Authors: Mary Monroe
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
Thanks to David Akamine and Sheila Cunningham Sims for the emotional support. Thanks to Maria “Felice” Sanchez and Anita “Wuzzle” Sanchez for being my friends and for keeping me grounded.
Ann Agnew, you still owe me lunch but I'll mention you anyway.
Thanks to my literary agent, Andrew Stuart (The Stuart Agency). I wouldn't trade you for the world.
When I prayed to land the best editor for me, God sent me Karen Thomas. Much love and respect to everyone at Kensington Books. I couldn't have asked for a better publisher.
Thanks to Black Expressions Book Club for featuring my novels as main selections. Thanks to the reading book clubs, bookstores, magazines, radio stations, newspapers and everyone else for supporting my work. Thanks to Peggy Hicks for organizing my book tours and to the many wonderful people I met as I dragged myself from one city to the next. A very special thank-you to the nice folks in Nashville who stuffed me with so much good food!
ex was one thing I could always count on to cause trouble in my life.
The nightmare that led me from Barberton, Mississippi, to San Francisco began last April. In each city I had allowed the wrong man to control me with sex. I went from being a naive, lovesick country girl to a high-priced call girl.
Larry Holmes must have gotten his wife and me pregnant the same night because nine months later, she and I ended up in the same hospital on the same day to give birth to his babies. But that wasn't bad enough. I didn't even know that the man I'd been sleeping with for more than a year had a wife, until she coldcocked me in the parking lot at Jupiter's Discount Department Store one afternoon five days ago.
Other than that vicious assault, there was nothing unusual about that day. It was a Friday, the chosen day of my workweek that I usually called in “sick,” so I could start my weekend early. I did this about every eight weeks. My high-maintenance relationship with Larry required a lot of my time. And even though I needed my mundane job at the Department of Motor Vehicles, I couldn't let it interfere with my plans. It had taken me too long to find happiness and true love. Except for death, nothing was going to stand in my way. I was not just a woman in love; I was a fool in love.
But at thirty-three and still single, you would have thought that I was blind, too. Because, so far, I had refused to acknowledge the red flags that Larry frequently waved in my face. Like him never taking me to his apartment or even letting me know where he lived. And, he would only allow me to call him at work or on his cell phone.
Larry had me right where he wanted me: in the dark. I couldn't see the light even though it was right in my face. It was a sad position to be in at my age. But like I said, I was a fool in love.
One of the reasons for my condition was Larry made me feel special. He'd missed a day's work without pay to paint my apartment, he worked on my car for free, and he often accompanied me to movies I knew he would hate.
“Girl, we are the only Black folks sittin' up in this theater,” he'd complained with a chuckle and a loud yawn, the night I dragged him to see
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
“We can sneak into that race car movie next door,” I said, pouting.
“Uh-uh, baby. This is the movie
wanted to see. All I care about is pleasin' you. Just wake me up when it's over.”
That's the kind of talk he used to keep me in my place. And it worked.
It took a lot of energy to make a relationship work, and I was one hard-working woman. I figured that if I put a lot into it, I'd get a lot out of it. I didn't even mind lending money to Larry because he always paid me back when he said he would. Even though he often borrowed the same amount of money the next day! I had girlfriends who did even more for their men, so I didn't think that I was doing anything out of the ordinary.
Not long after I'd made the well-rehearsed call to my supervisor's voice mail, complete with a weak voice and a hacking cough, Larry had come by my apartment on his way to work for a “wake-up call.” Our sex life was so good we'd named it. I looked forward to our wake-up calls, which, by the way, sounded a lot better to me than the crude and overused term “booty call” that so many of the people I knew used. And I didn't wait for Larry to approach me; I requested wake-up calls as often as he did.
Since Larry had stopped trying to talk me into getting an abortion, and was now helping me choose a name for our baby, I thought he was as happy as I was about me being pregnant. He didn't care how bloated and lopsided my face was, or how swollen my ankles were as I splashed around naked in the shower with him that morning.
“Lula Mae, uh, I don't know if I can make it back this evenin' for dinner. Myâ¦uhâ¦cousins from D.C. are still at the house, see,” Larry told me, tapping my navel and then rubbing the base of my belly with the palm of his hand. “They wanna go out to dinner again before they leave.”
