Don't by Elizabeth Griffin
Summary:

DON'T (The Urban Girl Book 2) by [Griffin, Elizabeth]

NOW AVAILABLE  WWW.ELIZABETHGRIFFIN.NET


Categories: Books Characters: None
Classification: General
Genre: Friendship
Story Status: Completed
Pairings: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 7 Completed: Yes Word count: 12300 Read: 14904 Published: April 03 2015 Updated: May 13 2017
Story Notes:

Don't is a story I began writing in 1997.  I put it aside in order to raise my family; however, the story is important to me.  It will not go away.  Don't is about three teenage girls growing up in the inner city of Philadelphia. 

I am posting it because I am curious about the type of response this story will receive.  As always, I am thankful for your support and feedback.  My confidence as a writer has increased a 1000 folds because of your encouragement.  I an truly humbled by your comments.

                                                          Elizabeth Griffin

1. Chapter 1 by Elizabeth Griffin

2. Chapter 2 by Elizabeth Griffin

3. Chapter 3 by Elizabeth Griffin

4. Chapter 4 by Elizabeth Griffin

5. Chapter 5 by Elizabeth Griffin

6. Chapter 6 by Elizabeth Griffin

7. Chapter 7 by Elizabeth Griffin

Chapter 1 by Elizabeth Griffin

DON'T

 

                                              elizabeth griffin                                                                                    

 

I made one man my whole life.

I put him before God and

he left me; but,

God sustained me, cradled me, took all of my pain away; and

now I find that all is meaningless without God—  a chasing after the wind.

 

(Inspired by the book of Ecclesiastes)

 

Copyright  2017  Elizabeth Griffin

All rights reserved

Published 

 

Gore Publications

P. O. Box 43561

Philadelphia, PA  19106-3561 

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Griffin-Gore, Elizabeth

All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from author.

 

TEN

 RULES TO LIVE BY

 

don’t lie

don’t steal

don’t covert

don’t kill

don’t call his name in vain

don’t disobey parents

don’t commit adultery

don’t work on the Sabbath

don’t have any other God

don’t create idols

 

 

Dana

 

I

 

 

  Love, the word escapes from my lips in a sarcastic tone.  It is an emotion I am going to avoid like all hell.  I am afraid of it and what it can do to me.  I am not interested in heartbreak— or pain. 

     I'm talking some serious pain— the kind that will not leave me alone.  It stays with me day and night.  I cannot do anything with it but endure. 

     Oh no!  Love is not for me.  I can deal with anything else, but that. 

     I grip my BMX handlebars as I leap from the cemented curb.  The rubber beneath my hands secures my hold.  My entire body is on fire— anger rages through my veins.

     “Humph,” I grunt with discontentment.  “I don’t ever want to fall, jump, stagger, crawl, or bump into love.”

      It is an emotion I despise. It is a disaster waiting to happen, but it won't happen to me.  I've got strategies— plans.   So it better not try getting in my way.

 I feel the spring breeze running across my parted hair— tousling my thin cornrows and causing them to whip about my shoulders like laundry hanging from a clothes line on a windy day.

The bicycle soars through the air turning slightly to the left as my body dictates.  I complete a 180 degree half-turn with little effort.

I position the 20-inch wheels for a smooth landing.  I feel the black rubber touching the ground with a practiced skill.  I speed down the street; my mind is racing fast.

Why am I so adamantly against love?

I have one gigantic reason.  And, I'll tell you.

     It's because I can see what it is doing to my sister, DeAngela.  I watch quietly while it takes away her dignity.  I say nothing as it breaks her down into little pieces.

     Every problem has its starting point.  There is that moment when chaos appears and happiness no longer seems possible.  For DeAngela, it occurred after she gave birth to her fourth son, my cousin Demetrius.

     That is when her marriage began to unravel and my sister changed.  That is the moment when the arguments with Daniel Green started— the moment when money became the center of all of their problems.

     I don't get it.  I do not get him.

     Visually he is okay to look at.  He stands 6'5" in high top sneakers and he has that dark chocolate skin with the same dark eyes. I think women consider him attractive, but I do not.

     He lives inside our local gym and he is always working out, trying to impress the world with his body.

     Again, I'm telling you, 'I ain't impressed.'

     Before Daniel Green came on the scene, my sister never allowed a man to dictate her life.  She made her own decisions and she didn't hesitate for a second. 

     But now things are different.  She is completely in check.  She will not do a thing without his approval.

     I can mimic her voice right now, 'Does this cost too much Daniel?  What do you think of that?  Are these alright—'

     I can also barely tolerate hearing his name.  Just the sound of it bothers me to no end.  When I hear it, I cringe and hold my breath.  

     He hurt my sister and I am not sure she will ever recover from it.  She let him take her pride away.  How can she do that— give another person that much control?  How did she get to that point? 

     I do not know all of the details— All of the things he did to her, but I do know she is alone now.  She is trying to raise four boys— raise their family— the kids they made together which brings me to another rule in this game of love.

     Don't have children.    Not now— not ever.  Just the thought of the act makes me sick.  I do not want some boy trying to kiss me. And, he sure as hell is not going to touch my body.

     “Uuaagh!” I snort.

     DeAngela does not talk about how bad things are, but I know a divorce is coming.  I've watched too much Judge Francine and House of Divorce to not recognize the signs— not to mention Liars which is my favorite TV show.

     A shifting of the chain sounds in my ear as I adeptly maneuver my thumbs over the gears— clicking to the appropriate number on the ten speed allows me to climb the steep hill at the base of 51st and Chester Avenue.  I stand up on the pedals and pump.  The climb becomes easier.

     Like I say, I have no time for love.  It is not real.  It is a phony emotion which people put too much hope in, but not me.  I am going to learn from my sister’s mistake.

     I have got a big NO for love.   If it tries to come my way, it can keep on walking because I am not the one.  I don’t believe in that Disney love.  I do not want a so called prince charming trying to sweep me off my feet. 

     No way! 

     I can take care of myself.  If I want happiness, I will find it myself.  I am not making some boy my whole life. 

     Why should I give him the starring role in my life?  He is not getting all of the props.  I am not giving him the right to choose me.  He has no say.  He will not approve or reject me.  I will not give him that power. 

     I never did like Disney anyway and it is not because most of the chicks are white— although that does not help.  It is because the girls care too much about the boys— what they think— what they do—  forget them. 

     What about the girls?  What do we want?  Don't our feelings count for anything? 

     Well that's how I feel about love and I do not care who disagrees with me. 

     My name is Dana Monique Rochelle McIntyre.  I am fifteen.  Right now I should be home watching music videos and dancing my butt off because it's the weekend, but I am not.

     I am instead racing down the avenue at 6 o’clock.  Doing what?  Buying ice cream.  And what is the emergency?  Four little boys.  They are my cousins and I love them a lot.  They are going through it right now.  My sister finally left Daniel.    So whatever I can do to make them smile, I do.  I am tired, but I promised to get them a treat.  So here I am.

     It is Friday PM, and I am still thinking about school.  It was crazy.  It started out whack and did not change.  I woke up late because the alarm clock did not go off.

