Madison Oliver stayed mostly to herself, but Nikki Powers had been her best friend since junior high. Since Madison had moved to the west side of Detroit, Nikki occasionally visited from the suburbs where Madison used to live with her mother.
Her father gave Nikki the suspect eye as he allowed her in his house. A man of the church, he looked over at his daughter. “I thought you had a lot of studying to do tonight?”
“We do,” Nikki said in Madison’s defense. “Mr. Dowell, your kind daughter is helping me with my final thesis.”
Her father looked hard at Nikki. “I would like a private word with you in my study, Nikki Powers, before you corrupt my daughter.” He looked up at Madison. “I’ll send her upstairs when I’m done, Madison.”
Madison looked worried. It wasn’t the first time her father had wanted a private word with Nikki.
Nikki looked up at Madison at the top of the stairs. “Don’t worry, Maddie. He’ll just preach to me about not corrupting his daughter once again.” She winked at her to assure her friend things would be fine.
Madison relaxed and watched Nikki go into her father’s study. Instead of going into her bedroom, she waited in the hallway. After twenty minutes, Nikki came bounding out the office and up the stairs. She grabbed Madison’s hand and dragged her to the bedroom to ensconce themselves inside.
“Why’d you even move here?” Nikki said, annoyed. “He treats you like a child. You’re three years shy of thirty.”
“He’s a pastor,” Madison said proudly in her father’s defense.
Nikki austerely corrected her. “An assistant pastor, Maddie, and a control freak. He wants to punish you because he’s still angry at your mother for leaving him.” She snorted. “I need to use your bathroom.” She closed the door before Madison could say anything.
Taking a moment to push away Nikki’s cruel words about her father, Madison wasn’t going to discuss how she needed to stay with him because she was broke while trying to finish her master’s, unlike Nikki, supported by her semi-wealthy parents who bought everything and anything for their only daughter.
Unfortunately, Madison wasn’t Cyrus Dowell’s only child, just his oldest. After her mother left him when Maddie was only five, Cyrus married another woman and had two kids by her, plus cared for three of the woman’s other children. Madison’s stepmother was even more controlling than her father, and their children were cruel and spoiled as well.
Yet, Cyrus didn’t want it rumored that he’d turned his daughter away when she needed help. He liked his religious persona, so he gave her a room in the attic. But it had barely enough light to help her study, and she was so far from the internet box she could barely get a signal on her laptop.
Cyrus had made it difficult for anyone to even see Madison, because he didn’t want her mother’s ‘people’ in his house. Nikki was the only one allowed in their home, but always had to be preached to.
Madison knew that once her project was accepted and the grant given, her days of living in this place would be over. She’d be able to step out on faith with her lifelong research and be able to do things on her own.
Time was just going very slowly and painfully for her.
Madison pressed her ear against the bathroom door and listened. Water ran and then… she heard Nikki throwing up.
“Are you okay?” she questioned.
“Yeah,” Nikki panted. “I haven’t been eating right.” She came out of the bathroom. “Your final thesis, how’s it going?”
Madison pursed her lips together, not wanting to speak of her project. “It’s fine. The professor believes our samples will come out right this time and the grant will be all ours.”
“Is he just saying that because his tenure is on the line and all the personal money he’s invested in it?”
Shaking her head, Madison said, “No, Nikki, he believes in me. I know it should work this time.”
Nikki sighed. “When are you going to give me more details? It sounds so interesting.”
“Soon. I don’t want to jinx it.” Madison pretended to straighten up her vanity table was very important, but really it was just a way to not look at Nikki.
Nikki was gorgeous. She reminded Madison of the model Iman, tall, dark and elegantly beautiful. She carried herself so regally and exquisite, making men lustful and women jealous. Standing in her shadow most of her life, Madison felt honored to be her friend, yet slightly wary.
As they grew up together, Madison had come to the realization that Nikki wasn’t so smart in books, and perhaps envied Madison’s intellect and fast learning skills. Madison didn’t mind explaining things to Nikki, at first. But then, in high school, Nikki convinced her to let her copy papers or even do them for her.
Madison wasn’t stupid. She knew Nikki needed her, and Madison didn’t want to give up on the relationship. In her mind, she hoped she could learn from Nikki; be brave, confident and courageous.
Nikki interrupted Madison’s pondering. “Let’s hurry up and get me to understand this. I have to meet someone tonight at Club Henry downtown.”
It was true, Madison had to help Nikki with her studies that night. Nikki decided to go after her master’s degree at a private college, while Madison barely got a scholarship to get in at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Once Nikki was gone for the night, Madison stayed up and studied more, updated databases and reports.
She was dedicated to her project, and nothing would get in the way of her accomplishing her goal–nothing!
At five in the morning, her alarm clock woke her from a dead sleep. Somehow, she had ended up face-down in her books. The slobber from her mouth had adhered the paper to her face.
Moving quietly as a mouse through the sleeping home, Madison washed her face and body by the sink. Her stepmother, Anne Hazel Dowell, hated when shower ran any earlier than seven A.M.
Yet, with no car, Madison had to get up early for school. The bus she had to take to get down to the New Center area of Detroit was three blocks away from the house.
It was cold as hell for April that day. A light snow had fallen, despite the fact that it was going into spring. Yet, her father refused to let her wear pants. He said God never wanted a woman to wear pants, so no woman in his household was allowed.
To help her legs not suffer the bitter, brutal wind of Detroit, Madison wore thick, thigh-high stockings. She’d found early on she was allergic to nylons, so thick skirts with thick stockings kept her warm enough, as long as the wind didn’t blow.
With a bottle of water and a toothbrush, Madison never bothered to brush her teeth at home. After taking a piece of dried roll from dinner the previous night out of the refrigerator, Madison hurried out of the house in the cold morning air and made her way down the street.
At the bus stop, she had to keep her senses alive, because the stop was in front of empty duplexes that had been torn apart, and often had wild animals or even vagrants squatting inside. She always tried to time her walk to the bus stop so that she didn’t have to wait long. Although some days she cut it close, and if she missed the bus, it was an hour-and-a-half wait. She’d miss her lab time at school, but would still be on-time for class.
She hated missing lab because it would mean she would have to stay at school longer afterward.
Even as the sun rested on the horizon, it didn’t stop a strong wind from whipping about her, picking up the thick fabric of her skirt and showing her legs to anyone near.
She pushed her skirt down, caught off-guard, and looked around frantically, hoping no one had seen. The only cars parked on the street near her were an Explorer, a bus, and a1970 teal Lincoln Continental in pristine condition.
All of the vehicles seemed to be empty, although the Lincoln had darkened windows, except on the windshield, so she couldn’t be absolutely sure.
The wind blew again, lifting her skirt up and exposing a good amount of her stockinged thighs. This time, she forgot if anyone was around and looked down the street impatiently for the bus.
A door slammed from a home across the street and a young girl ran out of the house and jumped into the passenger side of the Lincoln.
The lights turned on, the engine roared, and a window on the driver’s side slowly rolled down. A dark man wearing a baseball cap and dark hoodie looked her way. He had seen her. He had been watching her!
Embarrassed, Madison looked away, praying the bus would come.
Thankfully, the huge city bus pulled in front of her and she quickly got on. Sitting on the side where she could see the Lincoln, she saw the driver again…
He took off his sunglasses and looked at her.
He had a thin goatee, clear chocolate skin, and sensual lips that curled into a wicked smile.
The bus drove off, but their eyes stayed connected through her window until she couldn’t see him anymore.
That lustful look in his eyes… It had made her feel…beautiful.