Got to be Real: Four Original Love Stories

Got to be Real: Four Original Love Stories

by E. Lynn Harris, Eric Jerome Dickey, Colin Channer, Marcus Major

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Love and romance used to be topics that only female writers would tackle. Not any more. A new crop of popular fiction writers are setting hearts afire and keeping pulses pounding, writing about finding love and keeping it—from a male perspective. In Got To Be Real: Four Original Love Stories, four of today's hottest African-American authors—E. LynnSee more details below


Love and romance used to be topics that only female writers would tackle. Not any more. A new crop of popular fiction writers are setting hearts afire and keeping pulses pounding, writing about finding love and keeping it—from a male perspective. In Got To Be Real: Four Original Love Stories, four of today's hottest African-American authors—E. Lynn Harris, Eric Jerome Dickey, Colin Channer, and Marcus Major—sound off in sexy, funny, and most of all, real stories about love.

Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
When it comes to writing sexy, sensitive novels for today's hot African-American publishing market, it ain't nothing but a guy thang.
USA Today
The new crop of black male writers has a special appeal....their ability to weave hip-hop humor with suspense and romance.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In recent years, African-American women have occupied center stage in romantic fiction, but their supremacy is being hotly contested by a growing number of black male authors who seek to address the issues of love and lust from the other side of the sexual divide. Four of the most popular of this group bring their fictional firepower to a quartet of tales of the heart that often surprises and shocks, but occasionally sags under the weight of workmanlike prose and aimless plotting. Major's story "Kenya and Amir" is an entertaining urban fable of an artful Lothario who finds the perfect love and almost loses it when he can't resist his own macho image. Harris's worthy tale, "Money Can't Buy Me Love," shows how love can restore even the most damaged heart when Jimmy, a gay doctor frustrated after a six-month drought of sex, receives a Valentine's Day gift from a pal. The story of healing and renewal showcases Harris's ability to move beyond sexual stereotyping to find the humanity in all of his characters. Channer's "I'm Still Waiting" is a complex riff on the contemporary music scene set against a lush Jamaican backdrop. Unfortunately, it spends as much time discussing pop musical trends as it does exploring its main characters. Possibly the weakest of the stories is Dickey's "Caf Piel." Bobby Davis, a struggling photographer, travels to Cabo San Lucas to collect a debt from John, a con man on the run. John talks him into doing one last job, shooting photos in Mexico for a tourist brochure, in order to collect his cash. Dickey tries to pump life into this familiar plot with Alejandria, a Mexican beauty who works for John. She and Bobby fall in love and together plot John's comeuppance. Their romance starts fast and furious but fizzles in the end, and lackluster execution never allows the story to soar. A groundbreaking effort in many respects, this memorable book provides a look at some of the biggest male names on the African-American literary scene trying their hand at short fiction in a collection that sometimes misfires but more often succeeds on a grand scale. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.44(w) x 6.56(h) x 1.15(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Chapter One

Cafe Piel (Eric Jerome Dickey)

When the elevator dinged and opened, over twenty mad-as-hell people were congregated outside of John's office. Camped out like they were trying to get tickets to a Jerry Garcia concert. Not one happy face.

An eviction notice from the L.A. county sheriff was stapled on John's mahogany door. The door was padlocked. By the date on the notice, all of that was at least a week old.

A middle-aged Asian, dressed in a pinstripe suit and suspenders the color of the American flag, was the loudest. Face flaming red. Spit leaping from his mouth as he screamed in his native tongue, his hands flying in kung-fu motions. Everybody stayed out of his way and let him Tae Bo his way up and down the brown carpet.

I asked the Mexican I had stopped next to, "What's his trip?"

"He lost a hundred thousand in restaurant equipment. From what I understand, John leased his equipment before he vanished."

"One hundred thousand?"

"One hundred thousand in top-of-the-line restaurant equipment. Enough to have him looking at bankruptcy."

"Makes my loss sound like chump change."

"Same here. But it doesn't mean I need my money any less."

"No sign of John?"

"Are you kidding?"

