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Michelle Johnson-Lane

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Unravel
by Michelle Johnson-Lane   

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Category: 

Literary Fiction

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Copyright:  July 28, 2011
Fiction

MICHELLE JOHNSON-LANE was born and raised by her mother in Wilmington, Delaware. After working nearly twenty years in the banking industry, like so many others, Michelle experienced a job layoff. She describes it as a blessing in disguise because she has been afforded the opportunity to seek inside herself and bring to life what's been dormant for many years—her passion for writing.

Memory Lane: Soul~Stirring Fiction

A SOON-TO-PUBLISHED DEBUT NOVEL   

  
Come share life experiences through the eyes and ears of a child with a black mother and a white father during the time of segregation. WHITES ONLY... COLORED ONLY

Matilda McGraw came into this world in 1947 with a silver spoon in her mouth. She grew up in Seattle, Washington as a product of an interracial marriage. Matilda has never wanted for anything since she’s a co-heiress of her grandparents enormous estate. Unfortunately, money will not exempt her from experiencing the many life crises that she’s had to succumb to—father’s abandonment, step-father’s abuse, classmate’s torture, and her mother’s illness.

Matilda’s life spiraled out of control long before she drives across the country to attend the University of Maine. Finally, she finds solace when she meets Tilly, who lends her shoulder and provides an outlet for Matilda to open up and share all her inner most secrets. Things come to a halt when Tilly mets her only true love, which causes Matilda to mysteriously drop out of sight—never to be seen again. However, Matilda does entrust Tilly with her personal belongings and a box of keepsakes. Before she disappears, Tilly makes the promise to take Matilda’s secrets to the grave.

Take the journey through Unravel to see just how careful Tilly is in protecting Matilda’s secrets after she becomes the matriarch of the Maxwell Family.





Excerpt

ENJOY!

Prologue


Matilda McGraw was born biracial in 1947 in Seattle, Washington and was raised with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her mother, Marianne, was black, and her father, Mackenzie (Mack), was white.

Six-year-old Matilda had not seen her father in 21 days. She knew her parents loved her very much but even she could tell things had not been right between them since her father began acting in Hollywood nearly a year ago. Even his calls home were becoming less frequent.

“I’m going to call Daddy,” she murmured to herself walking down the hall one evening. Matilda was barely tall enough to reach the phone but managed to grab it. That’s when Matilda got her first glance at the real world.

“Can you believe that? Some nerve! His NANNY?” she heard her mother yell over the phone.

“Oops!” Matilda said in a whisper before quickly clasping her mouth shut. She’d never heard her mother talk like that.

She recognized Aunt Ruby’s voice through the phone receiver and the naturally curious six-year-old continued to eavesdrop. Soon things became apparent to Matilda what was exactly wrong with her parents, according to her mother as she overheard Marianne explain to her great Aunt Ruby that she had accepted all of Mack’s flaws, including his selfishness, and she still loved him.

Matilda got an earful when Marianne said Mack told her that in order for them to remain married, she had to move to Hollywood and pretend to be Matilda’s nanny since California had passed an anti-miscegenation law making interracial marriages illegal.

Matilda had no idea she was a product of interracial marriage, but she learned her mother was well aware of what she got herself into long before she married Mack.
The couple met when Marianne was thirteen and Mack was fourteen after Marianne’s mother asked her sister, Ruby, to keep Marianne over the summer during the day. Since Marianne had always been a messy child, Ruby thought it was a splendid idea to take Marianne along with her to work. At the time, she was a maid for the McGraws. After Aunt Ruby showed her niece the ropes of real cleaning, she always gave Marianne half the day to play with the McGraws only child while his parents were away. Their playtime blossomed into secret childhood sweethearts. Aunt Ruby never knew that she had set a plan in motion for them to frequently sneak and see each other over the next few years.

In love, Mack and Marianne learned to deal with society’s treatment toward their interracial relationship. Occasionally, the couple had been spotted in public, and they grew tired of the looks of disgust, racial comments, and idle threats whenever people saw them together. So Mack decided to meet Marianne every Saturday to have a romantic lunch on a blanket far away from prying eyes. His father never knew about the secret rendezvous that took place on the grounds of the McGraws’ enormous cherry orchard—oh, if those trees could talk. Before parting their separate ways, the blissful couple always picked cherries for Marianne to bake a pie for them to enjoy. It was under that cherry tree where Mack proposed to Marianne.

