Shauntae Randall knows she's not smart or talented at much of anything, but she also knows she's gorgeous and can handle herself around a man. So, she's made a career of it. She thought she had struck gold a few years back when she was lucky enough to get pregnant by Devon Wright. She knew they'd get married, he would take care of her and her baby, and she'd be set for life. What Shauntae didn't know was that it's much harder to keep a man than it is to catch him. Now she's lost custody of the child and the child support check and has to go back to hustling. Shauntae is lucky enough to get herself pregnant by Gary Jackson. She knows she has to figure out how to be a good wife to Gary and a good mother to their child to keep herself in his big, fancy house and his big, fancy car. She has to learn to talk "proper" and say all the right things at the right time. The absolute worst thing is that Shauntae must learn how to be a "church girl." When issues with Gary's ex-wife and kids threaten Shauntae's "get married and stay married" plan, it's actually God that helps her out. Shauntae decides that instead of hustling God, she might want to get to know Him. But can an ex-hustler really shed her old ways and become a true Christian, and a good wife and mother?
Shauntae slammed down the phone. She hated, absolutely HATED Devon Wright. He had ruined her life in so many ways and this was the worst yet. First, he had kicked her out of his house when the child they had together was only six months old. Then he hadn’t married her like he had promised. But putting out an arrest warrant on her so she had to leave Atlanta? That was too much.
She had called to beg him to lift the warrant, but he wouldn’t even listen. He just said “no” without giving her a chance.
Shauntae’s door creaked open and her mother slid into her room. “So that’s what you been keeping from me, huh?”
“Why you sneaking around listening to my phone calls?” Shauntae sat up on the bed and folded her arms. She stared straight in her mama’s face.
Mama folded her arms and stared back. Funny that she wasn’t a very big woman, but something about the way she talked to and treated people always made her seem a foot taller than she really was.
The bedroom felt too small for the both of them. It looked like the many rooms Shauntae had grown up in, moving from housing project to housing project with her mother, sister, and brother. How in the world did she end up back under her mother’s roof? She swore when she left that she would never, EVER, come back. But here she was. Sleeping in a twin bed like she was a child.
Not only was she not a child, she was gonna have a child in about five months.
After a few minutes of staring each other down, Shauntae finally looked at the floor. Her mother sat on the chair opposite the bed. “You been here three months with a warrant out on you and ain’t said nothing?”
“It’s a Georgia warrant, Mama. Can’t nothing happen out here in California.”
“What you do?”
Shauntae knew she wasn’t showing no motherly concern. She was just nosy and liked drama.
“It ain’t important.”
“It is important. If I been harborin’ a fugitive, I got a right to know what she did. I needs to know if my life is in danger.” Mama chuckled. “And here I thought you was coming home because you missed me and wanted me to help you raise your child.”
They sat there in silence for a few moments. Shauntae knew her mother wouldn’t leave without knowing what happened. And the next thing out of her mouth would be how Shauntae had stayed there rent-free for three months and had been fed and provided for. She didn’t feel like having all that throwed up in her face, so she started trying to figure out how to tell the story.
“Me and Devon started having problems –”
“Started having problems? Y’all been having problems since before your child was born.”
Shauntae glared at her mother. “He got a girlfriend and things got worse.”
Mama laughed. “Ain’t that always the case? Another woman comes along and they get all tight in the pockets.”
“Yeah, and I lost any chance of ever making Devon marry me.”
“Shauntae, please. That man was never gon’ marry you. You shot too high with that one. Ain’t he a computer person or something like that? How you thank you was gon’ keep a educated man with that empty head of yours?”
Shauntae pressed her lips together. The last time she had cussed her mother out, things hadn’t ended well. She had found herself on the street at age seventeen, left to pick up the same habits she had grown up hating her mother for. Shauntae had sworn her life would never get so low that she had to hustle men to pay rent and eat. But she had ended up doing exactly that.
Her mother kept fussing. “I don’ told you don’t be looking for no smart, rich man to marry you. Give ‘em some good sex that keeps their pockets loose for as long as you can. If you do get pregnant by one, let it be a married one that you can blackmail for money because he don’t want his wife to know. That’s how you get set for life. But this dream you got of marrying somebody rich and smart to take care of you, you need to let that go. Like I been telling you for years…”
Shauntae zoned out on the sermon her mother had preached too many times. Mama was right, though. She shoulda never thought she could hold on to Devon Wright. When she first met him, she had planned to do him exactly like her mother had taught her.
She had seen Devon a few times in one of the many upscale bars where she went looking for sponsors. He was always drunk and she could tell he was dealing with some serious mess. Some woman had probably broke his heart and so he needed some sexual healing – which she was all too ready to give.
After the first time they hooked up, he was drunk every time she went to his house, half naked under a long, trench coat. He invited her into his bed without much conversation. She didn’t have to fake being smart or having some culture like she usually did.
The day she realized she was pregnant, she knew she had struck gold. Devon was a good man. He wouldn’t be like the many other guys that slid her money for a abortion. Plus, she had waited to tell Devon she was pregnant when it was too late to get a abortion legally. She showed up after disappearing for a few months and gave him the news. She didn’t make the usual threats she made when she told a guy she was pregnant. Even though he had bent over sucking air like she had punched him in the stomach, she knew Devon would do the right thing.
And he did. She left that day victorious, making plans to move in his house and start counting the days to her wedding.
Her mother stopped her sermon and interrupted Shauntae’s thoughts. “Wait a minute. Devon got a girlfriend? So y’all wasn’t messin’ around anymore?”
Shauntae sucked her teeth. “Devon hadn’t messed with me since I told him I was pregnant.”
