W is for Wall

Originally published April 27, 2015 for the A to Z Challenge. 

Jessica woke up to the smell of pancakes and bacon. She opened her eyes, and was blinded by the sun bearing through the white blinds of the window to the right of the bed. She raised herself above the covers and looked around the room, trying to piece together where she was. The room was slightly messy. The door was standing ajar and behind it, the hamper was overflowing with clothes, mostly shirts—t-shirts, button downs, Polos. Jessica looked down and realized she was also wearing a t-shirt. It hung on her loosely—part of her should exposed. She sniffed the collar. It smelled of mint cologne.

On the mahogany dresser to her left, lined up against the mirror, were bottles of Axe body spray, all different scents—Apollo, Gold Temptation, Anarchy, Phoenix, Essence. Of the nine drawers on the dresser, five of them had been pulled open. They hung over the floor—a few so low, she thought they would fall. Each drawer was stuffed with clothes. Shirtsleeves and pants legs dangled over the handles. Jessica got out of bed, the hem of the t-shirt kissing her thighs just above the knees, and folded the clothes neatly into the drawers pushing them closed. When she came to the top left drawer, the underwear drawer, she perused through it, looking at batteries, dirty socks, and socks with holes at the toes and heels, several pairs of plaid boxers, and a few briefs.

Behind her, there was a knock on the door. She turned around to see Bruce holding a tray of food. She immediately slammed the drawer shut and fell back onto the bed, pulling the covers over her.

“Curious?” He sat on the edge of the bed and placed the tray on her lap.

Jessica shrugged her shoulders. She looked down at the plate of food—three blueberry pancakes, two strips of crispy bacon, and fluffy, bright yellow scrambled eggs. There was a drizzle of maple syrup over each food item.

“I didn’t know what you liked, but you can never go wrong with bacon and maple syrup, right?”

“It’s fine,” Jessica said flatly. She picked up the fork and knife and cut into the stack of pancakes.

“Did you sleep alright? You were twitching a lot.”

“How do you know that? You slept with me?” Jessica asked in between chews.

“Well, yea.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little inappropriate? I mean my boyfriend just died.” Jessica pushed the plate back to Bruce and scooted to the center of the king sized bed. He reached to touch her leg, but she pulled away, drawing her knees to her chin.

“After what happened at your apartment last night, I was worried,” Bruce said. “You looked as if you’d seen a ghost. I didn’t want to leave you alone.” Bruce tried to hand the plate back to Jessica. “Here, you need to eat something.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Bruce sighed. Standing, he said, “Look, Jessica. I know you feel guilty about what happened. Especially given what we were doing when it happened, but please don’t put up a wall between us. I only want to help.”

Jessica stared straight ahead, fixated on the sweat stains on the armpit area of a shirt hanging out of the hamper.

“OK, well, I have to get to the station. I’ll leave this in the oven in case you change your mind,” Bruce said, standing by the door. “Alex is on her way. I left a key for her outside. She’ll take you home if you want.”

Then he closed the door behind him.

—Nortina

D is for Drunk

These girls sure know how to throw ’em back don’t they? Only a non-drinker of wine would write a scene this obnoxious. Obviously it’s coming out. But have a laugh with me as you read another “Love Poetry” flashback scene, originally posted April 4, 2015 for the A to Z Challenge.


“I have a bottle of Chardonnay in front of me, and I’m trying to figure out why it’s not empty,” Alex, Jessica’s roommate from college, said into the phone.

“Girl, it’s not even eleven,” Jessica said laughing.

“I don’t care. It’s five o’clock somewhere. Get over here!”

***

Ten minutes later, Jessica was at the front door of Alex’s pool house apartment she rented from her grandfather, holding up two wine glasses.

“I’ve already started,” Alex said with a smirk.

“You’re such an alcoholic.”

Alex flicked her brownish blond corkscrew-curly bangs from her face and motioned for Jessica to come inside. Jessica was often jealous of Alex’s hair. She’d tried everything to achieve those perfect curls that came naturally to Alex. She succeeded once. Beginner’s luck, more than likely, because with each attempt after that, she ended up with a frizzy mop on top of her head. Alex, on the other hand, hated her hair, blaming it and her biracial background for those awkward conversations she had with complete strangers that often started with the question, “So what are you?”

The living room was surprisingly clean. Usually Alex had clothes tossed over the couch, the coffee table, the television set. Sometimes, Jessica couldn’t even see the carpet for all the panties, club dresses, and stiletto heels, thrown about. Today, the place was spotless. The dust on the teal window curtains had been vacuumed, the wood coffee table polished, even the the Merlot stain on the couch had been blotted away, although, Alex might have just flipped the cushion over.

