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The alarm clock beeped, waking Karim out of a dead sleep. He was never a morning person, but he couldn't take any more of the mechanical screaming. He moved his son's tiny feet from his forehead and reached over and slapped at the clock. He closed his eyes again but the alarm screamed again. He sat up and stared at the electronic aggravator as if his gaze alone would put an end to the madness.
"Baby," Lisa, his girlfriend and mother of his four-year-old son, said as she walked into the room and turned off the alarm. "It's time to get up. One more snooze and you'll be late for work."
"Who came up with that?" Karim said, frowning at the clock. "That's a horrible way to wake somebody up. Just jarring you awake like that can't be good for the heart."
"When I had it on radio, you slept right through it," Lisa said, sitting down beside him.
Karim ran his eyes over his woman's curvy figure. Her thick runner's legs, smooth chocolate skin, and nice plump breasts were his kryptonite.
Lisa caught him staring. "You see something you like?" she asked.
"Of course I do. And if I didn't have this headache you might be in trouble," he said, lying back down on the bed.
"Men," Lisa said, punching him on the leg as she jumped up from the bed. "You know they say if a man goes out and comes home drunk and won't make love to his woman that he's cheating."
"I was cheating," Karim said, rubbing his throbbing head at the temples. "With this little short lady named Patron."
"Why are you drinking so much?" Lisa asked, obviously unaffected by the slight.
"I don't know."
"Leo had to drag you in here last night like some old alcoholic. I don't like that," she said, shaking her head.
"I know," Karim moaned.
He had heard this speech before, and unfortunately he was beginning to hear it a little too much.
"Well, you better get up," Lisa said, moving on with her morning rituals. "If you don't want to be late for work again."
Karim closed his eyes and massaged his temples.
"Karim," Lisa called from the bathroom.
"You wanna talk?"
"Nothing to talk about," Karim lied.
Lisa sighed and walked out of the bathroom and over to the bed. She reached over Karim and grabbed the sleeping Dominic.
"Come on, little fella. Time to rise and shine," she said, shooting Karim a questioning look.
Dominic, who'd inherited Karim's morning moodiness, frowned and tried to crawl to get under his father.
"Oh no you don't," Lisa said, grabbing her chubby little boy before he could get away. "You have to go to school, little buddy."
"Noooooo," Dominic said as he desperately tried to get away.
"Karim, I meant to tell you, Nadiah called while you were out. Sounded like something was wrong, but she didn't share with me," Lisa said, picking up the telephone and checking the caller ID. "It was around two-thirty."
"She must need something."
"Well, call her back," Lisa said, taking Dominic into the bathroom to wash him up. "She is your only sister."
"That she is," Karim said, still lying down, rubbing his head.
The doorbell rang.
"What the . . . ? Who is that at this time of morning?" Karim said, jumping up and stomping his way over the cold hardwood floors of their Stone Mountain townhouse. He cursed as he hustled down the stairs, through the foyer, and to the door. He peeped through the tiny glass and cursed again.
"Karim," the voice on the other side called. "I see you."
Karim took a deep breath and tried to calm himself.
It was Senior, the neighborhood nut case. The word was that Senior had taken some angel dust in his younger years and now, at forty, had the brain of an eight-year-old. All day, every day, he walked up and down the streets harassing people about doing odd jobs for them. He was harmless, but aggravating as a fly at barbecue.
"Senior, do you know what time it is? You out here ringing the damn doorbell like you took a laxative or something," Karim said.
"Sorry 'bout that, Dad," Senior said with his customary greeting for anyone born a male. "It's daylight, though."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Time to get up, Dad," Senior said with wide eyes. "Time to rise and shine, man."
"What are you, a rooster?"
"Come on, Dad, cut that out. Look here. I wanted to give you the first crack at these." Senior opened a plastic grocery bag filled with discarded television remotes.
"What?" Karim said, looking at his neighbor like he had finally flipped all the way out. "No thank you, man."
"Dad, you ain't even looked at 'em. I got Hitachi, Sony, Sharp, all the top brands, man."
"Senior, I want you to go home and take your medication."
"I'm good on that. Later for that. I gotta make money, Dad. Hustlas don't sleep." Senior smiled.
Karim's neck automatically jerked in for a closer look. This dude has one tooth, he noticed as he tried not to laugh. He was already missing about twenty-six of the thirty-two; now he seemed to have lost a few more.
"No thanks, Senior. I gotta go now," Karim said as he tried to close the door, but Senior put his foot in the jamb to stop him.
"Dad, wait up. I'll give 'em to you for the low low."
"Senior, I don't want those things for the no no. Now get your foot out of my door before I break it."
"You ain't gotta do me like that, Dad, but it's cool. Just let me hold two dollars until Friday."
"Today is Friday," Karim said.
"For real?" Senior asked. He slapped his pockets like he was looking for something. "Okay, Dad. I'll holla at you later, okay?"
"Okay, Senior." Karim shook his head as he pushed the door closed and locked it.
"Who was that?" Lisa asked as Karim walked back into the bedroom.
