Dating Games: A Novelby RM Johnson
RM Johnson, author of the #1 Essence bestseller The Harris Family, returns with a riveting story of love, family, and revenge.
At age thirty-three, Livvy Rodgers is fed up with relying on men and working her dead-end job, so she decides to apply for a scholarship to become a registered nurse. In order to afford school, she needs to move to/b>/i>/i>… See more details below
RM Johnson, author of the #1 Essence bestseller The Harris Family, returns with a riveting story of love, family, and revenge.
At age thirty-three, Livvy Rodgers is fed up with relying on men and working her dead-end job, so she decides to apply for a scholarship to become a registered nurse. In order to afford school, she needs to move to a smaller apartment -- leaving no room for her twin daughters, seventeen-year-old Hennesey and Alizé.
Though both gorgeous, the two sisters couldn't be more different. Hennesey, a brilliant straight-A student, is soon off to college on a full scholarship. She's in a strong relationship with Rafe, a recently released convict unjustly jailed for drug possession after taking the rap for his old friend, Smoke, who has since become the most ruthless drug dealer in Chicago. Now a free man, Rafe wants nothing to do with his old friends and street life -- especially when he falls for Hennesey.
On the other hand, Alizé, who is perfectly comfortable relying on her undeniable sex appeal, is a hell-raiser. Once Livvy makes her announcement, Alizé is in desperate need of some money. She and her girlfriends come up with an outrageous plan to score some fast cash -- persuading the men with fat pockets they meet at clubs to take the girls to a hotel, and then drugging them and making off with their wallets and jewelry. In a weird twist of fate, one of their first victims is none other than Smoke, Rafe's old buddy from the street. Once robbed, he's bent on revenge -- and the violent chain of events that follow will change the women of the Rodgers family forever.
Emotionally charged and filled with unforgettable characters, Dating Games is an intense and thought-provoking page-turner, exactly what readers have come to rely on from RM Johnson.
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Lying on her back, still feeling the sensation of her boyfriend between her legs even after he had risen from her, Livvy knew she would become pregnant. She felt the warm fluid swim through her, making her certain of this. Her mother would kill her for wanting to have this child at sixteen years old. She'd do it anyway, that also she was sure of.
She waited four months to tell her boyfriend, Avery, for fear that he would run away. But the wait didn't matter, because he had disappeared only days after the news was given to him.
She finally called his house, then went over there, camping in front of his doorstep, wearing her big T-shirt, her belly big and round in front of her. His mother gave her no information, acting as if she had never met, or given birth, for that matter, to her son, Avery.
"Don't know where he is, and don't know when he's coming back," she said, slamming the door in Livvy's face.
Livvy walked home slowly, her head hung low, only to get harassed by her mother the moment she walked through the door of their apartment.
Livvy remembered their last argument in the kitchen. The place was a mess, as it had always been, and her mother had just walked in from her second job. Exhausted, she fell into one of the kitchen chairs, her hair wild about her head, her cheap clothes smelling like smoke from the lounge she worked at in the evenings. She had the strength to toe off only one of her high-heeled shoes, leaving the other one on. She blew out an exasperated sigh.
Livvy had walked out of her bedroom in a T-shirt and panties. She had not heard her mother come in, and when she caught sight of her, Livvy quickly turned around, hoping to disappear back into her room.
"Why ain't this kitchen clean?"
"I was sick, Mama."
"What's wrong with you?"
"My stomach," Livvy said, a sour look on her face. She placed a hand on top of the curve of her belly.
"Livvy -- "
"Mama, I ain't getting rid of it." Livvy knew what her mother was going to say, because she said it every night.
"Child, you see this place?"
Livvy looked at her uncertainly, not knowing where the question came from and what kind of answer was expected of her.
"You hear me?"
"It's a dump. Everything is falling apart. Ain't got living room furniture. Got to sit on folding chairs, because we can't afford nothin' else. Don't matter how many times we call the exterminator, don't matter how many bottles of Raid we spray, the roaches don't go away, and the damn rats think they got as much right to this place as we do." She paused, a look of disgust on her face, and glanced over the room.
"You like living like this, Livvy?"
Livvy tried holding her mother's stare but had to look away.
"Mama, I'm used to it."
"That's not what I asked you, child."
"It's our home, Mama." Livvy looked up at her mother, wanting to cry, feeling sorry and embarrassed for her.