Alex stood behind the kitchen counter and poured Chardonnay into the two glasses.

Jessica noticed that the wine left in the bottle came to just above the label. “You already drank half.”

“Yep,” Alex said, making a popping sound with her lips.

Jessica sat on the stool at the counter, and Alex slid the wine glass down to her. “I feel like I’m at a bar.”

“For sure.” Alex took a sip from her own glass.

“So what’s the occasion?” Jessica asked.

“Pop’s kicking me out.” Alex took giant gulp.

“Really? I thought he liked you living here. He could use you as a taxi whenever he wanted to go somewhere.”

“Well, he got pissed when I dumped the last guy I was dating.”

“Rick?”

“Yeah. I think he only liked him because he was white. Pop can be kinda racist sometimes.” Alex refilled her glass, and Jessica pushed hers forward for Alex to top it off.

“He’s old,” Jessica said over her tipped glass. “So why’d you break up with Rick? He seemed nice.”

“You have terrible taste in men,” Alex snapped.

Jessica choked while drinking and coughed to clear her throat, returning the glass to the counter and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “OK, you’re drunk,” she said in a raspy voice.

“No, I’m being serious. You have terrible taste in men if you think Rick was a nice guy. He’s just like that Whitmore of yours.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Needy, controlling, possessive. Did you have to ask him permission to come here?”

Jessica opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by the muffled sound of Magic’s “Rude” coming from her purse on the stool next to her. She retrieved her phone from the front pocket to see Whitmore’s lips twitching to the lyrics, “Marry that girl. Marry her anyway. Marry that girl. No matter what you say. Marry that girl. And we’ll be a family,” playing repeatedly. When had he changed my ringtone? Jessica thought.

“Speak of the damn devil!” Alex leaned over the counter and snatched the phone from Jessica. “Whitmore . . . This is Alex . . . Alexandria, idiot. Who else? . . . What do you want?. . . She’s with me . . . No you may not . . . We’re having a girls’ day . . . Is she not allowed to spend the day with her girl? . . . Don’t you have friends? . . . Bye, Whitmore . . . Goodbye, Whitmore!” She hung up the phone and slammed it onto the counter.

“That was rude,” Jessica said.

“No, what’s rude is him accusing you of cheating whenever you’re not with him.”

“Did he say that?”

“Yeah, talking ’bout, ‘Who the fuck is Alex?’ with that fake-ass, deep voice like he’s trying to intimidate someone. I hate you’re boyfriend, Jess. I hardly ever see you anymore.” She wiped tears from her face as she poured more Chardonnay into her wine glass.

“Maybe that’s enough—” Jessica started.

“Don’t you ever get tired?” Alex asked, swallowing hard.

Jessica snatched up her glass and slurped what was left. Alex held up the the bottle, the liquid now below the label, and Jessica let her fill the glass all the way to the rim. They toasted to the ceiling and proceeded to empty their glasses.

“I need to be drunk to talk about Whitmore and his . . . everything,” Jessica said.

“Hell, I got some Tequila.” Alex pointed to the cabinets behind her.

“This is so irresponsible,” Jessica said.

“College was only five years ago. I think we’re allowed.” Alex untwisted the lid to the 1800 Coconut Tequila and poured it. “I don’t know what I did with my shot glasses.”

“A wine glass works just fine.” Jessica brought the glass to her lips and threw her head back. “What?” she asked when she noticed Alex staring.

“I want to set you up with someone. Bruce. He works with me at the radio station. He’s dope.”

Jessica drummed her fingers on the counter. She didn’t think Alex had ever liked Whitmore. She was always throwing better options Jessica’s way—oftentimes, while Whitmore was present. However, this time, Jessica put some thought into Alex’s proposition.

It might have been the alcohol. It might have been the impromptu marriage proposal playing on her phone’s speakers. Jessica didn’t waste any time searching for a reasonable explanation. She only said yes.

—Nortina

Z is for… [Z]ealous Interviewer #AtoZChallenge

I’m feeling quite zealous today. Why? Because it’s April 30, and I’ve made it to the end of the A to Z Challenge without burning out. That deserves an applause!

I’m also excited to be starting on my novel, Lost Boy very soon. While I’m reserving the actual writing of the novel for NaNoWriMo in November, these next six months will consist of more planning, outlining, character sketching, and possibly a few more changes to the plot as things come together, and also a change in title (because I’m still not settled on “Lost Boy”).

I also hope to do more research so that the novel sounds as realistic as possible.

