Read an Excerpt
A RICH MAN'S BABY
By DAAIMAH S. POOLE
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2008 Daaimah S. Poole
All right reserved.
It was June, and it was only a quarter to nine and already hot outside. I had just parked my Dodge Stratus and began walking toward my job. I'd worked at the University of Alton Hospital for ten years. We were associated with ten other hospitals in our region. Alton was right in the middle of Center City in West Philadelphia. It was a small hospital that got a lot of traffic. This hospital treated everything from gunshot victims to people who were coming in for heart surgery. I was the billing coordinator and my department made sure insurance companies approved and paid for services the hospital provided. I was a supervisor but only supervised three people. The people in my department were all head cases. Miss Alberta was your nosy aunt who was in everyone's business, Jeremy was the playboy cousin who dated too much, and Reginald was your gay uncle who wasn't even trying to hide his lifestyle. And together, they were my work family who kept me entertained.
I saw Reginald lighting up a cigarette as I entered the building. He had on brown broken glasses with white tape holding the middle together, tan high-water pants, and a tan-and-black-checkered shirt.
"I thought you quit," I said as I tried to take his pack of Newports from his hand.
"Tomorrow," he gagged while trying to laugh at himself, knowing tomorrow wasn't ever coming.
I walked through the hospital and spoke to everyone I knew. I bumped into Jeremy. He was carrying a bunch of bags and coffee. I took one of the bags out of his hands.
"I brought you a raisin bagel with cream cheese. They didn't have any croissants. I forgot to get jelly. I'll be right back."
"Thank you. Appreciated. You must have known I didn't have time to stop this morning," I said as I took my breakfast from him.
Jeremy was only twenty-six and had new episodes about another stupid woman he was dating every Monday morning. He consulted me about his failed relationships, but never took my good advice. He had dated one in four women in the hospital and their friends. He wasn't even that attractive and didn't make a lot of money either. I just didn't get it.
I walked into our small office. There was just enough room for four cubicles. I approached my messy desk and said hello to Miss Alberta. I had pictures of my children from the beach, a clock radio blinking on twelve o'clock, and piles of paperwork from the week before on my desk. Through the clutter, I spotted a blue envelope.
"What's this for?" I asked Alberta as I opened the envelope.
"They giving Jen a baby shower," Alberta said.
"Another baby shower? Why are we always taking up a collection for something? Baby showers, bridal showers, weddings, and funerals. I'm tired of this," I said aloud as I scanned the invitation.
"So you want to get her a gift on your own, or you want to get her one big gift from all of us?" Alberta asked.
"I'm not getting her anything. She used to get smart with me. Please, she's married to a doctor, and now I am supposed to give a portion of my check over to a rich woman," Reginald said as he entered the office smelling of cigarettes.
I couldn't do anything but laugh.
"You're right, Reginald, but she is still our friend, right?" Alberta asked.
Reginald gave Alberta a look like "speak for yourself." I was on the borderline and couldn't comment. Jen was a freckle-faced redhead, kind of plump for a white girl, and not that cute, who got real lucky. I say she got lucky because she started in billing less than a year and a half ago, and within a week of working she met Dr. Schmidt. They were engaged in three months, and now she was married and pregnant. If you ask me, I think she had a plan from the very beginning. She came to work always dressed nice and never did any work. She probably only worked at the hospital so she could land herself a doctor husband.
"We will get one big gift. Everybody give twenty dollars, and I'll get a bunch of things from the clearance rack and The Children's Place," I said.
"I'll let you know," Reginald said as he pushed his broken glasses back on his nose.
Jeremy entered the office with more bags. He took off his black messenger bag and passed out breakfast. Our day had officially begun.
"What you do this weekend, Jeremy?" Miss Alberta asked.
"Argued with this chick's man. He called my phone on some you-know-my-girl stuff. And I'm sitting there like, 'Yo, man, check your girl, don't call my phone.' But he kept calling my phone back, so I told him everything he wanted to hear."
"No, you didn't," I said.
"Yes, I did. I told him his bed is comfortable and his girl made a real good pot of spaghetti. Like I wouldn't never check my woman's phone. Not even if her phone was right next to me. So she was in the background screaming, 'Don't lie on me.' And I was laughing as I heard him slapping the mess out of her."
"Did you know she had a boyfriend?" Reginald asked.
"I knew she had a man. She tried to tell me she didn't, but then she cut her phone off every night before nine. Her dude must have broke up with her. Because she been trying to call me back and I told you, you only get one time to turn me off and I'm through."
"Just like that, you through? You just ruined this girl's relationship, and now you won't talk to her?" I asked.
"Yup, it is easy for me to cut a chick off. Plus, I have enough memories of her in my phone. I'm going to miss those lips," he said as he opened his cell phone and looked at something I'm sure was not appropriate for the workplace.
"You are so wrong. He should have come to your house. You are insane. You'll meet your match eventually," I said.
"We all will, and when I do, I'll be prepared." Jeremy smiled.
