The Color of Trouble
||This book won the coveted Emma Award in 2004
Voices drifted to her from behind the thick oak door. Kari straightened, the little hairs on the back of her
neck standing at attention. She could feel a tremor of electricity shoot throughout her body, leaving her
with a feeling of dread.
Her hand paused in midair, ready to insert the key. Kari took a long look at the heavily laden pecan
trees bordering the right side of her rented house. She swung her gaze to the left and stared at the
black walnut tree. An involuntary shiver passed through her as she wondered if she would ever get the
chance to gather the harvest.
Her glance fell on the wayward nuts lying on the wraparound porch. Resisting the urge to walk the
length of the porch and pick them up, thus postponing what waited for her inside, she remained rooted in
front of the door. The unnamed fear was building within her.
The voices became louder and the unmistakable thick drawl of a woman overrode every emotion that
Kari was feeling. Seeming to watch her own actions in slow motion,
she slid the metal key into the lock and turned it, gaining entrance. “Jon.” She called his name
softly, something telling her to warn him that she was home.
Two steps into the kitchen, the scent of the woman hit her nostrils before her eyes found them.
The blonde clung to Jon, her lips pasted on his, her hands grabbing his buttocks, clawing at his clothes.
The bags of groceries slid from Kari’s hands and the contents nosily spilled out onto the floor. Her gaze
slid to the array of foods littering the just washed linoleum.
Kari watched the broken eggs pool into a gooey mess. She needed to watch, aware that when her eyes
found Jon her world would never be the same.
When she heard the alarm in his voice, dread filled her heart. She closed her eyes, forcing the tears
back, picturing the laden trees outside. Stupid. Her life was falling apart and absurdly enough she was
mourning the inevitable loss of the trees.
She watched as Jon disentangled himself from the woman’s arms and legs. She could see the panic in
his face. Panic at being caught.
“Kari,” he said “this is not what it looks like.” He took three steps toward her and stopped. “Kari,” he
called her name more softly, “look at me.” But she couldn’t. Her gaze was now locked on the woman.
Mute, Kari watched the smiling woman turn toward her. She could feel the tightness in the pit of her
stomach, where her stress always started. Her limbs were flaccid. She prayed that she wouldn’t fall.
Red lacquered nails disappeared for a moment inside the woman’s jacket pocket. For an instant Kari
thought the woman was reaching for a gun. In fact, she was hoping that she was. That’s it, a gun. Kari
wanted the woman to produce a gun, pull the trigger and kill her, put her out of her misery.
Instead she shoved a large brownish envelope toward her. If possible, the woman’s cruel smile became
even more vicious, filled with the same hatred that Kari had endured since falling in love with Jon.
Trembling, she reached for the envelope. Then suddenly she realized she was holding her breath, she
gulped in fresh air as though she were drowning. And in a way she was.
She looked at Jon and felt confused as he stepped toward the woman who less than a minute before he
had been embracing. His muscles tensed beneath his shirt and he appeared angry. That confused her
even more. Why should he be angry?
Then Jonathan turned toward her. She couldn’t believe it, but she saw fear in his eyes. Perhaps the
glistening of tears, though she couldn’t be sure, because she was looking at him through the haze of her
“Kari don’t! Don’t look in the envelope. Let me explain.”
He dared a small step toward her and she took a step back.
“Did you really think Jon was going to be satisfied with dark chocolate when he could have me?
Correction. After he’s had me?” the woman mocked her. “What’s wrong, Jon? Don’t you think it’s time
you told her that you’ve only been using her?” With a toss of her head, blonde curls bounced around
her shoulder. “You never wanted a ni--”
“Don’t you dare, Sharon.”
Sharon. Kari allowed the name to sink in. How it was possible she hadn’t known? Having a name to go
with the face made the situation even more surreal.
“Tell her the truth, Jon. You’d never marry her.” Sharon turned to smirk at Kari. “Think about it, Kari,
you’re not a stupid woman. It’s been three years. If Jonathan wanted to marry you, he could have done
it already. Which of us do you think his parents approve of, you or me?”
“Shut the hell up, Sharon,” Jon hissed. “You’re lying.
“Jon, unless she’s stupid, she’ll know I’m telling her the truth. We’re lovers, the pictures speak for
themselves. If you’re going to be ashamed for sleeping with anyone it should be the nig--”
Kari stared at the woman whose name she now knew was Sharon. She wondered if the woman thought
calling her that name was going to make her break down. If so, she’d be disappointed. Kari had heard
that name too many times. She blinked and looked at Jon, determined to hide her hurt.
