Lead Me Gently Home

Chapter 11
"Phenomenal Man"

(From Danisha's Journals)

"You youngsters did a wonderful job. You all should be so proud of yourselves."

Those words of praise came from Perle Darcey as she greeted several student performers. "This is what it is all about: People able to come together like this. Look around this table..." Aunt Perle paused to look around the school lunchroom, which, for this occasion, was converted into a festive reception hall, then she said with a confident air, "All of us, of different colors and walks of life, are able to sit, eat, and fellowship together, just like this."
She, of course, was referring to our table, or, what Fern called our "Rainbow Coaltion" Seated around were Fern and Kyle; Jacki and Tony; Arletta and her daughters; and, Claude Frollo and me.
"We are like a family", Aunt Perle said to the students. "Don't ever forget the lessons that came out of that performance: That anything is possible once you set your mind to it, and noone or nothing can stop you."

I introduced Claude to Rodney Arnold, the talented senior who literally brought down the house with his stirring rendition of "Steal Away". Claude paid Rodney the utmost compliments, while Arletta and I joked about "wishing we were kids again" -- We always said Rodney looked like a very young Denzel Washington.
How ironic, that, nearly three weeks later, Rodney would play a key role in saving my life.
...Claude was so grateful...so thankful that Rodney and his friend just happened along...as though they were called...I almost died...It was right after Claude found me...and we made up...I'll never forget those kids when life threatened to leave me a second time...


The conversation was as delicious as the food and drink. Claude praised the parents for their "tireless, and selfless, efforts". He loftily praised "M. McCloud" - Larry was quite taken with Claude's "refreshingly gallant manner" - on a splendid performance; and, "Instilling the young people with the proper values. From what I have witnessed so far, it is only more evident that your leadership has made a difference."
I kept watching Claude, as he mingled with students, faculty members, and guests. Everyone seemed so impressed with "Danisha's friend"; several students kept asking me, "Is he your boyfriend, Ms. Wood?" No way was I answering that question, at least, not in public. Instead, I endeavored to keep a straight face, and held everyone at bay with, "He's a special friend, that's all."

I guess it's another facet that Claude seldoms reveals...He's so relaxed today...So calm...so cool...He probably needed this...A chance to get away from all the pressures...Maybe that's what I needed...A chance to get out from under... ...No one...Not even a thug like BC can ruin this day...Glad that fool didn't show up...He would've ruined everything...


When Claude took his place beside me at our table, he continued to heap accolades, and the kids took it all in. He had many kind words for Tamara and her class. He was especially taken with Marcus. "Such a bright and talented little lad", Claude smilingly said to Marcus.
Marcus beamed at this compliment, replying, "Thank you, Your Grace." I taught the kids to address Claude as such, and he was pleased I took the time to, "Instruct the little ones in proper ettiquette."
Claude then favorably commented on Kenya's solo, a sweet interpretation of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing". I believe it was Aunt Perle who commented to Claude, after Kenya's performance, "She may very well become the next Leontyne Price." When I informed Claude of "Madame Price's" identity, he was even more taken with Kenya's budding talent.
"You, my dear, have the sweetest voice. Such a lovely soprano", he told her as they shared a cookie.
Kenya, who I still believed nursed a potent crush on this man, shyly smiled at him, saying, "I was nervous, Your Honor, but when Nisha told me you were in the audience, I wasn't scared anymore." Claude Frollo raised an eyebrow as he glanced at me; a sly smile spread across his handsome face.

"Ah, so she did."

I felt somewhat embarassed as Claude, in his lofty style, continued to praise the entire program. Then he aimed his compliments at me. "I can tell you in all honesty, my dear", he said between sips of his punch, "that I have never experienced such moving music. And that powerful poetry!"
I felt myself blush, because I knew he was referring to my reading of Maya Angelou's Phenomenal Woman. Claude silently laughed when he said, "Yes, my dearest, you certainly are phenomenal.!"
He then made a curious face as he examined the contents of his punch cup. "Unusual libation. I recognize the cucumber, but what else...?"
"Ginger ale", I replied.
When I offered to get him something different, he refused, saying, "My dear, sweet Nisha, I have truly enjoyed everything: the performance, the food, the company. However, I would like to..."
He leaned over to whisper something in my ear when a couple of students approached me from the side.

"Ms. Wood? Do you have a key to the music room? Derrick left his coat in there." This was Marzie, another talented music student, who was also in my sixth period U.S. History class. She was a gifted violinist, vocalist, and one of the nicest youngsters in the building.
How do these kids do it? So much in their lives...so much time to devote to school, work, family...These kids are phenomenal...

"Claude? May I desert you for a moment?" Claude, who was conversing with Jacki and Tony, turned to me, and playfully replied, "Don't be too long, my dear."

Just like that odd encounter in Notre Dame that summer, Claude sported a slight smile, and gave me a quick wink. I leaned over to him, and quietly said, "Sugarbritches, as soon as I take care of these youngsters, we're going home - Then, I'll take care of you." His unspoken reaction must've been that noticeable, for Fern quickly asked me, "What was that all about?"

I just looked at Fern, grinned, and replied, "You know exactly what I'm talkin' about."


