NOT MY BABY! by: Henny Daniels

There may be no greater feeling than departing a Greyhound bus after riding with no shower, decent food nor personal space for twenty-four hours plus. Mariah could kiss the dingy concrete when arriving to Jacksonville from New York on the most packed bus she’d ever encountered. She sat in the infamous middle seat while her newborn daughter took the window seat, and a rather large stranger occupied the isle-seat for the entire ride. Not only was she exhausted from struggling to keep her daughter dry, fed and generally happy, but she was also tired of having to fight an overweight Shaquille O’Neal look-alike for leg and elbow room. Why doesn’t this bus line have a damn ‘big and tall’ section? The thought crossed Mariah’s mind several times throughout the trip. Now that she was finally free of the musky blockade, Mariah searched for her mother in the station after quickly finding her bags under the bus.

“Over here baby girl!” Tamika called for her daughter with tears in her eyes. She was so happy to be reunited with Mariah and her new granddaughter, Mia. It had only been a couple of months since Tamika visited her youngest child in New York—shortly after Mariah gave birth for the first time— but now they were here to move into her home. They took a few moments to embrace in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of the busy station. “I’m so happy to see you and my grand baby! Look at how big she got!” After picking up her newest source of happiness with a grunt, Tamika kissed every inch of Mia’s chubby cheeks. As she swooned and coddled —joyous as if she had just received a precious new gift— Tamika relieved Mariah of one of the bags she had in tow. “Come on, we gotta hurry, our ride is out here waiting somewhere that he shouldn’t be parked.”

“Ride? Where’s your car?” Mariah didn’t realize her mother wasn’t driving.

“It’s in the shop getting fixed. Don’t worry, we’ll have it back soon! Can’t live in this big city without one! Well, I guess you could because they have public transportation. But Jacksonville is huge; you’ll see!” They walked toward the exit to an electric blue, older-looking vehicle that sat in front of the double-doors. A man that looked to be in his mid-to-late-thirties exited the car and opened the door for Mariah.

“Hey, how you doin’? You must be Baby Girl.” The man extended his arm and shook her hand.

“Yes, this is my only daughter Mariah and her baby, Mia. Baby, this is my friend, Chucky.” Tamika helped put the car seat in the car and instructed her friend to put Mariah’s bags in the trunk.

“Mommy, who is this guy?” Mariah was confused because she knew her mother had a boyfriend, and this was not him. “What happened to your old man?”

“Who, Larry’s sorry self? Oh, he’s probably at home eating all my food. This is just some guy that’s been trying to get with me. I needed to make sure I had a ride to get my babies; it’s no big deal. I’ll buy him a beer and keep leading him on.” She laughed. “He’ll be out of our hair in no time.”

Once everyone was settled and strapped in, they headed to the highway, leaving the downtown area. Mariah had never been to Jacksonville before despite living in Florida most of her life. She gazed at the beautiful view from the Main Street Bridge as they made their way to I-95, heading south. After the volatile two years she had experienced in the north, she was just glad to be near someone who truly loved her unconditionally, her mom.

Meanwhile in the driver seat, Chucky was thinking of how the rest of his day would pan out. I wonder if she finally gonna give me some. All these damn favors I’ve been doing, something has GOT to give! But knowing her, she’ll just buy me a six pack and send me on my way. He felt his phone go off in his pocket, knowing instantly that it was a text message based on the vibration pattern. Pulling the phone out to see who it was, Chucky received prompt resistance from Tamika.

“What do you think you’re doing? You better put that down! We’re riding with seriously precious cargo; that can wait! Or here,” she reached for Chucky’s phone. “Let me do it for you.”

Quickly placing the phone back in his pocket he said, “Naw, you good. I’ll just get it when we stop.” Probably just Star’s ass anyway. What does this heifer want from me now? After about thirty minutes, they arrived at their destination, and just as everyone suspected, Tamika dismissed Chucky rather abruptly. He said his goodbyes, took his beer and pulled his phone out. Star had been texting repeatedly since he’d ignored the last one:

WHERE ARE YOU?

HELLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Really? I know you saw my first message. I have the read receipts on!

Your stuff is about to be all out on the curb… you have 5 minutes to answer me…

4

3

Chucky looked to the sky and rolled his eyes. He reluctantly called Star.

“Well, look who can respond all of a sudden! Where were you at?”

“Yes Star, what do you need?” her attitude is the worst.

“I needed you to answer my text messages in a timely manner, but you didn’t do that! Now, answer MY question: where were you at?”

“I had to give a friend a ride, ok? What is it that you need? The reason you texted me in the first place?”

“Mmmmmhm. Don’t have me out here in these streets lookin’ stupid Chucky! Anyway, I need you to pick the girls up from school. Trinity isn’t feeling good, and I don’t want to move her if I don’t have to.”

You’re definitely out here looking stupid, but it has nothing to do with me! “Ok, anything else?”

“Yeah grab a beer too. The kind you usually bring me.”

“I already got it babe.” He glanced at the brown paper bag in the passenger seat and smiled.

“Alright then, all you need to do now is answer the phone on time and you would be the perfect boyfriend. Now hurry up; they’re already waiting.”

Without another word, Chucky hung up the phone and let out a deep, depressive sigh. On one hand, he had this relatively large, cranky woman with three kids—by three different absent fathers—who made him do all her annoying little errands, and on the other hand, was a mature beautiful woman with stability and kids almost his age, but she barely gave him the time of day. He had no idea why he was still involved with Star; she was never really that likable in the first place. Unfortunately for Chucky, she had been easy to get with and hard to get rid of. It wasn’t long ago that he had his own living space, but after attempting to break up with Star, she caused such a commotion that he was served an eviction notice the very next day. The woman was a headache, but he had grown oddly close to her three daughters: Bella (10), Selah (8), and Trinity (4). So, he put on a smile and made his way to pick up the oldest two.

“Chuckyyyyyy! I didn’t know you were picking us up today!” Selah ran up and gave him a long hug. She was very tall for her age; most people assumed her the eldest sister at first glance. Selah was also extremely joyful with a contagious laugh; she could brighten up anyone’s day with little to no effort; the child had a gift.

“Hi sweety, how was school today?” Instantly, Chucky was in a better mood. He smiled as he opened the back, passenger-side door for her.

“It was ok. I’m ready to go home and play! We have to sit down too much at school!” She climbed in and began talking a mile a minute. As he listened, Chucky drove two more blocks to Bella’s school where she stood at the bus loop, looking highly displeased with the time mismanagement. Bella was very wise for her age; she had an old soul. She was an amazing big sister to have; the girls were constantly entertained by her different roles and creative games to play, consisting of “Mani’s”, “Pedi’s”, homeschool, junk-food feasts and more; she even managed to sculpt their hair into many different innovative styles without being told to do so by Star.

“It’s about time you got here! Dang, what happened?” She looked in the car—almost as if right through Selah. “Where is Trinity and Mommy? How come you’re picking us up today?” Bella stepped into the front seat of the outdated electric-blue Jetta.

“Hello to you too little girl. Please don’t start acting like your mother—I mean, I’m not talking about her or anything—but, attitude is everything young girl! Listen to me; I’m not gonna tell you wrong!” He smiled and smacked her a high-five as she buckled her seat belt.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound rude. I just expected her. Is everything ok?” Bella turned around in her seat. “Hey Selah, sorry I didn’t say hi sooner.” She grinned at her little sister.

