I'm Telling: A Novel [NOOK Book]

Overview

Eleven-year-old Faith Freeman has a secret: She saw her stepfather molesting her twin sister, Hope. This unspoken truth clouds family relations for almost twenty years, until Faith decides she's had enough heavy weather. As if juggling her career as a New York literary agent, a loving relationship with her boyfriend, Henry, and the care of her aging (and agitated) mother weren't enough, Faith takes on the burden of her twin's wounded psyche. So damaged was Hope at the hands of incestuous "Papa" that the ...
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I'm Telling: A Novel

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Overview

Eleven-year-old Faith Freeman has a secret: She saw her stepfather molesting her twin sister, Hope. This unspoken truth clouds family relations for almost twenty years, until Faith decides she's had enough heavy weather. As if juggling her career as a New York literary agent, a loving relationship with her boyfriend, Henry, and the care of her aging (and agitated) mother weren't enough, Faith takes on the burden of her twin's wounded psyche. So damaged was Hope at the hands of incestuous "Papa" that the crackhouses of Harlem and prostitution on the boulevards of Queens beckon as an escape from an all-too-painful reality.

Just when Hope seems on the verge of turning herself around, she enacts a betrayal so unforgivable that the sisterly bond she so desperately -- yet secretly -- desires may be severed forever. With her whole family watching, Faith must call upon her gifts of language, compassion, and understanding to save her sister and herself.

For anyone who has ever chosen between speaking up and backing down, I'm Telling is the story of one family's darkest hour that lights the way toward love and redemption.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Incest, drug addiction, publishing intrigue and a lesbian wedding are just a few of the outrageous plot elements juggled in Miller's second novel, a disjointed and often lurid story about the ups and downs of a young black woman whose family has a major flair for histrionics. Faith Freeman is the 30-ish protagonist who has a great life with her boyfriend, a former coke dealer turned investment banker named Henry Prince, as well as a budding career as a New York literary agent with a brainy, lesbian business partner. But the cross she bears is her troubled family, most notably her twin sister, Hope, a crack whore who was molested at 10 by their stepfather and then went on to sleep with her mother's subsequent men. Miller (Satin Doll) creates a freewheeling cast of flawed characters, setting up a jarring stylistic juxtaposition between the lighthearted romantic scenes involving Faith and Henry, some similarly easygoing work sequences that portray cantankerous clients and landmark authors (including a thinly disguised Walter Mosley character) and the ongoing eruptions among Faith, Hope and their troubled mother, Irene. While she does manage to fit all the pieces together, many of the family scenes are planted firmly in Jerry Springer territory: Hope's severe emotional problems are too often presented in a titillating manner that borders on exploitation. But overall, it's certainly not boring. Agent, Liza Dawson. (July 23) Forecast: Satin Doll, initially self-published, became a Blackboard bestseller; expect a similar reception for Miller's coyly titled latest. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another story of tensions among the black bourgeoisie: here, aspirations are complicated by family history when a successful twin tries to help her addicted sister-but nearly loses her own man. Graphic in language and raunchy in tone, Miller's second (after the originally self-published Satin Doll, 2001) about good sister Faith, who tries to help bad sister Hope, is as much about the never-ending obligations of a dysfunctional family as about a woman with a loving heart. Faith, a literary agent, can still remember seeing her 11-year-old twin sister being abused by Papa, the girls' stepfather. Her mother had married Papa after being widowed with four small children to raise. And mother, Miss Irene, would never hear anything bad about Papa. He eventually moved out but not before trying to rape the 15-year-old Faith, who slashed his wrist open and then ran away. She met high-school senior Henry, who took her home and gave her a bed. Later, the two moved in together while he paid for her to attend college. As the story opens, they're still together. While at school, Henry sold cocaine to support the family but now is a successful businessman. As Faith deals with an overweight and overstressed Miss Irene and her crack-taking tenants, she tries to convince Hope, who also takes drugs, shoplifts, and does tricks, that she should get help, but Hope wants no talk about the past. When Miss Irene accuses Hope of stealing her boyfriend, Faith lets Hope move in with her and Henry on the condition she gets a job and counseling. Hope, however, continues to be as self-destructive as ever. And poor Faith, who tries to help Miss Irene as well, soon has a major crisis on her hands. Not as strong a story asSatin Doll, but an affecting if static portrait of family ties.
From the Publisher
Today's Black Woman Miller has crafted a novel of complex issues...incest, lies, and blind devotion.

The Philadelphia Inquirer I'm Telling is an urban fairy tale, a rollicking and robust tale of incest and love, sister and mother bonds, career success, and the lure of the streets.

Essence I'm Telling is a provocative tale...of a shocking secret.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439129388
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 5/11/2010
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 171,302
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Karen E. Quinones Miller is the Essence bestselling author of Satin Doll, I'm Telling, Using What You Got and Uptown Dreams. She has been nominated for the NAACP Literary Award. In addition, she is a literary consultant, CEO of Oshun Publishing Company, and a former literary agent. She lives in Philadelphia with her daughter, Camille.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Shit!" Faith stumbled back from the greasy cabinet door as a large mouse scurried from behind the two-pound box of Uncle Ben's rice for which she had been reaching.

"What did you say?"

"Nothing, Mommy," Faith hollered from the kitchen into her mother's bedroom. The rice was unopened, but she inspected the packaging carefully to see if it had been assaulted by the fleeing mouse. It hadn't.

"Yes you did. I heard you say something," came Miss Irene's teasing reply. "And don't you be cursing in my house. You may be thirty and a hotshot literary agent, but I'm still your mother, and I can still get up off this bed and put a foot in your behind."

"Twenty-nine, Mommy."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing," Faith hollered again.

"Yes you did. I heard what you said. I'm your mother and I know how old you are. You're thirty years old. I don't know why you have to keep lying about your age," Miss Irene hollered, before bursting into laughter.

Faith grunted and looked around the tiny kitchen for something to wipe her hands with. She picked up a hand towel that was thrown over the back of a rickety wooden chair, but threw it back down when she realized it had large, black mildew spots on it and smelled. Ugh.

She used to come over and clean up for Mommy, but gave up when she realized that Mommy didn't care one way or the other and that the house would be back to its same nasty state in a matter of days. Faith once thought that Mommy had had a nervous breakdown a few years back and somehow this accounted for her wanting to live in utter filth. The house was never like this before Papa left Mommy for a younger woman. Faith even once suggested that Mommy see a psychologist, but her mother flew into a rage. It had to be some kind of neurosis; no normal person could actually want to live in a pigsty -- especially someone who prided herself on her personal appearance, like Mommy did. What was even more amazing was that Mommy's sometimes live-in boyfriend, Ronald, didn't seem to care about the filthy conditions either. But then he didn't seem to care about much besides figuring out where he was going to get his next drink. He seldom made it home before the bars closed.

Faith gave up and wiped her hands on the back of her olive green wool skirt. Thank goodness she hadn't worn anything fancy, although she still wished she had thought to bring an apron to cover the skirt and light-green knit turtleneck sweater. Mommy always said she and Hope should avoid green -- that the color was unflattering to their skin tone. She had listened when she was younger, but discarded the fashion advice in her late teens after her boyfriend -- Henry -- bought her a fabulous green suede coat with a golden lambskin collar. It was the first of many expensive gifts he lavished on her over the years. The coat was a size twelve, and she was a size ten at the time, but she didn't care. Now, ten years later, the coat (which had long since been donated to The Salvation Army) would perfectly fit her mature body. At five feet four inches and 140 pounds, with breasts so firm she seldom wore a bra, Faith had a small waist and a big butt that drove men wild. She loved buying clothes now as much as she had as a teenager, and with her growing business as a literary agent she could well afford the expense. But she still enjoyed getting lavish gifts, and Henry still enjoyed giving them. She pushed her auburn, shoulder-length hair out of her face and licked her full lips as she thought about the floor-length golden beaver coat that Henry had bought her the day before. She had thanked him properly that night and looked forward to thanking him again when he returned from Chicago in a few days.

God, I hope they finish this deal soon, she thought. Being an investment banker, Henry had to frequently take trips to evaluate the financial stability of companies that his firm was considering investing in. He'd been traveling back and forth to Chicago for the last month or so, to assess a small publishing company that in two years had managed to put out four books later grabbed up by larger publishing houses and turned into New York Times best-sellers. It was one of the few times when Henry's line of work and Faith's actually intertwined.