Unfortunately, they never prepared Matilda for what lied ahead in a few short months when she began grade school. It would be to her detriment if she entered first grade and others teased her because they found out she was biracial. Matilda recognized the difference in the skin color between her mother and father. She had assumed every child had parents like hers; one with deep, chestnut brown skin and dark features, the other with milky white skin and light features. Whenever she was out with her mother, Matilda always thought the other women out with their children were their mothers, not nannies taking care of somebody else’s children.
After Matilda silently hung up the phone, she sat dazed, replaying her mother’s words over and over in her head. She wondered what anti-miscegenation, interracial, and nanny meant but was convinced they were bad.

More confused than before, Matilda continued to down the hall and remembered when she and her mother still did their weekly ritual of Teatime Chat 'n Chew, where they’d set the table and dress up in fancy clothes. She had gathered her oversized stuffed animals and sat them around the table as their guests. Whenever her father was home, he’d participate too. Young Matilda still didn’t understand why the tea parties stopped.

Starting to cry, she waited for Marianne to hang up the phone in order to ask when her daddy was coming home. Marianne barely had time to see what was wrong with Matilda before they were interrupted. Soon after she hung up, the phone rang and startled them both. It was Matilda’s father calling to speak to her.

“DADDY-EEE! Oh daddy, I miss you so much!” Matilda said grinning from ear to ear, showing her missing front tooth.

“I miss you too, pumpkin,” Mack said with a slight chuckle after hearing his overly excited daughter.

“When are you coming home?”

“Actually, that’s why I called. I will be headed home next weekend.”

“I can’t wait. Can we have teatime, daddy?”

“We will have our special teatime, angel.”

“Oh daddy, I can’t wait for you to get here.”

“I love you and I’ll see you soon, OK?”

“OK.” Matilda knew to pass the phone to her mother before she went off skipping and singing down the hall.

***

Matilda had been bouncing off the walls for days, but this day beat them all. She’d been jumping up and down in the kitchen while her mother was preparing dinner. Marianne managed to put up with it, despite all she had to do. Mack was coming home and would be there within the hour.

Matilda knew her father would want his favorite meal—Lobster and Steak with a steamed California blend of vegetables and buttery mashed potatoes, which was ready when Mack walked in the door bearing gifts. He gave Marianne a beautiful set of pearl earrings and Matilda a gold heart-shaped locket necklace.

For a week, the family appeared to have what Marianne and Matilda longed for—the stability of having the man of the house live under the same roof. That stability was short-lived, however, because Mack received a phone call from his agent, Carl Bretts, telling him that he needed to fly back to Hollywood to film for a major role.
Matilda ran upstairs to her room sobbing after Mack told them the news

“Marianne, I can’t continue to live like this anymore,” he said pacing the floor.

“What do you mean?” she said, following his every step.

“Listen!” he said, as he turned to face her, stopping her in her tracks. Mack towered over Marianne like a Goliath to David—he was massive. “You knew all my life, I wanted to become an actor. I prefer we sell this house and move to Hollywood under the conditions we discussed a few weeks ago. You’ve had more than enough time to think about it, Marianne.”

“What are you saying to me, honey? If I decide to raise our daughter here, in the only home she’s ever known, you’re leaving us?”

“I’m trying to tell you that I never wanted this—living a double-life,” Mack said raising his hands in the air. “I don’t want to take over my father’s orchard. My life is in Hollywood with or without you. I’ve already explained the California law to you. So, if you’re not coming, then you’ve made your choice. I won’t be back.”

Marianne begged him not to go. She had tears streaming down her face when she dropped to her knees, grabbed his pant leg, and pleaded that he quit acting all together.

It was then that Mack faced his wife and decided to give her the ultimatum. She could move to Hollywood as a law-abiding citizen and they all live together under false pretenses. When Marianne refused, Mack pulled away from her, marched upstairs, and found their only child at the top. She had heard the heated exchange between her parents. He stopped, looked down at the floor, sighed, and picked little Matilda up in his arms.

Mack told her how sorry he was that she had to hear that and explained that it was not her fault. He raised her chin and moved her hair from her face. Mack then told Matilda that she did nothing wrong and that people don’t like to see mommy and daddy together because they think it’s wrong because of the different color of their skin. He said he could even lose his job. Naturally, the child didn’t understand. Matilda shot back so many questions that he became overwhelmed. Finally, after a long pause, Mack told her that someday, she would understand. He then kissed her forehead, told her that he loved her, and left her crying.

