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Sneak Peeks

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Tracy's Complications

Chapter 1


I know Richmond California has this reputation all of a sudden for being just as bad if not worse than Oakland. But I grew up there. It's not the most pristine environment, but at least when I was growing up it didn't feel like this horrible place to live. Richmond is situated right on the bay, next door to Berkeley, and on a light traffic day in less than twenty minutes you could be in San Francisco. I'd say my family was your typical religious family. My dad worked hard to provide for our family, and my mom worked until I was in high school. For a while it was just me and my brother Terrence. Terrence was always my rock and favorite person. One day mom and dad sat us down and explained that they were gonna have a baby. At first we were happy, oh how exciting a new baby was gonna be. The day they found out it was gonna be twins my life drastically changed forever. Everything became about the twins, Terrence and I got lost in the shuffle. Well maybe not so much Terrence cause he was still the only boy. My little identical sisters although I loved them dearly seem to steal the show whenever we went anywhere. People would go on and on about how cute and pretty they were, and even though I was standing right there the compliments would stop there. That's when I began to feel invisible and useless. Since both my parents worked and tried very hard to keep our family in the middle of the congregation, it didn't leave them much time to realize how neglected I felt. My mom would get irritated with me when I made references to being ugly about myself. She didn't understand that I was only reflecting the way people made me feel.

My parents used to rave over my good grades. When my grades slipped they said nothing; I quickly learned that I needed to get my grades for me and not to make them happy. In high school I got a job just so I could be away from home as much as possible. Working in the movie theater was so much fun. I got to meet new people; it always felt more like hanging out than it did work. In addition to being the invisible daughter I was the plain Jane or sometimes the ugly friend. So naturally I thought I was going to die when a boy actually liked me. Or let me make the correction, I thought he liked me turns out he only really had physical concerns in regards to me. I was crushed, and I quickly learned that most guys had the same agenda. For a girl being raised in a Christian household awareness of this fact felt quite troubling to me. Suddenly I felt like the entire world was sexually active and I was amongst the last of the virgins standing in the world. My brother seemed to easily stay on the straight and narrow, where I daydreamed about the broad and spacious. Terrence met Amy when he was sixteen and he was immediately smitten. They properly dated until Terrence was twenty and could afford a wife. Where I just about lost my mind when I went to college. I met a guy who convinced me that he loved me. Out of obligation I gave in and gave him my most prized possession. I still mourn the loss of my virginity to this day. I was fortunate to find a job while in college that allowed me to afford an apartment and a car. Although I didn't move far away, since my life took an alternate path I didn't see my family much. I kept in contact with the girls mostly and they would pop by from time to time. Once they were off to school I really didn't see family too much. I often felt guilty about my lifestyle but I never felt worthy to go back especially if I was still sinning.

*******

Oh my goodness! Is that me? Marie was proudly showing off our vacation pictures. I smiled trying to act like I was ok with the reflection of myself in the picture. How did I let my weight get so out of hand? There's nothing like looking at yourself for who you actually are and not liking what you see.

Talking with our little group a while later we decided to make it a group effort to get healthy. I never thought of myself as a competitive person, but since I am the heaviest person in our group I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb. Some of them only needed to tone up where I needed that and to lose. I didn't want to get left behind. Plus talking to my doctor, she really put fear in me about the possible side affects on my body if I continued to carry this weight.

After searching the Internet I found a plan that I could manage, nine days raw fruits and veggies and a few other items. I put myself in a zone and I did it. The weight didn't melt off like it was moving on the rest of my friends. I had to work a little harder at it than everyone else, slow but steady my journey began.

At night I thought about Steve, my on again off again ex. When we got together I wasn't in my most confident space, but I knew I looked good naked. My previous relationship was a devastating disaster. That idiot left me feeling broken and confused. Steve glided in as if he was heaven sent. Everything felt right with Steve even when it was wrong. I loved Steve with all my heart; my passive aggressive nature caused me to internalize all the wrongs in our relationship. Not really knowing how to ask for what I wanted or how to get it, I internalized the demise of our relationship.

In the end Steve complained a lot about my weight, now he didn't exactly do this to my face. He complained to my friends and family. Once we sat down at the table and he started lecturing me about my portions. He even took his fork and divided the food on my plate. Of course I said nothing to voice my disgust. Communication was definitely an issue in our relationship. We argued but it never really resolved anything because both of us were holding back. Steve convinced me that the one area where we did communicate best in was the bedroom. I called him on his half efforts to please me, and I did my best to reciprocate the effort. Steve loved how I responded to him and even though he tried to hide it his body craved my touch.

So many things had gone wrong between us but we never had the chance to officially say goodbye. So we kind of hung on by a thread, we kept in contact. But lately Steve had become distant which only meant he was in a new relationship. So I gave him space to explore his relationship while I kept my head in the game. In one month people noticed my hard work. The difference was showing and I was on the road to seeing myself in a different light. I started caring about my appearance again, and doing things that made me feel good about being me.


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 Sometimes Love Isn't Enough

Chapter 1


Momma said her brother needs to come stay with us. Daddy wasn't happy about it. They argued about it for a long time. Daddy said it was rude for him to ask knowing that they have daughters. Momma said he's her brother and family shouldn't matter.

I think momma just wants her family to like her again. Her momma doesn’t like us. Her momma never hugs us or even speaks to us. She always looks at us like we're some kind of a science project. I hate the way she touches my hair. She acts like its something she never seen before.

Grand momma doesn’t like Daddy just because he's white. When he used to come with us to her house she would roll her eyes whenever he spoke and then act like she didn't hear him. My Daddy would be extra nice to her and she didn't care. She would yell at my Momma and say stuff like "after all the things the white man has done to us, you go and willingly be his house nigger!" Momma would cry, she would tell her momma she couldn't help who she fell in love with. But grand momma didn't care. That was the last time I saw her, I was seven. That's when I realized that my Daddy was white and my momma was black. That's when I realized how people looked at me like I was different.

My Daddy said your skin doesn't matter it's how you treat people that matters. I remember him hugging my Momma and telling her that we were a family, and that she needed to be around people who accepted her for who she was. He always told Momma how beautiful she was. I would see him just stare at Momma like she was the most beautiful lady ever.

At school the kids are so mean, well most of them. They called me white girl, or they called me mix girl, or whatever they felt would make them laugh that day. They would laugh when I turned red, and throw stuff at me. Rosalind was my best friend; she would stand up for me, and tell people to leave me alone.

One day Momma and Daddy were arguing in the morning, it made me so sad I thought Daddy was gonna leave. My big sister Jade made my lunch that morning and made sure we all left on time. Momma wouldn't stop yelling at Daddy, and he was so mad he walked outside. He put all his workbag in his truck, and then he turned it on to warm it up. My big brothers Timothy and Malachi stayed with the truck while Daddy went back inside to talk to Momma. A long time ago, Daddy turned on the truck and he went back inside. When he came out the truck was gone. So now he has my brothers sit with the truck. Timothy goes to work with Daddy on the weekends, he is in high school, and Malachi is in middle school. Timothy is going to be a big man who draws buildings and then people build them. Momma and Daddy are so proud of him. They tell Timothy all the time how smart he is, and how he's gonna go real far. Malachi is real smart too, he doesn’t know what he wants to be yet, but I tell him he can be anything!

Jade and I walked to school and I cried all the way. Jade told me everything would be fine and to stop crying. I thought she was mad at me until she hugged me, and told me it would be ok. I was in a bad mood though, and when Patrice pulled my hair at recess I got so mad! I punched her and kicked her. Patrice had pulled my hair to make fun of me to the other girls from our class. Rosalind was in the bathroom so she thought she would pull my hair and I would just cry. It surprised her when I punched her. I didn't give her a chance to hit me back. I went crazy on her. The yard teacher broke us up and took us to the office. The secretary Ms. Thomas gave Patrice some ice for her eye while we waited for the Principal.

The Principal Ms. Boyd was very disappointed to see me in her office for fighting. This was my first time being in her office for trouble. Normally I was there for awards and special stuff. Ms. Boyd would always tell me how pretty I was, and how she wished she had my hair. I wished I could give it to her, cause most girls didn't like me because of it. Patrice got suspended cause she was always in trouble. Ms. Boyd said she would let me go with a warning this time because I was such a good student normally.

When I got back to class everyone was looking at me differently. That's when I realized I had to fight in order for people to leave me alone. I told Rosalind what happened and she gave me a high five. After that day I was always fighting at school. I was pretty tough, no one could beat me or at least I thought. I didn't go looking for trouble, but if somebody messed with me or said something that hurt my feelings I was fighting.

Momma would yell at me every time she had to pick me up for getting suspended, but it wasn't my fault. Sometimes she would whoop me so badly that Daddy would argue with her about my bruises. She would said she didn't hit me that hard and it only showed cause I was light skinned. Daddy would say that's not why. Jade would put witch-hazel on my bruises, and cocoa butter on my scars. Jade would tell me to just ignore those stupid girls, but they didn't mess with her like they messed with me. Jade looked more like momma then I did. I looked more like daddy. Some girls were mean to Jade too, but not like they were to me. Momma would tell me I didn't have to prove nothing to nobody, but she didn't understand. At school I was the different one, nobody ever came up to her and asked her "what are you"? Like I wasn't human or something. Nobody ever slapped her just for the joy of seeing their handprint on her face. I tried to stop fighting to make her happy, and it worked for a while. But then....

My Uncle Preston came on a Friday. Even though Momma and Daddy had argued about it, Daddy looked real happy to see Preston. Momma was so happy to have her little brother with us. The first night she and Preston stayed up real late talking about when they were little and all the fun they had. Preston brought up their daddy and how he died. They got real quiet. Jade and I were listening at our door. It sound like Momma was crying, but we didn't know why.

Eventually we went to bed in the morning Jade got up to make everybody some pancakes I told her I would be her helper. We still had our nighties on when we went in the kitchen. Preston was sleeping on the hideaway bed in the couch. He got up when he smelled breakfast cooking. He came in the kitchen in pajama pants and no shirt.

"What cha doing?" He said smiling.

"Making breakfast." I said

He just sat there for a while watching us. Then when Jade bent over to get the griddle from under the cabinet he asked, "how old are you guys?"

"I'm getting ready to be twelve, and Amber just turned ten."

"You guys got boy friends?"

"Eeewwllll!" I said

"Daddy said no boyfriends right now." Jade said

"Do you always do what your daddy says?"

I didn't like the way he asked the question. "YES!" We were good girls!

Then Timothy came in the kitchen, "smells good!"

Preston was sitting on a stool with his legs open. When Timothy turned to walk out the kitchen, he turned red and he looked at Preston.

Preston put his hands up, "it's the morning what can I say?"

"GET AWAY FROM MY SISTERS!" Timothy yelled

Preston got mad and stood in Timothy's face. "WHAT YOU GONNA DO? WHITE BOY!"

Timothy punched Preston, but Preston put him in a crazy hold. Timothy was so mad. Malachi came running out the room. When he got to the kitchen Preston kicked him and Malachi looked so shocked. But then he punched Preston and kept hitting him until he fell down. Then Timothy and Malachi kept beating him up. Momma and Daddy came out in their robes. Everybody was yelling I couldn't tell what was going on. Jade and I got sent to our room, when I tried to tell Momma that we were only trying to make breakfast. She got mad at me and slapped me. Then she told me to get in my room. Jade hugged me and we cried together. We were in our room for a long time. My stomach hurt cause I was so hungry. Momma and Daddy came in our room to talk to us. Momma said that the fight was a big misunderstanding. And that from now on we couldn't come out of our room until we were dressed. Momma got mad at me when I asked how were we gonna take showers. She said we had to take them at night. She said we were blossoming young ladies and we had to conduct ourselves that way from now on. Timothy and Malachi didn't like Uncle Preston anymore, and he didn't like them. They would always fight after that. Uncle Preston would always stare at us especially Jade. He would be real nice to her, and tell her how pretty she was.

One day Ms. Thomas told me I had to walk home alone cause Jade went home early cause she was sick. When I got home Momma wasn't home and Jade was laying on her bed crying. She wouldn't tell me what was wrong though. Momma put ground beef in the sink to thaw. There was spaghetti sauce and noodles on the counter. Normally Jade made dinner, but since she didn't feel well I told her I would make dinner. Uncle Preston came in the kitchen and watched me. He kept telling me how pretty I was. He kept calling me red bone, I liked my new name. When I couldn't reach the bowl for the salad I was gonna make, he came to help me. He kept rubbing his body on me as he reached for the bowl. He looked at me and smiled and then he gave me the bowl. I didn't understand what just happened, but that little voice in my head said it wasn't right. He went and sat back down though and I finished making dinner. Jade came out of our room when Timothy and Malachi came home. They asked her what was wrong and she just said she didn't feel good. That's when Jade started being quiet.

After that day uncle Preston kept telling me how pretty I was and how I needed to have a boyfriend. There was a boy in my class who everybody said had a crush on me, but he was always shy and quiet. I asked Quincy if he wanted to be my boyfriend, and he shook his head yes. I kissed him like my uncle showed me, and Quincy blushed. If he wasn't so dark I guess he would've turned red like I did. But Quincy didn't want to be my boyfriend anymore after a week. He said his momma said he couldn't have a white girlfriend. I told him I wasn't white, but he said no cause his momma told him no. I was so sad when I got home I was gonna tell Preston about it but he wasn't there. Momma was home early from work with a headache, she asked me what was wrong. Not thinking anything of it, I begged her not tell Daddy that I had a boyfriend. Then I told her everything. I told her how Uncle Preston taught me how to kiss. How he showed me what she and Daddy did when we heard the bed in their room. My Momma sat there and listened to everything, she looked mad. I told her how he told me it was a secret and not to tell anybody because they just didn't want me to know about the good stuff yet. I asked her if she was mad at me for telling her and she said no. Then she went in the room and talked to Jade. When she came out the room Momma was crying. Daddy came home and they went in their room. Daddy was screaming but he wasn't screaming at Momma. Timothy and Malachi came home, they asked us what was going on, but I didn't know what to say. Momma called the police, and then Uncle Preston came home. Momma started screaming at him and hitting him. He pushed Momma down, and then my Daddy came out of nowhere. When he hit Preston you heard it. Preston tried to fight Daddy, but he was no match. My brothers sat back and watched. The police came and took Uncle Preston away; Jade and I had to go down to the police station. A nice police lady asked me to show her on a doll everything my uncle did to me. I didn't want to, but Momma told me to show her. I cried and cried as I showed her, Momma cried too. The police lady cried too and she told me I was gonna be safe from now on. That night Momma scream at grand momma over the phone! I could tell she was hurt cause grand momma didn't care that uncle Preston hurt us. She said a lot of mean things to Momma, and then Momma cursed her. She screamed words we're not supposed to use at her momma. She told her she was dead to her, and that they were all dead to her.


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 Love Is Just Enough

Chapter 33


"Plead guilty!!! Don't leave the jail!!!" I said

"Amber, I didn't do it!" David said

"David please! Please hear me. Plead guilty!" I said

"I can't do that! I didn't do it. Besides my public defender is getting these anonymous tips that are helping my case."

I got a lump in my throat. How could I make him understand? "I really need you to think about it." I said

Then I heard the front door slam shut. "AMBER!" My Daddy's voice came booming from the front door.

I hung up the phone. "Yes Daddy?" My heart was fluttering.

I walked in the living room Daddy was livid. "WHAT IS THIS I'M HEARING???"

"Daddy it wasn't like that!" I said putting my hands up.

Andrew came running from the backyard; he heard noise but didn't know what was going on. "Grand Poppa? What's wrong?" Andrew said breathing hard.

Malcolm walked in the door. Daddy looked at me, "I'm so disappointed in you." I felt like Daddy just punched me. I sat down in the chair. "Come here son!" Daddy said to Andrew. Andrew walked over to Daddy. "You're ten years old now. I need you to understand the world we live in." Daddy sat down, then he motioned to Andrew to come sit next to him. "Poppa is the Boss, kind of like the King. I'm the son of the Boss, kind of like a Prince. That's makes your Momma a Princess. If your Momma is a Princess what does that make you?"

"A Prince" Andrew said

"I've been working very hard so you don't have to hold things down like Poppa, Me, or even your Dad has done. You're going to college just like everyone else. You will be a legitimate success! You follow me?"

"Yes" Andrew said

"But at the same time there's going to be people who challenge our throne. When that happens, they have to be put down. Do you remember when you guys went to All those amusement parks?" Andrew said yes. "Our throne was under attack. We had to keep our queens and our next Princes safe. You understand?" Andrew nodded. "People had to die in order for that to happen. We don't go hurting people unless they mess with us. Sometimes it makes us sad when certain people have to die, but as a man you have to do what comes next." Daddy took a deep breath. "Your mother should've never let David raise an eyebrow to her. From the moment he raised his hand to her he started dying." Daddy looked at me, "why did you let this happen? Where would you ever get the impression that this sort of behavior was ok? And your boys know about it." Daddy's eyes were angry.

"Daddy, I was in a bad place. I don't think you'll understand me if I tried to explain it." I pleaded

"Try me!" He said

"Andrew show Malcolm your basketball skills." I said

"I know you care for this guy, but nobody messes with the bosses' woman! That's right up there with the primal rules! You understand? You have to accept that he's gonna die. You don't cry for him! You understand?" Daddy said to Andrew.

"Yes sir!" Andrew said with a stone face. Then Andrew stood up. "Malcolm!" He said as he led him to the backyard.

Daddy told me to come sit next to him. I moved next to Daddy on the couch. I told him everything and I do mean everything from the beginning to the end. Daddy sat there absorbing everything. Daddy said from the moment I chose to go the opposite way of the way he was showing me, my life was leading to this. He said Malcolm was a good man, but he has his own demons to deal with. He said none of this minimized my part in any of it. He said I should've broken up with David as soon as I knew it couldn't move forward. Getting pregnant confused everything. Then he asked who I was talking to when he walked in the door. I told him it was David; I was trying to get him to plead guilty. Daddy asked me why I keep trying to save him? I told him David has no idea what he's gotten himself into; I don't want him to die. Daddy said I was fighting a losing battle, David was going to die. Daddy said I needed to let go cause it was gonna happen.

Darryl came downstairs he got really excited when he saw his grand poppa. He came and gave him a big hug. Daddy asked Darryl where he was coming from. He told him he was strolling around upstairs getting ready for the day. That tickled Daddy so much. He thanked Darryl for that laugh.

Then Sophia called and asked what our plans were for the day? That was code for she needed our help if we weren't too busy. She opened her restaurant a couple of months ago, while I opened my school a few weeks later. Ms. Dubois sent a couple teachers and students my way. She even taught the Saturday modern dance class. I partnered with The Center as sort of a sister company to theirs in the Oakland area. Poppa and Nana volunteered to be silent investors when needed. Uncle Frank as promised funded the purchase of my studio instead of leasing the space. My head hadn't been exactly in the game with losing Momma and then this nightmare with David. But Gwen really stepped up and helped me get my vision off the ground for my school. In addition to overseeing the design and layout of my school, she was an advertising wizard. Her degree in marketing really paid off. My school "The North Star Dance Company", and Sophia's restaurant were major achievements for her independent consultation services that she wanted to eventually turn into a marketing firm. Daddy said he would gladly keep Darryl with him while I took Andrew and Derrick with me to the restaurant. I went to the back and Andrew and Malcolm were playing basketball really hard. Hubby, Dude, and Derrick stood to the side watching the two of them go at it. Malcolm had on street clothes but it didn't seem to matter. Andrew was visibly upset and putting it all on the court. Malcolm was playing on Andrew's emotional state. He kept blocking Andrew's lay up, fouling him just to upset him more. Andrew would get right back out there and keep going. He was determined to score on Malcolm at some point. I stood there watching for a minute, I wanted to tell Malcolm to stop because I could see what he was doing. But I didn't feel like being accused of babying Andrew, and he seemed to be handling it. When Andrew finally scored I told him and Derrick to go wash up cause we were going to Sophia's. I asked Hubby and Dude if they wanted to come cause we could use the help. They said yes and ran home to ask their mother. Dude came back and said she told them yes. So they were going to wash up and come right back. I packed up Darryl and he left with Daddy. Malcolm was still lingering. I kept rolling my eyes at him whenever our eyes met, and his face stayed serious.

"I wish I could say this was business and that it wasn't personal. But that would be a lie." Malcolm said matter of factly.

"You just look for any and every avenue to hurt me. When will you just leave me alone?" I said

"How you figure?"

"I gave you everything! Everything! And what thanks do I get? Yvette and your laundry list of hoes! The first and only time I try to have something real for me, you squash my dream. I've always told you I wanted a family. You never wanted any liabilities, but when I find someone who wants with me, what you never wanted, you won't allow it. It's like I'm forever being punished for ever caring for you."

"I know I don't handle things right all the time, but you don't either. You can blame me for ruining your life, I'll take that. But you will not blame me for him hitting you! Even if I would've never said anything and you did marry him, eventually he would've been kicking your butt and up down the street. That's what you're missing, one way or another he was gonna die. I just can't believe someone like that is who you want to replace me with."

"Why do you keep making this about you Malcolm? I loved David cause he wasn't you."

"Right, cause he was timid and sweet. When exactly did he start going upside your head? He was broke, a pitiful excuse for a man, and I know he wasn't satisfying you." I couldn't believe he went there. "Did you notice you still curved to me? Keep fighting it if you want to, but you are my queen."

I had no desire to pursue this conversation anymore. He was trying to get my body to react to him, and I refuse! I turned on my heels and went upstairs. The boys were getting their things together to take their showers. I went in my closet to decide which black slacks and which white button up I was gonna wear. When I heard my door open and close, I knew it was Malcolm. I wasn't in the mood; I didn't feel like playing this game. "What do you want?"

"Lets have this out, I don't want it dragging out for the next however long." He said sitting on my bed.

"I don't feel like doing this right now Malcolm."

"Since we've already established its happening, how long you gonna stay mad at me?"

"Hhhhmmmm, lets see you're gonna kill the father of my kids and you wanna know how long I'm gonna be mad? Oh I don't know, would eternity satisfy?" I came out of the closet with my pants and shirt. I laid them on the bed, and then I rolled my eyes at him. "Can you step out, I need to change."

He leaned back on the bed. "Go ahead."

I gagged and rolled my eyes again. I took my clothes in my bathroom. I was not about to let him watch me dress. "Amber, we have to get past this."

"Really? You took away the one person who wanted me despite you. Then you go home to Yvette and your many hoes. I can't have anybody, but you can have whomever you want. I have always hated your double standard! I even chose you over David, and what do you do? You move your hoes into your shop; kick me out without even discussing it with me. I hate you so much Malcolm! I can't believe I ever allowed you so many chances and each time you break my heart. You don't realize it but you're no better than David. Both of you have humiliated me, and made me regret ever feeling anything for you."

When I came out the bathroom Malcolm's face was angry, but he didn't say anything. My words had wounded him; he sat there unresponsive for a few minutes like he was thinking about my words. He looked like he was searching for words. Then he said, "Momma would say we started this whole thing too young. We created to many wounds before we knew how we would've wanted this whole thing to go." I stood there looking at him. "I'm not ready to be a faithful husband, I'm not gonna sit here and lie about that. But I've taken care of you this whole time even while you were with David. I even gave you space to have your relationship. I know removing David means I'll have to step up more around here. I need us to be ok. I'm not trying to hurt you. I love you!"

"No you don't!"

"Yes I do!"

"Then leave David alone."

"Amber! I can't do that!" I could hear his resolve weakening.

"Would it help if I told you that I don't want to be with him? I'll prove it anyway you want, I just don't want him to die."

"Kiss me" Malcolm said. The sight of seeing Malcolm weaken before me definitely turned me on. He's always so big and strong, powerful. I know the thought of Momma had something to do with it, but I would take whatever I could. I kissed him with everything in my body. He started leaning back. Then he pulled away. "Amber, I can't!"

"Yes you can Malcolm. I broke up with him before this happened. I don't want to be with him."

"So why would you kiss me to save him?"

"Cause you won't listen to reason. I'm just asking you not to kill him."

"Amber, he's an entitled idiot. He's gonna come after you."

"No he won't. He knows I don't want to be with him."

Malcolm grabbed my butt with his big strong hands. "This is a mistake, I can feel it."

"My butt feels like a mistake?" I smiled.

Andrew knocked at the door saying they were ready to go. I told Andrew and Derrick to go downstairs and that I would be right down. Malcolm frowned at me, I told him to stay put, and that I'd be right back. Malcolm said a defeated ok. When I bounced down the stairs Andrew had an evil look on his face. I gave my car keys to Derrick, I told him to get in the car with Hubby and Dude.

"What's wrong Andrew?" I asked

"Why is Malcolm in your room?"

"I'm trying to get him to change his mind about David."

"You heard what Grand Poppa said." Andrew said

"I did, but Malcolm can talk to Grand Poppa."

"Why does he have to be in your room?"

"Andrew! Stop asking me questions! David and I are not together, I can have whomever I want in my room." Andrew huffed. "Go get in the car boy, and worry about being a child."

