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"How you doing, Doretha?"
That's what Lonnie would say to her from the stage.
"Lonnie and the Liberations!" Doretha whispered to herself, reading from the ticket in her hand. She couldn't stop smiling. She sat down on the edge of her bed. Then she got up again and just stood there looking at nothing, still smiling.
"Sister," her mother called from downstairs, "come on down and cat dinner with me."
"Okay, I'm coming," Doretha said.
But she sat back down on the bed and looked at the free ticket she had gotten from Mr. Nelson at the recreation center. She rubbed her thumb across it, thinking about its magic. Tomorrow night it would take her into another world, through the gates of the outdoor theater, to see Lonnie and the Liberations. ln stead of looking at their flat, still pictures in a magazine, she would be sitting right there looking at the real them. She might get near Lonnie, might even be able to stick out her hand and touch him. Touch him!
All of a sudden the joy exploded like cherry bombs inside her. She threw herself into the middle of the bed, bouncing and laughing loud, kicking her feet in the air like a little kid, instead of like thirteen. Then she lay still, the craziness gone. She closed her eyes and let herself slide into the daydream she had been making up ever since she got the ticket
Lonnie would fall in love with her. He wouldnt care that she was still straight and skinny or that she was a year behind in school. Somehow, even in the dark, crowded theater, he would see the lovein her eyes and he would say, "How you doing, Doretha?" over the mike in a cool warm way, without her even telling him her name. And that would be their begining.
"Come on up here with me."
His voice was pulling her up, up, out of her seat. She was walking, almost floating, down the long aisle. All her friends were watching, and she didn't know why she fell so proud when she never liked for people to stare at her.
Music was coming from somewhere, and then the Liberations were singing, and Lonnie was singing just to her, drawing her down the aisle. She reached the bottom of the stage and he spun around in a circle, still singing, and threw out his hand to help her tip the steps. The audience was going wild, clapping and stomping and cheering for their love. She could only look at him as he held her hand and sang ...Bam!
The slamming of the door downstairs jerked Doretha out of her daydream. It was her sister. She heard her mother walk from the kitchen to the front room. She sat up and tried to make her mind a wall to protect her from the argument that was about to start.
"Alberta, do you have to slam that door like that?" Mrs. Freeman said.
"I'm sorry," Alberta said. But she didn't sound Sorry.
"I told you a hundred times not to..."
"I said I was sorry, Mama! What you want me to say?"
"Who you think you talking to, Alberta?" Mrs. Freeman said. "Just who you think you talking to? You raise your voice at me again, I'll slap you winding."
There was a long silence. Doretha could imagine her mother's soft eyes, soft brown heart face, tight and bitter now that Alberta was home. But she knew her mother would never hit anybody, much less slap her own daughter hard enough to send her winding around and around.
"You look for a job today?" Mrs. Freeman asked.
"I didn't get one," Alberta said, and Doretha could hear the worry in her sister's voice even with fourteen steps between them.
"I told you if you left school you had to get a job," Mrs. Freeman said. "And I don't care if it is summer now, you still not going to just sit around here . . ."
"I been looking for a job for two months."
"You had no business leaving school. Sixteen years old, hanging around the streets all day with those hoodlums . . ."
Doretha's mind-wall crumbled. She got up and closed the bedroom door, then went over to look out the open window. Dark summer clouds were growing in the sky, and she should have been setting out the buckets to catch the rain that would drip through the leaks in the roof. But she waited.
She leaned on the window sill and tried to slide back into her daydream, but closing the door hadn't shut out what was going on downstairs. She knew what they were saying. She knew it was the same as the time before. And the time before that. And all the other times. Her mother would be holding her slender body still, except for her hands opening and closing in the pockets of her housedress. Alberta would be sighing and shifting her slight weight in cut-off jeans from one side to the other, her long, thin face longer and her halter top exposing more collarbone than she wanted.
They not hoodlum , they my friends.
I've done all I can to make you happy, Alberta, I don't know what else to do.
I have to get out sometimes, Mama.
Heading for trouble, Alberta, trouble, Alberta, trouble ...
The first slow raindrops struck Doretha's hand and she closed the window. She stood watching the balls of water hit the window and break.
"Don't you ever want to get away from here?" she had asked her mother a few days ago.
"Sometimes I do, Sister."
"You know what I wish, Mama? I wish I could just stand up and throw my arms out hard, real hard, and knock that falling-down roof all the way to New York. And that old, beat-up refrigerator. And school."Sister. Copyright © by Eloise Greenfield. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.