Since Larry made so many sacrifices for me, I didn't like to badger him too much. But when he disappointed me, I felt I had a right to let him know.
“Don't you want me to go with y'all?” I whined. “I would like to meet some of your relatives.”
Larry tickled my chin and kissed my forehead. Then he spoke to me in the same slow, controlled way I'd heard him speak to foreigners who didn't fully understand our language. “Now, baby, you better stay home and get some rest. Me and my cousins are drivin' all the way to Biloxi, and you know how carsick you get these days. After you have the baby, I'll take you up to D.C., honest to God.” I felt like a docile immigrant when he added, “Do I make myself clear?”
I gave Larry a weak nod, but with my bottom lip poked out. A slight grin decorated my face as I slid my hand between Larry's hard, soapy thighs. I started giving him a hand job, something we often had to settle for lately. My backaches, cramps, spotting, and other discomforts associated with the advanced stages of pregnancy had temporarily stopped us from fucking like dogs.
“If you don't want me to go, why don't you bring your cousins over here? I got enough food to feed an army. And, like I said, I would like to meet some of your family,” I suggested, praying that Larry would at least offer to come back to my place after taking his cousins to dinner.
As much as Larry liked my cooking, I often ended up alone, eating elaborate meals that I had prepared to share with him. Those were the most miserable nights of my life. But I wouldn't get mad at him; I'd just get drunk. Then I'd eat everything I'd cooked and sit by the telephone waiting like a lovesick tiger in a tree for him to call.
I never knew what was going on in Larry's head, but marriage was on my mind after our first night together. It was a subject he avoided like the racist cops who got their kicks by harassing Black men for no reason at all. Whenever I brought up marriage, Larry wasted no time changing the subject, but not before giving me a list of excuses. Even though we had been together more than a year, he had decided that we didn't know each other well enough, he couldn't afford a wife, and he was not ready for a lifetime commitment.
I turned off the shower and repeated my last question with a slight variation.
“Can't you bring your cousins over here for dinner to eat some of my mustard greens, gumbo, corn bread, and pork chops?” I held my breath and waited.
For a moment I thought I had him hooked, the way his eyes froze. Then he came out of his trance, shaking his head so hard his wet hair whipped the side of my face. The water from the shower and his sweat made his face look like it had been glazed. I wanted to lick him dry, but I didn't because the red flag he waved this time was so big I could have used it for a towel.
“That's all right!” Larry said, talking so fast he almost choked on his words. He stumbled away from me, forcing my hand to slide away from his crotch. “Uh, I don't want you to go to all that trouble.” He started groping for a towel, his eyes on everything in my bathroom but me. His erection had disappeared within a matter of seconds.
“Well, if you change your mind, y'all can all come over anyway. And I'll go ahead and cook this evenin', after I get back from the mall. Just in case y'all do make it over here,” I decided. I was so disappointed, my head began to ache. But that didn't stop me from arousing Larry again. I finished him with my tongue. He held my head in place with both hands, moaning like he was the one with the headache.
He was still moaning when I dried him off. “Lula Mae, I swear to God, you so good to me, girl,” he said, smacking his lips and patting my crotch. I followed him to my bedroom and watched him slide back into his work clothes. “You sure know how to make a man feel like a man.
“And I can be even better to you, if you'd let me,” I purred, grinning so hard my cheeks ached. “My daddy is scared to death he won't live long enough to see me get married,” I confessed.
Larry sat down on the side of my bed, grunting as he wiggled his feet into his shoes. I squatted in front of him and tied his shoelaces. Except for the large beach towel draped around my shoulders that I had used to blot Larry dry, I was still naked. A cool breeze coming in from an open window in my bedroom made me shiver.
Larry's warm body suddenly felt cold and rigid, but not from the breeze. His eyes stopped moving. It seemed like a very long time for a person not to even blink. Then he let out a deep breath and finally shifted his eyes, blinking so hard it almost made me dizzy. “Girl, how many times do I have to tell you, I ain't ready for no family?” I had never seen him so upset.
“Well, the only difference between us and a married couple is we don't live together,” I whined. “I don't want to end up like my mama.” Larry stood from the side of my bed so fast, I almost fell. Stumbling up, I followed him to the mirror behind my bedroom door, watching him rake his fingers through his damp, curly brown hair. “And if we lived together, we'd save money on rent,” I added.