     I thought I set it. Maybe not.  My fault.  Anyway, that meant, I had to rush.  I jumped into a skirt I had abandoned yesterday which hadn't fallen completely to the floor—instead it seemed to stand in place— suspended by air pockets—waiting for me I suspect. 

     I grabbed a yellow button up shirt from the back of a chair.  I sniffed it under both arms. I made a face, but it would have to do.  The ring around the collar was not too noticeable.  I could get away with wearing it one more time.  Laundry was not my thing; I hated washing clothes, but I would have to do something this weekend. I grimaced.  Hygiene was not my top priority, but my friends were only going to endure so much. 

     My boys were one thing, but my girls; they just did not understand that if it came down to choosing between racing the streets with my BMX or laundry—that laundry would lose almost every time.  

     This weekend was going to be the exception though. If I did not wash my clothes, I would not have a single girlfriend come Monday morning. 

     Breakfast was two blueberry pop-tarts with icing, and a cup of milk.  I snatched up my jacket and backpack.  Then I was out the door with my BMX on my hip.  We bounded down the steps together leather shoes and rubber wheels sounding in unison.  At the base of the steps, I straddled my bike and began to pedal. My transportation was not conventional, but so what neither was I.

     I love my bike. I've had it for five years.  It is my best friend.  When I am sad, we ride out to Cobb Creek Park and do stunts. When I am happy, we cruise Woodland Avenue in search of other riders. Usually they are boys between the ages of eight and eleven— 

      We race up and down the avenue never tiring. Our black wheels are spinning fast alongside the metal trolley tracks that line the streets, but they never make contact.  Sometimes we even race the trolleys until the drivers decide to call the police.  It is such a high.  Every once in a while a pedestrian will get in the way, but we make allowances. 

     Sometimes I swerve to avoid a hit, or leap from a curve if that maneuver does not work.  There are lots of days when we ride from one part of the city to the other, picking up riders along the way. These are the times when it is worth risking my curfew.

     Girls for some reason outgrew the passion of coasting down a long steep hill or racing a gang of noisy boys with the city air assaulting our faces with grit and grime. The street dust in our eyes and an occasional rock attack are the hazards, but riding is my life.

     The students at my high school were-still entering the building as I skidded to a stop in front of it.  I U-locked my bicycle.  It was close, but I made it on time.

     Thinking about it now, I can smile.  But this morning it was not funny. 

     My first period teacher does not play. Mr. Wright will mark you late in a minute. And three lateness equal detention in his class.  I was not interested in that so I hustled.

     Like I said Friday was hectic.  The last day of school usually was.  My current events paper was due. 

     Once a week a topic was picked and written about.  This week it was The Philadelphia Riots.

     The questions on everyone's mind were:  Why had one city erupted into a night of total chaos?  Did the Cambodian owner of a corner store have the right to shoot a thirteen-year-old boy for stealing?  Why were Blacks always coming to the defense of a criminal?  Was rioting the solution? 

     I tried to write my report objectively, but I could not understand why death had to be the final outcome.  Why was one boy dead?  Why was one man free?  Wasn’t there another way?

     I had an algebra test in fourth period, but everything seemed so trivial after current events.

     Who cares about math after something that serious happens?

     The test was a long test.  It was difficult.  It took forever.  This teacher never cut you any slack so of course the night before I was up doing some real studying. 

     In class, I took a deep breath and jumped right in.  It took all of my energy to get through that period. 

      I still have formulas and equations running through my head…

     I exhale, because school is over.  I am out for the weekend and it feels good. 

     “Damn Dana,” a male voice exclaims.  It interrupts my thoughts as I pause at a red light.  I rotate my weight back and forth on the bike to avoid my feet having to touch the ground. I slowly turn my head to one side and check to see who is calling me.

     I click my teeth.  It is Timothy Ferguson.  What does he want?

     “What’z up with the bike?” he asks pointing in my direction.  “You can’t be serious—are you still riding that thing?” As he grills me, he pumps up the speaker volume— filling the car with a rap classic from the early 80”s. Vintage rap is making a come-back.

     Keeping myself suspended on the pedals, I look at him blankly.  Like he is speaking another language—

     His smile broadens, confidence allows him to slow his car, “You need to grow up and park that thing. Let me take you for a real ride,” he offers.

     Is he stupid?  

     I didn't want to be seen in public with a boy like him.  I would not even go to the corner store with him. 

My eyes sweep over him briefly.  If I had a list of boys to avoid, his name would be the first one printed—probably written in red ink with all kind of Xs and warning symbols scribbled around it. 

     I open by mouth and begin speaking very fast.  This seems to throw him off his game, “Do you really think I care about your opinion. You aren’t even important—” the traffic light changes to green.  “See yah,” I say shifting my legs into motion and resume pedaling.  The expression on his face is too much. He is stunned, disbelieving. 

     “Hold up,” he shout pushing his foot to the gas.  He trails my speeding bicycle for a moment before I make an abrupt turn and disappear down a side street with a traffic sign prohibiting him from doing the same. 

     It reads: ONE WAY!

     “You ain’t all that!” I hear him shout from a distance.  “Stuck up…”

     I dismiss his words. So what if he thinks I am stuck-up.  Most of the boys in Southwest Philadelphia believe the same thing.  They do not get as vocal as he, but they let me know on the sly. 

     Either they ignore me when I come into the grocery store.  Or they warn one of their friends in my presence, “Hey man, don’t even go there.  She may look like all that, but she’s conceited— she don’t got time for ordinary brothers like us.  She’s let her looks go to her head.”

     I hate that!  I am not conceited.  I just do not want to be like my sister.  I do not want to be used.

      And I don't want to get by on my looks.  Where is it going to get me?  I see other girls doing it.  Playing on their looks. It does not make them happy.  It just has them thinking they have power—can make a brother do whatever they want him to do— but most of the time, they  end up getting played because there are lots of pretty girls in this world.

     Anyway in case I haven't said it, my nickname is Red.   That's my favorite color and practically everything I own is red— my BMX bike, my backpack, my rubber bracelets...

     I look an awful lot like my mother, but I will not admit it to her.  We both have the same thick, long hair. We share the same reddish brown skin.  Most people confuse us for sisters— now that's an insult.  Do I look that old? 

     Or does she look that young?  I do not really want to consider either question.  

     Anyway, most people think I’m attractive and I do not have a problem with that.  I think I am too. 

     No, I’m not conceited. I already told you that.

     What I like most about my face is my eyes; they make my face stand out, I guess it’s because they are so big.  They are like a television.  If you want to know what I am thinking, take a long look.  They immediately show every emotion I'm feeling.  With me you don't have to guess.  It's there right up front.   My eyes are big and brown.

     If I have not mentioned it, I live on Chester Avenue.  Between 68th and 69th Street.  It is not much to look at now, but that’s because the people around here stopped taking care of the neighborhood.

     This block used to have all kinds of businesses lining the Avenue: A Woolworth store, a furniture store, a Jewish grocery store, a hardware store, a real estate agency, a driving school, two supermarkets, a pharmacy, and a black owned bakery. 

     That was a long time ago. Now the only businesses remaining are:  the pharmacy and the supermarket.  All of the rest are gone. They either closed or went out of business. All that occupies the neighborhood are Chinese Stores...

