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DON'T TELL A SOUL
By TIFFANY L. WARREN
Copyright © 2013 Tiffany L. Warren
All right reserved.
Chapter One PAM
Isn't it weird how the very best things can happen to you at the very worst times? I just got off the phone with an editor at Gideon Publishing. Her name is Carmen, and she wants to give me a book deal. It's for my second book, a fictional version of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. I never sold the first one that I wrote, which is probably a good thing, because there is too much of my own life in its pages.
My second book, called The Chance Meeting, took me only a year to write, but it took another year for me to get replies back from my query letters. Now, finally, eight years into my publishing journey I'm being offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
It is the best thing that could happen in my life, but I hate that it's happening when Troy is at absolute rock bottom with his music thing. He's lost nearly every penny of the three and a half million dollars he earned after discovering a powerhouse vocalist named Lisa with an incredible voice.
"Hey, babe. Logan is coming over in a few. Are you gonna cook something?"
Troy's voice pulls me from my thoughts, and I gaze directly into my husband's ruggedly handsome face. That very appealing face, those incredibly sexy light brown eyes, and his undeniable swagger caused me to postpone every single last one of my dreams while he pursued his music career.
Not anymore. I feel God moving me in a different direction, one that doesn't include feeding his friends. I've got to write a proposal for my next book. Carmen wants to offer me a two-book deal, but I've not given any thought to another project.
"I think you should cook something or order out," I say.
He blinks, as if blinking will help him hear me better. "Come on, Pam. This is important. He's going to collaborate with me on some music. He's really well connected, and I think he can help get Aria's project off the ground."
I roll my eyes. I should've stopped myself from doing that, because it makes me seem like an unsupportive wife. But I've been hearing that singing harlot's name for the past eight years.
Aria is Troy's big project. He's spent almost a decade trying to blow up with this girl. She's in my home so much, she might as well be my sister-wife, except I can't ever see that chick lifting one of those acrylic-nailed fingers to do a dish or a load of laundry.
I shake my head and the negative thoughts about Aria. "No, Troy. I can't do it tonight. I've got something really important to do, and then I have to go to a Sister to Sister meeting."
"What can you possibly have to do that's more important than handle my business? Your job is to take care of home. Me and the kids, Pam. You been chilling for the past eight years, so the least you could do is be hospitable when I have guests."
I know he did not just reduce everything I've done in the past eight years to "chilling." I didn't know raising three children was chilling. I didn't know that the upkeep of a five-thousand-square-foot house was chilling. If I was chilling, then what was he doing in all the years before he made the three million dollars? Sounds like if I am in chill mode—which I am not—then it's my turn.
Besides, Troy knows dang well that if something doesn't give in the next six months, then I definitely am going to have to go back into the corporate workforce. He hasn't even asked me about my writing career—not since he bought me a journal when I was pregnant with our son, TJ. I'm starting to wonder if he even meant anything he said about supporting my dreams.
I close my eyes and sigh. "What do you want me to make, Troy?"
"I can make some wings and salad, Mom. Do you want me to?"
That is my surprisingly capable fourteen-year-old Gretchen. She's been obsessed with cooking since the age of ten, and she can probably cook a better meal than I can. A month ago, I let her handle Easter dinner, with me supervising, of course, and she really did a wonderful job.
"I'll give you an extra ten in your allowance if you do, honey. I sure appreciate you," I say and give Gretchen a kiss on the cheek. Then I give Troy a dry peck. "Gotta go."
"Your Sister to Sister meeting is not until seven. It's only five o'clock. What are you doing between now and then?" Troy asks.
I was wondering when he'd ask what I had to do. I almost thought he wouldn't. Troy barely notices anything that doesn't impact him directly.
"A publisher offered me a book deal, but I have to come up with a proposal for my second book."
Troy's eyes widen, and he hugs me tightly. "That is great, Pam! When were you going to tell me?"
When you stopped making requests. "I wanted to make sure I'd be able to come up with a second book proposal."
"That shouldn't be a problem. All that gossiping y'all do at those women's meetings, you ought to have plenty of story ideas."
"I'm not going to write about my friends."
Troy shakes his head. "I don't know why not. They would if they had the opportunity. How much money is the publisher offering you?"
"Um, she said seven thousand dollars for two books."
Troy frowns and scratches the back of his head. "Is that all? I thought publishers were handing out six-figure deals and whatnot. That's what we talked about when you were sending out all those letters."
"I did some research, and what they offered me is pretty standard for a brand-new author."
"So when do you get the money?"
"I-I'm not sure."
"You're not sure? Pam, if you don't know the right questions to ask these people, you need to put me on the phone."
"I'm sure I have to sign a contract first."
"Well, we could sure use those thousands, Pam. We're getting low on funds, just so you know."
I lift an eyebrow and fold my arms across my chest. "How low?"
"We've got about two hundred thousand left, but it won't last long if we don't get some additional funds up in here."