Mama frowned. “But you was living with him for a while. Y’all wasn’t…”
Shauntae shook her head. When she’d moved into Devon’s house, she figured they’d still have good sex on a regular, but he didn’t touch her. She hadn’t had the good sense to know that was a sign of how things would end up.
“How a man gon’ live in the house with a woman and not have sex?” Mama asked.
“Like you said, he was educated.” Shauntae never told her mother that she “caught” Devon while he was drunk. Things changed after he was sober. “When I moved in, he wanted to talk all the time. Always wanted to know what I was thinking, what I thought about stuff that happened on the news and in politics and all sorts of stuff. And he was smart. And it didn’t take him long to realize that I wasn’t.” Shauntae had knew after their first conversation at the dinner table that she was in way over her head.
It wasn’t long before he would hardly speak to her. He would come home from work and watch TV or read or be on his computer. Which was fine with her. As long as she had a roof over her head and food to eat, it didn’t matter if he talked to her. In fact, it was easier not to have to try to sound intelligent or understand what in the world he was talking about.
He took her to her prenatal appointments and bought whatever she wanted for the baby. He bought some things for her too, but she didn’t push him too far. When she asked for too much, he would get salty with her.
The only time he was really nice to her was when she went into labor with Brianna. So nice, it surprised her. The whole time she was in the hospital, Shauntae pretended in her mind that Devon was always nice to her, paid attention to her and really cared about her.
“After a while, it got to the point where he couldn’t stand me, so he put me out.”
Shauntae didn’t tell the whole story. When they brought Brianna home from the hospital, Shauntae knew she wouldn’t make it. Brianna cried and wanted to eat every two hours. After a couple of weeks of having to get up and make bottles, Shauntae was mad she let her breasts dry up. It would have been easier to breastfeed in the middle of the night. But she didn’t want her titties all floppy. It was clear by then that Devon wasn’t going to marry her and she wouldn’t be able to catch a new man with saggy titties.
Brianna was always peeing and pooping and needing her diaper changed. Sometimes she cried and Shauntae couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. She couldn’t imagine why any woman would trap a man by having a baby because it was too much work. It woulda been easier to get a real job.
And then when Devon’s parents had came, she was completely busted. Devon was at work most of the day so couldn’t see how bad she was messing up. But Devon’s mama watched everything she did. She never said nothing, but there was this look in her eye that said she knew Shauntae wasn’t no good mama.
Shauntae wasn’t surprised when Devon’s parents said they was moving to Atlanta. She wasn’t surprised when Devon told her she had to get her own place when Brianna was six months old.
She was surprised Mama was still sitting in the chair waiting to hear more of the story. She never listened to or cared about Shauntae. The most she ever did was preach to her about how to catch a man.
“So even after you moved out and he was paying child support, he still wasn’t getting none?” Mama stared at her, perplexed. “But wait a minute, if you collecting child support, why you been acting all broke since you been out here? Where your check been going every month?”
Shauntae bit her lip. “I don’t get it no more.”
Her mother stood up, hands on her hips. “You lost your check? You carried a baby in your belly for nine months and raised it all those years and you ain’t got nothing to show for it?” Her mother paced around the tight room. “And you got a arrest warrant on you? Shauntae, what did you do?”
Shauntae sat there swinging her legs and biting her lip, like she was a little girl again. “Well, what had happened was, Brianna got sick –”
“My daughter.” Shauntae rolled her eyes. “Brianna got real bad sick with diabetes and I couldn’t take care of her by myself. The first time she stayed with me after she came home from the hospital, I messed things up and she had to go right back in the hospital. So Devon was scared for her to be with me. So I had to let her go live with him.”
“I can understand that,” Mama said. “You ain’t really mother material and a sick child ain’t easy to deal with. Especially with sugar. So that explains how you lost the child and the check, but what about the warrant?”
Shauntae wished she didn’t have to tell the rest. “My rent got behind so I needed money bad. Even though Devon said he was taking Brianna full time, the court papers still said I was supposed to get child support.”
“Wait a minute. You let the check go without going to court first? How you –”
“If you would stop interrupting me…” Shauntae stopped herself. She knew better than to raise her voice at her mama and wondered if at thirty-two, she was finally too old to get slapped. She didn’t want to find out, so she lowered her voice. “That’s why I did what I did. I needed some money, so I picked Brianna up from school and told him to get me my check and I would give her back to him.”
The next part was so bad, Shauntae didn’t want to say it out loud. “But I gave Brianna too much insulin and she got bad sick again and caught a seizure. The amalance came, but right after that, the cops showed up to take me away.”
Her mother frowned her question instead of interrupting.
Shauntae explained, “The first time Brianna got sick staying with me, it was because…I sorta kinda left her in the house alone and Devon found out about it. So he got me in trouble with this social worker who got me in trouble with the police.”
Mama got up and started pacing again.
“It wasn’t my fault. I was about to get kicked outta my apartment. I needed a new sponsor. I had to go.”
Mama’s pace slowed down a little. “Keep going.”
“The police came to get me while the amalance people was working on Brianna and I left. And came here.”
“That’s real low, Shauntae. Leaving your child sick like that.”
“What you expect me to do? Go to jail?”
“I never once lost none of y’all to the system and I never would done nothing low like that.”
“Oh yeah, you was a real good mama.” Shauntae rolled her eyes. “The best.”
Even though Mama was older, she still moved like she did when Shauntae was a little girl. Before she could blink, Mama was up in her face with her hand drawn back.
Shauntae stood up fast. “You gon’ slap your pregnant daughter?”
