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Lil Mama's Rules

A Novel

About The Book

Meet Madison Maguire -- a modern-day heroine to embrace and admire. She's feisty, gorgeous, smart, and savvy; on the surface, she appears to have it all. She's single and loving it, playing the field and sticking to the rules of dating she's learned through life's tough breaks. Madison holds her own as she fends off advances from two-bit actors, old flames, and a secret admirer who is determined to bring love into her life.
The rules of the game change, however, when Mr. Right appears on the scene. But just as Madison is ready to follow the proddings of her heart, her life turns upside-down, forcing her to learn a whole new set of rules about love, loss, and trust.


Chapter 1

Rule number one: Never invite them back to your place. Once a man gets into your home it's all over. It's like something clicks inside his head and he starts thinking he's in paradise. Starts smiling and looking all around with his eyes bulging out his head as if he just hit the lottery and landed his ass in heaven. What he's really doing is marking his territory, just like a dog who's found his favorite spot and pisses on it.

I'm usually a stickler about my dating rules, but for some reason I slipped up this evening and allowed Terrence, with his pretty self, to come up to my condo, and now I'm sitting here on the edge of the sofa wondering when, if ever, he's gonna get out. I knew something was up when he pulled his car in front of my building and turned off the engine. I should've just said good-bye and jumped out, but I sat for a second too long, which gave Terrence just enough time to ask me if he could come in and use my bathroom. Damn. I rolled my eyes as I reached for the door handle, thinking, Can't you hold it till you get back to your own apartment? But Terrence got to squirming and squenching his knees together like some three-year-old toddler who was about to burst, so I decided to cut the brother a break and let him come in.

Big mistake.

Once we got up to my condo it was plain to see that Terrence didn't really have to use the bathroom at all. That was just a lie he made up so he could get his narrow behind into my house, where he's been now for the past hour, and from the looks of things he's not going to be leaving anytime too soon.

And to think, for a second there I thought Terrence might be my secret admirer. Not. He's too stupid to be that romantic, I thought to myself as I stared down at the sterling silver bracelet on my wrist. My secret admirer sent it to me on Monday and I still can't believe it. I've actually got a secret admirer. I thought this kind of thing only happened in the movies, or bad romance novels. Guess I thought wrong. Anyway, my secret admirer has been romancing me all month long. Every day, a new anonymous package arrives for me at my office, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out who has been sending them. Like I said, I thought it might have been Terrence, but I showed him my bracelet over dinner and he barely blinked an eye. Besides, being a secret admirer would be out of character for Terrence with his pretty ass. He's too into himself to flatter anyone else. To tell the truth, I don't have a clue about who's sending me all these gifts. I've called every guy I've ever known and asked him if he's the one, but they all say no. Somebody's lying. But every day, the gifts keep coming. This week alone, my secret admirer has sent me this bracelet, a box of Mrs. Fields cookies, a red silk camisole, and a fern. But never is there a card or a return address or anything to tip me in the direction of finding out who is sending me all these things.

I don't know how long I can stand being in the dark about this. When I think about it, it's really kind of weird. I'm starting to think that maybe I don't even know the person who's doing this at all. I mean, I know a lot of guys, but none of them have this much flair about themselves, or at least I don't think they do. Maybe my secret admirer doesn't even know who I am. Maybe I'm just someone he saw walking down the street. Maybe he's a rich oil baron who has decided to sweep me off my feet by sending endless gifts. Or maybe he's a psychotic killer. I mean, this is L.A. The guy could be some deranged freakazoid who's been watching me for years. Maybe he's trying to set me up or something. He'll send me gifts until he goes broke, then one day he'll show up at my office door with a bunch of receipts and a sawed-off shotgun and demand his money and threaten to kill me...Okay, okay. That probably won't happen, but I'm just saying, in L.A. you never know.

Anyway one thing is for damn sure. My secret admirer is not pretty boy Terrence. Just look at him. Done made himself right at home. The first thing he did when he walked through the door was head for the refrigerator. I hadn't even turned on the lights and already he had his big, hairy hands wrapped around my last diet Coke. Well I'll be damned, I said to myself as I watched him from the doorway. I was planning on taking that Coke with me to work tomorrow, and here he was popping it open and putting his fat lips around it like he was the one who'd clipped out the coupon from the Sunday Times and gone to the store and bought the case of soda and lugged it back home up three flights of stairs because the elevator was out. Well, I thought to myself, I'll just be damned.

"Nice place you got here, Madison," he said, walking through the living room and looking at everything as if he was casing the joint. Then his beady eyes spotted my new leather recliner, where he proceeded to plop his sloppy ass down. He tossed his leg over the arm of the chair, grabbed the remote control off the table next to him, turned on the television set, and made himself really comfortable. Too comfortable. As if he was the one who'd spent two weekends in a row going from mall to mall looking for the perfect recliner and big-screen TV that would fit just perfectly in the living room while not taking up too much space and looking too gaudy. How dare he? I thought and squinted my eyes. No really, how dare he?

I stood in the doorway watching as he flipped through all one hundred and twenty channels of my cable system, and thought to myself, This fool must be crazy. Who did he think he was, barging into my place and taking over? This was my damn condo, that was my damn recliner, my remote control, my TV, and that was my last damn diet Coke! I was pissed and I wanted Terrence to be gone and this whole date to be over with. I don't even know why I went out with him in the first place. He's not my type. He's one of those damn pretty boys. Handsome, wavy hair, manicured nails, uses more skin products than I do -- just pretty. Prettier than me. Terrence is definitely fine, and if I'm honest with myself, which I try never to be, I'll have to admit that Terrence's fineness is the reason why I accepted his date in the first place. When I first saw him jogging on the trail at Cheviot Hills Park I knew I had to meet him. He was jogging about ten feet in front of me and all I did for about twenty minutes was watch his butt bounce and wonder what it might take for a little woman like me to get my hands around a piece of meat like that. I couldn't catch up to him so I did the next best thing, the only thing an intelligent woman who hadn't had sex in a while could do -- I faked an ankle sprain, screamed, and hit the dirt. It was overly dramatic, but it worked, and Terrence stopped jogging and ran back to help me up. "Ooch, ooch, hurt, hurt," I whimpered as he bent over my ankle, giving me ample opportunity to check out his perfectly perfect body. He was wearing a pair of biker shorts with a pair of running shorts over them and no shirt. The butt was tight, the abs were tighter, and the pecs were popping straight out at me like they knew me personally. I swear I thought his chest was calling my name -- Madison, Madison. Touch me, Madison -- and I almost did, until I remembered that I was supposed to be hurt and went back to faking pain. "It hurts so bad," I cooed.

Terrence was kind enough to help me back to my car, and by the time we'd gotten there he'd asked me out. I've always been a sucker for a good body, so I let the fact that Terrence was a pretty boy slide, even though after further examination I could swear it looked like he'd had a nose job, and the more I looked at his perfect pecs, the more I suspected they might be implants too. But anyway, he was fine and I wanted to get to know him, so I accepted his invitation for a date.

Big mistake.

He took me out to my favorite Mexican restaurant, which was a plus, but all he did all night long was talk about himself -- a big negative. By the time our food arrived at our table, Terrence had gone on and on about how he was a model slash actor who was up for a big part in one of Spike Lee's new joints. But after dinner and about three strawberry margaritas, the real truth came out, which was that he'd only posed for one picture in his whole entire life, and the big part in the film he was up for was as an extra in a mall scene. Whoever said liquor will bring out the truth did not lie. I hardly talked at all during dinner, not because I didn't have anything to say, but because Terrence wouldn't give me a chance. Even after he confessed the truth about his bullshit career, he wouldn't shut his mouth long enough for me to get a word in edgewise. He talked nonstop about all the celebrities he'd met on auditions he'd gone to over the years, as if that would make up for the fact that he was still just another wanna-be actor who couldn't get a part in a film even if it was the autobiography of his own life.

