Requiem for a Murdered Poet

In the end, Lorrie Tennant's words and deeds overshadow her shocking death.
Valerie Sebring

Hall Pass was Lorrie Tennant's last poem. She read it aloud on the night of August 25 at Hollywood's Ginger Bay Cafe, one of a string of venues in South Florida that hosts a weekly open-mic poetry event. Memories vary about Tennant's delivery that night, but the poem itself has been etched into people minds. Everyone will remember Hall Pass forever, fellow poet Aisha Medina says.

Written under Tennant's nom de plume, Elle, Hall Pass was about her 3-year-old son, Keion, a few years away from the regimentation of public school education but close enough for his mom to fret over its looming influence on his innocent life.

DAMN IT! He's too young for a hall pass

This public school system can kiss my over-protective ass

I'm gonna go take him back!

Where's my Ninja outfit?

A mother's unconditional love streaks the poem like a hand softly brushing her son's forehead -- the son who, as it turns out, will grow up with his mom's wispy memory just a fading photo filed somewhere in the back of his mind.

The one I can hear coming a mile away

But I still act surprised

The one whose kisses cure all adult woes

Whose tiredness gives me strength to carry him

Who remembers the commercial for Sunny Delight

And uses it as purchasing argument

"Mommy, it's got vitamins AND minerals"

But, even though he's old enough to give me cynical looks and sass

I tell you, he's too young for a hall pass

Applause and cheers rained as Tennant took her seat. The poem's theme was customary turf for Tennant and the crowd, her disarming humor popular and well-worn. With her were friends Will Bell and Dwayne Nelson. "The majority of her poetry was about the kids," Bell says, "about them growing up without a father but her still wanting to keep a father image in their lives."

That night at the restaurant, while watching Tennant furiously typing words into her laptop, fellow poet Bell couldn't help again being astounded by her dedication. "I was thinking, 'This is one of the best friends I have ever had.' She gave me so much -- like a $10,000 website, including maintenance that she keeps up -- and I think I paid that girl every bit of $250 and a dinner! I owe her big time, and that night when I was watching her do her thing at the table, I realized what a good friend she was. I should have told her."

The three stayed through the rest of the open-mic show until Ginger Bay closed around 1:30 a.m. Tennant, Bell, Nelson, and another friend walked through the near-empty downtown Hollywood streets to where Bell's truck was parked. "When she turned to go, I hugged her," Bell remembers. "She gave me this hug, and she didn't walk off -- she floated off, across the street. With the smile of an angel."

Then Nelson drove her to her house just off Sheridan Street in Hollywood, where, unknown to her friends, Tennant's murderer waited.

It's hard to silence a poet, especially a def poet with a mic in her hand and lyrical fire in her heart and head. Even the customary three-minute time limit in a poetry-slam competition can't stop the words from coming when one last line still fights to escape. South Florida's faction of def poets -- an outgrowth of erudite beat/coffeehouse informality crossbred with rapid-fire Run-D.M.C. rhymes, largely representing a uniquely African-American art form -- number in the hundreds. For the imaginative and prolific Lorrie Tennant, poems were born in her brain and incubated on her laptop until she could breathe life into them on any number of South Florida stages. But in the muggy silence before dawn, under a sodium-streetlamp glow spilling through her bedroom window, Lorrie Tennant was silenced .

According to police, Tennant's ex-husband, Kevin Nicholson, had gained entry to the house that night and hid in her bedroom. "Kevin had a history of breaking into the house and sitting in the dark waiting for her to get home," Bell says. "He did that throughout their separation, trying to find out how long she stayed out or who she came home with."

The final act of the marriage came after years of preliminaries, police say.

Lorrie Tennant filed for divorce in Broward County Court in March 2003, six years after she married Nicholson. Domestic disturbances had brought police to their home many times during the marriage, according to Hollywood police records. After one incident, a reported fight on January 28, 2003, Nicholson agreed to leave, and no charges were filed. Nicholson moved into a house in Miramar -- there was an official separation that month -- but a week later, on February 9, Nicholson showed up at the house again. A tenant who rents a room in the Tennant/Nicholson home saw Nicholson using a box cutter to hack a hole in the screen on the bathroom window. He told Tennant to call 911 and persuaded Nicholson to take off.  

