I'm 38,000 words into my novel for #NaNoWriMo and I hate the "working" title. Mind you, this book is coming out in December.
It's urban fiction with a romantic spin...you know I'm not going to abandon my #realliferomance...just can't do it.
But seriously, Promise Ring and then I Promise (which I keep switching back and forth with) are not sitting well with me. In fact, they are giving me a serious writing complex. I can't write without out looking at the document and thinking
"This is crap!"
So, I'm posting a short blurb and excerpt in hopes that reading it without looking at the Word document will spark a great title...or at least one that doesn't have my stomach churning or makes me question my creative ability as a writer.
When they were teenagers, Rayshawn made a promise to his girlfriend that they'd never forget. Beginning that day, the pair take on the streets as the new age Bonnie and Clyde, earning money the old fashion way...guns & drugs. As Rayshawn rises through the ranks of Washington Height's most notorious drug crew, Jaicyn is right there beside him, making a name for herself on the streets. When tragedy strikes, Rayshawn is committed to one thing, keeping the promise they made years ago. This is the story of two young hustlers committed to each other, family, and to their dream.
The normally active block was unusually quiet as Jaicyn Jones sat on the stoop of her battered townhouse in Washington Heights, Ohio sucking on a cherry blow pop and hanging out with her best friend Autumn. Even though it was still early in the day, there should be people roaming up and down the streets, especially the crackheads out looking for their next fix.
Johnny must have put out a new package, Jaicyn thought to herself. That would explain the strange emptiness of her neighborhood.
“I can’t believe you got suspended again!” Autumn said to her best friend. “Your mother is going to kill you.”
“My mother is not going to know,” Jaicyn replied absently. She’d spotted two familiar gaits strolling down her street and she couldn’t take her eyes off of them.
“The school is going to call her,” Autumn warned.
“The phone is off. Like I said, my mother is not going to find out that I got suspended. I'll be back in school before she comes home from wherever she is.”
Autumn shook her head and spat a mouthful of chewed sunflower seed shells to the ground. Even though she and Jaicyn have been best friends all of their lives, it was still hard for her to understand how Jaicyn could be so unenthused over the sporadic and highly dysfunctional relationship she has with her mother. No matter what Jaicyn said, Autumn never stopped believing that Jaicyn resented her mother for moving her to Washington Heights.
Washington Heights didn’t use to be so bad. When Jaicyn and Angelina first moved, the neighborhoods were cleaner, brighter, and didn’t have the drug problem that they have now. The south side of Washington Heights was taken over by dope and ghetto boys in the early nineties and the neighborhood hasn’t gotten any better.
The air on the south side was acrid due to the exhaust and diesel fumes of the rumbling city buses that transported dozens of hard working residents to their minimum wage jobs on the other side of town. The constant smell of gun smoke did nothing to help.
As bad as the neighborhood was, Jaicyn didn’t mind it. She’d grown used to it. She was comfortable in her neighborhood where everyone knew her and her sisters. She liked the fact that when her mother wasn’t around to do simple things like put food on the table, she could go to Mr. Jackson who ran a small grocery store and pick up a meal or two on credit so she and her sisters wouldn’t starve. Jaicyn depended on her neighborhood to keep her family intact.
“How many days did you get this time?” Autumn asked, referring to Jaicyn’s latest out of school suspension.
“Five,” Jaicyn answered. “I might not go back, though. I have to get a job.”
“You’re not old enough to get a job,” Autumn reminded her. “Plus, why would you want to be a high school drop out? That’s not sexy.”
“Someone has to take care of my sisters and we need some money. I can’t keep boosting clothes with Joy and Taylor.”
The only time Jaicyn ever left her neighborhood is when she and her older friends went to the suburbs to steal clothes and jewelry from the various department stores. Jaicyn would never consider herself a thief. She didn’t like stealing and wasn’t proud of herself, like Joy and Taylor, but she and her little sisters needed important things like clothes and food and her mother wasn’t getting the job done.
Jaicyn never expected much from Angelina. How much could a person expect from a drug addict who relapsed just as often as she recovered. The only thing that Jaicyn worried about was making sure that here was a roof over Rickie and Bobbie’s heads and nice clothes on their backs. Jaicyn didn’t want her sisters to the kids that everyone made fun of at school. They didn’t ask for this situation and it wasn’t their fault that their mother was a crackhead.
