Read an Excerpt
On the Flip Side
A Fab Life Novel
By nikki carter
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2012 Nikki Carter
All rights reserved.
"Are you a free-thinking woman?"
I nod my head along with the other four hundred freshmen girls who will be my classmates at Spelman College. We're all seated in a huge auditorium, listening to the dean present our freshman orientation.
My roommate and new friend, Gia, whispers, "Can I be a free-thinking woman if I don't have boobs?"
"You think with your brain, not your boobs," I whisper back.
"Don't judge me until you've walked a mile in my padded bra," Gia says.
I cover my mouth to hush my giggle. I'm trying not to be noticed. It's hard enough being incognito as Sunday Tolliver, recording artist. Okay scratch that. It's dang near impossible.
Luckily Gia is not a starstruck groupie type. Not that I'm really a star yet, but it would be difficult if I was rooming with someone who wanted to know about my mentor, Grammy winner Mystique, or my cousin, Drama.
After the long speech by the dean we are dismissed for the rest of the afternoon to reflect on her words. Standing here in the courtyard, and gazing at our campus buildings, I feel inspired to learn, meet my new sisters, and change the world.
But first ... lunch.
"Gia, do you want to go off campus to the Busy Bee Café?" I ask. "I'm starving."
"That's what I'm talking about!" Gia replies in the excited tone she uses with just about every sentence. "Let's do this!"
Even though I've only known her for two days, I like Gia so far. She's from Cleveland, Ohio, and just too excited to be in the ATL. I'm not mad at her, though. I never wanted to go to school anywhere else but Spelman.
"Wait a minute," Gia says. "Is the Busy Bee Café expensive? My funds are limited."
"It's not super cheap, but it's not expensive," I reply. I'm thinking she'll spend about fifteen bucks on a delicious soul-food lunch.
"Can I get something for ten dollars or less?"
"Not a whole meal with a drink, tax and tip. It's gonna be more like fifteen."
Gia shakes her head. "No can do. How about IHOP?"
I scrunch my nose and frown. "I do not like IHOP. I'll take you to Busy Bee, my treat. It'll be my welcome-to-Atlanta present."
Gia smashes her hand into her bony hip and pokes her lips out. With her huge afro and cornrows in the front, she makes me think of one of those old Dolemite movies. All she needs is some bell-bottom pants and a halter top that shows her belly button. Oh, and some big gold hoop earrings.
"No, Sunday. You are not about to start doing that. I'm not gonna be taking money from you all the time because you're a pop star."
"One time is not all the time, Gia. Plus, I like sharing."
"Well, I guess. But just this time. Is it close enough to walk, or are we driving, since I'm lucky enough to have the only freshman on campus with a car as my roommate?"
This took some persuasion by my manager, Big D, and a donation to the music program by my mentor, Mystique. Neither of them feel comfortable with the idea of me walking the streets of Atlanta. They convinced the dean that I would only be safe if I had an automobile to drive where I needed to go off campus.
Whatever the reason, I'm glad to be driving, because when it comes to walking somewhere in this stifling August heat, I completely disagree.
"Did I hear someone say freshman and car in the same sentence?" A white girl with brown hair approaches and stops in front of me and Gia. She appraises us each with a simple head-to-toe sweep of her eyes. I guess she likes what she sees, because the smile on her face is genuine.
"Maybe you did ..." Gia replies.
The girl sticks her hand out to Gia. "My name is Piper. This is my first time being in Atlanta, so I was hoping I could catch a ride with someone to get something to eat."
"I'm Gia, and this is my roommate, Sunday. I'm sure you're welcome to join us, right, Sunday?"
"Sure! The more the merrier."
"Well, can I bring my roommate too?" Piper asks. "She's just over there, talking to those girls in turquoise."
I nod. "Go ahead. We'll wait."
The girls in turquoise are upperclassmen members of Gamma Phi Gamma, one of the biggest sororities on campus. Piper's roommate seems comfortable talking to them, and looks a bit annoyed when Piper pulls her away. As they walk back toward us, all of the Gamma girls look in my direction and smile. It's weird. I know it's a Sunday Tolliver the Artist thing. But on campus, I'm just me. Sunday.
