Cruel to be kind

But would her hubby's lies work...?

Published by: Lanford Beard & Amy Thompson
Published on: 29th November 2010

My palms were sweating, my knees felt like jelly. As I pulled up outside the house with my new boyfriend Bennet, I was a bundle of nerves.
‘I feel more anxious now than I did on our first date,’ I said, staring out of the car window. ‘What if they don’t like me?’
‘Don’t be silly, they’ll love you,’ he chuckled. ‘Just like I do.’
I smiled, taking a deep breath.
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Let’s go in…’
When I was young and tried to picture my future – married, with a good job and kids – I’d never imagined I’d end up divorced by 31 with a daughter Nicole. And I’d never dreamed the perfect guy for me would come with daughters of his own.
Yet here I was, 38 and with my perfect match Bennet Reid, about to meet his two daughters Sparkle, 16, and Keisha, 13, for the first time.
I guess it’s true what they say – things don’t always go to plan.
They certainly hadn’t for Bennet and his girls.
His wife had died in her mid-30s after suffering from a diabetes-related illness, leaving Sparkle and Keisha without a mum.
Walking through the front door, I couldn’t help worrying. Me and Bennet had only been dating for a few months after his brother Jeff introduced us. Jeff worked at the same TV station as me.
What if the girls thought I was trying to replace their mum? What if they resented the amount of time their dad spent with me…?
As two gorgeous young girls skipped towards me, though, I felt myself relax. ‘We’re making dinner for you guys,’ Sparkle beamed, grabbing my hand and leading me to the kitchen where pots and pans bubbled on the hob.
‘Sparkle’s doing the chicken, and I’m in charge of the vegetables,’ Keisha added, flashing me a proud grin. That was it – I was hooked on them.
Nicole, seven, loved them, too.When me and Bennet got married the following year and we all moved in together in Atlanta, we were one big happy family.
Things might not always go to plan, I thought, but they can still work out just fine.
The years rolled by, and I watched all three of our girls blossom. I had to fight back proud tears when Sparkle introduced me to her mates from college. ‘This is my mum, Donna,’ she’d say.
We were so proud when she got a scholarship to study accounting at university, too.
‘She’s got such a great future ahead of her,’ Bennet smiled.
It was everything we’d wished for her. But less than a year into her moving away to study, her future took a bleak turn.
‘I lost my scholarship,’ she told Bennet nervously over the phone.She’d got so wrapped up in her new social life, like a lot of 18-year-olds, she’d neglected her schoolwork, and her grades had slipped.
‘Well, if you come home, you’ll have to get a job,’ Bennet sighed.
‘Actually, Auntie Katie said it’s okay for me to live in Kentucky with her. I’ve already got a job lined up at a hotel,’ Sparkle replied.
Well, no one could say she couldn’t look after herself. A few months passed, and Sparkle picked herself up and got on with things.
Then, one day, I got a call from Bennet at the bookstore where he worked. ‘Sparkle just came by with some boy she works with,’ he said.
‘Are they dating?’ I asked. ‘What does he look like? Is he nice?’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he huffed. ‘He’s Indian, seems a nice enough guy. But…’
‘But she’s your little girl and you won’t ever feel comfortable about her having a boyfriend,’ I finished for him, chuckling.
‘She’s a grown-up now,’ I said. ‘At least he seems nice, and they might just be friends.’
‘Yeah,’ he sighed.
A couple of months later, when we opened our Christmas gifts from Sparkle, though, it soon became clear she was involved with this guy she worked with.
‘Wow!’ I gasped, unwrapping the designer purse she’d bought me. ‘You must be earning good money at that hotel.’
‘My boyfriend helped me pick out gifts this year,’ she smiled shyly. ‘His name’s Rick, his parents own the hotel I work at.’
‘Tell me everything,’ I grinned.
‘Well, he’s got four brothers and sisters,’ she started. ‘He works at his parents’ hotel, but I don’t think he gets on too well with them.
‘Oh?’ I raised an eyebrow.
‘They’re disappointed he didn’t go to university,’ she explained. ‘They haven’t been too keen on me since we started dating, either…’
‘It’s a parent thing,’ I reassured her. ‘We’re all a little overprotective when it comes to who our kids go out with. You’ll find that out for yourself one day.’
Turned out, Sparkle was going to find out a lot sooner than any of us had anticipated. In February, she called to tell us she was pregnant.
‘It’s all wrong,’ Bennet fumed minutes before her and Rick were due to arrive for dinner. ‘They’re still just kids themselves!’
‘All we can do is support her,’ I soothed.
Meeting Rick for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised. He doted on Sparkle, pulling out a chair for her, making sure she was always comfortable. As for Sparkle, well, she’d never lived up to her name more! She was glowing with happiness.
Even Bennet couldn’t stay angry for long.
Soon, Sparkle and Rick moved in together in Columbus, a two-hour drive away. Rick had got a new job at a shop Bennet’s cousin Walter owned. Although they were far away, me and Bennet visited at weekends, going shopping with Sparkle for baby things.
When little Analla was born, we were all bursting with pride. She was beautiful. ‘Will you help me, Mum?’ Sparkle asked, cradling her.
‘Of course,’ I smiled.
I took three days off work to help her with the baby, showed her how to bathe her and feed her.
She and Rick were naturals, though. He helped with the nappy changes and night feeds. It might not have been the future we’d had in mind for Sparkle, but no one could deny things had worked out just fine for her anyway.