“Jaicyn!” Autumn yelled. “What are you thinking about?”
Jaicyn stared at her friend with the perfect “what do you think?” expression on her face.
“I’m thinking I should ask Mr. Jackson if I can come work in his grocery store.”
“Jay-Jay,” Autumn whined. “Don’t quit school. You’re too smart for that. Besides, why would you leave Lincoln when we have access to the finest boys in the city? Think!”
“I don’t care about those boys. Boys are the reason I keep getting suspended.”
“Your mouth is the reason you keep getting suspended,” Autumn corrected. “That and the fact that you refuse to walk away from a fight. What were you fighting about anyway?”
“Why should I walk away from a fight?” Jaicyn wanted to know. “Tawana had it coming. She’s been begging me to kick her ass since she and Cameron started messing around.”
Cameron was the latest addition on Jaicyn’s growing list of ex-boyfriends. He was the star basketball player at Lincoln High. Jaicyn had started dating him in the summer. Six months later they were through and Jaicyn wasn’t stressing over their breakup at all. Cameron was too arrogant for her liking and he wanted too much from her, namely sex. Jaicyn had a firm “No Sex” policy in place. Cameron wasn’t in the NBA and until he signed an NBA contract, he was not having sex with Jaicyn.
He moved on to Tawana who made it clear that she would drop her panties for him. At first, Jaicyn didn’t even care about that. Cameron was still buying her clothes and giving her money. He wanted the prettiest girl in school as his and would do anything to keep her. Then Tawana started running her mouth, bragging about the things that she did with Cameron and Jaicyn couldn’t have that. If Cameron wasn’t smart enough to keep his side chick in check, Jaicyn knew he wasn’t man enough for her. She called it quits. Tawana’s incessant need to brag about how she “took Jaicyn’s man” was what prompted the fight in the cafeteria.
“I don’t know why you’re trippin’ over Cameron,” Autumn stated. “He’s not even that cute.”
“Yeah, but he had money and didn’t mind spending it on me. Now, how am I supposed to get the new shit if he’s not around?”
Autumn laughed. “But you and Joy just got all those clothes from Macy’s last week. What happened to it?”
Jaicyn glared at her best friend. She didn’t know that Autumn was aware of that. Joy and Taylor must have been talking about it…again.
“I sold those clothes,” Jaicyn answered sharply.
“All of them? You didn’t keep anything for yourself?”
Autumn was appalled. There was a cute denim jumpsuit that she wanted and Joy said that Jaicyn had picked it up for her.
“I don’t keep any of the clothes. I sell them as soon as I can. Besides, I don’t do special orders. You know that. Next time you want something, put your order in with Taylor.”
“But…”Autumn started to say.
“No buts, Autumn,” Jaicyn replied. “I only did that because I needed some quick cash. They were about to cut off our lights and the other half of the rent needed to be paid.”
“I thought your mother was working over at the deli. What happened with that?” Autumn question, still not understanding why Jaicyn had sold all the clothes without letting her see them first.
Jaicyn’s eyes were still on the boys walking up the street. “I don’t know if she’s still working there or not. I haven’t seen her in a week. She wasn’t here when Paul’s crazy ass was banging on the door demanding the rest of his money. I did what I had to do.”
Jaicyn’s defensive tone and the defiant hunch of her shoulders warned Autumn to drop the subject, which she was fine with. Talking about Jaicyn’s family situation was uncomfortable for both of them. Autumn’s life was far from perfect but at least neither of her parents use drugs and disappear for days at a time, leaving Autumn alone with her two younger brothers.
From the outside looking in, it appeared that Jaicyn had everything together. It was the front that she worked very hard to keep up. Even though most people were aware of Angelina’s reputation as a known drug addict, Jaicyn never let anyone see her sweat.
She’d spend hours in front of the mirror, practicing the latest hairstyles until her hair looked professionally done. She learned how to fashion together cute outfits so it never looked like she wore the same clothes all the time, when in reality she only owned three pair of jeans and a couple of skirts. She worked with what she had and was good at it.
Jaicyn, not her mother, was the provider and caregiver in the house. The burden would have been too much for an average fifteen year old to bear, but Jaicyn adored her sisters and would do anything for them. She loved them like she birthed them herself. She’d do anything to keep them out of foster care and stealing to pay the bills was something that she found that she had to do often. All that would change if she dropped out of high school and got a job though.