When we got to Sophia's the place was hopping. LJ and JoJo were there already bussing tables, but they needed help, so Sophia put Derrick, Hubby, and Dude on bussing detail. She asked Andrew to help Sasha with hosting. I told her I had to go do something but I would be back. She looked at me and asked what I had to do; I told her I had to finish my conversation with Malcolm. She raised an eyebrow and said "conversation"? I kissed her cheek and I bounced out of the restaurant. My mind and my body kept debating with each other. My mind was begging for a moment to think it through. Meanwhile my body was beyond excited about what was about to happen to it. Over these past few years, I've just been going through the motions. Every time David brought sex up my body froze over. I didn't want his hands on my body, but I didn't want Malcolm at that point either. It has felt like the dumbest thing to have taken the pill all these years for nothing. But at this moment I was happy I had been. When I walked in the door Malcolm was sitting on the couch flipping the channels. His face was serious but not mad. I walked towards the kitchen, and he called out that he already made sure it was locked. How did he know I was going to secure the door? He glanced at me and then he put his eyes back on the TV. I put my jacket and purse down on the chair. Then I sat next to him on the couch, I kissed his neck. He inhaled then exhaled real big. "Stop!" I looked at him with the biggest question mark. "You didn't want me touching you before. Now to save this nigga you're open? All the sudden the Yvette's and Camille's of my life don't matter?" Then he looked at me. "How much have you changed?"

"What does that mean?" I said frowning.

"I don't want to touch you to save someone that I want dead. I've only ever touched you because I loved you and I needed you. If we go through with this, I may never look at you the same. Is that what you want?"

"What does that mean?"

"I've never treated you like I've treated them. You've always been my Queen. But this doesn't feel right. You're willing to have sex with me to save someone we all know is gonna die, playing on my weakness for you. You say you don't wanna be with him, but why would you go through all this for someone you aren't planning to be with?"

"If I'm completely honest with you, can we have this conversation? This is just me and you?"

He turned off the TV with the remote. "When have I ever given you the impression it was ok to lie to me?" His face was completely serious.

I took off my shoes, pulled my feet up on the couch and faced him. He faced me and looked me directly in my eyes. At first my eyes fell to the floor, but then I gave him eye contact back. He relaxed a little. "David was the sweetest guy initially. Before we officially got together he was worried about how he and I being together would affect Andrew. Even when he was whooped from working hard all day Andrew would meet him at the door and talk his ear off. He wouldn't end the conversation or hurry Andrew a long, he'd let him talk, and he made him feel heard. I pretended like I didn't notice things like that, but they touched my heart. I fell really hard for him. I couldn't think of how to break the news to him that I couldn't marry him. So I took another route, I took responsibility for the pain and confusion that I was causing him. The nasty side of him didn't start coming out until after Derrick was born and he started drinking. I knew it was my fault that he was acting that way. He didn't start off that way and I honestly believe, it's all my fault that he's where he is right now. I never told him what you said, you did. Once he knew he calmed down a lot, we kind of reconnected. Once the boys started coming he never treated Andrew any different. I love him for everything he did for Andrew and for what's he meant to me. He made sure I never felt the rejection of another woman. But there's the flip side, I could go down a whole list for you if you want. But in the end he's not you. It is very depressing and confusing to me to hear you say how much you love me, but yet you have to have other women. Every time I wanna succumb to my feelings for you, the memories of why we aren't together slap me in the face. You are the man about everything else, but when it comes to giving me you, you fail me. Today you were giving in to me, and that ignited something in me I hadn't felt in a long time. I felt like you were giving me something difficult to give away, so I wanted to give you something I haven't given anyone in years."

He squinted, "years?"

"Not since before I realized I was pregnant."

He whistled. "Vulnerability turns you on?"

"It did today. But now I feel rejected so we're back to square one." I sighed.

"Amber, mark my words. He's gonna come after you. He's not gonna leave you to be with me happily ever after."

"Maybe we need to see to believe. I don't think he'll forget that I broke up with him."

"This is a mistake."

I stood up and slipped my feet in my shoes. "Maybe you're right. I don't know people like you do, or Momma did. But it's not like you will be far away if he does come after me."

Malcolm sighed shaking his head. I grabbed my stuff and we walked out together. He put his arms around me and kissed me deep and strong, my body started mildly shaking just from his kiss. "I can't touch you right now. You have too much faith in him. I'll come for you when it's time."

"In that case you need to be unattached then as well."

He just looked at me, like it was not up for negotiation.

***********

"Hello, can I speak to Andrew?" These little girls call at all hours.

"Who's this?" I asked

"Toya." The girl said

"Toya do you see what time it is?" I said irritated.

"I'm sorry." She said

"Don't call here after nine, you hear me!"

"Yes ma'am."

I hung up. Andrew peaked around the corner from the kitchen. "Get in here!" He had a slight grin on his face. "If one more girl calls here after nine, you won't be able to tie up my line for a whole week. Do you understand me?"

"Yes" Andrew said with a grin.

"Why does it have to be so many?" I asked

Still grinning, "I don't know." Then he looked around. "Who was it?"

I sucked my teeth. "I'll tell you in the morning. Go finish the dishes."

Andrew took off running. I knew that just meant he was gonna be back once he was done. The phone rang again and I sighed real loud. "Andrew's answering service. It is now after ten o'clock, he cannot receive calls after nine."

The caller started laughing. I sat up, I knew that laugh. "So the girls are calling nonstop huh?"

"Yes! When did you get out?" Andrew's head popped around the corner

"Today, I'm at a friend's tonight. Can I come see you guys tomorrow?"

"Aw, there's gonna be a recital at my school tomorrow night. My students have been working really hard. Give me the number to where you're staying, I'll call Saturday after we get off work."

"Your school is open on Saturdays?"

"No, but we help out at Sophia's on the weekends. Andrew created a seating process that has just about put Sophia's at the top of Piedmont's list of places to go and eat. They get you in quickly, feed you good, and get you on your way. The boys have been instrumental in the success of Sophia's, plus they earn their pocket change working there."

He laughed, "Darryl works there too?"

"Yes he does."

David laughed, "what does he do?"

"He helps buss the tables, he sweeps, he collects the tips and put them in the proper cubbies. He's really good too."

"What about Derrick? What does he do?"

"He's good with numbers, he keeps time, he's a lot like Andrew. He's a jack-of-all-trades. Andrew still brings home straight A's, and Derrick does too. Andrew reads books whenever he can still a moment away and as soon as he's done with a book Derrick is into it. They want to move Derrick ahead a grade cause they say he's not being challenged enough. I'm still thinking about it, but it looks like I'm going to have to, he's getting really bored in class."

"How old is he now?

"You don't know how old your own son is?"

He laughed. "He's... Seven right?"

"Ding! Ding! You're right. Tell 'em what he's won Chuck!" I laughed, "he's in the second grade but his demeanor makes him seem so much older. Nothing seems to phase him."

"That's because he's always following behind Andrew." David said

"If you say so."

"How have you been?"

"I'm fine." I said not liking the turn of the conversation. Andrew walked into the room.

"I miss you!"

"David, please don't."

"I've thought about that morning. I think..."

"David, hold on." I took the phone off my ear.

Andrew's eyes were big, I handed him the phone. "Hello?" He smiled, but his smile wasn't a complete smile. "Good! Good!" Then Andrew looked at me. "Yea, she's good... How are you..? She went upstairs... Yeah... Yeah... I'll tell her... Ok... No.... You know what I gotta go. Alright... Ok.... She's still upstairs; I think I hear the shower... I'll tell her... Bye... bye" then he hung up the phone and looked at me. "I hate it when Malcolm's right!" Then he walked back in the kitchen.

****************

"Thank you everyone for coming out tonight. The students have worked very hard. We hope you enjoy!" I said at the end of my introductory speech. The night went smoothly, and the audience was packed in my theater. Malcolm stood on the sideline with me, helping me with everything and putting his arms around me in between rest. Affectionate embraces had become our thing. That and talking, sometimes we'd sit and talk for hours. Every once in a while we'd kiss, but mainly we hugged and held each other.

Of course my boys, and the girls were the stars of the night. Andrew and LJ choreographed a routine for the nine of them. Dude wasn't much of a dancer, but I always gave him an A for effort. Sasha and Tanisha started the routine. Derrick, Hubby, JoJo, and Dude kicked it up a notch. Andrew and LJ brought it in, and Darryl was the finale. The crowd who was already into their routine went absolutely wild when little Darryl came in perfectly. My babies knew how to work the crowd. I didn't try to scan the crowd, but my gut told me David was out there. My family was all through the crowd, I never asked Malcolm if he told everyone to back off. But since David was alive last night, I assume he's sent word. I told Malcolm right away that David called; he didn't seem surprised or concerned. At the end of the night as I thanked everyone for coming out, Malcolm walked out with a large bouquet of long stem red roses. He kissed my cheek and the crowd cheered. Completely embarrassed I dismissed everyone. Nana and Poppa came and congratulated everyone on a job well done. We all went to Sophia's for cake and coffee afterwards. Malcolm sat next to me and he kept telling me how well tonight went. I could feel eyes on me but I couldn't tell where they were coming from. Saturday morning we got up as usual, and we headed out to Sophia's. My stomach felt weird about the day, but I told myself it was residual butterflies from the night before. When we got to the restaurant everything was business as usual the place was packed as usual. Andrew's seating system kept new customer wait down to fifteen minutes maximum. Customers would get a kick out of how young the boys and Sasha were. Sophia would come out and greet customers personally whenever she could pull away from the kitchen. A lot of the time customers would be so surprised that someone so young would be so successful in the restaurant business especially in our current nineteen eighties economy. As I took the order at one of my tables I noticed a little girl kind of hanging out by the hostess station. She wasn't obvious but she definitely had Andrew's attention. When Andrew saw me looking he blushed, the girl looked at me with a question mark. I put my order in then I walked towards the front. I could see Andrew giving himself a pep talk as I approached. My eyes bounced between the girl and him. Andrew tried to keep his eyes and body from reacting, but I could see him internally dreading this moment. When I got to the station I looked at Andrew. He turned red, "momma this is my friend Toya."

The girl did a double take when she saw me. "That's your momma? Wow!" She said looking at me.

"What does that mean little girl?" I said not liking the sound of it. She tried to figure out how to fix it, but she couldn't so she just smiled an embarrassed smile. "Andrew you've got work to do, send this little girl away!" Then I gave him one more look and I walked away. I could hear Andrew telling her she had to go or he'd hate to be her when I came back. I saw my face in the window as I walked away, I swore I saw Momma. That made me laugh to myself. Around four Darryl was starting to burn out so I told Sophia it was time for me to go. Hubby and Dude wanted to stay, they called their momma and she said it was ok. As I was telling Andrew that little girl better not come back, Malcolm and Tanisha walked in. Tanisha was coming to help out, and Malcolm was coming to check things out like he normally does. I told him I was taking Darryl home. He said he'd bring the boys home in a little bit. Darryl and I stopped by Bob's for a scoop of ice cream on our way home. When I pulled into my driveway I noticed a car I didn't recognize sitting in front of the house. The windows were tinted so I couldn't see if anyone was inside. I took Darryl inside and I made sure I locked the door behind me. Every so often I would look out the window to see if the car was still there. When Malcolm brought the boys home, I watched him approach the car and then shake hands with the person in the car. I exhaled a big sigh of relief. The night seemed more normal. Derrick and Andrew made dinner, Darryl made the salad. Malcolm and I sat all hugged up in front of the TV. When dinner was ready we sat at the table like a family. I asked Andrew who that little girl was. Andrew blushed again; he said she was just a girl from school. I asked if she was his girlfriend and he got all blushy. I rolled my eyes, I told him not to have her coming down to the restaurant. Then he asked if she could come and take classes at the center. I told him that was fine but she had to pay for her classes, and he better not pay for them for her. Andrew spent the rest of the evening on the phone. Derrick sat in the chair with a book, and Malcolm played checkers with Darryl. Darryl was really good, but you had to watch him cause he'd sneak a move past you if you let him. Malcolm's walkie-talkie was going off a little more than usual. Andrew got off the phone so he could call Juan. I put Darryl to bed, and Derrick followed suit. Andrew said goodnight and he went upstairs. Malcolm said his man out front had to go handle some business. So he was going to stay. I playfully asked him where he was gonna sleep, Malcolm told me not to play with him. He was exercising control but he wasn't above climbing in my bed. Juan called the house after midnight; I could see the hesitation on Malcolm's face. I told him to use his key when he came back. I gave him a key over a year ago just in case of emergency. He never needed to use it, because we were normally home. At the door he kissed me long and deep, he told me he was coming up to my room when he came back. I smiled and said ok. At that particular moment I didn't care about Yvette or any of the others. I had been dying to feel him again, but I kept it to myself as much as I could. I took a quick shower and I put on this pretty long silk nightgown I bought for just in case. When my head hit the pillow I fell asleep. I woke up to the sound of the refrigerator door closing. I figured one of the boys got hungry or Malcolm. I wanted to see Malcolm's reaction to seeing me in my nightgown. I put on the matching robe and I went downstairs. The light was on in the kitchen, when I walked in the kitchen I caught myself from screaming. It was David he was drunk and it looked like he was trying to heat up some food. He smiled at me. "You look beautiful!"

My heart started beating. "Thank you. How did you get in here?" He pointed to my back door that he must've kicked in. "David you gotta leave."

"Why didn't you call me? I waited for you." He walked towards me. "I'm making breakfast for you guys."

"David you gotta go." I said trying to pick up the bread he spilled on the kitchen floor.

He grabbed me by my hair. "So you're back with Malcolm? Why can't you ever just leave him alone?"

"David! Let me go!" I said trying to remove his grip from my hair.

He pulled me to stand up, "not until you tell me you love me. We're getting married Amber. We're moving to Florida where that black demon will never find us. We're gonna be happy just like we used to be. We'll have one more baby, a girl this time."

I didn't want to scream and wake up the kids. "David, I'm not going anywhere with you."

He put his hands around my neck and started choking me. "If you're not with me, you're not with anyone!" His eyes were cold and although he was drunk he seemed numb to what he was doing to me. He released his grip enough so that I could breath. "I'm not playing with you Amber. We're leaving tonight! I was making breakfast for the road trip." He let me go. "What did I do with the eggs? Doesn't French toast sound good!”

I tried to run away from him but he got up, punched me in the face and I fell backwards. I kept crawling trying find anything to hit him with. He kicked me in my ribs. "Good morning son, you want some French toast?" David said to Andrew. Andrew's eyes got big when he saw my face. Andrew's face changed rapidly, he went from surprised, to hurt, to angry in a matter of seconds. I told Andrew to go back, and that it was ok. Andrew reached for the phone on the wall. David threw my iron skillet at it and broke the phone. I hopped up right as David charged at Andrew, he was not gonna lay a finger on my baby. I grabbed the pan off the counter and I swung at him. "Amber, we gotta get rid of little Malcolm. He's too much like his father now." Andrew charged at David, you heard it when Andrew's fist connected with David's face. Andrew took off on David, he was moving too fast for him. I couldn't believe my baby had this grown man on the ground. I hit David in his right shoulder with the pan hard. Andrew kept kicking David and yelling, "YOU DONT EVER TOUCH MY MOMMA! I HATE YOU! YOU WERE MY DAD! HOW COULD YOU?"

As I was running to the phone in the living room, I saw Derrick running down the stairs. I told him to go back upstairs; he ignored me and ran in the kitchen. I dialed Juan's number, it barely rang. I couldn't really talk I was crying so hard. Juan hung up on me. The front door opened just as Juan chirped Malcolm's walkie-talkie. Malcolm looked at me and then the noise coming from the kitchen. I ran back to the kitchen, Malcolm walked. Andrew and Derrick were still beating on David. "Stop!" Malcolm said, both of them froze. Andrew was crying, and Derrick looked at me. He started punching and kicking David again. Andrew grabbed Derrick. Malcolm took in the whole kitchen scene. "This is your last chance to live. Run away!"

David hobbled up, his eye was swollen shut and as seconds past more and more knots started appearing on his face. David hobbled as fast as he could out the door. Malcolm looked at us, "you were distracted when I came in the door. He ran away! Amber, go call 911!"

Malcolm chirped Juan on his walkie-talkie. Andrew asked Malcolm what he was going to do. Malcolm just looked at him. Andrew was torn, he told Malcolm David wasn't gonna be stupid enough to come back. He begged him to let him go. Malcolm told Andrew not to be stupid, and that we all knew better than to think David wouldn't come back. I didn't say anything, I had already told been proven wrong. But it was breaking my heart to see how Andrew even with all this still had a glimmer of faith in the goodness that used to exist in David.

When the police came we all gave them statements about what happened. The officers taking our statements knew Poppa and Malcolm. Daddy came over and he was angry, he and Malcolm went out back and talked for a long time. Juan called the house phone; his voice was serious but kind. He asked me if I was ok and how the boys were. I told him we were fine, and then he asked to speak to Malcolm. When he got off the phone the officers went over their reports with Daddy and Malcolm. Malcolm told them to wait until they heard from him before they turned them in. Then they left, when Andrew pleaded one more time with Malcolm. Malcolm lost it, which made Daddy lose it. They were all screaming. Daddy was telling Andrew it was over. Malcolm was telling Andrew this was business. Andrew was telling Malcolm it was personal. When Daddy had enough he yelled, "ENOUGH!" Both of them stopped immediately. "Malcolm, Andrew is right, this isn't business it's very personal." Then he turned to Andrew, "family comes first! This was his chance to prove that he was changed and he failed miserably. If we let him go now he will come back with something. At the very least we will lose you, now that he knows what you're capable of. We cannot risk it." Andrew started crying. "Malcolm don't fail me again!" Daddy's eyes were serious.

Derrick put his arms around Andrew. His face was serious, “it’s for the best Drew."

In that moment if I didn't know better I would've sworn Derrick was Malcolm's child. Andrew was more upset about David than Derrick was. We all stood there staring at them. "Derrick are you ok?" I asked

He looked up from his big brother, "I'm fine." His face was nonchalant. He looked at the question marks on all of our faces. "I don't like David."

"Why?" I asked

"Cause he doesn't like me."

"Why do you think he doesn't like you?" Malcolm asked

"I don't think, I know."

"How do you know?" I asked

"He told me, he always told me. He only cared about momma. Malcolm has been my dad."

Everybody looked at Malcolm, he was speechless. He put his hands out and he hugged Derrick. Daddy put ice in a towel and put it on my face. Malcolm hugged Andrew, Andrew pleaded with his eyes. Malcolm left; Daddy called Sophia and told her we weren't coming in today. Derrick got Andrew up and they went out back to play ball. Darryl came down and made a beeline out back. Connie knocked on the door as she pushed it open. Daddy had his arms around me while I was crying. I felt so stupid, my insides felt like they were being ripped apart. I couldn't believe that was happening under my nose and I didn't know about it. Connie asked if we were ok. I told her we were fine, David got out and broke in my house. She gasped and asked if we were all ok. I told her we were.

The phone rang and it was David's Auntie Lorraine. She was worried and asking if I had seen David. I told her what happened last night. She started crying; she said all he could talk about was starting over with me. She told him to give me space. She said he called her Friday upset because he thought I had gotten back together with Andrew's father. Her statement sounded more like a question than a statement. I let her question ride on the air. Then I told her the police are looking for him, and she should encourage him to turn himself in as soon as she sees him or heard from him. Then we got off the phone. We were sitting there and suddenly my heart sped up, I felt nauseous. I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I was in pain all over and then it was gone. Daddy came to the bathroom; he asked me if I was pregnant. "NO!" I said over tears. I was suddenly exhausted. I apologized to Connie and Daddy and then I went to lay down. Darryl came in my room.

"Momma I feel sad." He said

"Me too baby." I pulled back my covers for him to come lay next to me. "Why are we sad?" I asked

He climbed in my bed and shrugged his shoulders. I handed him the remote to the TV, and I rubbed his back. I could hear the guys who came to fix the door leave. Darryl said he felt better, he kissed my forehead. I dozed off for a while, I woke up to Malcolm undressing and getting in my bed. I looked at the clock it was after two in the morning. "When did my Daddy leave?"

"Around eight."

"You've been here that long?"

"Since about seven."

Tears were in my eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you."

"How you feeling?"

"He's dead isn't he?" I asked, Malcolm sat on the edge of the bed. Even in the dark I could see the look he was giving me. I started crying, "it's all my fault!" I started crying uncontrollably.

Malcolm pulled me into his lap. He kissed my forehead, "it's not your fault. He's been messed up for a long time."

"Yes it is! If it wasn't for me he'd still be alive. It's all my fault."

He rubbed my head, "baby it's not your fault. Ssshhhh! Ssshhhh! He did this to his self."


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Invisible

Chapter 1


We’re moving again! Seems like every time I get settled, make new friends, I have to say goodbye. I feel like a nomad moving from city to city. Without any one to share my pain with I write in my journal. Sometimes I sit in my room with my headphones on writing out my feelings or writing poems until I get tired of holding my pencil or pen. I can’t talk to my momma about this; she’s the one doing this to me. I stopped complaining to my Grandma about it, because it would make her mad and then she’d argue with my momma about it. Then I’d get in trouble for telling our business as if my grandma couldn’t see with her own eyes. Seeing my father was bitter sweet. I was so happy to see him, and excited every time he found us. But I also knew as soon as she didn’t get her way about something we were moving again. Sometimes Momma would move without a place to move to. So we would have to go home to Richmond for a couple of months. I love Richmond, the city by the Bay and my roots. When people ask me where I’m from Richmond is the only city that counts. I proudly declare Richmond California as my home.

*******

"YOU ARE JUST LIKE YOUR FATHER! YOU DON'T EVER APPRECIATE ANYTHING I TRY TO DO FOR YOU! WHY WOULDN'T YOU WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOUR MOMMA? I'M THE ONLY ONE YOU GOT! DON'T I DESERVE YOUR TIME MORE THAN SOME LITTLE TRAMP WHO'S NOT GONNA MATTER IN TWO WEEKS?" 

She screamed at me.

I exhaled, I hate when she acts like this. Whenever she was in between boyfriends then she was overly concerned about what I was doing and who I was doing it with. "Momma I've had these plans for awhile. I'ma go and I'll be right back. Then we can watch a movie or whatever you wanna do."

Momma's face turned evil. "How you think you gonna tell me what you're gonna do? Little boy you don't run this show!"

She walked in my face daring me to do something. I blew out air cause I know if I reacted to her walking up on me there were going to be problems. "Fine! I won't go nowhere, I'll stay here." I mumbled, I was so mad! It's bad enough she moved us out here to the boondocks behind her ex-boyfriend; I finally opened up to the idea that I'm not going back to Richmond to my Grandma, my G-momma, and my auntie. Trying to make the best out of this messed up situation one of the girls at my school invited me to her house. But oh well, I guess I'm not going so it doesn't matter. As I reached for the phone it rang. "Hello" I said

"Hey how you doing little man? Shonda home?"

"Yeah, who dis?" I said

"Bernard" he said

I smiled. This fool was my ticket out of here, as long as he was calling to hook up. But I had to act like I didn't want her to go and then she'd really go. "What you want?" I said

"To talk to yo momma." He said

"For what?" I said with an attitude

"Who is it?" Momma asked

"Bernard, but don't worry I'ma tell him to call tomorrow cause we're gonna spend tonight together." I said winking at her.

"BOY!" She said snatching the phone from me. She put on a sugary sweet voice and walked away with the phone.

I grabbed my jacket and I walked out the door. Walking to Randi's house I thought about my Grandma. I missed her so much, and all I wanted was to go back to Richmond.

I could hear Grandma's voice, "She was fast!" At least that's what she called her. She said she was always falling over herself over some no good nigga. I asked her if that included my father, and Grandma said there's something's that are easier to accept in life than others. Like my life is the end result of a booty call turned last-ditch effort to hold on. My momma liked him enough, but she was really trying to figure out how she was gonna get her hands on some money. My father was pretty big stuff, at least that's the way my Grandma said it. She said he always drove nice cars, he wore nice clothes, and his hair stayed freshly cut. I had to be about.... Let me see, I had to be about two years old when he started picking me up and taking me places. Grandma said as soon as I was potty trained it was me and him. I just remember that every time he came to get me my momma had her hand out. And if he came by talking about he didn't have no money, my momma wouldn't let him see me. My Grandma said that my father gave her money on the regular, twice a month like clockwork he brought her money. But if he didn't bring her extra whenever he wanted to see me she would act up. The messed up part is that he hardly got to see me. So when the sporadic moment presented it’s self that I got to see him, I was always overjoyed. My momma was young and dumb. Grandma said they met at a club, and where my father normally didn't have breakfast with his conquest he let her stay. He said he was going through something's at the time, and for that moment my momma seemed nice enough. My parents hooked up regularly for a couple months and as my father started to lose interest my momma plotted to get pregnant. Grandma said my momma begged him for a few months to come before he actually came and found out she was pregnant with me. He was reluctant to believe that he was the father after she told him. The fact that when I was born I looked exactly like him was almost completely convincing, but my father still had to have a test before he was completely sold on the idea. Once he had suitable evidence that I was his son he was all over the fact that I was here, but my momma's gold diggerish ways began to show. Grandma said my momma has been lost for a long time, and unfortunately my relationship with my father paid the price. My parents still hooked up from time to time, and it really became like payment for services rendered.