One phase of my research will be interviews. Right now, my focus is on interviewing one of my fellow church members who’s in the prison ministry From Leslie’s character sketch, we know that she is very active in the church, including going out to the county jail to minister with the prison ministry. Unfortunately, I know nothing about prison ministries, so it’s time for a little investigation.

I’ve already contacted the church member about interviewing her. Now it’s time to put together some interview questions. Here are a few that I may ask in my interview.

  • How long have you been in the jail/prison ministry?
  • How often do you visit the jail?
  • When you visit the jail, do you go as a group? Do you need specific paperwork or documentation to enter?
  • Is there certain dress requirements you must meet before entering? Types of clothing, shoes, hats, purses? Will they let you bring your Bible? Are you searched/patted down? Do you go through a metal detector?
  • Where do you go to witness to the inmates? The cells? a chapel? Is there a common meeting area with many tables similar to a cafeteria? Are you separated from regular jail visitation?
  • Are you restricted in the types inmates you visit. For example, do you see people who have been convicted of violent crimes like rape or murder?
  • Do you talk to the inmates individually or do you stand before a group and minister?
  • What do you say to the inmates? Do you talk about them, how they ended up behind bars? How do you transition into talking about Jesus?
  • What major points in the Gospel do you like to hit on when talking with the inmates? Does the message change depending on the crime?
  • Are the inmates generally welcoming?
  • Do people get saved?

These are all the questions I have so far. Do you have any suggestions? What questions do you think I should ask?

I’m hoping that some of the answers I get to these questions will help me write an inspiring revival at the end of the novel, but if not, I’ll have great material to work with for one of my subplots.

And . . . that’s it for the A to Z Challenge! I’m glad I decided to participate after all. It has truly helped me get over my writer’s block. Not only do I have a new novel in the works, but I feel my mojo coming back. I’m eager to dive back into writing more poetry and short stories, and I’m even more zealous to return to the many flash fiction challenges I loved so much. So stay tuned! More to come soon!

—Nortina

Y is for… [Y]oke #AtoZChallenge

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
(Matthew 11:28-30)

I remember when the boys were little, their father built them a treehouse. Nothing fancy, just a few wood boards nailed together on the lower branches of one of the sycamores in the backyard.

Tony and Gregory could barely hide there excitement, planning to camp out under the stars that very night. I watched the three of them outside from the kitchen window. Tony stood at the foot of the ladder as Antonio worked, handing a new plank board up to him as he finished hammering the first.

Gregory, on the other hand, was in the tree, sitting on the branch by his father’s shoulders. The leaves nearly covered his whole body, but for his legs swinging in the air. I was surprised to see him up there at all, since he had always been afraid of heights. During our annual Fourth of July cookout at Mama’s house, when it was time to view the fireworks from the roof, Gregory would catch a sudden spell of vertigo, and someone would always have to stay on ground with him to watch the show.

But there was no fear in him that day. Maybe it was the reassurance that his father was right there to reach out his arm and catch him in one scoop if he were to slip.

After the treehouse was finished, the three of them took my grandmother’s patch quilt, torn and ragged from years of use, and a couple pillows for a makeshift bed on the boards. They spent the night outside in their boys only clubhouse. Occasionally, I crept out to the tree to check on them. Antonio lay in the middle, arms draped over the shoulders of both boys, pulling them into him and away from the edge of the treehouse floor, protecting them from falling in their sleep.

I always regretted not taking a picture of that moment. But I stood in the backyard for several minutes that night, watching them sleep, overwhelmed by the peace of night, the chirping symphony of crickets, the breeze ruffling through the leaves like a curtain of timbrels. I was so in love with my family in that moment. If there were room, I would’ve climbed that tree and joined them, laying across the planks at their feet.

The next morning, I got up early to cook breakfast for them. Country ham steak with hash browns and eggs—fried over easy for Antonio, scrambled for the boys. They cleaned their plates. “The best breakfast I ever had!” Gregory exclaimed. He was such an overenthusiastic child. Between bites, they talked of their night in the treehouse, identifying the constellations, storytelling by moonlight, how they wanted to do it all again. And they did. The next weekend, and the weekend after that. It became ritual. Antonio and the boys would sleep in the treehouse, and I would cook Gregory’s favorite breakfast for them in the morning. We did this until the boys eventually grew too old for treehouse sleepovers with their dad.

And after a while, the wood planks wore away, became part of the tree, abandoned.

