Sherryn adjusted the rear view mirror and inched forward, desperate to escape the unrelenting questions.
Justin stared out of the side window, but that didn't fool Sherryn. He was too still not to be listening.
"Can I get a minute to focus on the road?" Sherryn snapped.
As if Sherryn wasn't already under pressure, Celia stuck a finger in the book she was reading and edged forward.
Sherryn cupped Celia's cheek for a second, making a mental note to take her back to the hairdresser they found recently, who specialized in natural styles. Celia had tamed her crop of spiral twists into two thick plaits that were now fuzzy.
She spoke into Sherryn's ear, "I can see he's related to us, but I can't figure out how, since Daddy doesn't have any family."
"He does have a cousin somewhere or other," Sheryn said, embarrassed by her cowardice. All her delaying tactics were a waste of time and effort, because the truth was bound to come out.
Another peek in the mirror at her eldest child worried her. If she didn't know better, she'd think Justin disapproved of what she was doing. He resembled his father even more when he was being stubborn.
Anxiety tightened her chest and for a nanosecond Sherryn sympathized with Reece. He'd have the devil of a time explaining Maurice to their firstborn, and she wouldn't escape either, for like Brandon, Justin needed an explanation for everything.
Justin, as their first child, used to act as if he owned his parents, but his attitude changed as his siblings were born. He was their natural leader and used his authority to keep them in line, but more often he horsed around with them, particularly Melly to whom he was closest. The affection among her children was something that made Sherryn proud. Glancing at Justin again, she glimpsed the formidable man lying beneath the surface. He'd confront her when she least expected it. He was like his father that way.
He surprised her when he spoke. "Give Mommy a break, man. Remember what happen' yesterday with the police?"
Melly and Celia grumbled, but went back to their activities and left Sherryn to her driving.
Justin was the last drop-off, as usual. When he stood outside the van, he slung his knapsack over one shoulder, slid the door closed and said, "Hold on, Mommy."
He walked around the front of the vehicle and stood beside the driver's window.
"I know," he said.
She tried smiling. "What d'you think you know, Justin?"
"That boy is Daddy's son."
He moved the knapsack to his other shoulder. "He looks too much like us not to be. Plus, both of you are acting weird, which tells me something big is up."
Sherryn gripped the wheel and waited for her throat to open up, but what could she say? She couldn't deny the truth, and refused to lie to her son. Not that he'd asked a question. Justin had made a simple statement of fact.
He hugged her around the neck and kissed her cheek, right there in the driveway with students passing them both ways. Then, he murmured something in her ear that he hadn't told her in a long time. "I love you, Mommy."
Tears stung her eyes and wet her cheeks, but she answered. "I love you too, baby."
She lowered her head, ashamed of breaking down in front of him.
Smiling despite the sorrow in his eyes, Justin patted her shoulder. "Things'll work out. You'll see."
She cupped the side of his face, blinking to clear her vision. "Thanks for being my bestest son."
He grinned at their oldest, corniest joke from when he was her only child. "And you're still the bestest Mommy in the whole of Jamaica."
He walked away, reminding her so much of Reece it hurt to look at him. Justin liked to consider himself a roughneck, which made him cool among his friends, but Sherryn was acutely aware that the little boy in their home had experienced the harshness of life firsthand, having lived in the ghetto.
Justin knew nothing of that life and probably couldn't imagine the hardships that came with living hand-to-mouth. Still, his attitude told her he had matured and would someday be a considerate and sensitive man.
She rested her head on her hands, working out her next move. It didn't take long before she found a stopgap that would clear her mind for a while.