My Grandma is a very religious woman. Suddenly a single mother of two girls when her husband of many years went into a diabetic coma and died. No one even knew he was sick. Suddenly Grandma was a single mother with no work skills to provide for their family. They lost their comfortable three-bedroom home and were thrust into the ghettos of Richmond California's public housing. They had no choice but to live by the standards that welfare provides. Then Grandma's momma, my G-Momma, got sick and had to come stay with them. Grandma says she tried to influence both my momma and my auntie to rely on God to see them through and to take care of them. But I guess being young and devastated stopped Grandma's message from sinking in at first. My momma and my auntie were always running the streets. Grandma said it was only a matter of time before one if not both of her girls came home pregnant. I guess it was only right that the oldest would show up pregnant first. My momma was barely eighteen when I was born. She had all these ideas of how her life was gonna be. My momma got on welfare when I was born. This was her ticket out of Grandma's religiously based home and to a place of her own. Grandma said most times my father picked me up from her house. And I do remember being picked up from her house mostly. Probably because my momma was always moving, she never really stayed put. So that made it hard for my father to find me sometimes. I guess my Grandma felt obligated to call my father and let him know I was there. That’s when he’d come for me, and then he and my mother would have some kind of a dramatic lover’s quarrel.

I can remember that my momma kept my hair long all my life. One day my father came to pick me up and he kept looking at me. I can't remember how old I was, but I can remember holding my father's massive hand as we entered the barbershop. A lot of people smiled at me, and they were nice. Then this one pretty lady who smelled like baby powder came over and she hugged me. She took my hand and helped me into her chair. She cut the rubber bands out of my hair then she moved it around with her hands. She put the backwards cape on me, then she took me to the other chair where she washed my hair. Then she braided it. I remember liking the finished product, and I remember my momma being jealous. My momma tried to tell my father that he couldn't have me around Roz. Roz was always nice to me; it wasn't until then that I realized that she was my father's girlfriend. My momma asked me a bunch of questions. In the end she had to let it go. My father put his foot down. "You want his hair long, but you don't comb it. You got him walking around here looking homeless. Shut up its done!" He told her. My momma sent me outside to play, while she continued to argue. When I came back inside to pee, my parents were in my Momma's room with the door cracked. At the time I didn't know what they were doing, it looked weird but later on I found out. Even though Roz was my father's girlfriend, my momma still commanded my father's presence at times.

I rang the doorbell, I saw someone look out the window and then I could hear giggling and movement. "He's here!" I heard them whispering. Randi opened the door. "Who's at the door?" Someone called out. Randi put one finger up. Then she ran to the back of the house. Two of her friends stood there looking at me and blushing. When Randi came back she told her friends to grab their jackets and to come on. "Yussef, thank you for coming." She said blushing

"You're welcome. Where are we going?"

"The backyard, but I figured we could walk to seven eleven first and get some Slurpee’s. Is that ok?" I shrugged, I felt relieved that I took a few dollars out of my secret money just in case. Whenever I see my dad he gives me money, he tells me not to tell my momma about it and to save it for a rainy day. I can't wait to see him, I hate being out here. "How long does it take to braid your hair like that?" She said staring at my hair as we walked.

"A couple hours, but that's only because my father's girlfriend can braid really fast. It would take longer otherwise." I said

"Wow!" She looked at my hair like it amazed her. "Can I touch it?"

"I don't care,” I said. People always touch my hair I don't even notice it too much any more. Roz always tells me to let her know when I want her to loc it for me. My father doesn't care, but momma said I couldn't do it. I think she didn't like the idea because Roz suggested it.

"Can I touch it too?" Her friends asked. I shook my head yes, and all three of them were petting my hair like they were amazed.

When I had enough of being touched like an animal I started walking again. I blew air cause this wasn't my scene, but it beat sitting in the house. "What kind of name is Yussef?" Randi asked

The question irritated me. "What kind of name is Randi isn't that a boy's name?"

"Are you mad at me? Please don't be mad, I'm sorry." She said real fast.

Hhhhmmmm, I like this reaction. "Don't ask dumb questions!"

Randi turned red. "I'm sorry, I just never heard it before. I thought it might be ethnic." She said lowering her eyes.

I stopped walking. "Hebrew is ethnic?"

"YOU'RE JEWISH?" One of her friend said in disbelief.

"Why else would I have a Hebrew name?" I was having fun with these dumb girls.

"Is that why your hair is so long?" The other friend asked.

"Yep! I'm gonna be like Samson when I grow up." I said with a smile. They exchanged looks; I knew they didn't know who I was talking about. I shook my head. "You guys really need to read your bibles." I said holding the door open for them.

I paid for our drinks then we walked back to Randi's house. Randi's dad worked nights, she didn't have a mom. Her big sister looked out for them at night, she was having a guy over so she told Randi she could too as long as I was gone before their dad came home.

"Where did you move here from?" Randi asked

"Richmond"

"Where's that?" Her friend asked

"On the other side of the water from San Francisco next to Berkeley."

"Is that where your father is?" She asked

"You ask a lot of questions." I said frowning.

"I'm sorry! It's just that you're the new kid. Nobody knows much about you." She said

"I didn't come over here to be drilled. I could've stayed home for that." I said

"I'm sorry! Are you bored? Do you want to leave?" She said

"Do something to entertain me!" I commanded

She looked confused. "Do something like what?"

"You like asking questions don't you." I sighed, "I'm gonna leave."

"No! Don't leave!" She looked around. "I'm sorry I don't know what to do."

"It's ok. I'm gonna go." I said standing up.

"I'll walk you to the gate." Randi said disappointed. "You guys can go up to my room, I'm gonna walk him to the gate." Her friends went inside, and we walked on the side of the house. She actually looked sad that I was leaving.

"Have you ever been kissed?" I asked

Randi's eyes got big. "Once, but it was real quick."

"Like this?" I said giving her a peck on her soft lips.

"Yes" she said looking at me with big eyes.

"What about like this?" I put my tongue in her mouth.

"Randi where's the..." Her friend stopped when she saw us kissing. Then she smiled real big, "what are you doing?"

"I'm showing her how to kiss, you wanna show her how it's done?" I said

"Is it ok with you Randi?" She said

I looked at Randi to see what she would say. She put her eyes to the ground. "I don't care."

I laughed to myself, "This girl is a pushover. She better get some back bone." I didn't even remember what her friend's name was. "Come here!" I said. This girl was ready and knew what to do. We kissed for a long time. Then I looked at Randi, "you got it?" She shook her head yes. And she did a lot better, she had some learning to do, but she'd get it. "Why don't you guys do this. Explain to Randi what she needs to do practice on each other. And when you think she's got it, I'll take it from there." Both of them gave me a funny look. I laughed, "It was worth a try!" I said still laughing.

I walked home laughing to myself. I could already hear my dad laughing in my mind when I tell him about this.

When he called himself having the birds and the bees conversation with me sometime ago he asked, "Do you have a girlfriend?"

"Yep!" I said

My father smiled, "what's she like?"

"She's pretty!" I said proudly

He gestured with his hands. "And?" I didn't know what he meant so I looked at him. "Is she smart? Is she nice? Why is she special enough to be your girlfriend?"

The only answer I had was that she was pretty. I couldn't say she had much else going for her. He said if pretty was enough my mother would've been his girlfriend. I asked him why my momma wasn't his girlfriend. He shook his head, I had this conversation with my Grandma and that's when she told me all the above. But I needed to hear it from him. He compared my momma to Roz. He said my momma was only out for herself, she was too selfish. Where Roz on the other hand looked out for him, and took care of him. Roz was always nice to me even when my father wasn't looking or around. My momma had a certain voice she used when men were around and another one she used as her everyday voice. I didn't blame him, I loved my momma but I didn't like her very much.

"You can't let everyone in up here." He said pointing to his temple. "Only the special one gets that deep." Then he asked me if my girlfriend was special enough to be up here, he pointed to his head. Or was she only special enough to be right here? He pointed to his lap. I shrugged, and then he told me I didn't have to let a girl up here, just to have her down there. Then he said if I was ever unsure of where a girl went, he said put her in my lap. The ones that belong upstairs were clear from the beginning. I asked him, how would I know. He said the ones who go up here, you won't miss them, and he said they would grab my attention. Then he said the ones who belong in my lap would remind me of my mother. Then he told me no matter what to stay covered, bring my own condoms, and to always flush them on my own. He demonstrated on a banana how to put a condom on, how to take it off and when. He told me if something felt "different" to pull out and inspect my condom. He told me not to let the girl touch it cause the trifling ones will try to rip it.

We were sitting at the kitchen table while he was educating me. Roz's daughter Tanisha came in the kitchen while we were talking. She looked at me and shook her head. "Boys!" She said

"You got something you wanna add?" My father asked

"Yeah! How about if she isn't special enough to have your baby don't sleep with her."

My father laughed. "He's not gonna be a monk. He's gonna meet a girl he wants to give it to. Or who wants to give it to him, but there's no love connection. I'm sorry that's just the truth."

She stood there looking mad. "Teach your son to be better! Don't teach him to go around breaking hearts!"

My father exhaled, then he called Tanisha to the table. "I know you're still mad at me. I can't take back what I did, but I'm really sorry for hurting you. If I could take it back I would."

Tanisha's eyes got glassy. "You broke my heart Troy! You broke my Momma's heart. She's forgiven you, but I always looked at you like a father. You let me down."

My father stood up and hugged her. "I know, I have no excuse for doing what I did. Please accept my apology. It's me and your momma from this point on."

Tanisha hugged my father back, and then she told him to finish his stupid sex education class. When I asked my father what happened he said he let a lap girl come between him and Roz. When I asked him why, he shrugged and said for that moment he became weak, and that he almost lost Roz forever.

When I got back to my apartment I knocked on the door. When there was no answer, I used my key and went inside. I opened the door slowly; my momma and her friend were in her room with the door shut. I exhaled and went in my room and turned on my radio. I put my headphones on cause I didn't wanna hear nothing coming from her room. I really wanted to see my Grandma this weekend, and next week was spring break. I wanted to spend it in the Bay with my friends and family. I took my headphones off and I called Grandma, as usual she and G-momma were excited that I called. I told them I wanted to come out; of course they didn't have a problem with it. Grandma told me to call my father. When I called Roz answered the phone. She was always happy to hear from me. She said my father wasn't home yet but she would have my ticket waiting at the train station Friday. She asked me how I was adjusting to life in Fresno, and I told her the truth I hated it. She listened to me as I explained why. I could tell she felt bad and as much as she wanted to, she wasn't gonna say anything against my mother, but I think I said it all for her. We talked for a little while then we got off the phone. I put my headphones back on and I fell asleep. I woke up to my momma telling me to get ready for school. Her friend spent the night so she played chef in the kitchen, when normally I ate cereal or oatmeal. I showered, dressed, and endured her put on like she was the sweetest female ever. Then I left to go to school. I listened to my Walkman all the way there then I did my best to keep to myself. The girls thought I was mysterious cause I was quiet and different, the guys always wanted to challenge me. Seems like I was always dropping some fool to his knees because he was trying to run up on me. It was a way to get my frustration out, but even beating people got old. There was no real challenge out here. The kids that thought they were bad were all talk.

"I practiced last night." Randi said with a smile.

I smiled, "did you take my suggestion?" She nodded yes. "Did you like it?" I asked as I put an apple candy in my mouth.

"It was weird, does that make me gay?" She asked looking confused.

I laughed, "No. Girls can kiss girls and it doesn't mean anything. Next time maybe the three of us can hang out." I watched her face for a reaction.

"Ok" she said

I knew she didn't know what I meant. "Are you a virgin?"

She looked embarrassed. "Yes"

"Aren't you tired of that, don't you want to experience life." I said still watching her face.

Her eyes got big and she put them on the ground. "I don't know."

"How about your friend she seems ready. She's not a virgin huh?" Randi shook her head no. I started going through the scene in my mind. This girl would let me do whatever as long as I paid her attention. And her friend seemed to go for whatever as well. Now I would definitely do her friend, but I didn't want to take Randi's virginity like this. She is eager to please, but not very smart about her heart. I changed my tone. "Randi, look at me." She glanced up at my face and then back at the ground. "No, look me in my eyes, and don't look away." She tried but she got really embarrassed and started changing colors. I exhaled, "I can't do this!" She looked confused. "Do you want to have sex?" She shrugged; I could feel myself getting irritated. "Look! You should know that you want to do it before you do it. And you shouldn't do it just so somebody will like you. I don't want to be that guy. You're a nice girl, you need a nice guy, so you guys can have nice sex." We both laughed.

"Aren't you a nice guy?"

"Sometimes, but I'm not the guy you need to give it away to. Not today anyways. I'm gonna give you a pass for being a nice girl, but I doubt the next guy will be so nice. Make sure you're ready first."

"But I like you." She said

"Why?" I said

"You're cute, smart, and funny." She said

"You want to have my baby don't you?" I smiled at her.

She gasped, "no!"

"Well you need to think of it that way. I'm trying to let you down easy, it seems like you just want me to stay."

"I like you, I want you to like me." She said embarrassed.

"I'ma tell you something. If the only way you can get someone to like you is to give him your body, then you need to rethink it. If you wanna give me your cherry I'll take it, but I think later on you will be kicking yourself."

"Do you like me?" She started twirling her foot.

"I don't even know you." I was starting to feel bad for this girl. She was desperate.

Thank goodness the first period bell rung and I walked with Randi inside. But you know how girls are, they see one girl paying you attention then they all start looking. I sat down and this girl walks over and sits on my desk. I don't know why but it irritated me that she sat there. "What!" I said looking at her.

"Yussef right?"

"You are?" I said not masking my irritation.

"Faith" she said with a smile

"What do you want?"

She looked disappointed. I guess I was supposed to be excited cause she was talking to me. "I want you to call me."

"For?"

She smiled, "we could figure something out."

I looked around the room cause I didn't know where this hoe came from. Randi was sitting in the corner with sad eyes. Faith gave Randi a look like she was taking over. Randi looked like she was going to cry. I got up out of my desk and sat behind Randi. She looked so surprised when I sat down. She whispered thank you, then the class started. Faith kept looking at us during the class. I didn't know what the deal was between them, but I didn't like the way Faith was conducting herself. She was reminding me of my mother. When we broke off into groups I sat with Randi, a guy named Antonio came, and of course Faith hurried. The teacher gave us our assignment. "You and Randi going out?" Faith asked

"Why you in our business?" I asked

She looked like the challenge would spur her on. "Cause there's nothing she could do for you that I couldn't do better." She said, I guess she thought she was sexy.

Randi put her eyes to the ground. Moments like this I wished I was in Richmond. Faith would've been getting whooped on. I frowned at her, "why would you sink to such a cheap level just to hurt Randi's feelings? You don't even know me. All you know is you see her talking to me, and you gotta win. What's wrong with you?" I asked

Antonio laughed, "You can't be from around here. Nobody talks to her like that."

Faith looked embarrassed, and Randi tried to hide her smile. What I didn't realize is just about everybody was listening. Almost all the girls in that class were looking at me with wanting eyes.

This city is too easy; I'm trying to lay low. At the end of class Randi gave me a big hug and Faith stormed away. By lunch time it seemed like all the girls knew my name. Randi came and sat next to me. She thanked me for standing up for her. Before long a bunch of girls were at our table. All of them were smiling at me, I got that sinking feeling. The girls were smiling the guys were frowning. Then Randi said, "Uh oh here comes Faith's brother."

I huffed then I stood up. He was coming full of anger and leaning forward when he walked. "You called my..." As soon as he stepped in firing range I connected with his jaw. Everybody oohed when they heard it. He stumbled backwards in shock, he came back in anger again, and I saw his friend coming from the left. He was still leading with his head forward I hit him in his temple and he went down as expected. I prepared myself for his friend who at least was coming upright. I calmly waited while he ran. He gave me eye contact then he looked at his friend. School staff came and grabbed him before the friend could decide what he was gonna do. "YOU TO THE OFFICE!" The woman said to me pointing, while they helped the guy off the ground. It seemed like the whole school was watching. I picked up my backpack and the rest of my lunch. I didn't even know this guy's name, but he was pretty upset. I guess it was only right that he was upset; I mean I would be too. I walked into the office finishing my lunch. The secretary asked me if she could help me, I guess because I walked in so casually behind everyone. I pointed at the guy and I told her I was there with them. Someone rushed over to the guy with a towel to hold on the cut that opened on his eye when I hit him in his temple. The guy still looked a little confused, I watched him and his friend. Then they called us in the office. The principal wanted to know why we were fighting. I shrugged and the other guys weren't saying anything. "Nobody knows why you were fighting?" She asked

"All I know is they said here comes Faith's brother. He was charging at me, so..." I put my hands out.

She looked at him, "Reese why were you charging at him?"

"My sister came to me crying talking about he called her a whore. So I went to handle it."

"Did you call her a whore?" The principal asked

"No ma'am. I asked her why she would sink to such a cheap level."

"Give me the context around that comment." So I told her what happened in first period. "We have a zero tolerance for violence in this school."

"But Ms. Connors I didn't do anything. I don't even know why I'm here." Jermaine said

She frowned, "I thought you were fighting too." She looked at all three of us for confirmation.

"You're supposed to have my back!" Reese yelled

"There was no time." Jermaine tried to explain.

"He was coming but your staff got to us before he got a chance to decide where he was gonna be." I said

"So you two didn't fight?" She said clarifying

"With all due respect, look at him." I pointed to Reese, then Jermaine. "Obviously I hadn't gotten to him yet."

Jermaine laughed a yeah right laugh. "Jermaine you may go." She said. Reese was angry that she dismissed Jermaine. Then she gave us our suspension slips. I smiled cause it prolonged my trip to the Bay. The principal lectured Reese about his sister.

When I left the office fourth period let out, Randi apologized to me at my locker. I told her there was no reason for her to be apologizing. She said she felt responsible. I told her none of this was her fault and to stop it. She kept looking at the floor, I told her if she really wanted to make me feel better she had to show me what she practiced last night and she had to hurry up before she was late to her next class. Her eyes got big as she looked at the other students rushing around us, but she kissed me anyways. I smiled and told her she learned fast. Then I told her we were even. I touched her chin, smiled and then walked away.

When I walked into the apartment my momma was knocked out in her bed. No doubt exhausted from her episode with Bernard. I tiptoed around, I dumped everything out my backpack, put the essentials I'd need for my train ride. I left a note on the table that I “got suspended, going to The Bay.” Then I took off running as soon as I closed the door. I called my father from the train station. Since he didn't answer at his apartment I called Roz at the shop. She said he was out with Malcolm. So I asked her to change the ticket to today and that I was at the ticket counter waiting. Roz was good, she got everything changed around and I made the next train. I popped an apple candy and I listened to my Walkman the entire train ride. When I stepped onto the platform in Richmond, I happily inhaled the polluted air due to the local refinery. I walked along the train tracks to the Townhouses in Richmond. My Grandma's unit was downstairs and in the front. I knocked on the door and let myself in. Grandma was dressed up cause she was going to service in a little; she had the phone on her ear. She handed the phone to me and said it was my momma as she hugged and kissed me. My momma fussed cause I left without permission; I exhaled while I let her fuss. Then she asked if my father was gonna drive me home. I told her I didn't know. She told me to tell him she needed some money. I agreed then we got off the phone. Grandma hugged me again then she told me to hurry and dress so I could go to service with her and G-momma. Grandma kept a stash of clothes for me for when I went to service with them. Sometimes Auntie Summer went too, but even if she didn't go she gave us a ride there and back. I braided my corn rolls into one braid and tucked the end inside my collar.

"You look so handsome Yussef." Grandma said

"But why he gotta have that long hair like a girl? Don't you wanna look like a boy?" G-momma asked me.

I smiled, "I do look like a boy G-momma."

"If you say so. Come give your G-momma some suga."

I gave her a hug and a kiss, and then they both admired me in my nice clothes. "I think it's time to get you some more. You're growing again." What my momma doesn't know is that one time my father came a little early to pick me up from my Grandma's house. He saw me in my service clothes and when he found out that Grandma was scraping her pennies together to buy my clothes for when I went with her to service he started giving her money for my clothes. Grandma protested and she even refused the money at first so my father took me to get a suit. She said the suit he got me was a "hot mess" she said it was too loud and didn't dignify me or where we were going at all. So then he brought her with us a couple times then he had a heart to heart with her. He told her he wasn't into religion, but he respected that she was. He told her he wanted me to show the same respect by at least looking nice whenever I went with her. My father started sending money regularly after that. When she would try to protest saying I didn't need anything new for awhile he told her to hold on to the extra for me cause we all knew if he gave it to my momma I'd never see it. Grandma showed me where she hid the money in her room and she told me it was there if I ever needed it. When I told my father about that, he shook his head and said he wondered what happened to my momma.

Everyone was so happy to see me, when we went inside my Grandma's place of worship. People made so many comments about how big I've gotten or how much I've grown. G-momma and Grandma always looked proud of me.

When we got home Auntie Summer asked all kinds of questions about momma and life in the boondocks. She told me she works in Oakland and she really likes the job. I felt so peaceful laying on my Grandma's pullout couch. I told myself I needed to come up with a plan to move back.


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Look Beyond Your Eyes

Chapter 1


"Get to the point Henry!" I said swinging in my chair and drumming my pen impatiently. Sometimes I SWEAR he is too detailed about the things I don't care about. "I need high level reporting." I tried to soften my tone. "It’s good that you have your information together, because I will ask questions and I won't want you to search for the answer. You should be able to speak to everything I ask of you. However, let me ask. When I ask about customer satisfaction, tell me our final scores. Highlight areas of improvement and challenges. If I ask why, then you better know." I smiled

"Ok" Henry said deflating and not standing up for himself. He lets me run all over him so I do. It’s not my fault.

I exhaled and looked at Thea, "how are we doing on time?"

"But I wasn't finished," Henry said kind of sheepishly

I blew air, and sat back in my chair. "How much more do you have?"

"Promotions, and circulations" he said

"Nope," I said shaking my head. "We got that covered, no need to discuss."

"Yes, but…"

I cut him off, "Promotions and circulations have been handled by the same firm for years. We're not changing it." My Cousin Gwen's firm handles all of that and she's done an excellent job. She even cuts us a deal on pricing and Malcolm loves her work, so there's no point in discussing it.

"But we've gotten lower bids, if you would just look…"

I cut him off again, "NO! What don't you understand the N or the O? Let me know which one it is and I'll break it down for you if you like."

Thea tried her hardest to pull back her laughter. "I was just trying to do my job." He said looking at the floor.

"Henry you do an excellent job! I know where to find you when I need you. But I want to give you back," I looked at the clock. "Thirty minutes to your day. I'm sure Richard needs some numbers or something from you." I said as I stood up to let him know this meeting was over.

He exhaled, glanced twice at my breast and exhaled again as he grabbed his papers. "Ok, but next time I'm on your calendar I'm gonna need my full hour."

"You got it buddy!" I said giving a thumbs up as I walked to my door and opened it to let him see his way out. When I closed it behind him, Thea covered her mouth and laughed. "He is pathetic!" I said walking back to my desk.

"I feel so bad for him. He seems so docile and loving. He just wants to love you Sasha, why do you have to be so mean to him?"

I gagged, "PAH-LEASE GURL! I ain’t worried about no Henry!" Henry was a major dork he wore the same three blazers to work every week. He'd switch up the slacks from time to time, but sometimes I swore he got dressed in the dark. I haven't thought of a nice way to introduce him to, his should be best friends Head & Shoulders. You look at his shoulders and say is it snowing in LA? In addition, he's always scratching. Yuck! He's single and the way he looks at me you know, he sets his sights too high. I would make him cry for his momma on a regular basis. You need more game than he could imagine to step to me so, nope not doing it. I think it's sweet that he looks at me period but it’s not gonna happen.

I pulled up my calendar; I was relieved to see the rest of the day was clear. I blocked off the rest of my calendar. I was taking the rest of the day off. As soon as I finished my phone rang. I saw the 212 area code and I grinned. It was my soon to be New York office counterpart. "WHAT?" I said with a smile as I answered my phone.

"I was trying to set up a meeting with you this afternoon and then your availability changed!" I loved the sound of his heavy voice mixed with his accent. How could someone sound this fine and not be?

"Sorry, I'm a hot commodity! If you snooze you lose." Thea stood up and waved bye. I locked my door when she walked out, and I put him on speaker.

He laughed, "I guess! I wanted to show what I had so far."

"I'm sure it can wait until Monday," I said looking through the glass panel on the door of my office out onto the floor. The staff was busy at work making us the outstanding company we are today.

He exhaled, "it'll have to wait until Tuesday then. I guess that's better anyways."

"El, you worry too much. I'm sure it will be fine." Mitigated Staffing Solutions was moving out East. Juan structured the East coast to follow under our West Coast jurisdiction, but everything still rolled up to San Francisco and Oakland. El was going to be head of the East Coast division. I haven't met him in person, but I've been on numerous conference calls with him. He's smart and knows his stuff. When my cousin Derrick met with him I asked him what El looked like, you know how voices sometimes can be deceiving. Derrick looked at me and said he looked "married.” I played it off like that wasn't the reason I was asking, but Derrick knew better. It figured that he'd be married though; he sounds too smart not to be. I was just curious to know what he looked like is all.