Thank God my keys fit these locks...or else poor Derrick's gonna have to shiver...

"Thanks, Ms. Wood", Derrick said, as he put on his coat. "You always come through for us."

I always come through...for these kids, for Claude, for my family...It's that 'sense of duty'...do what's right and...

"Ms. Wood? Is that man your boyfriend?"
I looked at Derrick, an almost dead-ringer for Gary Coleman with his butterscotch complexion, the chipmunk cheeks, and full lips. Derrick, to my mind, was one of the most naturally attractive boys in the building - and one on the sweetest.
"Derrick, I explained to everyone out there that Judge Frollo is a special friend. He arrived in town, just to attend this program." I tried not to look so exasperated, but I had to reiterate, "He and I are very close friends, that's all."
"OK, Ms. Wood, but", asked Derrick, "when are you coming back? We miss you, and it's not the same around here without you."

These kids are too much...They must love me that much..Or else they wouldn't say these things...

I sat down at the piano, lifted the lid, and began playing. I don't know why I did that, but I felt the music was a perfect outlet; reality was hitting hard, and I needed a release.
"Derrick, I seldom tell my students my personal business, but for you and Marzie, I'll make an exception."
I told them only so much: the fatigue, the backaches, the headaches. "I go to the doctor the first week next month; that's all I can tell you. If everything checks out, I'll be back before spring break."
Marzie hugged me as I continued to play piano. I wanted to cry, but resisted. Have to remain strong..even in the face of adversity...

For some odd reason, the kids and I began to sing a few bars of "Lean On Me". In a way, I felt the song appropriate, since I was going through this dark period in my life, and I was not alone. For today, I was surrounded by people who loved me, and cared for me. Singing those lyrics, and being with these kids, made me realize that I couldn't let someone like BC Bell rattle me. No way!
I was finally coming clean about everything: my health, and my ex-boyfriend. I also resolved to tell my parents about Claude, and didn't care what Daddy would say. It was my life; and, for once, I had to stop trying to gain my father's approval. I was no longer a little girl.

Lean on me
When you're not strong
And I'll be your strength
I'll help you carry on
For, it won't be long
Till I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

I felt almost at peace with myself; I truly felt like the "phenomenal woman".

I was still playing piano, still singing with the kids, when we heard a deep, smooth voice in the doorway. "I hope I'm not disturbing this..er..private performance, but my dear Danisha, it is rather late."
Marzie and Derrick greeted Claude as he entered the room. Ever the gentleman, Claude was thoroughly polite and charming to these youngsters.
"I am extremely impressed by your talents and achievements. Tell me", he then asked Marzie, "was that your lovely voice I heard?"
"Yes, sir. I'm a voice student, just like Rodney."
Claude smiled at her. "Your vocal quality is near that of Mlle. Wood."

I abruptly stopped playing, and tried to hide my blushing face; I said nothing.
Derrick sensed my tension, then turned to Claude, and innocently asked, "Are you a real judge? I mean can you put people in jail?" Claude emitted a deep chuckle then replied, "My boy, only when they have broken the law."
Marzie sensed that Claude and I wanted to be alone, so she tugged at Derrick's arm, saying, "Thank you, Ms. Wood, for everything." Then she said to Derrick, Come on, Derrick, I'm your only way home - Unless you wanna take the bus."
She then winked at him; Derrick looked at her, then to Claude and me. It didn't take long for it all to sink in.

"Oh yeah, uh..." Derrick shook Claude's hand, and said, "Nice meeting you, sir. Bye, Ms. Wood."
"Good bye, Derrick."
"Uh...Ms. Wood?"
"Good bye, Derrick."
"But, I just wanna know one thing..."
Marzie pulled Derrick by the collar. "Let's go, boy! Can't you see that...Uh...Goodbye, Ms. Wood. Goodbye, Your Honor."

Claude and I endeavored to keep from laughing out loud, but it was of no use. As soon as the kids left, we broke down at once.
I began playing again, then told Claude, "Sugarbritches, everyone's been asking me, 'Is he your boyfriend?' It was gettin' mighty hard to keep folks at bay with 'He's just a friend'."

Claude's deep laughter reverberated as he confessed, "My dear, I've received the same treatment all afternoon." He then sat down beside me on the bench.
I played soft music while we conversed in private. Thank goodness Marzie had the good sense to close the door; Claude and I were able to enjoy a few minutes of peace.

That is, before all hell broke loose...

"Claude?", I began while playing something - I think I played "You've Got A Friend" - it seemed to fit the current mood. Claude caressed my shoulders and gently kissed my cheek. "Honey, I've had a lot on my mind lately, and I want to..."
Claude interrupted me with a kiss.
"Danisha, it is late, and I am rather weary. However, since we are quite alone, there are a few things I need to say to you."
"Claude, I need to unburden myself as well."

A half-lit room, soft music, a quiet heart-to-heart talk, a few laughs...
It was supposed to make everything all right...But things started happening...Events that seemed lifted right out of that dream...

Our solid foundation began to crumble, and at a time when I needed a "phenomenal" man such as Claude Frollo to stand by me.


Copyright, FrolloFreak FSM #14, 1998.

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