Though she loves her sisters dearly, Reina Daniels-Spencer often regrets not moving away after college. The four Daniels sisters have been together nearly all their lives. Each, in turn, attended nearby private Beckford College and returned home, always managing to find adequate employment. Brody Daniels loved having his daughters close. But it was oldest sister, Sophia, who was the driving force on keeping the family together. It was her staunch belief that nothing could hurt them as long as they were together.
And Reina resented her for it.
A natural free spirit, Reina Daniels was the most like their mother, Isabella. Where Sophia was tall, thin, and fair like their father, Reina was shorter with smooth mocha skin. The future fullness of her body was telling even as a child. She was the spitting image of Isabella. And while preparing meals and doing housework, it was Reina who sang along with Isabella. They would sit together in the evenings browsing magazines and admiring celebrities at red carpet affairs. Reina would even pass up outside playtime with the other neighborhood children, choosing to follow Isabella to choir practice instead.
Reina loved her mother’s voice. It was the most beautiful sound in the world to her ears. It never mattered to Reina how long choir practice lasted, or how many times they went over the same song. Hearing her mother’s strong contralto voice dip down into the earthy huskiness of a torch singer, Reina was entranced. She isn’t surprised when one of Isabella’s choir members tells her about his cousin who’s looking for backup singers. Reina is as excited as her mom about Isabella getting the chance to become a “professional.”
But Reina isn’t prepared for the arguments that become a daily ritual between her parents. She doesn’t understand her mother’s extended absences or her father’s sullen attitude. Reina misses singing with Isabella and chatting about music, fashion, and celebrities. And she totally caught off guard arriving home from school one afternoon with younger sisters Liana and Neema to find Sophia already home. Sitting at the kitchen table with a dejected-looking Brody, her older sister told her simply their mother had chosen a career over her family. Reina could tell from Sophia’s hard-set jaw and empty eyes how angry she was. Brody had walked out of the kitchen. Sophia began moving around the kitchen, attempting to make a snack for her sisters ending all discussion about Isabella Marchand-Daniels.
Where Sophia seemed to blot out all memory of their mother, Reina was the daughter who wanted to seek her out and demand answers. For years, Reina dreamed of seeing Isabella again. Their mother never tried to contact them or come and see them. Isabella was not a subject to broach with Brody, so Reina suffered in silence. She knew Isabella’s leaving affected her sisters just as much, but it would be nearly a decade later before Brody’s girls had an open, honest conversation about their mother.
Young Reina began acting out in school and temporarily went from an honor roll student to a frequent visitor to the principal’s office. A thoughtful, caring educator, Sanita Virgil made every effort to connect with Reina and get her back on track, to no avail. It was a fateful meeting in Sanita’s office that included her father which finally got through to Reina. Seeing the same pain and disappointment in his eyes she’d seen there when her mother left, broke Reina’s heart. She couldn’t bear seeing him hurt more and turned her behavior around immediately. Reina not only regained her honor roll status, she became a standout. Her success in academics led to enough scholarships to pay for all of Reina’s college education.
Reina loved her time at Beckford College and her first taste of true freedom. She passed her business class easily, but it was her art and European classes which left Reina breathless. Openly daydreaming about traveling to such far away, exotic places led Reina to plan for her time off after graduation. She wanted to stand atop the Eiffel Tower, gaze down into the Thames, and see Stonehenge for herself and not in pictures.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Fully intending to at last tell her father and sisters about her plans during spring break her senior year, Reina instead received a surprise of her own. Sophia informed her a mother of one of her students was a job recruiter and had two positions to fill in Granger. Reina could have her choice of either position but would have to start as early as three days after graduation.
Reina was devastated. Feigning excitement, she went along with Sophia’s plans, and never spoke up about her European getaway. This was in part because she had also found out baby sister, Neema, was being held back in school and would have to repeat her senior year due to “emotional” problems. Consumed with guilt, Reina blamed herself. She and Neema had always been close. Her little sister preferring her easy-going, loving attitude to Sophia’s rigid control.
Neema had been nearly as hurt by Isabella’s leaving as Reina. But not being as vocal, Reina could sense when the timid child was holding in too much and needed to talk in their special place…behind a rose bush in the back yard.
When Reina began college, she didn’t come home as often as she could have. She quickly took to college life. Reina also did not call home often, knowing her sisters would push until she agreed to come home the next weekend. In a sense, Reina felt she had abandoned Neema quite like Isabella had left them – only Neema knew where Reina was, what she was doing, and that she was coming back.
Choosing one of the positions offered to her, Reina became manager of operations at Perry Talbot Memorial Hospital. She pushed her dreams of travel to the back of her mind and spent every free minute she had with Neema.
It was during one of Neema’s civic volunteer events when Reina met Gerard Spencer, a senior detective in the Granger Police Department. All thoughts of travel quickly left Reina. Equally smitten with each other, the young couple would marry just over a year later. They would spend twenty-one years building a life and family together…before everything changed.
Before Reina’s world fell apart.
Before Isabella Marchand-Daniels returned to Granger.