Hollywood police say Tennant had agreed to meet Nicholson that day in a public location to discuss a financial issue. When Tennant refused to write him a check for $2,000, her husband had thrown her checkbook and wallet into a nearby canal. On April 15, 2003, Tennant called police when she arrived home at 1:30 a.m. and discovered that someone had broken into her bedroom.

Nicholson's jealousy could take a harshly disturbing form. On one occasion, when he broke into Tennant's bedroom and waited for her to come home, he was particularly jealous and angry, according to police records. Nicholson had entered her room and "questioned her about her activities," then "digitally penetrated her vagina to see if she had sex." "It got so bad," Bell says, "that she had a pit bull in her bedroom along with a couple of pit bulls in the yard outside." Ironically, Tennant, perhaps thinking she had reached some sort of understanding with her ex-husband, got rid of the dogs the week before her murder.

Three weeks before her death, Tennant went out with friends to celebrate the actual divorce.

But early in the morning of August 26, police believe Nicholson entered Tennant's bedroom. He had a key, notes Hollywood Police Capt. Tony Rode. The two boys were asleep in their room, but Tennant's mother, Diana Modest, was awakened by screaming coming from Tennant's bedroom. Modest ran to the locked door -- Tennant always kept her bedroom locked -- and told investigators she believed she heard her daughter's voice saying, "No, don't call the police." Modest went back to bed, but after she heard a noise that sounded like glass breaking, she went outside of the house to check on Tennant's window. She saw broken jalousies. And through the hole, she saw Tennant, on top of the bed, bathed in blood. Modest's 911 call was made at 4:25 a.m.

Within half an hour, Bell, alerted by a friend's hysterical phone call, raced to the Tennant/Nicholson home. "At first, I couldn't believe it," he says, "but then I find out the way it unfolded was the same old shit. I don't doubt Kevin was in her room when Dwayne dropped her off." He's grateful that Modest and the two boys were spared.

"Usually," he says, "in a domestic issue like this one, everybody dies."

Tennant's death sparked an outpouring of poetry from her community of artists.

I keep wishing that one day the only

Person who could console my pain

Would wipe away the tears that rip

Through my face, would just come, would just call

And although I know that phone won't ring

I listen

-- Pages

On an overcast Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, a frowning neighbor peers over a rusty, wobbly, chainlink fence at the weeds and grass that has grown shin-high in the front yard of the Nicholson/Tennant home. The front picture window didn't even get a piece of protective plywood during last month's spate of hurricanes. A volleyball and a kid's yellow trike sit abandoned next to a trash can in the carport. The weathered blue-gray box-bungalow is for sale now, but Tennant's mom doesn't think it will be easy finding a buyer.

"There's not much you can get from that house because of the crime situation," she says in a voice hoarse from tears and exhaustion. She returns to the house to check on it -- she wants it to sell so she can buy something big enough for the boys as they grow up -- but won't go inside. "Oh, no," she says softly. "I can't deal with it."

In between shuttling Keion and Dylan to swim lessons and preschool, trying to meet with real estate agents to deal with Tennant's Forrest Street place, and suffering through the interminable agony of her daughter's funeral and burial, many of Modest's days are spent attending hearings in Broward County Court. Her ex-son-in-law, Nicholson, was arrested at his parents' home in Miramar on August 28, two days after the slaying. He'd come in for questioning the day of the murder but said he hadn't seen his ex-wife in a week or two. On August 27, police reported, they matched Nicholson's palm print to a bloody print found on Lorrie Tennant's windowsill. Police say they aren't certain Nicholson entered with a key while Modest was asleep or if he climbed in through the window. Regardless, cops say they know which way he left. "Sometimes, if there's kids involved, the ex-husband has a key in case of emergencies," Rode says. "A few months ago, they could have been on better terms.  

"We have physical evidence that directly links him to the scene of the crime, so we're quite confident he's our bad guy."

Based on interviews with Bell, Modest, and other friends, Nicholson, who has declared himself not guilty in court, was their first and only suspect. Tennant's poems weren't likely to make enemies. What police found in her bedroom, Rode says, had the classic hallmarks of "your typical crime of passion. I hate to say it, but... it wasn't pretty, trust me. You're basically looking at an O.J. Simpson-type scene. She received multiple stab wounds from a knife. Her throat was not slit ear-to-ear, but she did have a gash in her throat and multiple stab wounds on her chest and on her back."

The medical examiner later reported that there were three stab wounds to Tennant's back, three to the chest, and one to the neck.

