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By Denene Millner
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Denene Millner
All right reserved.
"Effie, will you come on here?" Deena snapped over her shoulder as she raced toward the theatre, her left hand holding down the wig that, with every pronounced step, threatened to teeter off her head, her right clutching her mother's apricot church shoes. She'd snuck those shoes out of her mother's closet moments after May Jones left for her PTA meeting, and prayed the whole hour and a half while her mother was gone that she (a) would hurry back and be so dead tired from her long day teaching third grade and arguing with the parents of Spruce Street Elementary School that she'd go straight to sleep without making a big fuss over what time Deena turned the lights out, and (b) wouldn't come back in the house looking for those shoes. They were the perfect complement to the apricot gowns she and her best friends Effie and Lorrell sewed special for the Monday night R&B competition at the Detroit Theatre, and she simply would not be able to perform the steps with grace and distinction if she didn't have those shoes. The good news was that her mother was so beat that instead of turning on the light and tapping Deena's shoulder to let her know she was home, May simply stuck her head in Deena's room, then quietly shut the door, walked back into the living room, and tucked into the pull-out sofa, completely unaware that her child was stuffed under her bedspread in full clothes and makeup,waiting to sneak out into the darkness and toward her shot at stardom. The bad news? May came home much later than Deena planned and decided to unwind with a little reading, which meant that it was an incredibly long time before Deena could sneak out. And now the Dreamettes were almost an hour late for their slot in the competition.
"Look, I'm going as fast as I can, but it ain't easy getting all of this woman to run top speed in heels," Effie huffed, trailing way behind the much more agile Deena and Lorrell. Effie's brother, C.C., having had to stop and pick up the sheet music and makeup kit he'd dropped all across the sidewalk, was bringing up the rear. "Besides, we ain't missing our spot because I'm not running fast enough, Miss My Mama Got Home Late, so don't try to put this on me."
"Just come on," Deena huffed, picking up her pace.
Lorrell, who reached the theatre first, stopped dead in her tracks under the huge marquee, which had so many lights, it illuminated almost the entire length of the block. A smile slowly spread across her face as she read the words:
James Thunder Early
Plus local talent revue
The theatre, which in its heyday had been an opulent movie palace that showcased newsreels and silent films for white audiences, was a shell of its former self--the seats and carpet and the grand flowing red curtain long molded and dusty from years of abuse and neglect. But it came alive every Monday evening--the only night the cash-strapped owners allowed coloreds in the theatre's seats--when the local black radio station hosted its hugely popular Motor City Revue, which was attended by most anybody who had some dress clothes and the $2.50 to get through the door. Even R&B stars like James "Thunder" Early, a local boy gone big with a few soul hits rotating on black stations, knew that if they were touring in Detroit, they'd best talk their way onto the Monday night marquee if they'd wanted to really get some love in the Motor City.
Deena rushed past her and into the theatre's backstage alley, where contestants dressed in flashy tuxes and spectacular gowns dragged on cigarettes and drank from half-empty whiskey flasks, taking a break from the raucous show inside. She almost ran face-first into two well-heeled ladies who were rushing out the door, suitcases in hand, and in an apparent argument with a man who was begging them to stop and listen.
"Ladies, come on now, you can't leave. What about the show? What about Jimmy?" he asked, touching one of the women on the shoulder.
"Marty, you know I can talk," the woman said, snatching her shoulder away. "Now watch me walk."
"Joann, sugar, Jimmy was just bein' Jimmy. You know he's crazy 'bout you. Just crazy."
"Oh really? Well why don't you give the crazy man a message from me?" Joann said, stopping to face Marty. "Tell him I got his number. His phone number."
The woman cut him off. "At home. Where he lives. With his wife."
Joann's friend, who looked equally pissed, pushed past Deena, who'd stopped short when she saw the two beautiful women, exquisitely dressed in beaded gowns and jewels Deena had never seen, except in the occasional magazine she snuck and read in the library when she was supposed to be studying. Their beauty made Deena quite conscious of her bony, delicate frame (not to mention her raggedy homemade gown); and their voices, rich and smoky and loud, made her nearly shrink into the wall. How, she thought, would the Dreamettes ever be able to compete with those grown women?
"Come on, Joann. Our limousine is waiting," the woman said, jutting her chin out toward a junky taxicab that had pulled up in front of the theatre.
"Shit," Marty said, tossing a look at the crowd that had turned its attention to the drama before pushing past a slick-suited man who was, by then, holding the stage door open for him.
"Hey mister," the man said as Marty rushed by. "Can I interest you in the sound of tomorrow?"
Marty spit out his cigarette and went back inside the theatre without saying a word. Curtis quickly stopped the stage door with his foot, a move that snapped Deena out of the trance she'd fallen into as she followed the back-alley theatrics. "Oh my God, we're too late!" she yelled.
Excerpted from Dreamgirls by Denene Millner Copyright © 2006 by Denene Millner. Excerpted by permission.
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