First, giving honor to God, who is the head of my life . . .
Ha! Don't get me started testifying, because I will absolutely get to hollering and singing in my deep voice. Seriously, I thank God for the opportunity to bring you the sequel to
What a Sista Should Do
Thank you to Selena James at Dafina for understanding my vision for this story and for being an advocate for me! Also, I don't know about other authors, but I have the coolest, most down-to-earth editor in the business. Mercedes, you are a gift, and don't let anybody tell you different!
Thank you, Brent, my love, for continuing to support my writing career after all these years. I know that it's not always easy having an “artist” for a wife, but I thank you for understanding me. You have my heart (and my cooking)!
Thank you to my little chickadees, Briana, Brittany, Brynn, Brent II, and Brooke! You guys are a well-oiled machine! Thank you for being wonderful children and only making me fuss a little (well, maybe more than a little). I love you!
Everybody knows (ha) that I rely on my girls! Y'all get all my drama, prayer requests, testimonies, and victories during rush-hour drive time. Please . . . let's go on vacation this year. I shole is tired! I don't have to list y'all by name, but I think if I don't, y'all might beat me! So thank you, Shawana, Kym, Robin, and Tiffany T. Love y'all!
If I start naming book clubs, I'm gonna get myself in trouble, because I know I'm gonna forget someone. But here goes. Doing Something Different, SistahFriend, Sista to Sista, Driven Divas, OOSA, Women of Character, Virtuous Women Book Club, and every Glory Girls chapter that's still in existence! Thank you to all the book clubs that have supported me since 2005!
I want to thank all my writer buds for your encouraging words and support. ReShonda, Eric, Lolita, Rhonda, Dee, Bonnie, Kim, Sherryle, Stacy, Booker (White Shoes), Pat T., Pat S., Pat W., Pat B. (I sure know a lot of Pats), Tia, Shelia, Vanessa, Michelle, Vivi, Shewanda, and Victoria! Thank you all!
To my pastor, Bishop T. D. Jakes; The Potter's House family; and The Potter's House Choir, I love you and thank you for feeding my spirit and praying for me! Yellow flower is in the building
And last but definitely not least, to every reader and reviewer, I appreciate you. This book is for you, and I pray it is a blessing.
And now . . . without any further ado . . .
Don't Tell a Soul.
ne hundred eighty-seven breaths in ten minutes. Eva couldn't stop herself from counting them. She'd been taking note of each inhale and every exhale since the phone call last week from her manager, Leo.
He'd said only one sentence. “You need to get tested, babe.”
Eva had dreaded hearing those words since her very first adult film at the age of seventeen. But when Leo spoke the fear-inspiring words over the phone, Eva hadn't panicked. Not then. She'd hung up the phone with Leo and called the clinic. The one that all the film stars used. The one that would keep her results private. The one that didn't require insurance, because porn didn't pay benefits.
Although Eva hadn't suddenly come undone in that moment, she'd started to unravel second by secondâbreath by breath. She'd started counting when it occurred to her that her days might be numbered. If she was HIV-positive, then was it full-blown AIDS yet? And if it was full-blown AIDS, how many years did she have left? Or was it months?
Sheena, the clinic nurse, had called Eva, telling her to come in and receive her results, because they couldn't be given over the phone. That was this time yesterday. Now Eva was sitting in the clinic. Waiting . . . and breathing.
Eva breathed sixteen times in a minute when she was relaxed, but thirty when she was near hyperventilation. Would breathing faster make her time expire quicker? That thought occurred to her as she gripped the sides of the metal card table chair in the clinic's waiting room. She could feel the moisture of her nervous sweat beneath her thighs and wished that she'd worn a longer skirt. But Eva wore skirts only in the summer months. It was her favorite season, and skirts made her feel incredibly feminine.
Why couldn't it be winter? Getting this kind of news is a gloomy, gray downtown Cleveland, January kind of thing. Not a mild Midwest summer thing. If Eva turned out to be HIV-positive, summer wouldn't be the same. She'd have to pick a new favorite season.
Eva stared at the clock in the clinic's waiting room. It said ten past noon, but it was wrong. It was more like seventeen after according to Eva's watch. Eva had to fight the urge to take the step stool out of the corner and correct the clock. If she was somewhere elseâa friend's house or her homeâshe wouldn't have been able to let the small time discrepancy remain.
Amanda, known in the industry as Princess Mandy, had gone in right before Eva. They'd spoken to one another in the waiting room. It made sense for them both to be there; they'd both filmed an orgy scene four months ago. Eva remembered Amanda asking the film producer if they were using condoms. He'd said no. Amanda had protested, but not loudly enough. Her rent had been due, and she'd needed the money.
Eva hadn't complained at all about using protection. They were all professionals on set. Everyone took their once-a-week test, so it was all good to her. Plus, her fans online told her that they didn't like the safe-sex scenes. They wanted edgy.
Did it really take this long to give a negative result? Eva's nerves sent her into a near frenzy. She scooted to the edge of the chair, gripped it as if it was a roller coaster safety bar. Her breaths were fast and shallow and tears streamed down her face as the feeling of inevitable doom engulfed her.
Eva prayed a sinner's prayer.
God, I know I don't deserve to ask for anything from you. I don't even know if I'm allowed to.... Well, I'm just gonna ask. God, please don't let me have HIV. If I get a negative result . . . IâI promise I'm gonna quit doing this and work a real job, no matter how much it pays. And, uh, I'm gonna go to church, too. Please, please, please, please . . .
Then it dawned on Eva that the results were already there, in an envelope or on a chart, just waiting to be read. Her prayer and her promise wouldn't change the outcomeâat least she didn't think they couldâbut her grandmother was always shouting and dancing over a miracle. Maybe this would be one.
