Read an Excerpt
The Cheetah Girls, Book 7
By Deborah Gregory
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2000 Deborah Gregory
All rights reserved.
When I see my foster mother, Mrs. Bosco, sprawled out on the bed in her teeny cubbyhole of a bedroom, I know right away that something is up. I immediately get this squiggly spasm in my stomach. She never lies down in there before bedtime unless she's upset or sick. Either way, it's bad news.
I know she had to go down to the agency today—the Administration of Children's Services in Brooklyn—which is supposedly responsible for the lives of thousands of foster kids like me in the Big Apple. This can only mean one thing, I figure—we've lost custody of Corky!
"Please don't tell me they are going to take Corky away!" I pray. "If anybody has to go, let it be Kenya."
Now I know that's a terrible thing to say, but you've got to understand—my foster sister Kenya is spastic-on-the-elastic tip. She's only six, and I don't want to be around when she's old enough to really start ad-lipping—running her mouth off the cuff, if you know what I'm saying.
Before you think we've got it on easy street or something, let me tell you about the other foster kids living here with Mr. and Mrs. Bosco. Besides myself—Dorinda Rogers (or Do' Re Mi, as my crew, the Cheetah Girls, call me)—there are five other girls. Kenya shares a room with five-year-old Arba (from Albania—she's the newest member of our foster family) and my favorite sister, Twinkie. I share my bedroom with Chantelle (who hogs my computer) and Monie the Meanie (who spends most of her time with her boyfriend these days).
But wait—I'm not done yet! There are also five boys! There's Corky, who I've already mentioned. Then there's Khalil, Nestor, precious Topwe (his mother is from Africa!), and last but not least, Shawn the Fawn.
So, as you can see, Mr. and Mrs. Bosco really have their hands full. The Boscos aren't getting any younger, either—they're old enough to be grandparents—and Mrs. Bosco's been sick on and off, the past couple of years. So the last thing they need is trouble with Family Court.
Which brings me back to Corky. He has lived with us since he was crawling around in diapers and eating lint off the floor. Four years later, his father comes out of the blue, trying to win back custody. Where was "Daddykins" back then, huh?
Now Mrs. Bosco has to bring Corky all the way to Brooklyn for monthly visits with "Mister Good-for-Nothing"—that's what she calls Corky's father, Mr. Dorgle. Mrs. Bosco even has to go to Family Court for the custody proceedings.
"I wish a judge would just hit that fool over the head with a gavel and be done with it. Case closed," Mrs. Bosco says, turning on her other side to face me.
"I know that's right," I humph nervously, because I just dread what's coming. I feel stupid hovering in the doorway, but Mrs. Bosco's bedroom is really tiny, so I never go in there unless she says I can.
"Come on and sit on the bed, Dorinda," Mrs. Bosco says, chuckling and wheezing at the same time. I sit on the edge of the bed, trying not to take up any space.
"I spent the whole day fighting with those people," Mrs. Bosco says, putting her hand on her forehead like it hurts.
"Those people" are what she calls the case-workers, who "push a lot of paper around doing nothing."
"I swear they got on my last nerve today," she continues, her Southern drawl more pronounced than usual because she's upset. She raises herself up from the bed, then puts on her glasses and squints at me. "Dorinda, how come your eyes are red?"
"I guess I was rubbing them because I'm tired," I say, yawning. "You know I had dance class tonight at the Y."
"Oh, yeah, how is that Truly child?" Mrs. Bosco asks, chuckling softly.
"Still teaching us more combinations than Bugga Bear Jones does in the ring," I chuckle back. Bugga Bear Jones is Mr. Bosco's favorite boxer. Mr. Bosco watches boxing on the television at his night job as a security guard. "That Truly child" would be my dance teacher, Darlene Truly, who is, well, "truly" dope.
Mrs. Bosco calls everybody "child," because sometimes she can't remember their names. I can tell by the way she chuckles that she likes Ms. Truly, though. After all, Ms. Truly did hook me up with an audition as a backup dancer for one of the dopest dope singers on the planet—Mo' Money Monique. I got the job, too, but in the end I didn't take it—partly because of Mrs. Bosco, and partly because of my crew, the Cheetah Girls.
Yeah, the Cheetah Girls are in the house. Besides me, that would be Galleria "Bubbles" Garibaldi; Chanel "Chuchie" Simmons; and the hot-sauce twins from Houston, Texas, Aquanette and Anginette Walker. (Every week we have new nicknames for the twins—but to their faces, we call them Aqua and Angie for short.)
We're not just a crew, either. We're a supa-chili singing group. I'm not just flossin'— we're waiting to hear from Def Duck records, 'cuz they're talkin' about us making a demo, and then maybe even a record deal!
That was after I turned down the Mo' Money Monique job, though. I didn't turn it down because I knew the Cheetah Girls were about to hit it big—I did it because I love my crew. I love my foster family, too—even Kenya. I was just riffing about her before 'cuz she gets on my nerves. Nope—no way was I gonna leave my crew or my foster family—because they're really all I have.
