2006, Ballantine/One World
Regina was waiting for Blue. To the untrained eye, she looked
like any other attractive, energetic black woman in her midthirties,
going about her normal Saturday tasks. She stopped at the drugstore
for some mouthwash, bought fifty of the James Baldwin commemorative
stamps at the post office, had a long lunch at the Soul Vegetarian
restaurant. Adrift in an afternoon of waiting, Regina was looking
for something, anything, to distract her from counting the hours
as they passed at their usual speed, although she could have
sworn they were barely crawling by.
It had started last night. As she watched her
husband pull on his black cashmere coat and reach for his perfectly
blocked homburg, she was suddenly afraid of where he was going
and what he might do when he got there.
"Blue," she said softly, "I don't
think I can do this anymore."
Her timing was terrible. He had already uttered
the phrase that served as their signal to announce the always
surreal moment when her husband left their house, got into a
big, black Lincoln with General Richardson, and disappeared
into the night. What he did in these moments he did without
the sanction of anyone or anything, other than his absolute
confidence in the accuracy of his own moral compass and the
trust and permission of the people who protected him with their
loyalty, their gratitude, and their silence.
Her words floated there between them. Blue, his
hand already on the doorknob, stopped to look at her standing
nervously in the darkened hallway. Even in the low light, she
could see his eyes gleaming, blue as a clear mountain stream,
fathoms deep and ancient. She shivered. After two years of marriage,
the always unexpected color of her husband's otherworldly eyes
still surprised her, twinkling like sapphires in his dark brown
Although he had his mother's high cheekbones and
his father's lean, compact physique, Blue was the only one in
his family with those eyes. Speculation about where they came
from had poisoned his father against his mother, although she
was innocent of any infidelity. Many years later, after her
aunt Abbie predicted correctly that Regina would come to Atlanta
and fall in love with a man "who had the ocean in his eyes,"
Blue confirmed Abbie's theory that his eyes were a way to be
sure that in this lifetime, unlike the last two when they had
missed each other by a hair, Regina couldn't walk past him without
noticing. This time around, that would have been impossible.
At this moment, her husband's blue eyes were dark
pools, magical and mysterious, full of questions she had to
"Can't do what, baby?" His voice was
gentle, but she knew that General was already waiting for Blue
out front. This was no time to talk.
Regina spread her arms wide, palms up, and looked
at him helplessly. "This. You know, this."
His eyes softened a little, but he didn't come toward her. She
felt time passing, but Blue seemed not to notice. She had never
seen him become impatient and he didn't now. Regina, however,
was increasingly uncomfortable. The idea startled her. She was
never uncomfortable around Blue. How could she be? He knew her
thoughts almost before she did. She had even accused him of
mind reading once or twice, and he hadn't denied it. But she
didn't want him to read her mind tonight. There were some things
that deserved a moment all their own. A moment not already weighted
down by midnight comings and going, and cars with tinted windows,
and drivers who waited out front with the motor running.
"Sometimes I worry, that's all." She
walked up to him and kissed his cheek softly. He smelled like
He smiled at her, his eyes now the turquoise of
the Caribbean Sea on a perfect Jamaica day.
He put his arms around her and kissed her so long and slow and
deep, she felt her knees tremble.
"Don't worry," he said, putting on his
hat and opening the door.
"Careful as I can." And he was gone.
That was when she started waiting, thirty-six
hours twenty-eight minutes and thirty-two seconds ago, which
was a lot of waiting, even for Regina. Lately, things had been
peaceful and she wanted them to stay that way. Before the current
calm descended, there had been a year of barely controlled chaos
following the disappearance of two of the surrounding neighborhood's
worst predators, a pimp who called himself King James, and his
half-witted henchman, known appropriately as DooDoo. Their thuggish
followers had made several angry incursions into West End, the
area that her husband had taken under his protective wing before
Regina ever met him, and where they now lived quietly in a beautifully
restored Victorian house with a huge vegetable garden out back
and roses out front that seemed to bloom all year long.
Blue's reaction to these brutal attacks on the
peace, which usually involved violence against women and children,
was immediate and, she suspected, sometimes fatal. It wasn't
something they talked about anymore. What was there to say?
Regina had married Blue Hamilton knowing exactly who and what
he was. His entrance into her life had been so accurately predicted
by her aunt, the self-proclaimed "postmenopausal visionary
adviser," that when he walked out of the bright blue front
door of one of the many apartment buildings he owned in West
End, she recognized him with a jolt of physical desire and emotional
memory that made her blush like a schoolgirl.
Later, as they got to know each other, he had
told her in all seriousness about what he perceived as his failure
in a past life to lead his people when he was their emperor.
If that wasn't enough for her to consider, he movingly described
her role in the women's resistance to his regime's corruption.
His words triggered a flood of her own blood memories and made
her know that he was telling the truth.