The argument led to the demise of the marriage. Fortunately, Marianne came from a wealthy family, which always surprised many who assumed Blacks were poor and illiterate. She didn’t need Mack’s money to take care of Matilda.

After packing a few personal belongings, Mack placed the divorce papers for Marianne to sign and a cashier’s check for his daughter on the table. He never looked back as Marianne and Matilda watched him walk out the door to catch the next flight to Hollywood. They never saw him again. He occasionally mailed his daughter money-filled birthday and Christmas cards. Marianne hid the sealed cards from Matilda out of bitterness but kept them safe and out of site.

Summer was over and Marianne drove Matilda to her first day of grade school. Since schools were still segregated, Marianne decided Matilda would be better off attending the White Only school because she could easily pass for white as Matilda had inherited her father’s fair complexion, icy blue eyes, and light hair color. Ironically, Marianne hoped that people at school would assume she was the nanny and prayed no one asked any questions. This added to her already broken heart, but she knew there was no other choice in the matter. She had to do what was best for her one and only child. Marianne never told Matilda her plan or anything about her mixed heritage. She had recently asked her elderly Aunt Ruby to move in and help care for Matilda. She knew her aunt would be good moral support if things ever hit the fan. Aunt Ruby never married or had any children, but raised many white children.

A few months later, when Marianne brought Matilda her lunch that she had forgotten, Matilda had to learn from her classmates that she was biracial. Someone in her class overheard Marianne tell Matilda to tell no one that she was her mother. It took no time for the news to spread amongst her peers. They talked about how she had Marianne’s hair texture, almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones with a dark beauty mark on left cheek, and bowed legs. She was teased and tormented everyday after that.

Over the next few years, Matilda suppressed her feelings and never told her mother or aunt what she was experiencing in school. During this time, Marianne fell in love again and remarried, causing Matilda more problems to adjust to. Often times, she claimed to be sick and stayed home, remaining in silence for more than just suffering from the hands of her classmates but also from the abuse of her new stepfather.

Matilda was eight, about to turn nine soon, when her mother married Tobias Jackson Barker, who preferred to be called Jack. He owned Barker Motors, which had been open less than four months and did well for a new establishment. The small dealership drew curiosity from the locals and that’s where he first spotted Marianne, who had been in the market for a new car. Immediately, he knew she would become Mrs. Tobias Jackson Barker. His instincts were dead on and after a year of courting, they became husband and wife.

Jack desperately wanted to add to the family and constantly pressured Marianne to have his baby, but Marianne could not have any more children due to an emergency hysterectomy after giving birth to Matilda. Unfortunately, they had never discussed having children until after they were married. When he found out his wife could not bear his children, Jack became extremely resentful toward her. He wanted to feel his worth in the world by having his own children and knew that would have done it. His bruised pride caused him to suffer internally, and he resorted to alcohol to numb the pain.

Jack began hanging out in the area bars, where he binge drank every night after work. When he came home, he verbally abused Marianne and Matilda. Within months, Jack became a full-fledged alcoholic. This led to serious problems in the Barker household. Things got so bad for Jack that he lost the dealership and had no other choice but to rely on his wife for financial support, which made things even worse.

Every chance Jack got, he reminded Marianne that she could not give him babies. At least once a week he told her that not even her money could fix bearing his children. She was devastated and slowly began to shut down and kept to herself.

Late one night, Marianne woke up suddenly and realized Jack was not in bed. She had seen him giving Matilda weird looks lately, as if he were sizing her up for a meal. She decided she needed to check on her daughter just in case. Marianne discovered her husband fondling her daughter and leaped from the doorway to the bed in two steps and pounced on Jack like a woman who had lost her mind. Matilda quickly moved off the bed and curled up in a corner like a child afraid of a severe thunder storm. Marianne screamed, punched, and clawed at Jack until she fell out on the floor from what appeared to be exhaustion. Marianne was in catatonic state and in need of emergency care. Matilda ran out of the room to get Aunt Ruby and met her coming down the hallway.