"During the struggle," Rode continues, "the mom heard the yelling and screaming as he's stabbing her and killing her. He locks the door from the inside and then jumps out the window."

Hollywood police aren't sure what set Nicholson off that night. "We wish we knew," Rode says. "He basically told us to go fuck ourselves. He's all lawyered-up. But we caught him in several lies right off the bat. That morning, of course, he denied everything -- said he was never there. But a couple of hours later, at work, he tells his boss, 'Hey, I saw my wife earlier today. '"

Nicholson's attorney, Kirk A. Barrow, didn't return calls seeking comment.

The afternoon of her death, Tennant's stunned friends gathered at her house and then all afternoon at a nearby Denny's on Sheridan Street, where coffee and tears poured all afternoon.

"We were in disbelief," recalls Aisha Medina, a poet who works for Urban America in downtown Miami and attended church with Tennant at the Universal Truth Center in Miami Gardens. "She was a person living with a purpose, not just living day to day." Like many of Tennant's friends in local poetry circles, Medina had no idea of the danger her friend faced. She isn't even sure Tennant knew herself.

"She either thought she was handling it or it wasn't that big of a problem," Medina guesses. Tennant's problems with her ex-husband surfaced in her work, she admits, but the back catalog of the relationship was off-limits to many of her newly adopted friends.

"That really was Lorrie's past," Medina says. "She had moved on, and she did not share that with people."

Like Medina, Will Bell had never been introduced to Nicholson. "I met him only through her stories of infidelity and control," Bell says. "He had a control problem. I told her that guy was going to be her downfall, if not her death."

Leighton Reed, another Hollywood poet who depended on Tennant for wisdom whenever his computer crashed, insists the clues were plain to see, especially for those who paid attention to the words of Elle. "We all knew it was that guy," Reed says.

As her silent scream gripped the night

The flowers of the earth began to weep

The oceans began to roar and the doves couldn't sleep

For another beautiful soul has been suddenly taken

A rose that grew from concrete

-- Profet Malik

A day after the shocking and violent crime, the story in the Miami Herald summed up 25-year-old Lorrie Tennant this way: "Poet's tormented life ends in night of terror." Her friends and family bristle at the Campbell's Soup condensed version of what she was and how she died. The Herald managed to find one of the most uncharacteristically pessimistic works in Tennant's canon and zeroed in on a single stray line from a work called I Cannot Write/I Hate Poetry, which seemed to point to a history of domestic violence:

There is no vocabulary

To describe me

Lonely doesn't even scratch the surface

Distraught doesn't dent it

And angry doesn't begin to explain

The red I see

Because I HATE poetry

It cannot paint an accurate picture

Of these past 7 years of my life

In a page and a half

If I have one line about

His hand across my face

You think he was beating me every damn day  

But the Herald quoted only the last two lines to make its case, then noted that police were contacting Nicholson as part of the investigation. In a way, it was that simple. But, friends say, I Cannot Write was the result of one frustrating day, one downbeat poem out of hundreds more that expressed joy, social concern, playful introspection, gleeful amusement, and the joy of language and discovery. In Silly Fish, for instance, she mused about falling into the clutches of a player with no remorse:

When I tell you the brotha was smooth...

He was like a rotten banana peel left out in the sun

Like when rain falls on poolside concrete

And there was no lifeguard to tell me,

"Stop Running!"

So I fell, into his words,

into his manicured hands...

(momma warned me... any man with hands like that... can't do you no good...

Girl... Soft-hand man have hard hearts... like I was saying...)

"The story didn't depict her as a person," Medina complains. "She was not a tormented soul. She was not playing a victim. She celebrated life. She didn't talk about her past or her pain; she talked about her wonderful children."

"They're trying to make it seem like she was a downtrodden person," Reed says, "and that's not the case at all. Every single interaction I had with her was positive. I never saw her down in the dumps. She always had something insightful to say."

Pictures on various local websites and friends' snapshots show that Tennant's most notable facial feature was a wide, laughing smile.

To the black-poet diaspora stretching from Miami to West Palm Beach, the underground spoken-word community is a small, dark sea, scattered with lone microphones on tiny stages spread out in dimly lit strip malls and old restaurants. Even the poets who didn't know Tennant well were aware of her reputation for uniting the disparate bands of writers/performers who operated like small windmills of words, spinning out of sync without a purpose. Tennant was more than gutsy enough to stand up in front of a roomful of strangers and share her most personal thoughts; she used old-fashioned networking to join the strands of an unraveled collective into a slightly more cohesive form.

