The People In The Park – Chapter One

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Chapter 1

I had my front-page story, finally!

After two years and one semester of working on the school newspaper, and after talking to a vast majority of junior and senior girls and some boys, I had a front-page story.  “Students Travel The World For Prom Attire” by Lauren Moffit.  My school mates proudly told me where they were shopping for their prom dresses, from the salons of Paris to designer showrooms in New York, from private dressmakers in Kansas City to vintage clothing stores online, everybody was excited to share their dress plans for that special evening.  Me?  I was going to Chicago to shop with my cousin Tiffany, along with Mom and Aunt Ira, of course.

The newspaper rested in the passenger seat of my car as I entered my neighborhood.  Mom and Dad would be so proud.  Ever since I joined the newspaper staff my freshman year, Mom had said it would only be a matter of time before I was writing front-page stories.  A sidebar in my story featured the boys, some of whom had plans for their first custom tailored tuxedos.  They were going to their fathers’ tailors for measurements now, in order for the tuxedos to be ready by prom.  When your family had gazillion dollars, getting a tuxedo from a rental shop wasn’t an option.  At least three-quarters of the boys planned to purchase their own tuxedos, even if only from a department store.

With newspaper in hand, from the garage I pushed open the mudroom door.  Mrs. Robinson, our cook, had the week off, cruising the Caribbean with her sister.  Usually when I reached this area, smells of dinner wafted from the kitchen.  Today I didn’t smell anything, which was unusual because on Mrs. Robinson’s days off, Mom took over and cooked favorite meals from her childhood.  Being in the kitchen was natural for her, having been taught by my grandmother to cook up a batch of collard greens, pork chops and gravy, fried corn, salmon croquettes with rice, fried chicken, barbecued deer ribs, macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas, fried okra, you name it, Mom could cook it.  Sharing meals from her childhood was her way of keeping me in touch with my African American heritage since otherwise I didn’t come in contact with many black people in Fairfield.

None of the familiar smells greeted me today.  Maybe we were going out to dinner.

I knew something was wrong when I walked into the kitchen and saw big ugly tears flowing from Mom’s eyes as she sobbed uncontrollably.  She quickly wiped her eyes. Without saying a word, she beckoned for me to sit down at the table with her.  With my eyes I questioned her.   But she didn’t say anything.  Instead she grabbed the TV remote and pointed it at the television set that was mounted on a wall in the kitchen.

I sat there mesmerized as the CNN anchor said, “Peter Williams, Founder of Williams Ortiz L.L.P., was arrested this morning.  He is accused of bilking clients out of millions of dollars.  An early estimate puts the figure at $300 million.  Arrested along with him were other top officials of the law firm, including Samuel Ortiz, Chief Financial Officer, and Roger Moffit, Managing Director.  It is not clear the role they played in the fraud, what is known…” the anchor continued.

But my mind stopped when the reporter said Roger Moffit.  My Dad.  Roger Moffit.  It couldn’t be.  There had to be some mistake.

Roger Moffit, who always taught me right from wrong.  Roger Moffit, who always told me that stealing is wrong.  Not that Roger Moffit.  It must be somebody else.

I sat there in a stupor.  Mom reached out her hand and touched mine.

“Your father will be home soon,” she whispered.  “He called right before he went to the police station.  His lawyer will take care of bail.”

Bail.  Roger Moffit.  Those words did not belong in the same sentence.

As I processed the BREAKING NEWS on CNN, I switched to HLN and saw the same thing.  MSNBC, CNBC, FOX, FOX BUSINESS, BLOOMBERG all carried the same news.

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!  I would never be able to show my face in public again.  I never thought my Dad would bring shame to our name.  He always warned me against scandalizing our name.  When I went out with my friends he always told me, “Remember, you are a Moffit.  Act like it.”

Then the telephone started ringing.  Grand Mere’ called first.  Mom talked to her and said all the right words.  Dad was innocent.  He would never do what they were accusing him of on TV.

Grand Mere’ and Granddad, Mom’s parents, lived in Memphis.  If they had heard, the whole world had heard.  My life was ruined.  How could I go back to school tomorrow?  Ever?

Then reporters started calling.  Mom didn’t answer the phone, letting all calls go to voice mail.  She didn’t even want to talk to her friends.  I could see the fear in her eyes.  I couldn’t comfort her.  She was supposed to be comforting me.  Instead we just sat there staring at the TV, not saying a word.  Mom had muted the voices when Grand Mere’ called.  The voices of the people on the screen were still muted, their faces contorted as they worked their mouths and smirked as they rehashed the story over and over.  My newspaper story didn’t seem important anymore.  I didn’t even mention it to Mom, even though it lay on the table.

We heard Dad’s car when he entered the garage.  We waited for him to come through the door and make everything all right.

