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"Dana, don't forget that I have to take the DNA test tomorrow."
"Right, right, okay. I'm glad you reminded me. I have a meeting, but as soon as I'm done, I'm coming straight to you. Ooooh, I hate Kenneth so much for making you go through this."
"I know, but once he gets the results, I think he will step up and do what he is supposed to do."
"He better, because this doesn't make any sense. My beautiful niece doesn't deserve this, and neither do you. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay, see you then," I said. Then I took a few deep breaths and prepared to go back into work. I was on minute eleven of my fifteen-minute break, and I didn't need another write-up. I hurried back inside.
I boarded the elevator and rode back up to my floor, the ACR Cable Vision headquarters. I thought about what my sister Dana had said and had to agree that nobody should have to go to court to prove the paternity of their child. Let me take that back. In some situations paternity tests were very necessary, but not in my case. I knew Kenneth Dontae Haines was the father of my three-month-old daughter, Kori. I was positive because we were in a committed relationship for several years, and during that time I wasn't with anyone else. I asked my younger sister, Dana, to go with me because she was levelheaded, and I want to have support just in case he brought his sometimes bigmouthed butch sister, Syreeta, with him.
Negotiating a maze of cubicles, I made it to my desk with only a minute to spare, just enough time to log back on to my phone. I put my headset back on, and instantly my phone began ringing. The air-conditioning made it very cold in the building, so I put my gray wrap sweater over my skinny frame and began taking calls. "Thank you for calling ACR Cable Vision & Internet. This is Crystal. How may I assist you today?"
"I have this blue screen on my TV," the caller complained. I could tell from his voice that he was old. I didn't know why people always called about the blue screen. They knew what the blue screen meant. It meant that they hadn't paid their cable bill.
"Okay, I'm reviewing your account," I said, as if there was a chance that there was mistake, but I knew better. "Unfortunately, your account is showing that you have a past due balance of one hundred and eighty-nine dollars." I hated giving the old man that bad news.
"What! Is that for one month?" the old man asked me.
"No, sir. Two months."
"Hmm. I gave my grandson the money, and he didn't pay the bill! Now I'm about to miss all my shows. If I mail you a check today, will you turn the cable back on?"
Aw, this was so sad. I hated this part of my job.
"No, sir, full payment is due at this time. However, I can take a check by phone."
He made an irritated sound. "I can't see this goddamn number on the check. Look, never mind. It's a shame how y'all rob the elderly. Can't even watch my television. All I can do now is just sit here and look at a blue screen." He grunted in aggravation. "You goddamn robbers, making people pay to watch TV, anyway."
I heard the man continue to mumble, and then he hung up on me. Just one of our millions of loyal, happy customers, I thought as I took the next call. I'd been a customer service representative for five years. The only really good thing that came with the job was the free cable and Internet. As I answered the caller on hold, I waved to my returning coworker, Gloria. She always tried to pop her head over my cubicle and make conversation between calls. But I wasn't interested. I kept it at "Good morning," "Hello," and "See you tomorrow."
I was more of a loner. I barely spoke to my supervisor, Delphine. I kept to myself, and I didn't have a lot of friends. My kids kept me busy enough. I didn't have time for catty, petty, drama-filled women. That was why I didn't deal with any of the women on my job. I'd seen it happen so many times. Two coworkers were besties; then the next thing you knew, they were enemies, telling everybody on the job each other's business. No thanks! The same women that ran to your desk with juicy news about someone would do the same thing to you. I came to work and then went home to my babies—Kori, who was three months old; Nasir, who was five; and Jewel, who was nine.
After work the pending test was still on my mind. I just couldn't wait until all the dumbness was over. I just wanted to be happy. Ever since I was a young kid, all I had ever wanted was to have a family and be happily married like my parents. My mom and dad had been together for thirty-five years. You'd think I'd follow in their footsteps, but it was hard for me to stay with anyone for more than a few years. I had three kids and three different baby fathers. The minute I told someone this, they automatically formed a negative opinion of me. Sometimes it bothered me, but most times it didn't. I hadn't planned for it to turn out like this. I had really believed that I was going to be with each one of my children's fathers forever, but it didn't happen that way. So, I just got up and went to work every single day and provided for my children as best I could.
Jason, who was my oldest daughter, Jewel's, father, and I were together from eighth grade until I was twenty-one. Jason got locked up when I seven months pregnant. When he first went away, I did the jail thing: the visits, sending letters, putting money on his books. But he eventually told me to stop. He said he didn't want to hold me back, and to go and live my life. That was eight years ago. He still had another seven years to go before he got out.