"'It's our home' don't make it reason enough for us to have to live in this shit. This just how you gonna be living when you get my age. Is that what you want?"
Livvy didn't answer, knowing her mother's tactics for trying to get her to kill her unborn child.
"And you want your child living like this? You gonna have enough to worry about with diaper rash, and teething, and nonsense like that. You want to have to worry about looking down into your baby's crib and finding a rat sniffing around her? Constantly have to watch her while she's crawling on the floor, so she don't put lead paint chips or dead roaches in her mouth? Do you want that?"
"No," Livvy said, anger and frustration creeping into her voice.
"Then let me take you to the clinic. I'll be there with you, holding your hand all the way, baby. I'll be in the room with you."
Livvy let her mind wander down the street, into that room. She saw her legs hoisted up into those stirrups, heard the buzz of that blade, the suck of that vacuum, could almost feel her insides being yanked out of her.
"No!" she screamed, and turned, stumbling back on weary legs toward her room. But her mother was quickly up and out of that chair, had chased her down, one high-heeled shoe and all, and had spun Livvy around.
"Then what you gonna do, Livvy? You're sixteen years old, ain't finish high school. Ain't got no job, ain't got no skills to get a decent job, and you want to have a baby. How you gonna care for it?"
"We'll handle it."
"We? We!" Livvy's mother shouted. "Ain't nobody around here but you. Ain't nobody carrying that baby but you. Who the hell is we?"
"Me and Avery," Livvy whispered under her breath.
Livvy's mother sadly shook her head. "That boy is gone, and he ain't never coming back, child. You got to know that."
"He left, but once -- "
" -- once you have the baby, he gonna come back?" Livvy's mother finished for her. "No. He ain't. I thought the same thing when I had you, but don't no sixteen-year-old boy want to raise no child. He a child himself. But the difference between boys and you girls is that they smart enough to know they still children and got no business trying to raise one themself. Livvy..."
"I ain't killing my baby," Livvy protested, a tear slipping over the rim of her eyelid.
"Livvy, Baby -- ,"
"I ain't killing my child!"
"You gonna regret this your whole life."
"Like you regret having me?"
"No, no, Livvy," her mother said, stepping near to her, placing her arms around her, consoling her daughter. "You the best thing that ever happened to me. But why you gotta go and do it just because I did?"
Livvy stared into her mother's eyes, took a moment, then spoke. "Because I want somebody who really loves me."
"Livvy, I love you. You know that." Her mother tightened her arms around her child, but Livvy squirmed out of the embrace.
"You never here. You always at work, leaving me here by myself."
"Because I gotta take care of you. Pay rent, put food on the table."
"And what about Daddy? He didn't even stay around to raise me. Don't nobody love me. But my baby will when I have it. Even if Avery don't realize what a beautiful baby we made together, it won't matter, because my baby'll still love me." Livvy kept her eyes on her mother for a moment longer, then turned, and started back to her room.
"I'm having it, Mama."
"Livvy!" her mother called again.
"Ain't nothing more you can say. I said, I'm having it."
"Then you ain't having it here." Her mother's voice was low, but Livvy heard the words. She stopped dead, but did not turn and look around.
"That's right," Livvy's mother said. She sounded unsure, as if she questioned each word she said, but had to stay strong because of what she believed best for her child. "You heard me. You think you grown enough to bring a life into this world, then you grown enough to care for it yourself. I did what I was supposed to do. I had you when I was sixteen and would've cared for you until you was old enough to do it for yourself, but obviously that time is now. I ain't spending no more of my life raising somebody else child, even if it is yours. So I guess you got one more decision to make."
Livvy waited for a moment, making sure her mother was done saying what she had to say, then took the last few steps into her bedroom and closed the door behind her. There was no decision to make, Livvy thought, because it was made the night she got pregnant. She was having her baby.
Seventeen years later, Livvy Rodgers was thirty-three, working in a hospital as a nurse's assistant. She was proud of what she did, of what she accomplished, in light of the decisions she had made over the course her life. Yes, she could've done more, should've gotten further, but she took what she did very seriously.
The hospital uniform she wore was always spotless, brilliantly white, and sharply creased in all the appropriate places. Her curly, almost shoulder-length black hair was always pinned up in a bun, making her look very neat and professional. She kept herself in fairly good shape, although she could not seem to drop the fifteen pounds she had put on during her pregnancy. It had all gone to her hips and behind, making it necessary for everything she wore, including her uniforms, to be taken in at the waist in order for them to fit properly.