She turned down the flame under the heavy metal saucepan and threw in a handful of diced onions and bell peppers, which sizzled noisily in the hot olive oil. She reached inside the counter drawer, ignoring the sprinkling of brown roach eggs, pulled out a can opener, and opened a can of tomato sauce to add to the oil and vegetable mixture. Then she added two tablespoons of salt, a dash of black pepper, garlic powder, and oregano -- and the kitchen began to fill with a spicy aroma. She searched briefly for a measuring cup, then finally gave up and went to the sink full of dirty dishes and washed a Skippy peanut butter jar. She filled it with Uncle Ben's rice and dumped it into the saucepan, followed by two peanut butter jars of water. She covered the saucepan, wiped her hands on her skirt once again, and headed out of the makeshift kitchen and into her mother's adjoining bedroom.

The whole house had at one point been converted into kitchenettes or efficiency apartments, as had so many brownstones in Harlem during the Great Depression, when people needed cheap rental space to live and homeowners needed extra money to pay their mortgages. Mommy rented out the second and third floors of the brownstone and kept the basement level and most of the first floor for herself -- and whichever one of her kids needed a place to stay at the time. At the moment that was Hope, since Allen had moved in with his girlfriend the year before and Johnny was still in the army. Faith had been the first of the children to leave the house, departing at age sixteen because of her hatred for Papa. She didn't even return for visits until after he moved to Brooklyn with his new woman, who was one-third his age.

The basement level had a full kitchen and two bedrooms. The first floor once contained an enormous parlor, a small coat room, a dining room, and a small bathroom. Miss Irene, though, turned the parlor into a bedroom that she sometimes rented out, converted the coatroom into a tiny kitchen, and turned the dining room into a combination bedroom and living room for herself. Pushed to the left corner of the large room was an ashwood captain's bed, from which the four-hundred-pound Miss Irene seldom strayed. Next to the bed was a badly chipped mahogany night table, upon which sat a brand-new 32-inch color television and VCR. In front of the television was an aluminum folding chair, reserved for anyone who stopped by to say hello. In the middle of the room sat a rickety brown couch with urine-stained cushions that one of the tenants had dragged in from the street. A sagging triple dresser and chest of drawers hugged the wall, along with a computer desk that was covered with old papers, but no computer. The computer Faith had bought her mother a few months before had been stolen by one of the tenants, which really didn't matter since her mother had never used the thing.

"Mom, I'm going to have to make you a steak instead of pork chops." Faith pushed aside the dirty laundry, including smelly underwear that had been thrown on a raggedy armchair -- once gold, but now brown with dirt and age -- and sat down.

"Why's that?" Miss Irene, clad in a gray housedress, size fifty-two, lay on her side, her salt-and-pepper hair pulled back into a bun and her brown-rimmed glasses perched on her nose. People meeting her for the first time would always say, "She's so pretty to be so big." She had golden brown skin, with large slanted eyes, and a light smattering of freckles around her nose. Her hands were small and dainty, like those of a young child. Her nails were always meticulously manicured and polished.

"Why can't you make my pork chops?" Miss Irene asked again.

"No mustard," Faith replied, gearing up for an argument.

"But I had my mouth all fixed for your delicious pork chops," Miss Irene whined. "Can't you just run to the store real quick?"

"Mom, come on. It's pouring down rain outside, and it's freezing. Can't you just eat steak?" Faith whined back.

"Why do you need mustard for pork chops?"

Faith had forgotten the presence of Tina, also known as "Third Floor Front," after the space she occupied in the house. Faith didn't like the woman, whose face was sunken and skin an ashy gray. Like most of Mommy's tenants, Tina was a crackhead and was always coming up with excuses about her rent being late.

"It's a special way we fix them. We season them with vinegar, salt, black pepper, and garlic powder," Miss Irene explained to Tina, who sat on the aluminum chair facing Miss Irene's bed, "then we spread mustard on both sides, dip them into flour, and fry them."

"I've never heard of it. I guess it's good?"

Faith rolled her eyes. She knew what was coming next.

"It's delicious. You've got to try some," her mother answered, while enthusiastically licking her lips.

"Well, I tell you what, I'll run to the store for mustard if you make me one of those pork chops." Tina turned to Faith with a smile that revealed yellow teeth thickly covered with plaque.

"Nope." Faith looked Tina straight in the eye, daring her to say anything else, but Tina looked away and got up as if to leave the room.

"Faith, why do you always have to be so evil?" Miss Irene glared at her daughter before turning back to soothe her favorite tenant, who seemed to be near tears. "Tina, don't worry. I'll make you a pork chop myself if you'll run to the store for me."

Yeah right, Faith thought, but said nothing as she waited for Tina's reply.

"No, that's all right. I'm really not that hungry anyway," Tina said, as she wiped her runny nose with her coat sleeve. "But I'll go to the store for you anyway, Miss Irene. You're always so nice to me, it's the least I can do."

Faith rolled her eyes but said nothing. That's what the crackhead witch should have offered in the first place, she thought.

"Thank you, sweetie. Let me give you some money." Miss Irene sat up and reached for a white envelope that lay on the corner of the night table. She handed Tina a ten-dollar bill.

"I don't mean to be a bother, but could you hurry up? It smells like the rice is almost done." Miss Irene faced Tina as she spoke, but looked at Faith out of the corner of her eye.

Faith noticed the signal and obediently walked Tina through the kitchen to the front door.

"Now, you know if you don't come right back with my mother's change I'm going to kick your ass again, right?" Faith crossed her arms and stared after Tina, who hurried out the door in silence.

Faith had nearly reached her mother's bedroom when she heard the unlocked front door fly open. She whirled around, fists clenched, thinking that Tina had found some backbone.

"Hey beautiful!" Hope grabbed her around her neck, almost knocking her down with enthusiasm, and planted a big wet kiss full on her lips before Faith could get a word out. Faith shivered slightly from the cold rain on Hope's coat sleeves. "Long time no see, Baby Girl! Where you been hiding and stuff?"

"Nowhere, Baby Girl. And stop yelling!" Faith grinned as she always did when she saw her bubbly, energetic twin sister. They looked almost exactly alike, although Hope was just a shade lighter, which to enough people meant that Hope was the "pretty" twin. Faith noticed that Hope had also dropped a little more weight. She was getting downright skinny.

"I know, I know, I talk loud and stuff," Hope said with no apology in her voice as she grabbed Faith's hand and pulled her toward their mother's bedroom. "Anyway, whatchoo cooking? I can smell it all the way from outside."

"Is that what made you finally bring your butt home after two days?" Miss Irene looked at Hope and sucked her teeth. "The least you could have done was call and say you were okay."

"I know, I know, I'm inconsiderate and stuff. Whatchoo up to, Mom?" Hope leaned down and kissed her mother on the cheek. "Look what I bought ya," she said as she dipped her hand into her coat pocket.

"What's this?" Miss Irene smiled with delight as she turned over the small silver contraption in her hand.

"It's a tape recorder, Mommy! See, it takes little, tiny tapes," Hope said, pointing to a minuscule compartment on the front of the recorder.

"It's a micro-cassette recorder. I have one of those," Faith said with a laugh. "Hope, what is Mommy going to do with one of those?"

"I don't know. There was some guy selling it hot for five bucks on Malcolm X Boulevard, and it looked like something Mommy would like and stuff, so I bought it," Hope shrugged. "If she doesn't want it, you can have it, I guess."

"No, she's going to have to buy her own. This one's mine!" Miss Irene's eyes gleamed as she turned the small recorder in her hands over and over again.

"Like I said, I already got one. And y'all should both be ashamed of yourself buying hot items off the street." Faith sniffed the air, then ran into the kitchen. "Oh, shoot, I have to turn off the rice."

"Don't pay her any mind, sweetie, you know she's a snob. You just keep buying your Mommy these nice gifts," Miss Irene said as Hope sat in the aluminum chair and clicked on the television to watch music videos.