“Hey Bella-ella-ella! It’s ok. Mommy and Trini are at home still.”

“Yeah, she said Trinity was sick and in need of major rest. So, here Chucky is to the rescue!” He tied his imaginary cape.

Bella mentally registered his satire. “Alright, you don’t have to do all that Mr. Chucky.” They all shared a laugh. “Now, we appreciate the ride but get us home please!” As if out of habit, she began reciting the directions to their home. “This left coming up— you see that’s a red light, right?”

“Chill little girl; I got this.”

Pulling into the complex, there weren’t many kids out playing; most of the residents were elderly. Star acquired the place after being selected from a long waiting list of potential residents; it was a three-bedroom townhouse, and the best part was that it was income-based. Star’s rent was $20, and her energy bills totaled to about $50 per month. Being a Certified Home Health Aide, when she begun both her career and lease, Star was making a very low wage which qualified her to receive assistance; now she had been working at the same facility for five years and was promoted four times. She’d performed her way to earning a nice check—unreported to her complex.Her most prized possesion was an old dirty-brown Buick that ran steady and had minimal repairs accrue over the years. In all, life was slowly but surely on the incline; all Star needed now was for her so-called “man” to step up to the plate and make her little family complete.

As Chucky helped gather belongings out of the car, Bella rushed ahead to the walkway leading up to their door and tried the knob; it was always unlocked—per Star’s rules— even when no one was home. Star knew that the neighborhood was decent and thought it was more important for the girls never to be locked out for any length of time while Star was at work. When entering, Bella’s head was on swivel; she had to know what was going on with each member of her immediate family at all times; it was almost as if she was the mother.

“Mommy! Trin! Y’all upstairs?” she faced the stairs that led to all three bedrooms upon entering the apartment. While waiting for a response she leaned over to her left and glanced through the living room and into the kitchen.

“Bella- ella.” Trinity forced out a soft response from her mother’s room.

“We’re up here big baby. Trinity isn’t feeling too hot.” Star was relieved to hear the concern in her oldest child’s voice; she admired the level of importance Bella held family matters at such a young age. Pride engorged her chest thinking of the woman Bella would be one day; she was a very special young lady— going places. “Where is Lah?” asked Star when Bella entered the room.

“Her and Chucky were right behind me. She’s probably fixing some shrimp noodles.” Bella sat on the bed next to her baby sister and felt her forehead with the back of her hand. “How you feelin’ Trinity? You’re kind of hot.” She looked at her mother for answers.

“I don’t feel good. I sleep.” It was a rarity to see her so weak and tired; normally Trinity was a sassy, fiery ball of fun contained in a miniature package. Bella held her gaze at her mother, wondering how long it would to take for whatever this was to pass.

“Everything is ok sister-mom; thanks for your concern. She’s coming down with the flu; I have to keep her in bed with lots of fluids. No point in going to work tonight. Make sure you and Selah steer clear of her for now; I don’t want y’all getting sick too. I can’t afford to keep calling out.

“Ok, mommy.” She rose and hugged her mom before leaving the room. Star began to wonder what was taking Chucky so long to greet her, so she went downstairs to see for herself.

“Selah? Where you at girl? Chucky?

“Hey mommy!” Rising from their small round kitchen table, Selah nearly tackled Star, running up to give her a sincere embrace. “Chucky said that he would be right back, and your beer is in the fridge. What’s wrong with little Trin?”

Now why would this no-good ass nigga just drop them off and not say anything to me? I can’t STAND his ass! Why do I ALWAYS end up dealing with these broke, lying, cheating, simply terrible-ass-niggas! She didn’t know why, but Star became flushed with emotion. The inside of her stomach burned liked lava, and she felt a wave of anger flow through her body like it was tangible. She felt worthless sometimes having shuffled through so many failed relationships; at least she didn’t get pregnant by this one.

Bella’s dad, Chino, was in prison, serving a thirty-year sentence. Before he was arrested and charged with multiple felonies—all pertaining to guns, drugs and violence— they had only been in a relationship for a couple of months. Star met him through a local Blood gang that she joined at the tender age of seventeen; this was around the same time her father abandoned their family—consisting of herself, her mom, and younger brother—causing her mom to resort to hard drugs in order to cope with the pain and complications of being left as head of a single-parent family. When Star didn’t have a solitary soul in the world to support her, her Set was there and became her substitute family, and Chino—an OG— was initially the father figure she subconsciously needed. He was about 5’9, Puerto Rican and African-American with a head full of thick curly black hair. Unbelievably, he was seventeen years her senior, and it didn’t stop him from persistently making aggressive sexual advances at Star. Without any proper guidance or outlets to seek advice from, she eventually obliged his requests. She became attached like lent on a warm black t-shirt, thinking it was love, and at such a critical cognitive point in life, he primarily fed her lust along with every other form of sin—massively responsible for her corrupt mindset. Though Chino thought it acceptable to engage in sexual relations with seventeen-year-old Star, he would not publicly claim her as his woman nor reveal their dirty laundry until she became of age. Not long after she did, he moved her into his home and purposely impregnated her; though at this point, she was excited to have his child.

Following Chino’s judgement and surrender to prison, Star was eighteen and pregnant with nothing beside a gang to help her survive. Passed around and treated like an object instead of a young woman bearing child, Star resumed a similar lifestyle as she had been living over the previous three years. Not a single possession could be claimed under her ownership; not even a high-school diploma. As for Selah, Star wouldn’t know who her father was if he slapped her in the face—literally; during that time in her life, she was wildly promiscuous and rarely sober.

Looking back on her younger days was a poignant event; Star came a long way in life. About five years ago, right after turning twenty-three, she completed a GED program and earned her job at a retirement facility, caring for the elderly. One day she woke up and decided to change her life for herself and her children’s futures; it had become painfully clear that the lifestyle she was living would only lead her one of three places: in the ground, in a jail-cell, or in a crack-house, and she couldn’t be in any of those places and take care of those little girls who didn’t ask to be here. Once getting her life in order— mental state, physical/spiritual health, and independence—Star found the perfect guy for her, Trinity’s father; his name was Adam. She met him through a mutual friend and barely paid him any attention at first, because Star was accustomed to the typical street-type: sold drugs and/or consumed them, had multiple women—girlfriend/baby mothers/side pieces—and even more felonies. He was a nice guy with a good job and priorities in order; he didn’t even have kids of his own yet. When Adam came around, Star didn’t know how to react. He saw in her a broken, abandoned young girl, and decided to dedicate everything he had inside to healing her.

As soon as Star accepted Adam into her heart, he was shot and killed by a stray bullet whilst Star carried his seed. She loved each of her daughters with every fiber of her being; they motivated her to become a better person. But beyond Star’s control, Trinity held a very special place in her heart—which was filled by her and the memory of her father, the man that influenced Star to continue on her progressive path and not backslide into gang activity when approached. Adam taught Star what a real man was, and since his passing, she had not been satisfied with anything less than that.