I could hear the smile in his voice, "right. Well, I’ll let you go. According to your calendar you're busy right now."

"Right I am, so stop bugging me.” I laughed, "I dismissed Henry early."

"Enough said." His voice smiled, "enjoy your weekend Sasha."

"Thanks El, you do the same."

Then he hung up. I looked out the window again. The coast seemed clear. I shut down my computer, and I packed it in my bag. I grabbed my purse and I locked my office door on the way out. I put my head up and walked. I could feel people watching me. They were mad because no matter how hard they tried, they would never be me. Some people think I get away with murder, but I don’t ask people for their opinion about what I do around here. I was not hired to work here because I’m related to the owner. I don’t tell people that I’m related to anyone around here. I was hired because I’m good at what I do. It’s not my fault it takes others ten hours in one day to do what I can get done in four. I’m good at everything that I do. I know most of the people around here watch me, but I'm easy to look at so go figure.

When I got to the lobby I heard my name, I sighed. "Where are you going?"

"What do you need Richard?" I rolled my eyes

"Where are you going?" He repeated his question

"Out!" I said irritated

"When are you coming back?" He looked irritated

"Monday!"

"Monday? It’s barely eleven am." He said looking at his watch.

"Your point?" I pointed to my bag, "I'll log in from home later."

"This is a business, you can't keep doing this." He said

"I have an appointment; I'll be online later on this afternoon." I said then I turned on my heels. I started to walk away and he grabbed my arm. "I know you aren't crazy!"

"You sure about that? I'm getting tired of you disregarding me!" He said through clinched teeth

"You mean like you disregarded me?" I said snatching my arm from him. "Don't play concerned dad. Just be Richard, ok?" I took my shades out of my purse put them on an walked out of the building into the parking garage.

"Sasha!" He said as he stepped into the garage. "We need to clear the air."

"About what? You are who you are Richard there's no shame in that." I said as if I was disconnected from the whole scene.

"I'm sorry for leaving you hanging the other night."

"I don't care! It’s not like I believed we were really going to go out to dinner. It’s not like anyone believes you're my father until they look us directly in the face anyways. I ruin your sorry excuse for game. I get it!"

"Sasha!"

"It’s fine Richard! I have to go!" I left him standing there. I put my laptop bag in my trunk. Then I got in the car. I screamed at myself for feeling anything. All he ever does is let me down. All I keep hearing is, "I was only fifteen Sasha. I don't know how to be a father!" It doesn't change the fact that I need one. My mother's boyfriend tried, and as much as I love him and accept his attempts, it’s just not the same as when it comes from the person who caused your birth. He makes me so angry! In addition, I know I'm only angry because he hurt my feelings. I hit the Bluetooth on my ear. "Call momma!"

Her line rang twice, "hey baby girl how's it going?"

"Ok, I'm calling to see how you're doing." I said trying to keep emotion out of my tone.

She heard it anyways. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I sighed

"What did he do now?"

"Nothing new, he wants to play daddy when he feels like it. I'm over it!"

"Sounds like you're in the car?"

"Yeah, I'm going to get my hair done, I got a date tonight." I smiled

"With who?"

"Nobody you know. It's still new. I'm still checking him out." I said

"Whatever happened to that other guy?"

I sighed, "nothing momma I still see Dennis from time to time, but we're not exclusive."

"That doesn't sound right." She said

This is coming from the woman who has spent her life running after my father no matter who she was with. I've known Dennis since college. His family owns a vineyard and winery out in Calistoga. We've met each other's families the whole deal. However, after graduation he got a job offer in Minneapolis, I needed to stay here in LA to work on my Master’s, and then my cousin Malcolm offered me my current job at Mitigated. He worked around my school schedule and now I still get to run things. Besides, it wasn't like Dennis was asking me to come with him. He gave me the whole speech about he loved me but he's too young to settle down crap. In addition, how could he ask me to change everything about my life without a proposal? Yeah, I was devastated at first, but I got over it. Especially since business travels bring him, back out here about once a month at the least. So I still see him but nothing like it used to be. "How so momma?"

"Why date other people if Dennis is who you want?"

"Seriously momma?"

She started laughing. "Don't follow in my footsteps baby."

"I thought I already bypassed that. No babies for me and I'm out of college."

"Technically yes, but holding on to a man when he's not gonna hold you back is a waste of time."

"He is holding me momma. But tonight I'm going out with someone else."

"I hope he's worth it." She said tisking at me.

I pulled up to the valet in front of the salon. "I'm going to enjoy myself. It makes no sense to sit here and patiently wait on Dennis when heaven only knows what he does when he's home."

She sighed, "True. Who am I to talk anyways?" I smiled because at least she acknowledged her own weakness for my father and didn't pretend like it wasn't there. Both of them shared the same love and weakness for each other. Frankly, I don't understand why they broke up other than he wanted to move out here and she refused to follow him. It's not like she was hurting for money. She owns two very successful restaurants in the Bay Area. Aside from that, my family has MONEY; most of them are pretty successful. But you know there's always a black sheep here and there. Even though both of my parents have moved on, they keep coming back to each other.

"I love you momma, I'll call you back because I'm walking inside."

"Ok love you. Call me back."

It was a lovely day outside, and the air conditioning kissed my skin as I walked in the doors. "Hello Sasha how are you today?" The receptionist asked me.

"Wonderful as usual! How are you today?" I said

"I'm good. Brea will be out to greet you in just a moment. Please have a seat."

The main lobby was very chic, modern art on the walls. There was a monitor that ran their commercials constantly. Everything in here was set to put you at ease and help you relax. I sat for all of twenty seconds when Brea emerged from the back. That quickly as I was watching the water fountain, the sound of the bubbling brook started to release a lot of the stress I felt. Brea placed my purse at Ava's station. As she pulled a robe out of the closet for me, she asked what I was doing this evening. I looked at my nails. "I got a date tonight; I need a color change on both, a good massage, a wash and diffuse." I said

"You're letting your curls hang out tonight." She smiled.

I smiled; Shawn was nice enough like I told my momma. I met him at the coffee shop a block away from the office. I caught his reaction all over his face the first time he saw me. He was stuck, and I frowned. Shawn didn't strike me as my type at first glance, so I kept moving. I go in that shop every day, it varies according to my schedule what time I go though. On the occasions that I saw Shawn there, I kept it moving. If all he was gonna do, was look I didn't have to pay attention for that. One day I walked in and the cashier has a big smile as he hands me my coffee. I was confused, he told me it was paid for and had been timed to be ready when I came in. Then he pointed at Shawn, who was sitting in the corner reading. He raised his cup to me and then went back to his reading. I thanked him for the coffee and I kept it moving. After a week of this I went over to his table and thanked him for the coffee, but I told him this was going to have to stop. I told him I was capable of paying for my own coffee. He smiled and said it was the least he could do. He asked me to sit, but I couldn't I had to go. So he kept buying my coffee, I started to feel bad so one day to his surprise I sat with him. His conversation was nicer than I expected. Shawn wasn't much to look at, but he had the gift of game. Talking to him, I forgot he was kind of.... I won't say ugly. I'll say not my type. So when he asked for my number I didn't object. I still wasn't assigning him high priority on my list of important people in my life. After a couple of rounds of phone tag, he finally reached me. We made plans for our first date, I wasn't expecting much. Shawn worked for the coffee shop's Franchise office and it was his job to make sure that each location remained within the franchise standards. So he wasn't rolling in money, but at least he was employed. We actually had a nice time. Dinner was nice and we saw a nice movie. He fumbled through the kiss though, but who could blame him for being nervous. Tonight will be our fifth date and he hasn't brought sex up. But come on dinner and a concert, doesn't that sound like he's setting the stage? I don't know that I want to sleep with him tonight, but I guess I could if he sets the mood just right. I'd rather be prepared than caught slipping.

Janet dug into me working out all of my knots while we laughed about her crazy kids. Janet had two small boys who were two small bundles of pure energy. She playfully complains about how crazy they make her. She said I was really tense and instantly I thought of Richard, which made my body temp go up. She tapped me and told me to relax. I took a deep breath and told myself not to think about him.

Brea had my hands soaking while she gave me a pedicure. I was in heaven. The vibration of my chair was lulling me to sleep. Brea asked about my date tonight. So I gave her general information, nice guy, fifth date, dinner, and concert. Brea's eyes got so wide as if I was giving her the goods. Brea has had the same boyfriend since high school. They lived together and acted like an old married couple and she's only a few years younger than me. She told me she lives through me. I told her to make her man take her out. But she'd only ever sigh and shake her head at the thought of exerting herself.

Once my nails were dry, Brea sat me in a chair in front of the washbowl. I closed my eyes preparing myself for my final amazing massage.

I could smell her floral perfume I smiled. "Hello doll face!" I said not opening my eyes.

She snapped her fingers. "One of these days! I'm gonna successfully sneak up on you."

"Not as long as your perfume keeps giving you away."

"Is that what it is? Next time I see you on the books I'll have to change it up."

"I don't think that will save you, but you can try." I laughed

She turned on the water and lowered my chair. This was my favorite part of the whole experience. I LOVE her scalp massages. When I moved out here, a lot of people suggested this place around the corner from her old location. It tried to be as nice but it missed the mark on so many levels. No one there knew how to do my hair. Crunchy hair one time, and straw feeling hair another, I was done. As I was walking away completely disgusted I saw Ava. She had such a warm and bubbly smile. But I was looking at her hair. She wore hers straight and that's what I had been looking for. I asked her who did her hair. Her smile got bigger and she said she did it herself. I was impressed but saddened, until I realized she was giving me her card. She told me she recently stepped out on her own and she was trying to build her clientele. I took her card but I hesitated for a minute, I wanted the whole salon experience. But I told her I'd call to book an appointment. She was really friendly, not like a lot of these snobs out here so I figured if I didn't like her, it would be back to the drawing board. Back then, her space looked more like a shop, but she was just getting started so ok. WHEN I SAT IN HER CHAIR! After that first shampoo! I was hooked! She understands my hair, and I love the way she works with it. I had my momma and my cousin Amber check her out too. I was telling everyone at school about her place and her clientele was slowly building. Then I convinced my cousin Gwen to come in. Ava pulled out the red carpet for Gwen and by the time her hair was being styled they worked out a deal. My cousin Gwen, who has similar hair to mine, even though she's not black, was in love with her curly hair, which was now bone straight. Gwen agreed to handle promotions. Amber endorsed Ava’s place, and some of Amber’s high profile clients got on board as well. Ava and I became fast friends. She said giving me her business card changed her life. Now she has this luxurious spa and salon, "The Hair Salon on Rodeo" in a prime location. I told her taking her card changed my life as well. She's taken my hair from ok, to oh my goodness look at her hair. Not only that, I had another friend, and I don't have very many of those so I cherish the ones I have.

"So what's new?"

"I'm going out with Shawn tonight." I peeked at her.

Ava smiled, "be nice to him."

I laughed, "I have been nice."

"Yes, but you know how you can chew him up. Be nice, remember he has feelings too."

I faked surprise at her statement, "I'm the sweetest person he'll ever meet."

"Until you get tired of him or Dennis comes into town."

I sucked my teeth, "I'm bad news huh?"

She shrugged. "I think it depends on the guy." Then she changed the subject. "So what look are you going for tonight?"

I described my dress options to her. She has seen all of them before. We narrowed it down to three dresses. She moved me to her styling station. I said hello to her staff and their customers along the way to her chair. She brought headbands and gorgeous barrettes. We picked four, then she gave me style ideas. I liked the idea of a semi up-do. Then we selected a headband and she put the other accessories back. I sipped on champagne while she pinned my curls. Turns out, we were going to the same concert. I couldn't tell Ava where we were sitting since Shawn set the evening up. I was hoping for good seats, but I know better than to set my hopes high on his pockets. Our dates so far have been nice, but I still can't gauge what I should expect. Ava always has prime seats when she goes to concerts. So at the very least, I know I can look to the stage to see her and her friends sitting front row.

Under the dryer, I took out my blackberry to review and respond to emails from work. In a two-hour space, I had over twenty emails. I rolled my eyes, as some of them were just feelers to see if I was coming back in the office. Nosey people should worry about their task and leave my business to me. I admired my hair in the mirror. I did the happy dance while Ava beamed with pride. I thanked her for her work while everyone watched me go on and on about my hair. She told me how to preserve it tonight and that it should last until Sunday if I'm gentle with it. Then she smiled at me. I raised my eyebrows at her and told her we shall see. I drove home to the apartment I used to share with my Uncle JoJo when he was in school out here. Although he still comes out here on a regular basis, this place is basically mine. He still has his key and he comes and goes as needed. He said he wanted to keep me on my toes, whatever that's supposed to mean. I constantly remind him that he's my uncle, not my father. Although he felt more like a father when I moved out here than Richard ever did. In a good way though, every time I bumped heads with Richard; JoJo was there to smooth it out for me. I walked in the door, music was playing, and I could smell food being cooked. "JoJo?" I said as I closed the door.

"Nope it's me." My cousin Darryl called out from the kitchen.

I laughed. "Did JoJo give you a key?"

He popped his head out the kitchen, "come on now." He had a big grin. "You know better than that. You hungry?"

"I could eat a little but I got a date tonight."

Darryl sucked his teeth, "who's the loser?"

I walked into the kitchen as Darryl flipped the homemade burger patties over. It smelled delicious, and the fact that he was cleaning as he cooked meant I wouldn't have a dirty kitchen in the end, I smiled with approval. "It smells delicious in here!" I said as my mouth watered. Darryl cleared his throat waiting for an answer to his question. "He's just a guy I can't say whether he's awesome or not yet."

"Ok..." He said rolling his hands

Ok so, growing up with all these men was nice at points; but their overly protective nature sometimes was too much. Darryl is younger than me. He was my baby, and now he's standing here questioning me as if he's a father figure. My momma would always tell me to take it as a sign of love. She said her cousins would do the same thing to her. I try but sometimes I wish they would back off. If I would've known moving to Southern California wasn't far enough to avoid incidents like this I might've stayed in The Bay and went to Berkeley with my twin cousin Andrew and my best friend slash twin sister Tanisha. But if I stayed I would've had to deal with Toya's DRAMA, etc. Toya is Andrew's on again off again girlfriend. If there was ever somebody who seemed to miss the point and make you put hands on them that would be her. But I don't want to think about her even now. I'm relaxed and I want to stay that way.

I told Darryl about Shawn. He looked at me out the corner of his eye. Then he called Amber his momma my cousin slash aunty slash second momma and asked her if she could get him tickets to the concert. I could hear Amber laughing through the phone as I begged her not to. She told Darryl she would have to see. Darryl frowned at me. "I see how it is. The girls gonna stick together. There's more than one way to skin a cat. I'm going and that's final!" He said like he was putting his foot down.

"Fine!" I said knowing Amber had my back. "JoJo said this place was secure." I said then I took a bite of my burger.

"It is secure." Then he took a bite of his burger. He shot up out of his seat, punched the air, and then he swallowed. "I'm AMAZING!" He yelled. I covered my mouth while I laughed at him. "Sasha now you know you've never had a better burger than this! Maybe I should be a chef." He argued with himself. Saying it was selfish to hold back his gifts from the world. Then he shook his head, "Naw! I don't have the patience."

I was cracking up, Darryl was born hilarious. The complete opposite of his big brother Derrick. Somewhere in the middle of Darryl and Derrick, there was Andrew, as far as temperaments. "I'm glad you worked that out. So back to my peace of mind." I said redirecting the conversation back to my previous statement.

"Sasha, now you know! There's not a lock that can keep me out." He said giving me a knowing look.

"Ok, but if you can get in, then someone else can too is my point."

"I doubt it. JoJo has you pretty secure. Don't worry about it. I'm the exception, you're good." He said dismissing my fear and taking another bite. "Admit it, best burger!"

"Yes Darryl, this burger is the Atomic bomb!"

"Thank you, now try my fries!" He said holding out the plate. I slapped the table asking for mercy. Everything was delicious. "Now you can order a salad and pretend like you eat like a bird."

"He's seen me eat."

Darryl faked surprise, "and he invited you out again? He must really like you."

"You are so crazy!" I said laughing, but also finding my exit to go log in for a bit and then get ready.

I logged in and responded to more emails. Before I knew it two hours flew by. Darryl was looking over my shoulder while I answered emails. He had an off the wall answer for every inquiry. Most of them were hilarious. However, some of them I found myself wishing I could use. When it was time to get ready, I shooed Darryl out of my room and then I took my shower and began my process. I heard Darryl on the phone while I was getting dressed, but I assumed he was talking to his momma trying to convince her to go against me. When I opened my door Darryl looked angry. "Just because you got a body doesn’t mean you have to show it off Sasha!" Then he shook his head. "NO! I don't like that dress! Go put a different one on!"

"That must mean I look really good!" I said rolling my eyes

"Not any way I want my sister-cousin walking outside to be with some guy I don't know." He said angrily

"Calm down Darryl. If this guy was going to attack me he would've done it already. I'll be fine."

"See! That's exactly what he wants you to think and then BAM! He's got you right where he wants you. Out in the open and vulnerable. I think you should fake a cold and then hang out with me. I’ve got woman troubles Sasha! I need help! I don’t want to hurt nobody!" He said throwing up his hands in frustration.

"Right Darryl! Like that will be happening." I walked over to him and put my hand on his shoulder. I couldn't believe my once upon a time baby, that Tanisha and I used to carry around everywhere, was now taller than me and looking down at me. "Look, Darryl, I know you mean well. But please trust me when I say that I will be fine." I got on my tiptoes and kissed his cheek. "I appreciate the fuss, but I'm a big girl. I can handle this guy. If you come back tomorrow, we can talk until there’s no more talking needed."

"Whatever,” he said in defeat.

When Shawn arrived Darryl answered the door. He wasn't going to let Shawn in. But I brought him in and then I introduced them properly. "Nice to meet you." Shawn said to Darryl.

Darryl looked at his hand then he looked at me. "Seriously Sasha! He's hiding something. Look at him!"

Shawn looked at me without a reaction. "Darryl is my over protective little-brother-cousin." I explained

"Little?" Shawn said looking up at Darryl.

"Yeah! That's right! And I'm the one who's going to be coming at you when your time is up!" Then Darryl said, "Naw! I take that back. You better hope it’s just me." Then Darryl pleaded, "Just look at him Sasha you can see it."

When I looked at Shawn I saw it. That uncertainty in the corner of his eye. "Bye Darryl!" I said grabbing my purse and sweater. Didn't matter what he was hiding. I was going to the Maxwell concert and I didn't have to pay for the tickets. I was going to enjoy myself.

We walked out of my building together and to the curb where Shawn and Darryl were parked. Darryl was driving his momma's rental car while she was at work. I knew Darryl wouldn't leave without threatening Shawn. Shawn didn't look scared or anything. He accepted Darryl's behavior and kept it moving.

Dinner was fine, but now since Darryl pointed it out, all I could see in his eyes was that he was holding something back. Shawn took us to a hole in the wall spot for dinner. Thus far we've only gone to random places for dinner, but he said he likes authentic verses the commercial and over processed. I told myself to shrug it off. It’s not like I was going to fall in love with Shawn. Let's face it; quite simply he isn't fine enough to hold my attention.

When we got to the concert, we weren't front row like Ava and her friends. But they were decent seats. I called Ava and I told her where we were sitting. She stood up, looked around until she saw me. Then she waved. She gave me a thumbs up when I modeled my dress. I think Shawn thought we were talking about him cause he sat there blushing. People were quieting down when I saw Darryl walk over to Ava. I looked in disbelief, he had to have found another way there, because I knew Amber didn't betray me and send him here. Ava pointed me out. Darryl put his hand up to his eyes and then he pointed at us. I knew he already knew where we were sitting, and he said something to Ava so that we would see him. Maxwell's performance was smooth and sultry, I sang along and swayed to the music. Maxwell put me in a lovey-dovey, sappy, sentimental, and missing Dennis kind of a mood. I started to feel alone and sad, and then Shawn put his arm around my shoulders as he swayed to the music. I laid my head on his shoulder, even if it wasn't Dennis I guess his touch would do. Darryl shook his head at me. When the concert was over, Darryl was at the end of my row waiting. I sucked my teeth, I asked Shawn to stay put while I went to talk to my little cousin. I waited for the people exiting the row in front of me to move out the way. I asked Darryl to sit down; I knew his heart was in the right place. He didn't understand that he needed to back up and give me some space. We had a quick heart to heart. Darryl was pulling all of the understanding he could out of the air. He couldn't understand why I would want to go on a date or go home with someone who was hiding something. I told him Shawn was just the guy on my arm tonight. Darryl didn't like it, and then he told me he'd see me back at my place loud enough for Shawn to hear, and then he walked away.

"How did he get here?" Shawn asked looking a little annoyed

"My cousin Gwen has connections. She got him a ticket, when I asked his momma not to." I smiled

We stood there awkwardly staring at each other for a minute, "so." He said

"So," I said debating with myself whether I wanted to invite him back to my place.

"So miss Sasha what would you like to do now?" He said watching my eyes.

I told myself, whether I invited him back to my place, depends on if he did anything inspirational. I yawned and stretched, "I could go home if you can't think of anything else."

He grabbed my hand and led me through the crowd and to his car. He put on Maxwell's music in the car. I smiled and looked out the window as I thought, "Nicely played,” as I leaned back and relaxed.


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 No Regrets

Chapter 1


"The usual?" I asked him

He gave me a funny look. "Usual?"

"Yes, it varies depending on your mood but normally you order the pineapple peach smoothie. Sometimes you'll order a strawberry banana smoothie, but that's normally when you're kind of sentimental. I haven't put my finger on what triggers your chocolate peanut butter mood yet."

He didn't smile; he stared at me for a minute like he was taking everything I said in. He looked at the menu, and then he rolled his eyes and looked at me. "I'll take the chocolate peanut butter smoothie." No smile or friendliness in his tone. He watched me for a minute then he paid for his smoothie.

Everybody else is scared of him, Shelly always breaks out in a sweat when she sees him coming. She says he's really scary. He's not so scary to me; actually I think he's sexy as all get out. He's not like these goofy boys who run around here like kids. He always looks like he's thinking about something. "Someone will call your name when your order is ready." I said

He stood over to the side to let the next person order, but his eyes stayed stuck to me. I blushed cause I didn't know what to do. I wanted to get his attention, but now that I have it what am I supposed to do?

Shelly volunteered to take the rest of the orders so that I could make the smoothies. I knew she was trying to avoid making his smoothie cause she was that scared of him. So I decided to upgrade his smoothie to the largest size since I was making it. I turned around and I handed him his smoothie with a straw. "Here you go Derrick." I said with a smile.

"Thank you Chantel." He said then he walked away.

I was speechless; I didn't know he knew my name. I didn't have a nametag on and I never wore one here. How did he know my name? I looked at Shelly who was now wide eyed and scared. She said something had to be wrong with him. I didn't think so, but now I definitely wanted to know how he knew my name.

At the end of my shift, Shelly, Cadence, and I wiped all the machines down and closed up our station within the food court of the mall. Like clockwork my brother Cyrus was there to pick me up. He worked in the shoe store on the other side of the mall. We both had two jobs in this mall. I worked at the Smoothie Stand and Travel and Beyond, a luggage and travel store. Cyrus worked at the shoe store and the movie theater. Like a good big brother, he always watches over me and makes sure I'm taken care of. Most times it's like we're all we have. Our mother works and works, when she isn't working she's resting. When she isn't resting she's working. Our father is there, but he's so selfish and self centered we'd be better off without him. I don't know why our mother keeps him around; I guess she loves him even though loving him has gotten her nowhere. Cyrus and I do our best to ignore them and stay out of their way. We practically raise ourselves. Our mother doesn't have time and our father could careless.

Cadence gives all of us a ride home. Even though Cadence is older than Cyrus by a good four years, her obvious crush on him was ridiculous at times. I didn't say anything though, cause if I needed a favor her open relationship with my brother worked to my advantage. Cyrus liked Cadence enough, but he wasn't really feeling her. He just went a long with it cause he's a horny teenager.

"How does he know your name?" Shelly asked

"I have no idea. Maybe he was checking me out." I said with a smile.

"Oh come on. A guy like that checking you out? Get real."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Cyrus asked upset for me.

"Don't get mad Cyrus. You gotta see this guy. Tall, dark, scary, and handsome. He's way out of all of our leagues." Shelly said matter of factly.

"Speak for yourself! My sister can have anyone she wants!" Cyrus barked. I thanked him with my eyes.

"Whatever! If you guys wanna live in a fantasy world, where guys like that want girls like us go ahead. But I live in the real world." Shelly said

"Shelly you could never be on my sister's level! Stop trying to tear her down to be as pathetic as you!" He was mad.

"Ok guys! Lets drop this." Cadence said trying to be the peacekeeper.

"Tell her to stop putting my sister down. Just because nobody would want her gives her no right to talk about my sister like that."

"Shelly you are out of line." She said

"Whatever Cadence you're only siding with Cyrus cause you're hoping to get lucky tonight. But you guys know I'm telling the truth." Shelly said

"No one said he was interested in me. He could've been checking me out because I knew his name. I was just saying I don't know how he knew my name is all."