"No, you guys really should stop. You know darn well that the guy you bought that from probably stole it from someone. You're supporting theft," Faith said as she returned to the bedroom. She looked back and forth at the two of them -- Miss Irene still gushing over the tape recorder and Hope trying to look wide-eyed and innocent as if she really cared about what Faith was saying.

"Oh forget it," Faith said finally, plopping back down into the armchair.

"What did you tell Tina when you walked her to the door?" Miss Irene asked, finally putting the tape recorder down on the bed beside her.

"Just what you wanted me to tell her," Faith answered. "I told her she'd better get back here with your money quick or I was going to hurt her."

"Good. I wanted to make sure she didn't run off with my money."

"Baby Girl, you so mean," Hope said, though her eyes never left the television screen. Her favorite show, Wheel of Fortune, was on. "You know Tina is scared to death of you since you beat her up last time you were here."

"I only did it because of you and Mommy," Faith protested. "It's not like I care about that crackhead one way or the other."

"Well, she deserved it," Miss Irene said solemnly. "I know she was the one who took my twenty dollars out of the night table. And then for her to threaten Hope after she confronted her about it -- well, she needed someone to show her that she can't get away with treating people like that."

"But see, Mom," Faith leaned forward in the chair, "then you can't understand why I get upset when I come back and she's right up here in your face again."

"Well, you already taught her a lesson," Miss Irene said defensively. "Besides, she's good company. You know she has a -- "

"A master's degree from Yale," Hope and Faith said simultaneously.

"She's still a thieving crackhead, though," Faith added dryly.

"And a liar, too. You know last week she went and told Ma that she saw me in a crack house and stuff? I wanted to beat that crackhead's butt myself," Hope huffed.

"Uh huh, except you know she would have beat your butt and you would have to call Faith to fight your battles again," Miss Irene teased.

"I ain't call Faith to beat Tina up last time. You did!" Hope protested loudly.

"'Didn't call.' Not 'ain't call.' Why do you have to use such bad grammar?" Miss Irene snapped. "And how many times do I have to tell you that you sound downright stupid using 'and stuff' in every other sentence. Why can't you talk more like your sister?"

"'Cause I ain't my sister," said Hope, pouting. "And I don't be hearing you getting on Allen and Johnny 'bout the way they talk."

"Your brothers don't talk anywhere nearly as badly as you!"

"Well, then good for them!"

"Look, all I'm saying is that it doesn't make sense for you to have me push Tina around one day, if you're going to have her sitting watching television with you the next," Faith continued as if she didn't hear the bickering between her mother and Hope. "I'm not going to come running next time you call me and tell me that Tina did something to you, Mommy."

"Oh shut up, Baby Girl, you know you will." Hope got up from the chair and playfully swatted Faith on the top of her head. "That's what you do best."

"Yeah, when I was fifteen." Faith shook her head. "I'm twenty-nine now, and I have a reputation and career to think about."

"Thirty," Miss Irene said.

"Twenty-nine!" Hope and Faith said together.

"C'mon Mommy, we ain't gonna be thirty until June and stuff," Hope snapped at her mother. She then sucked her teeth and sat back down in the chair facing the television, but looking at her mother out of the corner of her eye.

"Well, you're closer to thirty than you are to twenty-nine, so you might as well as say thirty," Mommy snapped back. "And don't you suck your teeth at me. I'm still your mother, you know."

"Well, I'm staying in my twenties until the very last moment," Faith broke in before Mommy and Hope could get going on yet another fight.

They'd been like that since the twins hit puberty -- Miss Irene and Hope, going through tandem mood swings. One moment they were sharing gifts and fawning over each other, the next they were verbally tearing at each other's throats. Usually it was Hope buying the gifts and Miss Irene starting the arguments, but the roles occasionally reversed. Both would call Faith on the telephone to give their side of the story, as if she really gave a damn. It was their crazy relationship, let them deal with it. The only time Faith got involved was when the arguments started in her presence and Miss Irene started hitting Hope below the belt. Faith couldn't stand by and let anyone abuse her twin for long -- not even their mother.

Not that Hope didn't have her own stuff with her; some of the things she did to Miss Irene were downright despicable. But that was a whole other issue.

"Hey, how's Mrs. Trumble?" Faith asked.

"She's okay. Well...actually, she's not." Hope turned her complete attention to her sister, ignoring her mother, who still looked like she wanted to argue. "I'm gonna go and check on her inna little bit and stuff. I think she's got pneumonia, but she won't go to the hospital."

"Why won't she go?" Faith asked.

"Because she's stupid," Miss Irene snapped. "I don't know why you keep going over there and waiting on that woman hand and foot, Hope. It's not like she pays you or even appreciates it."

"She's an old lady, Mom. I think she's something like eighty-five years old," Hope shrugged. "And I don't know why you always got to make it like I'm there all the time and stuff. I just wanna stop by from time to time and make sure she's okay."

"Why do you have to do it?" Miss Irene asked.

"She ain't got no kids or anything, Mom. Who else is gonna do it?" Hope asked in an exasperated tone.

"Man, you are such a sweetie." Faith shook her head in wonderment at her twin. When they were kids, Hope played nursemaid to the wounded dogs and cats in the neighborhood. As she got older, she started checking in on the older folks on the block -- accompanying them to doctors' appointments, running to the store for them, and reading them the newspapers. And no matter how much they insisted, Hope would never take a dime from her charges. People are supposed to help other people, she would say.

"Hope's a dummy, is what she is," Miss Irene said meanly. "She takes better care of that old woman than she does of her own mother."

"Mommy, that ain't true," Hope said plaintively. "I'm always doing stuff for you."

"What's that?" Miss Irene looked around the room trying to locate the faint sound of music.

"My cell phone!" Faith raced over to the coat rack in the corner of the room and pulled her cell phone from a pocket, all the while chastising herself for leaving valuables in the same room as crackhead Tina. She hit the send button to answer the call just as the last strains of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" faded away. Damn. Missed the call. She hit the caller ID button and her home telephone number appeared. Henry's back?

"Your cell phone plays music?" Miss Irene asked incredulously.

"Yeah, ain't that neat?" Hope grinned.

Faith waved her hand at her mother and sister, signaling them to keep the noise down as she hit the return call button. "Hey, lover! What are you doing home from Chicago?" She twirled a strand of her hair as she smiled into the telephone. "I thought you weren't going to be back until Wednesday. Did something happen?"

"Hey, Princess," a soft baritone voice answered. "The head of the publishing company had to cancel our meeting because his wife went into labor. When I found I flew out there for nothing, I hopped on the next flight home. You know I had to come home to my baby."

"Mmm...and you know your baby loves the fact that you're home?" Faith turned away from Miss Irene and Hope, both of whom were giggling and making kissing sounds as she talked. "Are you going to have to make another trip out there, then?"

"Yeah, I'm flying back out the day after tomorrow." Henry stifled a yawn. "Are you at your mom's?"

"Mm hmm. I'm fixing dinner for her tonight, remember?" Faith stepped on a cockroach that was scurrying across the floor in front of her. "Why don't you come over and join us?"

"No, I think I'll pass. The Knicks are playing the 76ers tonight so I thought I'd catch the game." Henry yawned again. "What time do you think you'll be home?"

"Around ten or so."

"Cool. I'll be here waiting for you, baby. I love you, Faith."

"I love you, too, Henry."

"Mmm, good...that's what I needed to hear. Let me speak to the Queen Mother before we hang up, baby."

Faith dutifully handed the cell phone to Miss Irene. "Your boyfriend wants to speak to you," she rolled her eyes, but was unable to suppress her smile.

"Stop acting so jealous." Miss Irene grinned as she took the telephone. "Hi Henry. How was your trip?...Oh, I'm sorry to hear that....Did you bring me back anything?...Really?...Oh, goodie! I've always wanted one of those!...Can you bring it over tonight?...Oh, okay....Not until next week?...Well why don't you send it over by Faith if she can stop by here sooner?...Okay, then sweetie....And don't forget....Alrighty then, Henry...bye." She switched the telephone off and handed it back to Faith. "Henry bought me one of those computerized Spanish/English translators!" she said excitedly.

Faith sighed and shook her head wearily. "And why would he have bought you something like that?"

"Because he adores me, of course." Miss Irene grinned. "And I might have mentioned that I saw a television commercial for one and really wanted it."

Hope rolled her eyes. "He never buys me anything."