They stood facing each other for a few seconds until Mama finally put her arm down and went back to her chair. She gave Shauntae a look that said she was lower than dirt. “So whose baby is this?”
“His name is Gary. Gary Jackson.” Shauntae couldn’t help but smile thinking about him. Now that was a real man. He was a much better catch than Devon. Shauntae was disappointed the first time she had went to Devon’s house. He dressed like he was a serious baller, but his house was small and old and his furniture was cheap looking.
Gary had as much money as he looked like he had. Big pretty house, fancy Lexus, expensive suits. He was a baller for real. With him, she wouldn’t have to worry about nothing for the rest of her life.
“So what’s his story?” Mama sat on the edge of her seat like she was watching the latest episode of Single Ladies.
Shauntae didn’t want to hear all the mean things Mama would say if she told her Gary was waiting for her to come back to Georgia so they could get married.
Her phone rang. She looked down at the caller ID “It’s Gary. I need to take this.”
Mama didn’t move. “Why he calling you so late?”
“Mama, please get out. I need to take this call. And don’t be standing outside my door listening, either.”
Shauntae shook off her frustrations with Mama, Devon, and her whole situation so she could focus on her conversation with Gary Jackson. Even though her mama didn’t believe she could pull it off, she had to find a way to get this guy to marry her.
“Hey, baby, how you doin’?” Phone conversations with Gary wasn’t easy. Shauntae had to try to sound proper and educated. And if she messed up, she couldn’t distract him by licking her big, juicy lips or leaning forward to give him a better view of her cleavage like she could in person.
“I’m fine, love. How are you and my baby doing?” His deep voice made her stomach feel funny. Mama had taught her never to make the mistake of falling in love with a sponsor, but hearing Gary’s voice made her feel some kinda way.
“How’s your mother? Good, I hope. I need her to hurry up and get better so you and my baby can come home.”
“She’s better, but I’m not sure I can leave her yet.” Shauntae had went straight to the Greyhound station when the police had came to her apartment to pick her up.
She told Gary she had gotten a call in the middle of the night that her mother was sick and she had jumped on a plane to California. He was upset that she didn’t give him a quick call to let him know she was leaving. She’d said her mother was in critical condition and all she could think of was getting there as fast as she could so she could be there, holding her hand if she died. Some old Lifetime junk, but he had believed it.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come out there?”
“No!” she almost yelled. “I mean…” Shauntae calmed herself down. “I don’t want you to have to leave work and come all the way out here for Mama. She’ll pull through this.”
“Shauntae, I’m not trying to be selfish but I really want to see you and my baby. Business is good right now. I can take some time off if I need to.”
Panic rose up in her chest. She didn’t need Gary to fly out to California and find her living in the hood in LA rather than in Orange County where she had told him she lived. He would see her ghettofabulous mother smoking cigarettes, talking trash on the front porch, and doing just fine – other than being evil.
And then he wouldn’t marry her and take care of her and her baby. She couldn’t afford that. This might be her last chance. It had took her a long time to get pregnant – longer than ever before. Maybe it was all the abortions. Or maybe it was payback for what she had did to Brianna.
“They said they needed to do a couple more tests and then maybe Mama could come home. Let me see what happens tomorrow and then I’ll let you know.” Shauntae knew she wouldn’t be able to hold Gary off much longer. Ever since she told him she was pregnant, all he talked about was her coming home.
She had met Gary pretty much the same way she met Devon. She was in desperate need of a new sponsor and so had went to one of her favorite upscale restaurants in Buckhead.
She had studied all the men in the place. There was the man twisting his wedding ring – probably wanting to have a night in bed with a woman he didn’t have to worry about keeping happy. He looked like a man who would go back to his wife quickly, so the payout would be small.
There was the rich looking player at the end of the bar, tossing back expensive drinks. Players was real tight with they money. Shauntae didn’t mind sleeping with somebody, but she had to know there would be some financial gain behind it.
Then there was Gary. He had been nursing the same drink for more than a hour. Not because he was too broke to buy another drink. His suit, shoes, and watch said he wasn’t broke at all. He looked like he felt guilty to be drinking. Like drinking wasn’t his usual thing, but he was nursing some pain that needed more than a Coke. Which made him a good man with a problem. Her specialty. All she had to do was figure out the problem and make him realize that a night in bed with her was the answer.
“Okay, I’ll be waiting to hear from you. We have to get married soon, Shauntae. We have to make this thing right with God.”
“I know. God knows our hearts. He forgives us.” That was the only thing she hated about this whole thing with Gary. Pretending like she gave a crap what God thought. She had hated God since she was a child. He had never done nothing good for her. In fact, for most of her life, He had proved that even though she was supposed to be His child, He didn’t care nothing about what happened to her.
“Let’s pray, honey.”
Shauntae rolled her eyes. “Of course, baby.” She didn’t bother to bow her head or close her eyes while Gary droned on about her mother’s health and their baby and their future together. She inserted a few “yes, Lords” and “thank You, Jesus’s” every once in a while. She knew Gary being a Christian was her best chance of her and her child being taken care of, but that didn’t mean she had to like God. She just had to make Gary think she did.
“…in Jesus’ name, amen,” Gary finally finished.
“Amen, baby. I love it when you pray. Oh, I feel God.” Shauntae wished she could fake speaking in tongues to let him know she really felt God, but she didn’t want to push it too far. He might be able to tell she was faking.
“Okay, sweetness. Call me tomorrow after you find out about the test results. I’m serious, if your mom isn’t out of the hospital in the next two days, I’m getting on a plane.”
“After your prayer, I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
“I love you, Shauntae.”
“I love you, too, Gary.” She said those words easily now. At first it had been difficult for her to choke them out. She had practiced saying them in the mirror over and over until it was as easy as saying, “I want some chicken wings and a Coke.”