"You don't have to apologize to her cause some guy was checking you out. Forget her!"

"Cyrus..." Cadence whined

Cyrus rolled his eyes. "I'm just saying!"

"Well tell me how you really feel." Shelly said insulted. "Just because Cadence swings from your nuts doesn't mean you're all that Cyrus!"

"I do not!" Cadence gasped.

"You're just jealous! If I wanted to smash you right now I could. You've been wanting me since you were in grade school." The car fell silent. Shelly had nothing to say to that not even a denial. Cyrus laughed but we all remained silent. Shelly got out of the car without uttering a word.

Cadence grabbed Cyrus' hand as she drove us home. When we got to our apartment, I got out the car and I went inside. Cadence was in heat; so there was no telling when Cyrus was gonna come inside.

When I came in the door my mother was in the kitchen heating up leftovers. "Where's your brother?"

"Outside talking to Cadence." I said as I sat on the couch to finish my homework.

"Your father said you didn't sweep the floor last night when you did the dishes." I didn't respond I kept my eyes on my homework. Cyrus and I did everything in there. All he did was knit-pick over everything we did. He was no help or example of how to do anything other than use somebody. "Make sure you sweep the floor." She said as she walked to her room.

Two hours later Cyrus came inside as I put my things away. He didn't look at me; he went straight to the kitchen. "If you don't like her why do you have sex with her?" I asked.

Cyrus shrugged, "just cause." Then he looked in the fridge. "What happened to the shrimp and pasta? There's only a little bit left."

"Ask your mother and father, I saw her in the kitchen when I came home." I said

"I had my mouth ready for that. I can't wait until we're out of here, no longer slaving for them." He said. I put my finger up to shush him. The last thing we needed was for them to hear us.

*******

I was sitting behind the cash register working on my homework when I heard the bell chime that I had a customer. I put my book down and I stood up to greet my customer. My knees got weak when I saw him. "Hi" I said sounding completely surprised.

"Hi" he said not smiling or anything.

"How can I help you?" I asked not knowing what else to say.

His eyes were scanning the store. "I need something for my father."

"Ok, does he travel a lot? Did you have luggage in mind or something more personal?"

"I was thinking something more personal."

"Is it for a special occasion?" I asked

"No, just because."

"What does he like?" I asked

"He's a lot like me, he likes nice stuff but nothing flashy." He said

I loved the sound of his voice. It was deep, but not startling deep. "How about a wallet, a flask, a money clip, or a brief case?"

"That sounds good, show me all of them." He said

"Is there a price range you want to stay within?" I asked as I led him to the left side of the store.

"No" he said.

Then Mona walked in the store. She was the owner's daughter and my supervision during my shifts. Normally she stayed on the phone or visited with her friends when they stopped by. Any customers that came in the store I was expected to assist them. She was walking towards the back, but slowed down when she saw Derrick. I was hoping she would keep moving, but I could tell she was curious about him. She walked to the counter and sat on my stool. She leaned on the counter watching us. Her top was loose so all you saw we're breast when you looked at her. I showed Derrick our wallets; he picked a genuine leather one that was soft to the touch. He picked a flask and money clip that he wanted engraved with his father's initials. He said he would think about the briefcase some more. I got excited cause that meant he could possibly come back even after he picks up his personalized items. "I'll ring you up." I said motioning for him to follow me to the register.

When we got to the register Mona sat up. "I'll ring him up. Go unpack those packages we got in today." She ordered.

I knew she wanted the opportunity to flirt with him, but also she wanted to take credit for my sale like she did with all my high-ticket purchases. "

"Can I ring him up, then do the unpacking?" I asked wanting to stand up for myself on this one.

Mona's face turned evil. "You heard what I said!" She said through clinched teeth.

I started to walk to the back, I was thinking of how good it was gonna feel keying her car and or busting out one of her taillights like I've done before. "Hold on." Derrick said in my direction. I stopped in my tracks and turned around. "Don't you get commission?" I shook my head yes.

"Kind of but not exactly. She hasn't been making her sales goals, so she's on her way to being fired anyways. It's not a big deal. I can give you a discount for the inconvenience."

She was so busy talking and removing tags that she didn't see his eyes turn evil. "How much of a discount?"

"I can take thirty percent off." She said still not paying attention.

"Naw! I'm good!" He started walking towards the exit.

"Wait! Why?" Then she looked at me. "Did she offer you a bigger discount?"

He walked back to the counter; she finally noticed his evil eyes. "No, I was willing to pay full price. I liked the way she conducted business. You on the other hand are not trust worthy. I wouldn't spend anything in this store, and from now on you can kiss your regular customers goodbye. Nobody's coming in here any more."

"What? Why? Just because I told her to go unpack some boxes?" She looked like she wanted to cry.

"I don't like the way you conduct business, you aren't to be trusted."

Then she sighed, "oh whatever little boy! You can't threaten me! A year from now my business will still be alive and thriving. You on the other hand will be outside begging for quarters." She said dismissing him.

"Chantel!" His voice boomed when he called my name.

Mona and I both jumped. "Yes?" I said nervously.

"Get your stuff, you don't work here no more. This place is going out of business. I got a job for you."

"Ooh! Scary! Too bad that job will only be in his lap. Go on if you're stupid." She said dismissing the whole thing.

I wasn't sure if what Derrick said was true or not, but I didn't have to take her treating me like this. I figured I'd find a job somewhere else in this big ole mall. I started grabbing my stuff. Mona huffed and said I was completely dumb for following him. I'm not gonna lie, I did feel a little stupid. But if I stayed after this she would only treat me worse. When I had my things I stopped behind Derrick waiting for him to lead the way. Then Derrick rattled off a phone number. "Robert K right? I'll call him and let him know why his business is failing." Then he started walking.

"How do you know my father's number?" She yelled.

"Only a fool underestimates a stranger!" He said then he walked out the store, with me on his heels. He slowed down so that I could walk next to him once we were in the mall. "Stuff like that happens all the time doesn't it?"

I shrugged, "yeah but its no big deal. I would've gotten her back later."

"How so?" He pointed his eyes at me.

"I didn't have an exact plan yet. But I would've figured something out." I said

"Let's go tell your brother where you'll be working on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays."

"You know my brother? How do you know my schedule?" I asked

"I know a lot of things. Come on..." He said leading the way to the theater. Cyrus was emptying the trash at the entrance when we walked up. "Hey D-Rick what's going on?" Cyrus said not realizing I was with him.

They shook hands, "nothing much. We just wanted to let you know that your sister just quit over there at the travel store, she's gonna work for my father at the Mitigated staffing Services remote office here in the mall." He said matter of factly.

"O....k.... I guess I'll see you there in a little bit." Cyrus said to me.

I had serious butterflies in my stomach as I waved bye to Cyrus and walked away with Derrick. "How do you know my brother?" I asked

"I know a lot of people for a lot of different reasons." He said. I guess that was supposed to be an answer. I decided to accept it for now. He held the glass door open for me when we got to the office space. An older Grandma looking lady was sitting at the receptionist desk. "Ms. Laverne this is Chantel. She's gonna assist you on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays." Derrick said

"Hello baby, how you doing?" She said getting up to give me a hug.

She seemed like she was a sweet lady. "Hello" I said

"You can sit at this desk." Derrick pulled out the chair. I sat down. "You can put your stuff in the drawers, this will be your desk."

"Thank you." I said feeling kind of funny about being here.

"Ms. Laverne can you give her a little orientation and show her what you need her to do. I gotta call Malcolm and tell him she's here."

Then a bigger and blacker man walked in the door, his face was even more serious than Derrick's as if that could be possible. His eyes were stuck on me. "Malcolm we just said your name." Ms. Laverne said

"Did you now?" He said, his voice was a lot deeper than Derrick's.

"Malcolm this is Chantel." Derrick said plainly.

Malcolm finally looked at someone else. "So what's the story?"

"I went in, she's here." Derrick said

Malcolm looked at me, his face was serious. "So I guess this means you have a plan." Malcolm said walking to the back. Derrick walked with him.

I exhaled, Ms. Laverne laughed at me. "Oh honey you can relax. If you're here that means you're good people."

"It does? How would they know.”? I asked

"Trust! They do their homework. Come on let me show you around." She said

Ms. Laverne showed me around the office. There was a bathroom, offices, a conference room, a small kitchen, and a room she called the mailroom. There were a ton of mail slots on the wall. She said some staff members drop by to pick up their mail. She told me to continue to dress like I was now. Slacks and a blouse. She said on Saturdays I could wear jeans. After talking to me for a while she smiled at me and said I was gonna fit in nicely around there. I smiled cause I had no idea what she meant. I felt like I just joined a secret society without knowing I was signing up.

"How did you end up working for Derrick?" Cyrus asked as we made our way to the bus stop.

"It all happened so fast, I can't really tell you." I said scratching my head.

"Be careful, I don't know if I like you working there." Cyrus said thinking about it. "D-Rick is cool and all, but I hear things about him and his family. You remember Pearla?" I nodded, "that's his cousin."

"She's crazy!" I said wide-eyed.

"I know! But as crazy as she is, she doesn’t jump bad with him, but then again remember Tim on my baseball team? That's his cousin too."

Boy, do I remember Tim. I had the biggest crush on him when my brother was playing. Tim was Asian and black and SO FINE! Tim was always respectable, well mannered, and focused on the game. He never knew I existed. His sister Tina was stuck on herself though. A little boy crazy, but you know how gorgeous girls are... It is truly a small world. I wondered how they all interacted. Was Derrick crazy like Pearla, or disciplined like Tim? And why did he notice me when he could've brought anyone in this office? As I was lost in my thoughts I realized my mind had wandered off and Cyrus was now blank staring at me. I guess he said something when I stopped listening. I smiled a guilty smile at him. I was getting ready to say something when a beautiful old school car pulled up next to us. Both of us looked into the car. "Get in," Derrick said.

Cyrus looked at me like I did something wrong. I shrugged and then walked to the car, it was cold and dark. I knew he didn't want to be out here no more than I did. I got in the backseat. "Thanks man!" Cyrus said.

"No problem." Derrick said glancing at me. "Why don't you have a car?" That question was for Cyrus.

"Can't afford one right now. The bus works fine, sometimes we get rides."

Derrick nodded his head. "I hear you. You going to school after graduation?" Derrick was heading towards our apartment even though neither one of us were directing him.

"Naw! I gotta get a job. I gotta move out as soon as I can. Saving as much money as I can right now. I might loop back around and take some classes later though." Derrick nodded his head like he understood. "You going to school?"

Derrick exhaled, "yeah. I'm going." He said like it was no big deal.

"Must be nice." Cyrus said

Derrick glanced at Cyrus, "do you wanna go?"

"Yeah! I'd be a fool not to want to go. But school wasn't in my parent's plan for me. I gotta make my own way." Cyrus said sounding defeated like he normally did when it came to our parents.

"What about her? She always got her nose in a book, she going?" Derrick asked Cyrus like I couldn't speak for myself.

"We're hoping for a scholarship." Cyrus said

Derrick pulled in front of our building. "It's no problem to bring you guys home when you don't have a ride." Derrick said

"Alright man, thanks." Cyrus said

When Derrick drove away we asked each other at the same time how he knew where we lived. Cyrus said he probably got it off my W-4 when I filled it out. I guess he's right.

Cyrus asked me if Derrick flirted with me, and I told him no. Derrick didn't even really look at me except that time when I told him about his smoothie order.

*******

Our plan is to move out as soon as Cyrus graduates from high school, he says he's not leaving me to fin for myself while our dysfunctional parents forever ruin me. So I take my usual sixty dollars off the top, and then Cyrus and I put the rest of our money in our savings account to save for a deposit when we move out. We've been working on this plan since we were in middle school. We have over five thousand saved combined. Our parents only do what they have to for us, its like they said lets have two kids, then afterwards they changed their minds. The basic necessities we have, a roof over our heads, and beds to sleep in. ANYTHING else we have to provide for ourselves. And since it is their house anything we have that they may want they take. So if I cook the groceries I bought using their stove, electricity, or refrigerator it is their right to help their-selves to it. Even if they eat it up, it doesn't matter its their house. Even my clothes the little bit that I have. Since my mom and I are about the same size, she helps herself to what I have and if she ruins it or decides to keep it for herself, I can't say nothing its her house. They have to know we aren't staying here, and I really don't think they care all that much. As long as they don't get any bills behind us, they could careless.

I love working at Mitigated. I quit my job at the Smoothie Stand once Ms. Laverne said I was doing such a good job and she recommended that Derrick tell his father to give me a raise. I was expecting something like a twenty cent an hour raise or something like that. But they gave me four dollars more and hour, which made my take home more than what I was taking home from both jobs and still only working the days I worked. Cyrus suggested that I quit the Smoothie Stand and stick with the one job so I could have more time to study, work on my projects, and rest. I wanted to argue that we could stack that much more money faster if I kept both jobs. But the idea of going to bed like a normal person was appealing to me. Sometimes I would be up until all hours of the morning finishing school work, only getting a catnap and then rushing to school then work. So I decided to take Cyrus's advice and my energy level at school has tremendously increased.

Malcolm still hasn't warmed up to me yet although Ms. Laverne says he has. I can't tell, he says… "Chantel" when he walks in the door. He nods at me, and then he goes to his office. Sometimes I hear Ms. Laverne back there talking to him, going on and on about whatever, and laughing at her own jokes. The way she comes out of there you would swear he was back there laughing with her too. I don't get it, but it’s none of my business. Its not like he comes in everyday or anything. Sometimes a couple of weeks go by and then boom, there he is. He goes in his office; sometimes he conducts meetings in the conference room. One time I suggested to Ms. Laverne that we order snacks for his meeting and have them set up before the meeting started. When he went in the conference room he called Ms. Laverne in there, they closed the door. I thought he was mad about the snacks. I was sitting there panicking thinking I overstepped my boundaries, but Ms. Laverne came out and said that Malcolm loved the snacks and he was very thankful for them. I was SO confused I thought he was mad. That night when Derrick came out of the meeting he told me I did a good job too.

Cyrus keeps asking me if Derrick flirts with me or anything and I keep telling him no. Derrick talks to Ms. Laverne and I, but he doesn't flirt with me. Sometimes I catch him looking at me, but he doesn't do anything. Its more like he's thinking and happens to be looking in my direction, and then I look at him. I've seen his girlfriend, and of course she's beautiful! She seemed nice enough, who am I to judge? Derrick made sure he introduced her to me though. She kind of looked at him funny when he did it. It did seem like I was somewhat important, but I told myself to not put more on it than there actually was. Ms. Laverne smiles at me all the time whenever Derrick comes around. I ignore her hoping she's just assuming I like him and that she can't tell that I actually do like him. I try very hard to keep that to myself. I haven't even expressed that to Cyrus, although I think he knows too. As long as no one tries to confront me on it, it’s all-good.


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 First You Laugh Then You Cry

Chapter 1

Nellie

I was the apple of my daddy’s eye no doubt about that. Whenever he saw me he brought me something really nice and expensive. But why wouldn’t he? At the time I had two older brothers, but he says they’re knuckleheads. I was his little princess. My mother stood over to the side visibly inspecting his gift. He knew if it wasn’t top notch she would call him on it. Since my daddy is married to my big brother’s mother I didn’t get to see him all that much. At that time she didn’t know I existed. My brothers knew, but his wife didn’t.

When my grandmother was on her deathbed she asked my daddy to bring me to the hospital to see her one last time. My daddy didn’t want to deny his mother her dying request, and there was no way to bring me there without his wife knowing about it. My momma did my hair real pretty and long. She put on my cutest outfit and then I watched her put on her makeup. When she was dressed I told her she looked really pretty, she smiled and thanked me. Then we went to the hospital to see my grandmother. The guard at the guard station said there was a bunch of people in the waiting room and there were only three people allowed in the room at one time. My momma took a deep breath, held my hand, and then we walked into the waiting room. Everyone looked at us for a minute without saying a word at first. Then my Auntie Natalya came over and gave us a hug. My biggest brother Junior came over and picked me up. He gave me a hug and kiss. He told me I looked really pretty. Everyone came over and said hello to my momma and me, but my brother Nathan stayed by his momma who had no clue who we were. My Auntie went to tell my daddy that we were here. When my daddy came to the waiting room he thanked my momma for coming and then he took me from my brother. My daddy looked sad when he looked at his wife, who looked surprised. Then he carried me down the hallway to his mother’s room. He told me that my grandmother was sick and she was about to go to sleep. But she wanted to say goodnight one more time to her little princess. My grandmother smiled when she saw me, but she looked really sick. She told me she loved me and she was going to miss me. My daddy’s wife came in the room, she asked my father who was I. He told her that I was his daughter and that my name was Nealesha but everybody called me Nellie or Princess. His wife looked at me like she wanted to hit me. She got so mad she stormed out of the room. My daddy hurried out of the room with me in his arms behind her. She went back to the waiting room and got in my momma’s face. She was cursing and screaming at my momma. My momma didn’t say anything she stood there grinning at my daddy’s wife. No one said anything to stop her from talking to my momma that way, not even my daddy. Then she yelled at everybody in the room cause they all knew and no one said anything. No one even warned her. When she started crying my daddy put me down and asked her if she was done. Then he told her to get over it cause it was done, and now the secret was out. Nathan comforted his momma while everyone else stayed away. My momma went with my daddy to say goodbye to my grandmother. Junior held me while his momma stared at me like I was bug to be squashed.

After that I started going over my daddy’s house every other weekend. His wife was always mean to me, but my daddy tried to keep us apart as much as possible. My daddy still came and spend the night at our house sometimes, and he still brought my momma gifts and nice things. One day my daddy took me to the park. He told me that his wife was having a baby and that I should be excited to be a big sister. I did not like the idea at all. I was the baby, and I was the Princess.

I hadn’t seen my daddy in a long time and when he finally came to get me he told me his wife had a girl and that they name her Nassya. I was not happy, not one bit. I was the Princess, and the only little sister. Now this baby was here and my daddy’s wife was happy. She would say, your daughter this and your daughter that in reference to me. But then she would say our daughter this and our daughter that in reference to Nassya. My visits over my daddy’s house started to become less and less. I would cry and ask my momma where my daddy was. Then she would call my daddy’s house and most times she argued with my daddy’s wife. She was mad that my momma called their house.

Before I was born my momma worked for my daddy in his office, but when she got pregnant with me she no longer needed to work. My momma said my daddy paid for our apartment and her car. One day while I was watching cartoons my momma picked up the phone to make a call and she started hitting the button over and over again. She threw the phone in the kitchen and she ran in her bedroom trying the phone in there. My momma knocked on our neighbor’s door and asked them if their phone was working and when they said yes, she came back inside. She knew there had to be a mix up at the phone company cause my daddy always paid all the bills on time. The next day when I came home from school there was no electricity. And there was a note on the door stating that our rent hadn’t been paid. We drove to my daddy’s office. I didn’t go in the office with my parents but you could hear them arguing all the way out to the lobby where I was sitting. The people in the office were all trying to listen without looking like they were listening. My daddy told my momma that he and his wife were really trying to make things work. And unfortunately that meant that he could not support my momma anymore. He said he would pay child support but he would not cover all of momma’s bills anymore. My momma screamed at him and asked him how he could break up with her without even discussing it with her. My daddy shrugged but he didn’t answer her. She asked him when he was going to come get me, and he said he would call her. She asked him how that possible when we didn’t have a phone anymore. He shrugged, and then he shut the door to his office.

My momma cried and we went to my grandmother’s house. My momma begged my grandmother to let us come stay with her for awhile. Although she wasn’t crazy about the idea, she didn’t like the idea of me being homeless. We packed up our beautiful apartment and moved from Albany to Richmond. Suddenly and almost instantly my life completely changed. I was at a new school and I knew no one. All the girls gave me evil looks, except for one girl. During recess I was going to go hang on the monkey bars by myself but the girl asked me if I wanted to play jump rope with her and some other girls. The rest of the girls looked at me, but she was the only one to talk to me. When we lined up for lunch she told me to come stand by her. She introduced herself as Kendra. In the cafeteria she asked me where I was from. Kendra was browner than me, shorter than me, and never as cute as me. But she was nice. My hair was long and thick, and hers was short and fried. All my clothes were new and name brand, her where fine but no labels. The only thing we had in common were our grades. She was on the honor roll and so was I. If she got a 92 on her test, I had to have a 93 or better. Kendra would always say it was not a competition. But there was no way she was ever going to think she was better than me. When I brought home my good grades my momma would tell me how proud she was of me. She would tell me to get my grades and get a good job. She told me to make sure the man I married had money, but I also had to be smarter than her and make sure that I made his money work for me. And the only way to know how to do that properly was to get my education.

Kendra lived a few houses over from me, so on Saturdays I would come to her house or she would come to mine. We would play outside as long as we could. All day if our parents didn’t have anywhere to go. I know her family liked me better than her, cause they were always so nice to me and paid me a lot of attention whenever I came around. All the boys at school wanted to be my boyfriend, but I would only agree to be the girlfriend of the boys who could afford to buy me candy from Shacks, the corner liquor store by our school. My momma said the little boys at King school were practice guys cause none of them even really dressed right to be taken seriously. She told me to study long and to study hard cause I needed to be able to catch a bigger fish when I was put in a bigger tank in college.

“How much money did your parents give you for clothes?” I asked

“Clothes? They gave me money for the bus, and something to eat.” Kendra said

“I thought we were going to take pictures?”

“Yes, but not today. I don’t get my allowance until next week.” Kendra said

“Are you going to at least get your hair done? You can’t be looking all homely in my pictures.”

“I’m going to do my own hair and I will be just fine.”

“Whatever, you can look homemade if you want to. I’m going to look extremely crisp and fresh and you can try to keep up as usual.” I said looking out the window.

“You waste money on ridiculous stuff. I don’t care what you think.”

When we got to the mall, I drug Kendra from store to store as I looked for shirts that would make us look amazing. I was getting frustrated at the selections in the stores. Kendra always went to the clearance racks while I searched the rest of the store. Kendra held up lavender shirts that were surprisingly cute. Since they were reduced in price I bought both of our shirts and accessories. I wanted to check out the shoe store to get an idea for shoes in case I felt we needed them as well. Then I heard my name but I kept walking. Kendra said a guy was calling me. “Nealesha?”

I turned around to see my big brother Junior looking completely stunned to see me. “Junior?”

He rushed me and picked me up. “Where have you been? You disappeared!”

Seeing him made my heart burn and immediately I felt sad. “Your daddy kicked us to the curb when your momma had your sister.”

“Our sister, and I’m sorry he did that. I’ve been trying to find you.”

Hearing that he was looking for me made me smile. “You have?”

“Of course! I miss my little Princess.” Then he looked at Kendra, “who’s this?”

“Oh this is my friend Kendra, Kendra this is my big brother Junior.”

“Nice to meet you pretty little lady.” He smiled

I sucked my teeth; “she ain’t prettier than me so I don’t know why you even went there.”

Junior got a stuck in headlights look on his face. “Princess that was rude!”

“She’s always rude!” Kendra said walking in the store.

“You can’t treat people like that.” Junior said to me.

Then Nathan and Nassya walked out of the fragrance store. My blood boiled when I looked at her, not only did she not know who I was. Her shoes were newer and nicer than mine. I wanted to kick her over the railing. “Princess?” Nathan said coming to give me a hug.

I hugged him, “hello.” I said keeping my eyes on Nassya.

“Nassya, this is your big sister Nealesha.” Nathan said

Nassya faked the happiest face ever. She hurried to me to hug me. I didn’t want to hug her, but both of my brothers were looking like they expected it. Nassya kept looking at me with stars in her eyes, but I wasn’t buying the act. When Kendra came out of the store Junior introduced her to Nathan and Nassya. When Kendra and Nassya seemed to hit it off I felt completely annoyed. I asked them why they were at the Richmond Mall and they said they were looking for gifts for their parents for their anniversary. Again I felt like the outsider to their family circle. As if he read my mind, Junior offered to take us to get something to eat with them. I declined but Junior wouldn’t leave us alone until I agreed. Nathan made me write my phone number and address down on a napkin so they could find me again. I didn’t want to discuss my business in front of Kendra or with their little sister sitting right there, so I kept changing the subject. Any topic that highlighted how wonderful and fabulous I was, was preferred. After a while Nathan stopped talking to me, as if he thought I was ridiculous. But Junior and Nassya kept talking and looking at me with love in their eyes. Nathan was having a side conversation with Kendra and I didn’t like it. He was asking her about her grades and school, but I still didn’t like it. After awhile I realized that little Nassya was looking up to me as the big sister extraordinaire. I liked the idea of that so I warmed up her a little bit. We walked around with them as they each picked out gifts for their parents. Junior said this was his senior year in high school and he wanted me to come to his graduation. Nathan told him he should check with their parents before he said something like that. But Junior told him to shut up and it was his day and he could have whomever he wanted there. He said he would call with more details later. They gave us a ride home and Nassya gave me the biggest hug right before I got out of the car. Kendra looked like she had so many questions, but I told her I had to go talk to my momma which I did. I told my momma everything that happened.

