Losing Hope

Losing Hope:
Book One of the Sienna St. James Series
Leslie J. Sherrod
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
To challenges,
To courage,
To Christ, who makes us conquerors . . .
Acknowledgments
God is faithful, and His timing is perfect. And in His perfection and faithfulness, He continues to provide the people I've needed for support, assistance, and feedback. Thank you to my family: the Sherrods, the Datchers, the Greenes, the Coles, and every other clan that makes up my extensive family tree. Thanks to my church families, Mt. Pleasant Ministries, and my newly extended family members of the Upper Room Worship Center. Your prayers and support have been vital. Thanks to my friends, who continue to show their love and support through their prayers and words of encouragement: Angela, Mata, MaRita, Yolonda, Cha-rese, Burnett, and Cheri. Stay encouraged! And, Carla, you get your own special shout-out for your help with this newest writing adventure. Thank you!
Thank you, Joylynn Jossel and Urban Christian, for continuing to allow me the opportunity to write publicly for Him. To the readers, book clubs, and reviewers who continue to support and encourage me, thank you! Special thanks to Deborah Smith and El-Shaddai Ministries and Evangelist Faye Dadzie and Victorious Life Ministries for your support backed up by action. God bless!
As a wife, mother, social worker, and writer, the most important things to me are my family, my writing, and my service for Him.
Losing Hope
is the first book in a series that ties all these separate chapters of my life together. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. Be blessed!
Leslie J. Sherrod
[email protected]
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
 
—Proverbs 13:12
Chapter 1
His ashes came with the morning mail.
I had just finished my second cup of mint green tea when the usual pile of bills and store circulars were dumped through the mail slot on my front door. I was not expecting the mail carrier to also knock. Thank goodness I had gone against my norm and dressed for work
before
eating breakfast. The sight of me in my neon orange head scarf and granny-length floral bathrobe would have been too much for anyone on a Tuesday morning. Guess that's why I am still single. Did I say single? That's not totally true.
It's complicated.
I looked at the box in the mail carrier's outstretched hands and sighed.
Then again,
I thought,
guess the title of single is now official.
“Ms. . . Sienna St. James?”
I wanted to shake my head no, but I nodded, anyway.
“Sign here.” The mail carrier pointed to a bright red X on the certified package, acting as if delivering boxes from the Crematório Rodrigues in Almada, Portugal, was part of his normal routine.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, taking the large, plain cardboard box from him, then closing the door. It was heavier than I expected, as if a set of stoneware dishes from Walmart was waiting inside.
RiChard.
“Welcome home, baby.” I bit my lip, waiting to feel the torrent of emotions I had been expecting to feel since last Wednesday, when I got the call.
Nothing. Numbness.
With the box of ashes still in my hands, I looked around my cramped rancher, searching for a place to put it. To put him.
God, help me.
The coffee table in the living room was piled high with library books and home-decorating magazines. The side tables had more of the same. No space. And there was no way I was putting that box on my kitchen table. Roman and I had to eat there. Oh, and before anybody asks, my bedroom was
way
out of the question. Too many memories. No, actually just too creepy.
I studied the box, running my fingers down the lines of heavy brown packaging tape, the box itself a weighty reminder that my life had not turned out the way I'd imagined it would when I was eighteen. And in love. Hard to believe that was almost two decades ago. A nearby silver teapot caught enough of my distorted reflection to remove any doubt. Though I still had my grandmother's heart-shaped face, my father's almond-shaped eyes, and my mother's honey maple skin, a few strands of gray blended in with the copper highlights of my retro Halle Berry–styled hair. And a few extra pounds padded my once thin and trim frame.
My mother used to tell me that I needed to add a doughnut to my daily routine to catch up to the hip, butt, and boob fullness of the women in my clan. She hasn't told me that in years.
One of my fingernails caught on an edge of the box, and I recoiled at the badly chipped raspberry polish. My fingernails looked like a preschooler's beloved art project. Sheena Booth, the diva who was my office mate, would call in sick before showing up to work with her nails looking the way mine did at that moment.
Work!
The digital clock over the microwave read 7:42. The way I-83 got jammed in the morning rush hour, I should have left twelve minutes ago if I was to have any chance of getting to work on time. Although I was her favorite, Ava didn't play. I looked again at the box in my hands and then up at the kitchen ledge where I kept all my bills and junk mail.
I have no choice,
I reassured myself as I dropped the unopened box on top of my water, cable, and phone bills. A colorful advertisement for somebody's family-owned gutter-cleaning business lay to the side.
I mean, what else was I supposed to do with it? Seemed appropriate in a way—my long-lost husband's remains mixed in with my bills. How much had that man cost me? How much more did he owe me?
Some losses and debts couldn't be measured in dollars and cents.
It wasn't until I was halfway down I-83 that I realized what was wrong with RiChard's temporary final resting place. Roman did not have basketball practice today. He might get home before me.
