Authors: Jennifer L Ray
|Journals of the Secret Keeper|
|Jennifer L Ray|
|Jennifer L. Ray (2012)|
Willetta is doing what she does best...running away. This time life catches up with her and brings her past and some of her ancestors' pasts with it. This intriguing novel tells the story of Willetta and Andrik who have Mama Jean in common. Mama Jean is the secret keeper and her secrets are written in journals buried beneath the mulberry tree. Andrik and Willetta fall in love, but have every reason to hate each other. The journals can tear them apart or offer redemption to everyone involved. Everything depends on the journals of the secret keeper.
Willetta Jones' car was stuffed with her
belongings. Her back window was completely
blocked with bags of clothes.
The rearview mirrors
on the doors were the only things that kept her from
driving blindly on her drive from Atlanta, Georgia
to Marks, Mississippi.
She was on a long
sabbatical to do a little soul searching.
place for that was always home.
The old dusty Mississippi road had not
changed at all. Trees stood tall along either side of
the road. They leaned into the dusty lane as if they
were protecting something or someone. Willetta
had at one time felt the effect was creepy, but now
she drew comfort from it. After all, she did need
protection. She was hiding from her fiance.
Willetta met Damion Racy at a college
house party in Atlanta, Georgia. He was tall, thick
with muscle, and cocky. Willetta was nineteen and
green. That one meeting began a six year
relationship that had been tumultuous and
demoralizing for Willetta. Damion was controlling
and unnecessarily mean at times, but he was a
His apologies would be so eloquent
and sincere; they would nearly melt Willetta's heart.
The course of their relationship vacillated between
terrible arguments and sweet makeups.
Recently Damion decided they should
marry. Finally, Willetta realized something was
awfully wrong with their relationship, because she
had absolutely no desire to marry him, but was too
afraid to say no. So, she said yes. The days before
the wedding date flew by with Willetta never quite
gathering her courage to tell Damion she could not
Two days before the wedding Willetta
received the phone call that Mama Jean was dead.
The caller was a man she had no recollection of and
his voice had been laced with steel and cold as ice.
When Willetta asked how she died, it sounded as if
he slammed the phone down in her ear. She heard a
click and then the dial tone. It left her bewildered,
but she was thankful for the call.
Willetta was sad that Mama Jean had died,
but she had grown apart from her grandmother.
They had not been on the best terms. Mama Jean
was more controlling and demanding than Damion.
Willetta shook her head at the irony of her situation.
She'd left Marks, Mississippi running from her
grandmother and now she had left Atlanta, Georgia
running from Damion. Running back to the very
same place she ran from in the first place. That had
to mean something. She shrugged her shoulders
and continued driving.
Willetta was now twenty-six years old and
savvy to the world and the people in it. She was
cynical and independent. She'd made her career in
marketing. She freelanced and floated between
huge corporate businesses that needed her expertise.
This allowed her versatility in schedule and
location. All she needed was her laptop and her cell
She suppressed a giggle as she realized this
was the exact time the wedding was to have taken
place. She wondered if Damion had been arrogant
enough to continue on as if she had not been
ignoring his phone calls for two days. She could
see him right now standing at the altar in his black
tuxedo. He would be tapping his feet and flashing a
fake grin at his friends and family. She hoped
fervently that the wedding was still on. She only
wished she could be there to see his face when he
finally realized she would not be there. Willetta
decided it was okay to laugh and she cracked up.
She was still laughing when she pulled into
Mama Jean's yard. There was an old beat up pickup
truck parked on the grass. Willetta saw the truck
before she saw the man, but he had already seen
her. Her wild laughter had left a crazy smile on her
face. The smile slowly slid away at the sight of the
man standing in the middle of the yard. He was
huge and black. His skin was blacker than any skin
Willetta had ever seen in her life.
His tall frame
towered above everything in the yard except the
house and the trees. He was looking directly at
Willetta and waiting.
Willetta fumbled with the door to get it
open. She stepped out of the car realizing too late
that it was still in gear. The car lurched forward and
Willetta's eyes opened wide in horror, as she
realized she could not get back in quick enough to
stop it. She wrenched herself away from the car
and out of the way. The man moved really fast for
someone his size. He had practically stopped the
car with his bare hands before he opened the door
and stuck his long leg in to put his foot on the
brake. He put the car in park and took the keys out
of the ignition.