“Look,” Autumn pointed down the street. “There go the twins.”
Rayshawn and Dayshawn Moore walking up her block made Jaicyn’s heart flutter a bit. Actually, only one of them made her heart skip a beat. Jaicyn liked Rayshawn from afar since she moved to Washington Heights, although she couldn’t admit to ever having a conversation with him or his brother.
“The Twins”, as they were known around the south side, were brown skinned, tall, and gorgeous. At sixteen, they had chiseled African features that they inherited from their mother and walked proudly like they owned the world. The similarities stopped there.
Dayshawn was more outgoing than his brother. He was clean cut, almost preppy, from the way he dressed to the way he talked. Even when sagging jeans was the norm for most inner-city boys, Dayshawn never left the house without a belt. He was also a straight A student who was determined to study his way out of the hood.
Rayshawn was different. He lived and breathed the streets. He went to school about as often as Jaicyn and spent most of his time in the streets. As far as Jaicyn and Autumn knew, he wasn’t selling drugs yet, but he was being primed to do so. He worked for the neighborhood’s biggest drug dealer but no one knew exactly what he was doing. The only thing that mattered to Jaicyn was that Rayshawn had never given her the time of day and she wanted him to…badly.
“I wonder why they’re over here,” Jaicyn said out loud. “They don’t live over here.”
“Now that you’re Cameron-free, you should get with Rayshawn. You know you want to,” Autumn said to her friend. She hoped that Jaicyn wouldn’t punk out since Rayshawn was the only boy in the neighborhood that Autumn had ever seen Jaicyn get flustered over.
“Rayshawn doesn’t want a girlfriend or he’d have one by now,” Jaicyn stated.
“You don’t know that. You’ve never said a word to him!” Autumn shouted.
“Exactly,” Jaicyn hissed. “If he was even a tiny bit interested in me, he would have said something to me by now.”
“Whatever,” Autumn fired back, disgusted with her friend. “I bet you talk to him today. I’m calling them over here.”
Jaicyn panicked and grabbed Autumn’s arm. “Don’t you dare.”
“Let go of my arm. I’m doing it.” Autumn wrenched her arm out of Jaicyn’s grasp and stood up.
Jaicyn covered her face with her hands and wanted to run inside of her apartment as Autumn literally screamed for the twins to come across the street.
“Girl, get up,” Autumn demanded, nudging Jaicyn with her foot. “Here they come.”
Jaicyn peeked through her fingers and sure enough, the twins were crossing the street and walking right up to her stoop. She stood up and brushed some imaginary dirt off of her jeans and straightened her top. She knew that the second hand YSL top and jeans looked good, but cute just wasn’t enough for Rayshawn. She’d been the cutest girl on the block for years and it did nothing to capture Rayshawn’s interest.
He might not speak but Jaicyn had a feeling that Rayshawn would like her if he got to know her. Their class schedule in school meant they had two classes together and their assigned seats in their Spanish class were right next to each other. Jaicyn often caught him looking at her but he never uttered a word, not even hello. He confused Jaicyn and she hated being confused, especially over a boy.
The situation was different for Autumn. She and Dayshawn were friends. They had the majority of their classes together since they both were Honor Students. She didn’t have a problem talking to either of the two boys. Autumn wished Jaicyn would get over her crush and just talk to Rayshawn. Then they could all hang out together.
“What’s up, Autumn,” Dayshawn said as they approached the stoop. “What you want?”
“Where are you going? You don’t live over here.”
“We’re handling some business for King,” Dayshawn answered and avoided the swipe that this brother tried to take at him.
Jaicyn watched the expression on Rayshawn’s face. It was clear that he didn’t like his brother telling his business.”
“So, you’re working for King now?” Jaicyn asked.
“None of your business,” Rayshawn grunted.
“That was rude,” Autumn replied. “What’s wrong with you?”
Rayshawn made no attempt to pay Autumn any attention. Instead, he focused his deep brown eyes on Jaicyn. His powerful gaze made Jaicyn a bit uncomfortable and she shifted against the railing.
“What?” she said in response to his uncomfortable stare. “Why are you looking at me like that? I don’t care if you’re working with King.”
“I heard you got in a fight with Tawana today,” Rayshawn replied.
“I heard it was over Cameron’s ugly ass,” Dayshawn added.
“It was not,” Jaicyn protested loudly. “Tawana has been talking so much shit that I had to do it.”
