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12. LaTONYA: Control

aTonya had already tried to wake Darrell up three times — the gentle calling-up-the-stairs time, the louder calling-up-the-stairs time, and the shoulder-shaking firm-voiced time — and three was her limit. She had class tonight, which meant she had to get to work ten minutes early so she could take off ten minutes early, and she knew from unfortunate experience that she couldn’t leave that boy in bed or he’d never make it to school.

“Come on, sleepyhead,” she said, yanking off the covers, averting her eyes because having raised three sons she knew that a young boy in the morning most likely had a stiffy. It was something she saw often enough on the massage table, but on her own baby, uh uh, she didn’t need to know.

“Oooooh,” he groaned.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw that he seemed to be strangely dressed for sleep, in some kind of dark, bulky clothes, and couldn’t help but look down.

Not some kind of dark, bulky clothes, she saw, but his clothes, his real clothes, hooded sweatshirt and jeans and even, yes, it was true, his fucking sneakers.

“What the hell is going on?” she cried.

“What?” He opened his eyes and looked around as if he had no clue where he was.

“Darrell Antonio Jones, you get out of that bed right this instant and tell me why you are wearing your clothes!”

She jerked on his arm and he sat up but then just kept sitting there, his head in his hands.

“I musta fallen asleep with my clothes on.”

She wanted to believe him, she really did. God knew she had enough to think about, with the layoffs at the bath house and exams coming up and her MCat lessons with George. And Darrell had been a good enough boy, until recently, not goody-good like his brother Dwayne but nowhere near bad like DaShawn. But something told her the balance was shifting.

“Don’t lie to me,” she said, trying to grip his shoulder, though he shook her away. He was a good six inches taller than her now, and twenty pounds heavier, all muscle. What control did she have over him, except his love and respect for her? She’d always sworn she would never lay a finger on her children the way her father had hit and slapped and beaten her, though she’d been sorely tempted with DaShawn. But she’d always resisted.

Darrell, her baby, the child she’d had by choice as a fully consenting adult and not because she was too young and stupid to say no to some sweet-talking boy, looked straight at her then, his deep brown eyes with their curled lashes locking straight on hers.

“I was out,” he said.

“Out.” She crossed her arms tight over her stomach, nodding fast and trying to think what that meant. “Where were you out? You weren’t at the Go Go, were you? Because I told your brother and I told you too, if I caught you hanging out at that nasty place…”

“No, Ma,” he said wearily. “I wasn’t at the Go Go.”

“Well then where? I was up till midnight. There’s no place else to go out after that in Hot Springs at this time of year.”

“I just went to the park,” he said, looking at her again. “With my banjo. I sat in the gazebo. I just wanted to play some music, be on my own.”

She wanted to believe him, she really did. She looked around the room.

“Where is your banjo?” she said.

15. LaTONYA: The Mistake

ressing hard on the knots in the pink shoulders of the woman down from Memphis, LaTonya let her mind wander to what lay ahead. The minute this session was over — she stole a glance at the clock: in exactly 17 minutes — she had to rush out the door and drive to the college, then drive like a bat out of hell back for her tutoring session with George.

Should she cancel tonight? She should really go home, make dinner for Darrell, get that boy back on the right track. Remembering how she’d slapped him this morning, she felt guilt and remorse wash over her.

“Ow!” the Memphis woman yelped.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” LaTonya said. They always said they wanted it firm, but when it came down to it, they just wanted to be petted.

The MCats were less than a month away now. She really needed this lesson with George. There was only one night in the week when they were both available and the office at the spa was free for them to use. It had to be tonight.

She’d call Darrell, right after this session and again after her class, check in and make sure he was all right.

The woman from Memphis tipped ungenerously but LaTonya barely registered that. Things that would have crushed her a few years ago didn’t matter anymore. All she cared about now was getting Darrell out of high school in one piece, and getting herself into medical school.