He said he heard John had packed up and moved everything. He was down today because of the check John had given him. A check drawn on the same account mine was.

I said, "Your check bounced too."

"No. Bank said this account was closed last year. I was hoping John's accountant accidentally wrote me a check on a wrong account, but"-he made an irritated motion at the eviction notice on thedoor-"I don't know. With this many people, this is fraud. I needed this two hundred dollars. I've got to get my kid a uniform for school and supplies and stuff."

"This is messed up."

"My name is Manuel Torres."

"Robert Davis. Call my Bobby."

A woman and a child were standing next to him. His wife and ten-year-old daughter. His wife was hardly five feet tall, with long black hair that touched her waistline. His child was slim, had Bambi eyes, dark hair, and despite the ruckus, she was polite with all smiles. He and his wife held hands in a way that spoke of love. Real love. Something I've dreamed about, but never had. He suggested, "We should start a list so if we can get some sort of class-action thing going, all parties involved can be informed."

"Good idea."

Manuel Torres turned to the crowd, put two fingers into his mouth, and whistled over their riot-level chatter. Everybody congregated at his feet. Everyone except the Asian, who stood in front of John's door and scowled like he wanted to kick it down.

Manuel suggested we investigate legal options and file against Jonathan to try and recoup some of our losses.

Avenues that would cost new cash to chase owed cash.

One of the women in the hallway blew out air that sounded like weeks, if not months, of frustration before she snapped, "There's no telling how many people he ripped off. That Asian man lost one hundred thousand. I lost three grand."

Another said, "It hurts like hell, but anything legal will take well over a year to settle. I've got a cleaning service to run, and I need every last dime of the capital I have. Most of you are probably in the same situation. We should just take this as a lesson learned and move on."

Two more left without apologies.

I didn't feel comfortable with nonblack people attacking a brother. Not one of them would spend a night in our community, let alone spend a dollar where a black man roosted behind a cash register. But this wasn't about being black. This was all about business. All about the green.

Something must've happened, like John had gotten ripped off at some higher level, and we were feeling the trickle-down effect of his hard time. If the sheriff had ridiculed me and tacked an eviction notice on my door, I don't think I'd be in the mood to rap with people over a few dollars. I'd be somewhere attacking my liver with a fifth of Bacardi 151.

Manuel said, "Everyone should contact this number if you hear anything. If you help one of us, you help all of us."

A couple of brothers got off the elevator. Both were draped in gold designer clothes from head to toe; each had a thick upper body and weak legs. They looked like South Central buffalo. They swaggered by without a word and stood in front of the door.

They rumbled like an urban glee club, "Ain't this a bitch."

We told them what we were doing with the mailing list.

The smaller of the two sneered. "What y'all plan on doing, sending out Christmas cards?"

Manuel explained to them what he hoped to accomplish.

One of the buffalo had a hard expression that said he thought all of us were idiots for thinking about dealing with John on that level, but the other one nodded his head, sighed like he had come to the conclusion he had nothing to lose, and signed the sheet of paper. Then both of those buffalo snorted, about-faced, and left with slow and angry strides.

I spent the rest of the morning in the sunshine and dry heat of Pasadena, on the streets of Old Town. Walking through the smog that spread over Colorado Boulevard, I held the classified ads in hand like a man in search of a dream deferred. The place I wanted to lease and turn into a photography studio, the opportunity that had been vacant for a few months in the heart of Old Town, was still there. Waiting. But like any woman worth having, she wouldn't wait for long before somebody passed by and noticed her beauty, saw her true value. She would wait until she was seduced by some brother with a few more dollars in his pocket and better credit than I had on my TRW.

A couple of nice-looking sisters-both caramel-coated and looking fine and wealthy in pastel-colored business suits, shades with yellow lenses, and corporate temperaments-sailed across the street at the diagonal crosswalk. Came toward me like I was luring them in. I struggled for a little eye contact, then spoke and gave them compliments like they were the finest of the fine.