     I do not trust them.  Sometimes I think they sell 40 ounce bottles of beer to kids.  I have not proof, but it's a feeling I have.  And, I am not going to get into the cigarette sales they make to teens my age.  They have a monopoly here, and it seems to be okay with everybody.

     But I know how it used to be.  My mother is constantly talking about the way things were.  She grew up around here so she can remember the old days. 

     'Back then,' she says. 'There were options if a person thought he was being ripped off, but now there are few choices.  And the Chinese Stores charge us whatever prices they want.  And most of us paid them.'

     But not me.  

     That is why I’m riding  to Turner's Mini-Market.   I will not go into a store where the people do not respect me.  I am not a dog and I am not going to be treated like one.  I don’t steal so do not look at me like I do.  And no you are not checking my bag.  If I have to go through all of that, I’ll go someplace else. 

     I am not saying all stores treat me like that, but too many do.  So I preferred to go to the only black supermarket in our area, Turner’s Mini-Market.  I like the owner Mr. Turner, and he likes me too. 

     He never checks me, or makes me feel like I am a thief.  He is the one black man I can say I look up to.  And let me tell you, he didn’t get that recognition overnight.  It took him three years to earn it.  He knows my whole family as well.

      He has a heart.   I have seen his kindness plenty of times. I have seen him let people get food knowing they can’t pay for it.  But that doesn’t bother him, he simply smiles at them and says, ‘Don’t worry about it.  You can pay me when you get your EBT stamps.’

     The first time it happened I was amazed at how understanding he was. 

     I will never forget that day. 

     I walk into Turner’s Mini-Market expecting to see the owner, but he isn’t at the cash register.  I am disappointed.

     “Is Mr. Turner here?” I ask the older boy behind the register.  He looks about eighteen or nineteen.   He is new.  He is tall; and if I were into guys, I’d say he is cute. 

     He has light brown skin— the color of fried cinnamon apples.  His eyes are slanted, and they too are an usual brown.  His hair is freshly braided; tight, shiny cornrows zigzag away from his hairline and disappear along the back of his head.  

     I see his mouth began to form an attractive smile.  But I ignore it, ‘cause like I say, I’m not into that boyfriend/girlfriend stuff.

     “No he’s not,” says the older boy.

     “Where is he?” I ask wondering why he is still smiling.  Nobody is asking about him.  “You can cut the smile, before your face cracks.”

     Now that wipes the grin off of his face.  And fast.  I almost burst out laughing.  But he doesn’t think it is funny.

     “I see it doesn’t pay to be polite to some customers,” he says dead serious.  “I won’t make the same mistake twice.  Mr. Turner is out of the store on business.  I’m his assistant manager.  Can I help you?”

     I feel foolish.  I mistook his smile.  I thought he was trying to crack on me.  I guess I was wrong.

     “Sorry,” I mutter and turn away.  I’d better get what I came here for and go home before I make a bigger idiot out of myself, I think as I leave.

     He doesn’t say a word.

     I continue to walk away from the counter.  I pick up a blue basket and quickly move toward the freezer.

     I open a glass door and find a  1/2 gallon container of vanilla ice cream.  My cousins love vanilla bean.  It’s the only kind they’ll eat. 

     Then I wander to the diary section and pick up a container of chocolate chip cookie dough for myself.

Chapter 2 by Elizabeth Griffin
Author's Notes:

Hi Chambers,

I have posted this novel in chapter form.  The newest update begins at Chapter Four.  I hope you like.  

Elizabeth Griffin

www.elizabethgriffin.net

 

Tarah

 

 

II

 

 

'Hey young thing looking so sweet

hustling across that damn street

your hair blowing wild

 creating the next style

with that smile so sublime

you can claim my heart anytime...'

 

      Tarah is singing the lyrics to a popular rap song while the radio is blasting the hell out of it. The FM station has been playing it nonstop

     The fifteen-year-old loves the image she presents as she speeds down Chester Avenue in her mother’s car.  She has to sneak and do it, but so what. 

     It is worth the risk. 

     Now she is able to go where she wants; and, she is able to do what she wants. 

     To Tarah the benefits outweighed the possibility of getting into trouble. 

     What if the cops stop her?  She'll deal with it!   Today is Friday.  School is out and she is free.

     Tarah Evans is beautiful.  That’s why she gets most of the things that she wants.  If she wants a tennis bracelet, she gets it for  Christmas.  If she wants gold earrings— the big hooped one, she gets them for her birthday.  If she wants new clothes that's no problem; she gets them for Easter, summer vacation, her birthday... or simply no reason at all.  She is spoiled, and now it is too late for anyone to try to change her.

     If she wants something, all she has to do is ask for it; her syrupy sweet smile and excellent grades guarantee it.  Tarah learned from an early age how to manipulate her father.

     It was through academics.  She stumbled onto this revelation.  

     Her fifth grade report card had been all A’s.  Not from sheer hard work alone, but because she simply loved school.  Mrs. McCullough made learning fun.  Every Friday afternoon was storytelling in her class.

     Miss McCullough would spend the last hour of school  placing magical images in the heads of impressionable ten-year-olds.

     The tales were from books like the The-All-of-A-Kind-Family which introduced  the class to seven Jewish girls living through the Great Depression and Charlotte's Web which the entire class loved.

     Tarah frowns sadly for a moment— she misses Mitchell Elementary School— her classmates— and all the cute boys...

     Tarah remembers her father taking one look at her report card that year and then everything changed. 

      Mr. Evans snatched her out of public school.  He wanted only the best for his daughter— a catholic education at an exclusive small school— Holy Spirit. 

     Mr. Evans took both Tarah and his wife out to dinner in celebration.    

     And of course, she was allowed to pick anything she wanted from the menu. 

    Deluxe double-cheese burger.  Large French fries.  A chocolate milkshake. Strawberry  Shortcake. 

     Mr. Evans also presented her with a surprise. A mutual trust fund in her name.  It was worth 5,000 dollars.  That would help finance her college education. 

     It pleased Tarah, but what really impressed her was the gold charm bracelet he presented to her. Between the links of gold were symbols of the things a ten-year-old treasured.

     Mr. Evans immediately unhooked the piece of jewelry and refastened in around a tiny wrist.  He then leaned over and whispered to Tarah that each year he would add to it.  He also fastened a diamond encrusted heart shaped pendant around her neck and winked at her.

     Her mother almost fainted at the table.  She had protested that the gifts were too much for someone that young. 

     'She’ll lose them.  She cannot possibly appreciate those types of presents.'

     Mr. Evans dismissed his wife's comments and continued to celebrate with his daughter.

     Tarah, over the years; however, has proven her mother wrong.  She is still sporting the bracelet and necklace. Also that college mutual fund is worth an awful lot more.

     Mr. Evans treats Tarah like his little genius. He praises her— fills her head with his thoughts. She is going to become an electrical engineer.  She is going to a prestigious college when she graduates from high school; she is going to be the best.  She is going to be the first female engineer in the family.

     Tarah has a group of people she can always run to when she wants something:  Daddee.  Pop-pop.  Nanna.  Aunt Tish and  Mommee— but only if it's an emergency; her mother is a very hard person to work...

