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Chapter One


The first time I ever laid eyes on Jason, I thought he was a junior-mack-daddy-wannabe that probably sat around on a Commodore 64 computer drinking grape Kool-Aid out of a peanut butter jar while watchingGood Times.I couldn’t stand his ass.

The feeling was mutual, though, because our first physical interaction was when he gave me the finger and then spit on my saddle shoes. We were in the fifth grade, and from the day my parents and I drove up in our Ford station wagon, I knew he was trouble.

The movers got there about an hour after we did. I was sitting on the curb playing jacks when the big truck came flying around the corner, practically tilted on one side. I figured the driver was going to lose control of the truck for sure, and every valuable possession we owned would end up strewn all over the street.

Being the wonderful and unselfish little girl I was, my main concern was that my black Barbie didn’t lose a limb or anything in the process. Table lamps, my father’s eight-track tape player, and my mother’s dishes were all replaceable, but the hell if I was going to be able to replace my Barbie. She was my pride and joy. I had even painted her fingernails with glittered polish and made her a sexy dress out of the red bandannas my mother made me wear to bed so my pressed hair wouldn’t frizz up. Other than that, I was worried about my Snoopy Snow Cone Machine, and that was about it.

Jason and his parents lived directly across the street. He was outside that day trying to get some mail-order rocket to soar into the heavens. What a rip-off! The whole time I was watching him, the stupid thing never made it a yard off the ground. It was after about the hundredth try, when the movers had half the truck unloaded, that I noticed his ass rolling his beady eyes at me. I was using a piece of pink chalk to draw a makeshift hopscotch diagram on the street in front of my house when he approached me. His Kangol hat and leather bomber jacket made him look like a pint-size pimp. All he needed was a couple of gold teeth.

“Girl, you better quit! I’m gonna tell my momma on you!” I glared at him, smacking on a wad of Bubblicious like a cow.

“Little man, you better go play with your cheap broken-rocket and leave me the heck alone!”

He got all the way up in my face then. “Girl, don’t you be ordering me around! I’ll stomp your skinny behind into the concrete!”

“Oooooooh, I amsoooooooscared!” I rolled my eyes, chastising him.

Then, the miniature version of Shaft flipped me the finger, made a disgusting noise while he gathered saliva in his mouth, and then spit on my brand-new black-and-white saddle shoes. I beat his little ass too. We were the same age, but I had him by a good three inches in height. Milk wasn’t due to start doing his body good for a couple more years.

Two of the moving men broke the fight up. I accidentally scratched one of the men on the nose because I was not about to stop fighting until the fat lady sang. That’s when both our mothers came dashing out of our respective houses yelling, “Oh, my poor baby!” and things like that. It was mad funny. They took over, throwing our heads into their heavy breasts and feeling all over us to make sure there was no permanent damage. Jason and I just glared at each other like two sumo wrestlers ready for round two.

My mother helped me inside like I was handicapped. In actuality, I had never felt better in my life. I was the victorious one. Jason retreated to his house as well, and that was the end of it. My parents and I did just enough unpacking that night to get by, threw some sleeping bags on the living room floor, and munched down on some KFC. My Dad hooked up his eight-track, and I fell asleep listening to the harmonized singing of Earth, Wind and Fire. It was a Saturday.

I started school the following Monday and was anxious to get there to meet all the new kids. I rushed through a bowl of corn flakes and caught about ten minutes ofThe Flintstonesbefore grabbing my tin lunch pail and running out the door to get to the bus stop on time.

The bus was about to pull off, and I was panting by the time I caught up to it in time to bang on the door, signaling the driver to stop. After I got on the bus, he asked me who I was. I explained I was a new student who had just moved. He snarled at me, his au naturel breath almost knocking me backward down the steps and back off the bus, “Well, you make sure your teacher gets your name put on my roster A-S-A-P ’cause I’m not supposed to be picking up no knuckleheads I don’t know! Now, find a seat, sit down, and shaddup!”

I searched for an empty seat and couldn’t find one in the front of the bus, so I started walking toward the back. All of the kids were checking me out, and some were even snickering. I noticed most of the seats were occupied, either by two girls or two boys, with the exception of the one in the far rear. A boy and a girl, obviously suffering from a severe case of puppy love, were seated there. He had his arm around her shoulder, and she was blushing from ear to ear.

I was ready to ask the driver if I could sit on the steps when I realized the only available seat was next to the horror film creature himself, Jason. He stopped playing with his GI Joe with the kung fu grip just long enough to smirk at me. I turned around and headed toward the front to beg the driver to ask someone to trade places with me, but he yelled at me again. “You taking too long! School starts in fifteen minutes! Now, sit yourbe-hindin a seat and shaddup!”

I scurried my ass back to the seat and noticed Jason had placed his knapsack on the vinyl seat beside him. “Could you move that, please?”

He didn’t respond, nor did he look at me, so I took the bag, threw it on his lap, and sat down. He was about to be a smart aleck, but I stopped him dead in his tracks. I rolled my eyes and gave him a head-from-side-to-side-with-afinger-snap combination. “Don’t say nothing to me, or I’ll give you an even bigger beatdown than I did Saturday.”