"It's such a tragic loss for us, because Elle was the core of that whole unification," says Emonde Prosper, a young poet who lives in Plantation.

She had a breadth of knowledge that allowed her to work as a computer tech while plumbing her soul for poetry. Tennant was so adept at harnessing new technology to poetry's ancient chassis that she'd led a digital revolution among the tricounties' poets, building dozens of websites that delivered their sermons to the masses or spreading the news about an upcoming rhyme contest or poetry slam. The vacuum created in South Florida when nightclubs sucked the oxygen out of the music scene -- rendering musical instruments momentarily impotent -- brought a life-giving force to the art of the spoken word. Poets like Prosper, 28, may not have known Elle but through her art. Onlookers stood amazed as Elle exploded through life like a firecracker, juggling a full-time career as an IT guru and consultant for the computer industry as well as nurturing her 3- and 5-year-old sons, with enough energy to burn off after midnight, reciting, writing, networking, and performing.

Still, even admiring Elle from the audience meant more intimacy than one would expect. On the morning of Thursday, August 26, Prosper heard that the body of Tennant had been removed from the West Hollywood home she shared with her mother and two young children. The news left her leveled. "I stood up," she remembers, "and was slapped back down." That physical reaction to the loss of one who so adroitly trafficked in words and language is still palpable weeks after Elle's death. Predictably, her death inspired an outpouring of poetry from people who knew her and those who didn't but felt pained over her tragic end.

I could hear a grown man cry in between telling me words I cannot believe

'Cause murdered and her name do not fit together

Who slept? Which angel was off?

-- Emonde Prosper

Forty-eight hours after Elle's final reading at Ginger Bay Cafe, poets from all points packed the parking lot and streets surrounding Audy's place, an Afro-Cuban restaurant on the edge of downtown Fort Lauderdale. The previously scheduled poetry slam and open-mic event on Friday, August 28, took on new gravitas with its underlying emphasis on Elle's conspicuous absence.

"I never recall Elle living a tormented life or having a tormented soul," Medina tells the crowd, referring to the Herald article from that morning. Chunky, who has hosted poetry slams at Audy's for almost a year, agrees. She fills a cardboard box with dollars from people packing the restaurant -- skinny Jewish kids with suit jackets and notebooks, b-boys in basketball jerseys, dreadlocked white hippies with tattered Guatemalan shoulder satchels, feisty Latina lesbians -- some of whom, Chunky says, knew of Elle's work only through her website.  

With black beret, black jeans, and a black T-shirt bearing the yellow logo of Spittin Fiya, her slam-poetry collective, broad-shouldered Chunky moves through the cramped crowd with authority. As fate would have it, Chunky's day job finds her in a Palm Beach County cop car. Once, she offers as a secondary means of introduction, she blended aspects of the two careers at the Dade County Women's Correctional Center for a groundbreaking poetry workshop called "Slam Behind Bars."

A smiling waitress behind the counter hands beers and Cuban croquettes to a customer. On the stage, first-timers get up to nervously recite untested rhymes or old vets eschew the mic in favor of let-'er-rip oration. Bell, well on his way to seven feet tall and with a shirt advertising his recent participation in HBO's Def Poetry program, sips cappuccino and doesn't crack a smile once. Then a head-turning assortment of powerful, proud men and women stroll in, carrying djembes and notebooks and wearing serious, weary looks. This is the Lip, Tongue and Ear assembly, coming to say goodbye to Elle in style.

The small stage lights scatter across Shamele Jenkins' ash-blond afro. Elle, Jenkins says in a carefully measured voice, "should not have died the way she did. We're all gonna miss her." Flanking her, her drummers begin tapping out a busy beat abetted by shakers, and waves of polyrhythms flow over the 60 or so souls gathered in the tiny room. "This is the way we're gonna take her out!' Jenkins shouts. She instructs one side of the room to chant Elle, the other side, alternating, Lorrie.



The pulsating beat grows louder, rattling empty beer bottles on the bar. "Now I need you to clap!" Jenkins orders the riveted room.



Something in the ritualistic episode triggers an emotional cascade in one attendee, overcome by the reopening of the wound so soon. Near Audy's front door, sobs pierce through the standing-room-only throng, which is now on its collective feet.