Amanda walked out of the results room. Her face was tear-streaked and pale. The test results were confidential, but to Eva it was more than obvious that Amanda hadn't received good news.
“It was Alfonzo. I know he's the one that gave us the package. We were both with him, and now we've got it,” Amanda said.
Eva was unable to respond. The lump in her throat wouldn't allow her to speak. Amanda was right. They were both with Alfonzo that night. Although the evening was a drug- and alcohol-induced blur, she did remember him, because he was new to the group. It was his first scene.
“W-what are you going to do?”
“You mean other than die? I don't really know. It's not like I have a job anymore.” Amanda's voice was void of emotion. Empty.
“They have drugs now, Mandy. It's not a death sentence anymore, right?”
Eva's words were more for herself than Amanda. She had moved past her friend's pain and had started living inside her own, which seemed inevitable.
“Call me later,” Amanda said. “We can go to Jamaica or something. Meet some hot guys and share the happiness and joy.”
When Eva gasped, Amanda threw up one hand. “I'm joking, Eva. I didn't mean that.” Then she burst into tears. “I-I'm afraid.”
Eva didn't know what should come next. Should she hug Amanda? Promise to contact her? She couldn't do the former and wouldn't do the latter. Hugging was not an Eva thing, and she never, ever contacted anyone from the industry in her real life.
The awkward moment passed. Amanda composed herself and wiped her tears with the crumpled-up tissue in her hand.
“Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow, and this will have been a nightmare.”
“If it is a bad dream, what would you do? Would you quit the business?”
Amanda lifted an eyebrow and then sighed. “I don't know. What else am I gonna do?”
Sheena emerged from the results room with a solemn expression on her face. “Eva, I'm ready for you now.”
Eva stood on wobbly legs; Amanda helped her get her balance.
Amanda pulled her close and whispered, “If you're positive, too . . . we could be there for each other, you know?”
One side of Eva's mouth twitched. Amanda's tone dripped with seductiveness. How could she be thinking of anything sexual at a time like this?
“Call me,” Amanda said, her hot breath feeling damp on Eva's ear.
Eva cringed. She didn't mean to do it, but she did.
Amanda chuckled. “You can't catch HIV from a whisper, silly.”
Eva walkedâno, stumbledâtoward the nurse, loosening herself from Amanda's grip.
“Right this way, Eva.”
Eva had been in the results room before. She knew Sheena's life storyâhow many kids she had, where she went to nursing school. They'd had too many conversations, but none this serious.
There was the chlamydia outbreak of 1995, when Eva had gotten burned on her very first film. Then they shut an entire set down in Parma because of a hellacious round of staph infections. Once Eva contracted an E. coli infection after putting somethingâshe had no idea whatâin her mouth that didn't belong there.
Through all these Eva had managed to remain relatively unscathed. She hadn't come across anything that antibiotics couldn't cure, not even herpes. She had been luckier than most.
“Don't beat around the bush, Sheena,” Eva said. “Don't try to make it pretty. Just tell me.”
The relief that washed over Eva was so utterly complete that her tears flowed like faucets at full blast.
“I'm okay? I'm okay!”
Sheena cleared her throat. “I can't clear you to work until you have two more negatives, spread over two months.”
“You can't clear me to work? But I need the money.”
Sheena's chest heaved up and down in a frustrated exhale. “How many bullets are you gonna dodge?”
Eva closed her eyes and shook her head. Sheena, of all people, knew what Eva was going through. Sheena had gotten into porn as a teenager and had worked until a group scene turned into a brutal rape that left her unable to have any more children. After Sheena's body had healed, she had gone to college and hadn't looked back.
“Everybody isn't like you, Sheena.” Eva stared at the floor, embarrassed about her revelation. She wished she was more like Sheena.
“You know, Eva, you could always work a real job . . . no matter how much it pays.”
Eva's head snapped up and her eyes widened as the words of her quickly forgotten prayer echoed from the walls. This was uncanny. This was unsettling.
“If you want, I can give you some numbers. I have some friends that will give you a job, no questions asked, if you're ready to leave the industry.”
“What kind of job?”
“Something that doesn't degrade you or make you have to come talk to me in another six months, after the next outbreak. You could leave the business while you're still young enough to do something else.”
Eva shook her head and stood from the table. “I don't know about the job thing yet, but thank you, Sheena, and thank God I'm not gonna die.”
“Go ahead and thank God, because He was the one that did this for you.”
“Why'd He do it for me, huh? Why not Amanda? I don't even go to church, and she does. She even goes in the middle of the week. Why would He save me?”
“He must have a purpose for you that you can't fulfill if you're sick.”
“That's a joke. God don't want nothing from me.”
Sheena smiled. “You can't know what God wants until you ask Him.”
Then Sheena came from behind her desk and hugged Eva before she could escape the office. Eva endured the unheralded affection but didn't participate by hugging back.
“Thanks again, Sheena. I gotta go now.”
“Take my card. Call me when you're ready to change your life.”
Eva took the card from Sheena's hand and read it. The top said NO LONGER BOUNDâBREAKING THE SHACKLES WOMEN'S MINISTRY.
“You're a minister?”
“No. I just help women who've lost their way.”
Eva said her good-byes and saw herself out of the office and into the balmy summer day. She turned the card over in her hand and then slipped it in her purse. She didn't feel lost, but she had no idea what she should do with herself. After Sheena regurgitated that piece of her prayer, she was scared to ask God anything else. If He answered her directly, she'd probably just pass out in the street.
But now that Eva knew He was listening, she
have a few things and a few people that she wanted to discuss with God.
In her opinion, God had some explaining to do.