The rest of the day was filled with Jeremy stories and a meeting with our regional manager, Patrick. He stopped in to my hospital every other week to make sure we were doing everything up to code and collecting the hospital money properly.
I came home from work expecting peace and quiet, but got three teenage boys playing Xbox on my sofa and floors. The boys said, "Hi, Miss Tanisha."
I spoke back and walked toward my kitchen. I didn't mind my kids having company. I actually was happy when their friends came to our house. I never was able to have company or sleepovers because my mother was so strict and religious. Plus, if they were home, I knew they were safe.
I walked into the kitchen. I wanted to hurry up and get dinner started.
"Jamil, why are there dishes in my sink? I want to cook," I said looking at the sink full of pots and cups.
"I was about to do them, Mom," Jamil said as he ran into the kitchen.
Jamil was sixteen, dark brown, and six feet. His body looked like a man's, but I didn't think he was interested in girls yet. He was still addicted to his Xbox and hanging around his friends. He came out of his room to eat and go to school. I gave him condoms just in case he was thinking about having sex, because I knew how fresh little girls could be. Like my daughter Alexis; she was the one I had to worry about. She was seventeen and boy crazy, and too concerned with how she looked. She thought she was supposed to get her hair and nails done every two weeks, and I didn't. She was in the twelfth grade, and I was just trying to get her ready and interested in college.
Ty had been gone for about four months, and our divorce would be official soon. I sat my two oldest down when he moved out and told them I wasn't happy. They understood and weren't too upset about it. Ty assured them that he was still their father, and if they needed anything, they could still call him. So far, everyone had been adjusting well, except for Kierra. She really missed having her father around. I think she just missed her daily treats. He was forever bringing her Sour Patch Kids and M&M's after work. That's why she had a mouthful of cavities now.
I sat down at my white tile kitchen table and began opening my bills. The first one on the top was my Verizon cell bill. It was a bill for seven hundred dollars and three cents. What the hell? It had to be a mistake. I thought we all shared minutes. I looked at all the phone lines and none of the minutes was over. I couldn't understand why the bill was that much. I continued to scan the bill to see what could possibly make my bill so high. Then I spotted the reason and almost passed out.
"Alexis," I screamed out.
She came down the steps in sky-blue running shorts and a pink tee.
"I'm right here. Why you screaming?" she asked, frowning and cradling her cell phone in her neck.
"You in the house. Get off the damn cell phone." She shut her phone off and came down the steps.
"Mom, why you always trying to play somebody?"
"Alexis, why do I have a seven-hundred-dollar cell phone bill, and how the hell did you use six thousand text messages in one month?" I said, placing the bill in her hands. She looked at the bill, and said, "I don't know what they talking about. I didn't text six thousand times. It must have been a mistake."
"This is not a mistake! It is your number right here. Listen, if you can't be responsible with your phone, then you don't need one. I can't afford these high-ass bills. You going to have to get a job," I yelled.
"I've been looking all summer. I filled out applications everywhere."
"Alexis, this is your last warning. By the time school is back, you better have a job."
"All right, Mom. I heard you," she said as she walked back up the steps.
While Jamil was finishing up the dishes, I went to pick up Kierra from day care. I usually left Kierra at summer camp until two minutes before the summer camp ended. Kierra was a piece of work. She was nothing like Alexis or Jamil. She required so much more attention and time. Or maybe I didn't remember them because I was so young. At almost five years old, this little girl just asked too many questions. She was really smart and had been reading since she was three and had an unbelievable memory. I'd be at the store, asking myself what was I supposed to get, and she would say, "You need to buy eggs to make a cake for Miss Alberta's birthday tomorrow."
Kierra was already waiting by the door when I walked in. I signed her out, and the first thing she asked was, "Mommy, where my daddy at?"
"He still at his new house," I said.
"Why he got a new house, Mommy?" she asked, looking up at me with her father's big eyes and fat cheeks. Her complexion was a blend of my mocha skin and her father's honey complexion. Kierra's hair was in a cluster of long braids decorated with barrettes at the tips.
"He needed to have his own space," I said, grabbing her book bag and opening the car door for her.
"Why he need his own space, Mommy?" she asked as I fastened her in her booster chair.
"He just do, Kierra. I'm going to call him for you."
I dialed his number and he picked up on the first ring. I passed her the telephone
"Daddy," she screamed into the telephone.
I heard him say, "Hey, li'l mama. Daddy coming to see you tomorrow. Okay?"
She passed the phone to me.
"Yeah?" I answered.
"Is it okay if I come over tomorrow to see the kids?"
"I don't care."
"Okay, I'll be there around six. How you doing? You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Here you go, Kierra," I said as I gave the phone back to her. I wasn't trying to have a conversation with him.