Lorrie Tennant was born in Montclair, New Jersey, on January 9, 1979. "She was a very brilliant child from birth," her mother says in a small, defeated voice. By the time she was 212, Modest had Tennant enrolled in ballet, violin, and swim lessons, and she excelled at each. A few years later, the little girl was ready for preschool, but on the first day, when her teacher handed her an information sheet to take home to her parents, Tennant filled in their names, her home address, and phone number. "They gave her a test, and she passed it," Modest says. "They told her they couldn't keep her there because she was too far advanced." By first grade, Tennant was playing piano at the West Orange Library and was a cheerleader in school. Her dancing had paid off -- at age 6, she traveled to New York City to perform in a children's Christmas film. "She was always a stage person," Modest says.

By the time Tennant hit East Orange High School, she was a straight-A student, her mother remembers proudly. "She was a genius in everything she put her hands on. She cooked well. She baked well."

During Tennant's high school years, Modest moved with Tennant and her brother to Miramar, where Tennant finished school. She borrowed an old BMW from her stepfather, Emil Modest, to drive to her classes. "She was very bright and did excellent in school," Modest continues. "She finished her work before everybody else."

When Tennant began taking classes at Broward Community College (where, incidentally, she met Nicholson) in the late 1990s, Modest went to class with her one day to see for herself. "Everybody was taking down notes, and she sat there staring at the teacher," she recalls. "I said, 'Lorrie, you're not writing it down?' And she said, 'No, Mama, why would I have to write it? I heard her.' She kept every page in her head. She never even studied."

Tennant graduated BCC with a computer science degree in 1998 and got her B.S. at Barry University two years later. "She built my computer," her mom crows. Tennant's job history is a litany of high-tech IT jobs, including working as a systems analyst for Burger King and creating and maintaining corporate websites for clients like Bank Atlantic. Hers was the résumé of a webmaster, someone who designed the back end. "She constructed the Matrix," said one local web professional who perused the résumé online. And since Tennant was so friendly and rubbed so many people the right way, she was constantly referred enough freelance web work to keep her busy and solvent. At her funeral, Medina recalls, sat a 40-something IT wonk "with years in the field and advanced degrees. He said Lorrie knew things even he didn't." Tennant was the web designer and consultant for Urban America, the Miami organization where Medina works.  

By the time she began her own online poetry clearinghouse/discussion board,, Tennant was known as the go-to girl when a computer went down. Anyone's computer. Any time. Exactly a week before she died, she fixed Leighton Reed's computer. "My system had crashed," he explains, "and she was the one who brought it up." A week after Tennant's murder, Will "Da Real One" Bell's site ( went down. "I needed her so bad," he says solemnly. "Then I remember a damned e-mail she sent me in 2002 when the same thing happened. I went to my Yahoo account, and the password was there, so I contacted the Yahoo people and solved the problem. She still fixed it."

Other friends remember Tennant's selfless generosity. On the Smokin' Words message board of a Yahoo group devoted to South Florida poetry, terrispeakz says Tennant built a website, free, for a local poet's "Soul of a Woman" event. "During my pregnancy, she gave endlessly through e-mails of well wishes, a generous check for my baby, and offers of assistance," terrispeakz wrote.

People keep telling me not to be sad

But how do you do that when one minute you hugging your friend and the next she's being taken away in a plastic bag?

Through your eyes I was able to see life from the angle of an angel

And it didn't even bother you that you were a square in a world full of rectangles

Because all you ever really wanted was for everybody to be happy, all you ever wanted was to fix what was wrong, and I was just wondering could you please fix this?

Can you please fix you not being here... Please.

-- Da Real One

It wasn't until about two years ago, family and friends say, that the South Florida poetry community began to take center stage in Tennant's life. At the same time, her relationship with Nicholson was battering her with drama. They separated, and the creative catharsis of poetry seemed to speak to her higher instincts and introduced her to a group of like-minded folks who instantly adopted her. "Everybody knew Lorrie was a kindred spirit," Medina says. And Tennant had skills to offer: building websites incorporating streaming video and audio. "I always thought she was 30-something," Medina notes, "because she was so mature and wise. She was a genius."

This summer, Tennant spent weeks preparing for the 12th Annual Southern Fried Poetry Slam, held in June at Miami's Power Studios.

Says Bell: "I brag and boast about being South Florida's only def poet to hit the HBO stage, but I swear to God, it was a combined effort with Elle." She actually helped him put together the video audition package that landed him the opportunity. "She was my driving force," he says.