See, this is exactly what I'm talking about with him. I'm sick of Troy living from one gig to the next. We've got about two hundred thousand dollars left out of the three and a half million. That's barely enough to get us through another one of Troy's ventures.
First, there was the Aria record project. He finished that one and sold about twenty-two copies. Okay, it was more like ten thousand. But he spent more money marketing and creating that record than he earned in profits.
Then there was the Aria tour. I guess Troy thought since he had all those CDs stacked in the garage that they should probably go on the road and try to sell them. Yeah, that wasn't such a good idea, either. The concerts—mostly in shopping malls and hole-in-the-wall clubs—didn't move many records. Just money from the assets to the liability column of our family balance sheet.
Finally, there was the Aria video shoot. Get the pattern here? The singing harlot and her career have sucked our blessing dry.
"And by additional funds, you mean the money from the book?"
"That and some more. I was wondering if you'd mind getting a part-time job, just until we get done with this project."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, I'm not. I mean, it's not like I'm really marketable in corporate America, and you know I can't do no factory work. You were a VP at Ellis Financial. They'd give you something."
Anger simmers in the pit of my stomach, like a tea kettle full of near-boiling water. Troy told me I'd never have to go to work again. That I could take care of our family and that he'd take care of me.
"I've been out of the workforce for eight years, Troy. It won't be easy for me to get a job, either. Plus, I'd like to see where my book career could go."
"Both of us can't be starving artists."
"You're right, Troy. One of us has to be responsible."
Troy touches my arm lovingly, but I snatch it away. "Pam, baby, it's only for a while. Just until Aria's new record takes flight."
"Don't you think you should find a new artist? You've been trying with Aria for years, and she's not a young twenty-year-old anymore. I think her time has passed, and you need to move on."
"You always want to give up before we break through."
"That's the problem, Troy. There's no we in this conversation. It has always been about you."
"You'd think that after all these years with me you would've learned something about teamwork."
Teamwork? Teamwork! I can't believe what I'm hearing. Troy is on a team, all right. Only I'm not on it, too. Aria is his partner and has been for eight years.
The teapot is on full boil now, and the whistle is ready to blow.
Then the doorbell rings. Troy looks as if he wants to say something else to me before opening it, but then he gives me a soft look and turns the knob.
"Logan! Man, it's about time!" Troy exclaims as he gives Logan a one-armed hug and fist bump.
"What do you mean? I'm early," Logan says.
"No, man. I mean, where have you been my whole life? It's time to get this thang popping."
I suppress the urge to cringe at Troy's slang. He keeps forgetting that we're almost forty years old, and that it sounds a lot better for grown-ups to use standard English.
"Man, God's timing is always perfect. This is our time!" Then Logan looks at me. "You must be Pam. You look exactly how Troy describes you."
In my opinion, there's nothing more handsome on a man than a smile, and Logan's smile is contagious. I can't help but give him one in return. His pretty white teeth seem to gleam in contrast to his blackberry-tinted lips and ebony skin. I can't believe he's standing here in our living room. He could be on a movie screen.
"Nice to meet you, Logan. Troy speaks highly of you," I finally say as I shake Logan's outstretched hand.
"This is my wife, the writer," Troy says. "Doesn't she look like a writer?"
Logan chuckles. "Sure, she does."
"Yeah, well, she needs to write some song lyrics or something, 'cause that's how we're gonna get to stack the dough. Nobody black is about to get rich off writing books."
"I only know music, not books," Logan says. "And this sounds like a discussion I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole."
"Troy doesn't know, either," I say, hoping Troy can hear the venom in my voice.
I spin on one heel and grab my purse. I storm out of the house, knowing that this isn't over. As a matter of fact, it's only just beginning, because if Troy thinks he's going to throw my dream away like it belongs to him, he's got another thing coming.
This dream is mine, and God opened a door that no man can shut. Especially Troy.
Chapter Two PAM
"Sister Pam, can I talk to you for a minute?"
One look at Carmisha's puppy dog eyes and quivering bottom lip and I know what this conversation is going to be about. Carmisha gets on my nerves. She's new to our church and our Sister to Sister group, but already she's hip to the one-woman benevolence fund. Ever since Troy got paid, it's like the entire broke people's party adopted "Can You Pay My Bills?" as their theme song.
I give Carmisha my Sister Pam smile. The one I save for the folk at the church that I really would be cursing out if I wasn't saved.
"Sure, girl. What's going on?"
Carmisha glances around the community room, where we hold our meetings. Her baby blue contact lenses distract me.
Even though they perfectly match her weave, they look completely ludicrous next to her dark brown skin.
She says, "Sister Pam, I was hoping that I could ... well ... borrow a few dollars from you, just until I get my food stamps at the beginning of the month. Me and my babies don't have nothing to eat except raminy and peanut butter sandwiches."
"What's raminy, Carmisha?"
"You know, those little Oriental noodles."
"Ah. You mean ramen noodles. Those aren't really all that healthy."
"Yes, I know. My baby girl and baby boy need some fruits and vegetables."