He did shut up long enough to gaze into my eyes for a few minutes between stories. He was so fine that even though he was boring me to death, I couldn't help but smile and gaze back at his beautiful almond-shaped eyes and fantasize about how he'd look in a leopard skin G-string. Until, that is, he frowned up his nose and asked, "Is that a pimple or a blackhead on your cheek?"

I almost choked on the tortilla chip I'd just put in my mouth. It's a pimple, you little punk, I thought and tried to smile my embarrassment away. I'd thought putting a little black eyeliner over it would make it look like a beauty mark, but leave it to Mr. Pretty Boy to see through my Cindy Crawford impersonation and call me on it. Asshole. He even had the nerve to reach into his coat pocket and pull out a business card from his dermatologist.

"You might consider getting a chemical peel," he said and placed the card next to my balled-up fist on the table. "He also specializes in liposuction," he said and ever so slightly glanced around the table at my thighs.

I was speechless and embarrassed and mad as hell. He looked so perfect that I couldn't come back with an insult for him, so I just gritted my teeth, called over the waiter, and ordered another Midori margarita, an extra order of chips and guacamole, a side of beans and rice, and a shot of Triple Sec. By the time I got finished with Terrence I'd run the bill up to over eighty dollars and had eaten so much that I felt like I was going to pop clear out of my DKNY tailored suit. That'll teach Terrence to insult me, I thought and watched him squirm when it came time to pay the waiter. Needless to say, by the time we left the restaurant I was ready for the date to be over. I didn't want to see Terrence's perfect face ever again, and although I'd dreamt for a week about getting him in bed, I didn't want him anywhere near me anymore and I sure as hell didn't want him in my home, making himself comfy and invading my private sanctuary and drinking my last damn diet Coke. I hated to be rude, but I wanted him out and I wanted him out right now.

"Excuse me," I said, strolling through the living room like everything was peachy keen. "The bathroom is right down the hall," I said, pointing over my shoulder.

"Oh thanks, Madison," he said without even looking in my direction. "I just wanna catch this last couple minutes of ER. I was up for the role of the black doctor, you know. I coulda had that role, man. I shoulda had that role."

Yeah right, I thought, walking closer to him. "But I thought you had to go to the bathroom so badly," I said and watched this no-mannered SOB set his dripping wet soda can on the arm of my brand-new recliner.

"Ssh," he said and waved me off as he stared at the television.

Ssh, I thought to myself and eyed Terrence with a look that, if he had been paying me any attention, would have made him jump up and run for his life. Ssh? No, I didn't just get shushed in my own damn condo, I thought to myself as I felt an overwhelming urge to slap him on the back of his peanut-shaped head. I walked over to the coffee table, picked up a coaster, and threw it at him. "That's for the soda," I said and sat on the sofa across from him, wishing I'd aimed the coaster at his head.

"Thanks, babe."

Babe? Did he just call me babe? Whatever, Terrence, I thought and tried to keep calm. I crossed my legs and folded my arms across my chest and silently cursed myself out for not sticking to my dating rules and allowing this goon into my home. If I'd just stuck to my rules Terrence would not be here and I could be in my own damn recliner, flipping my own damn remote and sipping my own damn diet Coke -- the diet Coke thing was really pissing me off. Instead I'm stuck here staring at the side of Terrence's big head and wishing I'd had this condo booby-trapped with hidden doors so I could push a button and make him disappear. But it's all my fault. See, I made up the dating rules for my own protection, which is why rule number one is: Never invite them back to your place. I'm a single woman living by myself in Los Angeles, California. A girl can never be too careful in a place like this, where every man you meet is a potential serial killer. I've never had a date nut up and turn psycho on me, but you never know. I mean, Terrence could suddenly get pissed off because he didn't get that part on ER and go crazy. He could pull out a gun, blow the TV away, then grab me and lock me in a closet and torture me for weeks with boring stories of how he and Gary Coleman used to kick it together, until I'd beg for him to blow my brains out. Okay, okay, that probably won't happen, but I'm just saying, in L.A. you never know.

My dating rules are mainly for my own peace of mind, so I don't have to put up with shit that I don't like. Take rule number fifteen, for instance: Never date a man who wears white dress shoes or white belts. Ugh! That means he has no sense of style whatsoever and may show up for a date wearing a light blue checkered suit or a bow tie or some other out-of-date shit like that. Then there's rule number six: Never date a man who's shorter than you. I don't care what anyone says, but to me when a woman is taller than her man it looks crazy. It's okay for some people, but it always makes me feel like I'm the guy's mother instead of his date, and I for one find it hard to get in a romantic mood when every time the guy asks me for a kiss he has to stand up on his tippy toes. And too tall guys are out of the question as well. To me, anybody over six foot five is a freak. It's unnatural to be that damn big. I've never understood why people make fun of dwarfs but somebody like Shaquille O'Neal is a sex symbol. The guy's a giant. What's so cute about that? That's why dating rule number six point five is: Never go out with anyone who has to bend over to get through a door. Those guys may be attractive to some women, but to me it's just not natural.

But what I don't like the most is dealing with company when what I truly want to do is be alone. That's why "Never invite them back to your place" is at the top of my dating rules list. I like my solitude. I don't like people around me. I like balance and order. I'm an organized person and I believe there is a proper way to do everything, including dating. I've found over the years that men are ornery, dangerous creatures, and unless you have precise methods for dealing with them, they can turn your life upside down. Now, I don't mean to male-bash, but I just gotta tell it like it is. Men are bozos basically, and it takes an intelligent woman with an equally intelligent plan of action to navigate through the swamp of the male species and stay above water. And when done properly, dating can be a pleasant, harmless experience. But tonight is my own damn fault.

I thought my prayer that Terrence would find it in his heart to cut a sister a break and get his peanut head up and out of my damn house had been answered when the closing credits to ER popped up on the screen. I felt like jumping for joy when I saw him stretch out his legs and prepare to get up. Finally, I thought, I can have my home all to myself. Oh what joy, oh what splendor -- oh what is this fool doing? Just as Terrence was about to get up, he grabbed the remote control again and started flipping through the channels. I could've screamed. I thought he was gone, bye-bye, adios, au revoir, arrivederci, see ya when I see ya. But no, apparently Terrence had found his new home in my recliner and he wasn't about to give it up. It was all I could do to keep myself from getting ugly and jumping in his face and yelling, "Get out!" I'm usually not this nice with men I can't stand, but for some reason I didn't go off on Terrence, though it was taking every ounce of self-restraint I had in me not to. I don't know if it was because I was feeling bad for running up the dinner bill so high when I knew that Terrence didn't have a steady job, or if it was because I'd had one too many margaritas and my reflexes were numb. Whatever it was, Terrence had lucked out, but if he had any brains, he'd realize that my niceness wouldn't last for too long. But Terrence wasn't that smart. He just continued flipping the channels until he found a show he liked, then put down the remote and sank back into the cushions of the recliner.

"Twilight Zone, babe," he said as the theme music came blasting through the speakers.

"You're telling me," I said and got up from the sofa and stomped out the room.

