Jason was still saying something to me when I slammed the door closed, but I couldn’t have cared less. I was crushed, humiliated, fired up even. I kicked off my shoes, ran into the living room, and buried my head in a toss pillow to catch my tears.

Momma shook me awake a couple of hours later. “What’s wrong, baby? Why are you lying on the sofa in the dark?”I looked up at my mother and wanted to spill it all, but she had enough problems, including but not limited to working two jobs to support me. “I’m okay, Momma. I was just dog-tired when I got home from school today.”


“You sure, sweetie?” She rubbed my back, and I sought comfort in her touch.

I got up, kissed her gently on the cheek, and took a whiff of the rose water she always dabbed behind her ears. She always smelled so feminine, even after a long day. “I’m going to bed now. Goodnight.”

I was halfway up the steps when she drilled me. “What time is Mohammed picking you up for the fair tomorrow? I wanna make sure you get up on time.”

I hesitated, thinking of a logical excuse why he wasn’t coming. Then I remembered him mentioning the rally. “Ummm, he’s not coming. He has to do a Muslim rally tomorrow, so I’m going with Brina.”

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My mother sounded slightly disappointed. “Oh, okay. Goodnight, Zoe.”

I went in my room, left a message on Brina’s answering-machine telling her to come get me the next day, fell on my canopy bed, and started wailing all over again until I was fast asleep.

I woke up the next morning about eight, still devastated and confused about my feelings toward Jason and his feelings toward me. When I got down to the kitchen, Momma was cooking some ham and cheese omelets. The aroma was kicking and I was either starved or ready to see if eating till I exploded would make me forget about my troubled, nonexistent love life.

“You feel better this morning, sweetie?” Momma ran her fingers through my shoulder-length hair while I threw down on the omelet like Wilbur fromCharlotte’s Webslopping up some grub.

I wiped my mouth with a napkin and gulped down an ounce of orange juice along with some egg so food remnants didn’t come flying out my mouth when I answered her. “I’m fine, Momma. I was just tired last night because it was a long week at school.”

She sat down beside me and blew lightly into her coffee-mug. The steam amusingly fogged up her glasses, and I remembered how it used to make me fall out laughing every time that happened in my younger years.

“Yes, I know Ms. Rankin had you and Brina workinghard on the fair.” She took a sip of her Maxwell House and grinned when her legal drug started to kick in. “Did you girls get all the posters made?”

“Yes, they look great too.” I slapped my forehead, looking dumbfounded. “I meant to tell you last night. Guess what?”

“What, sweetie?”

“I got an A on my calculus exam! No, scratch that. Your baby girl got anA-plus!”

I gleamed while she took it all in. She reached over and rubbed my shoulder. “That’s fantastic, Zoe! Having Jason tutor you has really paid off!”

I frowned. It figured she would give him all the glory. I had asked Jason to tutor me in calculus one damn time, and my mother made it sound like he single-handedly resurrected my brain cells. It was all just a ploy to get him to pay attention to me in the first place. His math skills weren’t all that. “I did it all by myself. Jason didn’t take the test for me.”

She caught my drift. “I know, baby. I didn’t mean for it to come out that way. I was just—”

I jumped up and headed back upstairs. “I have to go get ready. Brina’s picking me up in a few.”

I heard Momma calling after me. “I didn’t mean anything, Zoe! I really didn’t!”

Brina picked me up in her hoopty twenty minutes later, and I was not even halfway dressed. I took a quick shower, and then lingered over every feature of my body in the foggy mirror on the back of the bathroom door. I had to admit that I was lacking a bit in the tit department, but my ass was good. All good!

Most boys at school seemed to be into girls with nice asses, but Jason obviously wasn’t, because Momma could have fried those ham and cheese omelets on Chandler’s flat ass.

I wasn’t one hundred percent sure they were still dating-because his slick behind had avoided my question the night before. I was hell-bent on finding out that day, though, one way or another. By the time the sun went down that night, I was either going to be as happy as a fag in Dickland or as depressed as a whore in


I never got around to conditioning my hair the night before, and it was frizzed up like I was going to audition for the role of Kizzy Kunte in the sequel toRoots. Luckily, once I got to school, I could put on the dreaded clown suit and cover my naps with a multicolor wig.