Later that night after putting her daughters to bed, Chucky still hadn’t returned, and Star had reached her breaking-point in their situationship (relationship when convenient). Nothing inside her wanted to fight for this man to be in her life anymore; her only regret was allowing the kids to grow attached. There were mountains of resentment, hurt and pain built up inside of Star, and she decided to take some of it out on Chucky’s belongings; she looked at it as much needed therapy. After cutting up and bleaching every article of his clothing she could find, Star put his belongings in black trash bags and left them curb-side. Out of breath and pleased with the destruction, she entered her home and engaged both locks for the first time since moving in. Good bye and good riddance, chump!

Surprisingly, Chucky didn’t retaliate. When finding everything that he owned spewed about outside, he had never been angrier. But, after taking a few moments to gather himself, he sent Star a text message, loaded the bags into the car, and left the scene. He was finally rid of her craziness, but for some reason, he didn’t feel any relief—only anger and sorrow.

The next few months were very difficult for Star; with Chucky gone, she realized just how much she depended on him. There was no way she could pick up her children from school while she worked the day shift, so Star asked her younger brother Malik to help her out. He was still into the street life-style, as Star had once been. But he was one of those drug dealers who consumed most of their product—in other words, he wasn’t a very successful one. With no formal transportation of his own, Malik would be unable to pick up his nieces every day; so Star leant him her car whenever she worked.

One day, while still on the clock, Star received a phone call from Malik. Her first instinct was to decline it, but she couldn’t chance ignoring a possible emergency involving her kids. “What Leek? You know I’m working!”

“I know, I know sis. Sorry to bother you while you gettin’ to that schmoney! But this is important.”

“What happened? Oh lord, please tell me my babies are ok!”

“Calm down Star, everything is fine. I just wanted to ask you a favor.”

“Boy what kind of favor could you POSSIBLY need when I’m letting you drive my car around all day and night? I need to be asking YOU for an oil change. Matter fact, make that happen ASAP!”

“Ok man, chill. I got you. Listen, I met this girl and she needs some help. You were the first person that came to mind.”

“Now, I already done told you that I don’t like them skanky little whores you choose to deal with. What makes you think I’m going to do something for one of them?”

“This is different Star! Plus, she don’t even like me like that. I’m trying to get on her good side.”

“Well, sound like she got some sense. What is the favor Malik? I don’t have all day!”

“Can you let her stay with you and the girls until she get on her feet? And before you say no, she got a little baby with nowhere to go or no one to help her. Plus, you could use the help watching my nieces.”

She rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth, “Let me think about it Leek. I’ll let you know when you come get me. Don’t have nobody in my house before I meet them, though. I gotta go.” She hung up knowing that a stranger was most likely already in her home; her brother was so predictable. However, there was nothing he could do that would truly upset her to the point of cutting him off; the siblings had been through dozens of tumultuous misfortunes before even becoming of age, and they were side-by-side throughout most of them. Star would have his back until the day she died, and nothing nor no one could change that.

*****

Mariah sat on the couch—in yet another new place—with Mia on her lap. The act of moving was beginning to get old, fast. Upon arriving to the City, everything was great; she and Tamika were catching up and bonding. Tamika was forming a close relationship with Mia, and Mariah had even found a part-time job at a nearby department store soon after arriving. Out of nowhere, Larry decided to pick a fight with Mariah which escalated to a physical altercation; he was unhappy with the living arrangements and would do anything possible to get rid of their new guests. When Mariah informed her mother of what happened, Tamika’s hesitation to throw Larry out caused her to pack everything and leave. In Mariah’s eyes, her mother chose her boyfriend—whom Tamika didn’t even like all that much—over her only daughter. It would be a long time before the two spoke again. Eventually, Mariah moved in with a friend from the same complex for a while until they were evicted for failing to keep up with rent.

Now, only five months after relocating to Jacksonville, she and her daughter were homeless. Luckily, Mariah had a very welcoming personality; mostly everyone loved her once getting to know her a little. She was extremely book-smart, yet humble; she also could pass for a hip-hop video vixen with the extra weight that she gained from motherhood. Not usually one to follow trends or other people, she wore her own natural kinky hair without relaxers or other straightening fixes. Most of the time she wore it in thick plaits that reached just beyond her shoulder blades. Standing at 5’3, you would never realize how small she was because she had the confidence of a giant. At present, she sat in a quaint living room, waiting to meet the woman who would hopefully be her new roommate, Star.

“Excuse me, what’s your name again?” Trinity tapped on Mariah’s knee as she held her index finger between her teeth and a shy smirk on her face.

“Wow, you have such nice manners! My name is Mariah, sweety. You are. . . Trinity, right?”

She grinned, quickly dropping her shy act. “Yes! You remembered. Do you want to play with us? We’re playing a school bus game, and we need a driver.”

“I would love to!” Mariah chuckled.

Trinity ran up the stairs exploding with excitement, “SHE’S COMING Y’ALL! SHE SAID YES; SHE WANTS TO PLAY WITH US!”

“Wooohooooo!” Selah yelled back.

Only a few minutes of laughter and fun passed before Star and Malik entered the apartment. They had been discussing the rules and regulations—which Malik agreed to relay to Mariah, followed by Star’s reinforcement— for the entire ride. “Where is the girl at? See, I told you I don’t want strangers in my house while I’m gone. This girl could be up there stealing or something!”

“What you got to steal? A dildo? C’mon now, chill out sis. She not like these ratchet girls you’re used to. Plus, who gon’ steal from the only person that can give them somewhere for their baby to lay her head at night?”

Star rolled her eyes and began ascending the stairs, “Yeah, you got a point there.” She walked to Bella’s room to find the source of all the laughter and yelling she was hearing. “Hey, HEY, calm all that screaming down! Y’all know better.” She stood at the doorway, eyeing Mariah from head-to-toe. Bella sat on the bed, playing with Mia as Selah and Trinity sat on the floor having the time of their lives with Mariah.

“Hi, I’m Mariah.” She rose feeling slightly anxious and walked toward Star, hand extended. “Star, right?”

Ignoring her handshake attempt, she responded, “Yup, that’s me. I see you made yourself at home already.” If Mariah were light enough to turn red, she would have.

“Mommmmy! Don’t be mean to this one; I like her, a lot.” Trinity jumped up and down in front of her mother to exaggerate her point.

She didn’t aim to be mean—only cautious. “What do you mean by this one?” she rhetorically asked the bouncing child. Returning her attention toward Mariah, she adjusted her tone, “No shade intended. I’m glad the girls feel comfortable enough to invite you to play. Let me just say, I’ve experienced a lot of back-stabbing and betrayal from females. So, this is out of my element: letting a complete stranger stay in my home with my precious girls—who I WILL kill for if need be. But, Malik got the highest praises for you, so you can stay. He’ll go over the rules with you, but the most important two are to treat my home like it’s yours and same thing with my girls.”

“Absolutely, I understand,” she walked over to pick up her child and then returned to the doorway where Star stood studying her every move. “And speaking of, this is my daughter Mia.”

Star’s stern expression softened as she reached for the baby, “Do you mind if I hold her?” Mariah obliged. “Oh my goodness, she is so precious! It’s been a little minute since I held a baby this small; not since I had Trin. Simply beautiful. How old is she?”

“Thank you! She’s seven months; soon to be eight in a couple of weeks.” Mariah was relieved that the cold awkward ice had been broken.