I stormed into the bathroom and slammed the door behind me, promising myself that I would never break my dating rules again. The next time a man drops me off and starts talking that shit about using my bathroom I'm gonna direct his stupid ass to the nearest gas station and run for my life. No, better yet, I thought as I opened the bathroom door and ran to my bedroom. I opened my top dresser drawer and pulled out my little pink book. It was time to make some additions to my dating rules list. I grabbed a pen, then headed back to the bathroom and closed the door. I opened my little pink book to the back and began writing. Rule number thirty-two: Always take separate cars. That's a good one. That way the guy won't have to pick me up or drop me off and he'll never know where I live and never be able to invite himself into my private sanctuary, unless I decide that I want him here. And while I'm at it, let me add yet another rule. Rule number thirty-three: No more dating pretty boys. I like my men to look good, but when they look too good, most times they know it, which means they're conceited, and I simply don't have time to deal with men like Terrence who think it kosher to remind a woman that she has a pimple on her cheek. What kind of mess is that? And furthermore, I'm gonna add rule number thirty-four: No more staying out past ten o'clock on a weeknight. I'm getting too old for this shit. It's only a few minutes after midnight, but I'm tired as hell. I'm a working woman and I've got to be up at the crack of dawn. Staying out late was cool when I was in my twenties. I could stay out till the sun came up, come home, take a quick catnap, and be up and out the door to work without a bag under my eye or a yawn in my mouth. But now that I've reached the big three-O, I can't do that anymore. If I'm not in the bed by ten-thirty and asleep by eleven, I can forget about being a productive member of society the next day. Right about now I'm feeling like I could just fall out, and if it wasn't for the knucklehead in the other room I would be flanked in flannel and dreaming in the comfort of my brass bed and satin sheets. But no. I'm up and agitated, and as I look at myself in the mirror I get even more upset because the eyeliner I'd put on top of my pimple has rubbed off to reveal a big, red, swollen lump with just a touch of white gooky stuff in the center. Damn, I thought as I went on ahead and popped the darn thing. "Do I really need a chemical peel?" I mumbled and ran my hand across my face and checked myself out from every angle. "Hell no," I finally said and blew myself a kiss. I don't care what Terrence says, I know I look good for my age. Hell, I'm in my prime. And I don't need any liposuction either. Shit, I jog every weekend and take three step classes during the week, so whatever fat is still on my body after all that is meant to be there. Fuck Terrence with his pretty ass and his dermatology suggestions, I thought and turned on the faucet. I balled a piece of soap in my hands and began washing my face, until that is, I got some of the soap in my eyes and almost threw my arms out of their sockets as I flung them around in search of a towel. It was only fitting, considering the type of night I was having, that I couldn't find a towel because I'd taken them all out earlier to be washed, so I stuck my head in the sink and let the water run over my eyes until the burning stopped. Of course the water got in my ears and my mouth and ran up my nose and I couldn't breathe, and for a second there I was sure I was going to drown myself, which I figured would be the perfect ending to this mess of a night. Luckily for me, I was able to pull myself out of the death trap I'd gotten into, and after banging my head on all sides of the sink and knocking over the soap dish, I fell to the floor, gasping for air. Well I'll be damned, I said to myself as I grabbed ahold of the counter and pulled myself back up. Can this night get any worse?

When I looked into the mirror again, I almost screamed. My shoulder-length braids were soaking wet, the collar of my DKNY suit was dripping, and my eyes were swollen and looking as red as the big-ass pimple on my cheek. "Damn it all to heck," I said and tore myself out of my suit. I stepped out of my black patent DKNY pumps and picked up the bottle of DKNY perfume that had fallen to the floor in my tussle to free my head from the sink. I bent over and wrung out my braids and wrapped one of those squooshy hair bands around them. "This night has been a disaster," I said to myself as I closed the lid on the toilet and sat down. A big, fat disaster. The only good thing about tonight is that I got to eat at my favorite Mexican restaurant, but even that was starting to turn on me because now I've got gas like a diesel truck and it's stinking up this little bathroom so badly that I can't even sit in here any longer.

I got up and opened the door and headed for my bedroom, but before I got there, I stuck my head around the corner to peep into the living room at Terrence. Still there. Hadn't even changed his position. Damn. I hurried into my room and slammed the door behind me and threw my suit and shoes into a pile in the corner. Since I had on Calvin Klein underwear, I opened my dresser drawer and pulled out a CK T-shirt and a pair of CK boxer shorts and fell across my bed wondering when or if this date from the dark side would end.

It's nights like this that make me think that maybe I should just give up dating altogether. "Yeah right, Madison," I mumbled and stared up at the ceiling. That will never happen. I wouldn't know how to act if I didn't have a man on my arm at least two times a week. That's my damn problem. I like men too much. Even the ones that get on my nerves, like Terrence. As bad as this date has been with him, I know that if he were to ask me out again, I'd say yes. I know I should be pickier about the men I date, but I figure if the man is offering me a free meal and I don't have anything else to do, why not say yes? Hell, it beats sitting at home in front of the cable all by myself and nibbling on popcorn. My mother is always telling me that I should find myself one good man and stick with him, but for some reason I just can't do that. To be honest, I really don't want just one man. I don't want to be tied down and fall into some boring domestic routine, and I sure as hell don't want to be married. Fuck that. I don't believe in marriage. I don't care what anyone says; the whole institution of marriage is a joke. It's played out. Everyone I know who's gotten married has ended up getting a divorce, except for my aunt Farcie and uncle Frank, but they don't count 'cause they don't even screw anymore. They're only fifty years old and they sleep in separate beds, and whenever the family gets together they end up arguing over silly shit like who's gonna drive home. I swear, the last time we all had dinner at my mother's house they stood outside on the curb for fifteen minutes throwing the car keys back and forth at each other. I just stood in the window watching and laughing though it really wasn't funny. When I thought about it, it was actually sad. I can't figure out why anyone would stay married to someone they can't stand. Doesn't make any sense to me. I've never seen one totally blissful marriage in all my days, and I figure if I can't be happy with someone for the rest of my life, then I might as well stay on my own. Contrary to popular belief, there is no shortage of eligible black men, at least not that I can see. Women are always bitching about how hard it is to find a good man, but for me it's no problem at all. The only reason women have problems with men is because women are liars. They aren't looking for good men, they're looking for husbands. They don't want to go out on nice, fun dates, they want to set dates -- wedding dates. If women would just chill and accept men for who they are instead of all the time trying to lock themselves into serious relationships, they'd have no problem. Women only have trouble dating because every man they see is a man they want to marry. But not me. When I go out with a man all I want is a good time. I don't want to tie him down, I don't want commitments, and I damn sure don't want a husband. I'm quite content to be thirty and single, and regardless of what my mother says, I do not need a steady man in my life. What for? So he can come in and start ruling every damn thing? That's how men are. They're selfish by nature, and again, I don't mean to bash the male species as a whole, but I've got to tell it like it is. I've dated every kind of man there is and I have yet to find one who is willing to have a totally honest fifty-fifty relationship. Seventy-thirty, yes. Sixty-forty, yes. But fifty-fifty? Please. In all my years of dating, I've never found one man who I'd even halfway consider marrying....Okay, okay....I'm lying. There was this one guy, a long time ago. A very, very long time ago. But it was nothing serious....Okay, okay, I'm lying again. It was very serious. In fact we were engaged to be married. We were in love, and I was happy. Oh what joy, oh what splendor -- oh what a big, fucking joke.