“Kari, it’s going to be okay. I promise, just give me a minute to explain.” Jon felt panic. Kari appeared
ready to fall any moment. He had to get Sharon out of the house. If she said another mean thing to Kari
he would not be responsible for his actions. Teeth clenched, he stood between the two women. One
he wanted to strangle, the other he wanted to embrace. He could only pray that Kari would believe her
heart, not what she’d seen with her own eyes. In one easy stride he grabbed Sharon’s arm and
propelled her out of the room and toward the front door.
“If you want to know the truth, Kari, look at the pictures, all of them.” Sharon flung the words over her
shoulder at the same time the door closed in her face.
Jon cringed. He needed a chance to explain. He hurried back into the kitchen. Kari would open the
pictures. Any woman would. Too late.
Kari’s hand shook slightly as her fingers grasped a glossy photograph and pulled it out and stared at it
in shock. Barechested, Jon nuzzled the woman’s neck. His hard muscles were cradling her as they had
cradled Kari. Sharon’s flimsy red silk negligee left no doubt as to the couple’s intent, not with the right
strap over her elbow and Jon’s lips buried in her soft flesh. The photo left no doubt in Kari’s mind.
Spasm after spasm racked her body. She felt like a windup toy as she stood shaking uncontrollably, her
eyes filling with tears as she watched Jon approach her.
“Get out.” Despite herself, her voice trembled slightly and she fought for something to hold onto,
As Kari stared into Jon’s glacier blue eyes, she willed ice to form around her heart. She had to shut
him out. She could no longer allow herself to love him.
“Please, Jon, don’t.”
“Kari...” He took another step toward her.
Ignoring her he closed the distance and pulled her into his arms, crooning softly. For a moment she
allowed herself to settle there, needing his embrace one last time. Closing her eyes, Kari felt an
involuntary shudder rip through her and she moaned softly. Jon’s hands moved over her, tentatively at
first then bolder as only a lover’s would do, gently caressing her skin.
Though her head was burrowed in his chest, her arms still hung limply at her sides. She sucked in air. It
was then that the thick musty odor assaulted her nostrils. She gagged and pushed him away, flooded
with shame. How could she possibly feel anything for him after all that had happened? “It’s over Jon.”
“Don’t,” he began, “Sharon means nothing to me. She was a job, nothing more. I can explain the
The picture... She discovered she was still holding it. She could feel the bones in her spine stiffening as
she held it up. “I can see, I don’t need an explanation.
Sudden exhaustion pulled at her ebbing strength. If Jon didn’t leave soon she might weaken and forgive
him for all the lies and hurts. She might forgive him for the three years of her life she had spent loving
“Jon, either you leave or I will. I’ll go and stay with Jackie.” She stood still and watched him, fighting with
her heart for control of her life. She was glad she had not gotten around to telling him that, Jackie had
moved to Chicago. He wouldn’t want her to be alone, he’d worry about her. Oh God, she thought, that
was before, he doesn’t care. It’s over. What will I do without him? She almost moaned aloud as she
imagined her life without him.
“Kari.” His voice was ragged, filled with the pain of having hurt her. He couldn’t stand the way she was
looking at him. What a fool he had been. He had known he would eventually have to explain the
Kari flung the picture toward him and for one brief moment he felt relief. That picture he could explain.
Now if he could persuade Kari to give him the envelope without looking at the rest of the pictures, they
would get through this.
Enduring her glare, he said, “I posed for that picture. We needed the money.”
“What’s new about our needing money?” she screamed at him. “We’ve always needed money, Jon.”
Her eyes went to the envelope in her hand. She was afraid to look at the other photos, afraid of what she’
d see. “You should have told me, we could have doubled our income, we could have both posed.” She
closed her eyes tightly, wanting to hit him, wanting to rip him apart, hurt him as he was hurting her.
“Kari, I didn’t have an affair with her.”
Kari nodded at the photo on the floor. “Pictures don’t lie.”
“Kari, Sharon set me up. She pretended she wanted to help me. She came up to me on campus one
day and asked if I was a model. I told her no, but she said if I ever wanted to make money, she could get
me some modeling jobs.”
“And how exactly was that setting you up?”
“That wasn’t what she wanted.”
“What was it that she wanted, Jon?”
