"May I speak with Baldwin Sparks please?" the caller asked.
"This is she," I volunteered, still trying to figure out why the voice sounded familiar, yet I couldn't quite place it.
"Baldwin! It's me, girl. Bria," the caller literally screamed into the phone. "How have you been?"
"Uh, fine," I murmured, still in shock over hearing a voice from my past. At one point in my life, Bria and I were as close as sisters, maybe even closer. The fantasy world of college ended all too soon and we were quickly swept up in the reality of real life and careers and bills, separated from one another in our quest for greatness. Bria stayed in North Carolina and I moved back to Georgia.
"Girl, is that all you can say after all these years?" she laughed. It was still that high-pitched, bubbly squeal I remembered so vividly. Bria and I had shared many late nights, into the early morning giggling sessions, doubled over, laughing so hard our stomachs ached as we clutched them.
"I guess you caught me by surprise, that's all. I haven't talked to you and the rest of The Group in like, forever."
"Tell me about it; that's a damn shame, too," she stated with a hint of sadness that clung to her voice. We all lost contact with one another, slowly but surely, simply drifted apart. Yet we were close; almost like a small dysfunctional family. If the walls could talk."
She laughed lightly at her own joke.
I remained silent as memories flooded my mind, mostly happy. The others, I chose to ignore because I couldn't bear them.
"Listen, hopefully we can reminisce later. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I'm calling with bad news," Bria sighed. "I hate to be the one to share this."
"Share what? What is it?" I asked cautiously, bracing myself.
She sighed again, not ready to be the bearer of bad news.
I held my breath, hoped for the best and braced for the worse.
"Rihanna passed away Wednesday."
I gasped. "What? No! What happened?" I questioned, finally dropping my soft leather tan briefcase on the floor and releasing my purse near the sofa and heavily sitting down because my feet could no longer support me.
"Rihanna had terminal breast cancer; had been battling it for two years. I heard she put up one hell of a fight, too."
"I didn't know," I said in a near whisper. "I never knew," I whispered as tears threatened to spill from my eyes.
"None of us did. I spoke with Christopher and Brenden yesterday. I had a harder time finding you during my Internet search, so I couldn't reach you until today."
At the mention of Brenden's name, my mouth went dry like I had stuffed cotton into it and my heartbeat sped up. Suddenly, I felt lightheaded and thought for a second I was going to pass out. I leaned back against my sofa. I wrongly assumed after all these years I had finally gotten him out of my system. For good.
"Are you there?" Bria asked. "Baldwin?"
"Yes. I'm here," I somehow managed to murmur.
"I spoke with them after Rihanna's mother called me."
"Her mom called you? Mrs. Brown?"
"Um huh. She confessed Rihanna knew she may not make it and she left us in her will."
"Us?" I inquired.
"You, me, Christopher and Brenden."
Again, I felt the frantic flutters as I gripped the receiver tighter and closed my eyes to stop the stars that danced merrily before them.
"Oh my God!"
"I know, girl. It's surreal isn't it?"
"Yeah, to put it mildly. What else did Mrs. Brown say?" I asked.[kd1]
"Well, the funeral is Wednesday afternoon. Rihanna's mom would like for us to attend and stay through Friday for the reading of the last will and testament."
"Are you serious?" I asked.
"Very. Mrs. Brown has extended Rihanna's home as a place for us to stay; said Rihanna would want it that way. Everyone else has agreed to come to pay their last respects; you're the last to confirm."
I hesitated for only a brief second because I clearly recalled numerous times when Rihanna had been there for me in moments of need. There had been only one time when she wasn't. I had to say my goodbyes.
"Okay," I said, trying to clear my head and make sense of the emotions I was experiencing.
"Can you get here by Tuesday? I can pick you up at Raleigh-Durham airport."
"Sure, I guess. That shouldn't be a problem. Give me your cell number and I'll call you back with my flight info and itinerary as soon as I finalize them."
"Sounds good. Baldwin, I can't wait to see you. I hate it's under these circumstances, but it really has been too long. Believe it or not, regardless of my actions or inactions, I've missed you. Missed all you guys. It's going to be so strange being together as a group again, especially without Rihanna, our very own mother hen as we used to call her. Remember that?"
I laughed. "Yeah, I do. How could I forget how she was always cooking, fussing over us and worrying like a mother hen keeping her chicks in line?"
I smiled faintly at the recollection. I had other not so good ones that threatened to burst loose, but I quickly pushed them back into the deep corners of my mind because I wasn’t ready to recall those. Not yet.
A few minutes later I hung up the phone with a sense of trepidation, sadness and excitement all rolled into one. What had I gotten myself into to? As I reclined on the sofa, I couldn't seem to get my emotions in check. They were all over the place. One minute I felt like crying over the hand life had dealt Rihanna and seconds later I giggled out loud at some of the memories I recalled.
I hadn't set foot in North Carolina in over ten years nor had I set eyes on him in just as long. When I proudly walked across the stage on graduation day and firmly shook the president's hand, I was determined to put North Carolina and Brenden behind me. Up until now, I had succeeded, but it looked like that was all about to change.