Authors: Pearl Cleage
Till You Hear from Me
Seen It All and Done the Rest
Baby Brother’s Blues
Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do
I Wish I Had a Red Dress
What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
We Speak Your Names: A Celebration
Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot
Mad at Miles: A Black Woman’s Guide to Truth
Just Wanna Testify
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Pearl Cleage
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by One World Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
is a registered trademark and the One World colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Just wanna testify : a novel / Pearl Cleage.
1. African American women—Fiction. 2. Atlanta (Ga.)—Fiction. I. Title.
Jacket design: Kristine V. Mills
Jacket photograph: © Masterfile
For Zaron, who still makes me wanna testify
And for Bailey, Chloe, Michael, Deignan, and Will, who make me want to live forever
There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey
I just wanna testify
what your love has done for me.
When Regina Hamilton found out she was pregnant with her second child, she was so happy that she cried. She cried again when she called to tell her Aunt Abbie and one more time that night when she told Blue. By the time they told Sweetie that she was going to be a big sister, Regina’s tears had stopped flowing, but she couldn’t stop smiling. Blue teased her about it, but she could tell he was really happy, too. She accused him of liking her best when she was barefoot and pregnant, and he said he didn’t know about the barefoot part, but loving her when she was carrying their child was about as close to heaven as he could stand to get.
That brought on a brief relapse in the crying department, but it didn’t last. She smiled all the way through her first trimester and now seemed to be sleeping her way through the second. If she didn’t get in an afternoon nap, she couldn’t keep her eyes open after eight o’clock. This put her on the same four-year-old’s sleep schedule as her daughter and also put a serious crimp in her late night love life. Blue just laughed and reminded her that she’d be back on a more adult schedule in another couple of weeks and then they could make up for lost time.
Regina couldn’t wait that long. She arranged a sleepover for Sweetie, turned off the phone, and took a two-hour nap, then made reservations at Landon’s and went out and bought a new dress that complemented her pregnancy curves. Blue’s eyes when he saw her in it let her know that he didn’t want to wait either. They lingered over the meal, enjoying a night out together, but when their server offered dessert, they both declined so quickly, Regina felt herself blush like a teenager.
Blue took her arm gently and guided her across the parking lot, which was rapidly filling up with cars of hungry people. The chef at Landon’s knew his way around the kitchen and the place had a growing number of enthusiastic regulars.
“You could have had dessert if you wanted it,” Regina said as Blue backed the big black Lincoln out carefully and turned the car onto Cascade Road. “I had a nap this afternoon. I’m good until midnight!”
That made him laugh and she did, too. In front of them, the moon rose, glowing at the end of the street like a giant yellow ball.
“My God,” Regina said. “It looks close enough to touch.”
“My mother used to call that a Cascade Moon.”
“I’ve been here six years and I’ve never seen a moon like that.”
“It’s rare,” Blue said. “Something to do with the rotation of the earth.”
“Doesn’t everything have to do with the rotation of the earth?”
It looked like a movie moon. She half expected E.T. and that little kid on the bicycle to come pedaling across her view. Regina couldn’t take her eyes off it.
“Is it good luck?”
He shrugged. “I don’t remember her saying anything about it being lucky. Mostly it was supposed to be a time when spirits walk.”
“What kind of spirits?”
“Only the restless ones,” he said, reaching over to squeeze her knee lightly, but keeping his eyes on the road.
“Don’t laugh,” she said, covering his hand with her own so he would leave it where it was. “I was over at the Growers Association today and ShaRhonda and Lu were talking about vampires. Do they count?”
The Growers Association was the organization behind West End’s impressive network of one hundred community gardens. Their headquarters was the nerve center of the neighborhood and Regina stopped by daily to catch up on the news.
Blue raised his eyebrows. “Vampires in West End?”
“No, but just about everywhere else, to hear them tell it. Lu was teasing ShaRhonda about having a crush on some movie vampire guy who can’t have sex with his girlfriend because he might lose control and start sucking her blood.”
Blue shook his head slowly. “Now, that is a brother with a serious problem.”
“I can’t imagine why they would think that was sexy.”
“Probably because they’ve never had sex.”
“Good sex anyway,” Regina said.
“Bad sex doesn’t count,” Blue said, his smile half hidden in his mustache.
She smiled back. “You got that right.”
As Cascade Road turned into Abernathy Boulevard, West End’s main business artery, late shoppers could be seen hurrying home with whatever couldn’t wait until tomorrow, as students strolled back to their dorms clutching take-out cups of cappuccino from the West End News. Nobody seemed to be paying much attention to the moon, which was still glowing like a lighthouse as they turned down Peeples Street and pulled up in front of their house. The huge magnolia that dominated their front yard looked ghostly against the night sky.
“I would hate that,” Regina said, leaning her head against his shoulder as they started up the front walk, arm in arm.
“Hate what, baby?”
“Vampires in West End.”
Blue laughed softly and opened the big front door. “That will never happen.”
“How can you be so sure?” she said, stepping out of her heels.
“Because these vampires know I don’t play that stuff.”
“Good,” she said, nuzzling his neck, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a great big yawn.
“You still good till midnight?”
“Absolutely!” she said, heading upstairs. “Don’t keep me waiting!”
The water felt good against her skin as she took a quick shower, while Blue closed up the house for the night. Slipping under the sheets wearing nothing but her favorite perfume, she wondered what it would feel like to be in love with Blue and not be able to make love to him. She doubted that she could do it, no matter what the risks might be.
She shivered a little at the cool cotton sheets against her skin.
Good thing I don’t believe in vampires
. She yawned sleepily and closed her eyes, listening for Blue’s footsteps in the hallway, never knowing that by the time he slid in beside her, she was already snoring softly, one arm laid protectively across the gentle swell of her belly, smiling and dreaming.…
Serena thought, taking one last look in the mirror.
They have recognized how good I am at what I do!
She was known for her patience, her ability to wait her turn, but the last thing she needed was one more boring modeling assignment. Finally, they had handed her something she could really sink her teeth into. It was about time. Six feet tall
stepping into her five-inch, stiletto-heel boots and startlingly slender, Serena had a strange, otherworldly beauty that she enhanced by pulling her long, dark hair away from her face, emphasizing her high, sharp cheekbones, her almond-shaped eyes, and the bright red slash of her mouth, always painted crimson.