Faith shrugged her shoulders. "You're not always begging him for gifts like Mommy is."

"I beg your pardon!"

"I was only kidding, Mommy," Faith said soothingly. "But you have to admit, you are always trying to con him into buying you things."

"No, I don't. He just likes pleasing his almost-mother-in-law," Miss Irene huffed.

"When are you guys going to get married anyway, Baby Girl? Ya'll been together for like twenty years now an' still ain't tied the knot and stuff."

Faith glared at Hope. Now why does she want to say something like that in front of Mommy? she thought. Her mother had been bugging Faith about getting married for years, saying that she should threaten to leave Henry if he refused to set a date. Miss Irene wouldn't believe Faith when she told her that it wasn't just Henry. Neither one of them was in any rush. Things were going as great now as when they were lovesick teenagers. They did plan to marry...eventually. They talked about it from time to time. They even went and got a marriage license every January for the last ten years, so if they wanted to get married on the spur of the moment they could. That was Henry's idea. He was always coming up with crazy notions like that.

"Well, at least you're going to get to play bridesmaid even if you don't play bride. I can't wait until...oops!" Hope hurriedly covered her mouth with her hand, a guilty look spreading over her face.

"Play bridesmaid, what are you talking about?"

"Huh? Oh, nothing and stuff...I was just..."

"Miss Irene? I'm back." Tina appeared in the bedroom doorway, dripping wet with two small brown paper bags in her hand. "I'm sorry, I thought it would be okay to come in without knocking since the door was open and I had just left anyway," she said when she saw the look in Faith's eyes.

"You always coming in here without knocking," Hope said with a laugh, "why you apologizing now?"

Tina ignored the question. "I stopped at the liquor store while I was out and bought some brandy -- out of my own money," she said handing both bags to Faith with a hopeful grin. "I figured we could all use a shot to keep warm."

"I'll pass." Faith took only the smaller bag, then looked inside to make sure it contained the mustard. It did.

"I want some!" Hope leapt to her feet. "Where's the glasses and stuff?"

"Tina, I wish you had brought Manischewitz Cream White Concord. You know I prefer wine, but I guess I can drink some brandy. There's some plastic cups in the dresser drawer," Miss Irene said. "I try to keep them handy so I don't have to keep going back and forth to the kitchen if someone needs a glass," she said when she saw Faith's head shaking in disapproval.

"Oh, Miss Irene, I almost forgot!" Tina said after Hope handed her a cup. "Mrs. Crawford from down the street was in the grocery store. She asked me to let you know that Oprah was going to be rerunning the show she did with Sidney Poitier tomorrow."

"Really? Oh, Hope, make sure you set the VCR up for me!" Miss Irene clapped her hands in delight, causing Tina to chuckle.

"You must really like him," she said to Miss Irene.

"She loves him. And Harry Belafonte, too." Hope laughed. "Ooh, ooh, I got one for you, Mommy!" she suddenly hooted. "I can't believe we didn't do this one before. Faith, come here...I got a good one." She pulled her sister over so that they were both standing directly in front of Miss Irene, who looked at them expectantly.

"Sidney Poitier or Harry Belafonte? Which one would you choose?" Hope demanded.

Faith leaned a little to the side, put her hand on her hip, and thought for a moment. "Ooh, that is a good one. I can't believe we didn't do them before..." she cocked her head and looked at her mother who was struggling with the question. "Mommy, we haven't done this one before?"

"You know, I don't think we have. This is a hard one," Miss Irene answered slowly. "They're both handsome, though in different ways. They both have sexy accents. But I think I'm going to pick Sidney Poitier because he's a better actor..."

"But Harry Belafonte can dance! I used to love watching him swing them hips and stuff," Hope chimed in.

"Mm hmm, and I love his voice," Faith added enthusiastically.

"You're right!" Miss Irene nodded her head in agreement. "I'm going to go with Belafonte."

"Me too!" Hope said.

"I'm going with Poitier," Faith said after a few more seconds of thought.

"Why?" Miss Irene asked in a shocked voice. "You just said you love Belafonte's voice."

"Yeah, but remember when I was seven and Aunt Gloria took me to do some back-to-school shopping on 116th and Park Avenue and we saw Sidney Poitier down there?" Faith wiggled her finger between her mother and sister, who listened intently to find out why Faith had broken ranks. "Well, remember he patted me on the head and bought me an ice cream cone just because he said I looked like one of his nieces."

"Oh, that's right," Hope said slowly. "You know what? I change my vote."

"How are you going to change your vote now?" Miss Irene demanded. She sat up straight on the bed, put her hand on her hip, and glared at Hope. "You and I both said we liked the way Harry Belafonte shakes his hips, don't change up on me now because Sidney Poitier patted your sister on her head."

"Well, I'm not changing it for the pat on the head, but I kinda think buying a kid an ice cream deserves two votes and stuff," Hope said with a shrug.

"Traitor!" Miss Irene scowled at Hope, causing the twins to start giggling.

"Well, I'll side with you, Miss Irene." The three women had been so caught up in the little game that they had forgotten about Tina, who stood waiting -- impatiently, judging by the tapping of her foot -- for them to pour the brandy Miss Irene had placed on the night table.

"It's a family thing, your vote doesn't count," Faith said. She instantly regretted the harshness in her voice. After all, the woman had gone to the store to buy the mustard. And she was even treating to brandy. Faith retreated to the gold armchair and Tina quickly stepped in front of Miss Irene with plastic cup in hand.

"Thanks anyway, Tina," Miss Irene said as she poured a bit of brandy into Tina's cup. "And I really think it's time we address the inimical feelings so evident in this room."

"What's 'inimical'?" Hope asked as she held a plastic cup out toward Miss Irene.

"I beg your pardon?" Miss Irene raised an eyebrow at Hope.

"What does 'inimical' mean, Mommy?"

"You don't know the definition of 'inimical'?" Miss Irene said in a shocked voice.

"It's not a word that's used in everyday language, Mommy." Faith frowned. She knew what her mother was doing and didn't like it one bit.

"I wouldn't say that," Mommy said. She returned the brandy to the night table and then positioned herself comfortably on the bed. "Tina, you know what 'inimical' means, don't you?"

"It means hostile," Tina answered. Faith could see that she was trying to hide a smile as she spoke.

"Well, I ain't never heard of it, and I don't consider myself no dummy and stuff," Hope said defensively.

Faith grimaced, preparing herself for her mother's next comment, which was sure to be barbed. She wasn't disappointed.

"It just shows you what a failure the New York public school system is," Miss Irene addressed Tina with a haughty wave of the hand. "To think a child could go through twelve years of education and not know the definition of 'inimical.'"

"Mommy! Why you gotta go there like that?" Hope looked crushed, but Miss Irene ignored her.

"Well, some might say it's the failure of the public school system, others might say the failure is on the part of the child's parents," Faith said in her snootiest voice. "And after all, not everyone was as fortunate as you and Tina, who had parents that cared enough to send their children to private schools."

Miss Irene struggled back to a sitting position and leaned forward as if to confront Faith's snide remark, but then seemed to think better of it. Instead she just glared at her.

"Come on, Baby Girl. I'll keep you company in the kitchen while you fix her pork chops." Hope pulled Faith up from her chair.

"Ooh, you got Mommy back good." Hope chuckled as soon as they were out of earshot. "I bet the only reason she didn't say anything else to you was because she thought you'd put rat poison in her food or something."

"Oh come on, I'd never do anything like that!" Faith protested. Hope pursed her lips, crossed her arms, and looked at her twin sister.

"Well, okay, I did it once before. But that was only to Papa, and it wasn't rat poison, it was roach spray," Faith said grudgingly. "And it doesn't count because he didn't die."

Copyright © 2002 by Karen E. Quinones Miller
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First Chapter

Chapter 1

Shit!" Faith stumbled back from the greasy cabinet door as a large mouse scurried from behind the two-pound box of Uncle Ben's rice for which she had been reaching.

"What did you say?"

"Nothing, Mommy," Faith hollered from the kitchen into her mother's bedroom. The rice was unopened, but she inspected the packaging carefully to see if it had been assaulted by the fleeing mouse. It hadn't.

