’t be able to be so lenient.
“Also, I’ve had to cut the cable and pare back on other utilities… and food,” she said sadly, looking down out of embarrassment.
“Mom! You haven’t been eating?” I said stunned at this news.
“Well, I have been eating, dear, just not like we used to. A lot of soup and sandwiches and things that aren’t so expensive. Food prices aren’t getting any cheaper you know,” she said.
“Why didn’t you say something, Mom? I could have sent some money home or something!” I said.
“I didn’t want you worrying over me and not concentrating on your schoolwork. You had enough on your mind with that. I did all right while you were gone,” she said.
She told me more about what she had gone through and the more she talked the worse I felt. Mom had gotten into the habit of turning off all the lights except for the room she was in at the time–which meant she had to flip lights on and off as she went around the apartment in order to cut down on the electrical bills.
She had lost TV and only listened to the radio now. But most of all was the food situation. It broke my heart to know that Mom was going to bed hungry some nights while I was here enjoying myself. I determined to do something to set things right.
I still had a few days of school left before graduation and the next day Brian came by to take me to school on his way to work as we usually did. But that day was not going to be a usual day for me.
“Brian, can you take me by work instead of school today? I need to talk with my boss about something,” I said.
“What about your schoolwork?” he asked.
“Well, school will be over in a couple of days and I’ve already taken my finals and passed everything. I really don’t need to go to school except to make an appearance and I can do that after I talk with Mr. Harris.”
“I suppose so. What’s going on?” Brian could tell by my voice and the way I was acting that something was very wrong. He had become able to read my moods very well over the last four years.
“Mom told me last night what she has had to go through while I’ve been here enjoying all this. She has had to go to bed hungry, Brian, just to keep me in school!” I said.
“Oh wow!” he said as shocked to hear this as I was almost.
“Yeah, and she is behind on the rent and other bills too. So I am going to talk to Mr. Harris. He said that if I wanted a reference or a job with the company full-time, that he’d be glad to help me. I’m going to see if he meant it. I’m going to see if I can work full-time once graduation is over,” I said.
“You mean you won’t be going back to Detroit?” he asked.
“Not if I can get a good job here with Mr. Harris. It’s always been my plan to graduate college and get a good-paying job so I can get Mom and me out of that dirty, run-down apartment and into someplace nicer.
“And finding out how Mom has suffered and sacrificed to put me through school makes it all the more important. If I can find a job that can support Mom and me in a better life than we had back in Detroit, then yes I will be staying,” I said.
“Well, I hope you can get a job, then. I’ve gotten used to having you around, Sis!” he said with his heart-melting grin.
I wasn’t looking forward to leaving you either! I thought to myself. Although neither of us had used the “L” word yet, I knew how I felt about Brian. And Detroit may only be 160 miles away on a map, but in real life, it was a world away!
And so I explained everything to Mr. Harris–about how my Mom struggled back home in Detroit and about my plans for getting her out of that situation.
“I haven’t told Mom about this yet, Mr. Harris, but if after graduation she is willing I would like to move here to Columbus with her and start working here full-time for the company. I like it here and I get along with all the staff really well,” I said.
“I’ll tell you what, Tawnisha, you have done a great job here for us these last few years you’ve worked here and we can always use good help. The rest of the staff likes you too. So when graduation is over, you let me know if you still want a job and we will be happy to hire you full-time. Okay?” he said.
“Oh, Mr. Harris thank you! Oh, that would be wonderful!” I said. Things were definitely looking up for me!
And so, a couple of days later, we all had gathered in the auditorium for the graduation. I had to go to the dressing rooms to get ready with my cap and gown and wait with the other students for the procession to walk into the auditorium.
The ceremony took about three hours to get through with the speeches, awards, and handing out of diplomas. I could hear Brian giving out a yell when my name came up, “Way to go, Sis!” which made me feel really good.
After the ceremony, we all filed out to the reception area and that’s when Mom came up and gave me a great big tear-filled hug. “Oh, honey, I’m so proud of you! Oh, I wish your father could have seen you up there on stage!” she blubbered between sobs. Denise gave me a big hug next, and then Brian.
We decided that this occasion deserved a nice dinner and so we went to a nice restaurant and that’s when I sprang my own surprise on everyone.
“Mom, you have given up so much of yourself to raise me and even more to get me this far. You have sacrificed and gone without just so I would have what I needed to make my way to this point. Now that I have graduated college, it’s time for me to start to pay back my debt,” I started.