Dad enveloped Mom in his arms when he came into the kitchen.  He took one look at the flickering images on the TV and turned it off.  He led Mom back to the kitchen table where I sat.  He pulled out a chair between us.

“I did not do what they are saying,” he said.

What a relief!  It felt like a big weight had been lifted from one side of my body.  But the other side still had a heavier weight – Shame.

How could I hold my head up at school tomorrow knowing my Dad’s picture was broadcast all over the world as being a crook?  There’s no way I could go back to school.  But my friends were there.  What would they think?  I was planning to run for treasurer of my senior class.  The election for next year’s officers was in a few weeks.

“This is so messed up,” I cried.

“Kitten,” said Dad, “I will make this right.”

Kitten.  My Dad’s pet name for me.  Whenever he used to call me Kitten I always felt better.  Not this time.

“Why are they saying those things about you?”  I asked.

Dad looked me in the eyes.  “I have always been straight with you.  Somebody in the firm has probably not been above-board with the finances of their clients.  Because I’m a senior officer of the firm, my name gets dragged through the mud too.”

“Can’t you clear your name?”  Mom asked.

“I’m going to do everything I can,” he said.  “But…”

He stopped.

But.

But what?

Somehow I knew I wasn’t going to like what came after but.

He looked at Mom and he looked at me.  I could see the pain in his eyes.

“All of our assets are frozen.  At least most of them, everything that’s in my name and everything we hold jointly,” he said to Mom.  “Kitten, everything in your name is free and clear.”

“What does that mean?”  I asked.

“It means we’re going to have to downsize for the moment,” he said.  “I’ll need whatever money I can scrape together to hire lawyers.  Kitten, you still have your personal savings account.  Use it wisely, because I don’t know how long it’s going to be before I can clear my name.  Try not to use over one hundred dollars a week.”

One hundred dollars a week?  That was nothing.  I couldn’t get by on one hundred dollars a week.

“And don’t use your credit cards.  Give them to me.”  He held out his hand.  “I’ll return them when it’s okay to use them again.”

Stunned, I opened my wallet and handed him my credit cards.  “My gas card too?”

He nodded.  “You’re going to have to pay for gas out of the hundred dollars.”

“After paying for gas and lunch I’ll barely have any money left.”

“This is only temporary.  We all have to make sacrifices.”

“What about our house?”  Mom asked.

“We might have to move,” he said.

“Move where?” I asked.

“I haven’t put any plans into place yet, Kitten,” he said.   “It also means we’ll have to let Mrs. Robinson go, the gardener too, and the housekeeper.  We’re going into survival mode.”

He turned to me, “Can you excuse us?  I need to talk to your mother.”

As I left the room I heard Mom say, “What have you gotten us into?”

I heard something in her voice I hadn’t ever heard.  It scared me.  I wanted to hear Dad’s answer, yet I didn’t stick around.

I went to my room and closed the door.  My iPhone was filled with text messages from my friends.  I couldn’t bring myself to look at them.  I flopped down on my bed and just lay there.  Numb.

This evening wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.  We should be celebrating my front-page story.  The newspaper with my story came out this morning and the story about Dad’s firm came out this afternoon.  How ironic was that?  My day of glory had turned into a nightmare.

Suddenly my pity party was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.  Since Mom wouldn’t answer the phone those reporters must be trying to get a face to face comment from us.  What nerve!

A knock on my door.  “Kitten, may I come in?”  Dad said, as he came through the door.  “Rev. Jones is here to pray with us.  Please come downstairs.”

I frowned.  “Do I have to?”

Dad held out his hand.  “Yes, we are still a family.  And we will pray as a family.”

Rev. Jones is the pastor of a small church across the river in Kansas City, Kansas that Dad attended sometimes.  Easter was the only time Mom and I went there and that’s only because Dad rewarded us with brunch on the Plaza afterwards.  Mom called Rev. Jones a “jackleg preacher” because he has no seminary degree, but he still goes by ‘Rev. Dr. Jones’ because of his honorary degrees.  I was too busy laughing at how he talked and acted to pay attention to his sermons.

I rolled my eyes as I walked down the steps.  I certainly didn’t feel like praying and from the look on Mom’s face, she felt the same.  Our world had been turned upside down and we didn’t feel like hearing some long, drawn out prayer from some tired preacher.

“I called Rev. Jones on my way home.  I know we don’t go to church as we should, but he was still willing to come and pray with us,” Dad said.

“Before we pray,” said Rev. Jones, “I’d like to tell each of you to not feel that you are alone in this situation.  God is with you and He’ll get you through it.”