"You must be Willetta," he said
sarcastically, as he dropped her car keys into his
Willetta would recognize that voice
anywhere. It was the same man that had hung up on
her. She put her hands on her hips and looked up
into his face with every intention of telling him off,
but words failed her. He was beautiful. Not
handsome, but beautiful. The skin on his face
glistened with sweat or oil or something and it was
flawless, spotless. His lips were full and his teeth
were white and straight. Thick black eyebrows and
super thick, long eyelashes surrounded eyes that
were translucent brown. Dimples dented the side of
his face even without a smile and she knew they
were deep as pools. His hair was cut short and
Willetta did not miss the wavy texture of it. He was
more beautiful than she, and Willetta knew she had
it going on.
She realized too late that she had been just
standing and staring. The slow grin that spread
across his gorgeous face, made Willetta break out in
a sweat. She suddenly became aware of her
appearance. The rundown joggers she had on fit
loosely and sloppily and the nasty tennis shoes she
wore were just too nasty, but she secretly adored
them. Her T-shirt had old paint and faded wordings
on it. She looked horrible and here he stood
grinning like a superstar on the red carpet.
Willetta had game too. She flashed a
brilliant smile, showing off her pearly whites. She
snatched the baseball cap off her head and fanned
vigorously as her long hair fell around her
shoulders. One eyebrow went up and one leg went
back. She could wait silently too. She could give
as much as he gave.
"What were you about to say before my
beauty blinded you," he said flatly.
Willetta was stunned. She thought she had
left the most arrogant man she had ever met in
Georgia, but this beat all she had ever experienced.
"I was about to say that you need to give me
back my car keys and get off my grandma's land,"
He tilted his head to the side and stared at
her. "Is something wrong with you? I mean you're
not mentally ill are you," he asked sincerely. To
add to his sincerity he looked around as if
wondering how she could possibly have driven up
to the house by herself.
Willetta's experience with Damion had
trained her to keep completely silent whenever she
was upset. She had not loss control of her temper in
years, but all that was about to change.
"I am not crazy. I grew up in this house.
You called to tell me that Mama Jean was dead and
that is why I'm here. Now give me back my keys
and get out of my way," she said meanly.
"Well, for your information she's not dead.
She's in there on the couch waiting on you. She
made me call you, because she wants to see you
before she dies. So, take your ungrateful, selfish,
disrespectful, care-about-nobody-but-yourself self
on in the house. I will bring your keys, when Mama
Jean tells me to bring them," he said harshly.
Willetta stood rooted to the spot with her
mouth hanging open. Never in her life had she been
spoken to this way by a complete stranger. She was
devastated that he thought so badly of her and
bewildered as to why she cared. Willetta flinched
as he abruptly moved closer to her. He bent down
to put his face close to hers, a warning flashing in
"Willetta," he breathed, "If Mama Jean still
looks sad tomorrow, you might want to run when
you see me. She doesn't have many days left,
maybe not even a week. She wants you and only
you. Make her happy or watch out for me."
With every word he uttered, Willetta could
feel his warm breath against the skin of her lips and
cheeks. His breath was fresh and his teeth were
whiter than she thought. But his message and his
body language frightened the wits out of her and
she wondered for the first time how her
disappearance had affected poor Mama Jean.
Willetta watched the strange man get into
his pickup truck and drive away with her car keys
still in his pocket. His casual attire of faded jeans
and white t-shirt had done nothing to set her at ease.
He would have been intimidating however he came;
whether in a three-piece suit or stark naked.
Willetta turned slowly to look at the
rundown house she grew up in. It too looked at her
as if to say, "Where have you been?" Everything
was the same. On the front porch sat the very same
metal chairs that used to burn her legs in the
summertime. She and Mama Jean sat on those
chairs and shucked corn, shelled peas, and cleaned
fish. Willetta hated it all. She looked down at her
manicured fingers and was thankful those days had
passed. Mama Jean and her big black bodyguard
could never make her shell a single pea, if she didn't
At the thought of Mama Jean, Willetta
shook her head. So, the old woman still had brass.
She'd tricked her into coming home. Willetta
looked at her car longingly, as if the thought of
leaving was an option. She was in a catch twentytwo situation. She was afraid of Damion and what
he might do to her if he found her. There was no
other spot in heaven or on earth darker or denser
than the dusty roads of Mississippi. She was in her
hiding place and she'd best stay put.