Kendra

My parents were high school sweethearts; my momma said she loved my daddy from the first time she laid eyes on him. My daddy said time stopped the first time he saw my momma. They fell in love in school and married right after they graduated. They waited a while before they had me, but my momma said my daddy was so excited when she told him she was pregnant. When I was only a little over a year old my mother was pregnant again with my sister Kaleah, and two years later my sister Kalani. People referred to us as the stair steps, but my parents couldn’t be prouder of the three of us. Both of my parents work so we all had to do our part. My dad left early in the morning so my momma would see us off to school. And then my dad would come home not too long as we got home from school. We did our homework first and then our chores. The three of us worked together to make sure that when our very tired parents came home that everything was taken care of. My family wasn’t the poorest family but we definitely weren’t rich. I learned that money comes and goes so not to base too much of my happiness on it. While most of the kids at my school were overly concerned about the labels on their backs and feet, I was looking after my sisters. I didn’t worry about being the biggest and the best, I just wanted to be good. Now my friend Nellie on the other hand, she always feels like she has to be the best at everything. Everything is a competition for her; if I think a boy is cute she has to know that he likes her. Her momma doesn’t care if Nellie has boy friends; my parents said I couldn’t have one. Every time she notices something with me she has to have bigger and better. My momma says not to pay that type of behavior no mind. She said girls like Nellie end up used and alone when they get older. She told me to continue to be nice to her in hopes that she will see one day that there is another way to be.

I try, but sometimes I get tired letting her shine when I know if I let go a little my light would out shine hers. My momma says to just hold on and watch. She tells me to look at the family examples of various Aunties, and cousins. All of the ones she points out are single sometimes with kids and fractions of what they used to look like. Kaleah acts like she doesn't hear momma though. She thinks Nellie is wonderful, and she just about sits at her feet taking all of her none sense in. When I see Kaleah imitating Nellie in her clothes or especially her hair I run interference. I'll mess up her hair or accidentally spill something on her clothes where she has to change. Kaleah thinks I'm jealous of her, but that isn't the case. Even though out of the three of us Kaleah is the lighter skinned, then Kalani, and I'm the darkest. I happen to love my brown skin and I wear it with pride. Kalani is always the peacekeeper and she tells both of us that we are both beautiful in our own ways.

*******

The sun has gone down and again my momma has beaten my daddy home. Lately when he comes home he's in a bad mood and he acts like he can't be bothered. On the weekends he gets up works on the yard and then he picks a fight with momma so he can storm away. I don't know what's going on, momma packs us up and we go over Aunt Quilla's house. A few times we've spent the night.

My Aunt Quilla is my daddy's little sister. She and my momma are so close you would think she was my momma's sister. My Aunt Quilla lives on the other side of our long street. It's a distance to walk so we normally drive. We play out back with Aunt Quilla's kids Ahjanae, Audra, Ahjani, and Aunrey. Ahjanae and I were the oldest so we were always in charge. I liked being at my aunt's house, but the tension between my parents makes me worry.

Ahjani watches my face, and he then comes up with the best games for us to play. His games always require tons of imagination. I normally forget how sad I feel until I see my momma's red eyes. Audra always finds a way to work singing into the mix. She has a beautiful voice and she knows it. Through her influence Kaleah practices and practices. Kaleah is developing a pretty good voice as well. Another thing to add to her arsenal.

Aunrey is just mean and a grump. He never wants to play with us and he's mad all the time. The only time he's nice and happy is when Aunt Quilla tells him his father is coming. We all lay low if his father didn't come for whatever reason. Then he's really angry or ornery. Ahjanae says he acts just like his daddy. She said whenever his daddy feels like he wants to get back with their momma and she tells him no, then he acts ugly. She said she called the police one-time cause he was choking their momma cause she told him she would never get back together with him. Ahjani pulled a knife on him, Audra had an iron skillet. Aunrey was the only one still on his father's side even though he saw what he was doing to their momma. Ahjanae told her daddy about the incident and he threatened to take her and Ahjani away if it happened again. Of course that made Audra sad cause her dad is dead, there was no one to save her. Thankfully Aunrey's father got locked up after that so they didn't have to be separated. On the flip side that means Aunrey has been a terror. And that little sucker is strong! Thankfully he's my cousin so even though he's mean to me he will not allow anyone to do the same. We don't go to the same school, but the people at my school leave us alone because of him. Aunrey is friends with the Baker family. The Baker family is this huge family that have real blood related cousins all over Richmond. Everybody knows who they are and they can be just as mean as Aunrey. His dad used to take him over the Momma Baker’s house all the time since he was a baby. The only family as big as their is the Mason family. The Baker’s and the Mason’s are good friends, and one of the Aunties lives a couple of houses over from Aunt Quilla. My Aunt said that since Ms. Lorraine found religion her house has calmed down a lot. I wonder what that means cause from I sit there’s always people at her house, coming and going. So time there’s arguments and fights outside her house. But Ms. Lorraine don’t play. Male or female she’s had to get with some of the more ignorant ones to remind them why they needed to respect her house. She’s always nice though and she always waves to us when she sees us outside playing.

"Aquilla, Ahjanae is getting so tall." My momma said

My aunt smiled, "thanks. She's gonna be tall like her daddy." Then she looked at me. "You remind me of our momma's sister. If I believed in reincarnation you'd be my living proof." Aunt Quilla always says that I just smile cause what else am I supposed to say. I continued to help Ahjanae clean the greens while they sat at the table and loudly whispered. We didn't let on that we could hear because we were nosey. "I'm sorry Khary. I don't know what my brother is thinking. You've always been good to him. I don't know why he's doing this. So what if you're all he knows, he should be proud that he could say he's disease free! What are you going to do?"

"As soon as I have proof he's out!" She said weakly.

"Why do you say it like that?"

“Aquilla, I have three girls. What am I supposed to do? Date other men and risk bringing a pervert around my girls? I would never forgive myself if something happened to them.”

“You don’t bring everyone you date around your girls, only the one you think is special meets them.”

“Aquilla, I don’t like talking like this. I hope we’re just going through a rough patch. I hope Jerry isn’t compromising our marriage.”

Aunt Quilla rubbed my momma’s hand, “I know sweetheart me too.”

*******

“Do you have these shoes in a size?” My momma asked the sales guy.

“I’ll go check,” he told her. Then he disappeared to the back.

“Go see if you can find any sneakers you like.” My momma told me as she continued walking around looking at the shoes on the shelves.

Kalani needed new sneakers more than I did so I was looking for a pair that I thought she would like. “Kendra right?” I heard a male voice say.

I turned around and it was one of Nellie’s brothers. “Yes, and you’re? I’m sorry I forgot your name.”

“Nathan, are you here with Nellie?” He said looking around.

“No, I’m here with my momma.”

He exhaled, “good! I need to ask you a very important question.” He looked me in my eyes. “Why are you friends with her?”

HIs question surprised me. “I don’t know. She was the new kid and I felt sorry for her, so I was nice to her and it went from there. You don’t like your own sister?”

“Not really, and its not because she has a different mother. It’s her constant need to be the center of attention that I don’t like. When we saw you guys in the mall it had been years since we seen her. I had forgotten that she’s always been that way. I love her, but I don’t like that. So again I ask you why are you friends with her? You’re nothing like her.”

“How do you know what I’m like?”

He smiled at me, “I can tell.”

“She can be really sweet sometimes. So I excuse her rudeness sometimes.”

His eyes went all over me, which surprised me. Nathan had to be in high school, why was he looking at me like that? Next year I would be in middle school, shouldn’t I look like a little girl to him? “Figures, you’d have to be kind hearted to be friends with her.” He looked around the store, that’s your mom?” He gestured with his head.

My momma was looking completely stunned at us. “Yes, please come meet her.”

He smiled, “alright.”

“You work here?” I asked as we made our way over.

“Yep, every weekend. You gonna come visit me?” He asked

I was surprised, “you want me to come visit you? Why?”

He smiled at me, “what’s your last name?”

“Hutchins,” I said as we approached my momma.

“Hello Mrs. Hutchins, I’m Nealesha’s big brother Nathan.” He said smiling at her.

My momma looked relieved. “Oh! Ok! Nice to meet you. I was wondering why daughter was talking to a high school looking boy. What grade are you in?”

“I’m a sophomore at Albany High.”

“Oh that’s nice.” My momma said still showing how relieved she was.

“You have a very patient daughter, hopefully some of what she’s got will rub off on my sister.” He said

My momma smiled, “Nellie just needs to see that there’s another way to be. She’s fine; between the two of you I think she’ll get it. It was nice meeting you Nathan.” My momma said as the sales guy came out with a shoebox.

Nathan told the guy he’d wait on us. The other said ok and went to help another customer. Nathan chatted with my momma and me the rest of the time we were there. He even gave us his employee discount on the shoes I picked out for Kalani and the ones my momma got for herself. Nathan smiled at me real big when my momma was surprised that I picked out shoes for my little sister instead of picking out a pair for myself. When my momma went to the bathroom, Nathan told me I had to come back to see him. I told him I’d bring his sister, and he kind of frowned. He said if that was the only way I could then he guessed it was ok. But he’d rather I didn’t bring her. I was confused but I agreed anyways.

Beyond The Wallace's ~ A Heart That's Taken (2014 NaNo WriMo Project)

Chapter 1

Olivia

"I'm glad you finally came out. Now it's time to make this money, and forget about that loser Montell." My best friend Julia said.

Julia's family is from out here in Georgia. Her family came to California for a short while and that's when we met on the playground. She's always had my back and I hers. When Julia's parents divorced, her mother stayed in California while she had to move back out here with her father. We've kept in contact over the years via letters, occasional phone calls, and videos. Both of our parents had camcorders and we used them to our advantage. Julia is one of the best photographers I know. Well she's the only photographer that I know, but I still know she's the best. She has a wonderful eye for catching light and moments. One of the games we play is “capture that mood.” I used to send her songs that I would tape off the radio that I felt described the mood I was in. I'd tell her to capture as many pictures as she could that reflected the mood of that song. When she'd send me pictures, I'd listen to my song again and then we'd go over the pictures. We normally ended up debating about most of them. That's the thing about artistic expression. Sometimes two people will look at the same item and get two TOTALLY different ideas about what the pieces mean. Like what the artist is saying, the whole thing. Most times, we didn’t agree, and in the end, we would agree to disagree. I moved out here to escape my sorry excuse for a life. There was no college fund or plans made for me, which never seemed to add up to me. Our house was in a very nice neighborhood in Castro Valley. My mom drives only top of the line cars, and she trades up every so many years. She dresses very nicely from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet. Ms. Roth or the dragon lady as I like to call her, sometimes is always nicely put together. When I graduated from high school, my mother said I needed to get a job and then find a place to live. Since there was nothing holding me in Castro Valley, the city where I grew up, I jumped on the opportunity for a change of scenery. Julia graduated from high school a year early and is in college. She landed a job, which allowed her to maintain an apartment of her own. She told me she was sending for me as soon as I told her that Montell and I broke up. I'm going to the local junior college until I figure out what I'm going to do. I don’t know where my life is going, but anything has to be better than this. "Thanks love, here's to new beginnings.”

Ahjani

"You are the first person to go to college in our family! I am so proud of you son. Remember to remain focused. Don't let anyone steer you away from what you know is true. Basketball is your ticket in; it's paying for the ride. Remember that you are there to get your education. Play well, but don't let go of your Plan B. Even if you make it into the NBA, you could get injured, or never make it off the bench. The list goes on and on. You will be a success not because of that ball you bounce around, but because you will apply the biggest muscle you have on your body." My momma said.

"Thank you momma," I said hugging her.

"Aquilla, stop babying him. I'm proud of you...."

I took my momma by the hand and we walked closer to the gate. "I don't know why you invited him." I looked down on my momma.

"He's your father baby. I don't want to be the reason why you don't have a relationship with him." Her eyes were sad.

"You are my father, you are my momma. He barely paid child support and I only saw him when he could be bothered. I have nothing to say to him." I tried to keep my voice controlled; I didn’t want her thinking that my irritation was with her.

"What is wrong with you? I didn't come all the way out here to be treated like this! I can go home!"

"Good, then you should. I didn't invite you here. I don't even know you, but you want to act like we're supposed to have some kind of bonding moment at the airport. Everything I am I owe it to my momma and my sister. You are a stranger to me! Go back to existing on mute as far as I'm concerned." Then I kissed my momma goodbye; I took immense pleasure in knowing that my words hurt him. I boarded my plane feeling like I could finally leave the issues with my father behind me. I finally had the chance to say everything on my heart in those couple of sentences. It felt as good as my sister used to say it would. Here’s to a new beginning where I can finally leave all my drama behind me.

As soon as we were in the air, I put on my headphones and I let my emotions bleed out through the song du jour, as I stared off into the clouds. I nodded my head until I dozed off.

At Last

Chapter 1


Annette

"Annette!"

I'm sleep and then I hear my name being screamed out of nowhere! I climbed over Emma and I ran in the kitchen. "Yes ma'am?" I said trying to focus my eyes.

"Why are you looking at me like that!" I felt the sting of my momma's hand across my face. Then she cursed me out while I stood there holding my face. She clinched her lips, "you better straighten your face up NOW!"

"Yes ma'am", I said putting my eyes to the floor.

"Your brother is going to be home soon. Fix him something to eat! I'm going to bed."

My heart dropped, "Momma no! Please! Can I fix it and leave it on the stove for him?"

She slapped me again in the same spot, "No! Your father and brother go to work for us and how do you show your thanks? You are so UNGRATEFUL! How I ever raised such an ungrateful child is beyond me. Now don't sass me either! Make your brother a plate and I don't wanna hear nothing else about it!" Then she walked to the cabinet and pulled out her "medicine". She had the guiltiest look in her eyes when she glanced at me one more time.

I ran in my room and put on three pairs of panties a skirt, bra, and blouse. Emma woke up and I told her to go back to sleep. I hurried around that kitchen in hopes that I could finish before Leslie got home. Leslie is my oldest brother and I don't like him! I dream about poisoning his food, and beating him until I get tired. Momma knows exactly what she's doing setting me up like this. She probably didn't wake me until she thought he was close by. When I heard footsteps on the porch my heart stopped. I was almost done with his eggs; I slid them on his plate over his hash. I pulled the sun tea out the cooler and poured him a glass. "Look at my pretty pretty little sister!" He said standing there with a smile.

I dropped my eyes to the floor, "here you go Leslie." I tried to hurry out the kitchen

"Hold on, where's the fire?" He said grabbing my arm. "Aren't you gonna keep your big brother company?"

"I gotta go to bed. I gotta go to school in the morning." I said in a low voice with my eyes to the floor.

"Oh come on! I've been down at the station all week. Shouldn't somebody in this family care enough to talk to me? I mean I send all my money here so you can have nice things."

"You send that money to momma for everybody, why I gotta be the one?"

"Cause I like you the best. Emma too little, she not ripe yet." He said putting his last fork full of food in his mouth.

"You are disgusting!" I hated him so much.

He reached out to touch my hand and I slapped his hand away. He slapped me hard and I punched him with everything I had. I started crying as I looked for something to hit him with. He wasn't getting me this time without a fight! When he grabbed me and took me into his arms I bit him as hard as I could. He screamed in pain, I grabbed the skillet off the stove and I started swinging. After I clocked him a couple of times he put his bloody hand up in defeat! I wasn't falling for it. I waited for him to back away. He looked like he thought about changing his mind and charging me.

"Annette what's wrong?" Emma said rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.

Leslie looked at her then he went in the living room to sleep with my brothers. Emma started crying cause she saw me crying. She helped me clean up the kitchen and then we went in our room. I put the dresser in front of the door, and then I laid down to sleep.

Timothy

"You're Franklin Wallace's boys aren't you?" He asked looking me up and down.

"Yes sir!" I said looking him in his eyes.

"What you boys doing all the way over here?" He cracked a smile

"Just pay him so we can move on!" My brother Jeff said

"No!" My brother Franky said, "Who do you report to?"

"Boy! I ask the questions here!"

Franky got out the car, "I'm not your Boy! You seem to know who I am, and yet you dare to take this tone with me! I will have your head and your badge! Now I got business to tend to on the other side of this bridge so I suggest you move out of my way."

The officer looked at his partner who shrugged. "Get out of here! He's too young to be going on these runs with you!" He said pointing to me.

"Mind your own business!" Franky said getting back in the truck. When he drove away he told me, we don't have to answer questions unless we want to. He said Pops owns the San Francisco police and anyone who steps out of line would be dealt with.

I took everything my big brother said in like it was written in gold. Franky was the oldest brother. He doesn't back down to anyone. My brother Dale is a bookworm; Pops gives him and my brother Matthew other things to do when we go out to "handle business". There are eight of us total, five boys and three girls. I'm the youngest boy. I have two younger sisters and one older. Pops keeps their noses in books too. We all gotta get good grades in school and do our chores. But for Franky, Jeff, and I sometimes we get "other" chores. Franky and Jeff used to try to say I was too little to come with them, but one day this kid Eddie was bothering my sister Martha. Eddie is supposed to be the cool kid the one everybody looked up to and all the girls wanted. But he decides to set his sights on my sister. Martha is always the sweetest; she doesn't act moody like those other two. Sometimes they're ok, and other times they're too much. So needless to say she's my best sister. Well Martha, my friend Jeremiah, and I were walking from the store. We each had a bag full of penny candy. When I saw Eddie coming Martha got nervous and said we should cross the street. Eddie was three times my size and mean looking, but I didn't care. I told Martha I would not cross the street, I told her to stay with me and she would be ok. She smiled at me, underestimating me because I was her little brother. "What are you guys doing walking around with him?" He said pointing to Jeremiah.

"We can walk with whomever we like." Martha said

Eddie frowned, "you like coloreds?"

I frowned at Martha; Eddie was getting on my nerves. "Jeremiah is a good kid, we like him."

"You like him?"

"What's it to you who she likes? She doesn't like you, and that's all you need to worry about." I said giving my bag of candy to Martha.

Eddie started laughing, "what are you going to do little man? Put 'em up!"

Before he even realized what happened to him he was on the ground and I was stomping the life out of him. My brother Jeff came out of nowhere and pulled me off of Eddie. Martha and Jeremiah's mouths were hanging open. "Don't you ever mess with my sister again or else I'm coming for you!"

Jeff stopped me, "what did he do?"

"He didn't do anything to her today. But he's always messing with her. Martha wanted to cross the street." Jeff looked at Martha who put her eyes on the ground. "Today he was getting on my nerves calling Jeremiah colored and stuff. I wanted to shut him up." I said taking a piece of candy out of my bag to eat.

"You beat him up like that for talking about your friend?" Then he patted my back, "I didn't know you had it in you."

We left Eddie on the ground. Later than day Mrs. Kavanagh came to our front door very upset. "Irma your boy and his dark friend beat up my boy!" She said with Eddie in tow.

"Come in have a seat." My momma said taking out the pitcher and pouring Mrs. Kavanagh some lemonade. She eyed Eddie, "I heard something about it. Your boy was telling my children that they were wrong for playing with the Barnes kid."

Mrs. Kavanagh looked around, "Irma think about it. We can't have our children thinking that it’s ok to socialize with them. Next they'll think its ok to bring him in your house."

Suddenly my momma moved her eyes and she caught Jeremiah and I eavesdropping on their conversation from the hallway. "Tim and Jeremiah come here." She commanded. Mrs. Kavanagh gasped when she saw Jeremiah walking behind me.

"Irma! What if this gets out?" She said

"You are getting on my nerves! There's nothing wrong with my children befriending whomever they like as long as they're good people! Times are changing Shirley, and I couldn't be more relieved!" Momma said

"Fine Irma! Don't say I didn't warn you."

"And don't say I didn't warn you. The next time your stupid dope of a son tries to pick on somebody he could at least try to make sure they're the same size. That way he'll have some dignity about himself when the word gets out."

"Well! I guess I should be leaving if I'm going to be treated in such a fashion!" She said

"Yeah, I guess so." Momma walked over hugged Jeremiah and kissed his forehead. "You can marry anyone of my daughters when you can afford a wife."

"Momma!" I said embarrassed, and smiling at Jeremiah. I knew she said that to drive home the point, that Jeremiah is ALWAYS welcomed here.

That evening Jeff told me Pops wanted to see me in his study. All of the kids knew not to go in this room unless Pops invited you. The three of them were drinking Brandy, and there was a fourth glass. Pops told me to sit in front of the unmanned glass, and then he told me to drink. It was hot but delicious; I twisted my face as I took a drink. Franky got a kick out of seeing me take my first drink. Pops was watching me. Then he shook his head, he told Franky I was good. "I heard you had a fight today? Your momma said you beat the kid up pretty bad."

"Yes sir." I said

"Your brothers seem to think you have the stomach to work with us." Then he looked at me, "I don't know just yet. I'm gonna test you out. But you need to remember what happens in our family stays in our family, you understand me?"

"Yes sir!”


(Coming Soon) To find this book in paperback or electronic format.

Just A Friend

Chapter 1


Ethan

All I ever hear people saying is how good the genes are in my family. How beautiful the women are and how handsome the men are. Some of my family members in my opinion act like this is all we are. A group of attractive family members. The fact that there are a bunch of us stands to try to prove some people's point. My cousin Miranda was going on and on about how there's no one ugly in our family. That's when the fight started. I asked her why couldn't she brag that we were all good people and hard workers? Matthew and Ryan are in law school, Jennifer's going to be a doctor. They set the bar high as far as achievements for our generation. I don't want the pressure of someone's life in my hands so neither one of those fields hold my attention. Although I paid attention enough to pick up a couple of things in both of those regards.

"You never do it right! Do you have to be so.... So.... White!" I said laughing at my brother.

"I've got soul, just cause your skin is browner than mine means nothing." Dito said laughing, "one of these days you'll dance somewhere outside of the living room!"

"Why are you arguing?" Georgette said rushing out the bedroom to shush us. "Franky is trying to sleep!"

"He should know better than to try to sleep in the middle of the day!" I said loudly.

Then there was a rhythmic pound on the door. "T!" Dito and I said in unison.

Georgette ran to the door, "Timothy please keep the noise down Franky's trying to sleep."

Timothy frowned at her, "why is Franky sleep in the middle of the day?" He said loudly.

"Ok!" I said giving him a high five.

"Cause she just depleted me of all my juice and she was hoping I'd fall into a deep coma like sleep, and forget I was going out tonight." Franky said standing in the doorway.

"Baby are you hungry? I can fix you something to eat." She said rushing to Franky.

"Nope, you've served your purpose. Put your clothes on and go!" He said coldly.

Everyone covered their mouths to try not to laugh. We used to feel sorry for her, but no matter how rude Franky is to her she keeps coming back for more. It's hard to respect someone like that. Georgette got dressed and walked out looking like a wounded kitten.

My brother Franklin aka Franky is the ladies man. Girls flock to him like nobody's business. He literally has to beat them off with a stick. Tall dark and handsome is what they call him. My cousin Timothy aka T is the next runner up, I don't think he even knows what it's like to be single or rejected by a girl. My brother Fernando aka Dito doesn't fair badly with chicks, but he's too sweet kind and gentle until they get on his nerves. Then there's me, I guess I'm handsome. I'm smart, I've got a great personality. However, I share my father's love of food. My momma calls me husky, but most of the girls around here call me fat. I'm always friends with these chicks who think they're using me to get closer to my brothers and cousins, or for my talents. Normally it's the four of us, but our other cousins Matthew aka Matty, Darren who we only call Darren, and a few others step out with us from time to time. Although we spend most of our time here Franky and Dito live together. T and I share an apartment a couple of buildings over. This arrangement works cause T and I are more the same as we have to have neat and order in our home. Franky and Dito are more "relax", but normally some chick from school volunteers to clean their place for them.

As we walked to Franky's car I announced, "I think I should grow my hair out. You know be my true hippie self."

"Is that the plan? Grow your hair, catch a woman?" Franky said

"I catch girls all the time. This is not about girls. I think I want this for me." I said

"Momma always wanted a girl, kind of figures it would be you. Dito came close."

"Forget you! Just because I don't beat my chest and roar like the rest of you. Momma says I'm just fine." Dito said

"Of course she's going to say that. You remember when she asked you if you liked girls?" Franky said laughing.

Dito turned red, "that's not funny. You always bring that up. It was just a question, she asked it's over. Why do you harp on it so much?"

"Because she asked the question the rest of us had been thinking but didn't know how to ask."

"T and Blu, you guys think I'm gay?" Dito asked in frustration.

"You are whoever you say you are. It doesn't matter to me." I said

"It matters to Dad and it matters to me!" Franky said not laughing anymore.

"Let's change the subject. How many girls you think are going to be at this party?" I said trying to keep the peace.

"Doesn't matter you're not going home with any of them." Franky said laughing again.

"Franky you're in rare form tonight. Don't treat your brother like that." T said

"It's ok T, Franky needs to have something to feel good about. Mister can't declare a major. Maybe if you devoted as much time to studying as you do to these females you'd decide what you want to do with your life besides being a career student. Dito and I will settle in our careers before he picks a major. Franklin the third turned out to be a big fat dud!" I said

Franky had no response for that he drove angrily to the party. When we stepped into the party T and Franky went to the left, Dito and I went to the right. "Hi Ethan!" The girls on the couch sang to me.