“Admit it,” Dayshawn teased, “you were fighting over Cameron.”
“No, I was not,” Jaicyn insisted. “I haven’t been with him in months.”
“Leave her alone, Dayshawn,” Rayshawn smiled. “Jaicyn’s got a wicked right hook. She’ll kick your ass for real.”
“Thank you,” Jaicyn smiled back. He hadn’t said anything to her, but at least he knew that she could fight. On the mean streets of Washington Heights, being tough was important. Rayshawn would respect her “gangster”. Jaicyn wanted him to say more but she saw her sisters’ yellow school bus roll to a stop, she had to break up the little party.
“Hey, I have to get my sisters,” she said.
Familiar with Jaicyn’s routine, Autumn picked up her book bag and purse.
“Come on, y’all,” she said to the boys. “Walk me home.”
Rayshawn’s eyes lingered on Jaicyn as she jogged down the sidewalk to the bus. He didn’t feel like walking Autumn to her apartment. He wanted to stay right where he was, at least for another few minutes.
While she waited for her sisters to step off the bus, Jaicyn watched Rayshawn trail behind his brother and Autumn. Another missed opportunity. One conversation, that’s all she wanted and could hardly count their encounter on her stoop as a conversation. Oh well.
Dressed in matching jeans and Rugrats sweaters, six year old Rickie and five year old Bobbie hopped off the bus and hugged their big sister like they did every day.
“Guess what,” Rickie announced as they walked towards their apartment.
“What?” Jaicyn asked.
“I got an A on my spelling test. I got all of them right.”
“That’s good. I’m proud of you.”
Rickie had never heard those words from her own mother but Jaicyn often told both the girls how proud of them she was. Despite having a drug addict for a mom, Rickie and Bobbie were normal kids. They loved school and they loved to read. They usually did what Jaicyn told them to do. Their only complaint was not having Angelina around regularly. They were still too young to understand addiction or why she left them for days at a time. They love their sister but she wasn’t Mommy. She didn’t want to be their mother either.
When they got to the apartment, Jaicyn turned on the television and parked her sisters in front of the television while she figured out what they were going to eat for dinner. The contents of the refrigerator were severely limited. There was enough milk for the girls’ cereal in the morning, a couple of pieces of two day old KFC, and half a package of hot dogs. There was a bag of frozen French fries in the freezer. Hot dogs and French fries it is. Rickie hated hot dogs but she’d have to deal with it.
Jaicyn crept upstairs to the room that she shared with Angelina whenever she was there. The townhouse only had two bedrooms and the little girls shared the other. She opened the closet door and sat down. After pulling up a loose piece of carpet and lifting a floorboard, Jaicyn pulled out a small metal cookie tin from her secret hiding place and opened it. Everything that she owned that meant something to her was in that tin. Pictures of her and her father and a few trinkets her grandmother had given her that she didn’t want Angelina to steal, plus her money.
Jaicyn fingered the thin stack of bills. Only $150.00 left. She would need to buy food tomorrow and pay the cable bill. She didn’t have enough to get the phone turned back on. Plus the girls needed new winter coats.
Jaicyn put her head in her hands and started to cry. Where the hell is Angelina? Why couldn’t she pay the bills and take care of her own damn kids? Almost as soon as the tears started, they stopped. Jaicyn would not dwell on what her mother was not doing. She had to get in touch with Joy, which was harder to do without a phone. It required a walk to the projects and Jaicyn wasn’t dumb enough to walk into the projects at night by herself. She could go three blocks to Autumn’s though.
An excited squeal rose up the steps from the living room just as Jaicyn heard the front door open. Angelina was home.
Jaicyn shook her head in disgust. She knew that her mother would come home eventually. She slowly walked downstairs and tried, unsuccessfully, to erase the look of contempt on her face. Angelina was crouched down in the hallway hugging her young daughters. She didn’t look like she’d been on a three week drug binge so Jaicyn couldn’t pinpoint where she’d been. Either way, Jaicyn didn’t care or even want to know.”
“Hey, Jay-Jay,” Angelina said to her oldest daughter but Jaicyn ignored her and walked into the kitchen where she thought she smelled food. Just as she suspected, two large pizza boxes sat on top of the stove.
Like pizza could make up for the fact that she’d been gone for three weeks.
“I brought home dinner,” Angelina said to Jaicyn as she walked into the tiny kitchen with Bobbie and Rickie behind her.