I couldn't ignore the look of contempt on Larry's face as he glared at me in the mirror. “Look, woman, I didn't come over here this mornin' for you to be naggin' me like a fishwife,” he told me, still raking his hair. “Why you wanna spoil things by bringin' up marriage all the time? Shit. All my married friends that ain't already divorced, they miserable as hell.” He grunted, whirling around to face me. With his voice humming with rage, he went on. “I couldn't love you no more, if we was married, than I do now. So let's leave things the way they are. Besides, it's more fun this way, ain't it?”
I nodded, even though I didn't agree.
Larry sighed and looked around the room. Then he sniffed and looked back at me with his eyebrows raised. The smile that usually brought me to my knees popped up on his face. “A cup of coffee sure would be nice,” he hinted in a soft voice, tickling my chin and kissing my forehead again.
I sniffed and trotted to the kitchen. Like an obedient servant, I returned a few minutes later and handed Larry a cup of coffee. It was black and strong, the way he liked his women. I didn't feel so strong anymore. I plopped down on the bed next to him, lying on my side, looking like an overturned cement truck. My swollen belly was hanging off the side of the bed. Larry reached over and rubbed my stomach.
“Put on some clothes, woman,” he ordered. “I can't have you catchin' pneumonia while you carryin' my baby.”
I snatched my robe off the foot of the bed and wrapped it around me as I walked Larry to the door. He kissed me long and hard before he left. I cracked my front door open just far enough for me to watch him until he reached his car parked in front of my building. Without looking back, he jumped into his dusty blue Thunderbird and shot off down the street.
I stood in my doorway a few more minutes, with the cool air teasing my face, wondering why I was feeling so apprehensive. I had used all of my paid sick leave, so I was missing a day's work without pay. Normally, when I played hooky from work, Larry would slip away from his job two or three times that day to spend a little time with me. The thrill of doing something so sneaky kept me from getting bored. But I was also being careless and jeopardizing my job. One day as Larry and I waltzed out of a trendy cafÃ© on the boardwalk, holding hands like newlyweds, we bumped into Gloria Fisher, one of my meddlesome coworkers on her lunch hour. She greeted me with a loud, snide remark. “Lula, you better go home and get in the bed before you get even sicker!” That little incident caused me to be more discreet. Larry and I decided to spend our time in my apartment making love, eating snacks, watching music videos, and drinking.
I cursed Larry's cousins from D.C. These creeps had begun to pay him surprise visits once or twice a month, and it had gotten on my last nerve. Since Larry had refused to let me meet them, they had begun to sound like phantoms. I didn't know their names, what they looked like, or how many of these mysterious demons I was dealing with. I didn't even know if they were male or female. I made up my mind right then and there in my doorway, with my bathrobe open and my naked body getting colder by the minute, that when I saw Larry again, I'd insist on meeting these greedy intruders. I had too much time invested in Larry to let somebody I didn't even know throw a monkey wrench into my life.
After I left Jupiter's, the only department store at the only mini mall we had, I entered the parking lot with two shopping bags full of items for the nursery I'd fixed up in my apartment. Three cars over, two Black women in their mid-twenties crawled out of a dark brown van that reminded me of those coffee-colored UPS trucks. And that reminded me of Larry, because he worked for UPS. Every time I thought about my man, I smiled.
I was smiling when the two women started strutting toward me as I struggled to load my packages into the backseat of my Toyota. They were both nut-brown, with the same big, shiny black eyes, but the scowls on their faces were so severe, I couldn't tell if they were pretty or not.
“Yeah, that's her! That's that whorin' Black bitch!” one of the women hollered, pointing in my direction as I closed my back car door with my foot. Naturally, I thought she was talking about somebody else so I proceeded to open my driver's door. “I'm talkin' to you, slut!” the woman added. Like an angry soldier, she marched toward me, the heels of her clogs click-clacking against the hot concrete.
My head whirled around so hard and fast my neck made a popping noise. “Whatâare you talkin' to
” I asked, wide-eyed and annoyed, pointing at my chest with my finger. My pregnancy was responsible for all kinds of unattractive surprises and I noticed for the first time that my fingers looked like bloated Vienna sausages. A sharp pain that started at the base of my neck shot all the way down to the bottom of my back. I felt dizzy as I leaned back on my legs, breathing through my mouth.