"Who do you think?"
"Six-thirty in the morning and he's trying to sell some old remote controls."
"Remote controls," Lisa said, laughing as she returned from Dominic's room with his clothes.
"Man, that dude is tossed off in the head." Karim rubbed his own temples. "Did you know he only has one tooth?"
"I thought he had four."
"Somebody must've knocked the other three out. Now it's just that one hanging from the top of his mouth. Then he had the nerve to smile like he's on a dental plan. Oh . . . ," Karim said, lying across the bed on his stomach. "My head is about to explode."
"Well, I would suggest you go to the doctor, but that's just a hangover. Are you going to work?"
"I don't think so. I might pull the laptop out later, but I can't deal with that traffic this morning." Karim rolled over on his back.
"Karim," Lisa said. "Now, I don't want to be a nag and I know you're grown, but when you start taking off from work because you had too much to drink, don't you think that's a problem?"
"I don't have a problem, but I appreciate your concern."
Lisa stared at him without saying a word, then walked over and leaned down to give him a good-bye kiss.
"I can still smell the liquor on your breath. Go brush your teeth," she said, tossing their son's book bag over her shoulder.
"Look at this handsome fella," Karim said, sitting up and reaching his arms out for his son. "Who do you look like?"
"Dadddddyyyy," Dominic said, running into his father's outstretched arms.
Karim kissed him on his forehead, lips, and cheeks and hugged him tight. "Man, you're going to be the sharpest guy on the campus today."
"Hey, Daddy," Dominic said, rubbing his eyes. All of a sudden the little guy covered his nose. "Your breath stinks."
"Man, you just heard your mom say that. Stop being a follower."
"It does, Daddy," Dominic said, and he maneuvered his little body trying to get out of his father's arms.
"Oh, it's like that, huh?" Karim said, giving his son a slight shove. "Well, get on then. Ya little sellout. I thought you were my homey."
"Daddy, can you brush your teeth so you can take me to school?" Dominic asked.
Karim chuckled. "Mommy's gonna take you to school today, buddy. Daddy's not feeling well."
"You're not coughing," Dominic said, looking up with his big brown eyes.
"I don't have a cold. I got a headache."
"I wanna stay with you, Daddy," Dominic whined.
"Not today, my man. Your class is going on a field trip. Did you forget?"
"I don't wanna go," Dominic pouted. "I wanna stay with you."
Karim smiled but wanted to cry at the same time. He stared at Dominic's innocent face and a flash of his demons came into view. Karim forced himself back to the present.
Dominic walked over to his father and wiped away a tear that was making its way down Karim's cheek.
Lisa hustled back into the room fully dressed, with her briefcase in her hand.
" 'Bye, sweetie. I'll see you this afternoon," she said.
"Have a good day," Karim said, forcing a smile. "See ya later, li'l buddy."
" 'Bye, Daddy," Dominic said, staring into his father's eyes.
Karim stared back into his son's eyes. Something was special about this child. It was as if he knew his secret and was here to make everything okay again. Most little kids would ask why he was crying, but Dominic just stood there without a word. It was as if he was God's son masquerading around as a little boy.
"I'll take you to get some ice cream when you come home today. Okay?" Karim said.
"Okay," Dominic said with an instant smile.
Karim walked his family to the door and watched them until they were safe in the car and backing out of the driveway.
He walked back into his bedroom and looked at the clock. It was already eight o'clock.
He thought about going into his office, but just the thought made his head hurt even more. He would have to call in sick.
Karim crawled back into his bed and grabbed the telephone. He dialed his office number and started a fake cough. He put on his best sick voice.
"Mellon Financial Corporation. How may I help you?"
"Good morning, Maggie. This is Karim. I'm not feeling well so I'm going to stay in today. Coming down with a cold or something."
"Oh no," Maggie, the company's secretary, said. "Well, get you some vitamin C and some echinacea tea."
"Thanks. I'll try that."
"I'll pass the message along. Take care of yourself."
"I will, and I'll see you on Monday," Karim said, hanging up the phone and getting back out of the bed.
He walked into the bathroom and brushed his teeth. Once he was done with his other bathroom duties, he returned to his California king-sized bed and found a comfortable spot, intent on enjoying a peaceful Friday.
He grabbed the remote, pointed it at the plasma screen hanging over the fireplace on the far wall, and flipped channels until he found Sports Center.
Just as Karim had settled into a comfortable spot, the house phone rang. He looked at the caller ID and ignored it. It was Nadiah, and the call could only mean one of two things: either she wanted something or she needed something. Either way, it would have to wait.
Karim reached over and turned the ringer off. Less than a minute later, his cell phone rang. He looked at the small screen.
Same number. Same response.
He let the call go to his voice mail and pulled the covers over his shoulders.
A deep, sound sleep followed but he was jarred awake by the chimes of his doorbell.
Karim rolled over and stared at the ceiling. He couldn't believe this.
He jumped up and headed to the door, hell-bent on choking the life out of Senior. He looked through the glass, and what he saw was even worse than Senior.
"Damn," he said before opening the door.