Chapter 1 Part 1

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The number three hung, quivering in timelessness. I tapped a fingernail on the rigid porcelain sink, willing the next number on the old clock face to fall. With a heave it rolled over to four. "Just two more minutes," I thought. I checked the plastic stick in my shaking hand, aware that I'd not likely learn anything yet.

Was that a blue line?

No, just a trick of the light. I tried counting down the seconds but got to zero twice before the four began its shuddering drop to five. One of my nails cracked and I gnawed on it, shaving the rough edge against my teeth while my right knee shimmied, worn jeans rubbing against the cabinet with a sandpaper sound.

Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty nine, sixty.

The five trembled and flipped to the round bellied six with a snap. I regarded it like an ill omen before taking a deep breath and holding up the wand. Not one, but two blue lines, very dark, very sure.

I mewled, rocking back and forth, arm across my stomach. Pregnant.

No more hope for a mistake. At the edge of the sink lay yesterday's test, a different brand, with one dark pink line and one faint. I'd been able to believe that it was wrong, the pale line might be a negative. In my hand was proof I could no longer deny.

I wrapped both tests in a huge wad of toilet paper and stuffed it to the bottom of the flowered waste can. If Mama found out...!

I flushed for appearances sake and shuffled my slipper clad feet into my bedroom. I stared at my bed like it was a traitor before pulling the comforter down and throwing myself on it, knees curling to my chest. Bold zebra stripes against a pink background undulated before my eyes. This was the same sheet set that was on it when...

The ragged fingernail dug into my skin as I ground my fists against my eyes. Mama most definitely would not understand, but LeGrande--he loved me. He would take care of us and be a really great daddy. Never mind that I was seventeen. Nevermind that LeGrande was almost three years older. He'd said he was going to marry me someday. Well, someday just got here a little early, that's all.

The sheets rustled as I stretched across them, reaching to the bedside table for my phone.

A text? No, this kind of news deserved more than that. Mama was in her own room down the hall, but she might need to use the bathroom or even come in to say goodnight. It wouldn't do for her to overhear.

Opening a fresh text to LeGrande, my fingers hovered above the keyboard, not sure what to type. I thought about it, then tapped decisively:

Miss me yet boo? good, cuz i need some sugah. pick me up at da corner.

I kicked off my slippers, shoved my feet into a lacy pair of sandals, and flipping the lightswitch to the off position, pulled the sheers back at the window. I froze straddling the windowsill when the ding of a return text lit up my cell screen. I'd used this mode of escape so many times I was able to complete my descent while reading the message.

B there in 10. A winking emoticon followed.

The grass was still wet from an afternoon shower and I regretted my choice of footwear. On the street, I had to dance around puddles and ended up soaking my right foot when the splinter of moon was doused by cloud. The muggy air clung like damp wool and the coils of my hair were beginning to fro out.

After a fifteen minute wait under the mist-dimmed beam of the streetlamp, I was tapping a foot and muttering to myself about men and their unreliability. Just as I dipped my head to check my watch, I spotted the gleam of headlights. LeGrande's cosmetically-altered clunker swished to a halt at the curb, causing me to jump back to avoid being splashed by the foul water.

Raindrops glistened on the flashy new paint, but I had to wrestle the handle of the twenty year old Seville to get it to open. I shoved myself across the cracked leather seat with a sigh, knowing this was not the time to get petty.

"Hey, baby, I been thinkin' 'bout that sugah you promised all the way over." His teeth flashed white in the glow of the dash.

That why you were late? I wanted to sneer, but instead I batted my eyes at him and leaned in for a kiss. I splayed my fingers across the back of his head, the scratchiness of his shaved fade igniting fuses that travelled all the way to my stomach. His lips were plump like plums and smelled faintly of cherry Black N Mild.

My fingers trailed over his studded ears, down the stubble on his throat and came to rest on his chest. I leaned against him, breathing deeply and forgetting my temper. Lord Jesus, I love this man!

"You wanna go to my place?" he breathed.

I considered before nodding. I certainly didn't want to tell him out here in the street. Especially since there was a chance Mama might come looking for me if she discovered I was missing.

The air conditioning in the trailer made me shiver and LeGrande noticed, grabbing a towel to pat the moisture from my face and hair. He slid the fabric down my arm to my robust cleavage with a suggestive smile, but I put a finger to his chest and propelled him backwards to the couch. With another nudge he tipped to plop on the cushions, causing the springs to creak. I sat beside him, curling my fingers. How to start?

"'Sup wit you tonight, NiNi? You awful quiet."

I worried the jagged remains of my fingernail and hung my toes on the scuffed coffee table. "You love me, right?"

He rolled his head and looked up at the ceiling before putting an arm around me and tugging my chin up.

"'Course I love you. What kinda talk is that?"

"How much?"

"Enough to listen to your mama call me a scrub with no future." The corner of my mouth quirked up. She did that.

"I got a future," he defended. "Jamel says he gonna get us some time in his cousin's studio in Atlanta. We got three clubs we playing in the next two weeks. Hell, Jordan's talkin about us playing his club up in New York. New York City, baby. We about to hit the big time."

"I know. I believe in you, Boo. Mama just thinks you gotta be a big shot like Cairo's fiancee to be anything these days. She'll get over it, once the baby's here."

I peeked at him under my false eyelashes, watching for when it hit him.

He nodded but then his brows drew down into the gully between his dark eyes.

"Baby? Don't tell me your sister done got herself knocked up before the wedding?" He shook his head and chuckled. "Little Miss Perfect..."

"No, not Cairo." I started to cry then; my shoulders convulsed with the effort to hold it in.

Beside me, LeGrande's firm body morphed to stone. He leaned away from me and I looked up to see stark terror on his face.

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