When Antonio died, Gregory went back to that treehouse. He rose early in the morning, just before the sun. I heard the chime of the back door when it opened and sat up to watch his legs dangle from the lower branch of the tree. He stayed out there for only an hour, said nothing when he came back inside, and I never brought it up. But the second morning he left for the treehouse, I rushed to the kitchen, had warm ham steak, hash browns and scrambled eggs waiting for him in the kitchen table when he returned.

Only a simple gesture, and I did it just once, for he never went to the old treehouse again. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t enough to keep him. I look out the kitchen window now, the leaves out back overgrown, weighing the limbs down, concealing the splintered treehouse floor, but I imagine I’ll see a shoe drop from the heights, a skinny child’s leg the color of bark, swinging back and forth.

—Nortina


I struggled with a topic for today. I’ve written so much about Lost Boy, it seems, that I have run out of things to say! Finally, I settled on another kind of character sketch for Leslie (and Gregory). Also, read this post for an explanation for the opening scripture. Only one more day left of the A to Z Challenge. I think I have one last post left in me…

X is for… [Χ]ριστός #AtoZChallenge

I got nothing. A big fat ZERO. There just aren’t enough “X” letters in the English alphabet. The dictionary agrees with me too.

My writer’s thesaurus skipped the letter “X” entirely, jumping from “W” straight to “Y,” and when I attempted to look up some words in a dated Webster’s Dictionary I found at work (labeled, “Best Reference Source 1989” by the American Library Association), it had one word, one word, for “X”: Xmas. That’s not even a freaking word! All it does is cross Christ out of Christmas. Of course, the dictionary had an elaborate definition for why the “X” is not meant to offend but to educate, apparently derived from the Greek letter chi (X), which is the first letter in Χριστός, which translated means Christos. So in fact, the “X” stands for Christ, not against Him.

Yea, yea, so you expect me to believe that everyone who says, “Merry Xmas!” is an expert on Greek language? Nah, I don’t think Leslie’s buying that excuse either.

But, since we’re here, let’s talk about Leslie, and her Christian foundation, and how on earth she’s going to bring her wayward sons back to her, and more importantly, back to Christ.

We’re down to the last three (and arguably the hardest) letters in the A to Z Challenge, and I’m getting a little anxious because I still don’t have a definitive ending to Lost Boy. I took a brief moment to revisit my outline, hoping to spark some inspiration—and laughing at how much has changed already since posting it (for example, Detective Maye has been reduced to a secondary character, and Gio, Clara, and Bethel are all out).

For today’s purposes, I want to focus on the Falling Action and how it can lead to a resolution. So what’s happening…

  • Leslie visits the scene of the crime
  • Leslie confronts Jacqui
  • Maye bails out Gregory

Already the last scene has to change, since Maye is no longer a main character, but there’s opportunity for me to add layers to the other two scenes. Eventually, I want to bring all the characters back together for a final intervention, or showdown, if you will. I think it will start with Leslie retracing Gregory’s steps, going to the gas station, talking with the bank teller who gave him the money. When she stops by Jacqui’s trailer, another character, whom she doesn’t expect, will already be there, waiting for her.

Being a member of the jail ministry, Leslie witnesses to complete strangers often. She’s gotten complacent in her message, telling people about the Gospel of Christ with the hope that she’ll probably never see them again.

You have nothing to lose when you’re talking with a stranger. If they reject you, or respond in an offensive matter, you just move on to the next person; you don’t let it affect you, because the goal is not to seek the approval of man, but to save as many souls for Christ as possible. But evangelism starts at home, does it not? What about your own family and friends who are unsaved? Will you pray that the Lord sends forth laborers (Matthew 9:35-38)? Will you be that laborer to reap God’s harvest?

Everyone in Leslie’s circle needs redemption: Will Gregory’s poor choices prevent him from reconciling with his family? Will Tony be able to quench the resonating anger he feels toward his mother and brother? Will Jacqui and Tammi turn from their selfish greed and seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness? Will Kerry learn to forgive? Will Leslie continue to put her hope, faith, and trust in the Lord?

Leslie’s going to need all of her prayer warriors plus the empowering presence of God to fix her family, and it will start in the most unlikeliest of places. A revival is coming to Pleasant’s Edge, a city in exile, but as scripture says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but there is hope, for we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Amen! Let’s hope Leslie can do it!

—Nortina

W is for… [W]eed Witness #AtoZChallenge

close-up picture tattered American flag behind barbed wire fence

Pop is dead, but I won’t cry. Crying is for sissys and wimps. I ain’t no wimp, and I damn sure ain’t no sissy. Greg can’t even think ’bout Pop without tearing up. I smack him around a bit, tell him to toughen up, we the men of the house now—men don’t cry. But Ma always coming to his rescue, “Stop being so hard on him,” she says, then let him lay in her bed and watch cartoons. “You know he’s sensitive.”