Rev. Jones opened his Bible, “I’d like to share a scripture with you that can be a source of comfort in the days ahead.  Psalm 46:1-7 says:

 

“‘God is our refuge and strength, a very

            present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will

          not fear, though the earth be removed, and

          though the mountains be carried into the

          midst of the sea; though the waters thereof

          roar and be troubled, though the mountains

          shake with the swelling thereof.  There is a

          river, the streams whereof shall make glad

          the city of God, the holy place of the

          tabernacles of the most High.  God is in

          the midst of her; God shall help her, and

          that right early.  The heathen raged the

          Kingdoms were removed:  he uttered his voice,

          the earth melted.  The Lord of hosts is with

          us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.’”

 

We then all held hands and Rev. Jones prayed, “Our great and mighty God, ruler of heaven and earth. Lord, I lift up this family to you tonight.  Heavenly Father, a day that started on a mountain top full of sunshine and brightness for them has ended in a valley full of darkness and despair.  Lord, help them understand that you have not forsaken them.  Strengthen them Father, as you lead them through this storm.  I pray that Bro. Moffit’s innocence will be proven.  Give his wife and daughter the faith to see that this will pass and the sun will shine again in their lives.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen.”

“Don’t despair,” said Rev. Jones as Dad walked him to the door.  “Know that God will show up for you.  He’ll come through.  Just trust Him.”

I turned towards Mom.  I felt no different than before our visit from the Right Rev. Dr. Jones.  She didn’t appear to feel any different either.

___

Mom and I ate dinner together, mainly in silence.  Dad was in his study, on the phone with lawyers.

“He’ll straighten this out,” Mom said.  “But it will take time.”

She had ordered pizza because she wasn’t in the mood to cook.  Then she had felt sorry about doing that, saying she had to stop being frivolous with money.

We had never had to be concerned about money ever in our lives.  This had to be a horrible nightmare.

I felt bad that Mom felt guilty about spending twenty dollars for a pizza.  We couldn’t even enjoy it because now spending money was somehow forbidden in some unwritten rule that had invaded our lives today.

___

I cried myself to sleep.  No homework.  No nothing.  Sleep blotted out everything about today.  If I could only sleep forever, maybe the pain would go away, and along with it the shame I felt.

Even though I had done nothing but live and exist in this family, my entire world was shattered.

To see what happens to Lauren and her family, read The People In The Park

 

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Expanding Beyond My Comfort Zone

I jumped off the cliff!

Last year I did something I had always wanted to do. I published my first novel for adult readers, Woman In The Pulpit.

This decision was accompanied by much anxiety, fear, trepidation, and all other emotions that are present when we step outside our comfort zone.

Since my lane, so to speak, is books for children, I expanded slowly. First I wrote a novel for teens, which was published. As a result of taking this step into something new I was invited to appear on panels at book festivals. I enjoyed the experiences and open doors that my YA novel enabled me to enter.

I loved interacting with teens and getting their feedback. They completely identified with the characters in the book and the situations they encountered. They especially identified with the mask people show to the world that everything is okay. As the students in the book, real life students could name situations in their lives when they carried on as usual even though a crisis was occurring that turned their lives upside down.

After swinging my feet off the cliff with my teen novel, The People In The Park, I didn’t want to stop there.

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I had projects I’d been working on but kept tinkering and revising.

My novel, Woman In The Pulpit, was sitting on the shelf daring me to step out into the unknown. I picked it up and put it down many times.  My inner warring voices fought it out. “Put it out there,” said one voice. “No, don’t,” said the other. “Send it to agents and publishers,” said a voice. “No, not yet,” the other voice said.  Back and forth they went. The conversation usually ended with me putting it back on the shelf.

After looking at the manuscript way too many times, I finally decided I didn’t want to answer the  ‘What if?’ question years from now.

So I steeled my nerves and went to the edge of the cliff. I closed my eyes. And jumped! Into the unknown!

Oh my! It was scary!

When Woman In The Pulpit was published I had three weeks of travel scheduled with my other books.  My trips kept me busy and kept my mind from focusing on what was happening with my newly published book.

Imagine my surprise when I returned home and received a notice that Woman In The Pulpit was on the Hot New Releases list!

I exhaled. And opened my eyes. This was going to work.

During the months since the publication of Woman In The Pulpit many new doors have opened: Speaking to women’s groups, church groups, and book clubs.

I am especially delighted when women in ministry tell me that the book is spot on and illustrates their experiences.

I love all the reviews the book has received. I especially like this one:

“Woman In The Pulpit has it all – humor, drama, love, romance, suspense, tragedy, betrayal, redemption, and some incredible spiritual insights.”

Jumping of the cliff into the unknown reminded me that we shouldn’t be afraid to go after our dreams. In jumping off the cliff I sprouted wings to fly.

I still have other goals and dreams. I’m climbing a mountain this year! Another one of those ‘What if?’ questions. I’m not broadcasting what it is. But this time next year I’ll let you know what happened.