"Yes you did. I heard you say something," came Miss Irene's teasing reply. "And don't you be cursing in my house. You may be thirty and a hotshot literary agent, but I'm still your mother, and I can still get up off this bed and put a foot in your behind."

"Twenty-nine, Mommy."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing," Faith hollered again.

"Yes you did. I heard what you said. I'm your mother and I know how old you are. You're thirty years old. I don't know why you have to keep lying about your age," Miss Irene hollered, before bursting into laughter.

Faith grunted and looked around the tiny kitchen for something to wipe her hands with. She picked up a hand towel that was thrown over the back of a rickety wooden chair, but threw it back down when she realized it had large, black mildew spots on it and smelled. Ugh.

She used to come over and clean up for Mommy, but gave up when she realized that Mommy didn't care one way or the other and that the house would be back to its same nasty state in a matter of days. Faith once thought that Mommy had had a nervous breakdown a few years back and somehow this accounted for her wanting to live in utter filth. The house was never like this before Papa left Mommy for ayounger woman. Faith even once suggested that Mommy see a psychologist, but her mother flew into a rage. It had to be some kind of neurosis; no normal person could actually want to live in a pigsty -- especially someone who prided herself on her personal appearance, like Mommy did. What was even more amazing was that Mommy's sometimes live-in boyfriend, Ronald, didn't seem to care about the filthy conditions either. But then he didn't seem to care about much besides figuring out where he was going to get his next drink. He seldom made it home before the bars closed.

Faith gave up and wiped her hands on the back of her olive green wool skirt. Thank goodness she hadn't worn anything fancy, although she still wished she had thought to bring an apron to cover the skirt and light-green knit turtleneck sweater. Mommy always said she and Hope should avoid green -- that the color was unflattering to their skin tone. She had listened when she was younger, but discarded the fashion advice in her late teens after her boyfriend -- Henry -- bought her a fabulous green suede coat with a golden lambskin collar. It was the first of many expensive gifts he lavished on her over the years. The coat was a size twelve, and she was a size ten at the time, but she didn't care. Now, ten years later, the coat (which had long since been donated to The Salvation Army) would perfectly fit her mature body. At five feet four inches and 140 pounds, with breasts so firm she seldom wore a bra, Faith had a small waist and a big butt that drove men wild. She loved buying clothes now as much as she had as a teenager, and with her growing business as a literary agent she could well afford the expense. But she still enjoyed getting lavish gifts, and Henry still enjoyed giving them. She pushed her auburn, shoulder-length hair out of her face and licked her full lips as she thought about the floor-length golden beaver coat that Henry had bought her the day before. She had thanked him properly that night and looked forward to thanking him again when he returned from Chicago in a few days.

God, I hope they finish this deal soon, she thought. Being an investment banker, Henry had to frequently take trips to evaluate the financial stability of companies that his firm was considering investing in. He'd been traveling back and forth to Chicago for the last month or so, to assess a small publishing company that in two years had managed to put out four books later grabbed up by larger publishing houses and turned into New York Times best-sellers. It was one of the few times when Henry's line of work and Faith's actually intertwined.

She turned down the flame under the heavy metal saucepan and threw in a handful of diced onions and bell peppers, which sizzled noisily in the hot olive oil. She reached inside the counter drawer, ignoring the sprinkling of brown roach eggs, pulled out a can opener, and opened a can of tomato sauce to add to the oil and vegetable mixture. Then she added two tablespoons of salt, a dash of black pepper, garlic powder, and oregano -- and the kitchen began to fill with a spicy aroma. She searched briefly for a measuring cup, then finally gave up and went to the sink full of dirty dishes and washed a Skippy peanut butter jar. She filled it with Uncle Ben's rice and dumped it into the saucepan, followed by two peanut butter jars of water. She covered the saucepan, wiped her hands on her skirt once again, and headed out of the makeshift kitchen and into her mother's adjoining bedroom.

The whole house had at one point been converted into kitchenettes or efficiency apartments, as had so many brownstones in Harlem during the Great Depression, when people needed cheap rental space to live and homeowners needed extra money to pay their mortgages. Mommy rented out the second and third floors of the brownstone and kept the basement level and most of the first floor for herself -- and whichever one of her kids needed a place to stay at the time. At the moment that was Hope, since Allen had moved in with his girlfriend the year before and Johnny was still in the army. Faith had been the first of the children to leave the house, departing at age sixteen because of her hatred for Papa. She didn't even return for visits until after he moved to Brooklyn with his new woman, who was one-third his age.

The basement level had a full kitchen and two bedrooms. The first floor once contained an enormous parlor, a small coat room, a dining room, and a small bathroom. Miss Irene, though, turned the parlor into a bedroom that she sometimes rented out, converted the coatroom into a tiny kitchen, and turned the dining room into a combination bedroom and living room for herself. Pushed to the left corner of the large room was an ashwood captain's bed, from which the four-hundred-pound Miss Irene seldom strayed. Next to the bed was a badly chipped mahogany night table, upon which sat a brand-new 32-inch color television and VCR. In front of the television was an aluminum folding chair, reserved for anyone who stopped by to say hello. In the middle of the room sat a rickety brown couch with urine-stained cushions that one of the tenants had dragged in from the street. A sagging triple dresser and chest of drawers hugged the wall, along with a computer desk that was covered with old papers, but no computer. The computer Faith had bought her mother a few months before had been stolen by one of the tenants, which really didn't matter since her mother had never used the thing.

"Mom, I'm going to have to make you a steak instead of pork chops." Faith pushed aside the dirty laundry, including smelly underwear that had been thrown on a raggedy armchair -- once gold, but now brown with dirt and age -- and sat down.

"Why's that?" Miss Irene, clad in a gray housedress, size fifty-two, lay on her side, her salt-and-pepper hair pulled back into a bun and her brown-rimmed glasses perched on her nose. People meeting her for the first time would always say, "She's so pretty to be so big." She had golden brown skin, with large slanted eyes, and a light smattering of freckles around her nose. Her hands were small and dainty, like those of a young child. Her nails were always meticulously manicured and polished.

"Why can't you make my pork chops?" Miss Irene asked again.

"No mustard," Faith replied, gearing up for an argument.

"But I had my mouth all fixed for your delicious pork chops," Miss Irene whined. "Can't you just run to the store real quick?"

"Mom, come on. It's pouring down rain outside, and it's freezing. Can't you just eat steak?" Faith whined back.

"Why do you need mustard for pork chops?"

Faith had forgotten the presence of Tina, also known as "Third Floor Front," after the space she occupied in the house. Faith didn't like the woman, whose face was sunken and skin an ashy gray. Like most of Mommy's tenants, Tina was a crackhead and was always coming up with excuses about her rent being late.

"It's a special way we fix them. We season them with vinegar, salt, black pepper, and garlic powder," Miss Irene explained to Tina, who sat on the aluminum chair facing Miss Irene's bed, "then we spread mustard on both sides, dip them into flour, and fry them."

"I've never heard of it. I guess it's good?"

Faith rolled her eyes. She knew what was coming next.

"It's delicious. You've got to try some," her mother answered, while enthusiastically licking her lips.

"Well, I tell you what, I'll run to the store for mustard if you make me one of those pork chops." Tina turned to Faith with a smile that revealed yellow teeth thickly covered with plaque.

"Nope." Faith looked Tina straight in the eye, daring her to say anything else, but Tina looked away and got up as if to leave the room.

"Faith, why do you always have to be so evil?" Miss Irene glared at her daughter before turning back to soothe her favorite tenant, who seemed to be near tears. "Tina, don't worry. I'll make you a pork chop myself if you'll run to the store for me."

Yeah right, Faith thought, but said nothing as she waited for Tina's reply.

"No, that's all right. I'm really not that hungry anyway," Tina said, as she wiped her runny nose with her coat sleeve. "But I'll go to the store for you anyway, Miss Irene. You're always so nice to me, it's the least I can do."

Faith rolled her eyes but said nothing. That's what the crackhead witch should have offered in the first place, she thought.

"Thank you, sweetie. Let me give you some money." Miss Irene sat up and reached for a white envelope that lay on the corner of the night table. She handed Tina a ten-dollar bill.

"I don't mean to be a bother, but could you hurry up? It smells like the rice is almost done." Miss Irene faced Tina as she spoke, but looked at Faith out of the corner of her eye.