Malik walked up the stairs and stood behind Star. “Hey pretty baby. You lettin’ these bad little girls teach you the wrong thing?” he asked jokingly with a giggle. “Star, you bein’ nice to my friend, right?”

“Boy stop. I’m letting her stay here, right? I’m the nicest person in the world to her right now.”

Mariah pipped up, “Oh and by the way, I do have a job. I don’t make much, but I should be able to give you something toward rent starting next month. I’ve been asking my boss to switch me to full-time hours. Maybe he will now, when I tell him I was evicted.”

“Don’t worry about all that. You just focus on saving your money, because you can’t stay forever.” She handed the baby back to Mariah and exited to her room. Shortly after, the roaring joy inside Bella’s room resumed and continued for most of the night. Star didn’t know how to feel about her new guests; the jury was still out. What she did know was they were nothing like she expected.

In the following weeks, their living arrangements ran as smoothly as a freshly oiled vehicle. Mariah was able to synchronize her schedule with Star’s so that she could care for the girls with no conflict (and vice-versa). Though Star dropped her frigid persona toward Mariah, she still could not trust that her intentions were pure; the fact that Mariah was willing to live with people that she didn’t know—via a guy that she’d known only slightly longer and was not at all interested in romantically—seemed suspicious in Star’s eyes. There was no way she would let her guard down completely growing up the way she had, with snakes in every direction.

Something else that Star struggled to pinpoint caused for the disconnect as well. Mariah, however, was familiarized with situations as this and recognized the underlying issue almost immediately; Star was jealous. Though she would never admit to it (out loud nor in her head), Star didn’t like people who presented themselves outside of the usual customs and behaviors in Duval. It was evident that Mariah had experienced a different upbringing than those Star had grown to appreciate; she generally knew what to expect from the natives of her City. For Star—as well as most closed-minded individuals— uniqueness was threatening.

Much to his surprise, Malik was no closer to winning over Mariah’s attention than he had been the first day he met her; she was a tough cookie to crack. But he was somewhat patient; in his mind, she would fall for him, whether she realized it or not. After all, there was now a debt to be paid. He wasn’t obligated to go out of his way to assure them a temporary place to stay; that was from of the kindness of his heart— moreso the yearning in his loins.

She owes me, and I need my payment as soon as possible. I accept cash and coochie. Sitting in his sister’s car on a dead-end street in one of the more decrepit areas of the southside, Malik planned on how to collect compensation from Mariah as he waited for his customer to arrive for a drug transaction. If I find them a place to stay and help her get it, then she gonna HAVE to give it up! He prepared the crack rocks by cutting the corner of a sandwich bag and tying them up inside of it, then placed the tiny package in his jean pocket. Next, he located another bag that held pure cocaine; after dipping his pinky inside and scooping out a satisfying amount of nose candy, he snorted it and then bagged a small amount to complete the order. I know just the place too! Excitement building, he began to set plans in motion by texting one of his friends who sold fraudulent paperwork for a living; he planned on purchasing false paycheck stubs and whatever else he would need to help Mariah get an apartment—in his name of course. After one more indulgence, he put away his drug supply—alert and ready for whatever was next.

Meanwhile, back at home, Star sat in her living room chatting with Mariah as she installed braid extensions in her dense mane; lately Star found herself trying to let down her guard and befriend her roommate. Since Mariah was new to motherhood, Star usually sought opportunities to teach her a few things, starting with how to do Mia’s hair. Earlier, when Mariah returned from work, the baby’s head was full of cute little pony-tails and hair bows. It hadn’t occurred to Star that Mariah needed someone to teach her about the hair upkeep and care of a young child; she just figured she would help keep little Mia’s hair healthy while she lived in her home. Mariah’s reaction when seeing it touched Star; she was extremely happy and grateful. Now, Star had offered to give Mariah a cute new look; long skinny braids that grazed the top of her butt cheeks. While Star stood over Mariah—meticulously parting, moisturizing and weaving—they were discussing other knacks and tricks of maternity when Star’s phone rang an odd tone. Upon hearing it, Star’s mood went from joy and laughter to reminiscent pain.

“What’s wrong Star?” Mariah was thrown off by the sudden shift.

Looking at her phone, she contemplated whether she wanted to answer or not; Chucky’s face was looking back at her. The contact picture was one Star took of him when they first began spending time together; back when she was intrigued by his mystery. Letting out a heavy, defeated sigh, she held her index finger up to Mariah—telling her to hold on—and answered his call. “Why are you calling me man? There is nothing for us to talk about.” long pause“HELLO?”

“Well, hello to you too. Is that how you answer the phone these days?” Chucky spoke in his usual sly, sarcastic tone.

Rolling her eyes, “What is it that you want? I’m busy.”

“I’m outside sitting in the parking lot. I was hoping you could give me a moment of your time.”

Mariah tried to eavesdrop without looking obvious; she could tell it was a man that Star was speaking with. Which was intriguing since Star had never mentioned having a boyfriend or had any men come around since she arrived.

Another long pause. “You got five minutes. If I don’t like what I’m hearing, you gotta bounce.”

He chuckled. “Ok, deal. I’ll be knocking in a second.”

Star sprinted up the stairs to the bathroom to reapply her eyeliner and lip gloss.

When Chucky knocked, Star was still in the bathroom, so Mariah answered the door. When making eye contact, Mariah thought the man looked familiar, but couldn’t pinpoint where she had previously seen him. “Hey, she’ll be right down. Come on in, I’m Mariah by the way.” She stepped aside so he could enter, and when he did she saw his electric blue Jetta parked in the distance.

“Ok, I’ll just take a seat on the couch and wait. Nice to meet you.” He sat down, pulling out his phone to avoid making further eye-contact with Mariah. He knew precisely who she was, because she looked exactly like her mother Tamika. Oh shit, I hope this girl don’t remember me!

Mariah slowly closed the door and turned around with her mind clearly racing. This is the same guy that my mom was talking to. I wonder if he recognizes me. Yeah, that’s why he’s staring at his phone. He didn’t even tell me his name. What was it again? Cory. . . or Charles or—

Her thoughts were interrupted by Star elegantly descending the stairs as if she were about to reveal her prom dress to an audience in the living room. “Chucky. What in the world do you want?”

That’s right, Chucky! Mariah made room for Star to pass by and headed in to Bella’s room—where Mia was currently sleeping. “I’ll give you two some privacy. Star you can finish my hair later, there’s only a little bit left.” She shot a judgmental glare at Chucky as Star hugged him, and then she hiked up the stairs spatting a stiff, “Nice to meet you, Chucky.” through her disapproving staredown.

“Yeah, you too.” Chucky continued to avoid her piercing scowl but could feel its effects until she was out of sight. “I see you replaced me already. Can’t say I’m surprised by that, but with a girl?” This was his way of asking about Mariah without revealing his motive. He realized that he was being outlandish and presumptuous; he wanted a reaction and an answer.

What he didn’t anticipate was Star’s indifference toward him altogether. “Yes, and it was very easy. She does things with her mouth that I was begging and coaching you to do, with no luck.” Rolling her eyes, she walked to the kitchen for a beer. “Now I’m gon’ ask you one more time before I kick you out, what is it that you want Chucky?”