Shauntae hung up the phone, sat up on the bed, and waited. She knew it wouldn’t even be a full minute.
“So I’m sick, huh?” Her mother slid into the room again.
“Yeah, you had a heart attack.” Shauntae couldn’t hide the evil smirk on her face.
“Well, glad to hear I’m doing better.” Mama chuckled. “And you a church girl now?” She busted out laughing like it was too ridiculous to even think about.
“Why you always gotta be jokin’ somebody? I’m trying to make this thing work.”
“I heard you trying to talk all proper. So he’s smart and he’s a church man. Shauntae, do you really think you can –”
“Mama, I don’t want to hear it. Go away and leave me alone.” Shauntae got up off the bed and pulled her suitcase out the closet. She started shoving her clothes into it. She didn’t have many. Only the few she’d been able to grab when she saw the police lights outside her patio door.
Her mother stood there for a few minutes, watching her. “Where you going?”
“’Bout to catch the bus back to Atlanta.”
“You seriously think that man is gon’ marry you?”
“All I can do is try, Mama. When I met him, the first thing out his mouth was how his ex-wife had full custody of they children. He said his children was the most important thing to him and he would die without seeing them. Kids and family are everything to him.” Shauntae rubbed her barely noticeable baby bump. “So I got a chance.”
Her mother folded the jeans and shirts from Shauntae’s dresser and handed them to her to put in the suitcase. “Warrants ain’t actually that bad. As long as the cops don’t pull you over while you’re driving and you lay low and live easy, you shouldn’t have no problems. Still, you should see if you can get Devon to lift that warrant.” She picked up two pairs of shoes in the closet and put them in the suitcase.
“How am I ‘sposed to do that?” Shauntae picked up another pair of shoes and put them in the suitcase. “Devon’s girlfriend is the problem. Before she came along, I used to could get Devon to do whatever I wanted.”
If Shauntae could have figured out a way to get rid of that sassy heifer she would have. Even if she couldn’t get Devon back, he was easier to manage without a woman in his life.
Shauntae knew she was in trouble the first time she met Cassandra. She was supposed to be all holy and stuff, but when Shauntae had said something smart to her in Brianna’s hospital room, Cassandra had given her a look that let her know she woulda cussed her out if Devon’s parents wasn’t there. She was probably one of those Christian hypocrites that pretended to be all saved, but was as evil as Shauntae when she needed to be.
“When I was talking to Devon on the phone, I could tell he thinks I want to come back to Atlanta to get in his pockets. Even though I told him Gary would be taking care of me, he’s still scared of what I might do to Brianna.”
Mama gave her a look that let Shauntae know she agreed with Devon. “Well, don’t worry about it right now. Stay out of trouble and you should be all right. As for getting Gary to marry you, it’s gon’ take you some serious work to pull that off.”
Shauntae started to say something nasty, but then she saw the look on her mama’s face. The one she got when she was putting a plan together.
“If he’s a church man, he’s gon’ want to get married quick – maybe even before you really start showing. So getting him to marry you shouldn’t be too hard.”
Shauntae’s face lit up with hope.
Mama didn’t let the hope last long. “But you learned from Devon that just because you can catch a man doesn’t mean you can keep him – even if you have a baby by him. So you gotta become everything he wants and needs in a woman.”
Her mother looked her up and down and then shook her head. “You so durn pretty and you got the perfect body, but…you just ain’t smart. You shoulda done like your sister and learned how to talk intelligent and have some culture. If you had, you mighta been able to keep somebody like she’s kept her husband all these years.”
Shauntae didn’t mention that her younger sister hadn’t been thrown out of the house before she finished high school. Even though Mama had said it was because Shauntae disrespected her, Shauntae knew it was because her stepfather had been messin’ with her for years. Shauntae had finally gotten grown and brave enough to fight back, so he made Mama get rid of her.
Mama handed her the last couple of pairs of shoes and looked under the bed for any more of Shauntae’s stuff. “Anyway, if you get married, even if you can’t keep him, you’ll be able to collect child support and alimony, so that should be worth something. Two checks are always better than one.”
As nice as that sounded, Shauntae didn’t want two checks. She had learned from messin’ up with Brianna that it wasn’t secure. Something could happen and she could lose her checks and she’d be back in her upscale bars with her girls, Sherice and Candy, looking for a new sponsor.
She was tired of all that. She had to do this right, so she could get married and live in Gary’s big, pretty house and drive a nice, new car he would buy her. He would dress her in the finest and she would be set for life. Shauntae got happy thinking about the life she was about to have.
“See, that’s what’s wrong with you.” Mama’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “I know that look on your face. Don’t be getting caught up in no romantic dream of some good man sweeping you off your feet. You ain’t that kinda girl. You ain’t smart, you ain’t got no class, and ain’t nobody gonna be falling in love with you ‘cause you a beautiful person inside. Use your face and your butt and get what you need. Forget about that old Hollywood mess. Focus on the checks.”
Shauntae resisted the urge to cuss her mama out. She zipped the suitcase, put it on the floor, and sat back down on the bed.
Mama looked like she wasn’t sure what to do next. Shauntae wanted to tell her not to trouble herself with trying to be sweet or saying something special. She wasn’t exactly mother material, either.
Mama said, “Sounds likes he anxious for you to get back.”
“He said if I’m not there in two days, he was getting on a plane to come out here.”
“For real?” Mama laughed. “He coming to visit you in the projects?”
“Stop playing, Mama. I get tired of you jokin’ me.”