Bell may be South Florida's best chance to put a slam poet on the moon. He's funny, full of himself at times, and humble the next. His appearance earlier this year on HBO's Russell Simmons Def Poetry was the highest pinnacle reached by a South Florida poet. He's performed well at various national slam competitions. "After standing in dark bars and being used just to fill time," he says, "it felt good to have a national light focused on poetry. Def Poetry is not a stopping point; it's one hell of a stepping stone." He's completed one spoken-word CD, Verbal Vision, and hopes to produce another with local hip-hoppers Luther Campbell, Trick Daddy, and Trina. Bell's work seems to have one single, over-riding purpose: to make poetry cool. In that regard, he and Elle were partners in crime.

Medina especially mourns the loss of Tennant's laptop, which she says police are keeping as evidence. "My wedding DVD is on there," she explains. In April, she says, Tennant filmed her wedding, "and she would not take a cent," Medina says. "Her whole life was on that laptop."

The Thursday morning a week after Tennant's death, her mother appeared in front of Broward County Judge Andrew Siegel in a hearing to determine who will take temporary custody of her grandchildren. Modest's glasses, gold jewelry, and thin, magenta-tinged braids play against her café-au-lait complexion as she sits and cries into a Kleenex outside the courtroom. She clutches a rumpled photocopy of Psalms 27, stares at the words blankly, and crumples it some more. A few child-advocate case workers introduce themselves and murmur, "I'm so sorry for your loss." A tall woman in coal-black dress slacks and matching tresses asks her, "Are you going to be all right?"  

"I hope so," Modest says weakly, clutching her Psalms tighter.

Suddenly, with only a squeak on the linoleum as a warning, Kevin Nicholson is mere inches away. A bailiff leads him through the waiting room into the courtroom, a phantom-thin figure in red coveralls and gleaming steel shackles binding his ankles and wrists. Nicholson's mom, a heavyset woman in a dark-red dress, stares open-mouthed and unleashes a strangled yelp: "No!"

Minutes later, in court, Nicholson bounces one knee nervously and clenches his sharp, angular jaw so tightly that it looks like he's chewing a hunk of old beef jerky. In an instant, he looks up, straight at his mom, and blows her a split-second kiss. But his eyes remain expressionless.

Siegel peers over his glasses and tells the courtroom the reason they're here is to determine temporary shelter for the children. "Understand that, Dad?" he says in the direction of Nicholson's attorney, who leans over to whisper in his client's ear for a long minute.

"I would like the kids to stay with my mom," Nicholson tells the judge in a pinched whisper. "She has three bedrooms, and Diana doesn't have a house right now."

Modest stands and faces Siegel. "The kids are accustomed to both of us," she says. "I was there when it happened. I have them now. They stay with me at my husband's house [in Hollywood]," she says. Kevin's mom, seated next to Modest, also stands. "We are willing to work together, no matter what," she explains.

Within minutes, Siegel has made his decision. "I'm going to leave the kids with the maternal grandmother," he rules, "including overnights with the parental grandmother. And no contact for Dad."

Friends like Will Bell can't help but feel helpless watching the start of the boys' uphill climb or, as he puts it, "growing up knowing your mother was killed by your father." But he adds, "Everybody wants to be mad at Kevin's family, but the fact of the matter is, his mom's done everything she possibly could."

On this afternoon, Diana Modest has to stop talking about Tennant because a social worker is knocking at her door to check on Dylan and Keion. "Eat up all your breakfast," she chides them. "Help your brother."

Keion doesn't fully understand, she says. "He just woke up two hours ago," she says in a voice creaking with sadness, "and already he's asked about her four times." Sometimes, she says, he'll hear keys jangling in a lock or a knock at the door and excitedly cry, "Mommy!"

Dylan does understand, Modest has learned. "Last night," she says, "he was crying over her."

She and Nicholson's mother have worked out a visitation agreement. "People are amazed over the relationship between me and her," she says. "But I have the gift of love, and she has the gift of love. A lot of times, when [Nicholson and Tennant] had their difficulties, she was there for them. She has been a good grandmother to the children.

"You know, I always had my hands full with them," she says. "We kept them as babies so Lorrie could go to school. It's like God was preparing me for this."

To donate to a fund for Lorrie Tennant's children, money can be placed in the following account: Washington Mutual, account number 0951817314.

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