His name was Christopher Anzel, and although it sickens me to admit it now, he was my first and only love. He was a beautiful man. Intelligent, thoughtful, hardworking, caring, and, oh yes, the brother was fine. Not pretty boy fine like Terrence out there, but chiseled, steak-eating, rugged, pass me a beer fine. But I didn't fall in love with Chris because of his fineness. It was the man underneath the chocolate skin, sexy eyes, and rock hard chest that got me hooked. Chris was...he was...Well, to tell the truth, the brother was a bit strange. We met when I was in my junior year at Loyola Marymount University and Chris had just transferred there from Chicago to complete his last year of medical residency at the university's Emergency Center. Neither one of us had much time for dating, but every time we saw each other zipping through the hallways at school we'd take a second to stop and chat. We'd barely talk for more than five minutes at a time, but somehow I knew Chris was something special. Maybe it was the way he always looked me dead in the eyes when we spoke, or maybe it was the way he always asked how I was doing and waited for my response like he really cared what my answer would be. Or maybe it was the strange way he spoke. He didn't have a lisp or anything like that. It was just his words. They were odd. I'd never heard a man use words the way Chris did. He'd say things like, "Hello, Madison. Isn't this a glorious day?" Glorious? How many brothers have you heard use that word before? Think about it. Not too many. But Chris was always saying kind things like that. He wasn't afraid to speak softly or from his heart. Chris was an eternal optimist. He often talked about things like faith and believing and miracles. I remember one afternoon when I ran into him as I was walking to class and freaking out over this big exam I was about to take. Chris stopped me, put his hand on my shoulder, and looked into my eyes as if he could plainly see every ounce of frustration that was brewing through my body. "Faith is the evidence of things not seen," he said. "Relax. Let the energy of the universe enter your soul. Close your eyes and inhale. Claim your right to succeed and the universe will do the rest."

So I'm standing there, right. I'm listening. I've got my eyes closed, I'm inhaling, and I'm thinking, Either this guy is higher than a helicopter, working overtime for the Psychic Friends Network, or just plain nuts. Or maybe I was the one who was nuts for standing in the middle of the hallway trying to snort a piece of the universe up my nose. "This is silly," I said and opened my eyes, but when I did I realized Chris was gone. I looked both ways down the hall, but he was nowhere to be seen, and for a second there I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. But since I didn't have the time or the brainpower to unravel the mysteries of the unknown, I went on to class and took my test and -- drum roll, please -- I aced it. It was a miracle. No really, it was. I'd gotten A's on tests before, but I hadn't even studied for that test, which was why I was so nervous and freaked out about taking it. Still, I pulled down an A, and the only logical explanation for it was that cosmic, metaphysical pep talk I'd had with Chris. I'm telling you, it was a miracle. Plain and simple.

After my exam was over, I ran over to the university's Emergency Center to hunt Chris down. I wanted to let him know the good news and to thank him for calming my nerves enough so that I could go into that classroom and ace that test. But when I found him sitting all alone in the Medical Center cafeteria, a bolder thought popped into my mind. I walked straight over to his table, leaned down, and planted two fat lips on his mouth. When I pulled away from him and waited for his response, I expected to hear more beautiful words. Something like, "Your kiss has sent chills through my soul," or, "The tantalizing taste of your lips is one that will never be forgotten." But much to my surprise, for once, Chris was tongue-tied. He swallowed hard and the only word he was able to muster was, "Damn." He pulled me back to him and kissed me again, and when it was all over he whispered, "It would bring me great pleasure if you would allow me to escort you on a date tonight."

Now, any other girl in her right mind would have said yes immediately, but I was reserved. It's not that I didn't like Chris, because I really did. It's just that when I first started college at Loyola, I'd made myself one promise, and that's that I would let nothing or no one distract me from getting my degree. In other words, that meant no dating. No dating. It was a hard promise to keep, but it was necessary. If there was one thing that could distract me from my goal, it was men, which is why I promised myself that until I was done with my higher learning, men were off-limits. School was my top priority. I was there on a scholarship and I didn't want to blow it. I considered myself privileged. Mother had been on welfare ever since I was born. And as I grew up watching her struggle, watching her do without, watching her trying to make ends meet when there was obviously a barrier in the path, I swore that I would never go through that. I promised myself I'd never be on welfare. It wasn't something that my mother instilled in me; I made the decision on my own. I could see how we lived and it wasn't good. So I vowed that I was going to do something with myself. I was not going to end up on welfare. I was not going to struggle for everything I needed.

I had my life and future all planned out. I figured I'd take four years off from men and focus on getting my degree in liberal arts and child development, then it was on to a permanent teaching position at Mighty Avalon Preparatory School, where I was already working part-time as a teacher's assistant. Mighty Avalon was the only private school for black kids in L.A., and at the time the list for prospective teachers ran longer than the waiting list for student enrollment. Landing a guaranteed position there was no small feat. Everyone wanted to teach at Mighty Avalon. The school's reputation in the black community rivaled that of the NAACP, thanks in no small part to the school's founder, Tommy Thompson. I swear that man could be the first black president if he wanted to be. He had it all. The charisma of Jesse Jackson, the style of Quincy Jones, and the bank account of Michael Jordan. But the reason everyone admired Tommy Thompson was because of his vision. In a world where little black boys are told that their ability to dunk a basketball will make them millionaires, Tommy Thompson disagreed. "The only way to set a child's future is to nourish their minds. All else is fantasy," he always says. That's why he founded Mighty Avalon Prep School, a place where black students come to learn, not fantasize. Ever since the school's opening day it has been a pillar in the community. I was totally blown away when Mr. Thompson hired me as a part-time teacher's assistant and even more astonished when after less than a month on the job he offered me a permanent spot upon receiving my degree. Tommy Thompson was a good man -- sorta. But that's a whole 'nother story.

Anyway, I was determined to finish school. That was my one and only goal. And that's why I was hesitant about accepting Chris's invitation for a date. My future was set, but like I said, if there was one thing that could trip me up, it would be the distraction of a man. Men are and have always been my major weakness and I knew that if I accepted Chris's invitation I'd be setting myself up for disaster. So what did I do? The only thing an intelligent, goal-oriented woman who believed in keeping promises to herself could do -- I told Chris to pick me up at seven.

I have to admit that breaking my promise to keep away from men till I was finished with my education was one of the best things I'd ever done because it afforded me the opportunity to do something I'd never done before -- fall in love. Ten minutes into my date with Christopher, I knew I was in love. I knew it the second he opened up and told me about his dreams. He said that his ultimate goal in life was to open a free clinic for underprivileged children and their parents. Chris wasn't concerned about becoming a doctor so he could go to work for some fancy hospital where he could charge outrageous fees and rake in the money. He wanted to give. He wanted his life and his work to have meaning. And as I listened to him talk, I knew he was sincere and I knew that Chris was the ultimate man for me.

I fell in love with Chris so fast that it scared me. Love was a state I'd never visited before, and being there for the first time excited and frightened me at the same time. Love changed me. I went from being a single-minded visionary to a love-struck, sprung chicken. I had it bad for Chris. So bad that I could hardly sleep at night. So bad that I rescheduled all my college courses just so I could be free at night when Chris was on leave from the Emergency Center. So bad that I started doing stupid shit, like making homemade cards out of contact paper and lace and sending them to Chris with big, fat lipstick imprints on the cover. I was out of my mind. And so was Chris. He was in love with me too and he didn't mind showing it or saying it. Most guys say they love you in private, but get them out in public and they have to walk two steps ahead of you just to prove they are men. Chris's love wasn't like that. It was constant and tight. It was real love from a real man, and each day it got stronger, until...