Mama shrugged and sat quiet for a minute. She finally stood up. “Seems like you need to be headed to the Greyhound station. Let’s see when the next bus is.”
Shauntae squinted out the bus window. She had fallen asleep a few hours ago so she wasn’t quite sure where they were. Even though it was dark, it was looking like the desert, so she figured they must be in Arizona already. She hated long rides across the country, but she needed the three days of travel to get her mind right.
Shauntae still couldn’t believe her luck. Pregnant on the first try. When she had met Gary, she had calculated that she’d be most likely to get pregnant about eleven days later. She’d have to be careful with him. He had mentioned God enough in that first conversation that he might think she was loose and trashy if she wanted to have sex with him that soon after meeting him.
She’d played the evening just right – a damsel in distress trick that brought him to the rescue and then she’d ended up in his bed “by accident”. He was all guilty and kept apologizing and asking her and God for forgiveness.
But the deed was done and miraculously she was pregnant. Maybe God had finally decided to give her some attention.
Shauntae let out a deep breath and laid her head back against the headrest. She elbowed the guy sleeping in the next seat to get him up off her. When he had sat down, she saw that hungry dog look she had seen on men’s faces all her life. One quick look let her know he wasn’t worth nothing. First of all, he was riding the bus, so he had to be broke. Second of all, he had on a knockoff Tommy Hilfiger athletic suit, and had a gold tooth in his mouth. Not to mention his raggedy dread locks. Smelled like he hadn’t washed his hair in two years.
Nigga please. Don’t even sniff or drool in my direction.
Shauntae didn’t write him off completely. Maybe if she smiled at him just right, he would buy her some lunch, so she could hold on to the little bit of money she had left.
She elbowed Gold Toothy in the side harder this time and she shifted his heavy body away from her. She reached up and turned his chin away, too. Nasty breath smelling like he had ate a dead armadillo off the road.
Shauntae pulled out her cell phone and called her girl, Sherice.
Sherice answered the phone cussin’. “Girl, you crazy? Do you know what time it is in Atlanta? You betta be glad I just laid down otherwise I’d have to cut you when I see you.”
Shauntae laughed. “Whatever, girl. I know it’s five in the morning and I know you was in the club all night. You answered the phone, which means you’re alone. Must not have caught nobody.”
“Shut up, Shauntae. Ain’t nobody thinking ‘bout you. What you doing?”
“I’m on the bus. I’m on my way back.”
“Devon lifted the warrant?”
“Devon lifted the warrant?”
“Naw, girl. But Gary said if me and his baby don’t come home, he coming out here. Couldn’t let that happen.”
“Yeah, well, don’t be thinking you gon’ stay here with a warrant. I don’ need no trouble.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Sherice. I know. I need you to pick me up at the bus station and then take me to the airport.”
“What the what? Bus station to the airport?” Sherice laughed. “Aw, yeah. I got you. Text me what time your bus gets in and I’ll be there to get you. And heffa, don’t ever call me at five in the morning no mo’.” She hung up.
Shauntae put her phone in her purse and settled into her seat. She tried to remember whatever she could about Gary so she could get herself ready for the performance of her life.
She remembered that he had been divorced not even a year when she met him. He had showed her a picture of his two daughters. One looked like she was a few years older than Brianna and the other was about the same age. Brianna had to be what, six or seven? Something like that.
She scribbled a list of all she remembered about Gary, things he wore, things he liked, anything she could think of. It wasn’t a long list because she didn’t remember much.
It was time to study. Shauntae pulled out a small bag of stuff she had took from her mother’s house to help turn her into Gary’s perfect wife. She opened the bag and pulled out a stack of movies and her mother’s portable DVD player. Mama wouldn’t miss them. All she watched was soap operas during the day and reality TV shows at night. Shauntae looked through the movies to figure out which one to watch first.
She had took Pretty Woman so she could get an idea of the kinds of clothes she should buy when she went shopping. And for real, that was about to be her story. She had met her rich prince and her life was about to change. Shauntae let herself think about Gary for a moment. Unlike many times when she had to deal with some ugly frog to get a few bills paid, Gary was fine. His face was one she would enjoy looking at for the rest of her life. And he was nice and sweet and made her feel good. She thought about his voice and how it sent shivers up her spine.
She had took How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Jumping the Broom to study Angela Bassett. Shauntae hated that heifer because was the perfect example of a high society, stuck up, black woman who would look down her nose at her and judge her. But if she studied Angela Basset’s ways and most of all how she talked, she could become the woman Gary wanted.
Shauntae kicked herself for not learning how to talk proper like Sherice always told her to. Sherice could hold on to a smart, rich guy much longer because she could turn on this saddity heifer speech that always left Shauntae wondering if that was really her girl talking all that fancy talk. Of course, Sherice was nowhere near as fine as Shauntae was and probably nowhere near as good in bed. So Sherice spent a whole bunch of time learning how to talk good and Shauntae used her natural assets.
But not this time. Gary’s ex-wife was a lawyer so Shauntae knew she had to be smart and classy like Angela Bassett.
She thumbed through the stack of Tyler Perry movies she had taken. Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Meet the Browns, Madea’s Family Reunion – all that applied to her situation in some way. There was a lot she could learn from Think Like A Lady, Act Like a Man. Shauntae knew she needed to learn some things about being all romantic and in love. Gary seemed like a sappy kind of a guy.
Shauntae put Jumping the Broom in the DVD player. She wanted to practice talking proper while she was good and awake. As soon as the movie started, the wannabe Rastaman sitting next to her woke up and leaned closer to her.
“Does this look like the IMAX theatre, nigga? This is a private viewing. Get back on your side of the seat.”
His lusty grin quickly turned into a frown. “Oh, it’s like that?”