     Tarah  has cream colored skin, onyx black hair cut extremely short, and brown eyes.   Halle Berry is her idol. And, Tarah is going to blow-up just like her.  Even though their career choices are totally different.

     Tarah is smart— everybody keeps telling her that and she has the baddest body in Philadelphia.  Just ask any boy who has witnessed her parading down Market Street.

     There is no denying it. She also has the sexiest walk this side of the city.  Her butt is sensual; the way it gently moves from side to side as she walks can drive a brother insane.  She knows she can pull any guy— just give her the chance. 

     So with the windows down and her hair trying to blow in the wind, she knows she looks hot— really, really hot! 

     And she wants everyone to see her, especially Darryl Stevens.  He works at Turner’s Mini-Market.  He is the owner’s nephew.  And, he is her latest crush.

     In no time, Tarah pulls up to the curb of the mini-store and locks the doors to her mother's car.  Maybe today he’ll change his mind.  Maybe he'll treat her to the movies?  She knows he likes  all of the attention she is giving him.

     Walking into the store, Tarah makes no pretense about why she is there, but she instead goes up to the counter where he is standing.

     “Did you miss me?” she asks.

     He looks at her blankly, “Why should I?”

     “Because, I haven’t seen you in a week,” she smiles. “When are we going out?”

     “I’m too old for you, Young Buck,” he says looking down into her face.

      “Age ain’t nothing but a number,” she quips, thinking about Aliyah Houghton’s debut album briefly. 

     “Not to me,” he states.

      His attention becomes distracted when he see Dana round the corner with her basket half full. Tarah looks at her too.

     “You can’t be interested in that?”  

     “You know her? What's her name?”

      “Figure it out on your own,” for the first time in Tarah's short life, she experiences a moment of jealousy— it passes.  But, she doesn’t like the feel of it one bit.

      “Juvenile,” he teases picking up on the jealousy.

       Tarah ignores his comment, but says, “Don’t even consider it.  I know her and she’s not into boys.  She doesn’t like them— some kind of phobia I guess.  All she cares about is racing bikes—”

       “I’m not into little girls,” Darryl repeats.   “Are you two friends?” he looks back at Tarah.

      “Kind of.  We both have the same friends," then she smiles and acknowledges the other girl verbally; “Hey Dana!  What’s up?”

      “Hi Tee,” says Dana as she avoids the eyes of the boy standing behind the counter.  

       “Let me know when you’re finished.  I’ll give you a ride home,” says Tarah benevolently.  She also uses that opportunity to announce to everyone in the market that she is old enough to drive.

      “I thought you two were friends.”

      The ice in her voice doesn't escape Darryl’s ears.  He realizes that Young Buck has a mean side to her.

      “We are, but I don’t have to like her all of the time, do I?”

      “I wouldn’t want you for a friend.” he comments.

     “Yes, you do.  I know you like me,” she says leaning seductively over the counter.  Her young breasts are now pressed tightly together by her arms as she rests her small frame against the counter-top. 

      He ignores her actions.

      “Go home,” he says gathering up the items a customer places before him.  He begins ringing up the order.  His fingers move deftly over the merchandise.  “You are just a baby to me.”

      “Don’t be fooled by the face,”   Tarah warns sweetly as she moves away from the register in pursuit of Dana.  “I am nobody’s baby.  You'll find that out real soon.”

      Darryl smiles broadly while disregarding her threat and playfully describing the flirty fifteen-year-old, “See you around toddler.”

 

      Tarah ignores his words.  She will just have to make him change his mind.  The beautiful sophomore is very good at manipulating boys.

Chapter 3 by Elizabeth Griffin

Kimberly

 

 

III

 

 

      She  is worried.   And she doesn't know what to do.  She cannot go to her parents— they’d kill her.  And she can't talk to her girlfriends, what would they think?  If she tells her step-sister, it will get back to her mother; so that is out too.

      What can she do?

      She is scared. 

      Did she have it?

      She only gave it up to him once.  And he was her first.  This isn’t supposed to happen.   She wants to cry, but if she does everybody at the dinner table will know that something is wrong.  So she tries to look normal, but she keeps hearing the rumors.

      Did you hear?

      No, what?

      Timothy’s got AIDS!

      For real— who gave it to him?

     Don’t know, he’s sexin’ so many girls—

      At least three of Kimberly's friends have told her the same thing.  None of them knows that she slept with him, at least not yet.  Will they treat her differently, if they find out?

      Today is Friday and on every Friday evening, the whole family eats together; it is the only time her mother and step-father are in the house at the same time. 

      They both work long hours during the week and they never really get to see each other.  Everybody usually eats dinner at different times during the week.  Everybody has things to do, but Fridays are the only time both parents are off and this is the one time when the family talks.

      Kimberly knows she cannot just get up and leave the table without being excused, so she waits patiently for the other three people to finish their meal. 

      “Why are you so quiet?” asks Mr. Williams.

      She shrugs her shoulders and continues to stare at the clock on the wall. 

      “You don’t know how to use your mouth?” the step-father asks.

       “I don’t have nothing to say.”

      “You’re not eating your food either,” he continues.

      “Not hungry.”

      "Are you planning on going someplace?” he asks also looking at the clock.

      “No.”

     “Eat some more of those mashed potatoes and that corn.  You can’t go around not eating,” he is still looking at her closely.

      “Yes,” she says maneuvering some of each onto her fork.  She tries to eat it, but it tastes like glue— all gooey and cold.  She wants to gag, but instead gulps it down.  She quickly reaches for a glass of apple juice to rid her mouth of the horrible taste.

      “Don’t force her to eat,” Mrs. Williams jumps in. “Are you feeling sick?”

      “No.  I just had enough.”

      “I don’t like it when they waste food Terri.  We can’t afford it.  Everybody eats the same thing around here.  I’m not going to have Kimberly eating one thing, Bianca something else—”

      “I didn’t ask for something else.  I ate most of the potatoes— ”

      Her step-father gives her a warning look, but it isn’t necessary.  She knows how to talk to Mr. Williams.

      “Can I please leave the table?  I’m finished.”

      Before her step-father can speak, Mrs. Williams answers, “Go ahead honey.”

     “What about the dishes?” asks Bianca.  “It's her turn today.”  The other girl has remained quiet until she realizes that if she doesn’t speak up she will be the one washing all of the pots and pans sitting on the stove.  And she isn’t down with washing the dishes two weeks in a row.

       “I know it’s my turn.  I’ll be back,” she says glaring at her step-sister. 

      Sometimes Kimberly wonders why her mother remarried.  John is okay as a dad at times; she just does not like his daughter.  The girl is always in her business.  She can’t make a move without Bianca throwing some kind of comment in.

      Bianca is one years older than she and therefore thinks she is the big sister.  But it doesn’t work like that, at least not in Kimberly’s mind.  She does not have a sister.  All she has is a pain-in-the-butt girl who talks too much.

       “I’ll do them,” says Mrs. Williams. 

      “That’s not fair.  It’s her week.  Didn’t nobody help me with my week,” the other girl complains.

      “That’s enough,” says Mr. Williams.