After Marianne had been whisked away by ambulance, Matilda was left in the care of her great Aunt Ruby, who had assumed the role of the nanny. That night, Aunt Ruby heard the commotion, called for help, but had no idea what happened. Matilda clammed up tighter than an oyster in hot water and Jack left the house as if it were on fire. He returned the next day drunk as a skunk.

Matilda was traumatized and not the same after her mother was hospitalized. She told no one what had happened that night and missed Marianne terribly. Matilda was too young to understand why her mother stayed in the hospital for nine long weeks. All she knew was Mommy had left her home with Jack and Aunt Ruby. Jack continued to molest Matilda, even after Marianne’s return home from the hospital. Marianne blocked out the ordeal and rarely spoke to anyone. To occupy her time, she created a beautiful keepsake box she filled with old photographs and mementos. Marianne constantly stared at the items inside as she journeyed back through time over and over again.

Jack took advantage of this innocent child for many years until he was diagnosed with Cirrhosis of the liver. He accepted his illness as a punishment from God for abusing his family and wanted redemption, as he knew his days were numbered. He still continued to drink and became so drunk one night that he fell down the staircase, breaking his neck and dying instantly. Matilda witnessed the awful freak accident and immediately called the operator for help. Marianne and Matilda were the only two who attended his funeral because Jack never spoke of his family.
By the time she entered high school, Matilda had developed a strong defense mechanism by becoming an overachiever whenever people were around. In public, she pretended that everything was well with her soul. When she was alone, however, Matilda felt a deep emptiness inside and thought her life, up to that point, had been hopeless. She was lost but wanted to discover exactly who she was. Matilda knew she had to deal with the cards life through her way and succumbed to her abnormal childhood.

In order to move on through life, Matilda had buried the memories of her father’s abandonment, her stepfather’s sexual abuse, her classmates many years of torture, and her mother’s illness.

After all those years, Aunt Ruby had kept the house in order, prepared all the meals, and took good care of her nieces as if they were her own children.


Chapter One


College-Bound


Matilda, now fifteen, often thought about how many days she had left to graduate from high school. She had excelled passed her classmates and was placed in a higher grade.

Matilda knew she had to get away from the madness of the daily attacks from her classmates. She made plans for her future and looked forward to going off to college or a university anywhere on east coast and had applied to many. Matilda thought that if she got accepted, it would be a fantastic way to turn over a new leaf; leaving all her childhood memories behind. She realized that meant forswearing her mother but hoped the change of scenery would put an end to the nightmares that haunted her at bedtime.

Two months before Matilda’s graduation, Marianne needed around-the-clock nursing care and stayed heavily sedated most of the time to prevent her traumatic flashbacks. Matilda became depressed since her mother was not able to attend the graduation.

When that day finally came, Aunt Ruby stood in for Marianne and was very proud that Matilda had graduated with honors at the top of the class. Matilda had been accepted into the University of Maine and was ready to begin her new life.
Over the summer, Aunt Ruby helped Matilda pack her belongings. Matilda also took her mother’s box of keepsakes for when she got homesick.

The time had arrived for Matilda to begin her journey as a college-bound student. She took her mother’s car and a United States road map to take the long, ten-day drive across the country to clear her head and fully discover herself before embarking on the new journey as a college student.

She took in the different sights from state to state in between rest stops, which gave Matilda an all-new, positive perspective of the world.

On the last day, the paved roads were slippery from the misty, light rain. As Matilda approached the mile marker to turn onto the campus grounds, she realized she had missed the turn and instinctively slammed on the breaks. She slid into a tailspin and banged into the guardrail, which brought her to a complete stop. The impact caused Matilda to lose consciousness after bumping her head against the stirring wheel.
A few minutes later, she was suddenly startled by the sound of loud tapping on her window. Matilda saw a young girl, about the same age, who came to help. She felt the pain and the knot that rose on her forehead and then rolled down the window. The young girl offered to take her to the on campus nurses’ station. She found out the girl’s name was Tilly, and she was also a new student at the school. When Matilda accepted, Tilly checked out the fender bender and drove the car on campus. She then found a nurse, who treated Matilda’s minor head injury with an ice pack and aspirin.

Since classes began a week later, Tilly told Matilda she could stay in her dorm for a few days until she was well enough to unpack her car and find her own dorm. Matilda gravitated to Tilly’s magnetic personality and saw she had been so easy to talk to and would remain forever indebted to her.

Over the next three days, the two discovered they had a lot in common. They knew they had an everlasting friendship.