“Yeah, it’s like that. Leaning all over here. You need to try to be leaning on a tube of toothpaste instead of trying to be all up in my face.”
His frown turned into a snarl and Shauntae wondered if he might be somebody that could do her some harm. “What nigga? Don’t even think of looking at me the wrong way. You clearly don’t know who I am. If my man even knew you was sitting by me, you would be dead before the day is over.” Shauntae looked him up and down with a murderous glare. “Forget about him. I could do you myself.” He needed to believe that she was crazy so he would leave her alone.
He got up and moved to an empty seat a few rows back. Shauntae was glad for the extra room and for the fact that he wouldn’t be sitting there looking at her crazy when she stopped the video to repeat Angela Bassett’s lines over and over until she sounded normal talking like that.
After watching the movie and talking proper for almost three hours straight, Shauntae was tired and her brain hurt. But she felt like she had made some progress learning how to talk like Mrs. Gary Jackson. She pulled out her phone.
Gary answered on the second ring. “Hey, honey love. Give me the good news.”
Honey love? This dude was sappier than she thought. “Mama’s tests all came out good. It’s like a miraculous recovery or something. Baby, your prayers really worked.”
“Praise God. I knew they would. So when are you coming home?”
Shauntae hoped he didn’t hear the hum of the bus. “I’ll be on a plane day after tomorrow. I want to get Mama home and good and settled before I leave.”
“I can’t wait to see you and my baby. “
“Aw, I can’t wait to see you either. I love you.” It was the first time she’d said it first. Looked like the movies was helping.
“I love you, too, baby.”
Shauntae was about to hang up when Gary said, “Wait a minute. I have some good news of my own. My other prayers have been answered. My lawyer called and said my appeal for partial custody of the kids is going to go through. Everything my ex did to desecrate my character didn’t work. Soon, I will, or we will be able to have my kids two days a week. Isn’t that great news?”
Shauntae’s mouth froze. Partial custody of the kids?
“Honey love? Did you hear what I said? We’re going to be a family. Not completely the way I wanted, but definitely better than before. And when the new baby comes, there’ll be a child in the house all the time. And soon after, we can try for another one.”
After hours of studying the right way to talk this man, Shauntae couldn’t find one word to say.
She pinched herself. “Oh, Gary. God is so good. God is amazing and great.” One of her grandmother’s favorite religious phrases popped into her mind. “Wonders to behold.” It sounded funny coming out of her mouth.
“I know. I feel like God is working out everything and restoring everything that’s been lost. I knew you’d be happy about the kids. I know it will be a lot of work when the new baby gets here, but you’re going to be an amazing mother.”
After they hung up, Shauntae sat in shock. Two kids? Two days a week? She thought of having to keep Brianna every weekend once Devon put her out of the house. Remembering to feed her, bathe her, change her diapers, and wash her clothes on a regular was too much. And then when Brianna got older, Shauntae had to listen to her talk all day about all sorts of silly kid stuff. She always wanted to go kid places and do kid things. Wanted to watch stupid kid shows on television.
The thought of it gave her a headache. And there would be two of them? And instead of being at her own place where Devon couldn’t watch her and judge everything she did, she would be with Gary’s kids in Gary’s house with Gary. This was a nightmare. A test that there was no way she could pass.
But she wasn’t going down without a fight. As soon as she got to Atlanta, she’d have to get all the seasons of The Cosby Show and study Claire Huxtable until she was her. She’d spend all her free hours watching The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon to learn all she could about kids and family kinda stuff.
Instead of taking a nap like she had planned, Shauntae put in The Preacher’s Wife. She needed to get this churchy woman thing down. She couldn’t be using her grandmother’s old timey phrases. And maybe she would have to learn to do the holy dance. Whatever it took. She was going to do anything and everything she could to become Mrs. Gary Jackson and finally have the life she wanted.
“Come on, Shauntae. I don’t know how bad the traffic is gon’ be and we need to get to the airport.” Sherice was getting on Shauntae’s nerves, actin’ all nervous and jumpy like she was the one going to meet Gary.
Shauntae checked herself in the mirror one last time. Candy had come over to Sherice’s apartment to do her make-up and help her get dressed. It had been three months since Shauntae last saw Gary and she needed to look her best. When Shauntae called ahead to let them know she was coming, Sherice and Candy had gone shopping and picked up some really nice, designer clothes and shoes at the Goodwill, Ross, and Marshalls.
Shauntae knew all this wasn’t for free. Them heifers would be expecting her to slide them a little something on a regular basis once she got settled in Gary’s pockets. And she would. She wouldn’t be like their friend Keosha, who when she married a bench riding Atlanta Hawks player, forgot they even existed. Keosha’s dreams of being a NBA wife had came true and even though nobody even knew her man’s name, let alone ever got to see him play, Keosha was living nice.
She had got all high and mighty and changed her name to Kayla. The first time they had attended a party at her house, Kayla complained afterwards saying they had embarrassed her in front of the other NBA wives by acting all thirsty. Then, she stopped inviting them over for champagne lunches and out for shopping sprees. Shauntae knew it wouldn’t be long before she didn’t hang with them no more at all.
But she wasn’t gon’ be like that. She was gon’ take care of her girls as much as possible. Men could come and go, but her girls always had her back.
“I finished packing the bags,” Candy called out from Sherice’s bedroom. She walked into the bathroom and looked at Shauntae’s reflection in the mirror. “Come on girl, you look nice. We gotta go. How you gon’ explain it if your man is waiting for you at the airport and you pull up in Sherice’s old busted car?”