“Oh honey, you don’t have to do that!” Mom said.
“Yes, I do, Mom. And I’m going to start right here and now. Mom, I know that things back in Detroit are rocky and that your hours have been cut ridiculously. And my coming home would only add more burden to the bills which are already strained to the breaking point.
“As you know I have been working at Harris Enterprises, now for over three years, and I have gotten a lot of experience and knowledge about the business world in doing so. But also I have made a name for myself of sorts there. Mr. Harris likes me and I get along with everyone there,” I said.
“I’m really glad to hear that sweetheart, but what are you trying to say?” Mom asked.
“Well when you told me how bad things had gotten for you, I talked to Mr. Harris and he offered me a job there at Harris Enterprises full-time. I would be making enough money there to support both of us and you could move out of that filthy, disgusting hole and come down here.
“We could get our own place–a nicer, cleaner place where everything worked like it should. You have worked enough that you can get Social Security and that plus my job would mean no more worries about bills. No more going without and no more missed meals. It’s time I took care of you for a change Mom.”
“That sounds very nice baby, but you are all grown-up now… you really should go out and get a life of your own,” Moma said.
“Mom, this is the reason I did all this–the reason I pushed myself so hard and what I worked for. I did this to give us both a better life. Now I have a life down here and I want you to move down here and be a part of it. I like it here in Columbus, and you will too. It’s safe, it’s clean, and it’s nicer. The people are friendly and you can walk around without worrying who’s behind you,” I said.
“Tawnisha, baby, this wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain boy we both know would it?” she said, winking at Denise.
I gave her a look of feigned shock that she would even imagine such a thing but I wasn’t fooling anyone. Mom and Denise both laughed at my pitiful performance.
“Well, I know you Tawnisha–you wouldn’t bring something like this up unless you already made up your mind what you are going to do.
“And I know all too well what a handsome boy does to us Johnson women. So I guess I will have to move down here just to keep you in line!” Mom said with a big smile on her face.
After dinner, we discussed what we were going to do next. Denise said her back hurt from sitting so long on those auditorium seats and Mom said the excitement of the day had worn her out too.
“Mom if it’s okay with Mrs. Johnson, Tawnisha and I would like to go for a drive. It’s still kinda early and I don’t have to work tomorrow,” Brian said.
“It’s okay with me if it’s okay with her,” Denise said. Brian and I both looked at Mom for her answer.
“All right you two, but don’t be out too late!” Mom said. With that, we took our parents home, first Mom then Denise. Then Brian put me in the front seat and we drove off just the two of us.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Just sit back and relax. We’ll be there in a few minutes!” he said, acting very mysterious.
Sure enough, in about ten minutes we were going through the gates of the Columbus Park of Roses. He pulled into the empty parking lot and helped me out of the car. “Come on,” he said.
We walked along the paved path admiring the multitude of flowers and the well-manicured grassy areas. We walked for a little way until we got to a small fountain in the center of the park. “Have a seat, Sis I want to talk to you,” he said.
I sat down not having a clue what this was all about.
“Tawnisha, today couldn’t have gone any better if I had planned it myself,” he said, “I thought this morning that after graduation you and your mother would be returning to Detroit and I would never see you again. I was not looking forward to going to the airport and seeing you off.
“Now I know that you came down here to go to college and until this evening I figured you already had plans for your life and what you wanted to do with it. But when you broke the news to your mother that you wanted to move down here permanently I…”
“Brian, I love you!” I cried out, interrupting him. “I’m sorry if that is moving too fast, but that’s how I feel. I have known for some time now but I didn’t know how you felt or if I should even be feeling that way myself. Like you said, I only came down here to go to school. I never planned on meeting a guy and certainly not falling in love. But it’s happened. And I’m terrified that you don’t feel the same way.”
Brian stood and pulled me to my feet. “Tawnisha Johnson, you have nothing to worry about. I brought you here tonight to tell you the very same thing. I love you too, and I am so happy that you and your mother are going to be moving down here.
“I want to continue seeing you–and now that both our parents know what we have been doing, we won’t have to sneak around. I am proud of my girl and I want the world to know it. Tawnisha is MY girl! She is my girl and I love her!” he shouted to the world.
I threw my arms around him and kissed him deep and with all I had. I was so happy! I had graduated college, got a really good job and I didn’t have to go back to Detroit. Brian loved me and I loved him too. Everything had worked out even better than I could have hoped for!
Copyright © 2021 by Master_Jonathan
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