Ducking the landlord had become a skill for Tammy around this time of the month. She watched as Mr. Louis pulled up; but he didn't get out of his car right away. That gave her just enough time to creep away from the living room window, grab her five-month-old baby girl, Sinniyyah, and head upstairs to her bedroom.
“Come on, NaNa. Don't start ya stuff,” she whispered to her daughter, seeing that she was becoming a little fussy. It was a good thing that her son, Anthony, was in daycare, because he always played loudly in the house.
It was the first of the month and rent was due, and Mr. Louis didn't play any games about his money. He wanted it on the first, or no later than the fifth, and if you didn't have it by then, a late fee of one hundred dollars would be added to the rent. He didn't care what the situation was.
Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock! Mr. Louis banged on the door.
Tammy kept Sinniyyah as quiet as she could while hoping he would leave, but he didn't. Instead, he whipped out his cell phone and dialed Tammy's number.
The loud ringing sound of her phone going off downstairs startled her and Sinniyyah.
She knew she had forgotten something. She had meant to turn her ringer off. She knew now that there was no way Mr. Louis would leave because if her cell phone was inside, there was a 100 percent chance that she was also.
Realizing that her cover had been blown, Tammy decided to go downstairs and face him. Hopefully he would understand her situation and give her more time to come up with the rent money.
As she began to turn the knob with Sinniyyah in her arms, she put on her game face before fully opening the door. “Hey, Mr. Louis. I thought I heard somebody at the door, but I was upstairs about to put my baby down for a nap,” she quickly lied.
The expression on Mr. Louis's face said that he wasn't buying it, or didn't care. “Look, Tammy. I'm tired of having to come by here and hassle you for my money every month. Now either you can pay your rent on time, or you need to find another place to stay. I'm not running no charity house for women here.”
Tammy knew that Mr. Louis was somewhat right, and you could tell this by the shame she had on her face. She hated not being able to pay her rent or other bills on time. It seemed lately that this was the same struggle every month. The math just didn't add up. With only currently having a part-time job, she pretty much lived off of welfare, which only gave her $650 cash assistance every month for two kids, including daycare, and $300 in food stamps. The rent for the three-bedroom house was $500 a month by itself, and that included only water. All the other bills were her responsibility alone, and by the time she did get paid from her part-time job at Walmart, the bills had soaked up every dime that she made.
“And where is that nigga of yours? He can't give you the money?” Mr. Louis asked.
Breaking Tammy from her thoughts, the image of Chris momentarily shot through her mind. But as of right now he couldn't help her, so she quickly brushed that thought away. “He's not around right now, Mr. Louis, which is why it's been so difficult for me. I'm trying to do all this on my own and it's tough,” she said with a sad face, hoping that it would draw some sympathy from her landlord.
But Mr. Louis's eyes were feasting on Tammy's breasts, more specifically her nipples that were protruding through the thin T-shirt she had on. She didn't have on a bra, so he could clearly see the darkness of her nipples. “Well, you're a pretty enough girl, and I think I could help you out and give you some more time to come up with the rent.”
“Thank you so much, Mr. Louis! If you could just give me until next week I'm sureâ”
“Wait a minute, young lady! Mr. Louis just offered to help you and you don't offer anything in return? Now don't tell me you're a taker and not a giver. You know it don't work like that,” Mr. Louis spoke, cutting Tammy off midsentence.
Tammy knew that it sounded too good to be true, and now she understood what Mr. Louis was getting at. “Mr. Louis, I know you don't think I'm having sex with you just to get some more time on my rent!” she said, already knowing the answer.
“What kind of man do you think I am? It wouldn't just be for your rent. I would throw in a couple dollars so you could have some money in your pockets. Besides, I would hate to see you and them babies sitting out front with all your furniture. So, you just give my offer some thought, or get my money to me by the end of this week.” He turned and walked out.
Tammy was about to cuss him out, when she heard her phone ringing again. It was around 2:00 p.m., so she was hoping it was the call she had been waiting for all day. She looked at the screen and the number was blocked, so that meant only two things to her. One: it was a bill collector; or two: it was Chris, her kids' father calling from jail. Praying that it was the latter, she answered it, but didn't say hello right away just in case she had to hang up.
“You have a prepaid call . . .” the operator announced into the phone.