"And protein," I add. "How about some ground beef?"
"Oh, yes, Sister Pam! They would love some hamburger meat."
I lift an eyebrow at her enthusiasm. "Did you know that we have a food pantry right here at the church? Let's go grocery shopping in there after the Sister to Sister meeting so that you and your babies don't go hungry."
Carmisha's excitement evaporates. I guess she's figured out that I won't be writing her a check today. Even if I had the means, I wouldn't. Not when there's perfectly good food that the church collects weekly for just this very purpose.
"Sister Pam, I know about the food pantry, but I was also hoping to get some personal hygiene products."
I sigh, open my purse, and pull out a twenty-dollar bill. I can't really spare it, but I can't imagine not being able to purchase tampons or deodorant. That's just pitiful.
Carmisha frowns but takes the money, anyway. I mean, how much was she expecting for some hygiene products? She should've thought up a better story if she wanted me to dig deeper in my pockets.
"Thank you, Sister Pam." I hear the words, but the girl's bitter tone makes it sound more like an insult than gratitude.
Yvonne, one of my best friends, sashays into the meeting, looking incredibly fresh for her forty-seven years. I guess the single life does that for a woman, because her looks definitely improved when she divorced her abusive and cheating husband, Luke. There's not a wrinkle on her smooth chocolate brown skin, and the few grays that she does have, she's deftly covered with dye.
"Pam! How are you, honey?" She hugs me tightly and kisses my cheek.
Yvonne and my other best friend, Taylor, are the only ones in the entire church that know about my money issues, and even they don't know the whole story. Even with the part that they do know, they're constantly hugging me and asking me how I'm doing. Sometimes, such as on a night like tonight, when I could choke the life out of Troy, their incessant checking up on me is irritating.
"I am doing okay," I say.
Yvonne gathers her eyebrows and gives a little head shake. "You are blessed and highly favored, Pam."
I nod and smile, unable to repeat Yvonne's words. Maybe I used to be highly favored, but not anymore. Not since Troy lost a fortune. Not since I got a book deal I don't know if I'm going to be able to pursue. I went to Starbucks and tried to write a book proposal, and nothing would come out. Maybe Troy is right. No black person ever got really rich writing books.
"What's going on with you, Yvonne?" I ask, trying to take the focus off of me.
"Nothing but work, work, and more work. Those kids are driving me right up the wall."
Yvonne's mini-rant evokes a real smile from me. She can complain all she wants about being a seventh grade English teacher, but I know she loves it. She never got to have children when she was married to her ex-husband, Luke, so she adopts every single last one of those babies like they are her very own.
"You love it!" I tease. "But I wasn't talking about work. What's going on with Kingston?"
Yvonne rolls her eyes. "Nothing! I'm too old for a knight in shining armor."
"You ain't too old for a man, Sister Yvonne," Carmisha chimes in. "And Brother Kingston is all that, if you like old guys."
"Oh hush, Carmisha! Nobody asked you!" Yvonne fusses while wearing a smile.
Carmisha pokes her lips out and nods while waving her hips from side to side in a little dance. She snaps her fingers and says, "Look at you smiling. You know you want to get with him."
"As much as it pains me to say this, I agree with Carmisha, Yvonne. You need to stop playing hard to get."
"Next topic!" Yvonne says. "Why is everybody always late to these things?"
"Taylor is not coming. I don't think," I reply. "Joshua has a soccer game tonight, and Spencer couldn't make it, so she's doing Mom duty."
"Well, what about Rhoda and Rochelle?" Yvonne asks.
Carmisha sucks her teeth. "I hope they don't come."
Sometimes Rhoda and Rochelle are the only things lively about the Sister to Sister meetings, even though they are full of drama. Outside of their gossip sessions, the group has gotten rather dull over the years, but we keep it going because it's ministry and every now and then someone really gets the help they need.
The door to the community room swings open, and a woman that I don't think I've ever seen before marches right inside. She's a little on the thick side. Actually, she's probably beyond thick to extra healthy, but she's got on a nice velour jogging suit and a pretty short wig with a bang that covers her eye. I give her my friendliest smile, my real smile—the one I save for new folks that visit the church who just might need to meet the Lord.
"Is my girl Taylor here yet?" she asks.
Oh, wait. I remember her. She's Taylor's old friend. I can't quite place her name, but she started attending our church with Taylor many, many years ago. She never came back after Taylor had an affair with Yvonne's husband and had a baby with him.
I wish she had returned. She would've witnessed a stone-cold miracle that only God could've orchestrated. It's hard to believe that a scorned wife could be reconciled to the mistress, but that's what happens when you put God in the mix.
"No, I don't think she's coming tonight," I reply as I walk over with an extended hand. "But do you remember me? I'm Pam. You're welcome to stay and join us, even if Taylor can't make it."
Excerpted from DON'T TELL A SOUL by TIFFANY L. WARREN Copyright © 2013 by Tiffany L. Warren. 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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