Pizza sure beat hot dogs and French fries and the younger girls were excited to finally have some “real food”. Angelina grabbed the paper plates off the top of the refrigerator, put a couple of slices on her plate, and started eating. Jaicyn waited a few seconds to see if her mom would act like a mother and fix Rickie and Bobbie’s plates too. When she didn’t, Jaicyn snatched the plates off the counter and fed her sisters.
“Do you have any money?” Jaicyn snapped. “We don’t have any food.”
“I'll pick up some food tomorrow.”
“Are you going to pay the phone bill too?” Jaicyn asked. “The phone’s been off for a week.”
“Damn it, Jaicyn,” Angelina yelled. I don’t need an update on what’s going on in my house.”
“Your house?” Jaicyn repeated. “You wouldn’t even have a house if I hadn’t paid the rent. And you owe me $350.00.”
Angelina’s eyes widened eagerly. “Where’d you get $350.00? You have any more?”
“Are you shittin’ me?” Jaicyn yelled.
Angelina held her head down shamefully. She knew it was wrong to ask her child for money. Jaicyn had every right to be a little angry but there were good reasons why she’d stayed away for so long, reasons that she didn’t feel needed explaining to a child.
“Are you going to eat?”
“I don’t want any of your food!”
Jaicyn stormed out of the house and slammed the front door. She sat down on the cold concrete stoop and watched her neighborhood come alive when the streetlights came on. Hustlers, stick up boys, gangsters…they all came out when the sun started to set.
Jaicyn watched the corner boys selling dope and wondered how many of them had actually sold to her mother. She couldn’t be mad at them. When Angelina wanted to get high, she found a way. If they weren’t selling to her, another group of guys were.
Jaicyn spotted Rayshawn at the same time he saw her. As soon as they caught each other’s eye, Rayshawn crossed the street and approached her stoop.
“What’s up?” he greeted her. “What are you doing out here? It’s cold.”
“I don’t know,” Jaicyn admitted. “I just can’t be around my mother. I almost hit her.”
“She came back?”
Jaicyn looked at Rayshawn with an obvious question in her eyes. She didn’t know that he was aware of her mother’s disappearing acts. He didn’t live in her neighborhood.
“Yeah, she’s home acting like nothing’s wrong. She brings home pizza like she’s been feeding her kids for the last three weeks. I’ve been out here making sure that Rickie and Bobbie have a decent meal and she waltzes in with their favorite food. Now I look like an ass for trying to make them eat hot dogs again.”
Rayshawn wanted to say something to cheer her up but he couldn’t think of anything. He was too shocked that Jaicyn was having a real conversation with him. This has never happened before.
“Did you say Ricky and Bobby?” Rayshawn tried to steer the conversation away from Angelina. “I thought you had sisters.”
Jaicyn laughed. “I do.”
“You mean your mother named three girls Jaicyn, Rickie, and Bobbie? What the hell was she smokin’?” Rayshawn laughed.
Jaicyn frowned. “What the hell do you think?” she mumbled.
“Sorry, that came out wrong,” Rayshawn immediately felt bad. “Why’d she give you boys’ names?”
Jaicyn sighed and shrugged. “She named us after our fathers. Maybe she did it so she could remember their names. I don’t know.”
Rayshawn shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t like the change in Jaicyn’s tone. It was almost time for him to get back to his grandparents house and he didn’t want to leave on a bad note. He thought Jaicyn was interesting and didn’t want her mad at him.
“What you doin’ tomorrow?” he asked.
“I’m suspended,” she replied. “I’m not doing anything.”
“Maybe I'll come hang out if I don’t go to school tomorrow.”
“That’s cool,” Jaicyn smiled a little.
Rayshawn wanted to smile but he held back. He didn’t want Jaicyn Jones to know how excited he was. He’d watched her for years, too intimidated by her. Most girls are intimidated by Rayshawn’s rough exterior and demeanor. Jaicyn wasn’t intimidated by anything. She could hold a conversation with anyone and usually out talk anyone too. She was rough around the edges. Thank goodness, she didn’t look the part.
Rayshawn started to walk up the street in the direction of his grandparents’ house. Jaicyn watched him walk away with a smile on her face. She kept staring after him until he turned the corner and was out of sight. She wanted to run back in the house and call Autumn but stopped. She couldn’t call Autumn.
The damn phone was off.