"Okay, calm down!" Piper's roommate fusses. "I said I'll go for crying out loud."
Between rapid breaths, Piper says, "This is my friend ... Meagan."
"We're roommates," Meagan says with a little laugh. "I'm not sure we're friends yet."
Piper's face falls a little, and she seems to swallow all her bubbly excitement in one gulp. Then, Meagan gives Piper a little slap on the arm.
"I'm kidding!" Meagan says. "This girl is super sensitive."
Gia lifts an eyebrow and slowly extends her hand. "I'm Gia Stokes, and this is Sunday Tolliver."
"Meagan Morgan, of the D.C. Morgans," Meagan says.
Gia looks at me and I shrug. "I'm afraid I've never heard of the D.C. Morgans," I reply, "but I'm happy to meet you anyway."
"You never know who knows who at Spelman," Meagan says. "I'm just putting it out there in case we summered together when we were little."
Summered together? Where they do that at?
"Come on, y'all. My car is parked a little ways away. They let me have the car on campus, but not without making it real inconvenient."
Gia replies, "You ain't said nothing but a word, Miss Day-After-Saturday. I'm hungry den a mug."
Meagan furrows her eyebrows. "Translator!" she says with a giggle.
"Ahem ... she said, 'That's the simplest thing ever, Sunday. I'm so hungry I could eat a cow,'" Piper says.
Gia frowns for a second while there's a moment of silence. Then, we all burst into laughter! Talk about breaking the ice.
"I do have, in my repertoire, an above-rudimentary grasp of the English language," Gia says. "But I reserve the right to take it skrait to da hood, baby! Ya heard?"
Piper high-fives Gia. "I know that's right!"
We cross the huge courtyard to the paid parking lots where my car is parked. I don't know how I feel about Piper cosigning with Gia and her hood-speak. Even though I used to have a white best friend, it just seems like Piper is trying a little too hard. I know we're at a historically black university, but really?
I hit the keyless entry on my Camry and Meagan stops in her tracks.
"This is what you drive?" she asks.
"Yes. Is there something wrong with my car?"
"No. Not really. I just expected you to have something a little more fabulous. You did hit number one on the Billboard chart, right?" Meagan asks.
I nod as I bite my bottom lip and get into the front seat of the car. "Are y'all coming?" I ask.
Is this how it's always going to be from here on out? Are people going to think things about me based on a hit record or a video? I had hoped that I wouldn't have this problem at school. My record Can U See Me was a hit, but now I've got to follow up with something just as good, maybe even better. It's enough stress trying to figure out how to have a great follow-up without worrying if the girls I meet here are going to like me whether I hit number one again or not.
Meagan beats Gia to the front passenger seat. I wish she hadn't.
"You know I'm kidding, right?" Meagan says. "Your car is great! The rest of us are hoofing it."
"Yes, you are," I reply as I pull out of my parking spot. "Put on your seat belt. I don't want a ticket."
"So," Piper says as I drive off-campus, "I know that Meagan is from Washington, D.C. Are you both from Atlanta?"
I open my mouth, but Gia already replies.
"I'm from Cleveland, Ohio," Gia says. "A place where it gets really, really cold in the wintertime, and doesn't get too hot in the summer."
"Well, I grew up all over the place," Piper replies. "But I spent my high school years in Jacksonville, Florida."
"You were a military brat, then?" Meagan asks.
"No. I was a foster kid. My last family that I had through high school was in Jacksonville. I stayed with a couple of relatives in Virginia and Alabama too, but I ended up in Jacksonville after I ran away from one of my aunts' houses."
"How in the world did you end up at Spelman?" Meagan asks. It sounds kind of rude, but it's exactly what I'm thinking, so I can't be mad at her.
"My foster mom went here, and I guess she's friends with one of the board members or something, because they got me a scholarship."