"Madison," Chris said one night as we laid in his bed at his campus apartment.

"Yes," I said and sat up next to him. There was a moment of silence as I gazed into his eyes and realized he had something serious to say. I wondered what it could be as I watched the man I loved search his mind for just the right words to say. Then he broke out in a sly grin, and after another second I knew what was going on. "You farted," I said and jumped out of bed.

He laughed and shook the sheets, exposing even more obnoxious fumes, and I swear I could have choked to death. "Sorry, babe," he said, giggling uncontrollably. "I couldn't hold it in."

"You could have given me a warning," I said as I stood in the corner of the room, cupping my hand over my nose.

"I'm sorry," he said and patted the bed. "Come on back."

"Hell no," I said as I left the room. I came back with a can of Lysol. I stood in the doorway and threw it at him and waited for him to fumigate.

"Okay," he called to me, stifling a giggle. "Smell's all gone."

I came back in cautiously, sniffing ever so lightly until I was sure the coast was clear. Then I jumped back in bed and popped him on his forehead. "Nasty dog," I said and rolled my eyes. "How would you like it if I started pooting all over the place?"

"You fart all the time in your sleep," he said as my mouth dropped open from embarrassment. "It's okay," he said and grabbed my hand. "It's natural, honey."

"I do not fart in my sleep," I said and folded my arms across my chest.

"And it stinks really bad too," he said and twitched his nose.

"Shut up," I whined. I sat pouting until Chris stopped cracking up and put his arm around my shoulder. "Don't touch me," I whimpered, and squirmed until Chris soothed my embarrassment away with a kiss.

"You can fart, belch, scratch your butt. It doesn't bother me, baby," he said with a seriousness that was too strong for the topic of conversation. "I love you, Madison," he said and stared at me, and when I looked into his eyes again I saw that look. A look that told me he wanted to say something but couldn't find the right words. I thought he'd given up when he pulled away from me and stared straight ahead at the wall in front of him. Then, out of nowhere, he said it. He turned to me slowly and said the words, "Will you marry me?"

Huh? I almost fell out. I didn't know what to say or what to do. I stuttered, I looked around the room, I looked at Chris, and before I knew it, I was fixing my mouth to say the only thing I could say, "Hell yes."

Chris cried that night. I'd never seen a man cry before. I held him and kissed his face as tears fell down his cheeks, and all I could think was, This man really loves me and I really love this man. I'd found him. Mr. Right. There he was in my arms. My man. My love.

Looking back on it now, I have to admit that Chris, more than any other man I've known, has shaped my life and made me the woman I am today. He taught me to love, to be open, to care outside myself, and most of all he taught me that when a man really loves you wholeheartedly and wants to spend the rest of his life with you, making you happy, sharing, caring, giving...when a man loves you deeper than you've ever been loved before and welcomes you into his heart and soul -- watch out, because the bastard is really a selfish, conniving son of a bitch who will turn on you so fast that by the time you realize just what type of asshole you're dealing with, it's too late to save your heart from breaking into a million tiny pieces. Christopher squashed my heart like a fly on the wall, like a mosquito on his leg, like a wad of bubble gum in the middle of the sidewalk -- he hurt my feelings. Badly. And since Christopher, I've never been quite the same.

Oh sure, Christopher loved me and I loved him. He was a good man. He was everything I thought I was supposed to want or need in a man, and for a while after we were engaged, everything went well. We'd decided we were going to get married that following summer, just after Chris finished his residency at the Emergency Center and just before I started my senior year at the university. We'd made all the plans, sent out invitations, bought a dress, the cake -- our wedding was set. Until, that is, Christopher took me to dinner one evening so we could talk. Chris changed my whole life that night...

We held hands across the dinner table and did nothing but gaze out the window at the hypnotic beach of Marina del Rey. I could tell we were both getting it. The fact that we would soon be man and wife was sinking into both our hearts. It was an idea that we both cherished, an idea that sat well with us. We laughed at our absentmindedness when the waiter stopped by our table for the third time to take our order. But we were too consumed with each other to concern ourselves with the menu and once again the waiter breezed away leaving us to our idleness. When I finally did pick up the menu my eyes nearly popped out my head as I scanned the prices. "Twenty-five dollars for chicken?" I gagged and looked over at Chris. "Unless you've hit the lottery I suggest we head on over to Kentucky Fried Chicken. I've got coupons, you know."

Chris smiled and glided his hand through the air. "Just relax," he said and gave me a wink. "Tonight is special. We're celebrating."

"Celebrating?" I repeated and cracked a smile. "Celebrating what?"

"Well," he said and clasped his hands together. "You know how it's always been my dream to open up a free clinic for underprivileged kids, right?"

"Of course," I said, feeling myself getting caught up in Chris's excitement.

"And you know how it's always been my goal to give back to the black community, right?"

"Yes, yes," I said as I noticed the passion rising in Chris's voice.

"Well, it's all coming together, Madison. I've got the best news ever," he said and paused for a second too long.


"We're moving to Chicago, honey," he told me and smiled from ear to ear.

I was so taken aback by his words that I had to look around the room to make sure he was talking to me. Moving to Chicago, I thought as my face froze.

"What do you mean we're moving to Chicago?"

"Well, I figure if I'm gonna give back to the community it might as well be the community where I grew up. So I've had my parents look around at a few buildings for me in Chicago and they say they've found the perfect little two-flat building on the South Side. Now, that's a rough neighborhood, but those kids out there deserve quality medical attention just like everybody else."

Moving to Chicago? I thought again as I sat across from Chris and listened to him babble about returning to his homeland. But what about me? What about my education? What about the teaching job I had waiting for me when I graduated? What about my dreams? The clinic was Christopher's dream. Mine was right here in L.A. Why do we have to move to Chicago? There were underprivileged children everywhere. If helping out kids was all Chris wanted to do, he could open up a clinic right here in L.A., or South Central or Pacoima or Watts. Children needed help everywhere, not just in Chicago.

"Madison," Chris called to me, noticing that my mind had drifted elsewhere. "What do you think?"

"About what?"

"About moving to Chicago, honey. I figure we could leave right after the wedding, rent a car, take a couple of weeks, and drive all the way."

"Excuse me?"

"Or we could fly. No problem."

"Christopher," I said and slammed my hand on the table.


I breathed deeply and held my breath for a long time, trying to keep myself calm. When I finally spoke, the words came slowly and intently. "Have you forgotten about me?" I asked as a helpless look of confusion washed over his face. "I am on scholarship at Loyola. I can't leave now. I still have another year of school to finish."

"Yes, but there are fine schools in Chic --"

"Christopher," I grunted, and frowned. "Do you understand how hard it was for me to line up that job at Mighty Avalon? Do you realize that moving to Chicago would ruin all my plans? I've worked hard, Chris. I'm still working hard. And you want me to give it all up? You think I'm just gonna jump to attention and change all my plans, change my future? Are you out of your everlasting mind?" I said as my voice got more and more loud with every sentence. "Why should I give up the life I've created here in L.A. for you? Huh? Don't my goals and dreams mean anything?"

We sat in silence for what seemed an eternity. Not even the waiter's fourth appearance at our table could pull us out of the funk we'd fallen into. Finally Chris dropped his head into the palms of his hands and spoke in a whisper. "I don't know what to say, Madison. I guess I was just so wrapped up in my world that I forgot you had a life too. You're absolutely right. I can't expect you to give up everything you've worked for to follow me to Chicago. I'm an idiot. A stupid, selfish idiot."

