For once, a gentle breeze danced around the city, offering a light relief to the extreme heat that had taken over just the week before. Birds fluttered and chirped around as children played and ran in every direction, singing their favorite songs while playing their favorite games with friends.
Older folks followed the tradition of sitting on their front porches, enjoying the beautiful and sunny day as they watched and gossiped with people they’d known their whole lives. Praying grandmothers and generous grandfathers who kept the sense of a tightknit community going.
Shade tree mechanics tinkered with rusted cars while in-home beauticians set up in their front yards, curling or braiding hair for the week to come.
Sparrow Hendrix smiled at it all, returning to what had once been a place of comfort and joy with hope for a fresh start on his heart and life. To the new faces he didn’t recognize, he nodded or waved when they glanced in his direction.
Coming up on the place where he’d been born and raised, he took in the sight before him. Not much had changed about the modest two-story home. For that, he wasn’t sure if he should be thankful, or saddened. Sparrow immediately took notice of the yard two houses down. Little kids playing varying games as they yelled and shouted, sang and danced. One smiling face caught his attention and he stopped in his tracks momentarily, debating on if he wanted to interrupt her fun.
He opted against it, taking a seat on his mother’s front porch as he watched the only person that only ever saw good in him. His pride and joy, his daughter Robin. He beamed with pride, loving how her bossy nature thrust itself forward as she guided her friends in learning some of the latest dance moves.
The Sylvers’ Free Style blasted from a large record player that had been dragged to an open door. “Wait y’all.” Robin placed her hands at her hips, lowering her eyes as she glared towards a little boy who was terrorizing smaller children. “Hey, Tommy, you stop that! I didn’t let you see my jump rope so that you could hit others with it. Either play with it right or give it back.”
“You’re not the boss of me, Squirt.”
Robin huffed, marching over to the boy as her short and straightened hair bounced with each step she took. He was much taller than she, huskier, but that didn’t stop Robin. She swiftly grabbed her jump rope, getting in his face. “My jump rope, my rules. I didn’t have to let you see it in the first place, didn’t even have to be nice to you. But because you’re such a bully to everyone else, and no one likes you, I thought I’d be nice for a change. Maybe when you learn to be nice and play fair, you can see it again or even play with us like everybody else.”
“Get lost, loser.” He shoved her, causing Sparrow to stand quickly.
Just as he was about to walk over to aid his daughter, he heard someone calling out to him. “Sparrow! Good to see you home, brother!”
Masking his sudden irritation with a quick smile, Sparrow nodded and spoke back before refocusing on his child. Gasping at the sound of her father’s voice, Robin turned her head and shrieked with excitement. Standing up, she nudged Tommy out of her way and ran straight for her father’s open arms. Jumping into his arms, she knocked him back, putting all the strength in her little body into holding him down. “Daddy! Oh Daddy, please say that you’re home to stay!”
He chuckled, playfully pushing her away as she planted kisses all over his bearded face. His priority then was her safety. “Are you okay? Are you hurt? Anything scraped up?”
“Huh? Oh, that little tumble was nothing. He pushed like a girl. Daddy, are you home for good? Please say yes, please say yes.”
He looked into her big brown eyes, containing his laugh as his gaze soon fell on her toothy and goofy grin. “And what’s in it for me, Robin?”
“My unconditional love, and me… duh.”
“Heeey, that’s something a cat like me can dig. Yes, Baby Girl, I am home for good.”
“That’s not just an empty promise?!”
Sparrow sighed, ashamed that she had to ask, but understood exactly where that question came from. Holding up three fingers, with his thumb folded across his pinky, he nodded. “Scout’s honor.”
Robin giggled, gripping him tightly as she wrapped her tiny legs around him as he carefully stood up. “Yes! I knew you’d want to come back to us sooner or later.”
He rubbed her back, reveling in his daughter’s love as he thought to himself. I’ve always wanted to be here. “And I’ll be here forever and ever.”
“I kept telling my friends that I have the best daddy in the world. That even though you leave, you always come back because you love me too much to stay away.”
“I love you with all of my heart, Robin. And I’m glad you love me too.”