Brina was laying on the horn thick, so I threw on some white walking shorts. Okay, they were more like Daisy Dukes. I flung all of my T-shirts out of my top dresser drawer until I came across the red one that hadG.A.G.imprinted on the front and the phrase “Get A Grip” in small lettering at the bottom. I had a predilection for bragging on my tits even though I didn’t have much of anything. I slipped my dogs into some red patent leather slides and flip-flopped my way down the steps.

“Gurl, hurry your slow ass up!” Brina was fussing as soon as I stepped out the door into the unrelenting sunlight. It was a beautiful day for a school fair. Ms. Rankin did everything except Indian tribal dancing and casting a voodoo spell to make sure it didn’t rain, and it paid off. There wasn’t a storm cloud in sight.

“I’m coming, damn! You’re always rushing some damn body!”

I got into the hoopty and gave Brina a brief once-over. No matter how hoochie I tried to be, she out-hoochied me every single time. She had on a skin-can’t-get-no-tighter-unless-you-embed-the-clothes-in-your-ass-tight black sundress and some black leather pumps. Plus, her hair looked good as all hell. I was immediately jealous. I knewI should have slapped some conditioner in my nappy head and thrown a plastic cap on before I went to bed. I looked like one of those ugly-ass troll dolls sitting next to Cinder-fuckin’-rella rolling with her.

“What on earth do you have on, gurl? We’re going to a fair, not clubbing.”

Brina rolled her eyes and flipped me the bird. I turned the radio up, even though there was more static in it than a woman’s nylon half slip straight out the clothes dryer, and started bopping my head to Cheryl Lynn schooling nuccas about how they “Got to Be Real.” “Dang, that’s my song,” I proclaimed.

“E-ve-rycool song that comes on is your dang song.” Brina chuckled. She was right too, ’cause on any given day, I had at least twenty favorite songs but rarely knew the words to them. Ironically, the only songs I could ever manage to memorize were the ones I hated. Ain’t that a bitch?

Brina started bopping her head in unison with my naps while she did one last lipstick check in her rearview mirror before pulling off. We rode all the way to school with the bass controller on the system turned as far to the right as humanly possible without one of us breaking a nail. It made the car shake from side to side at every stoplight while we gyrated our hips to the beat.

I spotted Jason’s Camaro the second we pulled up in the parking lot. I wondered if he was somewhere arm-in-arm with Chandler, and if he’d picked her up that morning. His car was already gone when I got up. I checked.

Brina threw something on my face, blocking my vision. I yanked it off and realized it was a navy blue bathing suit. I held it up, looking at her quizzically. “What’s this for?”

“Oops, I meant to tell you. Ms. Rankin caught me onthe way out of class yesterday and asked if you and I could sit in the dunking booth today, so I brought an extra suit for you from home.”

I threw my hands on my hips and clucked my tongue.“Dunking booth!What the hell happened to being clowns?”

Brina cut off the ignition and opened up her door. I followed her out of the car. “She still wants us to be clowns too, but we can take turns doing both. She was going to do the dunking booth herself, but she has a cold.”

I raised my hands to my hair. “I can’t do the dunking booth. My hair is messed-da-hell-up, and I was counting on wearing that stupid clown wig to hide my naps.”

We started walking toward the football field where the fair was being held. “Zoe, your hair’s not looking bad at all. In fact, it looks real cute.”

I crossed my arms and paused briefly, tapping my right foot on the gravel parking lot, to inhale her bullshit. “Yeah, right! You know my hair istoooooooothrough.”

“You just think that, but it’s straight. You know how it is?” She stopped and turned around to face me. “Whenever your hair is filthy dirty, thicker than a ton of bricks, and pinned up, that’s when peeps come out of the woodwork with compliments.”

I had to give it to her, ’cause she did have a point. That always seemed to happen.

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