Damn right you are, I thought as I folded my arms across my chest and gloated. I'd won, and the sweet cloud of victory had engulfed me. But as I sat listening to Chris go on about what a jerk he'd been I had to stop and check myself. There across from me sat the man who loved me. A good man. A man with a passion about his career. A man who wanted to make a difference in the world. The more I sat there thinking, the more I realized that maybe I was the selfish idiot. Was Chris really asking too much of me? Weren't there schools in Chicago? I mean, I'm sure I could find another teaching job, right? It's not like Chris was asking me to give up my life and move to Alaska so he could open up a tanning salon. He was asking me to love him, to support him, to be his wife. Yes, my life was here, but what kind of life would I have without Chris? Could I sacrifice it all? Oh, the decisions, decisions, decisions, I thought as I looked into Chris's eyes. And that's all it took. I looked at Chris and melted. I was sprung. In love. Out my mind -- I was moving to Chicago.

Tears came to my eyes as I opened my mouth to tell Chris I'd follow him wherever he'd lead. But before I could get the words out, Chris was already speaking.

"I'm a real jerk, Madison," he said as tears seemed to well up in his eyes too. "Why would you want to marry an idiot like me?"

"No, Chris. I'm the jerk," I said and took a deep breath. Chris was a wonderful man. How could I be so stupid? Of course I'd move to Chicago. I'd do anything for Chris.

"No, Madison. I'm not the man you think I am. I'm stupid, I'm selfish, I'm not good enough for you. I'm a liar, a cheat, I'm --"

Excuse me? "What are you talking about?" I asked, not understanding why Chris was being so hard on himself. "It's okay, Chris. I've changed my mind. I'll go."

"No, no, Madison. I can't continue on like this. You know how important honesty is to me. I've got to come clean."

"What are you talking about?" I asked as anxiety flushed over me. Somehow I got the feeling we weren't just talking about moving to Chicago anymore.

"I've been taking you for granted too long."

"What are you talking about?"

"I cheated on you," he said softly. "Twice."

There was a long, devastating silence. I was frozen. Had I heard him correctly? I wondered as I peered across the table at the man I was about to marry. Then suddenly I broke out laughing. "Oh Chris," I said and slapped his hand. "Stop playing, boy."

"Actually I cheated on you three times."

"Stop playing, Chris," I chuckled.

"I can't lie to you anymore," he said, too seriously. "You know that med student with the jet black hair?"

"Stop it, Chris."

"And Anne? The girl at the student store who's always giving me a discount on books?"

"And Cherise."


"I had to tell you, Madison. My mind has been too heavy for too long. I had to come clean. What I did was wrong. I know that. But I swear, my cheating days are in the past. I love you and I still want you to marry me. I promise you from the depth of my soul that I will never cheat on you again, especially not after we're married."

For a second there, Chris looked relieved. As if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. I wondered how long he'd been keeping this from me. I wondered how he could talk about honesty and faith and doing the right thing when all the while he was doing wrong. I should have known Chris was too good to be true, I thought as a tear slipped out of my eye. I should have known. Chris saw my tear and grabbed my hand, desperately. "I love you," he said in the most sincere tone I'd ever heard. "Please say you'll still marry me."

That's all Chris had to say that night. That's all he could say, considering the way I'd lodged my fist into his mouth and sent him tumbling out his chair and onto the floor. I walked out the restaurant and never looked back. Devastated, betrayed, mocked -- none of those words could encompass the way I felt at that moment. I had been ready to give up everything for Chris, only to find out that he had never been the man I'd thought he was. I'd almost made a huge mistake, but I promised myself it would never happen again.

He called me day and night from then on, all the way up to the day he was to be leaving for Chicago. He begged. He pleaded. Asked for my forgiveness. Said I was making a big mistake if I didn't marry him. Said he was just being honest with me. Said he was being a real man by telling me what he'd done. That a lesser man would have just kept silent. Said that he'd never cheat on me after we were wed. But I said, "Bullshit." How was a marriage license and a piece of paper supposed to change things? If a man cheats before the wedding, he'll cheat after. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out. Hell no, I wasn't going to marry Christopher. Not this black woman and not in this lifetime.

In Chris's final call to me before he left for Chicago, he told me that he would always love me and asked if I still loved him. I told him yes, but that was beside the point. Love didn't have a damn thing to do with this. Women love men all the time who they know they shouldn't. They even marry men they know they shouldn't. They hope that somehow, magically, marriage will change a man. But it can't. And marriage couldn't change me either. Even though I still loved Chris I couldn't trust him. And what's a marriage without trust? If I went ahead with the marriage, I'd be forever looking over my shoulder, peeping around corners, trying to keep an eye on Chris and follow his every move. I didn't have time for that kind of life. I refused to put myself through that. So I told Chris to go fuck himself and hung up the phone in his face. I never heard from him again. I never trusted a man again.

My mother got on my nerves for weeks after Christopher left. The two of them had gotten really close since the first time I introduced them. Actually Chris became like a son to my mother, and after he left, it seemed every time I turned around she was on my heels nagging me. I guess she thought I had been bluffing about refusing to marry Christopher, but after he left, she found out I was serious about my convictions, and that's when she let me have it.

"You've got to be the silliest girl I know, Li'l Mama," she said one night as she followed me around the kitchen like a pit bull. I'd gotten home late from school with a headache and I really didn't want to hear none of her shit, but I couldn't very well tell her that, though I wanted to. I really wanted to. "That man loved you, Li'l Mama," she nagged. "He told me so. He called me every day and told me so."


"Why are you so silly and stubborn?"

"Why don't you shut up?" I wanted to say, but didn't. No, what I really wanted to say was, "Stop calling me Li'l Mama!" I hate that damn nickname. My family had been calling me that ever since I was a baby and I hate it. Aunt Farcie started that mess. She said she made up the name because I was always so grown. I always acted like I was the lady of the house even when I was nothing but a snot-nosed three-year-old. It was a cute nickname for a while, but now I can't stand to be called that and my mother knew it, which is probably why she kept doing it. Mother does a lot of shit just to bug me, and that night she really got under my skin. "You girls today are so silly. You think you know so damn much and don't know shit," she said as my head pounded like a heavy metal band was locked inside my skull. "Christopher was a good man, Li'l Mama. And you should've taken your ass to Chicago. The boy knew he did wrong, but how can you blame him? He was young."

"And he still would have been young after we married. Marriage couldn't make Chris be faithful, Mother. A man's gotta start out that way."

"Silly girl."

I swear I wanted to slap her a couple times. I wanted to tell her I was sad, that I hurt. But I couldn't. I had to be strong or else I'd fall apart. I couldn't do that. Besides, who was Mother to talk, anyway? Here she was giving me advice on men and the only man she'd ever dealt with was my sorry-ass daddy, who has never been man enough to accept more than two cents' worth of responsibility in his whole exhausted life. "Christopher was a good man," my mother scolded at me. "You ought to be smart enough to know a good man when you see one," she said. And that was the last straw.

"And who was my example?" I shouted back at her. "Your husband? -- Oh excuse me. Daddy never wanted you enough to marry you, did he, Mother? No, Daddy just fucked you and ran off, right?"