"Ladies." I nodded to them.

"Come sit with us!" One drunk girl said.

"I need a drink." I said

"Barbara will get it for you!" One girl said pushing Barbara to go play fetch for me. "Come sit down." She said patting the now vacant spot on the couch next to her. I sat down, she immediately put her hands in my hair. "I love your hair, it feels like cotton."

Another girl touched it, "kind of like wool?"

"No Darla! Wool is itchy and scratchy. His hair is soft like cotton." The first girl said.

"Since when are you the expert on black people's hair?" Darla snapped.

"Since now!" Then she shot her friend a look. Then she smiled at me. "Ethan," she gave me that smile.

"Nope, if you want it you know what you've got to call me." I said

She folded her hands in front of her face. "Please daddy, did you bring us any snacks?"

All of the girls smiled at me. "How much money you got for the Baker-man?"

They deflated, the first girl spoke up. "How about?" She smiled seductively at me. "You let me do something for you, and then you do something for me?"

"Not interested, I've had you and it wasn't all that great." I said honestly. "If I was going to barter with you I want to feel like it's worth it. I'd only give you a corner of a cookie, forget about any blow."

The girl looked insulted. "What did you bring?" She asked me.

"I might not have brought anything. Impress me." I sat back.

The girls huddled, then a different girl sat next to me. She flipped her hair as she started touching me. She threw her leg up. "Ethan, I mean daddy. If you share your goodies with me, I'll share mine with you." Then she bit my ear.

I was intrigued. This girl was about ready to go right here in front of everybody. "Where we going?" I said.

The girls clapped excitedly. This girl stood up and led me by the hand. "Blaine can we use your room for a little bit?"

Blaine looked at me, "what's in it for me?"

I looked at the girl who looked frustrated, "I'll share. Can we go or not?"

Blaine held his hand out, "enjoy!"

"Don't hurt her!" Franky called out from across the room.

This girl who didn't feel it was important for me to know her name, went in. She was kissing all over me, I thumped her when she got too close to my mouth. I don't kiss these girls. She got on her knees and went to work. I tried not to laugh when she tried to take me all the way in and gagged. I told her to watch herself. She drank my mess like it was kool aide. Feeling good about herself she stood up. I told her that was just my warm up and now it was time for the show. She looked at my dick in disbelief as I stood at full attention waiting for service. I put on a condom and told her to come on. I guess she thought because I'm a big guy this would be easy. Clearly her friend didn't give her the full disclosure on who I am. I may be big, but I know how to handle my business. Her blue eyes stretched wide in shock as she exploded. Snowflake came so hard you would've thought she was having a seizure. When I finally blew my top, she screamed in surrender to her daddy. I rolled over and caught my breath. "How did I do?" She asked still trying to catch her breath and get control over her body that was still shaking.

"I'll give you a C+"

She shot up, "a what?"

"You were average, a good average but average. C+ little girl." I said wiping myself on the bed and then fixing my clothes.

"I demand a redo!" She said pulling on her dress.

I tossed a couple of brownies, rice treats, a joint, and a little snow on the bed. "You gonna end up strung out like your friend. I'm good for now." Then I walked out.


Jenise

My parents were so proud of me. The first person in our family to go to college. The fact that I got a full scholarship to go to one of the most prestigious colleges in the country gave them so many bragging rights. I was never the prettiest or the smartest, my out going personality is what always put me ahead. I was only ever the center of my parent's attention. If it wasn't for my personality most people would pass on by. A lot of people say I'm real animated and entertaining to watch. I like making people laugh, when appropriate of course. My parents always say I made the most interesting friends. I've always taken that as a compliment.

My parents saved all year to give me money to make the trip out here, we were excitedly surprised when we realized that they actually saved enough to come up with me. I'm from Bakersfield a farming town, little hole in the wall city in California that people don't know about unless they're from here. My parents drove me to school instead of the bus like we originally planned. They stayed in a motel nearby for the weekend as they took me to get the few things we could afford for my dorm room. My roommate arrived a day later. She was nice, and we said they stuck the minorities in the room together. Everybody at this school was basically white. Stuck up little spoiled rich kids. Grace's family is from San Francisco. Her uncle owns a grocery store and her family works in the store. He happens to own the apartment building that they live in as well. In exchange for their help at the store. He also gives them a small allowance. She's here on scholarship like me, it's help to have someone who understands the struggle. We can't pick up the phone and say mommy and daddy I need. We work in the cafeteria and we help each other out. These idiots around here ask the dumbest questions. Especially about my hair. One guy calls me Angela Davis because of my Afro. I wasn't insulted, he didn't know what to say to me. Since he knew about my girl Angela I figured he was at least on the righteous path to enlightenment. Dickey and I actually ended up becoming good friends. Along with the other people in his inner circle. Grace is still my number one, but she says we gotta get out and network. Meet new people make connections cause they might take us somewhere one day. Seems like we connect with people all the time.

"Mail call!" Grace said coming in with the mail from my cubby.

"Gimmie! Gimmie!" I said happily.

Grace gave my latest letter from Jamal. My "boy friend" back in Bakersfield. Jamal and I are a lot alike in a lot of ways. He's not silly or out going, but the person at the heart of him is a good person. His parents are getting up there in age, and it's expected that he will take over the farm now that they can't handle it. I haven't seen him since I came out here. During vacations I stay here and work, and my summer. Grace and I got an "apartment" and worked our behinds off to afford it and try to save money for the next school year. I applied at this department store, and they had a problem with my hair. I held myself in a polite and disciplined manner while Grace went completely off. I love that girl so much. I never have to wonder if she has my best interest at heart. She shows it constantly.

Jamal and I keep each other up to date on the latest with each other in our letters. I know my parents think we're going to end up together, but I don't know if I see it anymore. I tell myself I’ll figure it out when I graduate.

"You got gum?" She asked as we got off the bus.

I reached in my purse and gave her a piece. "How long we gotta stay? Blaine's parties always turn into big orgies and I'm not interested."

"Let's give it an hour, and then we'll come home." She said, "I want his friend to partner with me in that class. Let me talk to him for a minute then we can go." She said turning the knob to enter Blaine's place.

As usual most of the girls in these parties are stuck up. I end up talking to the guys and waiting for Grace. Tonight seemed no different.

"Grace who's your friend?" Blaine said looking at me like I was lunch.

"This is my sister Jenise, I introduce you every time."

"No, no! I would remember this flower." He said kissing my hand.

"You say that everytime too." Grace said looking around the room. "Is Braxton here?"

Blaine focused on me, "I like your hair like that. It brings out your eyes."

I looked at Blaine's red and sleepy eyes. "You're high!"

"Is that a crime?"

"As long as you're not in public, no. Being in possession is." I said

"You want some?" His eyes pleaded with me to say yes.

"No thank you."

"Jenise you need to relax. I can help you with that."

"If it's not dancing, I don't see how."

"Keith!" He called out, "turn on the stereo, this one wants to dance."

Some whiter than white music came on and Blaine started dancing. I looked at Grace and she shrugged. So I two stepped to the music I don't know why I was expecting Motown.

"WHAT IS THIS?" A guy I didn't know said to Blaine.

"Music!" Blaine said dancing all off beat.

"Where's the Motown?" This white guy I didn't know said.

"What you know about Motown white boy?" I said with a smile.

"Everything!" Then he turned to Blaine. "Turn this off! Turn on the radio! You know what I'll do it!" The guy walked over to the stereo. He turned off the record and turned on the radio. He turned the dial until he got to the station then he adjusted the antenna. When soul music came on he came back to me. Bumping Blaine out the way he danced with me. Grace jumped in when we started doing the hustle. He wasn't a bad dancer at all and we had a lot of fun. So much fun that I didn't pay attention when he brought me punch. I was so thirsty I gulped it down without tasting it until my drink was gone. The fire! This punch was beyond spiked. Grace looked at me with big eyes as we both realized what I did. My body is a temple that I have been very adamant about keeping clean. AND NOW! Now it has been defiled! "It's spiked!" I yelled grabbing my throat and dropping to my knees. "Temple violated! No! Lord Jesus please forgive me!"

The guy looked at me with a goofy look, "you're crazy! I like you!"

"Water! I need water! Please save me before I drown in a pool of my own vomit because the demon liquor got me and made a fool...." My lips got numb! "Lord! It's happening! Grace tell my parents I'm sorry! Tell them I tried! But it's true, bad association spoils useful habits!"

Grace put her hand on her hip, "who's the bad association?"

"You are if you don't help me!" I said coughing dramatically.

She looked at the guy, "what's your name?"

"Dito."

"Thank you Dito for poisoning my sister. She will now be forced to become a wino and live out her days as a drunk homeless person doing anything for a drink." She said sarcastically.

"You're freshmen?" Dito asked

"No sophomores, but my sister promised God she would keep her temple pure."

"Your sister?" Dito smiled at us.

"Can you please do this later? Help me!" I said stretching out my hand.

Grace stood me up off the floor. We went to the bathroom and she sprinkled water on my face. "Jenise I think you're going to live."

"You want a refill?"

"No she does not!"

"Yes!" I said smiling at Grace. "I might as well since I had the first one."

"Bye Jenise! You get on my nerves." She laughed as she walked away.

I sat on the edge of the tub chatting with Dito as I drank my drink. The more I drank the more I wanted to talk. Dito grew up in Walnut Creek and Oakland. He has two brothers and a cousin out here. I asked him how that was possible and he said he was the middle child. He was eleven months older than his younger brother and five months younger than his older brother. He said his parents never treated him like he was different. He said his little sister on the other hand was born different. He said they have the same mom but you would never know it. He said for one reason or another they don't get along. I told him I was an only child and first person in my family to go to college. I told him Grace and I consider each other sisters because of how close we are. "What's it like being friends with a Chinese girl?"

"I wouldn't know, Grace isn't Chinese." He looked at me confused. "Not that it matters but she's Filipino. Completely different culture. Asian is an umbrella just like white or black. Are you Irish, Italian, British?"

"Part German and I don't know what else. My parents didn't focus on it. What about you?"

"My grandfather is from Nigeria. The rest of my folks are American and you know how that goes. The only real connection I have to my roots is through my grandfather."

We talked for a long time, getting drunker and drunker. I remember laughing with Dito and being silly. At one point he had to pee so he closed the door and went. Eventually his girlfriend showed up. I don't know why I expected her to be black. Dito wasn't nice to her like he was to me. He made her get her own drink and he looked irritated when she interjected in our conversation.


When I stood up my legs wobbled. Dito insisted on driving Grace and I to the dorm. His brother gave him keys to his car. It was a really nice car. Dito gave Grace and I his number. He said if we ever needed anything to call him.


(Coming Soon) To find this book in paperback or electronic format.

Abandoned 

Chapter 1


Victor

"Victor, I'm pregnant!"

I stood there staring at her. "You're kidding."

"No baby, the rabbit died." I was quiet my mind was racing. "Say something." She looked scared and vulnerable.

I took a deep breath. "You better keep your mouth shut. I don't want this getting back to Charmaine." I stood up.

"Where are you going?" Her eyes pleaded with me to stay.

"Home! I need to think. I'll be back." Then I walked out the door. Charmaine is going to be so mad and hurt. She's been my girlfriend since I was eight years old. She was the only girl keeping up with all the boys on the playground as we played cops and robbers. I can remember her little ponytails flopping around as we ran from one side of the yard to the other. She always found a way to be on my team, it didn't matter to her that I was always the robber. She'd play the bad girl just to be on my team.

I'd make my brother Vern wait with me for her and her cousin after school. Then we'd walk them home. After we dropped them home we reported to Lenny to make runs for him.

The first time Charmaine let me kiss her I was gone. She was all my firsts. Middle school brought on more girls. Girls breaking their necks to get to me and willing to do just about anything to be with me. I'm handsome no doubt about it, the way these girls act you'd swear they never seen a good-looking young man before. They'd step all over each other just to get my attention. Charmaine was always fighting it seems like. There was always some girl who was jealous because she had me. Charmaine never questioned me about any of it or asked me if it was true. She just didn't want females approaching her about it. She told me as long as I loved her she didn't need anything else. That came with the knowledge that most of these girls weren't capable of doing what she does. Most of these girls had daddy's at home that forbid them to go any further than above the waist. No one understood why I liked Charmaine. She was wild and clearly crazy. That's why I loved her, she understood my crazy. She didn't try to change me and make me feel like I was a motherless savage. Her parents were strung out somewhere just like mine. Her loyalty was to me and she'd do anything for me. She has proven that she would go against anyone for me.

Then in walks Senri; we call her Sen for short. Sen came ready and prepared for any and everything. Vern and I were at Bob's minding our own business enjoying ice cream cones when she walked in with a group of girls. Sen locked her eyes on me and then she walked up to our table. "They call me Sen, what's your name?"

"Victor."

"Victor, I just moved out here. I need a friend. Will you be my friend?"

I looked at Vern and his eyes were stretched wide as he told me to say yes. "I didn't say I needed a new friend."

She touched my arm as she pleaded. "Victor I'll make sure you don't regret being my friend."

"Um! I have a girlfriend."

She looked at her friends to confirm my claim. They had big eyes as well as they told her it was true. "I won't tell if you won't."

I looked at all the people who were watching and waiting for my answer. "Sorry." It felt like a setup

Sen smiled bigger and said it was ok.

When we left we didn't get a block away before Vern was calling me stupid and asking me why I turned that dame down. I told him there were too many people watching. Someone was going to run back and tell Charmaine. Vern deflated, he didn't think of that.

After that I'd see Sen all over the place. I'd smile and watch her walk away. Since Vern and I brought money into my aunt's we got to share a room while most of our cousins and relatives had to find space wherever they could on the floors and couches. Vern puts up a sheet between our beds whenever Charmaine spends the night. We don't mess around when he's in the room. But as soon as he steps out, it's on. "I heard about that girl Señorita."

"Señorita?"

"That stupid girl with the woman body. I beat her up today." Charmaine shook her foot.

"Is that what happened to your hand?" I touched it gently.

"Her stupid face was hard. She had the nerve to be a challenge."

"Did you win?"

"Of course! But she was actually a challenge for once. She didn't run home crying cause I slapped her." Charmaine laughed. "I like her," then she looked at me. "As long as she stands down."

"Okay," I kissed her. Charmaine was my girl, but if I decide to have Sen as long as she knew to stand down it was ok.

When I told Vern he acted like he was about to pass out. The next time I saw Sen things happened. Sen wasn't a virgin by a long shot. My education started that afternoon and went into the late hours of the night. Eventually Vern got tired of waiting in the hallway. He barged in stating that he was going to bed. The idea of an audience turned Sen on more. As long as it wasn't Charmaine I didn't care if he watched either. Vern sat on his bed with big eyes watching everything. I was exhausted by the morning. I sent Sen home around three o'clock in the morning. I felt like the MAN! Armed with a few new tricks, I messed around and got Charmaine pregnant. Her grandmother put her out and at sixteen we vowed forever to each other. My future was set, the love of my life was on my arm and we no longer had to hold back. We found a little one-room apartment, and then my daughter was born. Looking at my little girl who needed her daddy made me step up my game. Lenny gave Vern and I more responsibility, which meant more money. I couldn't go to school and hustle, so I dropped out. Vern moved with Charmaine and I to a bigger place. Vern stayed in school and then he went over everything he learned with me each day. It seemed like every time Sen taught me something new, I knocked up Charmaine. In between the babies Charmaine and Sen were fighting every time they saw each other. Charmaine's way of dealing with her frustration I guess. Three girls in five years. All of them beautiful and my pride and joy. Charmaine would get angry every time they told her it was a girl. She wanted to give me a son so bad. Charmaine's grandmother told her to give her body a rest and we could try for our son in a little bit.

That's why Sen's news today is wrong. If Charmaine finds out, she might try to beat the baby out of her.

I talked to Vern and he told me to move Sen to the other side of Oakland. Then he asked me about my other lady on the side. I told him I had to cut her loose cause she actually thought I'd leave my wife for her. Charmaine has been my woman since we were kids playing show me yours. I'm never leaving my wife.


Dalenna

"One two pick up sticks, three four shut the door, five six pick up sticks, seven eight shut the gate, nine ten do it all again." We sang as we jumped rope. I can remember like it was yesterday. That's when my big cousin started seeing that big money guy Vern. My parents were killed in a car accident at least that's what the police say. All I know is they left to go to the market and they never came back. We lived in St. Louis in the heart of everything. My sister and I took dance classes, piano lessons; you name it my parents had us involved in it. We didn’t have family out there on account of my parents moving there because of the job my daddy got. A lot of people said my family was uppity and they didn’t like us. My sister was six years older than me, and she was always fighting. She would say that people were picking on her and my momma would defend her. I know people tried to pick on me, but then they would say don’t mess with Phyllis’ little sister. To say she had a reputation for being tough was an understatement. My uncle sent for me and my sister, but she started running away as soon as we got here. She was convinced that our uncle was kidnapping us and that the government stole our parents for some kind of Negro experiment. Every time they found my sister they'd try to convince her to come home and stay home. But she would say Oakland wasn't our home. My uncle got tired; he had his own kids to look after. His wife died a few years back and he was lonesome for awhile. When his son went away to work and find his way in the world, my uncle really started looking for someone. Samira didn’t like it, but when my uncle broke down to her how lonely he was she stopped saying anything. Then he met a lady a year after I came. His days and nights have been filled with her; sometimes we go weeks without seeing him. We knew he was still around cause he still paid all of the bills for the house. However we hardly ever saw him. My big cousin Samira loved to play momma to me. She gave me all the hugs and kisses I needed. When she started seeing Vern I was always with her. He'd give me money to wait outside the car while they fooled around. One day Samira found out about him and another girl from around the way and she told me she was thru with him. She said he was only trying to get in her pants anyways.

Since we didn’t have much money I tried to keep with my dancing at home. Plus whenever Samira went to parties around the way she brought me. People would always be amazed by how little I was doing all the latest moves. I was always the little girl around a bunch of big people. I didn’t make very many friends in school. I had people that I talked to and ate lunch with but no one that I truly hung with or that came over my house or I theirs.

By middle school I was blossoming. Nobody ever thought I was in middle school. Samira would tell me to be careful all the time cause she said there were a lot of perverts around who would love to lure me into an alley somewhere. To say she made me paranoid would be an understatement. But then one day I was walking home like I do all the time when Jumping Jimmy came out of nowhere. Everybody knew he wasn't right, and when he came around you knew to hold on to your purse. His eyes looked scary and he kept telling me how pretty I looked. I started running in the wrong direction, but I ran as hard as my legs would carry me. Jumping Jimmy still caught up to me. I was screaming, kicking, and fighting for my life. He knew I didn't have any money so if he was chasing me it wasn't good. Jumping Jimmy picked me up and I screamed for anybody to help me. I heard car breaks but all I could see was Jimmy. He was telling me to shut up. Then someone grabbed him that made Jimmy drop me. It was Vern, I have never been so happy to see him in all my life. He beat Jimmy down to the ground until he wasn't moving. Then he asked me if I was ok. I cried in his arms as I thanked him for saving me. All that time I didn't realize someone was still in the car watching us. Vern told them he had to make sure I made it home. The man didn't say anything he just looked at me. I kept thanking Vern and the guy for saving me. Vern introduced the guy as his big brother Victor. Victor looked like he was thinking about things the whole time he drove. Samira was walking up to the house when the car pulled up. She gasped when she saw Vern then she saw me get out of the car. I cried as I told her what happened, and then Samira tearfully thanked Vern for saving me. Victor still didn't say anything. He sat there and watched as Samira and Vern talked things out. Vern said he was bringing me home tomorrow and then he'd take both of us out to dinner. Samira quickly agreed then she thanked him again. I kept peeking at Victor while he watched Samira and Vern talk. He was a handsome man, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Even though my heart was still pounding I didn’t know if it was from the attack or because I was looking at Victor. That night she held onto me as we cried together.

The next day at school everybody was talking about how Jumping Jimmy's body was found in an alley. He had been beaten and shot.

*******

"Where's Vern?" I looked around the car that Vern and his brother always come to pick me up in.

"He's taking care of something else today. He asked me to come get you. Get in."

I swallowed; Victor was even more of a man than Vern was. He was very handsome and he didn't say much to me. I liked the way his hair curled even though he tried to wear it like an Afro; I wanted to stick my hands in it. "Thank you.” I wanted to stroke his thin beard; I imagined it being soft like my daddy’s used to be.

When I sat down his eyes scanned me. "How old are you?"

"I'll be fourteen in a couple of months.” His gazed made my insides leap for joy.

He smiled and shook his head. "You are busting out."

Does that mean he thinks I'm pretty? "Thanks?"

He laughed, "thanks? What you thanking me for? You should be thanking your momma. If you were a little older."

I got butterflies. "If I was a little older what? Ain't you married?"

"Yes I am little girl, my wife understands I got needs." He cut his eyes at me.

"People say you got babies all over the place. Is that true?"

"Only little girls ask questions like that. What time your big cousin coming home?"

"She gotta work late today."

"You hungry?"

"Yes."

"What you wanna eat?"

"A burger would be good.” I couldn’t think of anything else.

"Coming up."

He turned the car around and we went to a burger stand. Everybody was looking at me trying to figure out who I was. They all said hi to Victor like he was a star. We sat at the bench eating our burger and fries. Even the way he ate his food was amazing to me. Every once in awhile Victor would look at me and smile. But for the most part I felt like he was patting me on my head like I was a baby or something. When Victor dropped me off Mrs. Acklin the widow next door was watering her plants. She frowned so hard and she asked why I was getting out that hoodlum’s car. Victor looked at her and then he drove off. "Come here child! I know your cousin is raising you and you might be looking for love. But that man is a one-way ticket to nowhere. He's trouble, stay away from him."

Distorted Mirrors

Mirrors


Chapter 1

I don’t even remember falling asleep. I remember that Mexican putting something over my nose and as I tried to fight it went dark. I was dreaming about everything and everybody. I awoke to whomever this guy is taking me out of this car. He firmly put me in this room with no windows. I wonder if this is all a garage. Are we in a house, or some random place? I’d ask but he doesn’t look like he’d answer. He’s a big unfriendly looking guy. I doubt I could take him, and his eyes are telling me not to even try. My eyes burn and I feel, I feel, I’m scared. I don’t understand what’s going on. All I do know is that I am about to die, and I don’t understand why.

If I had it to do over, I'd change everything. The only thing that is hard to regret is... Have you ever loved someone that was no good? Someone that no matter how bad they were to you, you just couldn't leave them alone? That's how I felt about him. You see he was my sister's man at the time. He made her so happy and he was so fine. His skin was so smooth and deep cocoa colored. I've never seen such a beautiful brown on someone's skin before or since. His voice, I shiver when I think of it. Then there was Archie, the biggest poindexter square I will ever meet in my life. When he finds out about this, I know he's going to be heartbroken. I promised him it was going to be different. He didn’t want me to go have breakfast with my momma. He didn’t want me to deal with my family. I guess I should’ve listened. I hate that it all has to end this way, but I'm honestly relieved that it's over. I'm tired of this life anyways.

"Take this!" The very unfriendly man said handing me a fist full of pills. Then he gave me a glass of something brown.

"Please tell Malcolm I'm sorry!"

"No talking! Drink!" He said then he sat down watching me.

"I didn't know who she was. My momma said that girl stole her money." The guy's expression didn't change. He stared at me like he didn't care. I took all the pills. "Now what?"

"You're going to sleep. Then I'm going to bury you."

"Where am I?"

"Does it matter?"

"You're not going to shoot me?"

"As long as you don't try anything, you'll get sleepy then you'll sleep. This is the most humane way, don't you think?"

"Malcolm hasn't called?"

"He called." He watched my face.

A large range of emotions settled on me. My son is going to let me die. My son! He doesn't even care about my life. Anger mixed with my fear. "He too scared to do it his self?"

"He'll be here shortly."

"Since this is it, can I tell you my side of the story? This is probably the last conversation I'll have with anyone."

He stared at me with an irritated look. I took his silence to be an agreement. I cleared my throat.

~

"My momma said the girl stole from her. I guess she meant the girl stole Malcolm." I exhaled, "do you love your momma?" He stared but didn't reply. "I hate mine! She's evil! I hope you beat her and when she's on the verge of healing you beat her again. I hope she dies the most painful death! Don't give her a humane death. Push her out the window and let the dogs feed on her!" Tears filled my eyes, "tell Belinda everything she thought about me is true. It would be pointless to apologize, because my heart isn't truly sorry for it. I apologize for hurting her though." He looked at his watch, no doubt wanting me to shut up. "Seems like everybody's telling their stories these days. Here's mine..."

My sister and I got along ok I guess until this one day. Let me see... Oh yea... There was this one time when a girl said she wanted to fight my sister cause she stole her little bunny that she carries in her school bag. I told her my sister didn’t steal her bunny. I told her my sister don’t need her funky bunny. Everybody believed her and thought my sister did it. I know she didn’t do it though. I know because I stole it. I didn’t even really want the bunny or cared too much about it. She acted like this little stuffed animal was real. She act like it talked to her and it has feelings or something. The bunny seemed like it made her happy and I wanted to feel like that. I wanted to see if the bunny would make me happy too. When it didn’t, I ripped it up into little pieces and threw it away in the school trash. Why my sister got to be a thief though? Why my sister got to be the one? Like I couldn’t possibly be the one? She was over there crying and snotting over the stupid bunny. She said she wanted to fight my sister and I’m like “I told you she didn’t do it.” But she wanna be stupid and fight her anyways, it’s her funeral. My sister Belinda doesn’t mess with anyone, but if they come to her she will send their body back return to sender. This girl was stupid. I don’t even know why she picked Belinda, but who am I to understand the mind of a stupid person.