Then there was Maurice, my son, Nasir's, dad. I really cared about Maurice. He was very smart and motivated. I met him in the coffee shop down the street from my job. We were truly opposites. He was working on his third degree, while I had finished only high school. Initially, we were inseparable. He taught me so much about the world, and I really thought we had a chance. I was in love with him, but something about our relationship couldn't work. I think it was because Maurice saw me as his little project, like I was his "ghetto girl," whom he was going to refine. I wouldn't have minded being his project, but he wasn't trying to make me a better person. He was trying to mold me into something that I wasn't. After a while I got tired of him talking down to me. He wasn't physically abusive, but I knew he would never consider me his equal. His treatment of me probably bordered on emotional abuse. He rarely gave me money for Nasir, and he married some older woman, so I just acted like he didn't exist.
And lastly, there was Kenneth, the deadbeat baby daddy of my youngest child, Kori. In my defense, I could honestly say that Kenneth begged and pleaded with me to have his child. I loved my daughter, but I wasn't ready to be a mom again. I was actually on birth control, but obviously, it didn't work. I had planned on aborting her, but Kenneth cried. The man actually shed tears, whole tears. Trying to make me feel guilty, he said, "You had two babies for dudes that didn't love you. I'm the one here with you, loving you and your kids, but you wanna kill my baby?"
So I caved and went through with the pregnancy. And at first it seemed like we were going to make it. Kenneth was great during my entire pregnancy. He went to every doctor's appointment, was in the delivery room, holding my hand, telling me to breathe and to push when I went into labor. Kenneth even cut the umbilical cord and began kissing and snapping pictures of our baby daughter as soon as he saw her. He was a doting father for the entire half hour before his sister, Syreeta, arrived. Once she got there, everything changed. From my hospital bed, I saw her in the corner, whispering to him. I didn't know what they were talking about, but I soon found out.
Syreeta had a major issue with Kori's complexion. She said my baby looked like she was mixed with something, and that she was too light to be Kenneth's child. Now, I would admit, usually when two brown-skinned people had a child, you got a brown baby. However, I was smart enough to know about something called genes. Genes could cause traits and characteristics, like a child's complexion, to skip a generation.
Unfortunately, Kenneth and Syreeta weren't aware of these things, because all of a sudden Kenneth started having doubts. He was asking me questions like "Is Kori mine?" "Did you cheat on me?" "Why is she so light?" I thought it was funny, because when would I have time to cheat on him? I had a full-time job, two kids, and since Kenneth practically lived with me, he got a lot of my time and attention, as well. A part of me understood that in his sister's mind, she was looking out for her little brother, but Kenneth should've stood up like a man and told his sister that Kori was his daughter. He should have, but he didn't.
He asked me to take a DNA test, and I told him to kiss my ass. I asked him if he could just look at her and see that she was his. She had the same mouth, ears, nose, and had a head full of hair, just like him. But the only thing he could think to say was, "I don't trust a face test." Then he mumbled something about this bull on his job who got burnt that way. His denial of his daughter was unacceptable. He even refused to sign her birth certificate, so I broke up with him. My response to all of that was, "Fuck you." I wasn't about to poke or swab my baby for him or anyone else. If he didn't want to be bothered, then fine. It was his loss, not mine.
I eventually changed my mind and agreed to have her tested, and I suggested that we order an at-home DNA test. We could get the results online or in the mail, but Kenneth wouldn't go for that. He said that his sister had warned him that with an at-home test, I could tamper with the results, and so they wanted an official test done by professionals. So tomorrow was D-day, and I hoped we could finally put all this ghetto mess behind us. He'd have proof that Kori was his child, and his sister could shut the hell up.
The marketing firm I worked for was having its annual customer appreciation dinner at the Arts at Piazza in downtown Philadelphia. It was a big event where we got to wine and dine with our clients, all on the company's tab. Meeting clients socially was always good. They were relaxed and not in business mode. You could do the right amount of schmoozing without looking like you were kissing up to them.
The night was going extremely well; actually, the night was almost perfect. I was wearing an off-the-shoulder, lilac-colored dress that hung great on my size six curves and accented my cherrywood brown skin. I had on my favorite pair of peep-toe shoes, which made my five-three look like five-eight. My beautiful, big layered silver necklace was making a grand statement and rested right above my cleavage. My long, wavy weave was pulled up into a sloppy, loose bun, which was set off with just the right amount of makeup.
The food was delicious; the cocktails had the perfect blend of sweetness, and only a trace of liquor was detectable. I was in the great company of my coworker Reshma Patel and her fiancé, Zyeed, and my other coworker, Leah Oliver, who had brought her boyfriend, Stephen. The only thing that was off was the empty chair that was next to me. It was reserved for my no-call, no-show date, Todd.