They became so close that Matilda and Tilly were inseparable and became temporary dorm mates. Matilda and Tilly developed the same mannerism and even looked alike, so much so that teachers mixed them up all the time. For the first time, Matilda was able to open up about everything that had happened to her growing up, which saved her from going crazy if she had kept things locked up inside her head.

Later in the semester, Matilda got word that her great Aunt Ruby passed away silently in her sleep and flew home to make funeral arrangements. Matilda was shocked. She wasn’t even sure how to go on without Aunt Ruby, who practically raised her when her mother became incapable. She took the time to reflect on the many pieces of advice (pearls of wisdom), and important life lessons taught by Aunt Ruby.

When she arrived home, Matilda found things in disarray. Every drawer in the house had been turned upside down as if somebody misplaced something important. Marianne had gone off the deep end and taken a turn for the worse. She was grieving over her loss and also wanted her keepsake box but couldn’t speak to ask anyone where it could be.

There wasn’t much more her nurses could do. Matilda laid her Aunt Ruby to rest and then made the decision to put her mother away. She had to even put their home on the market. It was a major setback for both this heartbroken mother and her teenage daughter. Matilda was still quite young—only sixteen.

Matilda took a month off from school to get things in order. She had taken her mother to see a doctor. Marianne had been diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic. Matilda had no other choice but to sign her mother into the Washington State Mental Institution where she would receive treatment for the rest of her life. She shared some of the family photographs with her mother but still kept her mother’s beautifully crafted keepsake box.

Matilda met Betsy Jenkins, the admittance nurse who asked her every question except her relationship to Marianne. Betsy assumed Marianne was Matilda’s nanny who lost her mind. Matilda then set up her mother’s room comfortably, cried in her arms, and bid her an emotional farewell.

The next day, Matilda flew back to school and picked up right where she and Tilly left off. She updated Tilly of her recent family crisis. Matilda became severely depressed and felt like an orphan—alone in the world. She needed to talk things through and told Matilda she was uncomfortable talking about her problems in the dorm where others could hear through the paper thin walls. Tilly suggested she sit and wait for her everyday under Old Faithful, the big oak tree near the cafeteria courtyard so they could talk before they walked to the dormitory.

Under that tree, Matilda felt like she could let it all go just as if she were a patient lying on a couch in a therapy session at a shrink’s office. Never had she met a person as easy to talk to as Tilly who hardly ever said a word. She only listened, told her how sorry she was and gave her plenty of hugs. Matilda recounted all kinds of stories and Tilly assured her that she was not alone.

Matilda shared her many challenges growing up half black and half white while attending a White Only school. Most of her days began with name calling and teasing. Every day at recess, Matilda got pushed to the ground and then kicked by a different classmate. Occasionally, during her walk home from school, a few classmates would dump dirt and sometimes mud from the rain on top of Matilda’s head to darken her pale complexion.

She was taunted every day in some way or another, but Matilda said she always thought it best to keep the truth to herself when asked what had happened. Matilda always lied to her teacher, her mother, and her Aunt Ruby, convincing them she was playing in the dirt or mud. This was the beginning of Matilda’s many kept secrets.
Tilly felt the pain as Matilda outpoured from her battered soul under that tree. They’d cry together often, and Tilly would do what she could to comfort her, but Matilda needed to find peace. In Tilly’s mind, she was a tool Matilda could use to do that.

“I never thought anything about having a black momma,” Matilda said. They had just finished lunch when Matilda closed her eyes and leaned against Old Faithful. “Why was it such a big deal? Why Tilly? Why’d Dad have to leave us like that?"

Tilly said nothing but her eyes and her touch assured her friend that she was indeed listening.

“Momma never knew I heard her crying after she’d tucked me in at night,” Matilda said trying to hold back the tears. “I was crying right along with her, sometimes all night long.”

Tilly brushed Matilda’s windblown hair out of her face and tried to calm her.

“It’s not fair, Matilda. I hate this for you. No one should face that by themselves. I’m here for you whenever you need me.”

Matilda also shared why her mother had denied her in school. She realized that if she told the truth, her mother could have gone to jail, and she would have had to attend the Colored Only school, where there was educational inequality. Matilda hated how people saw her as inhumane for being a product of her black mother and white father. Matilda felt she had to choose which race she wanted to be, but she couldn’t. So, she began hating herself for it.