They glanced at me, saw I was in Levi's, sandals, and a white T-shirt from the Minnie Rippleton 10-K, but they didn't stop their conversation or slow their stride. However, two or three white women on their heels gave me a peppy "Hi."

I said, "Hi."

"I really like your hair. Awesome, dude."

I ran my hair over my reddish-brown dreadlocks, my mane that hung below my shoulders, and smiled. "Thanks."

The snow bunnies even glanced back and showed those pearly whites. The one in the sienna miniskirt and white see-through top actually had a nice butt. Enough cleavage to show off her bought-and-paid- for breasts. When she stopped in front of a store, she openly stared back at me like she was contemplating some flirtation. Had a gleam in her eyes like she was wishing on a star. Pasadena was liberal, but my mind wasn't in that mode.

A few feet down, the women of African ancestry had stopped and chatted with some white boys. The Nubians were standing on the curb, kissing them on the cheeks. Blushing and smiling and touching them on the sleeves of their Brooks Brothers suits.

I couldn't get a sister to give me a conversational crumb let alone a whole colloquial cracker.

Time to move on.

I stopped at a pay phone and called the office that was handling the lease. I had called them at least ten times over the last few months. Had called so much they knew my voice.

I said, "What are the terms?"

"Still the same."

"Two-year contract."

"Yes, it is. Two-year contract with one year up-front."

"Is that negotiable?"

"Everything in life is negotiable."

I was facing Z Galleries and the space for lease. I checked out the number of people who were shopping Colorado Boulevard at off hours. The nonstop consumers were better than the regulars at most malls. Weekend nights up here had a party atmosphere: sidewalks crammed with street performers, boulevard with bumper-to-bumper nonstop traffic on the mile-long strip.

I said, "That's what I need to hear. I've noticed the space had been empty for a while."

"Yes, it has. I thought you were coming in."

"Having a cash-flow problem."

"At least yours is flowing."

"Could you do a month-to-month."

"Depends on the credit."

"Now, how much would actually be required to secure a lease?"

"What would you use as collateral?"

"Would a used Nova be considered collateral?"

She laughed hard. "Used Nova? Isn't that redundant?"

I ran my hands over my dreads, chewed my lip.

She asked, "Will someone be co-signing the lease?"

"No. Not if I can help it."

"Think about it. Whew. Used Nova. I'm dying over here. You must be a comedian?"

She was still cackling about my Nova. Her laughter calmed down, sounded like she drank some water, and she went down the actual dollar amount they would need a month. A dollar amount that didn't include utilities, phone, liability insurance, and a few other things. Like food. It sounded hard. With the amount of money I didn't have in my pocket or in my bank account, I was living one block from impossible. But I knew I could do it.

She said, "You want to stop by and fill out a lease?"

My hand bounced against my pocket. Not even a jingle.

Too bad dreams didn't have sounds, didn't make noises that other could hear, nothing they could see or feel or taste. Nobody can taste the dream but the dreamer. Nobody could smell what I wanted for me but me.

I said, "Not today. Thanks anyway."

"Well, why don't you give me your name and number, and if anything changes, if the proprietor revises his stipulations and makes them more auspicious, I'll give you a call."

I said a bland "Sure. If it's disconnected, call back in a day or two."

She laughed again. "You need to be onstage."

I hung up.

I stopped by the bulletproof post office on Crenshaw and Thirty-ninth, and sent a certified bill to the only address I had for John. Then, I used my calling card to phone every number I could think of, including his sister back east. Nobody knew where he was. At least nobody was saying. His family didn't care where he was. Sounded like they hoped he vanished for good, then hung up on me.

I made it back home late afternoon. Walked into my castle that had a mattress on the bedroom floor next to plastic milk crates with my clothes folded inside. Walls were plastered with pictures, black-and-white scenes of Los Angeles, Vegas, and Arizona, photos from riots, head shots I took for struggling actors who never paid me for the work.

A roach was in the corner. Staring at me.

My answering machine was flashing like it was mad at me too. It had one message that had used up a lot of tape. The message was from Jonathan Curry. He left me a number in the 619 area code to call him back. That southern California area code spread out south from below the Republicans in Orange County, all the way to the Tijuana border.