My fourteen-year-old son knew very little about his father. His last memory of him should not be an unopened cardboard box from a crematorium in Portugal sitting next to the gas and electric bill. I had not told Roman anything about the call I'd gotten last week or the delivery I knew was coming. I hadn't told Roman much of anything. Truth was, I didn't think
I
knew much of anything when it came to RiChard Alain St. James.
I had to get home before Roman did.
I thought that getting home before four thirty would be my most difficult mission of the day, but I should have known better. Anytime anything RiChard St. James showed up, everything in my life collapsed in one way or another. I knew this. Lived it, breathed it. Survived it.
And I still wasn't prepared for what was coming next.
Chapter 2
“It's an easy case. You know I must like you. With Trevor quitting, we all have to pick up his clients—including me. I'm only giving you one of his, and it's easy. I know you already have your hands full with Keisha King and the Benson family. Sienna, are you listening to me?”
Ava Diggs was a big woman in every sense of the word. Large, loose golden curls framed her round brown face. The 3XL-sized tunics she wore were usually in bright shades of yellow or orange or had animal prints. Wooden beads of all colors clanged on her wrists, from her ears, and around her massive neck. The only thing quiet about the woman was her voice and her friendly, attentive eyes, the two attributes that drew me to her tutelage during my long, drawn-out grad school days. The only thing bigger than her hair and clothes was her heart.
“Sienna, are you with me?” Ava gently pried again.
I was sitting across from her at her desk. Twenty-five minutes late, I had missed the beginning of the weekly Tuesday staff meeting, and Ava wanted to fill me in before lunch.
“I'm here, Ava.” I returned her smile. I still felt numb inside. There were no words to describe how I felt, no guidebook to map out what I was supposed to do from here. “I just had a, well, twist in my morning.”
“Roman talking about girls again?” She chuckled.
I wish
. “No.” I blew out a loud, long sigh. “If only it were that simple.”
“Simple?” Ava's chuckle grew louder. “Honey, that time you caught Roman on the phone with a seventeen-year-old girl who had three kids, I thought I was going to have to call a paramedic in here.”
I gave a weak smile. “No, Roman's love life has nothing to do with my current drama.”
Ava raised an eyebrow and leaned toward me. Although her meticulously kept desk sat between us, it felt like she was sitting right next to me, holding my hand. “Sienna, what's going on?”
I could tell from the slight coo in her voice that she was in full-fledged counseling mode. Although I had some of the same social worker credentials as Ava, I still melted under her masterful therapeutic skills. Indeed, her genuine empathy and perfected techniques had earned her the nickname “the Great One” among respected social work circles, professors, and clinicians.
The first time I met her—she was a guest speaker for a family therapy class I took at school—I was amazed at her wisdom and passion about spiritual wholeness and well-being. I was further amazed that she gave me her business card when I approached her privately with a question about her lecture after the seminar ended. I was a nontraditional student when I attended the masters of social work program at the University of Maryland in downtown Baltimore. “Nontraditional” is simply a nice way of saying “old.”
Okay, I was not that old when I went—a year shy of thirty—but sitting next to those “newly legal” youngsters who knew nothing about bad marriages, shaky child care, and just plain struggling to survive until the next student loan refund came through, made me feel intimidated at best, unwelcome at worst. I almost quit six times. Ava Diggs became my mentor—no, my friend—and I know that I am where I am today in large part because of that warm smile, those gentle eyes, and her compassion and encouragement.
Going to school part-time while trying to take care of myself and my son was rough. It took me six years to get my bachelor's, another four years to earn my master's. Ava entered my life in year eight. God in His great mercy knew I needed a cheerleader for the final laps. When I finished last May, I was given four tickets for graduation. Although she was asked to speak at another local college's closing exercises scheduled the same day, Ava Diggs was sitting right next to my parents and my son as I walked across the stage, her smile as bright as my mother's.
But although Ava Diggs was my dear friend and informal life coach, when she offered me a position with her agency, I immediately decided that my work hours under her would be just that—work hours. I did not want my personal life to cross the boundaries of our professional relationship.
“Ava, I appreciate your concern, but this one I need to handle myself, in my own way and in my own time.” I did not even know what that way and time were, but I knew that my closure with RiChard, whatever that meant, would come.
Taking my hint, Ava nodded, settled back into her leather seat, and put her glasses back on. The gold wire frames slid to the tip of her nose as she pulled a chart from a tall stack on her desk. We were back to business.
“Dayonna Diamond.” She flipped through the chart without looking up. “A true child of the system. Born to a crack-addicted mother, father unknown, in foster care right out of the hospital. Due to reasons outside of her control, she went through eight foster homes the first seven years of her life. Due to reasons
within
her control, she went through another six foster homes from ages seven to ten. After three group homes and a quick stint at baby juvy for a minor legal infraction, she spent time at a residential treatment center in Florida, where they diagnosed her with ADHD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, intermittent explosive disorder, conduct disorder, and every other diagnosis they could find in the DSM-IV.”