Shit, where was that motherly protection when Pop was taking off his belt, beating me like I just bust the windows with a baseball? Even though I did, and after that, I started hitting toward the neighbor’s brick house across the street.

Me and Pop had an understanding bout discipline. I mess up, I get whipped up. Simple. But when it came time for Greg to get his, Ma always got in the way. Not her baby, she’d say. That’s why the nigga’s such a softy now. I’m just trying to do for him why Ma never let Pop do. Spare the rod, spoil the child, right? Or does that only apply to me?

“Everyone grieves differently,” Grandma says, but Ma out here acting like nothing’s changed. Done gone and join the Jail Witnessing Team at church. Her first trip to the county, she practiced her tactics on me. Guess she figured I’d end up there eventually.

“How long have you been in here?” Holy Spirit filled Ma said to convict me. Start with the general stuff first, ease them into talking ’bout religion.

“Five years.”

“What for?”

“Weed.”

Real Ma came back quick. “You better not be smoking weed, boy.”

“I ain’t.” But she patted me down anyway, another preparation tactic for what we’d both experience in the jail, eventually.

I didn’t bother to tell her they sell weed at the bus stop outside the school—dropouts and repeat seniors who ain’t graduating again. The principal’s called the cops on them twice, but they strategic. They only come out during class changes and dismissal, after the lights on the school zone sign stop flashing.

Sometimes, when I’m walking home from practice, I stop and ask them how much. They tell me I gotta get a grinder to break it up first, and cigars to roll it in. It might be easier for me to get my hands on joint paper, but if I really want to get good and high, I gotta find somebody to buy me cigars—they hold more and better. One kid, nineteen, offered me a gram for a discount and he’d buy me all the stuff I needed. I told him I’d think about it.

After Ma left, I snuck into her room and found her cash stash underneath the jewelry box on her dresser. I took a ten dollar bill, licked the edges and rolled it up into a skinny cylinder. Then I pinched it with my index finger and thumb, brought it to my lips, and breathed in.

“What are you doing?”

I shoved the money in my mouth so fast I nearly choked. Greg’s always creeping up on people. He’s too quiet, like a damn ghost.

“Mind ya business,” I mumbled.

“What’s in your mouth?”

I slid the bill under my tongue. “Get outta here.”

“This is Mama’s room, and I’m telling.”

“No you ain’t.” I mushed the side of his face and pushed him into the wall. The tears were welling up in his eyes before he even hit the floor.

“Stop all that crying, boy!”

“Why you always so mean?”

“Somebody’s gotta be.”

Ma came back sooner than I expected. They wouldn’t let her in ’cause of her shoes. Jails are strict, you can’t just come to visit looking any ol’ kinda way. If she watched Lockup on MSNBC she’d know that.

“Why do you even watch that?” she asked.

I just shrugged. I really don’t know. Something to do, I guess. Figure out how much time I’ll have to do if I ever got caught.

She ain’t notice the money missing. I’m in the clear for now. Monday, I’ll skip Mr. Wilson’s Language Arts class, cut across the lawn of the main building to the stop during class change. I gotta make sure I have a extra dollar fifty for the bus. Then we’ll ride to the nearest gas station to buy the rest of the stuff, and by lunch, I’ll be in the trees.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Prologues, character sketches, structure planning, plot twists, or in the case of this post, more backstories. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

V is for… [V]iews #AtoZChallenge

Plans change. When you start building, you don’t expect to find an underground river beneath your foundation. When a bride-to-be hires you to design her gown, with intricate lacing and beading, you don’t expect for her to tell you that the wedding is in a week. When you have a novel all planned out and eager to be written for NaNoWriMo (which seems so far away now), you don’t expect to eliminate what you thought could have been a main character—and certainly a co-narrator—along with their subsequent subplots.

But that’s exactly what I did.

The editor in me has awoken (I knew it was time), and she’s itching to make some changes. Better to change things now before I start writing. I know all too well how editing a story before it’s even finished can completely derail progress.

So what’s changed?

Reviewing my latest posts, I’ve discovered that Detective Maye isn’t as essential to the plot of the story as I had originally intended. While I won’t ax his character altogether (we still have a “Lost Boy” to find) his part will get significantly reduced to make room for Tony, who’s character grows more and more with each new post.

A few things contributed to this change. First, I’ve barely mentioned Detective Maye since K is for Kindred, and his last dedicated post was I is for Ice Cold, which seems like ages ago. However, what really sealed Maye’s fate was the outline, or more specifically, the fact that if you sneezed, you probably would’ve missed him.