Faith noticed the signal and obediently walked Tina through the kitchen to the front door.

"Now, you know if you don't come right back with my mother's change I'm going to kick your ass again, right?" Faith crossed her arms and stared after Tina, who hurried out the door in silence.

Faith had nearly reached her mother's bedroom when she heard the unlocked front door fly open. She whirled around, fists clenched, thinking that Tina had found some backbone.

"Hey beautiful!" Hope grabbed her around her neck, almost knocking her down with enthusiasm, and planted a big wet kiss full on her lips before Faith could get a word out. Faith shivered slightly from the cold rain on Hope's coat sleeves. "Long time no see, Baby Girl! Where you been hiding and stuff?"

"Nowhere, Baby Girl. And stop yelling!" Faith grinned as she always did when she saw her bubbly, energetic twin sister. They looked almost exactly alike, although Hope was just a shade lighter, which to enough people meant that Hope was the "pretty" twin. Faith noticed that Hope had also dropped a little more weight. She was getting downright skinny.

"I know, I know, I talk loud and stuff," Hope said with no apology in her voice as she grabbed Faith's hand and pulled her toward their mother's bedroom. "Anyway, whatchoo cooking? I can smell it all the way from outside."

"Is that what made you finally bring your butt home after two days?" Miss Irene looked at Hope and sucked her teeth. "The least you could have done was call and say you were okay."

"I know, I know, I'm inconsiderate and stuff. Whatchoo up to, Mom?" Hope leaned down and kissed her mother on the cheek. "Look what I bought ya," she said as she dipped her hand into her coat pocket.

"What's this?" Miss Irene smiled with delight as she turned over the small silver contraption in her hand.

"It's a tape recorder, Mommy! See, it takes little, tiny tapes," Hope said, pointing to a minuscule compartment on the front of the recorder.

"It's a micro-cassette recorder. I have one of those," Faith said with a laugh. "Hope, what is Mommy going to do with one of those?"

"I don't know. There was some guy selling it hot for five bucks on Malcolm X Boulevard, and it looked like something Mommy would like and stuff, so I bought it," Hope shrugged. "If she doesn't want it, you can have it, I guess."

"No, she's going to have to buy her own. This one's mine!" Miss Irene's eyes gleamed as she turned the small recorder in her hands over and over again.

"Like I said, I already got one. And y'all should both be ashamed of yourself buying hot items off the street." Faith sniffed the air, then ran into the kitchen. "Oh, shoot, I have to turn off the rice."

"Don't pay her any mind, sweetie, you know she's a snob. You just keep buying your Mommy these nice gifts," Miss Irene said as Hope sat in the aluminum chair and clicked on the television to watch music videos.

"No, you guys really should stop. You know darn well that the guy you bought that from probably stole it from someone. You're supporting theft," Faith said as she returned to the bedroom. She looked back and forth at the two of them -- Miss Irene still gushing over the tape recorder and Hope trying to look wide-eyed and innocent as if she really cared about what Faith was saying.

"Oh forget it," Faith said finally, plopping back down into the armchair.

"What did you tell Tina when you walked her to the door?" Miss Irene asked, finally putting the tape recorder down on the bed beside her.

"Just what you wanted me to tell her," Faith answered. "I told her she'd better get back here with your money quick or I was going to hurt her."

"Good. I wanted to make sure she didn't run off with my money."

"Baby Girl, you so mean," Hope said, though her eyes never left the television screen. Her favorite show, Wheel of Fortune, was on. "You know Tina is scared to death of you since you beat her up last time you were here."

"I only did it because of you and Mommy," Faith protested. "It's not like I care about that crackhead one way or the other."

"Well, she deserved it," Miss Irene said solemnly. "I know she was the one who took my twenty dollars out of the night table. And then for her to threaten Hope after she confronted her about it -- well, she needed someone to show her that she can't get away with treating people like that."

"But see, Mom," Faith leaned forward in the chair, "then you can't understand why I get upset when I come back and she's right up here in your face again."

"Well, you already taught her a lesson," Miss Irene said defensively. "Besides, she's good company. You know she has a -- "

"A master's degree from Yale," Hope and Faith said simultaneously.

"She's still a thieving crackhead, though," Faith added dryly.

"And a liar, too. You know last week she went and told Ma that she saw me in a crack house and stuff? I wanted to beat that crackhead's butt myself," Hope huffed.

"Uh huh, except you know she would have beat your butt and you would have to call Faith to fight your battles again," Miss Irene teased.

"I ain't call Faith to beat Tina up last time. You did!" Hope protested loudly.

"'Didn't call.' Not 'ain't call.' Why do you have to use such bad grammar?" Miss Irene snapped. "And how many times do I have to tell you that you sound downright stupid using 'and stuff' in every other sentence. Why can't you talk more like your sister?"

"'Cause I ain't my sister," said Hope, pouting. "And I don't be hearing you getting on Allen and Johnny 'bout the way they talk."

"Your brothers don't talk anywhere nearly as badly as you!"

"Well, then good for them!"

"Look, all I'm saying is that it doesn't make sense for you to have me push Tina around one day, if you're going to have her sitting watching television with you the next," Faith continued as if she didn't hear the bickering between her mother and Hope. "I'm not going to come running next time you call me and tell me that Tina did something to you, Mommy."

"Oh shut up, Baby Girl, you know you will." Hope got up from the chair and playfully swatted Faith on the top of her head. "That's what you do best."

"Yeah, when I was fifteen." Faith shook her head. "I'm twenty-nine now, and I have a reputation and career to think about."

"Thirty," Miss Irene said.

"Twenty-nine!" Hope and Faith said together.

"C'mon Mommy, we ain't gonna be thirty until June and stuff," Hope snapped at her mother. She then sucked her teeth and sat back down in the chair facing the television, but looking at her mother out of the corner of her eye.

"Well, you're closer to thirty than you are to twenty-nine, so you might as well as say thirty," Mommy snapped back. "And don't you suck your teeth at me. I'm still your mother, you know."

"Well, I'm staying in my twenties until the very last moment," Faith broke in before Mommy and Hope could get going on yet another fight.

They'd been like that since the twins hit puberty -- Miss Irene and Hope, going through tandem mood swings. One moment they were sharing gifts and fawning over each other, the next they were verbally tearing at each other's throats. Usually it was Hope buying the gifts and Miss Irene starting the arguments, but the roles occasionally reversed. Both would call Faith on the telephone to give their side of the story, as if she really gave a damn. It was their crazy relationship, let them deal with it. The only time Faith got involved was when the arguments started in her presence and Miss Irene started hitting Hope below the belt. Faith couldn't stand by and let anyone abuse her twin for long -- not even their mother.

Not that Hope didn't have her own stuff with her; some of the things she did to Miss Irene were downright despicable. But that was a whole other issue.

"Hey, how's Mrs. Trumble?" Faith asked.

"She's okay. Well...actually, she's not." Hope turned her complete attention to her sister, ignoring her mother, who still looked like she wanted to argue. "I'm gonna go and check on her inna little bit and stuff. I think she's got pneumonia, but she won't go to the hospital."

"Why won't she go?" Faith asked.

"Because she's stupid," Miss Irene snapped. "I don't know why you keep going over there and waiting on that woman hand and foot, Hope. It's not like she pays you or even appreciates it."

"She's an old lady, Mom. I think she's something like eighty-five years old," Hope shrugged. "And I don't know why you always got to make it like I'm there all the time and stuff. I just wanna stop by from time to time and make sure she's okay."

"Why do you have to do it?" Miss Irene asked.

"She ain't got no kids or anything, Mom. Who else is gonna do it?" Hope asked in an exasperated tone.

"Man, you are such a sweetie." Faith shook her head in wonderment at her twin. When they were kids, Hope played nursemaid to the wounded dogs and cats in the neighborhood. As she got older, she started checking in on the older folks on the block -- accompanying them to doctors' appointments, running to the store for them, and reading them the newspapers. And no matter how much they insisted, Hope would never take a dime from her charges. People are supposed to help other people, she would say.

"Hope's a dummy, is what she is," Miss Irene said meanly. "She takes better care of that old woman than she does of her own mother."

"Mommy, that ain't true," Hope said plaintively. "I'm always doing stuff for you."