“I think that’s what happened, Tilly,” Matilda said. “I let everyone cause me hate myself.”

“Don’t, Matilda,” Tilly pulled herself off the tree, almost snagging her new red sweater. “You are an amazing woman who has more strength than anyone I know based on your unfortunate life experiences.”
Matilda smiled. This was just like her best friend. How many conversations had they had like this one? Billions, which was why she loved her. And Tilly knew Matilda would have been there for her if the roles were reversed.

“You’re the best, you know?”

“Sure do,“ Tilly smiled, picking a fallen leaf out of Matilda’s hair. “Hey! Did I tell you about this amazing boy I met in class named Quentin Maxwell?”

Matilda suddenly became aloof, after hearing that Tilly was interested in some boy she met in class. She knew he would interfere with their friendship and rode the wave for a while.

During the remainder of the semester, they met everyday under the tree, even in the rain. Tilly had always been great about lending her shoulder, which helped Matilda through those rough times, and they promised to keep all secrets confidential.

About a month later, things came to a screeching halt for Matilda when Tilly started dating her first and only love whom she preferred to call Tin. They had a few classes together. Whenever class was out, Tilly and Tin spent all there time getting better acquainted, leaving Matilda feeling left out. They were truly mesmerized by one another. Matilda told Tilly she’d move to another dorm to allow her and Quentin their privacy. And although Tilly knew it was forbidden to sneak boys in, she was in love and willing to break the rules for Tin.

“Hey Matilda!” Tilly told Matilda late one night after coming in from a date with Tin. He took her to the drive-in, and, well, after the movie ended, they got distracted making out in the car.

“Hi,” Matilda replied in a low tone, purposely avoiding eye contact as she packed her things.

“I’m so sorry that we don’t get to spend as much time as we did before. I love and miss you so much.”
“Yeah, I know you do. I know you’re falling in love with Quentin.”
“Tin’s amazing, but he can never replace my best friend.” Tilly said, passing Matilda a goodie bag filled with her favorite snacks. She had been well aware of Matilda’s distance since she began dating Tin and felt guilty.

Matilda smiled. She missed Tilly horribly sometimes, but she loved seeing the smile on her face all the time. She thought Tilly had been too quiet during there recent talks. She rarely spoke about her past; Quentin brought her out of her shell.

“I miss you too, but I’m so happy for you. You deserve the best.”

“We’ll catch up at Old Faithful tomorrow, huh?” Tilly asked, pulling off her boots and throwing them toward the closet. She quickly pulled on night clothes and got into bed. It was always cold in Maine, and Tilly could not get enough heat in Tin’s absence.

“Um, I should be there,” Matilda said, trying to smile. She was happy for her, but at the same time, she was sad too. Lately, all Tilly talked about was her boyfriend. Her life was more about him now; she didn’t listen to Matilda like she used to. Matilda wasn’t adjusting to it well.

“Good! Tin’s taking me to lunch first, but I’ll definitely be there. Did I tell you how much he helped me in my Intro to Chemistry class? You know, the one with that odd-looking professor who barely speaks English?”

Matilda only nodded, halted her packing, and turned out the light. In the past, she let weeks pass like that. Tilly still reached out to her, but it became apparent to Matilda that she would soon be replaced. She had no one to turn to and often wondered what would she do now that she was moving out of Matilda’s dorm in a few days.

More weeks had passed, and Tilly began to notice Matilda’s absence more often. She missed seeing Matilda when she didn’t show up at Old Faithful three days in a row and wondered what had happen to her.

She became concerned and decided it was time to pay her best friend a dorm visit. When she arrived at her dormitory, Tilly noticed a box with her name written in print sitting on the floor in the hallway just outside of Matilda’s empty room. Tilly wanted privacy before she opened the box and made her way back to her room. She became emotional as she sat the box down on her bed and began opening it slowly. Tilly realized that Matilda had entrusted her with all her personal belongings and keepsakes as if she dropped out of sight, leaving all that she knew behind. Tilly assumed Matilda McGraw didn’t want to come between the new-found love she had with Tin.

She knew Matilda purposely disconnected herself from the one person who knew her best after only a few short months. Tilly just sat on her bed crying and wondering if she’d ever see Matilda again.