I’ve said before that Lost Boy is a family story, and the outline was an obvious clue of which family I needed to focus on. So I’m not going to force a subplot that simply isn’t there. A good writer (or maybe a better editor) knows when a character has overstayed his welcome. The three scenes that Maye had (without Leslie) didn’t really affect the plot much, and I don’t think they would be missed if I tossed them, so…

Let it gooooo!

I don’t want to completely give up on the Detective Maye character, which I think is very strong on its own, so stay tuned—you make see more of him on this blog in the form of a separate short story or flash fiction.

However, concerning Lost Boy, Maye is now just the cop Leslie enlists to search for Gregory. He won’t have any dedicated chapters, although I will keep the multiple points of view structure (for now), alternating between Leslie and her son Tony. With Leslie and Tony as the narrators (actually, I think I prefer Leslie’s chapters to be in first person, and Tony’s in third), you will get to see the drastic contrast in how the two main characters react to Gregory’s disappearance.

Well, that’s it for today’s post. A short one, I know—I’m just relieved to post it at a reasonable hour for once. I haven’t decided what “W” is going to be about. I’m debating between a post on potential research interview questions for Leslie’s prison ministry (which is currently still a plot point until editor bitch decides otherwise), or another backstory on Tony. What’s your view? Which do you prefer?

By the way, if you’re wondering if anything else will change with the novel between now and NaNoWriMo, the answer is a definite YES. I still need a real title!

Until tomorrow, A to Z-ers!

U is for… [U]ndercooked #AtoZChallenge

The turkey was undercooked. Ma planned to roast it overnight, have the whole house smelling like a Thanksgiving feast by morning. But we woke up freezing, a surprise dusting of snow on the lawn, enough to slick the roads, but not enough to delay the holiday traffic.

Tony and Kerry arrived at noon, arguing again, though I’ve stopped caring what for. Something about Kerry wanting to move back to Raleigh after Tony just got a promotion. Let her go. She’s not the one for him, but Tony married her anyway. He doesn’t listen—he never listens.

Dinner was scheduled for 1:00, but at 2:30, I sat alone by the window, watching for Gregory’s car to pull to the curb. I hadn’t seen him since his birthday on October 24, a week before Halloween, and it was terrifying to see him then. He looked as if he had grown six inches. His face was fuller, half covered in a thick, coarse beard, but the rest of him was so thin and frail, he almost looked like Tony, a physical characteristic the two brothers never shared. While Tony was the spitting image of his father, both in name and appearance, Gregory favored me—the short, stubby fingers, the flat nose, the extra weight around the stomach and arms. But his arms were toned, muscular, the outline of them seen through the thin, sweat resistant short-sleeve shirt he wore, too cool even for mid-fall.

It was Tammi who texted me they’d be over for dinner. Gregory’s phone was off—he hadn’t paid the bill. Gregory had been missing a lot of bills lately—puzzling because his father and I taught him how to be a good steward over his finances. It was as if all of his upbringing left him the moment he met her. Over and over he asked me for money, a car note here, rent there, Tammi’s parking tickets, which I flat out refused. But I didn’t want to completely abandon him, so I slipped him change when I could. The more I gave, the less I saw of him, and when I realized he only came home for money, I stopped giving all together, and his visits became more infrequent.

Before his birthday, June was the last time I’d seen him. He’d even missed our Fourth of July family cookout in Ma’s backyard. After it got dark, we would climb up Ma’s roof and watch the fireworks shot off from the high school football field while enjoying burnt hotdogs and Carolina burgers with chili and slaw. It had been a family tradition since Antonio was alive. No one ever skipped it, rain or shine.

I could hear Ma scrambling in the kitchen. Not much to cook with a twenty pound bird taking up most of the oven, but we had to eat something—it was Thanksgiving after all. With a shrunken menu, the sweet potato casserole, became plain yams, the mac and cheese stovetop, the dressing stuffed inside the turkey to cook them both at the same time, while on the back burners, the greens boiled.

Ma kicked me out of the kitchen shortly after she realized she never turned the oven on last night. “You know you’ve never been a cook,” she said. “You’ll only slow me down.” I was given the assignment to make Tony and Kerry chicken salad sandwiches—the salad already prepared, all I had to do was spread it over the bread—to hold them over to dinner and hopefully to quell their arguing.

And it worked. We had silence for a while . . . until Tammi and her mother showed up, and without Gregory.