"What's that?" Miss Irene looked around the room trying to locate the faint sound of music.

"My cell phone!" Faith raced over to the coat rack in the corner of the room and pulled her cell phone from a pocket, all the while chastising herself for leaving valuables in the same room as crackhead Tina. She hit the send button to answer the call just as the last strains of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" faded away. Damn. Missed the call. She hit the caller ID button and her home telephone number appeared. Henry's back?

"Your cell phone plays music?" Miss Irene asked incredulously.

"Yeah, ain't that neat?" Hope grinned.

Faith waved her hand at her mother and sister, signaling them to keep the noise down as she hit the return call button. "Hey, lover! What are you doing home from Chicago?" She twirled a strand of her hair as she smiled into the telephone. "I thought you weren't going to be back until Wednesday. Did something happen?"

"Hey, Princess," a soft baritone voice answered. "The head of the publishing company had to cancel our meeting because his wife went into labor. When I found I flew out there for nothing, I hopped on the next flight home. You know I had to come home to my baby."

"Mmm...and you know your baby loves the fact that you're home?" Faith turned away from Miss Irene and Hope, both of whom were giggling and making kissing sounds as she talked. "Are you going to have to make another trip out there, then?"

"Yeah, I'm flying back out the day after tomorrow." Henry stifled a yawn. "Are you at your mom's?"

"Mm hmm. I'm fixing dinner for her tonight, remember?" Faith stepped on a cockroach that was scurrying across the floor in front of her. "Why don't you come over and join us?"

"No, I think I'll pass. The Knicks are playing the 76ers tonight so I thought I'd catch the game." Henry yawned again. "What time do you think you'll be home?"

"Around ten or so."

"Cool. I'll be here waiting for you, baby. I love you, Faith."

"I love you, too, Henry."

"Mmm, good...that's what I needed to hear. Let me speak to the Queen Mother before we hang up, baby."

Faith dutifully handed the cell phone to Miss Irene. "Your boyfriend wants to speak to you," she rolled her eyes, but was unable to suppress her smile.

"Stop acting so jealous." Miss Irene grinned as she took the telephone. "Hi Henry. How was your trip?...Oh, I'm sorry to hear that....Did you bring me back anything?...Really?...Oh, goodie! I've always wanted one of those!...Can you bring it over tonight?...Oh, okay....Not until next week?...Well why don't you send it over by Faith if she can stop by here sooner?...Okay, then sweetie....And don't forget....Alrighty then, Henry...bye." She switched the telephone off and handed it back to Faith. "Henry bought me one of those computerized Spanish/English translators!" she said excitedly.

Faith sighed and shook her head wearily. "And why would he have bought you something like that?"

"Because he adores me, of course." Miss Irene grinned. "And I might have mentioned that I saw a television commercial for one and really wanted it."

Hope rolled her eyes. "He never buys me anything."

Faith shrugged her shoulders. "You're not always begging him for gifts like Mommy is."

"I beg your pardon!"

"I was only kidding, Mommy," Faith said soothingly. "But you have to admit, you are always trying to con him into buying you things."

"No, I don't. He just likes pleasing his almost-mother-in-law," Miss Irene huffed.

"When are you guys going to get married anyway, Baby Girl? Ya'll been together for like twenty years now an' still ain't tied the knot and stuff."

Faith glared at Hope. Now why does she want to say something like that in front of Mommy? she thought. Her mother had been bugging Faith about getting married for years, saying that she should threaten to leave Henry if he refused to set a date. Miss Irene wouldn't believe Faith when she told her that it wasn't just Henry. Neither one of them was in any rush. Things were going as great now as when they were lovesick teenagers. They did plan to marry...eventually. They talked about it from time to time. They even went and got a marriage license every January for the last ten years, so if they wanted to get married on the spur of the moment they could. That was Henry's idea. He was always coming up with crazy notions like that.

"Well, at least you're going to get to play bridesmaid even if you don't play bride. I can't wait until...oops!" Hope hurriedly covered her mouth with her hand, a guilty look spreading over her face.

"Play bridesmaid, what are you talking about?"

"Huh? Oh, nothing and stuff...I was just..."

"Miss Irene? I'm back." Tina appeared in the bedroom doorway, dripping wet with two small brown paper bags in her hand. "I'm sorry, I thought it would be okay to come in without knocking since the door was open and I had just left anyway," she said when she saw the look in Faith's eyes.

"You always coming in here without knocking," Hope said with a laugh, "why you apologizing now?"

Tina ignored the question. "I stopped at the liquor store while I was out and bought some brandy -- out of my own money," she said handing both bags to Faith with a hopeful grin. "I figured we could all use a shot to keep warm."

"I'll pass." Faith took only the smaller bag, then looked inside to make sure it contained the mustard. It did.

"I want some!" Hope leapt to her feet. "Where's the glasses and stuff?"

"Tina, I wish you had brought Manischewitz Cream White Concord. You know I prefer wine, but I guess I can drink some brandy. There's some plastic cups in the dresser drawer," Miss Irene said. "I try to keep them handy so I don't have to keep going back and forth to the kitchen if someone needs a glass," she said when she saw Faith's head shaking in disapproval.

"Oh, Miss Irene, I almost forgot!" Tina said after Hope handed her a cup. "Mrs. Crawford from down the street was in the grocery store. She asked me to let you know that Oprah was going to be rerunning the show she did with Sidney Poitier tomorrow."

"Really? Oh, Hope, make sure you set the VCR up for me!" Miss Irene clapped her hands in delight, causing Tina to chuckle.

"You must really like him," she said to Miss Irene.

"She loves him. And Harry Belafonte, too." Hope laughed. "Ooh, ooh, I got one for you, Mommy!" she suddenly hooted. "I can't believe we didn't do this one before. Faith, come here...I got a good one." She pulled her sister over so that they were both standing directly in front of Miss Irene, who looked at them expectantly.

"Sidney Poitier or Harry Belafonte? Which one would you choose?" Hope demanded.

Faith leaned a little to the side, put her hand on her hip, and thought for a moment. "Ooh, that is a good one. I can't believe we didn't do them before..." she cocked her head and looked at her mother who was struggling with the question. "Mommy, we haven't done this one before?"

"You know, I don't think we have. This is a hard one," Miss Irene answered slowly. "They're both handsome, though in different ways. They both have sexy accents. But I think I'm going to pick Sidney Poitier because he's a better actor..."

"But Harry Belafonte can dance! I used to love watching him swing them hips and stuff," Hope chimed in.

"Mm hmm, and I love his voice," Faith added enthusiastically.

"You're right!" Miss Irene nodded her head in agreement. "I'm going to go with Belafonte."

"Me too!" Hope said.

"I'm going with Poitier," Faith said after a few more seconds of thought.

"Why?" Miss Irene asked in a shocked voice. "You just said you love Belafonte's voice."

"Yeah, but remember when I was seven and Aunt Gloria took me to do some back-to-school shopping on 116th and Park Avenue and we saw Sidney Poitier down there?" Faith wiggled her finger between her mother and sister, who listened intently to find out why Faith had broken ranks. "Well, remember he patted me on the head and bought me an ice cream cone just because he said I looked like one of his nieces."

"Oh, that's right," Hope said slowly. "You know what? I change my vote."

"How are you going to change your vote now?" Miss Irene demanded. She sat up straight on the bed, put her hand on her hip, and glared at Hope. "You and I both said we liked the way Harry Belafonte shakes his hips, don't change up on me now because Sidney Poitier patted your sister on her head."

"Well, I'm not changing it for the pat on the head, but I kinda think buying a kid an ice cream deserves two votes and stuff," Hope said with a shrug.

"Traitor!" Miss Irene scowled at Hope, causing the twins to start giggling.

"Well, I'll side with you, Miss Irene." The three women had been so caught up in the little game that they had forgotten about Tina, who stood waiting -- impatiently, judging by the tapping of her foot -- for them to pour the brandy Miss Irene had placed on the night table.

"It's a family thing, your vote doesn't count," Faith said. She instantly regretted the harshness in her voice. After all, the woman had gone to the store to buy the mustard. And she was even treating to brandy. Faith retreated to the gold armchair and Tina quickly stepped in front of Miss Irene with plastic cup in hand.