Willetta knew she couldn't stand outside
forever. She looked at the screened door and
remembered Mama Jean screaming at her through
it. She remembered squinching her eyes against the
sun and the darkness of that screened door trying to
see if Mama Jean was standing there watching her.
Willetta was always up to something and Mama
Jean was always catching her. Mama Jean knew
that if she stood a few feet away from the screened
door, Willetta couldn't see if she was there or not.
Willetta got caught many times that way.
Willetta looked at the screened door now
and the skin of her arms crawled, as she realized she
still couldn't see and didn't know if Mama Jean was
watching her. She was, also, still up to no good.
She'd been away for years without a phone call, a
visit, or anything. Now she was home and she
knew Mama Jean would have a mouthful of bashing
Willetta put her cap back on her head and
tucked her hair behind her ears. She took her first
steps towards the past. It felt surreal. She had a
distinct feeling that nothing had really changed, no
time had really passed, and that she had been away
for only a day. It was not exactly a good feeling.
Had her life been so redundant that she hadn't
grown enough to feel the chasm of time?
She opened the door and stepped in. The
smell of antiseptic was so strong, she wanted to turn
around and go back outside. The kitchen was so
similar to when she'd last seen it, it was almost
ridiculous. Mama Jean had not changed a thing.
Willetta walked purposefully to the sink and sure
enough the big bowl was there. Mama Jean always
washed her dishes in a bowl in the sink. Willetta
never understood why and had never asked.
"Is that you, Etta," came Mama Jean's
voice. It sounded weak and far away.
Willetta walked into the living room where
once again she found everything the very same as
she had last seen it. That is everything but Mama
Jean. She lay upon the black plastic couch that
Willetta always detested. The couch was cold and
uncomfortable in the winter and hot and sticky in
Mama Jean was wrapped in a sheet. Her
appearance was drastically different. She looked
shrunken and fragile. Her head of hair was
completely gray and thin enough to see patches of
the brown skin of her scalp. Willetta trembled
inside. She became frightened. Had eleven years
done this to Mama Jean? Time was powerful and
could inflict a havoc of its own making. Mama
Jean was a shell of the authoritative woman Willetta
had bitterly rebelled against and ran away from at
"It's me, Mama," Willetta said softly.
The old woman breathed deeply and
released a long sigh of relief. She raised a thin and
feeble hand in Willetta's direction. Willetta quickly
sat on the edge of the couch and took Mama Jean's
hand in between hers. She frowned at how cold and
brittle it was.
"Where is your lotion, Mama? I know you
never could stand for your hands to be dry,"
"I couldn't write with dry hands," Mama
That one sentence brought back a thousand
memories for Willetta. Mama Jean used to write by
candle light. She would watch her from her bed.
The house had only one bedroom. Willetta already
knew without going to see, that her bed was still
where she last saw it.
She had always been curious about what
Mama Jean wrote every night, but Mama Jean
would tell her that she was too young to be reading
about grown folks business. Willetta would always
be asleep by the time Mama Jean finished and she
never ever saw where she put the journals. She
searched everywhere for those journals and never
found them. She knew there had to be many of
them, because as far back as she could remember,
Mama Jean wrote by candle light.
"Where's the child? I wish I could see him,
but I done lost all my eyesight," Mama Jean said
Willetta slowly put Mama Jean's hand down
and stood up. She looked down at the old woman.
The blood coursing through her body reversed
leaving her confused as it drained from her head.
"What did you say," Willetta asked.
Mama Jean turned non-seeing eyes on
Willetta. Her pupils were glazed over with a thin
layer of skin or something and Willetta knew she
was completely blind, but her eyes tracked and
found her. Even with her blindness Willetta fancied
Mama Jean could see through her. Willetta backed
"I'm sorry, Etta. I'm old. I get confused. Sit
down and tell me how you been so I won't have to
be making up stuff," she said slowly.
Willetta chose to sit in the recliner catercornered to the couch. She was shaking and wanted
to keep that to herself. Mama Jean was playing
games. She was old, blind, feeble and on her last
leg, but Willetta knew Mama Jean. She knew
people were sometimes like chessboard figures to
her. Willetta wondered could Mama Jean be up to
one last trick before she died. Was this going to be
about winning an old vendetta or helping someone?