Smack! I should've seen it coming. Mother knocked me right in the face for saying that. I was twenty-two at the time, but that didn't stop her from putting me in my place. She looked like she could have body-slammed me for what I'd said, but instead she started crying, and I started feeling sorry, but I still didn't apologize for what I'd said. I didn't care if it hurt her feelings. I was telling the truth. My daddy was a low-down, mangy, flea-infested dog. He got my mother pregnant with me and after I was born he wouldn't even claim me. Said he didn't know if I was really his or not. Said he wanted to take a blood test, but he never did. It wasn't necessary after I turned four years old and became his spitting image. This overbite I got -- his. These big-ass ears that prevent me from cutting my hair too short -- his. This mole on my left thigh -- all his. After a while it was too obvious who my daddy was, but even after all that, he never really claimed me. Oh, he said I was his daughter and all, but he never became my father. Never moved in with my mother and helped her raise me. Never came over to visit except on special occasions, and even then he might show up drunk or not all. My daddy was a true motherfucker. That's all he did, was fuck my mother, and Mother was so strung out for affection that she let him whenever he wanted. That's how come sixteen years after I was born, I wound up with a baby sister. Daddy got to talking that same old shit about the baby not being his, but this time he said he wanted to take DNA tests. Stupid fool. He talked that shit for months until he learned how expensive DNA tests were and decided that claiming my sister was a whole lot cheaper. For him it was cheap as it could get. Daddy never shelled out any money for either one of his kids. Not that spending money on us would have made him more like a father. He could never be that. I just don't understand how a man can sit back and watch the mother of his children go on welfare. How could he watch a woman struggle with two kids that belong to him and not try to help out? What kind of mess is that? Even to this day, Daddy doesn't do shit for Serena, my sister. I'm more her daddy than anyone else. Hell, the family ought to be calling me Li'l Daddy instead of Li'l Mama.

Serena just turned fourteen and I think she's seen her daddy maybe ten times since she was born, and ever since she's been diagnosed with that damn disease, her daddy hardly ever comes around anymore. He practically acts like he doesn't even know her. Son of a bitch. The bastard only lives a few blocks away from my mother, but does he ever stop by to see Serena? Hell no. I haven't even seen him in six years myself, and to be honest I don't really know if he's dead or alive. That's why I check the obituaries in the paper every day to see if his name is in there. Hoping his name is in there. Serena, on the other hand, is younger, thus less bitter about the man than I am, but give her a few years and she'll come to see what an asshole of a man her daddy is and always will be.

It's no coincidence that Daddy hasn't seen her in the past few years. I know it's because of her disease. He, just like everybody else, is embarrassed of Serena. I've never understood why she had to get stuck with Tourette's syndrome. That's a fucked-up condition if I've ever seen one. It's a neurological disease and there's no cure and they don't even know what causes the shit. I'd never even heard of it before Serena got it. All I know is one evening when I was still in college and still living with my mother, Serena just suddenly flipped out. She must have been around six or seven, and as always she was running behind me trying to help me get ready for church, but really just getting in the way. She was always up under me, trying to see what her big sister was getting into. She was so cute, even though she looked like me, which meant she looked like our ugly daddy -- but she was still the cutest little thing in the world to me. Anyway, she was sitting next to me on Mother's plastic-wrapped sofa when all of a sudden her body just started moving. I told her to stop and be still, but Serena wouldn't listen. She'd be still for a minute, then suddenly her head would tic to the side or her leg would kick up or she'd bite her teeth together like a dog. I thought she was just being a normal, weirdo, seven-year-old child, so I didn't trip. I just told her to cut it out and sit still and be a good little girl. I should'ye known something was wrong because Serena got really quiet. I thought she was just mad because I wouldn't let her fool around, so I didn't bother her. I just sat sipping on my diet Coke, until the next thing I knew Serena flung out her arm and knocked my soda all over my dress. I was mad as hell. I grabbed her by the arm and stood her up. "Look what you did to my dress," I screamed at her. Serena snapped her teeth together and grunted. "Stop it, Serena," I said and shook her. But all she did was tic her head to the side three times and kick her foot at me. "I'm gonna spank your little behind, girl," I said and turned her around and prepared to give her a good smack on the butt. That's when I knew something was wrong. Whenever Serena had been a bad little girl and was about to get her butt spanked, she'd start running and crying out, "No, no, Li'l Ma. I'm sorry. Don't pop my booty." But this time she was silent. She didn't say a word and she wouldn't stop jerking her head. I turned her back around to face me and stared into her eyes. She couldn't say a word. She was too stunned. Her body had taken over her mind and she didn't know what was going on inside herself. She was so scared. She was seven years old and scared. She couldn't stop the tics. She just couldn't control it. And there I was, yelling at her and about to give her a spanking. I felt so bad as I looked into my baby sister's eyes. She was moving around like she was possessed and I could tell she was so frightened, but she didn't cry. She was too scared to cry. I got down on my knees in front of her and held her tightly in my arms as she continued to grunt and tic. I screamed for Mother and she came running out her bedroom, and when she reached the front and saw Serena standing in the middle of the floor moving her body involuntarily, Mother started to cry. No, she stared at Serena for a long time, then she started to cry.

The next couple of weeks were frantic as we took Serena around from clinic to clinic and specialist to specialist getting first, second, and third opinions. They all said the same thing, though. Tourette's syndrome. No cause, no cure. The only way to control the disease was for Serena to take this high-priced medication, but there was only so far Mother could stretch her welfare checks. I was still in college with no job except for my teacher's assistant position, which didn't pay shit, so I couldn't afford it either. It was all fucked up. And it got worse. As Serena got older her symptoms worsened, and for a while when she was in the third grade, Serena gave up on school altogether. It was too hard for her. Every day she was coming home in tears because someone had made fun of her or someone had mimicked her or hit her or laughed too hard or yelled at her. I had just graduated from college and had yet to start my permanent teaching position at Mighty Avalon Prep. School, so I had enough free time on my hands to tutor her at home, which I did for a whole year until Mother finally started working part-time at the grocery store and earned enough money to pay for Serena's high-priced medication. And thank God for that. Once Serena started taking the meds she was able to control a lot of her symptoms, though not completely. Still, the change in Serena was like night and day. Her tics lessened and her grunts were cut down to a minimum, and within days she was able to control her movements a lot better. Every now and then she has a really bad spell, where she just totally loses it. But if she stays on her meds like she is supposed to and like I always remind her to, she hardly has any trouble at all. When she went back to school in the fourth grade no one hardly recognized she had a problem. Most of the kids thought she was just being a wiseass whenever she suddenly grunted or kicked out her leg uncontrollably. In fact she was voted the school's class clown that year. But with that year of personal tutoring I gave her she had also become a straight-A student and she's been so ever since.

If I'm honest with myself, which I'm not, I'll admit that Serena is the main reason why at age thirty I'm not tripping about the fact that I don't have kids. Most women get my age and lose their fucking minds because they haven't yet procreated. Not me. I've been a parent to my sister since the day she was born which is more than I can say for her sorry-ass daddy. If I'm honest with myself again, which of course I'm not going to be, I'll have to admit that Daddy is the reason why I never want to get married. You'd think the fact that he didn't marry my mother would make me insistent on finding a man I love and falling into holy matrimony, but it's just the other way around. Because of him, I don't think I can ever truly trust a man. Chris has a lot to do with that too. Still, I could never believe in a man blindly and give my all to him like my mother has done for my daddy. I don't believe my mother has ever been with any other man but him. She just sits around waiting on him to one day come to his senses and be the man she's always hoped he could be. I swear sometimes I wanna knock my mother upside the head. It's sad. Really sad. I know one thing for sure, though, and that's that I will never allow myself to be used like my mother. Hell no. Not this black woman. Not in this life. And I'll never allow myself to fall so completely for a man to where he becomes my everything, my all in all, my salvation. Fuck that. It ain't worth it. No, I'm content to stay by myself. Just give me a couple of dates a week so I can continue to prove to myself that I am a woman, and I'll be just fine. I'm happy with my life just the way it is -- happy enough.