I had never met Jacquelyn. She’d tried to introduce herself several times before, calling to explain why she had allowed my son to live with her and her daughter in their overcrowded trailer, knocking on my door in the middle of the night to tell me she’d kicked them out. The vibrations in her voice told me she was nothing but drama then, and now she was standing right before me expecting a free, and she didn’t even bother to bring Gregory with her. And the striking resemblance between her and Tammi—how old was she when she had her? Any stranger would think they were sisters.

“Where’s my son?” I had no interest in shaking hands, fake smiles, or “how do you do’s.” These people overstayed their welcome the second they stepped foot on Ma’s front porch.

“He at work.” Tammi smacked her lips. Her nonchalant attitude quickly got under my skin.

“I was expecting to spend Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I don’t know you.”

Tammi’s mother reached out her hand. “Hi I’m Jacqui—“

“And I don’t care to!” I snapped.

Ma entered, putting the oven mitts she was wearing under her arm. “We may need another hour. That turkey just won’t cook.” When she noticed the tense atmosphere at her front door, she said, “Who’s this?”

“Tammi, and Jacqui,” I cut my eyes at the mother, “decided to invite themselves without Gregory.”

“Where’s Gregory?” Ma asked.

“He had to work,” Jacqui answered.

“On Thanksgiving?”

Jacqui started to say something, but quickly closed her mouth. By the way they shrugged their shoulders, avoided eye contact, it was obvious they were lying. My worried mind went straight to the marathon episodes of Snapped I often watched to fill my Sunday afternoons when I came home from church. It was the worst thing to watch on a Sunday, a holy day of rest. All it did was disrupt my peace. Women taking vengeance into their own hands, taking a life. When Gregory went weeks without calling, I feared the worst. What had they done to him?

I heard Tony barge down the hall, and I knew things would quickly escalate with him in the room.

“You know they’re getting married, right?”

“Who?”

Tony pointed to Tammi.

“Yea, we engaged.” Tammi shrugged her shoulders, flashed the small diamond on her left hand.

A ring. He’d bought her a ring. With what money? I remembered those times he called, whining that his lights were about to get turned off, that he would be evicted if he didn’t pay rent by the end of the week, that he couldn’t afford to have his car repossessed because then he’d have no way to get to work. Were they all lies? The money I’d been giving him—a little here, a little there—had he been collecting it until he had enough to buy a ring and propose? No, no. Heaven forbid I inherit another lethargic, unappreciative daughter-in-law like Kerry, who had secluded herself away in the dining room to pretend she was crying.

Instinctively, I clawed at Tammi’s hand, snatching of the ring I paid for and a thin layer of skin along with it. She yanked my arm back with one hand— with much more force than her petite frame would lead anyone to believe— and with the other hand, slapped me clear across the face. There was shouting and screaming, and at some point Kerry finally appeared in the kitchen doorway behind Ma. I could feel Tony’s arms around my waist. He and Jacqui pulled Tammi and I apart, and backing up, I tripped over Tony’s size 13 shoe and hit the side of my back on the back of the couch, re-agitating a muscle I pulled a few weeks ago when moving around the furniture in Gregory’s room.

“I ain’t gon stay where I’m not wanted!” Tammi was screaming.

“Then why the fuck are you still here?” Tony yelled.

Suddenly the smoke detector in the kitchen went off, setting off all the others in the house, including the one in the living room right above the space of floor that separated me from the intruders. The piercing peal silenced us for several seconds.

Ma rushed back into the kitchen, brushing past Kerry. “Jesus, Kerry, you don’t smell my greens burning?” She stirred the pot, added water and flicked off the eye. She grabbed a towel and begin flapping it under the detector to clear the smoke.

When the noise finally ceased, I looked directly at Tammi. “You need to leave.”

“Gladly.” She turned around and kicked open the screen door, making a sound like ripped metal and leaving behind a dent in the bottom left corner. Jacqui stayed behind for a brief moment, as if considering an apology, but quickly spun around and followed her daughter to the car. I shut the door behind them and noticed the engagement ring on the floor; it must have fallen out of my hand during the scuffle. I quickly kicked it away. The sight of it disgusted me.

“She’ll be back when she realizes it’s gone,” Kerry mumbled.

“Oh, now you got something to say? Where were you when that bitch was hittin’ my mama?” Tony shouted.

Kerry rolled her eyes and turned away. “I’m not arguing with you, Tony.”

“But you gon listen!” He stormed past me, my throbbing face obviously not too much of a concern, to finish his tirade with Kerry from earlier.