Finally letting go and allowing Sparrow to set her down, Robin smiled and bounced around. Today was a wonderful day in her world, a special day. And she was even happier that something had told her to wear the sailor outfit her father had bought her the last time he was home. “I can’t wait to show you all that I’ve been doing and learning in school. And guess what Daddy!”
“They started a mini cheer squad and you won’t believe who’s the captain.”
He laughed. “I find it hard to believe that someone else even had a chance to be captain. Congratulations. What else?”
“Mama put me in a dance class. I don’t really care for it much, because some girls and their mamas always have something to say about me and my skin, but I ignore it because Mama said that she believes in me and my dreams, and that I’m going to be something big no matter what anyone says along the way. It’s one of the best places around, so you know that means it’s expensive and I don’t want to waste Mama’s money.”
Smiling as she finally took a breath, Robin gripped her father’s legs, checking to make sure the moment was real. “That’s all you want to share with me?”
“No but I don’t want to talk your head off just yet. You know I can keep going and going and going. I missed you so much Daddy.”
“I missed you too. Where’s your Mama?”
“She-” Robin paused, turning to say goodbye to her friends as they announced they were leaving. “She’s at work right now but she should be home before it gets super dark. Ooo, come inside! You got here just in time for Nana’s jambalaya and catfish. Daddy, Nana’s been throwing down.”
Robin ran inside her grandmother’s house and Sparrow shook his head, glad and thankful to be home.
By the time the sun began to set, Sparrow had reunited with and gotten a love filled scolding from his mother, Gladys. He was glad to see that she was still as fiery and opinionated as she’d always been. While still looking younger than her seventy years, she hadn’t let aging tone down her wit, attitude, or straight forward nature.
She covered all of her pots and pans before turning to face her son, thanking him for the compliment on the recent styling of her graying hair. “So, you’re home now. Does this mean you’re finally getting up out of my house and heading back to your own? I’ll give you at least another week to go in and fix everything up, but it’s about time for me to have my privacy back now.”
He chuckled, unsure if he should be surprised by the question or not. “Well damn, Ma, say how you really feel.”
“That is how I feel. Love you, love Toni, and I love my grandbaby more than anything in this world. But I’m tired of having to go across town to have my little fun with Harold.”
Just as he’d taken a sip of some milk, Sparrow spit it out. “Ma, if you’re speaking on what I think you’re speaking on, I did not need to know that you still do that.”
Gladys rolled her eyes, setting a second plate of food in front of her son. Though he’d contested that he was full, he looked as if he hadn’t eaten a decent meal in months and he was not getting up until he finished at least half of the second plate. “Shut up and stop acting like you and Toni aren’t about to do the same, assuming she doesn’t throw something at you the minute she lays eyes on you.”
Sparrow grabbed a few napkins and began to wipe up the mess he’d made. “I wouldn’t have said it to your face or made it known though. Ma, let’s skip this conversation altogether. Didn’t you miss me?”
“Of course. Worried about your stupid self too.”
“Since you never tell anyone where you are or what you’re doing, I’m only left to think you run away from your responsibilities because you’re an idiot. I used to think you were out here fooling around with those Panthers, but I know that’s not it because they don’t hide their activities.”
“It’s a cause I’ve always supported though.”
She nodded. “So, are you going to tell me where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, and what has suddenly made you realize you had a family to raise?”
Sparrow dropped his head for a moment. “I wish I could tell you the where and what, but I love you too much Ma, and I never want you to be disappointed in me. I think you would be highly upset and disappointed if I told you everything.”
“Oh boy, it can’t be that bad.”
Sparrow looked into her eyes for a moment, ashamed that he couldn’t just laugh it away or play it off as if his comment were just a joke. He moved on to her last question without addressing the others. “What made me want to come home for good is simple. I’ve had a lot of time to think about a lot of different things. Things that I’ve done, how some of those things affect others in negative ways. I realized that we’re not all given blessings such as our loved ones and children. Some of us don’t make it to see so many little things. I mean Ma, if you could have seen the way Robin’s eyes lit up when she saw me.”