Actually, what I am right now is tired and irritated, I thought to myself and got up off my bed. I checked the clock on the nightstand and found it was going on one o'clock now. Okay, Terrence. I've tried to be nice since you did take me to my favorite Mexican restaurant, but enough is enough. Your black ass has got to go. And I mean right now, I thought to myself as I opened my bedroom door and walked down the hall toward the living room. Instead of hearing the television along the way, I heard the stereo and I frowned as I tried to figure out what the hell Terrence was up to now. I turned the corner into the living room and this time I found my recliner empty. Terrence had moved his private party to the sofa, where he had his long legs stretched out and his huge head resting on the arm. The lights were out and Chanté Moore's "Love Supreme" was purring through the speakers. All I could do was shake my head as I stopped in the middle of the floor and stared at Terrence. Was this some kind of mood he was trying to set? I thought, and eyed him as he flashed a smile my way. Don't even think about it, you selfish bastard, I said to myself and turned on the lights. To a less cohesive woman this atmosphere would send chills up her spine, but not me. No, no. There will be no sex jumping offin this condo tonight. I was hoping there would be, but now that I've gotten to know Terrence I'll gladly take the zero. Besides, I've already broken enough of my dating rules and I sure wasn't gonna add to it by breaking rule number two: Never sleep with anyone, no matter how fine they are, if the thought of getting pregnant by them would cause you to want to stick an iron hanger between your legs.

"Hey, babe," he said, still smiling. Smiling too damn much. "What's up with the lights?"

"Okay, Terrence," I said as nicely as I could. "It's been a wonderful evening, but --"

"But nothing," he said and raised up from the sofa and grabbed my arm. "Come here, girl," he said and pulled me down to the sofa with him. "The night's just getting started," he said, blowing his onion-and-cilantro breath with just a hint of diet Coke flavor all in my face.

"No, Terrence," I said calmly and wiggled out of his grasp. "It's getting late and I have to get up for work in the morning."

"Work? What kind of work do you do?"

If you had let me get a word in over dinner you would have known that already.

"So where do you spend your eight hours a day?" he asked.

So now he wants to have a conversation? Please.

"No really, where do you work?"

"I'm a teacher at Mighty Avalon Prep."

"That's that private school for black kids, right?" he asked and sat up. "I know your students must love you," he said as his eyes drifted down to my chest.

"I love my students."

"Damn. If I had a teacher that looked like you, I might have finished school."

Oh please. Stop the drama, I thought as I yawned, hoping he'd get the hint. Then I thought maybe I too had leftover Mexican food breath and waved my hand in front of my face in case any odor came out.

"So, teacher," he said, steadily making his way closer to my corner of the sofa. "What lesson are you gonna teach me tonight?"

Okay, I've had enough. "It's time for you to step. Bounce. Go!"

"Ah, come on now," he said and put his face right in front of mine, and suddenly, time stopped. I took one look into Terrence's luscious eyes and completely forgot that less than two seconds ago, I'd wanted his ass out my house. I hate when that happens to me. I hate it when the lustfulness of my loins overrides the intelligence of my brain and I become a sappy, romantic sex kitten. But like I said before, men have always been my weakness, and here is my dilemma: Terrence is fine. This is a fact. But Terrence is an asshole. This too is a fact. Then again, I haven't had sex in, oh, two, three weeks. Major fact. So, what do I do? Stick to my dating rules or get my freak on? Decisions, decisions. Okay, let's see what Terrence says next before I decide.

"I like you, Madison," he said, practically drooling. "I really like you."

You barely know me, dork. I smiled.

"I know we barely know each other..."

We've known each other for four hours. Would have been two, but I couldn't get your ass out of here. I smiled harder.

"We're both adults..."

I know I am, but you? All smiles.

"What do you say we do a little bump and grind?" he said and proceeded to kiss my neck.

Bump and grind? No, he didn't just say "bump and grind." I ought to throw his ass out right now, I thought to myself. Until, that is, he started kissing my ear. Then my face. Eyelids, nose. Mouth...No, no, no, I said to myself and pushed him off me. I've got my rules.

"What's the matter, baby?" he said, stunned.

"I don't think I'm ready for this," I said and tried not to look into his beautiful eyes.

"Oh, I think you're ready. I know I am."

"Well, good for you," I said and got halfway off the sofa until he grabbed my arm and pulled me back to him.

"I know you like me," he said, shaking his finger at me and taunting me like a child.

"And? Does that mean just because I like you I've got to screw you?" "No, but a woman like you ought not deprive herself of the pleasures in life," he said and leaned back on the sofa so the big bulge in his pants became the center of attention.

I stared at it. I didn't give a fuck. It was my house. I could look wherever I wanted. I popped out of my stare when he reached for me again and pulled me on top of him. I leaned my head back so he couldn't kiss me and propped myself up on my elbows. "Alright, Terrence," I said sternly. "Check this out. I am a working woman. I don't have the luxury of lounging around the house all day long. I have to get up early in the morning and I simply don't have time to play these kissy-kissy, lovey-dovey games with you. Now if you would be so kind," I said and sat back up. "I would like you to lea --."

"Okay," he said and sat up next to me. "I know I've overstayed my welcome."

You got that right. Now hit the road.

He hesitated a bit, then turned toward me one last time. "Can I at least have a good-bye hug?" he asked and held out his arms.

I paused for a second, then shrugged my shoulders. What the hey, I thought and fell into his grasp.

Big mistake.

I swear, I've been fucking up all night long. Just as I was about to let him go, he whispered in my ear. "I know you're tired," he said softly. "But it only takes me five minutes."

"Five minutes?" I said, not even trying to spare his feelings. "Baby, if all you can give me is five minutes, then you sho nuff need to get to stepping," I said and pointed to the door.

"No, baby," he said and looked me in the eyes. "It'll only take five minutes to get you off."

Say what? "Yeah, right. You men have always got a gimmick. I don't care how good you guys think you are, you always take forever and a day to do what takes me forty-five seconds." I've timed myself before.

"I'm telling you, Madison," he said with too much confidence. "Five minutes."

Oh please. Come on. "Five minutes?"

"Five minutes."

Damn. Five minutes, I thought to myself. I've never had a partner induced orgasm in less than fourteen point six. The dock on my nightstand has a second hand. Damn, I thought as time seemed to stop again. What to do, what to do? I glanced over at the VCR for the time. One-fifteen A.M. Gotta get up at six. Terrence is fine. Haven't had sex in three weeks. Possible implants? Five minutes. Gets on my nerves. Five minutes. Bulge in pants. Five minutes. Terrence. Cute. Five minutes. Decisions, decisions...Oh fuck it. I'm grown. I've got needs. And I damn sure got five minutes.

Copyright &copy; 1997 by Sheneska Jackson

About The Author

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 6, 1998)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780684846132

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Ellen Feldman Newsday [Jackson's] jazzy voice...has a beat so sure you can hardly keep from getting up and dancing to it.

Delia McIntyre Atlanta Journal & Constitution [Jackson's] confident, capable, and attractive Madison Maguire has a voice that speaks to everywoman's strengths and insecurities.

Sherry Amatenstein Today's Woman Madison is a character who leaps off the page and into your heart.

Thomas Brady The Philadelphia Inquirer By turns humorous and deeply moving.

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