Sucking up his pride and gathering his strength, Chucky firmly replied, “I want you. I want us back. Why did you end it like that Star?” He followed behind her to the kitchen, knowing full eye-contact would make for better effect.

Rummaging through one of the kitchen drawers for a bottle-opener, she paused after finding it. With her back facing Chucky, she considered his response. “Really?” She turned around while popping the cap off her bottle. “Why did I end it? If you can look me in my eyes and tell me honestly, that you weren’t messing around with another chick, then I would have no real answer for that.” She glared at him, waiting for him to lie. When he just stood there, looking up and all around for the magical words needed to win her back, Star took that as confirmation of his straying. “See. You know why it’s over.”

“What are you talking—is that what this is about? Because I didn’t come kiss your toes after being your personal free chauffeur that day? You think I dropped the kids off and then went to go smash another female, huh?”

“You basically just admitted to it dummy! So, yes! I do think that.” She stormed past him out of the kitchen and sat down on her long charcoal-grey sofa, turning on the television.

“Star I didn’t do anything that night; I just went to the bar after I dropped them to you. Believe it or not, a man don’t want to be talked to like he a little child or something. You have me runnin’ around doing all these chores but never say thank you—or even ask nicely for that matter. Then after unwinding a little bit, I come home and all my shit is destroyed. Now, you sit here saying that you did hundreds of dollars’ worth of damage to my property because you thought I was messing with some make-believe girl. Who’s the dummy here?” He walked through the living room, heading toward the front door. “I’m out.”

Suddenly feeling remorse for her actions, Star jumped up and obstructed his path by poking out one of her round, gelatinous hips. His pelvis encountered her flesh and remained there like a fly caught in a sticky trap. She investigated his eyes, attempting to find even an inkling of dishonesty to no avail. “Are you for real? Don’t lie to me Chucky. If you would be honest with me, I could forgive you. But, if you gon’ stand here and keep lying to my face—” He halted her rambling with his lips; first, slowly sucking her bottom one and then trailing the tip of his tongue over the top, followed by a deep kiss. Shuddering away any doubt, Star reciprocated his moist advance. They stood there in front of the door, making out like two newly passionate teenagers—hands from both sides roaming and groping various body parts. The door opened and knocked them out of their reconciliation.

“What the heck is—oh, hey ma. CHUCKYYYY!” Selah pushed her mother aside and gave him a huge bear hug. Following close behind was Trinity, and then Bella walked up and stood at the threshold of the door, observing the scene.

“Where have you been?” Bella asked Chucky with folded arms and a tilted head.

“Hey Ms. Attitude Jr.” He let go of Selah and Trinity, extending his arms to the oldest child. Bella took a step forward, closed the door behind her and then brushed past everyone to the stairs.

“You left us. What I need to hug you for?” She ran up the stairs to her room. As she was about to open the door, she remembered that Mariah and the baby were using her room now, so she went in her mother’s room instead and obnoxiously slammed the door behind her.

Chucky looked dumbfounded, “Wow, I guess you made me out to be the bad guy, huh Star? You know how long it took to get her to like me?” He shook his head, disappointed in his apparent demotion.

“It’s ok, Chucky. Bella [will] stop being mad soon. Mommy says that’s what big sisters do.” Trinity attempted to comfort him with another hug. “We love you!”

*******

It was now approaching nine months since Mariah moved back to her home state, but it really didn’t feel that long at all. Her days were compact with adversity and work—whether it be from her living situation, motherhood, or her actual job. Even Tamika made attempts at mending their damaged relationship. But Mariah didn’t want to hear anything from her mother, let alone her pleas of forgiveness. Today, Mariah was moving into her new apartment after living with Star for almost four months; it was a bittersweet feeling. Those vibes of invading in someone’s home and being unwelcome had long-since subsided. The two women were not by any means best friends but had grown to respect and get along with each other beyond their expectations.

Star had arranged for Malik and some of her friends from her old Set to help Mariah move in to her new place; she even gifted her with a tattered living room set that Star kept away in storage; it included a tacky, multi-colored sofa and matching love seat, a huge entertainment system, and an old 60-inch, box tv. The furniture wasn’t the newest or most appealing to the eye, but it was far more than Mariah would have ever asked for—she was extremely thankful. Not only that, Malik actually put most of the money up for the place and arranged the situation so that she didn’t have to fabricate a series of lies to get approved for the apartment. Only a few blocks from her job, and right across the street from Star’s place, Mariah’s new apartment could not be in a more suitable location. The people that she figured God placed in her life were really coming through for her and Mia in their most significant time of need. But that reality was soon due to shift.

After every possession was moved and secured, Mariah set up Mia’s play pin and put her inside with some of her favorite toys. She thanked the guys for helping her out, giving them a ten-dollar bill from her wallet. “I know it’s not much, but you guys can get a six pack with it. Thanks so much for your help.”

Malik snatched the bill and shot everyone a menacing look. “They don’t need no tip; they was already paid. I’ll take that.” He directed the three gentleman out of the apartment and closed the door behind them. “Now that they’re finally gone, we can celebrate!” He took off his over-sized white t-shirt and pulled out a joint he had rolled earlier from his pocket; it was laced with cocaine, but he had no plans of informing Mariah. “Come on, spark this up with me, girl.”

Mariah began laughing uncontrollably, confusing Malik. “You are a trip boy. Put your shirt back on, are you crazy? Plus, if you plan on smoking, you need to go outside on the patio; no smoking in here with my baby.” She continued laughing at his facial expressions.

“Girl, have you lost your rabbit-ass mind? After all of this I done for you, you just gonna laugh in my face like that? You better get over here and smoke this dope; I could stand a little top with that too.” He motioned an open palm up and down in front of his genital area.

That’s when it hit Mariah—like a full speed semi-truck would hit a brick wall—Malik was deranged. These acts did not come from the kindness of his heart but were all a part of his plan to get her in bed. This guy is serious? This has GOT to be a joke. Please Lord, let it be a joke. She placed her hands up like he had a gun pulled on her. “Malik—”

“DID I STUTTER BITCH? GET OVER HERE, NOW!”

In Mariah’s head, this was going to unfold one of two ways: either she would continue to try and be nice until she was eventually raped, or she would stand up for herself and fight him out of the apartment that she attained the keys to only hours ago.

“Gaaaawoooo! Googoo ga!” Mia sat playing with her toys only a few feet away from them, oblivious to the imminent danger flooding the room. Her angelic cooing was enough to fuel Mariah with the strength she needed for what was next.

Refocusing her attention on the psycho in the room, Mariah began to yell, “Now I know your ass is sick in the head if you think I’m going to just let you take advantage of me like this! GET OUT OF MY APARTMENT RIGHT DAMN NOW!”

“Take advantage of you? Ha! Now, that’s funny because you been using me ever since the day you laid eyes on me! I’m not with it no more! Now, either put up or you get out; this my shit!” He stretched his arms and looked around the small abode.

“Using you? You are the one who offered all of this! I never asked you for anything accept directions. If this was your plan from the beginning, I wish you would have just asked to pay for the cookie outright, so we could have saved a lot of time and confusion. I would have told you HELL NO back then!”

He laughed. “Wow, you really acting innocent and playin’ dumb right now? So, you gonna make me take it?” He took a step toward her with a demented look in his eyes.