     “This family isn’t fair about anything.  Whenever she doesn’t want to do something you step in, but let it be me—  You’d be all over me.  I’d never hear the end of it.”

     “That’s not true,” says Mrs. Williams.

      “Yes it is,” she screams jumping up from the table also.  “That’s why I don’t like it here.  You’re always treating her one way and me another.  My mother was right about you.”

      “Bianca come back here,” yells Mr. Williams.

      But she ignores him.  He does not bother to yell again.  How can he scold his daughter when he too sees the same thing?  He stares at his wife. 

     “Thanks mom,” says Kimberly exiting quickly.  She knows there is going to be a big argument and she doesn’t want to be around. 

 

     Walking swiftly toward the door, she grabs her house key... 

Chapter 4 by Elizabeth Griffin

Dana

 

 

IV

 

 

       I take the items from my basket and place them on the counter fully aware that Tarah is gritting on me.  I can feel her eyes dissecting me. 

      What is her problem?  I didn’t do anything to her.  I am tempted to stare back, but what is the point?

     She finally speaks, “When are you going to do something about your hair?  You need a perm—”

     “What did you say?” I ask looking at her. 

     “Oh I’m sorry. I forgot you mother can’t afford the salon— my mistake.”

     “Don’t start with me, Tee.”

     “Don’t get mad.  I wasn’t trying to embarrass,” she says in a sweet voice.

     I ignore her.

     “I can make an appointment for you with my stylist anytime you want.  What do you say?  I could even get them to do your nails,” she says looking down at my hands.

     “Who are you trying to impress, Tarah?  Him?”

     “Don't get offended.  I was only trying to look out for you.”

     “I guess you’re not giving her the time of day, and she’s mad,” I say looking at the older boy. 

     Nope,” he says, continuing to bag my stuff.

     “Try a little harder, Tee.  He’s bound to change his mind.  I mean as pretty as you are and all—  What boy can say no,” I say sarcastically.

     “Are you trying to play me, girl? I offer  you help and you come  at me like that?”

     “Whatever,” I mumble.

     “Dana?  Tarah!” a girl yells from the entrance of the store.  “What are you all doing in here?  I can’t believe it, " she smiles approaching us.

     “Hi Kimberly!” I say.

     “Hey!” says Tarah. “What are you doing here?”

      “I saw your car  outside—  I was hoping you were in here.  I need a ride.”

      “Where to?” ask Tarah.

     “Anywhere.  I just need to escape.”

      “No problem,” says Tarah.  “I’m giving Dana a ride home too.”

     “No thanks,” I say.  I am not taking any favors from her.  She is two-faced.  One minute she’s your friend and the next she’s trying to hurt you. 

     “You’re not still mad at me?” jokes Tarah.

      “Call it what you want, but I got my ride.”

      “Come on,” pleads  Kimberly.  “No fighting.  I need to talk to you both.”

      “What’s wrong?” I ask.

      “Are you finished?” Kimberly asks me eying the bags of groceries.

       “Yeah,” I say paying for my stuff.

       “Good,” says Tarah as she walks with us to the door.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5 by Elizabeth Griffin

Tarah

 

 

V

 

 

Protection’

should be the answer

but what if the condom slips?

what if the rubber rips?

now you’ve got one more mouth to feed

or one more disease to heed

Protection

should be the answer

to gettin’ laid and  havin’ AIDs

But what if there's Vaseline involved?

what if the condom dissolves?

Now you got Hepatitis B

Or some other STD

Protection

should be the answer...

 

 

      “Please turn that off,” pleads Kimberly.

      “Why?” inquires Tarah.

      “Because it’s a stupid song.”

      “No it’s not,” I jump in.  “I think it’s true. Just listen to the words.”

      “I have,” murmurs Kimberly.

     Tarah turns the volume up ignoring her friend's request.  She hadn't really thought about the words before or if there is a message attached to them.  Now she listens to the lyrics.

      We all listen.

     “What do you think Black Juice is trying to say?” Tarah asks when the rap reaches the instrumental part.

      I answer first, “He's talking about abstinence.”

     "You think so?" came a surprised response from Kimberly, "He's a guy— Why would he care about not having sex?  Ain't that what all guys want?"

      "He is talking about abstinence," I burst out.

      "I think it depends on the guy.  Most boys do want it," says Tarah.  "My grandmother is always saying—" Tarah suddenly changes the pitch of her voice as she mimics her elderly Nanna. "Don't blame the boys for your mistakes. They'll only go as far as you let them.  Respect yo'self and they're bound to do the same— so in other words, " Tarah continues as she abruptly drops the elderly voice.  "Don't give up the coochie," she says making a saintly face.

      Both girls cannot help but laugh.

      "I agree with your grandmother.  I'm not letting them get nowhere near me," I snap.

      "You don't have a thing to worry about," Tarah says giving me a once over with her eyes.

      I roll my eyes and continue the debate, "He is promoting celibacy," I refuse to budge from my position. 

      I am seated in the back seat of the car.  I absentmindedly spin the back wheel of my BMX.  It took forever to break it down enough to fit into the car.  The things you do for friends.

      “No, he ain’t,” corrects Tarah.  “He's not saying don't  have sex.  He's just  warning us to be careful.”

     “How can you be careful if the condom slips?  That’s dumb,” I say.

    “You just gotta know what you’re doing,” says Tarah.

      I look at her in disgust, “You really are nasty.  Is this what you learn in catholic school?”

      "No, it isn't," she says ducking my insult.  “I learned it from my doctor," she continues, twisting her head with attitude.  "She gave me a booklet at my last visit called: Puberty's Wild Ride.  She wanted me to know that I had choices— the pill, and the shot aren't going to protect me from STDs—  Maybe they will work to stop a baby but condoms can do both.  She doesn't want me to end up unprotected and pregnant. Neither do I.  So, like I say, you betta know what you're doing— and protection is the answer.  Can you see me with a baby on my hip while I'm trying to live my life? It ain't happening."

      "It's still not 100 percent," I repeat my opinion.

     "But it's better than nothing," says Kimberly.

     "Listen to the next verse," I command.  "He's telling people that sex isn't everything—"

      The loud, pulsating rhyme explodes into the air.  The drumming sound  keeps in sync with the words and the other instruments which make up the sound that Black Juice is known for.  The hard lyrics command the attention our as we remain silent until it blends into a new song.

      “I told you they’re  talking about abstinence.  If  the condom slips, Bam!  You can get pregnant.  If  it  rips,  Oops!  You got a STD.”

      “So ‘cause it ain’t 100 percent, I’m supposed to wait.  I don’t think so.  A rubber is better than nothing,” says Tarah.

      “But it isn’t guaranteed to protect you.”

     “What does?”

     “Abstinence,” I say.

     “Yeah, okay.  How long is that going to protect you?  Huh?  Miss-Know-So-Damn-Much.  I'd  like to see you remain a virgin until graduation day.  It ain’t gonna happen.  Some boy’s gonna get you,” Tarah teases in a sing-song voice and laughs. "Right now you aren't into boys, but that can change real fast.  I mean just look at Darryl.  He's  the hottest of the hot. You can't just ignore that."

     “Oh shut up, Tarah.  You’re a V just like the rest of us,” I yell at her. “So stop fronting.”