“You stupid tar baby! You stole my bunny!” The stupid girl yelled at my sister.

“Your what?”

“You heard me!” Then she charged.

Belinda grabbed her by her hair and she beat that stupid girl in the face until a teacher came and made her stop. She beat that girl so badly it was a shame. We sat over to the side watching and laughing. Once Belinda got going it was hard to calm her down. Two more teachers had to come to remove her. The rest of us stood to the side watching. If Belinda would’ve let this stupid girl beat her she never would’ve heard the end of it.

Everybody left but I waited for Belinda, I guess I kind of felt bad for her fighting like that. Belinda was still mad when we walked home she kept rolling her eyes at me. When we got home everybody was on the porch. Momma has people in the house; we aren’t allowed to go in when her friends are there.

One time when we were in the house one of her friends got mad about something. He was cursing and yelling and when I came in the kitchen he burned me with his cigar on my arm. Momma said that was what I got for coming in the kitchen. But then he got mad again at my momma and she ended up stabbing him and telling him to find his way to the hospital if he could make it in time.

My burn hurt really bad, I couldn’t sleep cause the sting of it kept waking me up. She whooped me for crying all night and told me to shut up. When my daddy finally came home he asked what was wrong with me. I showed him my burn and he cleaned it, put some aloe on it from momma’s aloe vera plant and he told me to do this in the morning and at night. This was probably the only loving gesture he ever did in regards to me. Then he asked me what I did to get burned. I just said I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I told him what happened he wouldn't care, and I'd get in trouble for telling on her. So needless to say we knew to stay outside. We were waiting outside and Belinda kept staring at me. So I started staring back. "Why you didn't tell her it was you?"

"Me what?"

"You stole her bunny."

"No I didn't!" How did she know?

"Yes you did! I saw you with the same stupid doll she was describing to the principal! You always want other people's stuff!"

"No I don't!" I yelled back.

Then momma's workers started walking out the door. The women never looked at us, they kept their eyes low. The men on the other hand always looked at us and they'd tell my momma how pretty we all were. Slick would look at us long and hard. He always had a toothpick or something in his mouth. He'd almost drool at us. My momma wouldn't say anything she'd watch him as he circled us. Today was no different, here came Slick staring and drooling. Momma came busting out the house with murder in her eyes. It seem like she was airborne as she jumped off the porch and then she snatched one of the women by her wig. "Barb please!" The girl yelled.

"Where's the rest of it?"

"That's all of it I swear!"

When momma hit her you heard it. "You must think I'm stupid! You think I don't know how to count or something?"

"It was a slow day, and the last guy said he didn't have enough." She pleaded.

"You turning tricks for free?"

"No!"

Momma hit her again, "you're lying! Where's my money?" She hit her again.

"That's all I have."

"You's a lie!" Momma threw her on the ground. She ripped her bra off; when she didn't find her money there she pulled her skirt down. There was money in the waist of her panties. Momma started beating on her some more. "Since you wanna be a thieving liar," she looked at my brother. "JJ! Take her in the backyard!"

"OK!" JJ smiled clapping his hands together.

"When he's done with you, you better get out there and bring me double this tomorrow cause you not eating or anything until I get my money." She looked at the rest of her girls, "does anybody else want to join her?" No one said anything. "I know how many tricks you all turn. Bring me my money!"

JJ took the girl in the backyard. Slick told the girls to get in the car. "Barb, when is Bam coming home?"

"Any minute now, you gonna wait?"

"I don't know, these little ones starting to look ripe they selves."

"Not yet Slick, stick to Bam."

"I'll be back, tell her to be ready." Then he got in the car.

Momma looked at us, "what's wrong with y'all?"

"Pam stole this girl's toy and the girl said I did it so I got to stay home tomorrow."

"Stop lying on me!" I yelled

Momma looked at me like she could see through me. "So you got suspended?" Belinda shook her head yes. "You know I'm gonna beat you. I don't care what your excuse is. This is your chance. Get Pam, cause I'm getting you."

It seemed like as soon as the words came out of momma's mouth my sister was charging me. I ran to get my footing. When we fight we don't fight like sisters. If I don't get her, she's going to get me. Momma stood back watching us like we were putting on a show for her. Bam came running and made us stop. Momma got mad at her for stopping us. Momma was about to get her when she stopped. She frowned at Bam and said she was trying to make her get her so she wouldn't have the baby. Bam didn't say anything she looked at momma.

Bam was having a baby by Slick. She didn't want to have the baby, but Slick was happy. Bam has gotten in more fights and trouble trying to get rid of the baby than she ever has. Bam don't even like Slick. Momma sent him in her room one morning when she was sleep. Tricey and Jan already have babies too. Tricey brings her babies after they're born and gives them to momma, she has three already. Momma let's them lay low for a little while and then she makes them work in exchange for watching their kids. When daddy used to get mad about them having babies momma wouldn't say nothing. She'd let them get in trouble as if it was their fault, and then she'd get daddy to be nice again.

Daddy had a numbers ring that he ran. People liked playing numbers with him cause they say he's fair. He has a spot by the water where people can come see dog fights, rooster fights, play craps, if there's a way to bet on it he's running it. Everybody knows Tip Latour.

They say my momma took my daddy from his first wife, I don't know if that's true or not. My daddy is a lot older than my momma, but whatever she wants she gets. She's not even all that nice to him, but he don't seem like he cares. My daddy isn't a handsome man, but my momma is very pretty. People say that's why we so pretty, she had it to spare. One time a man call himself trying to sweet talk my momma. She smiled and let him go on and on about how he was the modern day Mandingo. He told her my daddy was too old to give it to her good anymore and that was why she stopped having babies. He told her she needed a friend. His mouth got dry he was talking so hard. She smiled, "are you done?" He smiled thinking she was going for his jive. "My man may be old, but there's nothing that a little young buck like you could ever do for me. First of all any man who has to talk himself up so much just to get between a woman's legs is no good. Looking at your pants you're too small to come behind my man. You see Tip was blessed from the Muthaland personally by the God's. He don't need to talk about it, the proof is right there in his pants. My man has the gift of a simple look. Every time he looks at me my love come down. Look at all the kids we got, because I can't stay off him. I may be a lot of things, but my legs only spread for Tip. And you my friend need to stick to these young girls who don't know no better than to fall for your game."

"But he's old!"

She smiled, "and knows what he's doing."

The man looked embarrassed. "Don't matter cause he ain't doing it no more."

"Why do you keep saying that?"

"You ain't had no more babies."

"Not that it's any of your business, but I ain't have no more babies cause my body said no more. My man still give it to me good every time he see me."

Some people say that my daddy heard about that guy approaching my momma and he got him. Other people say the guy tried to confront my daddy and he got him. Either way my daddy got him and we never saw that guy again.

*******

It seemed too crowded in the house so I got up and got dressed. Little Fuzzy was sitting on the porch looking for his momma to come. She normally doesn't come and he gets sad. "What you doing?"

"Nuffin! You?"

"You wanna go wander around with me?"

"Yes!" He said with a smile. We walked for awhile singing silly songs and being goofy. "Pam, I'm hungry." He grabbed his chubby stomach.

We went to the market; Fuzzy stood watch as I stole food for us. We had a picnic in the park devouring our food. As we ate I noticed Fuzzy staring at someone. It was a white man with a little baby boy who was clearly colored. "What?"

"I wish my daddy took me to the park." He watched with sad eyes.

"Maybe when Macio comes home, he can take you to the park."

Fuzzy smiled, "you think he will?"

We watched the guy play with his son for a little while, and then we left.

A couple weeks later Macio came home. Momma and Daddy were so happy when he came that they made sure they were both home when he got there. Macio had on his uniform and he saluted daddy, then he hugged momma. Momma hugged Macio so tight and kissed him. It made me mad, she never hugged and kissed me ever. I looked at my brothers and sisters and they all looked like they were thinking the same thing. Macio looked around, "look at all y'all. It's good to be home, even if I didn't think I'd be home so soon."

"Hush now! That was a mistake. It's their loss! I'm happy to have my baby home in one piece." Momma rubbed his shoulders.

Macio shook his head. Then he looked at JJ and Leroy. "I want to box both of you. Meet me out back, now!" Macio started pulling his tie loose and unbuttoning his jacket. "Where all these babies come from?" He asked as he laid his jacket down.

"Your sisters seem to like laying on their backs these days." My daddy said

My sisters looked at momma and she stood there not saying a word as if it was true.

Daddy gave Macio and Leroy gloves. Daddy said everybody who thought Macio would win had to stand on the left and those betting on Leroy had to stand on the right. Leroy is pretty crazy, no one messes with him. Macio must've forgotten. Daddy said go, and Leroy came straight for Macio. Leroy came out firing on Macio and Macio let him. We thought Leroy was about to knock him out when Macio blocked his punch and then moved really fast firing on Leroy not giving him a chance to square up. Leroy went down and everybody was silent. Leroy was knocked out, and Macio told JJ to hurry up. JJ got knocked down just like Leroy. Daddy asked Macio how he was doing this. Macio explained that they were all muscle and no brain. He said they were forgetting that he could be just as strong. Daddy told Macio he needed to teach his brothers. Macio's eyes got big. He said he liked the idea of having his own boot camp. Macio called little Fuzzy over, and then he told Fuzzy to punch his hand. When Fuzzy did his eyes got big with excitement. He got down on his knees. He showed Fuzzy how to punch and then he told him to do it again. Macio smiled at Fuzzy and told him he was a natural. He called all the other little boys over and he started barking orders and all the boys were eager to get a commendation from Macio. My parent’s eyes got big as they looked on with approval.

Over the next month you saw muscles plumping up and chub falling off. Except for Fuzzy, it seemed like he just got stronger he remained chubby with muscles. Macio trained all my brothers in the backyard. Then he'd take all his nephews to the park per Fuzzy's request and he'd have them doing drills. As soon as they could walk Macio was taking them. My daddy started using my brothers as security at his spot, and sometimes momma would have my brothers pay people visits who owed her money. Pretty soon we started feeling like an army.


Distorted

I been with this woman for years! Years! All she ever did is gain weight while we were together. Then she meets this other fool and suddenly she goes to workout. She don't bake no more, and she's even changed the way she eats. I suck it up when she gets off the phone with me for him. Ok, ok I'm lying I don't suck it up. I usually throw a fit or call a stand in just to blow my top. I didn't tell my roommate about this little hiccup in Tracy and I's relationship. All he's going to do is plague me with a bunch of "I told you so's", and stuff like that. So I try to keep it to myself.

"A! Look who it is." Topaz smiled real big. "Is that Tracy?" He smiled real big satisfied with himself. She was with some guy. The idiot! There were four chairs at the table and instead of sitting across from her he sits directly next to her. He keeps touching her hands and I guess he's smiling at her, I can't tell his back is to me. Tracy's smiling at him and eating it all up. They look like they're coming from somewhere. Probably grabbing a bite to eat before they go back.... I swallowed, to her place. "Jesus! Tracy looks good! How much weight has she lost?"

I shrugged, "a lot!"

"You didn't tell me she cut her hair. It looks good on her." He smiled at me. "Look at the poor sap. I mean I'm not gay but that is a good looking brotha! What you think? You think he's hung?" He looked at me as if I would answer that. "Oh never mind. We'll be able to tell by her walk."

"Why are you talking?"

"Oh snap! You know they say Mexican food is an aphrodisiac! Somebody's getting their back blown out tonight!"

"Stop!" I couldn't take anymore. "He can have her if he don't mind putting in all the work. There's a lot of stuff you don't know about her. You need to know what you're talking about before you start talking."

Topaz faked surprise, "Steve! Don't be a hater. You weren't all that into her anyways. Good thing he came and took her off your hands huh?" He smiled at me as if he thought I was going to respond to that. "We should go say hi."

I took a deep breath to calm myself. Topaz was going to play this dumb game by himself. Topaz stood up and walked over to their table. The guy turned his head and looked at Topaz before he was all the way to their table. Topaz smiled and nodded, the guy nodded back. Then he gave Tracy a hug. I watched as she proudly introduced the guy as her boyfriend. A label I would never allow. The whole scene made me mad. I got up and walked out. As I was walking out Tracy and the guy looked at me. Topaz better be happy he was driving cause I would've left him.

He took his time talking to them and then he casually strolled out with the biggest grin. He stood there smiled as I cursed him for playing games.

*******

"So that's your little boyfriend?" I tried to sound upbeat.

"Little? Could you hate on him any harder?" She laughed, "why didn't you come say hi?"

I know how to play this game. Tracy loves me, she's going to come back to me. That pretty boy won't win, Tracy and I have history. She's been in love with me for how many years? Even though she's lost weight for him and she wouldn't do it for me, I know she's still in love with me. So I'm playing best friend now. I call her every so often to check on her, see how she's doing. I wait for her to complain about him so I can gradually steer her towards me. Only thing is she doesn't complain. When I ask her questions about him she changes the subject. She don't say much about him. "I don't care about him. I can say hi to you whenever I want." I took a deep breath to pull back my attitude. "My mother asked about you."

"Why? She never liked me."

"My mother doesn't hate you."

"Doesn't mean she liked me either."

"As long as I want you it shouldn't matter."

"Want-ed!"

"Want!"

"I got to go." Tracy said dryly.

"Can we have lunch tomorrow?"

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"WHY?" I didn't try to cover my irritation.

"Steve you never wanted to be with me. If you wanted me you would've had me. It's not fair to talk to me like this now. I'm happy, please respect that and be happy for me."

"We're friends Tracy."

"I gotta go." Then she hung up.

*******

I had a long day and I was looking forward to my workout to let off some steam. When I stepped off the elevator a woman looked at me and smiled. She was beautiful, then the guard pointed to me. Her eyes narrowed and she walked seductively up to me. "Steve Turnage?"

"Yes." I said looking over her form.

"I got something for you." She smiled and handed me an envelope. I took the envelope and her smile dropped. "If you don't show up you will go to jail!" Then she turned on her heels, "stupid deadbeat father! As if I would ever!"

It was a child support court summons for Kamony Sweet, I didn't even know her last name. My blood boiled! I told that girl I wanted a blood test and she wasn't getting a dime until I knew for sure. Shannon didn't even push the issue this far.

*******

"Your Honour, I asked Ms. Sweet numerous times for a blood test since she told me she was pregnant and she constantly refuses."

"Ms. Sweet is this true?"

"Yea!"

"Why would you deny him his right to a blood test?"

"Because he's rude for asking. It was fine with him to lay raw with me. He didn't even try to pull out or anything. He was all lost in the sauce your Honour! I'm pretty sure Mr. Turnage knows how babies are made. He didn't need confirmation that I was clean. His money means more than his life!" To say Kamony was mad would be an understatement. "My daughter looks just like him. She don't even look like me!"

"Mr. Turnage, do you think the child looks like you?"

"I've never seen it your Honour."

"That's a lie!" Kamony blurted.

"Ms. Sweet?" The judge gave her the floor.

"My sister sent him a picture when he refused to come to the hospital. AND! He saw my baby when she was six months old."

I frowned at her, "what? Now you're lying!"

Kamony caught herself from cursing me out in the courtroom. "Now you don't remember?" She laughed irritatedly. "I was with my then boyfriend, he was holding her!"

"Your Honour how am I supposed to know that the child some other man is holding is supposed to be linked to me?"

"You stared at her!" Kamony cried and crossed her arms angrily.

Now I remembered. The baby did look just like me. The whole thing was unnerving. The little girl looked like me but more like my dad. I could see Turnage all over her. However, she was the same complexion as the guy who was too proud to hold her. She wasn't as brown as me, she can't be mine! "Oh! I still need a blood test."

The judge looked at Kamony, "Ms. Sweet is the child here today?"

"No sir. Why would I bring her to this? He don't want her, and he don't care about her!" Angry tears fell.

I almost felt bad for her. ALMOST! She was the one who came after me. She was the one who kept calling me back when I was done with her. If she didn't want a baby she could've told me to stop like Tracy always did. I hate when females try to act innocent like we do something terrible to them when they know the consequences just as much as we do. "Ms. Sweet and Mr. Turnage I'm sending the orders for the DNA clinic in to the downtown Oakland office tomorrow. Ms. Sweet your appointment will be..." He looked at the clerk who was typing away on a screen. She wrote information down and handed it to the judge. "2:30. And Mr. Turnage your appointment will be.... At 4."

"I can't make it at that time is it possible to push back?"

The judge looked at his papers, "according to our records you don't work. So there should be nothing holding you back. Am I right?" I mumbled under my breath. "We will reconvene in three weeks. The results of the test will be revealed at that time. You are dismissed."

Kamony hurried to the embrace of an older woman. The woman rubbed her back as she kissed her forehead and told her how well she did. Irritation filled my chest as I immediately thought of Tracy and how good it felt to be nurtured by her. I wished she was here right now.

*******

"99.99009 percent chance that Steve Turnage is the biological father of Richele Turnage. Mr. Turnage's visitation will be determined during mediation. You are required to pay child support and provide health insurance for the child. Your case will be moved to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office. Ms. Sweet the court findings will be on record in that office. Hopefully you two will come to some sort of agreement that is in the best interest of the child." The judge said some other stuff but I couldn't focus. I felt trapped and tied down. I felt like I was going to be sick. I needed Tracy in the worst way right now.

When he dismissed us that woman hugged Kamony again. Kamony turned to me, "do you want to meet her now?"

The room was spinning, "I can't today. Can I come by?"

"I'll make dinner if you come on Saturday."

"Fine, what's your address?"

Kamony's eyes burned me, "it hasn't changed."

"Okay Saturday at two."

I sped down the freeway and to Tracy's place. Her car wasn't there, so she must've driven into the city today. I got comfortable in my seat. Steve Turnage YOU ARE THE FATHER!!! My heart kept speeding up. After a couple of hours my stomach started grumbling. I went through a drive-thru and parked while I ate my snack. I can't believe that girl had that baby to get her hands in my pockets. I tried to calm my nerves. When I pulled into the parking lot by Tracy's place she was walking towards her place with the freaking pretty boy! I wanted to run them over!

*******

Kamony looked very pretty as she opened the door. She had the biggest smile as she excitedly said hello. I didn't know what to do so I brought a teddy bear and some flowers. How are you supposed to act when you meet your daughter for the first time? "Are those for me?" Kamony was too excited.

"No, this is for Richele."

Her smile dropped, "what is a two year old supposed to do with flowers?"

I shrugged, "I don't know. Same thing you would I guess." I smiled, "I was going to bring her candy. But I didn't know if you'd let her have it."

"Oh well you went the safe route." She closed the door. "Have a seat and I'll bring her out." She pointed to the couch. Kamony disappeared and then she returned with a little girl on her hip. "Richele, this is your daddy." The little girl smiled at me then she hid her face. "Say hi baby."

"Hi," she said in the littlest voice that made my heart melt.

"These are for you." I put the bear and flowers in her arms.

"Tank chu." She smiled at my gifts.

"Here let me put these flowers in water for you. You can stay here." She put the little girl down, and then she disappeared into the kitchen.

The girl looked like she didn't know what to do. I put my hands out for her and she slowly and cautiously walked towards me. I picked her up and I sat on the couch with her. Kamony was right, Richele was all me and nothing like her. I made the bear talk to her, he even sang to her. When I looked up Kamony was crying with her arms folded across her chest. I told her to join us and we played with Richele together. We ate dinner like a family. Kamony wasn't a great cook, but it was decent. We put Richele to sleep together then we went back to the living room. Kamony was looking in my eyes, looking for some sudden rush of parental epiphany to wash over me. I didn't want to feel like a complete jerk so I gave her what she wanted. I gave it to her all night long. I left early in the morning. 

Last Words

When I was a little girl I used to stare in the mirror. I used to wonder if the reflection staring back at me was as horrible to everyone else as it was to me. I'd dissect my brown skin, almost pudgy nose. The beauty mark on my cheek that I inherited from my mother.

Sometimes I would cry so HARD at the disappointment of the image that I beheld. I don't know what I hoped to see each time I looked in the mirror. I just knew the image that I saw I didn't like. Could it have been because I spent most of my childhood invisible? Could it have been because compliments seldom came my way?

I used to pray and ask God to make me beautiful when I grew up. I would cry so hard begging him to show me mercy and somehow change the image I saw for the better.....

*******

You see my mother suffered from this same sense of warped thinking. She too thought of herself as the ugly duckling as she was growing up. Her family made fun of her full lips, and her thin frame. They told her all the time that she was ugly, when she in fact looked just like her sister who everyone thought was so beautiful. What was the difference between my mother and her sister? Ding! Ding! Ding! You guessed it, it was her complexion. Her complexion was more of a orangish-brown, where her sister is a tan color. Not fair? That's right not fair at all. Her family made her very self conscious about her appearance. She would only tell me that she understood how I felt. Now that I think about it, she never shared any experience about being in a relationship where her suitor made her feel BEAUTIFUL! Not even any about my father.

My brother was the handsome young man, I was just me, and then my little sisters. My little sisters were the center of the world or universe. My life didn't change for the better until I was almost thirty. But I'm not here to gush over the love of life and tell you how beautiful he always makes me feel. No, that story is told in Volume I of the Wallace Family Affairs. This is my story, my story about all the stuff that happened before. I feel the need to explain why I couldn't get it together, why I am the way I am.

Together We Are Strong

Present

Season 1

Tracy

Then Andrew and Andre walked in the door. Andre was so happy to see me; he ran to me and threw his arms around my neck. My heart was pounding as Andrew eyed me as he stood by the door. Amber took Andre to the backyard, he didn't really want to go, but his father flashed him a look. Andrew stood by the door trying to read me, so I eyed him back. We were having a stare down.

"So, how come you didn't know I was coming?" I asked.

He cocked his head to the side. Then he sat down in the recliner across from me. "You normally do things a certain way. My man is used to having Yussef as a back up. He slipped up. He's been dealt with."

"What does that mean?” Andrew blank stared at me. "Was that really the first time you saw her at Berkeley?"

"Yes."

"How did you end up Hooking up for lunch?"

"She called my office. I figured lunch would be harmless."

"In what way?"

He blew air, "in what way what Tracy?"

Through clinched lips I said, "in what way was lunch supposed to be harmless Andrew?"

Andrew was reading my face. He wasn't gonna bully me out of my feelings. "It was the easiest option." He said like he wasn't interested in talking to me.

"So it was the easiest way to hurt me." I huffed.

Then he leaned forward, "so your staying out all night wasn't to hurt me?"

"Of course it was." I blurted out.

He wasn't expecting me to admit that. I could tell I caught him off guard. He squirmed in his seat. Then he sat back, and released a little chuckle. "So what about fighting her?"

"She knew exactly what she was doing. She was just as guilty."

His smile got bigger, "you hit me."

I had to think about it. Everything was happening so fast. "Yes I did. I apologize for doing that."

"Where did you go?"

"I don't know where I was exactly."

His smile went away. "Who were you with?" I swallowed hard, but I didn't say anything. "Tracy! So help me God I'm not playing with you! Who were you with?" I stared at him. He got up very angry. He picked up the recliner effortlessly, and then he put it down. He started getting really big, and tears started pouring out of my eyes. He stood over me with his hands flexing and unflexing. "ANSWER ME WOMAN!" He looked really scary and huge. I kept staring at his eyes. If he was gonna hit me I wasn't gonna close my eyes. "YOU'RE CHEATING ON ME!"

"NO I’M NOT!" I said standing up on the couch to match his growl. "I’M NOT THE CHEATER YOU ARE!"

"I DIDN'T CHEAT ON YOU! I WASN'T GOING TO CHEAT ON YOU! I JUST HAD LUNCH!!" He yelled.

"I SAW YOU! I WAS THERE!"

"What?" He backed down.

"I left the office even earlier then I said, cause I wanted to surprise you and take you out to lunch. Imagine my surprise when I see you holding the door open for her. You opened your car door for her. I followed you, I saw everything! You're so used to following me, you forget it can go both ways." He sat down. "I saw the cocktails, saw the touching, I saw everything!"

"Just like I saw Yussef driving your car." His expression was full of pain. I looked at him. "I wasn't sure if that was him. When no one had you, I knew it was him. Did you call him?" I shook my head no. He got angry.

"Andrew, Yussef has nothing but respect for you. He looks up to you. He admires you."

His expression changed multiple times. "He wants to be me you mean."

"No!"

"Yes!"

"No! Andrew stop trying to assign some kind of evil plot to him."

"Stop defending him!" He barked.

"Ok!"

"Are you in love with him?"

I looked at him, "how could you ask me that?"

"Answer the question!"

"No! Are you in love with Jennay?" He blew air. I mimicked him and blew air too.

"No!"

It was silent for a few minutes. "Do you think we should be together?"

My question wounded him; as soon as I saw the affect I w