She had worked so long and hard for this, taking years to get through the local community college when Darrell was younger, and then driving more than an hour each way to work on her bachelor’s, deciding she wanted to be a doctor, the grinding amount of studying to get ready for the tests while she finished up her degree. No time to waste, at her age.

She listened to the recording of the last class as she drove to college, then taped the evening’s lecture as she took notes, doubling up because she was so distracted. Darrell was fine, he’d assured her. He’d cook himself some pasta. Yeah, he was studying, not just playing XBox — trust DaShawn to pull that foolishness out of a hat for his little brother at Christmas.

Had anyone seen Darrell near the fire, LaTonya worried, hardly conscious of the words her hand was writing. Were the police looking for him now? At her house?

Under her desk, she checked her phone for messages, texts, but everything was clear.

Then, in the parking lot, before she drove back to town for her lesson with George, she called Darrell and he didn’t pick up. She waited a few minutes, called again, and then texted him. Sometimes he wouldn’t pick up the phone, but he always checked his texts. She dialed her son’s cell phone, then the home phone, but there was no answer at either.

26. LaTONYA: I Want My Son

ou have been so wonderful, taking your brother in hand,” LaTonya said, sitting across the long shiny black table from her son Dwayne.

She was careful to keep her voice modulated, mindful that, above all else, what Dwayne needed to hear was praise. That’s what Cora McAdams had told her, anyway.

She’d gone to Cora for help getting Darrell back, or advice, or — well, she wasn’t sure what. She just didn’t know where else to turn. George had his hands full now that he was back with his wife. DaShawn, never. She couldn’t reveal herself to the women who worked for her at the spa. And friends — she hadn’t had time for friends in more years that she could remember.

But Cora’s daughter, she was friendly somehow with Darrell. Cora was a single mother, dealing with difficult circumstances. Of all people in the world, Cora, LaTonya hoped, could help.

“I certainly feel it’s my duty under the Lord to help,” said Dwayne now, nodding his big head, accepting his due.

He wouldn’t think any of it was bullshit, Cora had said. He’d lap it all up.

“The boy needs a strong role model,” LaTonya said.

“Of course,” Dwayne said, nodding again. His father’s head had been huge like that. They were both bull-headed, in every sense of the word.

LaTonya gazed at her hands, laid flat out in front of her on the table. Give me my son, she thought. Give me my fucking son.

“I’m so glad I was able to rely on you to vouch for him with the police,” LaTonya said.

“I was happy to do it,” said Dwayne, “since you could not be found.”

“I was at work, and then at class, and then I was studying for my medical school tests with George Forrest….”

“Pursuing your own ambitions when you should have been home with the boy.”

LaTonya breathed in deeply through her nose. “I am that child’s sole support, just as I was your sole support. I am trying to make a better life for him, to send him to college, as I sent you and your brother to college….”

“A child needs a parent at home.”

“And what would you have me do then, go on welfare? I’ve heard you rail against that, from the pulpit….”

“The boy is out of control!” cried Dwayne, waving his finger in the air.

“He is not out of control,” LaTonya said, her voice rising. “He’s a good boy, Dwayne. Maybe not as almighty perfect as you, but….”

Oh no, she was losing it now. Don’t get angry, Cora had said. This man will not be bullied…..

LaTonya took a deep breath. “I just want to see my son, Dwayne.”


38. LaTONYA: The Big Must

aTonya trudged down the street with Cora, feeling as if her arm were missing.  No, worse than her arm: Her head.  No, not her head: Her heart.

She had to find Darrell, that was all.  Every thread of her being was trained on this goal.  She had to find her son, bring him home safe, and not let anything bad happen to him ever again.

Cora’s phone buzzed and she stopped and stared at it.

“Medhi and Hugo say they haven’t heard from Juliette, so I don’t think they’re trying to get to France, not yet anyway,” Cora told her.

France?  Darrell might have some kind of crush on this girl, but LaTonya could not imagine him having the gumption to go to France, no matter how hard he might want to get away.

“Darrell’s a homebody,” LaTonya told Cora.  “I have a feeling he hasn’t gone far.  I bet he’s hiding out near here, somewhere.”