A couple of the kids heard me and started giggling and taunting him. He just grabbed his knapsack, held it tight, and didn’t look at me the rest of the way to school.

As if things weren’t going bad enough, I get my class assignment from the principal’s office, go to my homeroom, and his trick ass is the first face I see. Our homeroom teacher was Mrs. Williams, and she wasdispleasedto have a student transfer into her class in the middle of the fall term. She snarled at me too. Maybe it was my cherry-flavored lip gloss that was making everyone demonic toward me. “Little Miss Zoe,” she started in on me as she looked over my school records, “have a seat over there by the window and pay attention. You have a lot of making up to do in order to catch up to the rest of the class.”

There was one glimmer of sunshine in my day. I didn’t have to sit near Jason in homeroom. He was clear across the class, and that suited me just fine. He must have been a smart-ass with everybody because Mrs. Williams had his desk pushed right up against hers, several feet away from the rest of the class. Teachers always make the troublemakers sit up in their faces, and I remember thinking to myself, “Goodie!”

My first day at Benjamin Franklin Elementary was pretty uneventful. I made a couple of new friends, got to jump rope at recess, made a deformed clay vase in art class, and learned how to count to ten in Spanish. At lunch, I sat with this little girl named Brina that thought she was the next Diana Ross. I started to school her ass and tell her she couldn’t be the next Diana Ross because I was. She would fling her hair back after every bite of her Twinkie and took special care making sure she didn’t end up with a milk mustache when she rinsed it down. She spent the entire lunch period bragging about everything from her collection of ribbons for her hair to the straight A’s she made on her last report card.

Jason did decide to get bold for a minute and started spitting half-frozen peas across the room at the back of my neck through a straw. He made the mistake of hitting the PE teacher, Mr. Lewis, in the cheek with one and was immediately dragged by the ear to the office.

When I got on the bus that afternoon, I was lucky enough to find a seat up front. I made sure I was one of the first ones on the bus, pushing a couple of wimpy boys out my way so I wouldn’t have to sit next to Cousin It. Jason got on the bus about ten kids after I did. I stuck my tongue out at him and flipped him the bird. He tried to tell the bus driver on me, but all he got was an attitude. “Sit yourbe-hinddown, little man, and shaddup!”

I was playing hopscotch about an hour later when he came out of his house, stood on the curb on his side of the street, and started talking trash. “You know what? I hate you and I hope all your hair falls out and you get red pimples all over your face!”

I stopped hopping on number six with my right foot up in the air, gave him an icy cold look, and decided to pay his ass back for the comment. “Oh, yeah? Well, I hate you too, and I hope the next time you shoot that cheap rocket of yours, it gets stuck up your behind!” As an afterthought, I added, “And I hope your itsy bitsy dang-alang falls off too!”

I held up my pinkie finger to emphasize the point, and he left the curb, on his way over to my side of the street to finish off the fistfight we started the Saturday before. I was about to meet him in the middle when my mother opened up the front door. “Zoe, get in here and get washed up for dinner! Now!”

Walking away, I placed my hands on my hips and strutted like Greta Garbo. I turned around and addressed him with my best voice imitation. “Next time, Big Boy!”

I left his cross between Chewbacca fromStar Warsand Scooby Doo ass standing right there in the street with his hands balled into fists and a look of hatred on his pathetic face.

I tried to keep my distance from Jason, other than in school, but my daddy wasn’t making it easy for me. For some odd reason, the two of them bonded. Maybe it was because Jason’s daddy was always working, or maybe it was because my daddy was good with his hands and Jason admired the way he fixed things around the house and made furniture out of wood as a hobby. Whatever it was, I didn’t like or appreciate them being buddy-buddy at all.
I was up in my bedroom one Saturday morning, sorting out my record collection and singing my ass off, when my mother yelled for me to come down. I had just taken “The Best of My Love” by the Emotions off the turntable. I was about to pull my shades down and throw on “ Flashlight” by Parliament Funkadelic and dance around my room, making circles on the walls and ceiling with the Maglite my daddy gave me when my mother interrupted my flow.

“Zoe, can you come down here for a second?” Her voice carried well up the stairwell, and I knew she deliberately waited for a break in the music to call for me. It was a regular routine.

“Okay, Momma. I’ll be right down.” I muttered under my breath while I gathered the dirty clothes out of my wicker hamper and tossed them in a laundry basket. It was laundry day, and I hadn’t done a thing, so I lugged my clothes downstairs with me in order to save myself a return trip.

As soon as I turned the corner into the kitchen, my eyes lit up as I spotted the ice-cold pitcher of freshly squeezed lemonade and the cookie sheet of chocolate chip cookies with Hershey’s Kisses hidden inside cooling on the stove.

“Momma, you made my favorite cookies!” I let the laundry basket drop on the floor and gave my mother a huge, elephantine hug. “You’re the most spantacular, bomb-diggity, coolest mother in the whole wide world.”

She let out a slight giggle and then gently pushed my hands away. “Zoe, quit before you make me spill the lemonade.”