"Yo! Bob-bee! Heh, heh. Look 'a here, sorry about the mix-up. I just got word through the grapevine that things got pretty wild up there in Los Angeles. Good thing I was gone, right? Heh, heh. I tried to contact you so I could straighten you out, but I guess you were down at the office too. Look, I'm moving everything, and I want you to finish up the work for me. I've got a no-lost thing working. Same thing, different hotels and I don't have to deal with labor unions or-"

And it went on and on for two minutes.

I called the number. A female with a strong Latina accent and a no-nonsense business voice answered on the second ring. It was loud, lots of street noises. Too clear to be a cellular phone, so she had to be squatting at a phone booth.

I said, "John around there?"

"Who is asking?"

"Bobby. I'm looking for Jonathan Curry."

"You are who?"

"I'm the photographer. I did some work for him. He wrote me a check, and it bounced. I need some money so I can-"

"He is gone."

"Is he coming back?"

"No. He told me to give you a message."

I grunted. Ran my hand through my hair. I said, "Go ahead."

She told me where John was going to be working. When he needed me there. Where I would be staying.

I said, "That's a long way to go on a secondhand promise."

"Secondhand promise . . . I no understand."

"Your words are hearsay."

She paused, then sounded flustered, "I no understand."

"A long way. It's a long way from here to there."

"Yes, it is. That's why you must fly. He will send you tickets to fly. He will send a note and tell you where to come to do your work."

The best I could figure was that he'd fled with all the equipment and machinery he had "borrowed" and landed in a place with an attitude the opposite of the TV show Cheers-he went where nobody knew his face and nobody knew his name. It basically boiled down to me lugging my camera equipment to a designated spot and waiting for him to show up. Hoping he'd show up.

I said, "What about the money he already owes me?"

She said, "He say he pay you when you get there."

"Look, his check was no good. That made my checks bounce. I have people here I owe, and I need to pay now."

"He say he pay you for what he owe you and pay you for your travel expenses when you get here."

"So is the ticket he's sending one-way or round-trip? Last thing I need is to get strand-"

"All I know is what I have already told you. He will send you the ticket you need to fly. It will be at your home in the morning. He will tell you where you need to go."

"What is your name?"

"Who I am is not important."

Whoever she was, she must've had cataracts in her ears, because she sure couldn't see what I was saying.

"Whoever you are, give John a message for me."

She replied with an ambivalent, "Okay."

"Tell him I said to fuck off."

First she paused, like she was caught off guard; then in a harsh tone, she snapped a few things in Spanish before she switched back to English and said,

"What you say is not nice."

More rugged words in Spanish. I tried to say something, but she hung up. Every-damn-body was hanging up on me.

Now I was pissed off more than I'd ever been pissed off. I picked up the phone and dialed Manuel Torres.

He said, "Bobby, what's going on?"

I paused. Looked at the number I had for John. A quick call to 4-1-1 with the area code and prefix could tell me what area John was in. Might even be able to call the phone booth back and ask whoever answered exactly where they were. Thought for a second.

I rubbed my temple, said, "I called to say thanks for what you did today."

"Are you okay?"

"Just a little stressed."

"We all are."

"Thanks for . . . uh . . . for . . . looking out for everybody."

"Keep the faith, Bobby. This will pass."

I hung up. Hung up feeling bad. Like a fool to John's dealing. Like a coconspirator to Manuel Torres. How could I be a coconspirator if I didn't know what I was a coconspirator to?

All I knew was what was real, that my rent would be due soon.

I had borrowed all I could afford to borrow. I had looked up my own wall. Saw that one lonely roach. Thought about me. My own restlessness and anxiety. My needs. My wants. My future. So many thoughts.

Right now I had less money than a high school dropout. I was in a grind. I know that this time next year it wouldn't matter. It would be chalked up to experience. For better or for worse, my life would have changed. That would be next year. But right now my situation was all that mattered.

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