“She wanted me, at least that’s what I thought at first.” He clenched his hands, then unclenched them,
cursing his own stupidity. “When I started posing for the pictures, she began coming on to me. At first I
didn’t think much of it. I might have been a little flattered, but that’s all. I told her about you, that I loved
you, that we were getting married. I even told her that we were going to have a baby.”
He heard Kari’s moan, low and guttural, filled with pain. “Kari, give me the envelope, okay.”
“Then let me explain, please.”
“Just tell me this, Jon, if you’re not in love with her, why do the things she said make so much sense?
Everyone knows how your mother feels about me. Is Sharon right, Jon? Was I crazy to think that you
loved me, that you wanted to marry me? She has a point, it’s been three years.”
“Kari, how can you believe any of this?”
“Because you didn’t tell me. If what you say is true, why didn’t you tell me?” She was unable to prevent
a tiny moan from slipping out. “Why didn’t you tell me? And why did I come home and find her in your
He didn’t want to tell her; he would give anything if there were a way out of this mess he’d created. His
face twisted in agony and he bit his lips. “Will you hear me out?” She didn’t answer; he’d not expected
that she would.
“Sharon has been attempting to blackmail me. At first I didn’t take it seriously. I thought she’d eventually
give up and go away. And for awhile it did seem like I’d gotten rid of her, that she’d finally understood
that I would never leave you. Then...
“She threatened to go to the police and tell them I’d raped her. She said she could prove it was me,
that unless I left you, she’d do it.”
“Jon, none of this is making any sense. How would she have proof unless it were true?”
“You don’t believe that.”
“There were a lot of things I didn’t believe before; maybe the things I did believe weren’t true. I’ll ask you
again, why would she say she can prove it, Jon?”
He tried to answer her, he really did, but his mouth refused to work. All he wanted was for her to hand
him the rest of the pictures. What she’d looked at so far was bad, but she could get over it. If she saw
that one where he-- Where Sharon-- In his heart, he knew that picture end everything.
From the first time he’d posed he had known there was more to it, had felt a wrongness in every fiber of
his being. But by then he had been determined to do whatever it took to give Kari some of the things
“Are you a rapist, Jon?” She was staring at him, listening to the words that were coming out of her
mouth, knowing that without a doubt she’d prefer that he was a rapist. She’d prefer to believe anything
other than what she knew to be true: He didn’t love her.
She looked at the picture, her mother’s voice in her head. “I saw Jon in the park, with some white girl,
Kari. He was kissing her.”
Kari felt the tears coming. God, she didn’t want to cry in front of him. She wanted to hurt him, so she
asked again. “Are you a rapist, Jon?”
Sharon had been using the pictures to try to blackmail him for weeks. But this, Kari believing him to be a
rapist, it was insane.
“Kari, you know that’s not true.” He reached out for her but was stopped by the look of revulsion on her
face. “How could you possibly think that? You’ve lived with me for three years, you’ve loved
“That’s the key thing, isn’t it? Loved, past tense. I loved you, Jon. Not anymore.”
His voice was thick with pain. “I can explain about the pictures, but this...this.” He waved his hands
expansively. “This is crazy and you know it.”
“Why? Because you say it is?” She tilted her chin upward, waiting for an answer. “Is it also crazy that I
walk into our home and find you in the arms of another woman?”
For months Jon’s whereabouts had been something of a mystery, with him refusing to give her even the
tiniest hint of what he was doing. Now she knew why.
“You have to listen to me.” He attempted to bridge the gap between them by moving closer but stopped
as she moved away.
“Sharon heard you come in the door,” he continued. “So did I. It all happened so fast. She threw
herself into my arms, then you were here. Watching. She staged the whole thing. She came here with
Kari’s gaze fell on the envelope still clutched in her hand, felt the bulky weight of the remaining contents.
“Don’t look at the others,” Jon pleaded with her.
“Why? They can’t possibly be more telling.”
He took a deep breath. “Sharon was threatening to show them to you, to convince you that we were
having an affair.”
His voice sounded desperate even to his own ears. He knew what was on the pictures. If the situation
were reversed, he didn’t know if he would believe what had really happened.
Jon took another step toward Kari and hesitated. He felt tiny pinpricks niggling at his scalp, a sure sign
that he was about to lose his temper.
Everything that he had done, he had done for the two of them. Now the one person that he thought
would always be there for him was throwing him out.