“I thought she understood my relationship with Tin,” Tilly said aloud to herself as she sobbed for the first time in her adult life, sitting there staring inside the box. “I know what this is Matilda McGraw, and I know why you left me. I abandoned you just like your father. I’m so sorry I got too wrapped up in Tin. You didn’t have to leave.”
Her mind drifted off to all their fun times and late night snack runs. She knew Matilda needed to find herself, and was happy she found a way to do it. Deep down, she knew her friend was OK. Tilly sat there for at least an hour, wondering if Matilda went back to Washington.

Tin suddenly interrupted Tilly’s thoughts, grabbed her from behind, and snapped her back to reality with a wet and juicy kiss. She didn’t even hear him enter her room. Tilly quickly shielded her melancholy state of mind, something she was beginning to do frequently with Tin. She knew,she had to keep her mood in check whenever she thought about Matilda.

“Whatcha thinking about, baby?” Tin asked, peering into the box she clutched to her lap.

“Nothing, it’s nothing,” Tilly said, shutting the box and pushing it out of his eyesight.

“You OK? What’s wrong?”

“Just bad memories. That was my Mom’s box. I got it after she died. I just miss her sometimes, like you miss your Dad.” Tilly hated to lie to him, but there were some things he didn’t need to know. Matilda’s secrets were hers and things entrusted only to Tilly.

“I know, honey. I’m sure she would be so proud of you. You want to talk about it?”

“I don’t think so. There’s not much to say, I guess. Do you think we could just watch a movie together? Something dreamy and romantic?”

“Oh, Lord,” Tin groaned. “Knowing you, you probably played that card just so I’d watch a sappy romance with you. If we’re going to watch another Audrey Hepburn movie, then I’m gonna go get some ice cream first. Wanna come?”

“I’ll stay and find us a movie on the tube. Can you bring me Vanilla with sprinkles?”

“You got it, baby,” Tin said, giving her quick kiss before bounding off the bed toward the door.

Tilly sat in her dorm room alone after he left; she just wanted to remember Matilda a little longer. She thought about the day they met after Matilda’s car accident. Tilly saw how disoriented Matilda had been as she tried to make sense out of what had happened. They both were very scared and anxious. Tilly and Matilda stared at each other at first because of their similarity of practically looking like identical twins. Matilda blamed the light rain in her eyes for how she saw Tilly. She noticed Tilly’s hair was a lot short than hers. Tilly figured she stayed up too late unpacking the previous night and broke the ten-second stare down by shaking her head. She then checked on Matilda and got her the help she needed.

It wasn’t until the two sat and discussed their similar lives that they developed a bond to be sealed by fate. Besides hairdos, there was only one distinct difference between Matilda and Tilly and that was Tilly’s Irish heritage. Matilda needed Tilly because she had never opened up to anyone before. Matilda dumped it on like thick syrup on a sundae that oozed inside Tilly’s veins, forever connecting the two. Tilly, however, didn’t share very much with Matilda; her only goal was to listen and ease her new-found friend’s pain.

Even after several years, Tilly had a time trying to rid herself of the stories Matilda had shared with her. As her friend had divulged her suppressed memories, every one became etched in Tilly’s mind like a cemetery with names and dates written on tombstones of deceased loved ones permanently resting in place. Many permeated her soul, and Tilly even imagined them as if it had happened to her. Matilda’s past haunted Tilly through nightmares and every day she mentally played out the horrible memories. She thought constantly of Matilda’s mother, Marianne, and the torture Matilda had experienced because she was a product of an interracial marriage. Not a day went by that Tilly didn’t think about Matilda, hoping she found herself.

Tilly kept placing herself in Matilda’s life of pain and suffering. She knew Matilda lived her entire life in bondage and just needed to break free. In her own way, Tilly had to accept that Matilda needed to find freedom, and that there was no need to search for her. She forced herself to tuck away the memories and all the shared secrets.

Tilly never spoke of Matilda to anyone, not even her one and only love. She felt it was best to hide any remnants of her friend and continued to live her life as if Matilda McGraw had never existed. The secrets Matilda shared with Tilly were private; they were entrusted to only her.



Professional Reviews

Crystal, FirstEditing.com
"With Unravel, Michelle Johnson-Lane has created a novel full of twists and turns and OMG moments that will keep you riveted throughout. It was an enjoyment to read and work on. The anticipation rises page by page and I guarantee you will not see the end coming. This novel is anything but boring and is a thoroughly good read."


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