“Sorry, Momma.” I licked my lips, dreaming about how delectable the cookies were going to taste hitting my throat, and decided to earn some brownie points so I could sneak a couple before dinner was ready. I retrieved my laundry basket and headed toward the basement steps. “I’m going to go ahead and put my clothes on, and then maybe I can help you with the other cleaning like vacuuming or polishing the furniture.”

My mother walked over to me, wiping her hand on the bib of her apron, and placed her right palm over my forehead, checking for a fever. “Is this my child?” she asked sarcastically.

I grimaced. “Yeah, Momma. I’m just trying to do my share around here.”

She gleamed at me. “Good, do me a favor before you go downstairs.” She took two glasses out of the cabinet and poured some lemonade in them. Then she put four cookies on a saucer and placed everything on a wooden tray. “Take this lemonade and cookies out to the garage for your daddy and Jason.”

“Jason? What the hell, I mean heck, is he doing over here?” I felt a sudden tension in the back of my neck, hotter under the collar than the pot of white potatoes my mother had simmering on the stove for dinner. “Why does he have to come over here all the time?”

“First of all, Miss Thing,” my mother scolded me, “Jason isn’t over hereall the time.Your daddy’s helping him build a go-cart.”

“A go-cart?” That did it! “I asked Daddy to help me build a tree house like fifty million times, and he hasn’t done it yet.”

“You asked your daddyonce,and he fully intends to do it, but the oak in the backyard needs some branches trimmed off it first before he can. The men are coming next weekend to cut them down, and then—” My mother glared at me, probably wondering why she was even bothering to try to explain. “Never mind all that. Just take this tray out there and then come in so you can do your laundry and vacuum.”

“What about some lemonade and cookies for me?” My bottom lip was poked out more than a set of 44DDD breasts.

“After you finish your chores, you can have some.”

I smacked my lips, reluctantly took the tray, and headed toward the small alcove off the kitchen leading to the garage. Why did I have to do chores while Jason got the special treatment like he was Shaka Zulu or some damn body?

As soon as I entered the garage, I was immediately jealous. There was my daddy, shooting the breeze with Jason and going over the diagrams for building the gocart they had halfway put together on the workbench attached to the back wall. They were so busy bonding, they didn’t even notice me come in at first.

“Mr. Wallace, I really appreciate you helping me out like this. My daddy’s always working, and I never thought I’d have it done in time for the Cub Scout Derby next week.” What an ass kisser!

My daddy patted Jason on the head like he was a Doberman pinscher, which he kind of resembled, I might add. “Not a problem, Jason. I love working with my hands. In fact, within the next couple of weeks I’m going to start on Zoe’s tree house. Maybe you could help me out and when it’s done, you can hang out in there with Zoe sometimes.”

“That sounds great!” I could see Jason’s profile, and from the side he looked completely toothless, since he had four teeth coming in at the same time.

“Not hardly,” I interjected, letting my presence be known. “Once my tree house is done, it’s for me and my friends. You’re not even my friend.”

“Zoe, what you got there?” My daddy attempted to change the subject before I had to beat Jason’s little ass again.

“Some lemonade and cookies, Daddy.” I walked over and sat the tray on the hood of my daddy’s silver Buick Century. “Momma told me to bring them out for you and Alf.”

“Alf? I got your Alf, girl!”

Jason really wanted me to open another can of whupass.“Yes, Alf as in orange alien.” I looked him right in his beady eyes. “Dang, boy, you look messed up with all those missing teeth.” He smirked at me and rolled his eyes, so I added, “What’s that on your face? A pimple or a golf ball?”

Before Jason could make a comeback effort, my daddy jumped all up in the mix, trying to protect the mongoose. “That’s enough, Zoe. Don’t be disrespectful to company!”

“Company? Daddy, that nucca’s always over here. Why do you have to take his side every time?”

My daddy laughed. I failed to see anything humorous. “You know, the way you two go at it reminds me of your mother and I when we were younger.”

I analyzed the statement, recalling the stories of how my parents met when they were children, grew up together, and eventually married.“Ewwwww, that’s sick, Daddy!Jason and I are nothing like you and Momma. I can’t stand his ass, I mean behind.”

My daddy curled his mouth up at my slip of the tongue. “Yeah, I know you meant behind.” Jason grinned at me, glad to see me being chastised.

“What you looking at, fool?”

He glanced from my head to my feet and back up. “Nothing much. That’s for sure.”

My daddy laughed all over again. “Uh-huh, I can see it now. The two of you will probably end up married, just like your momma and I, with two or three kids and a house similar to this one.”

“Daddy, I don’t mean you no harm.” I just had to correct-him, because he was obviously hallucinating. “But before I marry that cross between a gorilla and a skunk, I will run away and become a nun.”

“Hahahahahahaha.” Jason chuckled like I had just said something hilarious, but I was dead serious. “Girl, you know you ain’t going to join no convention!”

“Convention?”I pointed my finger at him. “You’re so stupid. It’sconvent,dummy!” With that, I turned around and ran into the house to inform my mother about Jason’s stupidity quotient. “Momma, guess what the stupid nucca just said!” That’s how I first met Jason Reynard! That’s how I first met my husband!

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