"Thanks anyway, Tina," Miss Irene said as she poured a bit of brandy into Tina's cup. "And I really think it's time we address the inimical feelings so evident in this room."

"What's 'inimical'?" Hope asked as she held a plastic cup out toward Miss Irene.

"I beg your pardon?" Miss Irene raised an eyebrow at Hope.

"What does 'inimical' mean, Mommy?"

"You don't know the definition of 'inimical'?" Miss Irene said in a shocked voice.

"It's not a word that's used in everyday language, Mommy." Faith frowned. She knew what her mother was doing and didn't like it one bit.

"I wouldn't say that," Mommy said. She returned the brandy to the night table and then positioned herself comfortably on the bed. "Tina, you know what 'inimical' means, don't you?"

"It means hostile," Tina answered. Faith could see that she was trying to hide a smile as she spoke.

"Well, I ain't never heard of it, and I don't consider myself no dummy and stuff," Hope said defensively.

Faith grimaced, preparing herself for her mother's next comment, which was sure to be barbed. She wasn't disappointed.

"It just shows you what a failure the New York public school system is," Miss Irene addressed Tina with a haughty wave of the hand. "To think a child could go through twelve years of education and not know the definition of 'inimical.'"

"Mommy! Why you gotta go there like that?" Hope looked crushed, but Miss Irene ignored her.

"Well, some might say it's the failure of the public school system, others might say the failure is on the part of the child's parents," Faith said in her snootiest voice. "And after all, not everyone was as fortunate as you and Tina, who had parents that cared enough to send their children to private schools."

Miss Irene struggled back to a sitting position and leaned forward as if to confront Faith's snide remark, but then seemed to think better of it. Instead she just glared at her.

"Come on, Baby Girl. I'll keep you company in the kitchen while you fix her pork chops." Hope pulled Faith up from her chair.

"Ooh, you got Mommy back good." Hope chuckled as soon as they were out of earshot. "I bet the only reason she didn't say anything else to you was because she thought you'd put rat poison in her food or something."

"Oh come on, I'd never do anything like that!" Faith protested. Hope pursed her lips, crossed her arms, and looked at her twin sister.

"Well, okay, I did it once before. But that was only to Papa, and it wasn't rat poison, it was roach spray," Faith said grudgingly. "And it doesn't count because he didn't die."

Copyright © 2002 by Karen E. Quinones Miller

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 36 )
Rating Distribution

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(23)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2003

    Very Disappointed!!

    I was very disappointed in this book. It saddened me that the mother chose men over her family. What woman in her right mind would choose to stay with a man who was molesting her children?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 18, 2013

    Powerful story!

    Powerful story!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2011

    Great read!

    This was my first time reading this author, but was well worth it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 5, 2011

    I loved it!!!

    Omg! I love this book especially the ending.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 28, 2010

    great read

    liked this book...first time.reading one from this author, will look into other books by Karen

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2007

    'Im telling 'Review=]]

    This is the best book that I have ever read.I couldnt put it down.I had to keep reminding myself that this story wasnt real.But It had real Meanings..and it made me think about what people would do in certain situations.I loved Henery too cause he was faithful to faith and treated her like a queen.and I really wish every guy was like that.And im happy that everybody said wat was had to be said.And that Hope was clean from drugs for a little while and that Mrs.Irene loss weight.The story was interesting...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2007

    I LOVED this book...still do

    I first read only a piece of this book when a co-worker brought it to work and let me skim through it. I was hooked from the first page. It was so good that when I left work I went searching for the book. I found it and read it all before I went to bed that night. The imagery is so real, it's as if you are there. This is one of those true to life type stories. I have worked with any children and adults who have either been the abused or witnessed the abuse...it was a story that gave me an insight I never would have been able to get before. This story is a great read and will have you up all night turning the pages trying to make sure you don't miss a beat.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2006

    Tell it like it is

    This book to me is really emotional, and me personally really enjoyed it. 'I'm Telling' is a story that happens everyday in society and I hope that alot of young girls in society read this book, so that they want be afraid to tell.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2005

    Amazing Book

    I truly enjoyed this book. It took me a moment at first to get into it. But, once I got into it I loved it. It shows the strugles and triumphs black women go through each and everyday and how sisterhood is a bond that can never be broken. I highly reccommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2005

    OUTSTANDING

    This is a excellent book well written i recommend everyone to get this book it is a wonderful story..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2005

    book lover

    at first i thought this book would delve into the father daughter relationship that would harbor incest but in fact the book is nothing about that and it constantly jumps from one thing to the next with no prelude.. the ending leaves you hanging the middle leaves you guessing and the beginning of the book is inconclusive .. a good effort on the part of the author but if you ask me she seemed very distracted when she was writing this book and suddenly got tired of writing it and decided to wrap it up

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2004

    This is a loving book

    This is a loving book. When I read this book I said to myself that she was going to be my favorite and only author. I was looking around for this book everywhere,but I couldn't find it. When I finally found it, I was so happy to finally have it in my hands. I take my hat off to Karen cause she really did it in this story. For those who love to read interesting books, this is the one for you, it really is.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2004

    The book is so good that you'll dream about what happens next!

    This book was about a set of twins named Faith and Hope. As children, Faith witnessed her sister Hope being sexually molested by their mother¿s boyfriend. She let it go on for a while without telling her mother and when she did finally tell her, it ruined everything and caused a fight. When they were older, Faith grew up to be a literary agent and Hope was a prostitute and a drug addict. Hope and her mother were constantly fighting because she was still having sex with her boyfriends. My favorite character was Faith. I liked her because she was a strong, smart, and beautiful young woman and she had her life together. She didn¿t take any mess from anybody and when her mother and sister fought, she refused to get in the middle of it. She had money, her own place, and a steady boyfriend. She and Hope were two totally different people. She was there to comfort her mother and her sister when they needed her. I would definitely say that she was the strongest character in the book. She helped her sister get a job and she got her into a drug program. I liked this book because it¿s very detailed. When I picked it up I couldn¿t put it down. It was very intense but at the same time it had a little comedy. I also liked it because it sort of teaches a lesson about love, family, loyalty and honesty. Although there¿s a lot of backstabbing, you can tell that the characters still a lot of good feelings and love toward each other. I would recommend this book to anyone who has gone through hardships and rough childhood.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2004

    Fantastic Read!!!

    This book was incredible! I loved the bond between two sisters. You could feel the love they had for one another. I recommend this book to everyone to read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2003

    Tha Bomb

    This is a very very good book. It keeps you wondering whats going to happen next. Twin sisters Hope and Faith go through a lot as children and adults. They both have secrets that eventually arise. Plus an amazing and unexpected ending.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2003

    LOVED IT!

    This book was a great book. This book talked about to people who came from the same womb at the same time but were different. Faith, was succesful had a real good man, good life, everything was ok except for her family. Her sister was sexually abused as a child, and had a mother who chose her men over her child. This book makes you think about situations, choices, people, and how to overcome everything. I would recomend this book to anyone with good taste. I loved this book, when I started reading I couldn't put it DOWN!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2003

    a must read

    at first i went to the book store they didnt have the book i wanted which was like it had to have drug selling and killing but when i read the book i loved it i could not put itdown i was shock that i would like this i guess i fooled myself

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2003

    Off the chain!

    In this book, the main character, Faith seems to have it made. And she does, her career is poppin' off right and she's signing major deals, her family is supportive and she has the world's greatest man. However, as time progresses, she is forced to see people for who they really are. Her twin sister: the crack-head prostitute, her mother: the condoner of child abuse towards her youngest daughter. And her perfect boyfriend of 15 years: a cheater? Towards the end, there are unwanted confrontations that need to be made and important decisions that must be reached and it couldn't be more shocking.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2003

    I'm Telling

    This was excellent. I just couldn't put it down. This was the truth. This just goes to show how some women choose their happiness over their own children. They act like they don't know what's going on in order to keep these know good men. While these children grow up scarred. Thank you Karen for writing this book. Maybe you've reached one of this young girl and hopefully the wont be afraid to TELL!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2003

    A very good book

    I really enjoyed this book from beginning to end. It dealt with real life situations that go on every day. This was the first book that I read by this author and I look forward to reading some of her other books as well.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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