A to Z Challenge: Tawanda’s Tea

Tawanda’s Tea

The click-clack of rapidly approaching heels filled the silence that followed Izzy’s challenge. Tawanda stood in the doorway, a smile of concentration marked her face as she tried to balance the heavy tray. “I know it’s hot as all Hades out there today, but as my grandma used to say, there is nothing that can’t be fixed by a nice cup of chamomile tea.”

Izzy liberated the tray from her, placing it on top of one of the small desks. She joined him and started pouring out cups of tea for the small group. She looked up from time to time, an expression of puzzlement on her face. Her gaze flitted from one to the other as if she were trying to work out the mood of the room. Task completed, she straightened with an expectant smile.

At first nobody moved. Then Mama Lou cleared her throat and said, “Thanks, baby. I’ll take it from here.”

The wattage in Tawanda’s smile dimmed but she shrugged her shoulders and stepped out of the room.

“That’s no motive because I didn’t kill him,” Kieran shrieked. “What about her, huh? I saw her kissing him. She had just as much reason to want him dead.”

Delilah faced him squarely. “I didn’t kiss him. He kissed me. There’s a difference.”

“Likely story,” Kieran sneered and then took a step back at Izzy glare. “Why would he want to kiss someone like you. You, with all those kids, welfare mama. What could you possibly offer him?”

“Mama Lou, Ms. Ethel, I’m so sorry,” Delilah said, turning her back on Kieran. “I know I should’ve said something months ago but . . .” Delilah’s voice trailed off. She searched out Izzy’s gaze for support. “Pastor Griffin told me that if I ever told anyone,” she drew in another fortifying breath. “He would report me to child protective services for abuse and neglect.”

“What?!” shouted Kieran.

Delilah said, “Y’all know my husband Kevin was killed overseas. While his army pension helps, it’s not always enough. I was going through a bad patch so, I came to the church. At first, Pastor Griffin was so supportive. He arranged for the church to cover a couple bills, brought groceries for the kids . . . or at least I thought the money had come from the church.”

Delilah sighed. She reached for Izzy and then lay her head on his shoulder. “It turns out it had been Pastor Griffin’s money all the time. Like I said, at first, he was so generous. Then over time, he started asking me to do things. Could I come by the church to help him with some personal correspondence? Would I be willing to run some errands for him? I didn’t mind. Honestly, I was just so grateful to have the opportunity to give a little back, ya know?”

She gazed at Izzy with such sweetness, the love between them was a tangible presence that made Ethel Mae feel like an intruder to witness it. When the young man returned her look with equal fervor, Delilah blossomed in a way that not even the dowdy clothes could hide. “I also didn’t mind spending so much time at the church because it’s where I met Izzy.” A cloud darkened Delilah’s expression. “When Pastor Griffin found out about us, everything changed. He was more demanding, insisting that I give him more of my time, especially late at night. He made sly comments about my clothes and the shape of my body. I tried my best to ignore the innuendos. But my resistance seemed to encourage him somehow.”

Delilah’s voice trailed off as if lost in thought. “The last night I came here,” she faced Kieran again. “That must’ve been when you saw us. He kissed me, pawed me. Kept repeating how he would take care of me, how much he wanted me.” She gave a visible shudder. “He wouldn’t stop, his hands were everywhere, his mouth . . . I don’t even know how it happened. I reached out for something, anything that would get me away from him. My hands found that pewter paperweight that he was so proud of. Anyway, the next thing I knew, he was lying on the floor at my feet.”

Delilah was silent for a long moment, caught up in her memories. “I just left. I didn’t know what else to do. The next morning, I went to make groceries and my debit card was empty. Two weeks later, the electricity was cut off. I stayed away from the church for weeks. Hoping that Pastor Griffin would forget about me but week after week . . . I leave a key in the flower pot for my oldest to get in the house when she comes in from school. She called me from the neighbor’s house crying because she couldn’t get inside. When I got home, the house was locked tight but the key was gone, just as she said. But inside, the house was trashed. I don’t know if he had anything to do with that . . . Thursday night, he called me. Said he would give me one final chance to come back. When I refused he informed me that he would be placing a call Friday morning to CPS because I was an unfit mother.”

Izzy said, “I didn’t know nothing about what had been going on. Dee finally admitted it after the house was trashed. I told her I would take care of it.”

“So, it was you,” Kieran had found his courage again, his eyes bright red with anger and unshed tears. “You took care of him all right. With a knife in the back!”

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