Until then… Don’t be afraid to jump off your cliff.

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To Purchase:  Woman In The Pulpit

TeenSpeak Memphis – A Special Place

I had a wonderful visit with teens in Memphis this week.  We discussed having a special place to go when life turns upside down.

In my YA novel The People In The Park, Lauren seeks refuge in the park.  This is how she describes her special place.

River Landing.  A small but beautiful, scenic park with huge sprawling trees that stood guard over the playground and gazebo and lined the winding walking path was tucked into a natural preserve off downtown Fairfield.  One side of the v-shaped three-mile walking trail meandered along the Missouri River.  The other side bordered the railroad tracks.

The special places Memphis teens mentioned that they go to think about their lives were also in nature.  Parks, hiking trails, lakes –  Each had the ability to calm and provide serenity.

Stephanie says, “I like to draw.  So any place I can sit and draw is a place I can get lost in and take me away from my troubles.  My favorite place is a flower garden.”

Arie’s grandparents have a farm close to Memphis.  She says, “I can go there and escape from life.  The wide open spaces make me realize that there is more to life than petty problems.”

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Caryn says,  “I like to go to the lake. Any lake.  And just sit and stare out at the water.  When I leave I feel refreshed.”  She adds, “I could identify with Lauren because her special park has a river.  There is something about water that soothes your soul.”

When life gets hard nature beckons Memphis teens.  It is a place to be alone with their thoughts.  A place to renew & refresh.

 

TeenSpeak Atlanta – Allowances

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Teens in Fayetteville, a south suburb of Atlanta, are reading The People In The Park and talking allowances.  Their reaction to  Lauren’s father being arrested, his bank accounts being frozen,  placing his daughter on a $100 a week spending budget, and taking away her credit cards is sparking lively conversation.

Most teens in Fayetteville do not receive an allowance.  They got one when they were younger and just learning about money.  As they grew into their pre-teen years there wasn’t a need for allowances because their needs varied from week to week.

By the time they reached their teens it was understood that their needs would be met.

Teens thought that Lauren was being unreasonable and complaining about having to get by on $100 a week.  “Lauren needs to learn that family is more important than money,” says Christina.

Dani says she could spread $100 over 3 weeks if she had to cut back.  She goes on to say, “It was great Lauren’s father got in trouble because Lauren needed to learn how to exhibit discipline in how she spends money.”

Leslie considers herself a really smart shopper.  She actually makes her own clothes.  Therefore Leslie says, “I wouldn’t spend $100 a week.  I would keep it in my bank account because I wouldn’t know how long it would be before things returned to normal.”  Leslie thinks if she had to cut back she could get by on $10 a week.  “If someone needs $100 a week to get by, they are really using it on stuff they don’t need.”

TeenSpeak Atlanta – SCANDAL & SHAME

Teens in the Atlanta area are weighing in on Scandal & Shame as it relates to Lauren in The People In The Park.

In the book Lauren arrives home from school and sees her mother crying.  The TV is tuned to a news channel.  Lauren says:

I sat there mesmerized as the news anchor said, “Peter Williams, Founder of Williams Ortiz L.L.P., was arrested this morning. He is accused of bilking clients out of millions of dollars.  An early estimate puts the figure at $300 million.  Arrested along with him were other top officials of the law firm, including Samuel Ortiz, Chief Financial Officer, and Roger Moffit, Managing director.  It is not clear the role they played in the fraud, what is known…” the anchor continued.

But my mind stopped when the reporter said Roger Moffit.  My Dad.  Roger Moffit.  It couldn’t be.  There had to be some mistake.

Roger Moffit, who always taught me right from wrong.  Roger Moffit, who always told me that stealing is wrong.  Not that Roger Moffit.  It must be somebody else.

Later Lauren continues:

How could I hold my head up at school tomorrow knowing my daddy’s picture was broadcast all over the world as being a crook?  There’s no way I could go back to school.  But my friends were there.  What would they think?

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TeenSpeak Atlanta reporter Christina reports that Lauren’s reaction to her father’s arrest is spot on.

Most teens said they would be highly embarrassed if the same thing happened to their father.  They didn’t know if the scandal or the shame they felt would be worse.  Sabrina even went so far as to say that the shame would be so great that she would not even go back to school.

Another teen said she could not bear facing her friends and teachers.   The shame of the situation would make her get on a plane and go to a place where no one knew her.

Christina said her reaction would depend on which relative was on the news and what crime they were accused of.  If it was something really, really bad like murder or cheating people out of millions of dollars, she wouldn’t be able to show her face ever again.

Christina sums up by saying, “Family members can make teens embarrassed to know them.  We are always told to be on our best behavior.  But how are we supposed to feel if a parent engages in criminal activity?

“I think parents should set the example and display the high standards that they want us to display.”