She straightened up, standing in a battle-ready stance. “If you think I’m going to just lay down and let you rape me right in front of my daughter, you are sadly mistaken. You better square up and fight me like a man, because that’s the only way you gonna get these goodies—bloodied and beat to a pulp.” She raised her fists, but not in time. He lunged forward and punched her directly in the mouth so hard that she crashed to the floor immediately after the blow. Mia proceeded to scream and cry at the sight of her mother sprawled out on the floor.

Shaken but not defeated, Mariah sat there for a moment, gathering herself as he laughed and screamed insults to the top of his lungs. Wiping blood from the corner of her mouth, Mariah stood to her feet and surveyed her surroundings. After taking such a powerful hit, she decided that she needed to come up with a plan because she would never beat him in a one-on-one fight. Then, there was a rapid knock on the door.

“Mariah! What’s going on in there, you ok?” It was Mariah’s old roommate, Denise. She told Mariah that she would stop by so she could help her unpack and see the new place; Mariah just now remembered the conversation. The distraction bought her enough time to grab a portable stroller leaning on the wall nearby, and while Malik’s head was turned toward the door, Mariah swung the stroller at him with all her might—connecting squarely on the side of his head. He stumbled to his knees, giving Mariah enough room to run past him to the door and let Denise in.

“HELP DENISE! HE’S TRYING TO RAPE ME, PLEASE!” As she frantically yelled, Mariah resumed running; this time to the kitchen, quickly opening a box labeled: Utensils. Confident that she had the largest knife in the box, Mariah ran back to the living room ready for war.

Surprisingly, she only saw Denise standing with a pistol drawn at the open door. Denise closed the door and locked it after popping her head out to see if Malik was still nearby. “He’s gone girl. What the hell happened? Are you ok? Poor Mia.” Denise returned her weapon to her purse and rushed over to comfort the frightened child.

All Mariah could do was cry. She tried to explain what happened but had no words, only emotion. Denise pulled out her cell phone and called the police.

“What are you doing?” Mariah quickly pulled herself together.

“What do you think? I’m calling the police. Yes, hello. I need an officer to 335 Sunbeam Road.”

“Hang up right now! Hang up!” Mariah grabbed the phone from Denise and hung it up herself.

“Why would you do that? He needs to go to jail! Look at your face!”

Mariah took Mia out of Denise’s hands and returned her phone. “We can’t call the police on him, girl. He will get us messed up for real.” Denise shrugged it off and began organizing the cluttered apartment as Mariah filled her in on what took place.

Only a few blocks down the street, Malik sat in his sister’s brown Buick, pulled over by an officer who was in the area responding to a dropped emergency phone call. The officer approached the driver-side window. “Afternoon, son. Do you know why I pulled you over?”

Defeated, Malik responded with a dry, “Nope.” It didn’t matter why he was pulled over; he would definitely be going to jail when the officer ran his name through the system; Malik had several warrants out for his arrest. Crazy bitch pulled a gun on me, and now look— cops pull me over. What a damn day; all cuz of this stupid ungrateful little girl. I hope I broke her face. Swear I’m gonna get Star to mess her face all up if I didn’t get her good enough!

“You were speeding, son. Going fifty-five in a thirty. If I could just see your license and registration, I’ll write you a ticket and be out of your hair in no time.”

Before he knew it, Malik was handcuffed inside the back of one of four squad cars on the scene. He was furious. Seething so intensely that his face read every curse and insult combination imaginable, daring one of them to mistreat him; he was in the mood for a fight today, handcuffed and all. Fortunately, no one else was. He arrived at the police station without conflict, and after being registered and finger-printed, he was allowed a phone call; he chose to call his big sister, Star.

“Who is this?” Star sounded out of breath and annoyed.

“It’s Leek, Star. I need you.”

“Aww shit. What happened?” She reacted to the tone of his voice and shot up, ready for defense.

“That crazy girl got me locked up, man. Get me out of here, please. They about to take me to DOC. I’ll probably see a judge by Monday, so get the phone ready for me to call. Go get your car from down the street on San Jose too. Right by the Steakhouse; they let me leave it there.”

“WHAT? You’re WHERE? Malik what is going on? What crazy girl, Mariah?”

“Yeah, man. I don’t have time to tell you what happened right now. Just get ready to get me out of here sis.” He hung up the phone feeling unequivocal satisfaction—knowing that those few little sentences were enough ammo to enrage his big sister into combat. Now let’s see who’s the dummy Mariah.

Back at the apartment, Mariah waved to her good friend Denise as she backed her 2002 grey Honda Accord out of the parking spot. In her other arm sat little Mia laughing and blowing spit bubbles. Then, Mariah remembered that she needed to get some juice and water while she had access to a vehicle. “Hey wait, Denise!” She ran out to meet her at the window.

“What’s up?” Denise inquired, speaking through a slightly open window; the driver-side window no longer operated.

“Can you run me to that store right there around the corner, please? I need to get us something to drink.”

“Sure, no problem girl. After all that time we spent runnin’ our mouths, I could use a drink myself!” Mariah ran back to her apartment, grabbed Mia’s car seat, and locked up. They pulled off after successfully installing both car seat and child. On the way, Mariah’s phone rang. It was Star.

“Hello?”

“Yeah, so you know you got a major ass-whoopin’ coming your way, right?” Star’s voice was very dark and calculated.

“What? Star listen, Malik did some crazy—”

“I don’t care what he did; you know damn well not to call the police on him! You sent him to jail silly girl, and now he won’t be getting out for a very long time!”

“I didn’t call the police on him. He said that? Mariah didn’t like the tone of this conversation. How could she be getting persecuted for something she didn’t even do; when he was the one that violated?

“Shut, up. I know you’re lying, and when I find you—and please know that I WILL FIND YOU—it’s on like Donkey-Kong!” the call was disconnected.

Mariah just shook her head and ran her fingers through her braids as she gazed out of the window. What have I gotten myself into now?

“That was that boy’s sister? What did she have to say?” Denise spoke with her eyes remaining on the road.

“She’s not making any sense. Apparently, Malik is in jail and it’s my fault.” They pulled up to the convenience store, chatting. Mariah unbuckled the baby and proceeded to walk in the store with Denise.

“This is unbelievable, girl. I’m so sorry you’ve been having such a hard time here; moving in with me sure didn’t make it any better.” Guilt crept up on Denise; she really enjoyed Mariah’s new friendship and was disappointed that she lost her apartment when they both were in such precarious circumstances. She knew that one day, they would make it through all this struggling and falling down; she had faith that there was a larger purpose for their lives beyond pain and hardship. “Hey, I’ll go grab the water; it’s over here in the back. But can you please do me a favor and drive back to your place? I’m so tired of driving, and you are so much better at it than me.” She burst out in laughter at the thought of some of her previous driving-related mishaps.

“Ok girl, no problem. You know I miss driving like crazy! I can’t wait until I save up the rest of this money for a car. Mia and I desperately need this.” Mariah walked to the aisle that held various fruit juices and searched for grape. She continued talking to Denise from across the store, “But you know I don’t hold anything that happened against you! If anything, you should be mad at me for not contributing more to your situation; you didn’t have to take us in girl. I am forever grateful for that. You really made us feel welcome.”