Well, no one except Rick’s parents. They didn’t even come to see their granddaughter.
And just before Rick and Sparkle were due to get married later that year, we were given sad news. ‘Rick’s dad just passed away,’ Sparkle told us. ‘He’s going over to India with his mum for the funeral.’
As if things couldn’t get any worse for the poor guy, when he flew back from India tragedy struck again. A cyclone hit the part of the country where his mum and uncle had been staying.
They were both killed.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I breathed, wrapping my arms around Rick when he told us. He nodded silently, still numb with shock.
When he and Sparkle tied the knot in a low-key ceremony, I felt so bad for him. None of his remaining family came to the wedding. But later that same day, as we got ready to head back to their place for the reception, Bennet got a call from Walter.
‘I don’t want to worry you, but I just got a call at the shop for Rick… It was his mum.’
What the…?
‘But… his mum died,’ I gasped when Bennet told me. ‘Why would Rick lie to us about that?’
Together, we marched over and confronted him in front of Sparkle. Her eyes widened in horror.
At first Rick tried to deny it, but when we told him about the phone call, he broke down. ‘It’s true,’ he said. ‘She’s still alive. So is Dad.’
‘No…’ Sparkle shook her head. ‘Why would you lie to me?’
He wouldn’t answer.
Confused and upset, Sparkle and Analla came to stay with us for a week. She spoke to Rick every day, though, and soon decided to give him another chance.
‘He lied to you!’ Bennet fumed. ‘How can you trust him?’
‘Dad, I’ll be okay,’ she sighed. ‘I have to give it another shot, for Analla’s sake.’
What could we do?
It was clear, despite everything, she still loved him.
I just prayed it was the right decision.
Four weeks later, we found out it wasn’t…
Coming home from work, I picked up the phone to hear Rick’s panicked voice. ‘It’s Sparkle…’ he sobbed. ‘She’s been attacked. Bennet’s already here, you need to get over now.’
I didn’t ask questions, didn’t hesitate. My heart pounded as I grabbed my car keys and raced out the front door.
Pulling up outside their house, my palms started sweating, my knees turned to jelly – like an echo of the first time I’d met Sparkle six years earlier.
Only this time I wasn’t greeted by her beaming smile… instead, a dozen police officers stood on the drive, the blue lights of an ambulance flashed silently.
I stepped out of the car as Bennet walked towards me.
‘What’s happened? Is she okay?’ I asked.
He put his arms around me shaking his head. I’d never seen him cry before. ‘She’s gone,’ he croaked. ‘Someone got into the house and stabbed her.’
I reeled in horror.
Who would hurt our Sparkle? It didn’t make sense. Next thing I knew, Rick was placing a wailing Analla in my arms. ‘The police want to talk to me,’ he said. ‘Can you look after the baby?’
I nodded, frozen with shock.
Bennet clenched his jaw angrily, watching Rick walk away. I knew what he was thinking – did Rick have something to do with this?
He’d already lied to us.
Had he and Sparkle argued? Had he lashed out…?
The police questioned him for hours, but eventually let him go.
When he finally came round, it was to hand over custody of Analla to us.
‘I can’t give her the future she deserves,’ he said, tearfully. That was the last time we saw him.
Four years passed, and the police had no leads as to who had killed our daughter, or why.
Watching her little girl grow up without her mummy, I felt a pang of injustice. Had Rick got away with murder?
Then, out of the blue, we got a call from a detective on the case.
‘A witness has come forward about Sparkle’s murder,’ he told us. ‘We’ve made an arrest  – a guy called Cleveland Clark.’
A surge of emotions raced through me – finally, we were going to find out the truth.
None of us could have imagined how horrific it would be though.
A girl, who’d been only 15 at the time of Sparkle’s murder, had contacted the police telling them she’d been approached by Cleveland in Sparkle’s road.
He’d offered her money to knock on Sparkle’s door and get them inside saying she needed to use the bathroom.
Of course, it’d worked. Sparkle had invited them in…
In court, we heard the girl’s account of what happened.
‘Cleveland came up behind her and choked her with a vacuum cord,’ she said. ‘Seemed like she was dead, but then she seemed to come back to life so he grabbed a butcher’s knife from the kitchen and stabbed her.’
He’d brutally stabbed our girl 13 times, then slit her throat.
Analla had been left crying for her mum in her crib.
But the worst was yet to come…
Cleveland hadn’t murdered Sparkle because he’d had a problem with her. He’d been
hired to do it – by Rick’s father Chiman Rai.
When Chiman had found out his son was marrying a black woman, he’d been outraged.
So that’s why Rick had lied to us about him being dead.
He’d known his father would never approve of his relationship with Sparkle. Rick had been trying to save her.
When he should have been in India at his dad’s funeral, he’d gone for a week’s holiday in New York, all to keep up the pretence.
Maybe that’s why he’d left Analla with us, too.
His efforts had been in vain, though. When a family member told Chiman about the marriage, he’d paid Cleveland $10,000 (£6,000) to kill his new daughter-in-law… all because of the colour of her skin. Sparkle was just 22 years old.
In 2008, a jury took just six hours to convict Chiman Rai, 68, of murder, sentencing him to life in prison.
Cleveland Clark was sentenced to death.
Analla is now 10, and looks more like her mummy every day.
I always think about her future, what it will be like growing up without her mum.
It won’t be the perfect life we wanted for her, but I’ll make sure she never forgets her mum – her life will always be filled with Sparkle.
Donna Lowry Reid, 52, Atlanta, Georgia