"Do you know that fool had the nerve not to show up today?" Mrs. Bosco says, shaking her head. "He should just leave this child alone and hide back under whatever rock he crawled out of." I can tell Mrs. Bosco is just getting started. "Where I come from, he woulda never seen the inside of no courtroom. We woulda just chased him out of town with a shotgun nipping at his heels, and dared that fool to look back!"
Mrs. Bosco was "born and raised in good ole Henderson, NC," as she likes to say. NC—that's North Carolina. She is very old, and she comes from a long line of tobacco sharecroppers. She had to work in the fields when she was only eight years old, and she never went to school. That's why Mrs. Bosco is illiterate—even though we're not supposed to know that, and certainly the social workers aren't! They wouldn't let us live here if they knew, and then where would all of us be?
You know, Mrs. Bosco's being illiterate really cost me, too. She wanted to adopt me, but she didn't understand the procedure, so the adoption never went through. She and Mr. Bosco threw me a big party before we found out. She says she's still going to adopt me, but I don't ask her about it anymore.
"I'm tired of them fooling with Corky's mind," she goes on. "How can they even consider putting him with Mr. Good-for-Nothing is beyond me, but that's typical, you know."
I breathe a sigh of relief, now that I know it's just another round in the custody battle, and nothing final has been decided.
"Even after him not showing up, they are still gonna continue with this mess," Mrs. Bosco adds, taking off her glasses and lying back down on her bed. "Oh, by the way, Dorinda—your caseworker is coming by here tomorrow to see y'all. What's her name again?"
"Mrs. Tattle," I say, reminding her. "I'll come straight home after vocal class. How come she's coming on a Saturday?"
"She said she had to see you—that probably just means she's leaving for her vacation and needs to finish up her paperwork," Mrs. Bosco says with a sigh.
Mrs. Bosco is probably right. I've had more caseworkers than I can count—sometimes I can't even remember their names, because they come and go so fast. Some of them look kinda sad—like they wish they were someplace else, doing something different.
I know what that's like. Before I started school at Fashion Industries East High—where I met my crew and became a Cheetah Girl—I didn't have many real friends, and I wasn't sure what I was going to do with my life. Now I know: I'm going to sing, dance, make costumes—and make people happy, too.
Kenya lets out a scream loud enough to chase my daydreams away. I look back at Mrs. Bosco, but she is nodding off again, so I whisper, "I'll see you later." She does that all the time. She can be talking one minute, then sleeping the next. Like a cat, I guess.
Walking toward the kitchen, I call out, "What are y'all doing in there?" As usual, someone is trying to get at some food in the kitchen cupboard. "You know you're not supposed to be climbing on the counter, Kenya. How many times does Mrs. Bosco have to tell you that?" I shake my head. Kenya never listens to anybody.
"I want some popcorn!" she yells.
"I'll get it," I tell her, then pull up a chair and stand on it to reach the big bag of Brand Ann popcorn. Like I said before, Kenya is always whining about something and never shares anything with the rest of us. I know she steals candy and stuff from stores, because sometimes I find the wrappers under her bed or they fall out of her backpack and pockets. When I do, she just gives me this blank look, like she doesn't know how they got there.
When I first came to live at Mrs. Bosco's, I was really angry—I guess because my mother abandoned me, and then my first foster mother gave me up. I used to steal candy, too, but I stopped doing it after a while, when I wasn't so mad anymore. Maybe Kenya will settle down someday, too. I sure hope so.
Peering into the oven, I see my plate of food, covered in tinfoil. The kids have all eaten dinner, and as usual, Mrs. Bosco has left me something for when I get home from class—but I'm too tired to look and see what it is. I just take the bag of popcorn into the living room and plop down in front of the television.
I give Corky the first handful, even though that makes Kenya mad. "Thank you," he says, his pretty greenish-gray eyes sparkling at me. He is so cute—I can't understand why anyone would give him away, even though I know everything is not so simple as that. Grown-ups have lots of problems, and sometimes they just can't deal with them.
I pass around handfuls of popcorn to Khalil, Arba, Twinkie, Topwe, and Shawn, who are all sitting around waiting for their favorite show to come on TV.
Corky puts his hand out for more. "I'm gonna call you Porky instead of Corky," I chuckle, watching his mischievous grin get bigger. Corky's mother was put away in a "mental health facility." I know this because I help with the paperwork and bills, so I can't help reading some of the files and reports we get.
I'll bet you if Corky's mother could see how cute he is now, it would make her mental illness go away. Sometimes people aren't really crazy, Mrs. Bosco says—they're just tired and confused. Maybe Corky's mother is like that.
"Stop pushing me!" Kenya screams at Nestor, who is trying to get a better seat in front of the television. Nestor just ignores Kenya. He is eight, and kinda quiet. Sometimes he sits at the table and eats so fast he never even looks up at anybody. That's how he got his nickname, "Nestlé's Quik." As usual, he has already gobbled his handful of popcorn—earning his nickname to the max.
