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Authors: Victoria Christopher Murray

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BOOK: Never Say Never
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“But you couldn't save him?”

“No,” Jamal said, and as I held my sons, I could hear the emotion in Jamal's voice. “I wanted to, but it was too late. Your dad is a hero, Junior. He didn't want to leave you, but he had to help those kids, you know.”

I watched as my son let seconds go by, then moved his head up and down. His eyes were filled with water when he stood and took small steps toward me and his brothers. Still holding my two sons as best I could, I reached for my eldest. Junior knelt down, laid his head in my lap, and finally sobbed.

I felt Jamal's arms around me and my sons. Across the room, tears streamed down Emily's face. She took a step toward us, then stopped and backed away as if she didn't want to intrude. I closed my eyes and cried some more, and settled into the little bit of comfort that I felt being close to my three sons.

Jamal and Emily
had stayed so long that I almost invited them to spend the night. But they'd left, and now it was just me and my sons, the way it would be from now on.

I stared at my children lying every which way in my bed. Thank God it was a king-size or else I wouldn't fit in. I tried to remember the last time any of my boys had slept with me—letting the children in our bed was against Chauncey's religion.

“The marital bed is for the folks who are married.”

He'd always laugh when he said it, but my husband meant it.

I agreed with him, I always did. But tonight I wanted my sons with me, and I had a feeling that tonight Chauncey would approve.

Slipping under the covers, I reached toward the lamp, then pulled my hand back and rested my head on my pillow. I wasn't afraid of the dark; it was just that I felt closer to Chauncey in the light. But when I closed my eyes, I saw nothing but darkness anyway.

The tears were coming, I could feel them. But then, a peace, a calm, and a memory . . .

July 2, 1993

I was deep
into this book. Everybody had been talking about this novel, and I'd finally gotten my hands on a copy from the library. I'd just started, but I couldn't believe how Bernadine's husband had left her . . . for a white woman! I read a page, then turned. Read a page, then turned, never looking up. Reading was what I loved to do. Inside the pages of a novel, I didn't have to think about my life.

But then I was interrupted, and I wasn't happy about it.

“Hey!”

It took me a moment to force my eyes away from Savannah, Bernadine, Robin, and Gloria. When I looked up, I was staring into the light brown eyes of a guy I'd never seen before.

“Didn't you hear us calling you?” he asked.

“I didn't hear anyone calling me,” I said, wanting this guy to leave me alone so that I could get back to
Waiting to Exhale.

“Well, I've been calling you,” he said, like he couldn't believe that I hadn't heard him.

“And what did you call me? Hey?” I asked, trying not to twist my neck since I was really trying to act more sophisticated, like Sondra and Denise on
The Cosby Show.
They never twisted their necks, not even when they got angry.

I wanted to be like them, but it was hard 'cause when I didn't like what someone was saying, my neck got to rolling. And right now, I could feel a roll comin' on.

I continued, “I don't answer to ‘Hey!' ”

The boy's grin was wide, though I had no idea why he was smiling at me. I wasn't hardly smiling at him.

“Okay,” he said, nodding. “You got me. So your name's not Hey.” He put one leg up on the picnic table bench and then leaned against it like he was cool or something. “Why don't you tell me your name so the next time I call you, I'll call you in a proper kind of way.”

“Why would I tell you my name? Who are you?”

“Oh, I'm sorry. I'm Chauncey. Chauncey Williams. I'm one of the new counselors here at the camp this year.”

“A counselor?” I asked, kinda surprised. He looked like he was my age. “How are you a counselor?”

“Well, I've been a part of the Upward Bound program for a couple of years, and this summer they said I could work here.”

“They let
you
be a counselor
here
?”

“Why you gotta say it like that?” He laughed. “But to answer your question, yes, ma'am.”

I frowned. “Why you calling me ma'am?”

“I'm just being polite.”

“You don't have to be polite to a teenager.”

“Yeah, I do. Everyone should be polite to everyone else. That's the way my mama raised me.”

As soon as he said that, I looked away. Whenever someone told me about their mother, I got this little pinch in my stomach that made me sad all over.

He said, “So, now that I've told you my name”—I looked back up at the boy—“and I've told you why I'm here, are you going to tell me your name so that we can be friends?”

I was sure there was a lot of doubt in my eyes. I didn't have friends and I wasn't interested in making friends. To me, friendship and trust went together, and I didn't trust anyone. How could I? I could never trust my parents, not that I ever knew them. But how could I trust anyone who could just give away a baby and then never come to see if she was okay?

How could I trust anyone after I had lived with dozens of families who'd taken me into their homes, but never into their hearts.