     “How do you know?” she asks.

      “Because I know when you’re talking bull.  And right now you’re talking a whole lot of bull!  Forget the song.  You know you aren't going to do it because your father would kick your butt so damn hard, you'd never walk straight again.  So who are you trying to fool?”

     Tarah changes up her attitude quickly, “Oh Damn!” she  rolls her eyes.  “I just had a flashback.  I don’t even want to think about it.  The last boy I gave my phone number to made the mistake of texting me while I was at the dinner table.  I tried to hide it, but my dad heard it.  He took the cell from me and read the message—"

      "No he didn't," exclaims Kimberly.  She is horrified at the invasion of privacy.

     "Yes he did and he even began texting back—"

     "What did your Dad text?"

      "Don't know."

      "What about the message from the boy?" asks Kimberly.

      "He deleted both, and warned me about giving out my number to boys.  He even threatened to turn off my phone service if I got another message like that one."

      "But you don't even know what the message said."

     "Do you think I was going to explain that to my Dad," she looks at Kimberly incredulously.

     "I guess not."

     "That was the last time I heard from that boy.”

     “See!” I yell.  “All she does is talk a game.”

      “But Daddy ain’t gonna be watching over me forever,” she comes back with the quickness.  “I’m just going to have to wait—”

      “Just like the rest of us,” I finish.  “You might be waiting until marriage—”

      “I doubt that,” says Tarah. "More like I'll be waiting until college."

      Kimberly sits silently.  She wants to talk to them— to tell them about Timothy, to tell them she isn't a virgin anymore— that she did something really dumb.

      Why did she have sex with a boy she barely knew?  Why hadn’t she waited?

     She wants to speak, but she can’t.  It is too hard.  What will they think? 

      She isn’t a whore!

       But she feels like one.  How can they understand?  They are both still virgins.   She tries to avoid all eye contact.

       “What’s wrong Kimberly?” I ask.

       “Nothing.”

      “You sure?”

      “Yeah,” she says turning from me and staring into the city traffic.

      “Are we going to your house?” inquires Tarah looking at me.

      “Stop asking dumb questions,” I say reluctant to pay her any mind. “Where else would I be taking this food?”

      “Just checking.”

     “Drive stupid,” I scold.

      “Keep talking to me like that and you’ll be walking,” she threatens.

     “No big thing.  You’re the one who offered the ride.  Should I get out here?  I can bike it home. It ain't no big deal.”

     “Some people are so  ungrateful,” says Tarah, glancing at me with feigned disgust.

      “Aren't they,” I say giving her a big smile then turning to my best friend, “What’s wrong Kimberly?” I ask again.

       She looks so sad.  Am I hurting her feelings by not agreeing with her?  I hope not, but I don’t think the song is dumb.  It isn't. 

     I look at Kimberly and wonder.  Is she still having problems with her step-family?  Most of the time it is her sister who is the one causing trouble, but every once in a while Mr. Williams get on her nerves too.

       “You can tell me anything Kimberly,” I say.

 

       “I know,” she tries to smile...

Chapter 6 by Elizabeth Griffin

Dana

 

VI

  “Can’t you hang with us a little longer?”  pleads Kimberly as the car approaches a white row house.  Metal bars protect the basement windows and a heavy front door guards its entrance. 

     These are some of the safety features  the people of West Philly  live with.  Crime is a fact of life here.  People aren’t overly protective, but they know what to do in order to survive.

     "We're going to The Gallery," coaxes Tarah. The Gallery is the hot spot for all of the teens. 

     It is a mall that has everything.  Fast Foods.  Clothes.  Music Stores.  Bookstores. Boys...

     “I wish, but I promised my cousins a treat,” I say holding up a plastic bag containing the ice cream and cookie dough.  “I don’t want to disappoint them,” I acknowledge.  “We can do something tomorrow.  Call me.”

     “You can drop the food off and keep on going,” Kimberly says reluctant to give up.

     "I can’t," I say  opening the back door of the car and grabbing my wheel.  The rest of the bicycle follows and then the  grocery bag. "See yah Tee.  Thanks for the ride."

     “You know it,” she says checking her image in the mirror.

     “Don’t you ever get tired of doing that,” I ask.  “Looks aren’t everything.”

     “You only say that ‘cause you ain’t got none,” she smiles sweetly.  “But me, I’m all that.  Bye,” says Tarah putting her foot to the metal and V rooming off. 

     The car speeds down the street with her still profiling behind the wheel.

     She is too silly, I think as I get out my key.  But that is her problem, not mine.

    I roll my BMX up the steps and onto the open porch.  I U-lock it to the side railing.  My sister is renting a tiny row house.  I like it  because we have a backyard.  In the summer that  means lots of cookouts and unlimited use of the water hose.  The boys love that.  And so do I.

     Not too much seems to be going on when I push open the door.  I do not hear the kids so that must mean the television station is on  Cartoon Network and it must be getting all of their attention.

     I lock the front door and yell, “Who wants vanilla ice cream?”

     There is no response.

     I open my mouth and yell again, “With chocolate chip cookie dough on the side?”

     That gets a response.  I hear several pairs of feet thumping through the dinning room and a bunch of voices.

     “I do,” exclaims five-year-old Demetrius.

     He still has on his school uniform.  His white shirt is wrinkled and very dogged.  His pants are in the same condition.  When he plays, he plays hard.  But of all my cousins, he is the happiest.  Nothing seems to faze him. 

     “Me too,” says Dylan running alongside of his younger brother.  Even though they are two years apart, both boys look identical.  See what genes can do to you.   “I want extra cookie dough,” Dylan exclaims.

     “Greedy,” I say smiling.  “You  can’t eat it all,” I say handing him the cold container.”

     “You should have bought more,” remarked DT. “Because I  love this stuff.”

     I look at my oldest nephew wearing the same type of uniform as his brothers.  His is still neat and clean.  His haircut is short and modern.  DT looks a little like his brothers, but he is growing up.  He is about to hit puberty.  I can see and hear it coming.  His voice is slowly changing.  And so is his attitude.  He likes cartoons, but he is also into comic books, and computer games. 

     “You do?” I tease.

     “Yeah,” he says giving me a rare smile.  Most of the time, he does not smile.  He is the one I am really worried about.  The divorce will hit him hard.  I never catch him crying, but I suspect he does.  Maybe at night.  Or when he is by himself.

     “Where’s Derrick—” I begin.

    “Right here,” he yells from the kitchen doorway.  He pokes his head into the room.  “I’m going to get the bowls,” he smiles.

     That is Derrick for you.  Always setting things up.  He is the action man.  Not a lot of talk, but plenty of action.  He wants the ice cream, but running to greet me or expressing his delight would take time away from actually consuming the dessert.

     I have to laugh out  loud, “Derrick, you are definitely the man,” I beam walking to the table.  I place the bags  in front of him.  “You can scoop  out the ice cream.”

     “What about me?” challenges DT “I’m the oldest. 

     “True,” I concede.  “But he’s the one doing all of the work. “He earned the right.”

     “Yeah—  I guess so,” DT says reluctantly.  But not wanting to be out-done, he continues.  “I’ll get the spoons and set the table,” he says refusing to be outmaneuvered.