Heaving three gallons of water, Denise walked back to the front of the store beside Mariah and curious, drooling Mia. “Is this enough for now? Or should I grab a couple more?” she held the jugs so that Mariah could see.

“Oh, that should be fine. I can always come back when I need more; I could use the exercise.”

Denise sat the water on the front counter and walked over to Mariah placing a hand on her shoulder, “Please don’t hesitate to ask me if you need a ride. I really don’t mind, as long as I’m free. I mean, not that I’m bashing exercise or anything.” She laughed, “I just don’t want anything to happen to you or this pretty baby.” Making a face at Mia, Denise caused her to laugh as well.

“I know girl, I will. But only when I really need it. I’m not afraid of these people out here; I got God on my side. Now give me those keys.” Mariah paid for the drinks and handed Denise the baby as she took the keys and beverages in plastic bags. They exited the store and approached the Honda. As Denise strapped in Mia, Mariah loaded her water and juice into the trunk and then sat in the driver seat and cranked up the car. Just as Denise finished with the baby and turned to sit in the passenger seat, a brown Buick sped up and parked in the spot next to Mariah. A strangely wide and short woman, hopped out of the passenger seat, wobbling around to Denise with a knife drawn. She said, “If you move, I cut.” with a fierce scowl.

Simultaneously, Star exited the vehicle and ran to Mariah’s side growling, “What now, lying bitch!” She reached through the small gap of the window, grabbing a hand full of Mariah’s braids at the roots and began pounding on Mariah’s face with her other fist.

Mariah—who was instantly put in a state of immobility—clawed, scratched, and bit at the body parts of Star that she could reach. Her attempt to open the door was unsuccessful due to a faulty door handle and cost her a blinding blow to the nose; the door could only be opened from the outside—Mariah had forgotten that small detail as her brain was being rattled inside her head from the powerful jabs. She flailed her slim arms and strained to think of how to defend herself from this vicious surprise attack. Mia sat in the back screaming; she couldn’t see anything since her car seat was rear-facing, but she could hear the sound effects of a brutal fight. Then, Mariah spotted the keys in the ignition; just as she turned the car off and removed them to use as a weapon, the fat friend blocking Denise from helping Mariah yelled, “The police is coming, get off her Star! You got her, come on! We gotta get out of here!” Star obliged and released Mariah’s hair, leaving a couple of braids dislodged from her scalp. Looking back as she returned to her vehicle, she spat at Mariah, “This is not over! You gon’ pay for puttin’ my little brother away!” The vehicle sped off just as suddenly as it had arrived.

In tears, Denise ran over to Mariah’s side and opened the door. Mariah slumped out of the car onto the ground, and then noticed her loose braids lying next to her on the ground. She reached up and searched her head with her hands. “My edges! Oh my goodness, this crazy heifer really pulled out my poor edges.”

“Are you ok, girl? I’m so sorry! There was nothing I could do; that big bitch had me blocked off!” She reached down and helped Mariah up.

Gathering herself, Mariah walked around to the back of the car and picked up Mia. “It’s ok baby. Everything is alright, don’t cry. Shhhhh. Please don’t cry baby girl.” Mia could tell that something was terribly wrong; her mother’s face was bloody and bruised. Mariah rocked and soothed her with a soft nurturing voice, “It’s all right, shhhhh. Mommy is just fine, and so are you.” What did I do to deserve all of this turmoil, Lord? I’m trying so hard here. When will you let this trouble pass me by?

*******

Later in the week, Mariah sat in her living room on the floor next to the sofa. She looked around as Mia sat in her play pin wearing only a diaper and a wild curly afro. She couldn’t even enjoy her new place because she didn’t know how long she would be peacefully occupying it. Observing the furniture, she no longer looked at it admiringly and in a grateful manner. Now, the sight of it angered her, reminded her of friends-turned abusive enemies—the whole place did. Then she thought of those three awesome little girls that she missed dearly; especially Selah and Trinity—they adored her. It saddened her to think that she might not be able to spend time with them anymore; Mariah truly enjoyed every moment she spent in their home. There was no way she could fathom a way to resolve their issues, however. Especially when Star was completely unwilling to hear Mariah’s side of the story. Every time Mariah would call or text, there was no answer or response; she had tried several times to meet up with Star to properly discuss and hash out their differences. But, since the encounter at the corner store, there was nothing but silence from Star’s end.

Mariah was beginning to think that Star had moved on from her revenge scheme when a loud knock sounded off at her door. Nervous to open the door to another attack, Mariah looked through the peephole; it was the police. Her anxiety strengthened, as she glanced around the apartment before unlocking and opening the door.

Beside the two male police officers was a woman that wore dress pants and a red sweater with thick black glasses and a notebook and pen in her hands. The unidentified lady spoke, “Hello, we are looking for a Ms. Mariah Reid. Is that you?” She smiled as if she were taking orders for Girl Scout cookies.

“Yes, it is. What’s this about?”

“My name is Sarah Richards, and I am here on behalf the Department of Children and Families—Child Protective Services division. I have asked these officers to accompany me today; they’re only here for my protection and to ensure that these proceedings run smoothly. We were recently tipped that there is a child here at risk of abuse and malnutrition. May we enter please?”

Heart racing, Mariah didn’t know how to respond. What? Abuse and malnutrition? My baby is just fine! Who would call CPS on me? Afraid that she was about to lose her child, Mariah became defensive. “Those are absolutely outrageous claims; whoever told you those lies are just trying to ruin my life. Do I have to let you in?”

“No ma’am, you are not required by law to let us in. But, if you refuse our investigation today, we will have no choice but to aggressively continue to monitor this case which will remain open for six months to a year.”

“Well what are you going to do?”

“I will simply observe your living premises and take notes; check your cabinets and refrigerator for food for—” she looked down at her notebook, “Mia, is it? We will also look at her sleeping quarters and evaluate her physical condition.”

Confident that there was nothing lying around to incriminate her motherhood, Mariah let them in. It took about twenty minutes for the worker to complete her evaluation, finishing up with a series of questions for Mariah. “Do you know of anyone who would want to bring you harm by reporting false claims?”

“Yes, I do. Is there anything that can be done about that once you guys finish this investigation and see that I am innocent? Can anyone just call up such serious accusations with no consequences? This is ridiculous!”

“I understand that this is difficult if you have done nothing to deserve these claims. But, it is my job to ensure the safety of that child; that is my priority. Once I can assuredly state that Mia is in no real danger, then we can proceed with bringing charges on the person who made these allegations. I am not at liberty to reveal to you who that is. But, you can fill me in on the surrounding circumstances and give any names of who you think may have falsely reported you. Mariah answered every question with lengthy elaboration of each point.

“Ok, Ms. Reid. That concludes my evaluation. Any other questions for me?”

“Yes, how long do you expect all of this to take?”

“Well, I can see that Mia has plenty to eat; she has her own bed and sleeping area, and there are no visible marks or bruises on her body. As I stated earlier, this is now an open case. I am required to keep it open for at least six months. There will probably be one more home visit and we will reach out to the other party involved. You are not allowed to move out of the county in that time and must comply to any additional searches or evaluations. If all goes well, the case will be closed by next year. Any other questions?”