Tammy quickly pushed 5 to accept it. This phone call was right on time, because she really needed to talk to him.
Chris was like everything to Tammy. They had been together since they were teenagers, and the love that they had for one another was unbreakable. They'd been together for a little more than seven years, and day for day, Chris took care of her in every way imaginable, all the way up until he got locked up five months ago.
“What's up, babe?” Chris asked, putting his back up against the wall.
“Ducking and dodging Mr. Louis,” she responded with a little humor while looking out the window to make sure he was gone. She knew she could never tell Chris what Mr. Louis had proposed to her. If she did, he would be going right back to jail, for murder this time. Tammy knew how much he loved her, and he would never tolerate that type of disrespect to her from anybody.
Chris sighed loudly into the phone. “It won't be much longer. I'll be home soon,” he said, trying to make Tammy feel a little better. “How're my babies?”
Tammy gave him a rundown, but it probably wasn't what he wanted to hear. They needed stuff too, things that she couldn't provide at the moment. The everyday struggle was hard, and the only thing that she could do about it was roll with the punches until something better came along.
“Look, I'll holla at my folks when I get off of the phone with you. You'll have some money by the end of the week,” Chris told her. Beyond all the jokes and all the seriousness behind Tammy's voice, he could hear the pain inside of her. It kind of made him feel less of a man, hearing his woman and his children in distress and not being able to do anything about it. Yeah, his family had mad love for Tammy and the kids. And they were doing as much as they could for her, but it was nothing like having Chris around. With him, she didn't have any stress or worries, at least financially.
* * *
Falisha jumped into Kim's car with an excited look on her face. Kim looked back at her best friend with a curious gaze, knowing she was up to something. “What are you thinking?” she asked, hesitating before pulling off.
“You know how Lamar is always talking about how he has a job? I think we should follow his ass today to see if he really does,” Falisha joked, but Kim knew she was dead serious.
Lamar, Kim, Falisha, Tammy, Lisa, and Ralphy were the best of friends. They'd all known one another since preschool, and they all had lived on Parker Street for most of their lives. Lamar was like Tommy from the TV show
He always said he had a job, but nobody ever believed him because he never revealed where the job was or who he worked for. That and he was always available to do lunch or dinner at the drop of a dime.
Falisha, who never could control her desires to mind other people's business, was so curious to know where Lamar worked that she would stop at nothing to find out the truth.
“Girl, you're crazy as hell! I'm not following that nigga around all day.” Kim chuckled.
“Come on, please!” Falisha begged. “If you do this for me, I promise I'll do the double date thing with you and that guy you met on Instagram,” she bargained.
Kim had to think about that offer. She did need somebody to go with her to meet up with Ron. He was cute, and his Instagram was popular, and out of the hundreds of people who followed him, he claimed that he only wanted to go out with her. She was going to go out with him just as long as she could bring a friend to help whoop his ass if he turned out to be crazy. Kim thought about it for a minute before responding. “All right, it's a deal. But ya ass better be ready to go with me tomorrow night!” she jokingly threatened.
Deep down inside Kim had to admit that she too was curious as to where Lamar worked. She had pictured him in all kinds of uniforms: UPS, a security guard, a fast food joint. Because of his muscular build, she even thought that he could be a bouncer at a club. The thing was, she or Falisha wouldn't know for sure until they followed him, and that was now the mission they were on.
* * *
Tammy didn't even open the bills that fell through the mail slot of her front door. She didn't have any way to pay them right now anyway. Her welfare check didn't come until the third of the month, which was two long days away, and her Walmart check didn't come until Friday.
The mail she did open up was the mail from the welfare office. She wished she hadn't, though. It was her case manager writing to tell her that her cash assistance had been discontinued, and that she needed to come down to the office and file child support papers in order to keep getting any assistance. “It's always some shit!” she said, tossing the letter onto the table and grabbing her cell phone.
Now definitely wasn't the time to be playing around with that money, especially with Mr. Louis being on her mind with the rent due. It was times like this when she wished that Chris was home. Financially, he stayed on top of his game. He wasn't rich, but he was doing well for himself to the point where every bill in the house, including the rent, was like pocket money to him. It was easy for him, and Tammy was too used to being spoiled. That's why stepping up to this type of responsibility was hard.