     “Thanks,” I say.

     DT smiles again, “You’re welcome.

     “Where’s DeAngela?” I ask glancing at the clock.  “Did she get home yet?”

     “Yeah,” answers DT.  “She’s in her room, and the door is closed.”

     “Oh,” I say quietly.  “Y’all can start without me.  I’ll be right back.”

     I leave the kitchen.  In no time, I reach her bedroom door.  Should I knock?  Or just go in?  I am  not rude, but I do not want to give DeAngela a chance to tell me to go away.  So, I knock once, and turn the knob to her door.  Why give her a chance  to say anything?

     “DeAngela?” I call out cautiously as I enter.

     “Huh?” she says glancing up from the pillows on her bed.  She is resting.  Her arms covering her face.

     “What’s up?  Are you okay?”

     “Yes, just tired.  I’m working again tonight.”

     “Another double?” I ask.

     “Yes.  I need the money,” she explains.

     “I know.  I know.  You keep telling me that,” I say.   I'm so tired of hearing that same old explanation coming from my sister.  “Why can’t he help out for a change?  He don't give you money.  He don’t help out with the kids.  He don’t do .nothing”

     “Please Dana.  I’ve already got a headache,” she says.

     “That’s ‘cause you don’t eat.  And, you don’t sleep.  All you do is work.  You ain’t some kind of machine.  You’re gonna get sick.”

     “Thanks a lot,” says DeAngela.  “I just needed to hear  that.”

     “I’m sorry, but you don’t look good,” I say noticing once again how skinny she is, but I refuse to say more.

     My sister  is extremely underweight. If she doesn’t start eating soon, she’ll be reaching the point of anorexia. 

     I ask, “How long will you be working?  Not all night, I hope.”

     “Three to eleven.  And then eleven to seven,” states DeAngela.  “Are you  complaining?”

     “No, just checking.”

    “I know this is unexpected, but I really need to do this tonight—  It’s an opportunity for some extra money.”

     I say nothing, but I know it is true.

     I know she needs me right now, so that’s why I’m not complaining.  I’ve been living with my sister  for nine  months— ever since the break-up.

     I take care of my cousins, although DT will disagree.  He thinks he’s old enough to take care of himself.  Not true.

     I guess you could call me their  nanny-sitter.   I love doing it, and the pay ain’t too bad either.  I even get to wear my sister’s clothes which is a good thing.  Otherwise they’d go to waste.  All DeAngela wears are hospital scrubs.  I knew she’s trying to hide her body and the fact that she is an extremely pretty woman— another  symptom of heartache.

     “Have you heard from him yet?” I ask.

     She doesn’t answer right away, “No.”

     “I guess that means he’s still acting stupid.”

     “I don’t know,” she says awkwardly.

     “Do you still love him?” I ask out of nowhere.

     “Yes.”

     “But why?  After all he’s done, how can you care about him?”

     “I had four children by him, Dana.  I can’t simply turn my emotions off—”

     “Well you should.  He had four kids by you and it don’t mean a thing.  He don’t call.  He don’t help pay for nothing—  he don’t even care if you make it or not. How can you love somebody like that?”

     I can tell my words shame her, but I have  to say them.  I have to state what's in my heart.

     I truly do not understand DeAngela or what she calls love.  It seems  more like a sickness to me.  A disease. 

     “Drop it Dana.  It’s going to take time.  Falling out of love is a gradual thing— no matter how bad the person treats you.  But I’m  getting there.  Just because I say I love Daniel, it doesn’t mean I’m going to take him back.  It simply means I need time to heal— to recover from this.”

     “Please don’t take too long.  ‘cause he ain’t worth it.  He’s the lowest thing on the earth— ”

     Before I can say more, the telephone on the night-stand begins to ring.  It startles me; I jump a little.

      DeAngela  looks at the phone, but does not react.  She seems to know who it is; she looks at me as if asking whether or not to pick it up. 

     A sad expression sweeps across her face.  Her mouth begins to quiver; her hands tremble a little.  She reaches for the receiver, but I beat her to it.

     I snatch the phone from its cradle, “What do you want!”  My question startles the caller.

     “Let me speak to DeAngela,” he says.

      “What for?”

      “Give her the phone Dana,” he orders.

      "No— ” I want to say more, but DeAngela reaches for the phone.  I reluctantly give it to her.   “Are you sure?  You don’t have to talk to him.”

     “I know,”   she says putting the phone to her ear.

     I quietly listen to her voice get soft.  Yeah, she still loves him.  The whole thing makes me sick.  God, please don’t ever let me act a fool over some boy.  Give me enough sense to leave love alone.  I hate even thinking about it.

     “Yes?” she asks

     “I’m coming by Saturday to pick up the kids.”

     Whatever he says 'causes DeAngela to react.  Suddenly she becomes angry.  Her eyes begin to narrow as she looks out of the window.

     “I’m sorry, but you can’t.”

     “I’ll be there at 8 o’clock.  Tell Dana to have them ready.”

     “No.  I don’t know where you live.  Or even  have your phone number.   How am I supposed to just give you the kids and trust you to bring them back here?  I can’t do it.”

     “I’m not going to argue DeAngela, but I’m their father.  I want to see my children.”

     “So tell me where you are.”

     “I can’t do that.”

     “Why not?”

     “Because she doesn’t want you calling here.  She doesn’t want you to know where we live.”

     DeAngela shakes her head.  “This is crazy.  These are your children.  They haven’t seen you in months.  And all you can tell me about it what  she wants.  God, you are an ass”

     “DeAngela—”

     “You care more about some woman you met in a club ten months ago than your own children.  You put her before us.  You and I have been married eight years—  do  you hear me? Eight long years.  And this is how you treat me.  You put some slut before this family.  What’s wrong with you?

     “Stop overreacting—”

     “Overreacting!  I can’t believe this,” she rages.  Don’t you call me again, Daniel.  The kids don’t need a father like you in their lives.  Things are better when you don’t call,” she says slamming down the phone.

     I watch her try to regain her composure, but it is gone now.  I stand there numb as all hell and watch DeAngela as she  stares  out of the bedroom window.  Tears run from her eyes.  She doesn’t utter a  sound, but I know she's sobbing inside.

 

     I  feel  tears touch my own eyes.  I blink them away, and think how much I hate love.  It can't do a damn thing from me.  It is a dead emotion in my book.  I hate Daniel—  I hate marriage.  I hated men...

Chapter 7 by Elizabeth Griffin

Tarah

VII

 

  “Who's dat hollering out there?” demands the young rapper Chanzis.  Her strong, but distinctly feminine voice continues, “Draftin' with the extreme, creating a scene.  Words circulatin' the air.   Causing a scare.  It's time to  prepare—  I'm back with an attack— young, gifted and packed.  Armed with words, knowledge rampant.  I'm aimin' to kill,  my sh— is crafted,

 

     Tarah  halts the CD player.  She doesn’t want her mother to hear her.  All she has to do is park the car, sneak into the house, and return the keys.  She's done it  plenty of times before, but she still gets nervous.  She doesn’t want to  get caught.

     That would cause too much commotion.  Too much explaining.  No, Tarah doesn't want the attention right now.

