Zion, Illinois, January 2010
I’m Diana Major McMahon. I’m 55 years old and am right back where I started: Zion, Illinois…and broke as the day I was born.
I was born here, but moved to St. Louis when I was 17. I was unmarried and pregnant, and every day I had to endure comments from my parents about how it was all my fault that they had to leave their home and friends behind. You see, the reason we moved wasn’t so much just because I was pregnant, but because I knew the baby was going to be biracial. My parents were beside themselves when I broke the news, worrying about what all their so-called friends would say once it became apparent that their daughter had spread her legs for a black guy. My mother even suggested they tell everyone I’d been raped…except one of our neighbors was a policeman and would have known about it. My father arranged for a job transfer, and to rent our house in Zion to a colleague, because it was their intent to return to there as soon as I could stand on my own two feet. They longed for that day. Never mind that they were merrily planning their return well before I even had a high school diploma.
I gave birth to my daughter, Sabrina, and then got my GED. I worked nights at a supermarket and studied when I could. Then I went to a technical school to learn computer programming, which was a hot profession back then. I’d been working for three months when my parents informed me they were going home. They helped me rent and furnish a one-bedroom apartment for Sabrina and me. They told me they’d be back to visit us when they could…in other words, don’t visit us; we’ll visit you. They still didn’t want their friends and neighbors to know they had a mixed-race granddaughter.
I resolved right then and there that I was going to make it. I was 22 with a 5-year-old daughter. I’d managed to have a sex life once I got out on my own, after Sabrina was in bed for the night. She never knew what went on after she was asleep; I didn’t want to expose her to a parade of lovers. Looking back, having sex with the knowledge that you could be discovered at any moment added to the excitement. With no bedroom of my own, my partner of the moment and I would do it in the bathroom or in the coat closet, and occasionally on the sofa, always half-dressed, always ready to spring to our feet if the door to Sabrina’s bedroom opened. I was always drawn to black guys; I’d never experienced sex with a man of my own race, but eventually I got tired of illicit relations with men who were always broke and had nothing else to offer me but a bottle of cheap wine and a hard dick. I knew guys who made nice salaries from work, but they were always married.
Then one day at the supermarket, Sabrina wandered away from me. I was frantic when I saw she was gone, and I rushed to the customer service desk to report it…and there she was, smiling and holding hands with a clean-cut, handsome, brown-haired man with a lock of hair that kept falling over one eye. His name was Larry McMahon. He hadn’t wanted to leave Sabrina until her mommy came to get her.
Larry was a rising financial star, an accounting director at a manufacturer. He asked us to lunch on the spot, and we went. I was thrilled at my good fortune. This good-looking, free-spending man was interested in me. Sabrina’s biracial heritage didn’t bother him at all. I soon learned that I needn’t have worried about him being able to satisfy my strong sex drive. Well-off, handsome, and a great lover…I was in heaven.
When he was promoted to corporate treasurer, he asked me to marry him. I hesitated, thinking of how wonderful my life could be: manicures, pedicures, facials, shopping, the gym, lunches with girlfriends. I didn’t want to tie myself down with diaper duty unless it was a deal-breaker. I told him that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to have any more children due to some unspecified female problem, and that I didn’t think I was made to be an adoptive mother. He said not to worry, that he loved Sabrina like she was his own.
Sabrina asked me about her daddy as soon as she made friends who had two parents. I told her that he really hadn’t wanted us around, so it was just the two of us. I was so happy when Larry asked her if he could be her daddy. Heaven knew I couldn’t tell either Sabrina or Larry the real story…
Anyway, Larry and I got married, and he kept climbing the corporate ladder. Eventually he became the CFO of a beverage corporation. We lived the good life…a mansion in a pricey suburb…private school for Sabrina…wonderful vacations…furs…jewelry. I had a housekeeper and always drove a sleek late model car. How I loved gloating when my parents came for one of their rare visits.
The party continued for thirty years. Larry suffered some financial setbacks from investments that went south. He told me we needed to tighten our belts, and I tried, I really did. I honestly didn’t think it was that bad. He kept the magnitude of our financial situation hidden from me. It wasn’t until after he died that I found out just how bad things were, that the years of high living were over and that I’d been left with nothing.
So here I am, back in Zion. I hate to say it, but the best thing my mother did for me was pass away when she did. My father had died a few years earlier, and her passing meant Sabrina, her kids, and I would have a mortgage-free house to live in. My brother, Mark, and I had never been close. He’s a college professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and didn’t want the house, which had been left to us jointly. The house is paid for, but Mark said if I wanted to live in it, I’d be responsible for taxes and upkeep.
I hadn’t worked in years, and my former profession of writing code pretty much made me a dinosaur anyway. Sabrina was a trained LPN, and not only hadn’t she worked in years, she had never really warmed to the profession. Besides, not having an RN degree limited her earnings. Since both of us knew how to type, we got administrative positions at the largest employer in the area, Abbott Labs.
So I’ve gone from living the high life to barely eking out a living. I can’t remember the last time I bought something new for myself. There’s a possible way I can get my hands on some money, though. Now that I’m back in Zion, I’m hoping I can get the answer to the question I’ve been wondering about for 38 years…
Which one of the guys that I slept with in high school got me pregnant?
Read more about Diana in Secrets & Sins, out now! Kindle owners can get it at Amazon or at Bettye’s eStore. Readers needing EPUB formats for Nooks, Sonys, or other eReaders, or who need PDF formats can get theirs from Bettye’s eStore, where no registration is required and where eBooks always cost $1 less than at other eTailers.
Also, the prequel to Secrets & Sins is a free download! Sinner Man:A Short Prequel is available for download at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and the Bunderful Books website.
Bettye Griffin writes novels about romance in the real world. Her first novel, At Long Last Love, was published in 1998. Bettye expanded to women’s fiction with the publication of The People Next Door in 2005. In 2009, while still writing for a traditional publisher, Bettye launched Bunderful Books and eventually became an independent writer and publisher. In this capacity she publishes both new and backlist titles, including Something Real (2012) and Where There’s Smoke (2013). A native of Yonkers, New York, Bettye now lives, writes, and eats cheese from her home in Southeast Wisconsin. Secrets & Sins is her 24th novel and her first independently published women’s fiction.
eBook only, published January 3, 2014.
This is contemporary women's fiction and does contain sex.
From the Author: Secrets & Sins contains several plot twists that I hope will come as a surprise to readers. I love getting reviews, but if you choose to write one, PLEASE be considerate of other readers who haven't read the book yet by not divulging these twists in the plot. Thank you so much! -- B.
In this sweeping, 115K-word novel, Bettye Griffin introduces readers to the Cheeks family of Zion, Illinois: Eldest daughter Faye, whose placid, orderly life is about to be disrupted in a way she never could have imagined...middle child and only son Scott, who brings new meaning to the phrase 'midlife crisis'...and youngest daughter Robin, who is divorced from but not exactly rid of her former spouse.
At the center of the story is their mother, Julia Scott Cheeks, who along with her devoted husband Melvin, has tried to keep two scandalous family secrets hidden and has been successful for 55 years...but when Robin mentions the name of the former classmate she has a romantic interest in, Julia fears that the events she has tried so hard and for so long to keep her children from knowing are in danger of being exposed...
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Genre - Women's Fiction, Family Saga
Rating – R
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