And finally, I certainly couldn't have any trust in my heart after Mr. Barnes, my guidance counselor, who was the first person who ever believed in me. He told me I was smart and that I was going to be somebody someday. He was the first person I ever thought of as a friend. But now he was in jail for the things he'd done to me and some of the other girls last year when I was in ninth grade.

So having friends and trusting people didn't work for me. Being by myself was the safest way.

“So, are you going to tell me your name?” Chauncey asked again.

“Miriam,” I said.

“Miriam. That's a pretty name for a pretty girl.”

I had to blink. Several times. Pretty? No one had ever said there was anything pretty about me. Not my name, which wasn't pretty like the other girls' in my school: Monique, Nicole, and Sheree. Now, those were some pretty names.

And as far as
me
being pretty, this guy had to be kidding. No one ever thought the chunky girl with the white streak in her hair was pretty. Kids used to bully me all the time, calling me Skunk. So, what was this guy's game?

“Well, Miriam.” He said my name and then paused. “You need to go on into the clubhouse. They're serving lunch.”

“I'm not hungry.”

“You gotta eat.”

“Maybe you didn't hear me,” I said, rolling my neck. “I'm not hungry.”

“Awww, come on, what're you trying to do? Get me fired on my first day?”

It didn't look like this boy was ever going to leave me alone. With a sigh, I slammed the book shut, swung my legs over the bench, then stomped across the grass toward the clubhouse.

But as I marched away, Chauncey called out, “I hope we get to see each other again, Ms. Miriam.”

I didn't turn around, and for some reason, that made him laugh.

“Oh, you gonna play hard to get, huh?”

Hard to get? I just kept on walking.

“Well,” he was yelling now 'cause I was kinda far away from him, “I'm gonna be here all summer. And I promise you that by the end, you and me, we're gonna be friends.”

Still, I didn't look back, but for some reason, that last thing he said made me smile. Something I hadn't done in a long, long time . . .

Chauncey had made
me smile on that day and so many days after that. No matter what was going on in our lives, he could bring me joy. With a hug, or a kiss, phone call, or an e-mail, every part of me was happy, always.

And now, as I lay there in our bed, I knew for sure that there was no way I'd ever smile again.

That thought, and knowing that my Chauncey was gone . . . made me cry all over again.

4

Emily

I
couldn't tell you who started it. I don't know if it was me or Jamal. All I know is that right after I eased my car next to his in the underground parking garage of our building and jumped out, I was in his arms and our lips were locked.

How we made it across the garage, to the elevator, and then up to our condo, I would never know. All I know is that our lips never parted. We were like teenagers, kissing with abandon, not caring where we were or who saw us. Not that I expected to be seen. It was after two in the morning. We didn't leave Miriam and the children until all the boys were asleep. Junior had tried to fight it, but finally, even he gave in to the emotional exhaustion that came from hours of tears. When we left, only Miriam was awake, and really, I didn't want to leave her. I wanted to stay all night, but she wouldn't let me.

“Go home with your husband,” she'd whispered when Jamal had gone into the kitchen to make sure that all the pizza we'd ordered, but had not eaten, had been put away. “He's hurting, too,” Miriam told me. “He knew Chauncey way longer than I did and today, Jamal lost his brother. He needs to go home to cry and you need to be with him.”

I valued the opinion of my best friend, especially when it came to marriage. Miriam was an Olympic-gold-medal wife, as far as I was concerned. Not once in all the years that I'd known them had I not seen a smile on Chauncey's face.

“You're right,” I said to her.

But tears seemed to be far from my husband's mind. The moment we stepped into our condo, our clothes took off on a trajectory all their own. By the time we hit the bedroom door, we were naked. By the time we hit the sheets, we were connected. And by the time the clock had ticked off five minutes, we'd gone to heaven and returned.

Then, we did it again, slower this time. Tenderly, gently, though I could feel Jamal's pain in every kiss, in every caress. I could hear his pain in every moan and every call of my name. His heart was crying as tears fell from my eyes.

Now, we lay still. Jamal was on his back with my head resting on his chest. I waited until I heard the smooth, solid rhythm of his sleep-breathing and then I slowly lifted my head. He shifted, then settled down, and I positioned my elbow so that I could rest my chin on my hand and just stare at my husband.

Only the moon that was slowly bowing to morning illuminated our bedroom, but it was enough to see Jamal. And the beautiful black of his skin. I held my arm out, and now Jamal looked even richer against the paleness of my Caucasian genes.

This was one of the many things that I loved about me and Jamal. We were total opposites who fit perfectly together. I knew that from the moment I saw him, though it took us years to get to the same point . . .

BOOK: Never Say Never
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