She never knew when it came to Mama Jean. She
wasn't sure if she wanted to hang around to find out
Andrik Thompson's hand gripped the stick
of the old nineteen-seventy-five Ford pickup
fiercely, as he shifted out of third and skipped into
fifth gear. Mama Jean had left out some important
details about Willetta Jones. One in particular,
being that she was gorgeous. The other was that
she had spirit. He had been led to believe that he
was deceiving a scared, but selfish woman home,
who if not for his intervention would never have a
real chance at happiness. Mama Jean's conviction
that he could help Willetta had worn him down.
Andrik was a psychologist and had been for
ten years. Mama Jean begged him to use his skills
to help Willetta deal with her past issues of
abandonment. Willetta's mom left her in the care of
Mama Jean when she was nine years old and never
Mama Jean felt this was the reason
Willetta felt nothing wrong in leaving her and never
returning. She was afraid Willetta would make
running away a habit and eventually repeat the
mistakes her mother made.
With a name like Willetta and grandma's
description of her, Andrik half expected a short,
pudgy, thick-glassed-wearing, nerdy type young
woman. He was totally unprepared for the sight of
It was obvious she was a woman
even though she wore loose-fitting joggers and a
baseball cap. Her long hair, cat-shaped eyes, and
heart-shaped lips drew his attention like a magnet to
steel. He never once looked away from her while
she stared unbelievingly at him. Andrik was just as
stricken by her appearance as she by his.
The trees suddenly opened up to the sight of
Thompson Estate. Andrik turned on to the long
curving concrete drive leading up to the two century
old Victorian style house he grew up in. The sight
of it had never filled him with nostalgia or any
sentiment to speak of. He and his father had always
been at odds within the walls of this massive house.
His father, Stanley Thompson, had been a very
strange man with a volatile temperament. He was
often angry to the point of violence, but was never
physically abusive. This had not stopped Andrik
from feeling beaten.
The Thompson estate was about fifteen
miles down the road from the little house Mama
Jean lived in. Mama Jean had cleaned house and
taken care of Andrik as far back as he could
remember. His own mother had been sickly and
had not lived past her forties. She died when
Andrik was fourteen. Andrik was devastated and
had survived the emotional crippling only with the
help of Mama Jean. He had left Thompson Estates
at age eighteen, a very bitter young man.
Professor Hampton Chaston had changed
him. Hampton was a professor of psychology at the
college Andrik attended.
At sixty-five he was still
a huge asset to the college. He took an interest in
the oftentimes withdrawn and detached Andrik.
Under his tutelage Andrik learned to think. He
learned to understand how people's past played a
big part in the kind of adults they became. He also
learned the most important lesson of all. Each
individual has the power to change the effect past
experiences or influences have made on their lives.
Hampton taught Andrik how positive
thinking begets positive results and how negative
thinking begets negative results. Andrik began to
see for himself the truth of such equations and
began to painstakingly reform his way of thinking.
The results were amazing. His grades turned
around and the whole world opened up to him and
began to smile upon him. He still had to make a
conscious effort at being positive, but that effort had
always yielded good things.
Andrik climbed out of the truck and
stretched. His long lean body was back in shape
and it felt good. The work of repairing Thompson
Estates to its previous glory had been arduous, but
therapeutic. The men Andrik hired and worked
along side were now his friends. Andrik had never
felt at home here in the rurals of Mississippi, but
since the death of his father, all this land was his.
He could appreciate its beauty now that the
oppressive factor was gone. He looked around. It
was starting to feel like home already.
Willetta had supper on the table and wasn't
sure if Mama Jean could even eat it.
seemed content to just drink juice and water, but
Willetta knew she needed more than that to survive.
She boiled potatoes and meshed them. Then she
boiled some chicken wings and salted and peppered
them to taste. She opened a can of spinach and put
them on the stove too. It was a soft meal and she
hoped Mama Jean would eat some of it.
Willetta went about lighting candles. She
knew Mama Jean would be pleased. She had yet to
meet a woman who loved candles more than Mama
Jean. There was a candelabrum in every room.
There were two made of brass in the kitchen. One
made of glass in their bedroom, another made of
glass in the bathroom, and three made of gold in the
living room. The electrical lights were hardly ever
used. Willetta had secretly kept the tradition. She
too loved candlelight in the nighttime.
The house was illuminated with
candlelight. Willetta could hear Mama Jean moving
around on the couch. She left the stove to go peek
around the corner. Mama Jean was standing.
Willetta's heart hurt at how small and fragile she
had become. Mama Jean looked up.