Zoning out in front of the television, I just munch away, staring at the stupid commercials.
"Gimme more!" my brother Topwe moans. I just hand him the bag of popcorn, because I'm so tired of him trying to take it on the sneak tip. Brand Ann tastes like a whole bunch of air anyway—it's not the good stuff, like Piggly Wiggly Chedda Puffs, which sticks to your fingers and has a supa-cheesy flow.
"You ate it olle, Dori-i-n-da!" Topwe says, peering up at me and baring the mile-wide gap between his two front teeth. Topwe cracks me up, because he speaks English with his own African groove. Topwe was born HIV-positive because his mother was a crack addict. Sometimes he comes down with nasty colds, but basically he's okay—and he eats "like a hungry hog." That's what the twins, Aqua and Angie, said after they saw Topwe in action at my "adoption" party.
Aqua and Angie made the bomb spread of yum-yums for everyone to eat, but Topwe ate the whole tray of candied yams before anybody else got a whiff of it. His name means vegetable in some African dialect, so I guess the yams were a good choice, you know what I'm saying? Now Topwe keeps asking me when the twins are coming back over with some more "kaandied yoms."
"I want some more!" Kenya moans, poking out her mouth in a pout.
"Mom, can we open the other bag of popcorn?" I call out to Mrs. Bosco. Ever since I almost got adopted, she said it was okay to call her "Mom," so I do. I mean, I've lived here seven years, so I don't think she's gonna give me away.
"Just make sure the kids don't leave kernels all over the floor," Mrs. Bosco yells back.
"Okay—um," I say, holding back on calling her Mom again. I don't want to overdo it or anything.
"When is this over?" Kenya asks when the news brief comes on after the commercial.
"Soon, just watch," I reply. I'm so tired I would watch anything. Of course, they're all waiting for their favorite show to come on—She's All That and a Pussy Cat.
"Oh, it's the news," whines Khalil. "I hate the news. It always makes me sad."
The news announcer says, "Now, more on Paulo Rivera's Fib-ulous Ride." A picture of a cute boy flashes on the television screen. The reporter continues, "A thirteen-year-old boy's tall tale of his solo odyssey from the Dominican Republic to New York in search of his only living relative turns out to be a journey in his imagination."
Now my eyes are glued to the television screen. Even Kenya stops fidgeting as the reporter talks about this boy, Paulo Rivera, who ran away from home and took a bus from New Jersey to the Big Apple. Apparently he told everyone that he had run away from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and traveled 2,000 miles on his own—all the way to New York!
"Paulo claimed he was searching for his father," says the reporter. "But the father, it turns out, died of AIDS a year ago. 'Paulo attended the funeral, but still refuses to believe it,' says the boy's tearful aunt, with whom Paulo lived in New Jersey. The aunt reported him missing when he didn't come home from school.
"It's not clear what will happen to Paulo Rivera, who is now under the care of the Administration for Children's Services. ACS officials could not be reached for comment," the reporter says, finishing the news report.
Suddenly, I feel sorry for Paulo. All that trouble he went through, just to end up in foster care. It doesn't seem fair.
"That's cold he got caught," says Khalil, who is glued to the television screen. He has only lived at Mrs. Bosco's for a few months and has been in a lot of foster homes. He kinda keeps to himself, even though he's cool. "If that had been me, I would have been Audi 5000—they would have never found me, yo."
"How come?" I ask—because I'm really curious how an eleven-year-old kid thinks he could disappear and live by himself.
"'Cuz when I ran away from my last foster home, they didn't find me. I came back by myself," Khalil says, like he's bragging or something.
"How many foster homes wuz you in?" Nestor asks.
"Four," Khalil says, like he's talking about trophies.
"I was in three," Nestor says, like he's bragging.
"I almost got adopted," Chantelle blurts out.
Hmmm. I've never heard this one before. Maybe Chantelle is fibbing, just to get attention.
"No you didn't," Nestor says nastily.
"Yes I did, but I didn't want to stay," Chantelle says.
Twinkie nuzzles up to me and puts her head on my shoulder, her fuzzy hair flouncing all the over the place. "I bet you that boy wuz looking for somebody. "
Twinkie is so smart. "Yeah. I bet you he was," I reply, then hold her tight while we watch the show.
"I wanna find my father," Khalil announces. It's the first time he's ever said anything like that. I notice that Nestor is pretending he's not listening.
"How do you know you've got a father?" Chantelle asks, with an attitude.
"'Cuz I do. My mother told me," Khalil says matter-of-factly.
"You have a mother?" I ask, surprised.
"Of course I have a mother, stupid," Khalil says, getting annoyed now.
"Well, I don't," I say, just to show him I'm not stupid.
"Yes you do," Khalil says. "Everybody has a mother."
"Well, I never saw her!" I exclaim, embarrassed.
"Don't you ever want to find your mother?" Nestor asks, ganging up on me too.
Excerpted from Dorinda's Secret by Deborah Gregory. Copyright © 2000 Deborah Gregory. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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