“Girl, shut up,” Sherice yelled from the kitchen. “Don’t be talking ‘bout my car. You don’t be talking about it when you need me to pick you up from the grocery store. Next time I’ma leave yo’ tail on the bus.”
Shauntae was glad to be back in Atlanta. She had missed hanging with her girls. She hated that Gary lived all the way across town from them. Gas prices was high and she wasn’t sure how often they would get to visit her. When Gary bought her a car, she would visit them all the time. Maybe she could convince him she needed a nanny to take care of the new baby and the other kids. Sherice could come in talking proper and looking nanny-ish and they’d be able to hang out all day.
“A’ight. I’m ready.” Shauntae came out of the bathroom and struck a pose. “Let’s do this.”
The three of them piled into Sherice’s car and headed to the airport. There was no traffic, so they got there almost an hour before she had told Gary her plane would land. They decided to park and have a drink to celebrate Shauntae’s new life.
They went to the bar in the Houlihan’s in the airport Atrium and ordered their favorite drinks. Sherice drank a chocolate martini, Candy a Long Island Iced Tea, and Shauntae a pear mojito. They had learned to order fancy drinks for their rounds at their fancy clubs and bars. They still drank 40’s when they hung out at the house, though.
When hers came, Shauntae drank it faster than she usually did. If she was paying, she could sip on a drink for hours. If a man was paying, she could drink a whole lot and hold her liquor better than he could.
“You nervous?” Candy asked her.
“A little.” Shauntae looked around for the waitress to order another drink. But then she decided she needed to hold on to her little cash until Gary’s wallet was flowing easy. And since they had already bought her a bunch of clothes and stuff, Shauntae knew better than to ask her girls for some cash. They might be as low as she was.
Plus, she needed to have all her senses straight. Two drinks too fast on an empty stomach could have her lips loose and she would forget all the fancy Angela Basset talk she had worked so hard to learn. Sherice had complimented her on it and had only corrected her a few times since picking her up at the bus station.
“Why you nervous, girl? You ‘bout to have some homecoming sex. That man ain’t had none in three months. Put it on him and he’ll be saying, ‘I do’ before next week,” Sherice said. She and Candy slapped hands.
“Yeah, girl. Do what you do. It’ll be all right.” Candy sipped her drink slowly. She was a lightweight when it came to alcohol, and got real silly, real fast if she didn’t watch herself.
“It’s not the sexing part I’m worried about. I know how to handle myself in that department. But Gary…he’s…different.”
“Girl, a man is a man,” Sherice said. “At the end of the day, they all like sex and you know how to work it, so it ain’t nothing to be scared about.”
Shauntae looked around at the tables next to them. She loved her girl Sherice, but she always talked too loud in public.
Candy looked at her real hard. “You scared for real, huh? What’s different about this man that got you all scared?”
Shauntae shrugged. She didn’t want her girls seeing her all weak.
Sherice put her hands on her hips. “Stop acting hard. Tell us about the man. We your girls. Ain’t nothing so different about him that the three of us cain’t figure out together.”
Candy elbowed her in the side. “Come on, girl. Wassup with this man that got you freaked out like you ain’t one of the baddest chicks in Atlanta?”
Shauntae could always count on her girls to help her out. “Well, he’s real smart like Devon. Maybe even smarter. I know I’m talking better, but what if I don’t know what to say or if I can’t understand what he’s talking about?”
“Girl, you ain’t that stupid,” Sherice answered. “What could he talk about that you cain’t understand? What he do for a living?”
“I’m not sure. He always talking about business or something like that.”
Sherice and Candy looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
Sherice said, “What I done told you about doing your research? You get so blinded by the dollar signs that you forget to listen. Girl, you betta not mess this up again. You already birthed one child and ain’t got nothing from it.”
Shauntae could remind Sherice that she had four kids by four different dumb, broke men. Sherice was always falling for some roughneck dude and was stupid enough to have they baby when there was no chance of getting paid.
Shauntae bit her tongue ‘cause she needed Sherice’s help. “I didn’t have much time, remember? We went out a few times, did the deed, went out a few more times, and then I had to leave.”
“Girl, you supposed to find out that kinda information on the first date. You so…” Sherice sucked her teeth. “Anyway, the first thing you do when you get in the car is ask him how business is going. Ask him some smart questions and find out what he does? A’ight?”
Shauntae nodded. She wasn’t sure what kind of smart questions to ask but didn’t want to let Sherice know that.
“What kind of food does he like?” Candy asked.
Sherice interrupted before Shauntae could answer. “I don’t know why you asking that. You know Shauntae can’t cook nothing but fried bologna and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. And let a good show be on and she’ll burn that.”
They both cracked up laughing. Shauntae didn’t know if it was the hormones from the baby or what. Normally she would have been laughing with them, but today it wasn’t funny. “Forget both of y’all. I’ll figure this out myself.”
She stood up to grab her bags and leave them sitting there laughing and looking stupid, but she got dizzy and almost fell backwards. Candy jumped up and grabbed her before fell. “What’s wrong wit’ you?”
“She pregnant, fool,” Sherice snapped. “That happens to pregnant women. Oh, I forgot you don’t know nothing ‘bout that.”
Candy’s mouth flew open. Shauntae couldn’t believe Sherice had hit that low. Candy had caught a disease when she was young and couldn’t get pregnant. Which meant she could only pull short-term games and could never collect child support.
Candy put her hands on her hips and got read loud. “Sherice, you always been an evil –“
“Calm down, girl.” Shauntae moved over to stand in front of Candy. The three of them had got banned from two of Atlanta’s most exclusive restaurants for getting in fights that had started like this. “We supposed to be talking ‘bout me, remember?”