"Oh, you're on scholarship," Meagan says.
I hear Gia smacking her lips and sucking her teeth. One glance in the rearview shows the face I thought she'd be making. Lips poked out and eyebrows scrunched together.
"What's wrong with being on scholarship?" Gia asks. "Some of us don't have a city before our last name."
Meagan giggles. "Oh goodness! I didn't say anything was wrong with it. I was just putting two and two together. Like why a white girl would choose Spelman that's like ninety-nine-point-nine percent black when she could choose another school."
"I could've gotten a scholarship somewhere else," Piper says. "I had a four-point-four GPA in high school. I chose Spelman because I wanted to come here."
I pull into Busy Bee's parking lot. "We're here, y'all. Atlanta soul food cuisine at its finest."
A wave of sadness pours over me as we walk into the restaurant. My boyfriend, Sam, and I eat here a lot. Or we used to when he still lived in Atlanta. Now, he's at Fordham University in New York City, and I miss him so much. We went through so much drama to finally be together, and now we're separated. He promises that he'll be home all the time and that he'll call, text, and email me so much that I won't have a chance to miss him too much.
We go through the cafeteria-style line and order our food before taking a seat at a table. Meagan immediately unfolds two paper napkins and places them in her lap. She smoothes them out and then daintily places her hands in her lap.
Gia, Piper, and I stare first and then follow suit. It doesn't hurt anything to have table manners, and Meagan looks pleased.
"So," Meagan says, "let's go around the table and give the vitals. We already know where each of us is from, so let's find out the other important things: Do you have a boyfriend? Which sorority will you pledge? What's your major?"
When none of us speak, Meagan continues. "I'll go first. I do not have a boyfriend yet, but I will find one this year at Morehouse. I will pledge Gamma Phi Gamma. My mother was a Gamma and so was my grandmother. My major is communications with a minor in journalism. I will be a news anchor in Washington, D.C., when I graduate."
Gia looks at me with her jaw hanging open. I totally feel the way Gia looks. Who has it together like that?
"I do have a boyfriend. His name is Sam," I say. "I don't know about being in a sorority. I'm not sure if I'm the type, and I'm majoring in pre-law. I want to be an entertainment lawyer."
Piper's eyes widen with an expression of shock. "You want to be a lawyer? But you're a pop star! You make millions, right? Why wouldn't you just want to travel and have fun?"
"I haven't made millions yet. Plus, I want to have a backup plan to my music career. What about you, Piper? What are your vitals?"
"I don't have a boyfriend, but I hope to meet one too! I also want to be in Gamma Phi Gamma, and I'm majoring in computer science."
Meagan chuckles and looks into her lap.
"Did I say something funny?" Piper asks.
"Well, it was funny, but not ha-ha funny. It was kind of like when you say 'that's funny' when you think something is strange."
Gia says, "Interpret please."
"Well, it's strange that she wants to be a Gamma girl. She seems more like a Beta Kappa Epsilon."
"I don't get what you mean," Piper says. "My foster mother is a Gamma girl."
"Yes, but Gamma Phi Gamma is super exclusive. If you don't come from money or have a founding family member, it's really hard to get in. I just don't want you to be disappointed. Beta Kappa is a lot more open to diversity."
Piper turns a deep scarlet shade of red. I'm glad that our food gets to the table, because it distracts a bit from the uncomfortable silence. Meagan really is off the chain, but she's right about Gamma Phi Gamma. They probably wouldn't take Piper off the foster-kid status alone. Plus, I've never seen a Gamma girl with a tattoo like the one Piper has on her shoulder.
Meagan stares at Gia's plate. She has smothered chicken, collard greens, candied yams, and macaroni and cheese, with a big hunk of pound cake for dessert. Meagan only has baked chicken and salad.
"Are you really going to eat all that, Gia?"
Gia laughs out loud. "Yes, I most certainly am, future Gamma girl. I'm trying to get some curvaceousness jumping off, and I certainly can't do it with salad. Unfortunately, it is very hard for me to gain weight."