“I can imagine. That girl walks around here talking about you like she worships the ground you walk on.”
“And I don’t deserve for her to still love me so much. I’ve missed so much. Didn’t know my baby danced, didn’t know she was so sassy and funny. Didn’t know that she could hold her own. Definitely don’t like that she’s at an age where she doesn’t even need me to take up for her.”
Gladys attempted to nip her son’s guilt in the bud. “Psh, that child has been bold, bossy, and unafraid of everything since birth. She could hurt herself in the worst ways possible and still won’t cry or scream out for help. That has nothing to do with you not being here.”
“Still. I’ve missed little things, big things. Things that she’ll look back on in the future, and I’m so afraid that then she’ll hate me. And Antoinette. Lord knows that woman should have walked away years ago.”
Just as Gladys was about to say something, the back door opened and someone walked in. A curvy figure barely hidden by the light coat she wore. “Sorry I’m late Mama Gladys, I had to work a few hours extra. I’m starting to think going up for this promotion at the department store isn’t worth it.” Antoinette closed the door and set her bags down, quickly working at the buttons of her jacket to get it off. “I mean, if we’re being honest, if they weren’t afraid of me throwing out the race card, I wouldn’t even be up for consideration. The way they have me working, compared to the other candidates, I’m starting to think I won’t get it no matter how hard I work.”
Gladys smiled, watching as Sparrow stared with his mouth wide open at the sight of Antoinette. “That’s not an attitude you need to have Toni. What are you always telling Robin?”
“We can do anything we put our mind to, as long as we keep positive and work hard. We’re just as great as anyone else, with the brains and beauty to match.”
“Mmhm. Now look up instead of fidgeting with the buttons on that jacket.”
“Ma’am?” Antoinette did as she was told and stood still, in complete shock as she laid eyes on an all too familiar face. Instantly, tears began to roll down her face and her soft voice caught in her throat for a moment. At a loss for words, she choked up the name she hadn’t spoken happily in over a year. “Sparrow…”
“What’d you come back for this time?”
Sparrow stood up, slowly walking towards her. Only a few inches taller, his slim yet muscular frame easily engulfed Antoinette, offering the sense of protection she always missed. And at the same time, she hated the way his touch felt, how she melted into his arms with ease. “You and Robin. I’m home for good this time, I promise.”
“Oh, you promise?” Antoinette scoffed and pushed her way out of Sparrow’s arms, her shock at seeing him replaced with emotions she thought she’d gotten over. Those old feelings of anger took over her so quickly. “You promised that a year and a half ago and you snuck out in the middle of the night just like every other time before. You expect me to believe it now?”
He answered honestly. “Not at all. I don’t even expect you to still love or want me because of the way I’ve done things. Far too often with no real way to explain why. Hell, I expected this response a lot sooner. But, I’m hoping that you do.”
“That I do what?”
“Believe me. Love me. Miss me. Still want me in your life.”
“And if I don’t?”
Those words, surprisingly, didn’t take Sparrow by surprise. Though he always prayed she wouldn’t move on to someone else, he always knew in his mind and heart that she could very well do so. And he’d have no right to be mad or stop her. “Then let’s at least talk things out and figure out where we stand. Let’s talk about what we can do to move forward and do our best in raising Robin. I mean, is there anything else I can really ask for if you’ve moved on?”
Before she could speak again, their conversation was interrupted. Something that eased up a bit of the tension that was building. “Daddy, I forgot to show you my new camera I got for getting straight A’s.” Robin came running in at top speed, smiling when she saw her parents standing face to face. “Yes! Mama, can you believe it? Daddy’s home! We’re going to be a fly and beautiful brown family again. Nana, can we take a picture with my new camera, please?”
Gladys looked between the two young adults before Antoinette finally smiled, answering Robin’s question. “Of course, Robin, we can take as many as you’d like. We know how much you love family pictures.”
“Yeees! Everyone has to smile big. I don’t want to be the only one looking silly this time.” She grabbed her parents’ hands, pulling them along as Sparrow mouthed an apology to Antoinette.
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