“I wish I was as confident about Juliette,” said Cora.  “I’m afraid I have no idea what that girl is going to do, anymore.  I feel like I don’t even know her.”

LaTonya wasn’t sure whether she should like Cora, with her rarefied history and her foreign airs, but she did.  In high school, they couldn’t have been more different, LaTonya already pregnant sophomore year and by graduation the mother of toddler twins, while Cora was Miss Ambition, racking up A’s and running all the clubs and working at her parents’ restaurant and then going back East to college, an experience that to LaTonya at the time seemed as unknowable and, more to the point, unhaveable as riding your very own rocket ship to the moon.

Now, though, they were just two single moms stuck in Hot Springs, trying to do their best.  And it was not Cora but her wild, foreign daughter who seemed like the enemy.

“Do you think your daughter would try to convince him to leave Hot Springs?” LaTonya asked, fear rising in her chest.  “To hitch a ride to Little Rock, or maybe Memphis, or somewhere?”

Darrell had never even been out of Arkansas, and showed not much gumption about ever leaving, a fact which usually dismayed LaTonya but now was of some comfort.

57. LaTONYA: Insult to Heaven

o,” George said. “I’ll see you tomorrow night? Usual time and place?”

They were standing on the street — George with his little girl in his arms, LaTonya and Darrell — in front of her building. It took her a minute to figure out what she was talking about. Then she realized: The tutoring. The medical school exams. Which were now just a few days away.

“No,” she told him. “I’m not going to be able to pursue that this time.”

She hadn’t been to class in a while either. Not since all the trouble started with Darrell. If she was going to try to get into medical school, it was going to have to be sometime far, far in the future.

“But you’ve worked so hard,” George said. “I really think you’re ready, maybe if we did one refresher session….”

She put up her hand to stop him. “I appreciate all you’ve done for me, George. But I can’t go ahead with medical school now. Please don’t make me feel worse about it.”

She could tell George was about to say something else, but he bit back his words, shook his head, and said goodnight.

But then, on the way up the stairs to the apartment, Darrell said, “Why did you tell him that?”

“Tell him what?”

“That you weren’t going to take the test? That you weren’t going to go ahead with medical school? Are you even going to graduate?”

“It’s not practical, sweetheart. Between my job and taking care of you, I’ve got all I can do. More than I can do.”

She just wanted to sink in her bed, knowing her son was home safe with her now. Wanting more than that, ever, had been an insult to heaven.

“But I don’t need taking care of,” Darrell said. “Not like that, anyway. You got almost all the way through college, you did all that studying for the test, and I was a lot younger than I am now. You can’t just quit.”

“Would you like some ice cream?” she asked him. “Maybe a hot cocoa?”

“Mom, since when did you make me hot cocoa at bedtime? I want to know why you’re not taking that test.”



e raised his hands to the congregation.

For the brothers and sisters in need of divine intervention, let us pray!


For those, who have lost their way in the sight of the Lord, let us pray!


For the thieves, for the flesh peddlers, for those who have turned away from their families, let us pray.

And let us pray, oh Lord, for our own souls, for who among us is without sin, or without earthly hopes and heavenly dreams? Give us your aid, sweet Jesus, in achieving our goals, in purifying our intentions, and in casting out the devils who walk among us and live within.


Suitcase in hand, pockets empty, he stood before her door for a long moment, head bowed.

He never thought he would be reduced to this, not since he was 17 and left home for the last time. His fortunes had been on the rise ever since. At least until recently.

After a long moment, he lifted his hand and range the bell. He could hear her footsteps in the apartment, see her eye on the other side of the peephole. At last, she opened the door.

“Mama,” he choked out. “I want to come home.”

She didn’t move from the doorway.

“Ma, please. I have nowhere else to go.”

At this he nearly coughed out a tear, it was so close to being true. I have nowhere decent to go, was a hard fact. I have not enough money to do anything impressive and no one who loves me, including maybe you.