"Ummm ... that is quite fortunate," Piper says. "I look at food and gain weight. Give us your stats."
"Okay. Yes, I have a boyfriend. His name is Ricky and he goes to Georgia State University on a football scholarship. He's also one third of my bestie triangle. The other two points are my cousin Hope, who also goes to Georgia State, and my other bestie, Kevin, who is a Morehouse man. No thank you to the sororities. Not my style. And I'm also majoring in computer science with a minor in mathematics."
"All of your best friends came to Atlanta?" I ask. "Y'all must be one tight clique."
"We've been friends since we were little. We all go to the same church back home. My uncle is the pastor. So yeah, we are super tight, but we didn't all plan to come to Atlanta. Kevin was actually trying to go to an Ivy League school, but the money wasn't quite right. He's going to be a doctor."
"Well," I say, "I don't have any sisters, or any really close friends from high school. There's one girl, Bethany, but we've been through so much that she and I have drifted apart. And then there's my cousin...."
"Drama!" Piper and Gia say in unison.
"Right. Y'all know all about her, I guess, from the reality show."
Piper nods. "Yes! That show was off the chain. I loved the Truth-Sunday-Drama love triangle! And when Sam went ballistic on Truth and fought him at the club, and it was on YouTube!"
Meagan gives Piper a disgusted look. "You sound like a total fangirl."
"I am a fan. I love Sunday's music! Don't y'all?"
Gia nods. "I do. You are a great singer."
"Thank you," I reply. "But for the record there was never a Truth-Sunday-Drama love triangle. Truth and I were never an item. That was a straight fabrication."
Piper and Meagan exchange skeptical glances. Whatever! I don't have anything to prove to these girls. Gia is busy chowing down, so I'm not exactly sure what her thoughts are on the subject.
"Are you going to put out an entire album soon?" Piper asks.
"Soon. We're releasing another single first, and then I'll go into the studio to record the album."
"How are you going to do all of that and go to school too?" Gia asks.
"It's gonna be hard, but I'll have to juggle it. I think I can do it."
I take a bite of my fried chicken and chew it for a long time before I can swallow. The truth is I'm nervous about trying to have a recording career and go to college full time. I have no idea whether I can do it or not. I've convinced everyone: my mom, Mystique, Big D, and Epsilon Records that I'm going to be a success at being a free-thinking Spelman woman and a pop star.
But deep down, I'm a little scared. What if I fail?
I guess now, it's time for me to believe my own hype.CHAPTER 2
"So, since the album is already gold and heading toward platinum, I think your next single should be a big ballad," Mystique says as she, Big D, and I chill in her fiancé Zac's studio.
"I agree," I reply. "I think it should be 'The Highlight .'"
"Hmm ... let me hear you sing a piece of it so I can think of a concept for the video," Mystique says.
I open up my mouth and belt it out a cappella. "I don't know a lot of things/ And I haven't been around a long time/But I don't have to know it all/To tell you what's been on my mind/You are ... so amazing/And if it weren't for you, and everything you do/I wouldn't be this happy/Loving you is the highlight of my life!
"On that little bridge part you can do a run like this."
Mystique does some vocal acrobatics on the word amazing that are ... well ... amazing! I laugh out loud, because my voice is good, but Mystique's is incredible. I won't even attempt to copy that.
"So you like it?" I ask.
"Oh, yes! I love it. You and Sam are so gifted when it comes to songwriting. I knew that from the jump."
Big D says, "Every song on this record is hot. This album is gonna remind people of when Lauryn Hill first came out and dominated the charts."
"Don't go there, Big D," I say. "I don't even like to hear you say that out loud. I can't even touch Lauryn as an artist or songwriter."
Mystique says, "Sunday, you have the potential to surpass that. You don't understand how gifted you are. D, when is she gonna get it?"
He shrugs. "I don't know, but I wish she'd hurry up so we can get this paper."
Excerpted from On the Flip Side by nikki carter. Copyright © 2012 Nikki Carter. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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