She pointed to the massive manual of mental health diagnoses she kept on her desk before continuing. “She got back last Wednesday. The city wants her in therapeutic foster care with wraparound services. Hence the referral to us. I handpicked the Monroes to be her new guardians.” Finally, she looked up at me as she spoke. “I need you to check in on them two, three times a week to make sure her transition goes smoothly. For reasons I cannot go into at the moment, I need you to understand that this placement
must
succeed.” She plopped the seven-inch-thick folder in front of me. It landed with an echoless thud.
“I thought you said this was an easy case, Ava. You know I'm already stressing over the ongoing saga of Keisha King. ”
Ava tore open a wrapped fork that came with the chef salad she'd pulled from a small refrigerator under her desk. “Horace and Elsie Monroe are great people. They never had children of their own but have helped raise a village.” She looked up at me over the rims of her glasses. “Plus, they're members of Second Zion.”
“So are six thousand nine hundred ninety-eight other people,” I wanted to shout back in response to Ava's reference to the respected mega-church.
What does that have to do with me taking this case?
“The Monroes' strong faith and their belief in the potential of every child—no matter how damaged or delinquent—have earned them one of the best records of all our trained foster parents.” Ava crunched loudly on a lettuce leaf as she talked. “They have never had an unsuccessful placement. Every single child that has entered their home either ends up reunified with their birth family or successfully adopted into a loving home. Every single child.”
She's really expecting this to work out. Not with Dayonna's history.
I'd had only an MSW behind my name for just over a year, but all my previous work experience and internships had centered around child welfare and the agencies, departments, and foster homes that toiled in this heartbreaking field. I had worked with enough Dayonna Diamonds to know how this story would end, and the fact that Ava had hinted at the need for this case to succeed did not comfort me.
But I had no time for self-comfort. My cell phone was ringing.
“What do you mean, you have a half day of school?” I yelled into the receiver. I had excused myself from Ava's office and was headed to my own. Dayonna's file weighed heavily in my hands. “Who's idea was this?”
“Ma, calm down. It wasn't my idea, for real. It was listed on that calendar that came home the first day of school. Teacher development day, or something like that.” My son's voice was in that stage when boyhood teetered on the edge of manhood. Every now and then a loud squeak broke through.
“It's okay, Roman. This half day just caught me off guard. You know I don't like not having a plan or activity to engage you after school.” That was only half true. Roman was a good kid, not perfect, and I still feared for his safety from the Jezebels of the world, but my biggest concern at the moment was that he not get home before I did. I did not want him to see his father's ashes without preparation or explanation.
“Maa,” he squeaked, “I'm fourteen. You don't have to plan every moment of my day. I'm in high school now. I'm almost a grown man.” His voice cracked again.
“Grown man,” I mumbled into the phone. “You've been in high school for all of what? Three weeks? Where are you now?” I held my breath.
“I'm still on the eight.”
“Good.” I sighed in relief. His magnet high school was in northern Baltimore County, and we lived on the west side. He still had to catch one more bus, which would take him across town, before he reached our neighborhood. “Hey, why don't you go down to the Police Athletic League center and play a smokin' game of... a pickup game with Officer Sanderson?” I regretted my words immediately, and not only because of my sorry attempt at sounding cool. I did
not
need Leon Sanderson thinking I was after him in any way, shape, or form. Sending Roman to the PAL center and having him ask for him would be just enough fodder for the old-school player to think I was actually considering his sorry advances.
“Uh, Ma . . . I was wondering if I could go . . . to Security Mall . . . with Skee-Gee. He can meet me there, and Aunt Vet said she could pick us up. She's gettin' her hair done there and can drop me off home by five.”
“Okay. That sounds good!”
“Huh? Oh, okay! Thanks, Ma!”
“And don't forget to—” The phone was dead. My baby boy had already hung up
. I must really be in a state to have agreed so quickly to his plan.
Even Roman had sounded surprised. I shook my head and sighed again. Don't get me wrong. I loved my little sister, Yvette, and her five children, but I was never happy about Roman hanging around my nephew Skee-Gee too long without my supervision. But with a seven-inch-thick chart sitting on my desk, I did not have time to worry. I'd tried my best to raise Roman right. At some point I had to trust that he was making good decisions, right?
I spent about half an hour skimming through Dayonna Diamond's life. Ava had given an accurate summary. The notes I read were consistent with what she'd told me. They were also consistent with my rather pessimistic expectations.
Oh, well. Time to get started.
Ava had informed me that the Monroes were expecting me before the workday was out and Dayonna's home tutoring session would be starting soon.
Due to her recent return from out-of-state treatment, she had not been enrolled in a school yet. A home teacher would be coming a few times a week for now to assess her and determine the best educational placement for her. It was still the beginning of the school year, so the assessments were a priority to keep her from falling further behind her future classmates. The tutor was due to come soon, according to the notes. I resisted the urge to call back Roman and headed to my car.
I still felt numb to the world around me. With my feelings on mute, I figured nothing else in the day could get under my skin.
I should have known better.

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