Ma returned from the kitchen, her shoulders hunched. She looked just as defeated as I felt. “Why not Chinese? They’re always open on Thanksgiving. I don’t think I can save this dinner.”

“There’s still the turkey and stuffing.”

“That won’t be for another hour. You know my old stomach has to eat early. I’m feeling lightheaded already.”

I tried to force a smile, but my face was so tight, I probably looked constipated. “Why don’t you sit, and I’ll make us some chicken salad sandwiches.”

“Can we eat them outside? I’m sick of those two yelling, and I need to cool off.”

I nodded and looked back to the window. Eating outside would only make me more anxious about Gregory, wondering if every car that drove by was him. I shook my head. No, there was no sense in waiting for him anymore. He wasn’t coming. And Tammi would surely tell him what happened here. Then, after that, I don’t think he will ever come home.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Prologues, character sketches, structure planning, or in the case of this post, more backstories. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

T is for… [T]ony Fields #AtoZChallenge

I’m on the clock (59 minutes and counting…) so let’s cut to the chase.

Character Sketch: Who is Tony Fields?

  • Antonio “Tony” Fields, Jr. is the eldest son of Antonio, Sr. and Leslie Fields, and the older brother of Gregory Fields. He is also married to his high school sweetheart, Kerry.
  • Tony starting smoking marijuana at age 15, after his father’s death, as a way to cope with the grief. The drug has become a crutch or handicap for him; he often turns to it whenever he struggles to express his emotions, whether, grief, jealousy, or anger, which only amplifies what he is feeling.
  • It hasn’t gone without Tony’s notice that his mother shows more attention and is more affectionate toward Gregory, which has caused him to be extremely jealous of his little brother, to the point that he doesn’t even care when Gregory disappears or that he may be in trouble, until it affects him.
  • Tony holds a lot of animosity toward his mother and brother and often takes his anger out on Kerry. Kerry regrets that she might have settled for Tony because they’ve been together for so long.
  • Tony and Kerry dated all through high school. They stayed together long distance after graduation. Kerry went to college in Raleigh to study journalism, and Tony signed up for Job Corps to become a HVAC technician. When Kerry finished school and returned home, they married.
  • Tony has been working since completing his training at Job Corps, while Kerry was in school for four and half years. Kerry struggles to find a job that can get her through the door to eventually becoming a news anchor, her dream job. She works at the bank to collect a paycheck until she can find a job in her field. However, there aren’t many options for her in the small town of Leiland, and she considers moving back to Raleigh, though she hasn’t told Tony.
  • Because of his recent promotion, Tony makes more money than Kerry, and has become more controlling and domineering over her, even belittling her for her job in Pleasant’s Edge.
  • Tony’s angry outbursts and controlling habits begin to be too much for Kerry, and she finally decides to leave him.

Limitations? Desires? What’s at stake? What does he have to lose/gain?

  • When Leslie reports Gregory missing, Tony becomes angry with her. Jealous of all the attention she gives to Gregory, Tony wants her to just give up on her other son and focus on his problems instead, like his failing marriage with Kerry.
  • Despite his mistreatment of Kerry, Tony loves her, and will do anything for her. With his father dead, and Leslie obsessing over Gregory’s disappearance, other than Grandma Stella, who he does talk to regularly, Kerry is the only family Tony has left, and he fears, with her leaving, he will truly be alone.
  • Leslie still does not give Tony the comforting he needs. She thinks Kerry and Tony married too soon anyway and that Tony can do better. She thinks Kerry has no ambition because despite having a degree in journalism, she’s been working at the same SunTrust Bank in Pleasant’s Edge for the last three years. She brushes him off, believing that Gregory’s disappearance is more urgent.
  • When it is revealed that Gregory may be connected to the bank robbery that occurred at the same bank where Kerry works, Tony assumes the worst in his brother and wife and takes things into his own hands, which could end up tearing their already broken family apart for good.

With mere seconds left before I’m officially late (and because I’ve run out of things to say about Tony), I shall end this character sketch for the night. Thank you for coming back to another novel planning session. Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I plan to bring “U” at least an hour earlier. 😉 If you missed the last “late night” post about epigraphs and scriptures, check it out here!

S is for… [S]cripture #AtoZChallenge

Thank you for tuning in to another planning session for Lost Boy! The novel is quickly coming together, and I’m so excited for November, when I will actually begin writing it for NaNoWriMo.

Throughout this A to Z Challenge, we’ve talked a lot about the contents of the novel—outline, character sketches, backstory, and more. Today I want to dive into the structure of the novel, specifically how I plan to open each new chapter.

Continue reading “S is for… [S]cripture #AtoZChallenge”