“No, I guess that’s it. Thank you.” She let them out and locked the door. The place was shaping up to be a pillar of unfortunate events for Mariah, and now she was required to stay in this unforgiving city for possibly up to a year. She felt trapped and alone. Maybe it was time to settle the differences between her and her mom before things spiraled any further out of control.

Across the street, Star prepared to go in for a day shift and then changed her mind at the last minute. She had resorted to letting her junky of a mother babysit her daughters at a senior facility-based apartment building but didn’t feel like being bothered with her foolishness today. Since the issue between Malik and Mariah, Star found herself encountering many road blocks and obstacles. But, she refused to feel even an ounce of guilt for her actions. After all, Mariah was no dunce. Regardless of what Malik told her, she knew that nothing in this world is free. If she had no interest or potential feelings for her brother, then she should have stopped their interactions, and definitely should not have accepted gifts and favors from him or Star.

Malik called Star once he was transferred to the local Correctional Facility. He filled her in on the juicy details of the fight between he and Mariah. When Star told him what she had done in retaliation, Malik became highly upset and defensive of Mariah. “Why would you do that Star? The girl already been through enough; all I asked you to do was rough her up, man. Not call the people on her! You could get in trouble for that.”

“You didn’t tell me much of anything! All I knew was that you were thrown in jail, and you told me it was because of Mariah. So, I got her ass good. Don’t get mad at me for protecting you!”

“Man, you just better hope it don’t come back to bite you in the ass! You know what they say: God don’t like ugly!”

Sucking her teeth and rolling her eyes, “Says the man who got pulled over from fleeing the scene of an attempted rape, idiot! You are one to talk.”

“Look, I was mad when I called you before. It all had just happened, and I was high on coke for like a week straight. But now that I had some time to come down and think about what happened, I realize I was wrong. You need to do the same.”

“Boy bye. I never really knew my daddy or missed him, so you can keep that fatherly advice for yourself!” Star hung up the phone, now furious all over again. How dare he get mad at her for sticking up for him? There was no chance in hell Star was going to apologize for her actions; why should she have to? Nobody had ever apologized to her for the shitty life she had lived. When would her father come back and apologize for abandoning her and her family? When would her mother apologize for choosing drugs over her own children? When would Chino write her a five-page apology for tainting her mind and stealing the ending of her childhood? None of these apologies would ever touch her eardrums; so, why should she apologize to Mariah?

“Mommy! Mommy!” Trinity galloped down the stairs full speed and jumped into her mother’s lap.

Cheering up a bit, Star kissed her forehead. “What’s up my little angel?”

“Can you take me to the park again? I love the swings, mommy!”

“No, baby. I don’t feel like it right this moment. Maybe later.”

Trinity hung her head in disappointment. “But mommy, can I please play outside? It’s so sunny and magical out there.”

“Why don’t you ask your sisters to take you.” She made a cone around her mouth with her hands to amplify her voice. “Bella! Selah! Get dressed and take Trinity outside!” Footsteps rushed about above their heads.

Her charming smile returned. “Thanks mommy, you are the best mommy in the whole world!”

“No, you are the best daughter in the whole world!” Star hugged her tight and filled her cheeks with kisses, causing her to shriek with joyous laughter.

Trinity held her index finger to her lips. “Shhhhhh, you can’t let Bella-ella and Lah hear you. They won’t like that!”

“Ok, I’ll keep it down next time.” Star giggled.

“Hey mommy, where is Mariah and little Mia? I really miss them.”

Frustration returned to Star’s brow. She got up and walked to the kitchen for a beer with Trinity practically stepping on her heels.

“Mommy?”

“They got their own place, Trin. It was time for them to go. Now, you go put your shoes on so you can be ready when your sisters come down.” Trinity did as she was told, and shortly after the girls were headed out the door with helmets for their wheels.

Star decided to put her feet up and relax, since she was taking the day off. She removed the whole pack of beers from the fridge and placed them on her coffee table for easy access. After settling on watching ratchet reality television, she cracked open another beer and texted Chucky:

Where are you? I could use some comfort right now

He responded:

Be patient. Got a surprise.

That put a smile on her face. About time he listened to my needs; I love a man who can romance me. This vagina is not free. She giggled to herself and then returned her attention to supposed wives of athletes on tv.

In the distance, a loud screech followed by screaming could be heard. It hadn’t registered in her mind that her daughters were outside playing still, until the screaming grew closer and closer to her front door. Bella swung the door open with great force, screaming to the top of her lungs, everything impossible to decipher.

“What Bella? What happened? Where is Selah and Trin?” Star stood up, a little woozy from all the beers she consumed.

Bella ran to Star and pulled her arm, dragging her outside as she resumed screaming in a made-up language. All the while, Star was trying to keep her composure while continually asking Bella what happened. When they turned a corner, Star could see a disaster in the distance: Trinity lay on her back in the middle of the road while Selah sat over her screaming and crying, a bike and scooters were strewn about the street. Star’s heart was now racing at a dangerous pace; she broke out into a sprint, praying for mercy from God. No, no, no, no! Not my baby! God please not my baby! Please let her be ok. If she makes it out of this, I will apologize to whoever you want. I will do WHATEVER YOU WANT! Please God, don’t take my baby too! Not my baby.

When she reached the girls, Star could no longer hold in her emotion. Trinity lay dead on the ground, struck by a hit-and-run driver; she was killed instantly. “TRINITY! TRINITY PLEASE GET UP BABY!”

Selah lay on the ground as if she was stuck. “Mommy I’m so sorry. The car came out of nowhere!”

“Where is the car Selah? Bella! What did the car look like?”

Neither child paid any attention to the vehicle, they were more concerned with their baby sister’s well-being. Star and her daughters remained in the street screaming and crying until the ambulance and police arrived. Star had to be sedated in order for the police to get any answers to their questions. There were no witnesses besides the two distraught young girls. The day turned out to be the worst of Star’s life, and she had seen many bad days.

********

Chucky sat next to Star, attempting to console her. He decided to make it his life’s mission to bring happiness back to her being. Star was only a shell of a woman now; everything she did was executed in auto-pilot-mode. She could see her remaining daughters in such severe pain, but she had no emotion left in her body. The only tangible piece of Adam she had was now gone. The other day she almost smiled when picturing the two angels meeting in heaven—almost. That mountain of pain transformed to pure numbness; she could not feel a thing and wasn’t sure if she wanted to. Chucky was the one who harbored an abundance of feelings out of the two.

The day of the accident, he was on his way to pick up Star in his new car. He had been saving up for months for a new vehicle, and finally drove it off the lot. When Star texted him, he had just finished making reservations for a Resort in Orlando and was on his way to present the good news; they would get a weekend to themselves in one of the most revered Resorts in Florida. He was sending Star a reply when he pulled into the complex. Instead of looking at the road, his eyes were on his phone. The next time he looked up, there was a dead child and snarled bike beneath his car. Panicked and fearing for his freedom, Chucky reversed the car and fled the scene. Not a soul knew what he had done, and no one would ever know. He planned on taking this secret with him to the grave. But the least he could do after taking the source of Star’s joy was find a way to make her smile again; at least, that’s what he kept telling himself, so he could sleep at night.

THE END

11 Comment on “Not My Baby!

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