     She slides out of the driver’s seat and adjusts her skirt as her feet hit the sidewalk.  She checks the car for any evidence— any candy wrappers, lost objects— things that would tell on her. 

     She sees  none of them.  Setting the alarm with the push of a finger, Tarah heads for the front steps.  Now she has to be extra quiet. 

     Walking confidently up the steps, she reaches the screen door in no time.  She pauses listening for any sound escaping through the door. 

     She hears nothing— good— maybe her mother is still sleeping.  She knows that's too much to ask for, but she is optimistic. 

     Guiding the metal key into the one lock and turning slowly, Tarah hears the first click.  Now, she turns the bottom lock.  Same procedure.

     She  grabs the handle, and prays the door will not make a noise.  It doesn’t.  Tarah gradually pushes  the it open;  she peeks into the living room.

     Her breath catches in her throat.

     This is the hardest part— getting back    into the house.  Her mother is not there.  Good.  And the house is still, quiet.  

     Tarah is an only child.  Which means she doesn’t have to worry about somebody telling on her.  She can close her bedroom door and disappear,  Just like this afternoon when she came home from school early.

     Every first Friday of the month is Mass so that means noontime dismissal. 

     Tarah goes to Holy Innocence High School.  The school is too strict for her taste.  And worst.  It had no boys.  None.  Denada.  Zero.  She hates that.

     Anyway, she came home; greeted her mother; had lunch; and then went upstairs to watch music videos.  That was the plan and it had worked.

     Tarah had played the television low,  and listened to her mother’s every move.  She already knew where the car keys were.  On the kitchen table. 

     So she waited.  And waited.  And waited.   Until she heard her mother’s bedroom door close. 

     Still Tarah didn’t react right away.  Minutes passed.   At that point,  she was sure that her  mother was laying down;  resting before Daddy got home from work. 

     Mom worked part-time and usually took a nap in the afternoon.  And today was no different.

     So getting out of the house had been easy.  But now is different.

     Tarah creeps into the kitchen.  It is empty.  She places the keys in the exact spot they belong,  and then turns to exit the room—

     “Oh Tee!” a woman yells out. 

     Tarah jumps— her heart is pounding rapidly.  She swings  completely around.  No words on her lips.  A shock expression crossing her face.

     “Girl! You scared me.  Where did you come from?”   her mother  continues.

     “I—I  was— ummm— I’m sorry,” she apologizes.  “I  was hungry  and came down to get something to eat,” Tarah says as she gradually recovers her composure.

     “Make a little noise.  Let somebody know you’re around,” exclaims Mrs. Evans.

     “Sorry,” she chokes out.

     “If you’re hungry, eat a piece of fruit.”

      Her daughter makes an ugly face, “I’ll pass.  Do we have any pretzels?”

     “On-top  of the refrigerator.”

     “What are you doing?” asks Tarah feeling a little more relaxed now that she is sure her mother doesn’t know what just happened.

     “I was about to do laundry, but since you’re up.  You can do it,” she says indicating the pile of clothes laying on the kitchen floor. 

     “But none of them are mine,” says Tarah.

     “I know, but wash them anyway,” then her mother smiles.  “I’m sure your dad will appreciate it—” then as an afterthought she says.  “And he might even pay you for doing it.”

     “Very funny, but I ain’t a maid,” she says.

     “I definitely know that,” states Mrs. Evans.  “Trying to get you to do housework is like asking for a miracle around here. 

     “Maybe if  you treated me nicer and gave me an allowance things would be different.”

      “Please Tarah, you get paid all of the time.  You’re always    in  your father’s pockets.”

     “And don’t you feel guilty.  You should contribute too.”

     Mrs. Evans raises an eyebrow, “Not hardly.  I am not about to spoil you.  You are already smelling yourself, and thinking you are the baddest thing out here.  I am not adding to that problem.”

     “Boy, do you exaggerate.”

     “Not in this case.  I watch you, and I hear you, but Tarah,” she says seriously.  “Your looks are going to get you into trouble.  Everybody’s not going to be impressed with a pretty face or bangin’ body.

     “Why do you always have to go there?  I thought  we were talking about laundry.  Now you’re trying to start an argument,” she says clicking her teeth.

     “No.   I’m just looking out for you.”

     “Don’t do me no favors?” she mumbles.

     “What?”

     “Nothing,” the young girl says walking towards the pile of dirty clothes. 

     She abandons any ideas of food.  She wasn’t hungry anyway.  That was just a lie.

    “Watch your  mouth girl,”  threatens Mrs. Evans.  “I’m doing my job as a mother.  Somebody’s filled  your head with nonsense—  pretty features aren't going to get      you all of the  things you want in life.”

     “Mommee, can we just drop it?”  says Tarah, sorting through the dirty clothes.  “I know that.”

     “You don’t act like it,” she states.

     “Well I do,” says Tarah while loading the washing machine.  She stuffs dark colored clothes into its small opening and sets the machine.

     She measures out liquid detergent spilling it onto the dirty clothes and shuts the lid; “I’ll be back when it's finished.”

     “Just don’t forget,” says Mrs.  Evans.  “And you can start dinner— ”

     “What?” exclaims Tarah. 

     “In this house we all work.  The chicken is in the refrigerator.  You can peel some white potatoes and there’s a bag of mixed salad in the bottom drawer of the  refrigerator.  Don’t stand there looking stunned,” smiles Mrs. Evans.  “Hurry  up.  Your father will be here in about an hour.”

     Tarah grits her teeth.  She refuses to answer.  She is too unset.

     Mrs. Evans loved her daughter and she knew life had a harsh way of teaching people lessons at any age. 

     She didn’t want her daughter to become a casualty of the streets. 

     Mrs. Evans had seen  too many young girls get caught up in the fast lane— like Jada.

     The older woman still couldn’t believe it.  The girl had just turned eighteen.

     And then the gossip started circulating about her.  It was rumored that she was  working at some gentleman’s club.  That's what the neighbor's  murmured to one another. 

     'She's stripping! She's getting out of   cars with different men.  She's drinking too much!  She's disrespecting herself!'

     Mrs. Evans couldn’t bare the thought of Jada, a nice girl, turning out like that.  She'd just finished high school.  She'd never been in any trouble.

     So what had happened?  How did she get caught up in that lifestyle?  Was it the fast money?  Jade didn’t seem  materialist to the older woman. 

     Is it the  attention that she gets from men,  Mrs. Evans wonders?   Jada, in fact, is a  very pretty young woman and a late bloomer.

     One minute she had the body of a little girl, and the next that of a woman.  Full breast.  Wide hips.  Thick legs.  Mrs. Evans shakes her head.

     There is nothing she can do for the girl.  If her parents can’t help Jada, what difference can she make?

     The whole situation has frightened Mrs. Evans.  It has caused her to pay closer attention to her own daughter's activities.

     The girl had a real obsession with money.   She could never get enough of it.  Or spend too much of it.

 

     Mrs. Evans  was going to be harder on her daughter from this point on.  She couldn't  change   the fact that the girl was spoiled. Or that her husband was the main cause of the problem.  Or that she had  stood by and allowed it all to happen. But, that was definitely about to change.

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