Candy took a deep breath and sat back down. She shot Sherice an evil glare and Shauntae knew they would beef in the car on the way home.
Sherice glared back at Candy while asking Shauntae, “What do he like to do? What do he do for fun or to relax?” She turned to Shauntae and continued firing questions. “What are his work hours like? Does he come straight home after work? What is his mama like? Where is he from? What kind of clothes does he like to see his woman in? What made him break up with his ex-wife?”
Shauntae stared at her blankly, not able to answer even one question.
Sherice shook her head. “See, that’s what’s wrong with you. If I had your face and your body, I wouldn’t be sitting here dumb, broke, and single. I’da been married by now. Or better still, married, divorced and then married to someone richer.” Sherice rolled her eyes. “Got all the natural assets but don’t know what to do with no man. Let me be pretty and be able to grow some long hair. Hmph…”
Sherice kept preaching, “You got to get in a man’s head. Know what he likes, what he wants, what makes him happy and sad and mad and all that kinda stuff. Good sex can only take you so far. As much as men love them some sex, they can get sex anywhere. You want to keep him? You got to make him feel special – like he’s the king of the world. Listen to everythang he says. And then be everythang he wants and everythang he needs. If you can make him happy and keep him happy, he’ll take care of you for life.” Sherice finished off her drink with flourish.
Shauntae and Candy sat mesmerized after listening to Sherice’s wisdom. They somehow forgot about the fact that she hadn’t successfully caught and kept a man herself.
“Looka here. This what we gon’ do.” Sherice leaned in close and Candy and Shauntae leaned in to listen to her. “For now, you ask as many questions about him as you can. Act real interested and impressed with all his answers. Write everythang down and then we gon’ go over it and figure out how you need to be. A’ight?”
Shauntae nodded, then thought for a second. “What if he asks me something and I don’t know how to answer? Or what if I say something stupid?”
Sherice pointed to Shauntae’s belly. “You got the best excuse for the next few months. If anything goes wrong, fake sick, fast as you can. Thinking about his baby will make him forget whatever dumb junk you do. Or start crying and blame it on your hormones. You can use that even after the baby is born for a few months.”
Candy stared at Sherice. “How you know so much?”
Sherice shrugged with a real arrogant look on her face.
Candy said, “I guess I should ask, how come you know so much but you still broke and single like us?” She busted out laughing.
Sherice’s mouth fell open. “You know what heffa? The reason you cain’t catch no man is cause of them ugly buck teeth and them skinny legs of yours. You need to try to date a dentist and a trainer.”
Candy stood up, her voice getting all loud again. “Let me tell you about you, skank. You always be busting on the fact that I cain’t have no children, but you be popping ‘em out and cain’t keep ‘em. You talking about how Shauntae ain’t got nothing to show for Brianna, but you got four children in the system and no child support. In fact, we all know you be puttin’ money on your last man’s books at the prison. So the next time you wanna –”
“Hey!” Shauntae stood up between them. She looked around the bar at the people staring at them. “Stop all that. Why y’all gotta act crazy in public?” Shauntae could almost understand why Keosha/Kayla had kicked them to the curb.
“Oh, you gon’ act all new cause you got a fancy man?” Sherice asked. “You be acting crazy in public worse than anybody.”
Shauntae looked down at her watch. “Oh. It’s time. This is what time my flight was supposed to land.”
The argument was instantly forgotten. Sherice said, “Okay, call him and tell him your flight landed and you on your way to baggage claim.”
Shauntae couldn’t believe her hands were shaking as she pulled out her cell phone and speed dialed his number.
When Gary answered, he said, “Baby?” like it was a question.
Shauntae frowned, hoping he hadn’t forgotten that her so-called flight was coming in today.
“Yes, it’s me, honey love.” Shauntae turned her back to Sherice and Candy who were bug-eyed and laughing at the name she called Gary. “I’m here at the airport in Atlanta. On my way to bag claims.”
“I pulled up your flight information online. It said your flight was delayed and wouldn’t be here for another four hours. How are you here in Atlanta?”
Shauntae heart started beating fast. “Uh…I…uh…I caught another flight. When they announced there would be a delay, I took another airlines.” She smiled at how fast she came up with an answer.
“How did you manage that? Didn’t that cost you an arm and a leg?”
Shauntae turned back around to look at her girls for help, like they could hear Gary’s part of the conversation or something. “Huh?”
“My goodness – a last minute flight from California must have cost you more than a thousand dollars. Please tell me you didn’t spend that much money.”
“Of course not. I…I…” Shauntae started letting out deep breaths into the phone. “Oh…ow…baby, I….oh…”
“Shauntae, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“It’s my stomach. It’s cramping. I think I did too much today. Walking through the airport, and then being in the air all those hours. I don’t feel right.”
“Should I send an ambulance?”
“NO!” Shauntae made herself calm down. “I mean, it’s those regular little cramps you get when you’re pregnant. I’ll be fine when I can rest and relax.” She thought for a minute and realize this was supposed to be her first time being pregnant. “I mean, that’s what they said in those classes I started taking while I was in California.”
“Okay, I’m on my way, baby. Sit in baggage claim and put your feet up. I’m not far from the airport. I’ll be there in a fifteen minutes or less.”
Shauntae hung up and lay her head down on the table. All that deep breathing had made her dizzy. Or maybe she was realizing that she hadn’t even seen Gary yet and she had already messed up and had to play sick.
She felt Candy pat her on the back. “Come on, girl. You can do this.”
But when Shauntae picked her head up off the table, she could see the truth in both of her girls’ eyes. She couldn’t do this. And it was only a matter of time before Gary sent her packing. Just like Devon did.