That evening, Livvy had been taking care of a new patient, a beautiful, fair-complexioned girl, with curly light brown hair, pulled back in a ponytail, and held with a single rubber band. She was the reason Livvy was having thoughts about her own childhood, about when she was pregnant.
Livvy assumed the girl couldn't have been any older than she was when she had given birth. If anything, she was probably a year or two younger.
The girl's belly was large and round under the blankets, for she was past due. She placed her hands over her stomach, shamefully trying to hide her unborn child from the nurses' assistant who was staring sympathetically down at her.
"You gonna have a baby," Livvy said, trying to smile in spite of the situation, sensing the girl's discomfort.
The girl smiled, slowly moving her hands. "Yeah. A baby girl."
"How old are you?"
The smile disappeared from Livvy's face.
Livvy was in labor and screaming, clawing at the dashboard, feeling that something was clawing as ferociously at her insides to get out.
"Are we fucking there yet!" Livvy yelled out to her friend. Sharika drove the '73 Datsun B-210 as fast as the little engine would allow.
"We a block away, girl, just hold on. Don't be spillin' your insides all over my seats. Hold on!"
Not ten minutes later, Livvy was on her back in the delivery room of the Cook County Hospital, the free hospital. She was screaming and crying now, hot tears streaming down the sides of her face, and all the while she was trying to keep her eyes closed, trying to block out that damn bright-ass fluorescent light that burned her retinas like the sun. She had never felt pain like this before. Not even the first time she had sex.
Livvy screamed again, wanting to push, get this over with.
"Don't push. Don't push!" Livvy heard a voice coming from somewhere behind the sheet that hid her lower half.
"Fuck you!" Livvy spat and instead of pushing, squeezed the hell out of Sharika's hand. Her childhood friend was there by her side, dressed in blue hospital scrubs, mask and hat, like she was the other parent -- the two of them a cute little lesbian couple.
"You feel any pain, you just squeeze my hand, all right, girl," Sharika had told her before the pain really started. Livvy squeezed all right, and she hoped she broke some bones so Sharika could feel pain close to what Livvy was feeling.
"All right, push. Push!" the doctor told her, and Livvy gave everything she had. The agony intensified, enveloping her entire body, but she continued, hoping it would stop, needing it to, because she felt she would surely die trying to give birth to her child if it didn't. Then just before she thought she would black out, the child passed out of her.
"Awww. Look what we have here," Livvy heard voices behind the sheet saying. She felt Sharika try to let go of her hand to see what was going on, but Livvy wouldn't let her go.
"What? What?" Livvy said, trying to raise her head, see over the sheet. She heard a smack, heard the baby start crying, and then almost simultaneously felt another pain.
"Hold it," the doctor commanded. "Hold it!" and Livvy knew something was wrong. Her baby was going to die. That's why it was crying. She just knew it.
She felt more pain, something else trying to push out of her, but she couldn't pay it any mind, because she was so worried about whether her baby would live or die.
"Surprise, surprise!" Livvy heard the doctor say through all her panicking and pain.
"What?" Livvy said, tears rolling over her cheeks. "Is my baby all right? Tell me!"
"I think we have a two-for-one."
Livvy turned to Sharika, still squeezing her hand. "What's wrong? What is he talking about?"
"Livvy, I want you to push again," the doctor told her.
"Why! What for?!" She felt another jolt of pain shoot through her belly.
Sharika pulled her mask down under her chin. "Because you're having twins," she smiled. "Now push!"
Five days later, Livvy lay in bed with her two little girls. Sharika's mother said she could stay at her house in the basement for a couple of weeks, till she found a job and a place of her own. Livvy thought of calling her mother, but the thought quickly passed. Her mother didn't want anything to do with her or her babies, so Livvy wouldn't force them on her. She thought of calling Avery, but had no clue of where to start. She called his mother to let her know the good news. His mother said nothing more than, "That's nice. But I still don't know where he is."
As Livvy lay there, her daughters in her arms, she realized that none of that made any difference. It didn't matter that no one cared about her anymore, because she would receive all the love she needed from her baby girls, Hennesey, and Alizé.
Copyright © 2003 by R. Marcus Johnson
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