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Chapter 40

“Germaine, can you drop me off a block from my house?”

“Sure ’nuff, little one. You ain’t still having problems with yo momma, are you?”

“She doesn’t say much anymore. She sleeps a lot. I guess I should like that but I don’t. Maybe it’s my fault. I didn’t like her bossing me around, treating me like a kid. But I don’t like it when she ignores me, either.”

“You’re just growin’ up fast. ’Cause you’re hanging around with me. I treats you like a lady, a woman, a little sexpot like you are.”

He stopped at the corner and pulled her to him. His lips were all over her face. She felt tingly and warm inside. He made her feel good. Not like those other men.

She waved goodbye and jogged home. This was tough stuff, two women learning to get along together in one small house. It was better than foster care, that’s for sure, where strangers told her what to do. It was way better than a group home, where the older, bigger girls ran the house, making the rules for her, taking her clothes and other stuff if they wanted to. Yes, she thought, living with momma was better than anything else she could think of right now.

Germaine? He was fun, he loved her and made her feel good, in her heart and deep down below. He was a real man with a nice car and fancy clothes. His friends were okay, except when they were rough with her. Most of the time she closed her eyes and pretended she was a princess on a beautiful island. But she kept them open with Germaine. He told her the other men were just business. He was building up savings to take them both away from here when she got a little older. That was okay with her. She didn’t want to leave her momma yet.

Because of Germaine, she understood her mother better. Momma was never a saver. That’s what got her in so much trouble. Being evicted, bringing strange men into the house just to pay the rent. Mikayla almost laughed when she thought of them. Losers, the whole bunch. Wearing dirty clothes, drinking cheap booze, grabbing at her when she walked by them in her shorts. Losers, all of them. Not like Germaine, who dressed fine and was going places.

Yes, she was just fourteen, but she already had a real man loving her, not like those losers her momma chose. She admired the white tips of her French manicure and fingered the sparkling, multi-colored beads on her long dreadlocks. Germaine helped her shop for them. He had good taste, too.

She tried not to think about Germaine acting so crazy lately. Not all the time, but when he hid some packages from her. And the needle marks on his arm. He got really silly, like out of control, and then fell asleep. She saw some needles in the waste basket he used. He could be a diabetic like the boy she knew in class. But more likely, she admitted to herself, just street drugs.

Mikayla stuck the key in the lock but the front door opened on its own. That was funny. Momma always kept it locked whether she was home or not.

“Momma, I’m home,” Mikayla shouted, throwing her backpack on the sagging beige couch in the living room.

She grabbed the remote and flicked on the small TV. Momma didn’t have cable. She said she couldn’t afford it. Germaine did. He told her she’d never live in a house with him without cable. Mostly, however, he took her to motels. They had cable TVs with x rated movies and mirrors on the ceiling. Pretty fancy. If momma only knew the kind of movies she watched, well…

“Momma, where are you?”

The house wasn’t that big. Mikayla walked into the kitchen and scanned the refrigerator. They had a notepad on a magnet there to leave notes to each other. Nothing on the notepad.

Mikayla took the stairs two at a time. Momma sometimes ironed their clothes up there in Mikayla’s bedroom, saying it was cooler, with a breeze. Mikayla laughed when she heard her mother say they had a two-story house. If you put the fingertips of both your hands together, that’s how big it was. Mikayla’s room was the steeple. Missing, of course, were all the people.

It took just a second to see that, nope, she wasn’t there. Mikayla looked out the tiny back window at the alley where the garbage man came. Nope, not there either. She turned away but turned back again. What was that sticking out from the back stoop?

Shoes. Her mother’s worn, black sandals.

She leaned way out of the window, looking down.

Legs. Her mother’s bare legs, still in her sandals. Oh my God, Mikayla thought. She must have fallen. Maybe she hit her head on the cement step.

Mikayla bounded down the steps, flipped the latch on the back door and nearly tripped over her mother’s body. She lay face up, her hair matted with blood that oozed onto the cement step. In the palm of her hand, two small pills lay next to a cheap cell phone. Mikayla tried to dial 911, but the phone was dead, out of minutes.

Mikayla screamed as loud as she could, shook her mother’s body, and ran back in the house for her cell phone. She ran back outside. She shook her mother again and again, sobbing, as she dialed 911.

She held her mother’s hand until she heard the fire department rescue siren. She ran out in front to show them the way, then ran back to her mother, tears streaming down her face.

As the paramedics knelt over her mother, trying to get a pulse and readying the oxygen mask, Mikayla spotted something white in the dirt nearby. She grabbed it and found she was holding a small plastic pill bottle, about half full of tiny white pills. She threw it into the bushes as the paramedics loaded her mother onto a gurney. The woman paramedic grabbed her hand. Mikayla saw she was holding the two small pills and the dead cell phone.

“Young lady, unless there is some adult here to take responsibility for you, you’re going to have to come with us.”

Mikayla collapsed into her arms.

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