Chapter TwoAdrienne Sheppard
The treadmill was boring me. I read Essence from front to back, and I still had fifteen more minutes. I opened the cap on my Aquafina bottle and took a mouthful. I was trying to make the best of my gym membership that I was paying thirty dollars a month for. But it was not easy to stay focused. I had plateaued at 148 pounds, which was a tight size eight for me. All I wanted was to be back at my size six, maybe even a four. I wanted to get another fifteen pounds off so bad I hired a personal trainer. His name was Kyle. He had me squatting and flexing for the last hour and a half. He was treating me like I was at boot camp, and he just didn't know I was about to go AWOL. Sweat was pouring down my face and I was so tired, but I saw him approaching, so I sped up a little to actually make him think I was enjoying this body torture.
"You're doing good. How you feeling?" he asked, smiling as his muscles popped out of his red shirt and tight black pants.
I never had a man just smile and have my body just want him. But I didn't care what he said, this session was over. I took my curly black hair off my neck and pulled it up in a bun.
"I feel good," I lied.
"Okay, I'll see you this time tomorrow," he said as he stopped the treadmill.
"Yeah, I guess," I said as I jumped off the treadmill.
"You guess? Hold up. You trying to get in shape, right?"
"Well, I'll see you tomorrow."
From the gym I went past my mother Debbie's house. I'd always lived with my mother and grandparents. My mother was fifty-two with dark roots and blond ends. She had a streak of red blush going up the side of her eggshell-colored cheek and was wearing cherry-colored lipstick. We didn't even look like we were mother and daughter. I look like my dad's side, and he is black. My complexion was cocoa-butter yellow, and I had long, black, thick hair. My mother's hair was brown, short, and thin. I had family on my dad's side, but they never really accepted me. My dad broke up with my mom when she was pregnant with me.
Growing up, I was really lost. I didn't really belong. People would put glue in my hair and hide my book bag. And I got it from black and white kids. I'd always had issues with my complexion and being biracial. I had a big nose and crazy untamed hair growing up. I was just an oddball. So I never made a lot of friends or brought anyone home. Kids at my school would say mean things to me like my mother was an albino elephant and ask me if I was adopted. I got into so many fights from first grade through high school. Somebody always wanted to fight me. I used to be so embarrassed when my mother came up to my school and tried to defend me, because she was white and very fat. Her legs used to be the size of boulders and squished together when she walked. She weighed about four hundred pounds and even needed a cane to get around. I loved my mom and I knew she was a good mom, but other kids didn't see that. My mom and grandparents gave me a lot of love and attention, but that didn't make me feel any better. So when my mom sat me down three years ago and said she was getting gastric bypass surgery, I was so excited. I knew it would be a new life for her and for me. I no longer would have to be ashamed of her. She lost two hundred pounds in two years, and got a new life and picked herself up a boyfriend. That's why I knew I had to stay in the gym; it was in my genes to be fat.
"Hey, Mom," I said as I came through the door.
She gave me a kiss on the cheek as she opened a can of Ensure for my grandfather. He was sitting in his recliner in the living room. My grandparents' house was filled with decades-old furniture. Mostly wood and crazy burnt orange and green colors. She placed the drink in front of him and he pushed it to the side.
"I don't like the way it taste. I want some coffee."
"Pop, the doctor said you can't have coffee. Drink this thing; you need to gain some weight."
He looked over at me and took a sip. Henry Sheppard was a stubborn-ass man. Even at eighty-two he didn't listen to anyone. He was so skinny that his small wife-beater was hanging off his tiny body. My grandmother passed away eight years ago. My mom took care of my grandfather because he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's.
I sat and talked to my mother for a little while and left. I wanted to get home and take a nap and shower before it was time for me to go to work. I was a nurse at the University of Alton Hospital. I'd been there for two years. It wasn't exactly what I'd expected. Sometimes I got tired of being around sick people; other times I felt more like a maid than a medical professional. I didn't even really want to become a nurse, but I had to declare a major so I chose that. People were making good money, and I wanted to be assured of a job when I graduated. I worked my way through college and just stayed busy. I went to a community college; then I went to a nursing program at Jefferson University. I was working the four-to-twelve shift tonight. My schedule varied, and I did a lot of doubles. Sometimes it seemed like all I did was work. And when I wasn't working, I was sleeping to get rested to go back to work. Sometimes I looked in the mirror and saw dark rings appearing under my eyes from lack of sleep. I thought it was a shame for a twenty-five-year-old to look like that.
I entered my apartment building and retrieved my mail out of the box. I had nothing but credit card offers and bills. I climbed up the steps to my third-floor apartment and entered. I had a tan carpet and white walls. I didn't have anything on the walls, just a few pictures of me and my mom and my grandmom before she died. I said I would get the place together, but the only person looking at it was me. It was drab, and I had enough money to fix it up, but I just didn't have the time.
Once I got to work my routine was the same. I went to the station and looked at the board to see how many patients I had. The head nurse, Liz, a vibrant Jamaican woman, usually made sure I had the least amount of patients. She looked out for me because she said I reminded her of her niece back home. "Hey, gal, what you got going on today?" she asked.
Excerpted from A RICH MAN'S BABY by DAAIMAH S. POOLE Copyright © 2008 by Daaimah S. Poole. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.