Blue's acceptance of the responsibility the neighborhood had
informally conferred upon him a decade ago as their de facto
godfather grew as much out of his desire to atone for his empire's
past-life crimes against women as it did out of his need to
provide the leadership and focus West End required. Like most
African American urban neighborhoods, the community's biggest
challenges were youthful predators, middle-aged desperadoes,
wannabe gangsters of all ages, and domestic bullies who preyed
upon the women and children trying desperately to love them.
In response to these ever-present threats, what
Blue promised was that in the twenty-odd square blocks under
his control, women would be safe, men would be sane, and children
would act like they had some sense. It was a peaceful oasis
in a sea of neighborhoods plagued by guns and crack, desperation
and despair. Part of what Regina loved and respected about Blue
was his willingness to provide protection for ordinary black
folks who only wanted to go to work when they could find it,
raise their children once they had them, pay their bills as
close to on time as possible, and grow old in peace in the little
houses they had paid for in exchange for all the hard work that
defined their lives.
The only problem arose when Regina took a good long look at
exactly how Blue was able to do all that. How was one man--even
one as smart and strong and charismatic as her husband--able
to keep the streets so peaceful that women walked unescorted
and unafraid to the twenty-four-hour beauty shop and there hadn't
been a rape in ten years? It was a legiti-mate question, and
Regina was a smart woman. She knew the answer.
In the interest of her own peace of mind, she
tried not to think about it too specifically. She didn't ask
Blue any questions to which she didn't really want answers,
and he didn't volunteer information that might be more than
a loving wife needed to know about her loving husband in the
general ebb and flow of their everyday lives. Blue's other role
was something separate and they both knew it. To minimize the
strangeness of the transi- tion moments, they had developed
a kind of verbal shorthand. When he stepped into his other role,
he would simply say he had "business to at- tend to,"
a phrase he never used any other time. She would tell him to
"Careful as I can," he would always
say. "Careful as I can."
Sometimes his business took only a few hours.
Other times he was gone overnight, and once or twice longer.
Those were the worst times. Those endless hours gave her too
much time to imagine that he had come to harm. She closed her
eyes, banishing the thought, suddenly panicked at sending out
such negative energy into the universe that something evil might
turn in her husband's direction.
Regina took a deep breath and tried to calm down.
She watched a movie on television, perused a magazine or two,
flipped through the pages of a new novel she had been curious
about. Finally, around hour forty-two, she went upstairs and
pulled her favorite rocking chair up to the bedroom window.
It was September and the nights were just starting to cool off
from an August that had alternated between one-hundred-degree
sunshine and monsoon-force rains that overwhelmed the city's
aging infrastructure and made many of Atlanta's thoroughfares
fast-flowing rivers of rainwater and big-city rubbish.
Tonight, there was no rain in sight and none predicted.
Just the barest suggestion of a chill. Regina wrapped her gray
shawl around her shoulders and decided to stop pretending she
wasn't waiting for Blue. There was no reason to pretend anything.
There wasn't even anyone around to pretend to, unless she counted
the baby. The baby. She loved the sound of the words in her
head, even though she had yet to speak them out loud. Her doctor
had confirmed what her home pregnancy test had told her. She
was ecstatic, but before she could tell Blue, he had said he
had "business to attend to," and all bets were off.
She was going to have her husband's child and he didn't even
know it yet. Too busy saving the world to hear the big news!
Regina tried to work up some indignation, but
she couldn't. Blue wasn't off somewhere "saving the world."
He was securing this one small spot on the map for his wife,
and soon, for his child. He was doing what a man was supposed
to do if he was really a man, and if he was anything at all,
her husband was one hundred percent man. If she had anything
to say about it, this baby would grow up proud to call Blue
"Don't worry, baby," Regina whispered,
wrapping her arms around her body and rocking the chair slowly.
"Daddy's on his way home right now. I can almost feel it,
Outside in the street, an old man and woman strolled by, arm
in arm, laughing and talking easily, their strides in perfect
sync like they had been walking together for more years than
they had walked apart. Regina watched them unobserved from the
darkened window, and as she did, the man stopped suddenly, leaned
over, and kissed the woman right in the middle of whatever story
she was telling.
"You're crazy!" Regina heard the woman
say, and the man beside her didn't deny it.
"If I'm crazy for kissin' my own wife, then
send my black ass to the asylum and I won't even be mad!"
The woman shushed him gently, laughing. Regina smiled to herself
as they continued down the street and out of sight. She was
happy that they still made each other laugh and that they lived
in a place where they could take that laughter out for an evening
stroll unmolested. They could walk at midnight if they wanted
to and be as safe as if it was high noon. Six blocks away that
would be impossible. The presence of predators was too real
and too dangerous. But in West End, there was still time and
space for lovers, and Regina knew who they had to thank for
She pulled her shawl a little tighter around her
body. "Don't worry, baby," she whispered again. "Daddy's
on his way."