Leah was from rural upstate Pennsylvania. She was bubbly and fun and always made me laugh with her off-color humor. She had a few freckles, rust-colored hair, and brown eyes. Leah and I had interned together, and Reshma had come in a few months afterward. Reshma was a quiet, sweet-hearted first-generation American of Indian descent. We all got along so well, yet we were all so different, but we made the perfect little marketing dream team.
We all worked for Millennium Concepts Agency. We provided marketing and branding services for small and large companies—from the huge billboards you saw on highways to the tiny advertisements above your head on the train.
"So where is that boyfriend of yours, missy?" Leah inquired.
"He should be on his way. I was about to call him and see where he is," I said.
Reshma grabbed my hand and tried to contain her laughter as she pushed her straight black hair in front of her wheat skin to block her smirk. "It's okay, sweetie. You can stop lying. We know you don't really have a date."
I frowned. "Reshma, this is not funny. That's really sad that you would think I would make up having a date. I told you, Todd said he was coming. He'll be here."
Reshma looked at Leah and made a face. They both began to laugh at my expense as their guys stood around, looking bored and making light conversation with one another.
My eyes were focused on the entrance. "I'll be right back. Let me see if he is on his way," I said as I excused myself from the table. I was trying to act nonchalant, but I was so angry at Todd, I could feel my blood pressure rising.
I exited the crowded party, hoping to see Todd parking or walking toward the restaurant, but no such luck. I didn't see him. So I called his phone and listened to it ring about four times and then heard, "You have reached Todd Montgomery. Unfortunately, I'm not available...." I listened as I looked up and down the street once more, before leaving a message. "Todd, where are you? I hope you are on your way. I'm still at the Arts at Piazza on Fourth Street. Call me and let me know what's going on." I really hoped Todd would make it. He said he would. But he said a lot of things. Todd was not my real boyfriend. We were in a six-month relationship about a year ago; then things got complicated. Our relationship was going so good. I mean, really, really, really well. But then work got in the way.
He said our relationship was taking up too much of his time and that he needed to focus on his architectural career. He said I required so much and he couldn't give me everything I deserved. So we semi broke up but never stopped seeing each other. Our relationship was downgraded to that fuzzy place commonly referred to as "friends with benefits." Which meant that we hooked up occasionally. I kept thinking if I hung in there for a while, he'd realize that we should be back in an official relationship. Plus, I loved a career-driven man, and Todd was definitely that. Believe me, there were far worse things that a guy could be doing besides working nonstop. Especially in this economy, when so many people couldn't find jobs and others were losing their homes. And I knew he didn't have anyone else, unless she lived under his desk at his job. But then it was evenings like this one, when he stood me up, and it didn't seem worth it or fair.
I walked back to the party, and my phone rang. Todd's name appeared on the screen.
"Hey. Are you on your way?" I asked.
"No, not exactly," he said.
"What does 'not exactly' mean?" I already knew what that meant, but still I asked.
"Sorry. I can't make it. Listen, don't be upset with me. I can't leave this office. I have so much work. I really want to be there with you, but my work is my priority."
Instead of giving him the artificial "Okay. I understand"—that was what I usually said—I just gave a defeated, "You never can make it, can you, Todd?"
"Why are you being sarcastic, Dana? What do you want me to do?"
"I don't know. You promised me. I told you about this party how many weeks ago? And you said, 'I promise I'll be there.'"
"Yes, I said I would be there. However, I can't always predict what's going to happen. Things change on a daily basis at this company.... Once again, I'm sorry, Dana. I have to go. I didn't eat, and I'm very frustrated. I'll be at the office for a while. Feel free to stop by."
"Okay," I said as I twisted my mouth and tried to control my anger and not let tears escape my eyes. He wasn't able to be with me, but at least I could be with him later. I felt a little better, even though I was at another event alone. I walked to the restroom to make sure my eye makeup hadn't smudged. Leah and Reshma were exiting the ladies' room.
"We were looking for you. Are you okay? So is he coming?" Reshma asked.
"No, he is working."
"Well, one thing is for sure, when you get married, you will be provided for," Leah joked as they walked me into the restroom. I began to fix my clothes and reapply my eyeliner and blush. I tried to remain calm, but I was so upset.
Leah looked at me in the mirror above the sink and said, "Dana, I can't understand why you put yourself through this. You are a beautiful girl. You can find someone else.
"You deserve a real boyfriend." Reshma giggled, breaking the serious tone.
"You guys are full of jokes tonight."
Excerpted from ANOTHER MAN WILL by DAAIMAH S. POOLE Copyright © 2012 by Daaimah S. Poole. Excerpted by permission of Dafina Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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