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Leslie

A Novel
By Omar Tyree

Read an Excerpt

The Chocolate Crew

New Orleans, Louisiana. The view of a handheld video camera widened. The date on the small view screen read THURS JAN 11-01. The color was vivid and clear with the sun still up at 3:36 P.M. The picture enlarged to capture the full front view of the light-blue-painted two-story house. The paint job was bright and striking, with white trim that outlined the windows, the roof, and the one-car garage. There were three new wooden steps that were still unpainted, which led to a light-blue-and-white front porch. Four plastic white chairs sat out on the porch for lounging. And a white screen door shielded the heavy, light blue front door, which led into the house.

"This is our home, sweet home, or at least for the meantime."

The camera zoomed in on the pleasant brown face of a college girl. Her hair was done in tight shoulder-length braids. She spoke right into the lens of the camera with poise and confidence as the focus locked in and followed her.

"Okay, that's the outside. Now we'll walk inside to meet my girls. They're also my housemates."

The girl smiled wide for the camera with bright white teeth and smooth skin.

"We call ourselves 'the chocolate crew' because we're all chocolate brown. But it's not like we planned it that way, like we had color favoritism or anything. That's just how it happened.

"But anyway, let's walk inside..."

The lens zoomed in as the camera moved forward and followed her through the front door. The view widened again inside the living room. The room had a plain white paint job, with no artwork or family portraits on the walls. It was a rented student house with a marble fireplace and shiny hardwood floors that were covered by large Oriental rugs. Two girls sat on the sofa to the left, with a third girl sitting inside the dining room that was straight ahead.

"Okay, let me introduce myself first, since I'm giving the tour here," the host in braids spoke into the camera. She was excited and straightforward with her introduction.

"My name is Bridget Chancellor, and I'm from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I came here to Dillard University to enroll in the nursing program while experiencing the city of New Orleans."

"It's N'awlins, girl. Not New Or-leans. You don't know that by now? You've been here over a year already. Get that proper shit out ya' voice."

The camera angled left to the two girls who sat on the sofa. The first one, who was closest to the camera, was plump, with short pressed hair that was curled at the edges. She hid her face to laugh when the bright light of the camera focused on her.

The second girl, who had interrupted Bridget, wore a black bandanna around her head, with twisted hair that poked out in twenty different directions. She had all of the mouth in the world, and she hid it from no one.

Bridget grinned and said, "That's Yula Frederick and Ayanna Timber."

The camera zoomed in on Ayanna Timber, with the twisted hair and loud mouth. She responded accordingly, with her hands swaying, head bobbing, and mouth running to her own beat.

"Yeah, I'm the A-to-the-Y-A-double-N-A, and if you wants to play, then don't swing my way, 'cause I'll send you to a grave like a thug from the boulevard for trying to act hard. So don't pull my card unless you're ready to go, blow for blow, flow for flow, and now you know.

"So who you wanna step to with your weak-ass crew, it ain't the A-to-the-T from the chocolate girl crew, you'll get your ass spiced up like a Leslie stew."

Laughter filled the room, including a grin from the fourth housemate, who sat alone in the dining room, before Bridget took control of the camera again.

"Anyway, Ayanna's from Houston -- "

"The southwest si-i-ide!" Ayanna hollered.

" -- and I forgot what she's supposed to be studying because she changed her major three times already," Bridget continued.

Ayanna said, "It's sociology."

"Whatever," Bridget said. "You need to keep your mind on your work instead of your rapping."

"Shit, B, you need to keep your mind off your little Creole boyfriend who be over here every other night."

The camera angled left and right to keep up with their rapid conversation. When the view stopped on Bridget, she looked embarrassed. Ayanna was giving unscripted information.

Bridget said, "Well, at least I still get my work done. And he doesn't call himself a Creole."

She faced the camera to explain things further. "Um, Ayanna didn't mean B like in, you know, a B or anything like that. She just meant it, like, B for Bridget."

Laughter filled the room again.

Ayanna said, "Girl, stop trying to explain everything. You need to be a damn anthropologist or something with the way you always try to explain shit. Some things ain't meant to be explained."

"And some words are not meant to be used all the time," Bridget responded. "Well, anyway," she said, moving on, "Yula Frederick is from Mobile, Alabama, and she's a nursing major like I am. That's how we met in our first semester, freshman year."

"Why don't you shut up a minute and let Yula introduce herself?" Ayanna snapped.

Bridget sighed and didn't say another word. What use was it? Ayanna was unruly. She was a disruptive force, where Bridget was raised on civility.

The camera zoomed in and focused on Yula's wide frame while she sat on the sofa. She watched it apprehensively. Then she dropped her reservations. She said, "Well, you know, we're the chocolate girl crew or whatever, but it's not just because we're brown; it's also because we're tasty."

They laughed again. The camera zoomed out and focused on the fourth housemate, sitting alone at the dining room table. She was doing homework. She looked up from her book and shook her head, above the playfulness.

The camera angled back to Yula. She said, "I can't speak for everyone else, but I know I gets mines." Yula had no shame, and she liked to shock people, like at that moment.

Bridget stopped the tone of the conversation. "No one asked you that, Yula. You don't have to share that. I mean, keep some decency."

Ayanna said, "Girl, she can say she gets her man if she wants to. What's wrong with that? I know I get mine."

"Yeah, you hang out with enough of them," Bridget responded.

Ayanna frowned and said, "Bridget, don't try to act like you don't be gettin' yours. Don't even front for the camera like that. Be real about it."

Yula agreed with Ayanna. "I know. She's trying to be all Goody Two-shoes up in here."

Finally, the fourth housemate spoke up from the dining room table. "Y'all all in here tellin' y'all business. You don't even know what she's gonna do with this stuff."

"That's what I'm trying to say," Bridget added.

"It's a documentary on the life of college students, right?" Yula asked.

Bridget said, "Yeah, but still..."

"A documentary for who?" the fourth housemate questioned.

The camera zoomed in on her dark brown face of symmetry. Her eyes, nose, lips, and chin were all defined in smooth arcs and were lined up perfectly. Her long, straight black hair was pulled back in a ponytail and held in place with a red scrunchie.

Bridget said, "That's Leslie Beaudet. She's from New Orleans, and she tells us what time it is down here. Go ahead, Leslie, say something for the camera."

The camera didn't budge from her while she sat calmly at the table. It zoomed in closer to her. Leslie's face filled up the screen. The stillness of her eyes was just as perfect as everything else about her. They peered straight ahead with serious intent.

Leslie asked them, "What do you want me to say?"

"Say anything," Ayanna told her. "Tell us something extra about N'aw-lins. Talk about that voodoo shit down here. Speak in French, L. Do anything, girl. Anything!"

Everyone laughed but Leslie. There was no playfulness left in her. She was mature beyond her years, and the calm focus of her eyes on the camera told you everything...and nothing.

She turned from the camera and declined to speak, with a simple shake of her head and a hum, "Mmmpt mmm." And that was it.

"Come on, Leslie, just tell us how you like to cook, and about your aspirations in school and stuff," Bridget complained in the background.

The camera refused to move from Leslie. It loved her stillness, the shine of her long black hair, and the value of her sparse movements. Nothing was wasted with her. And not another word was spoken from her mouth.

Bridget apologized to her camera-holding friend when they walked outside together.

"I'm sorry about that, Kaiyah. I mean, Leslie knew what we were doing. She even agreed to be here for it."

The sunlight had faded by the time they had all told their individual stories. All except for Leslie, who continued to listen while doing her homework.

Kaiyah asked, "Is she usually tight on conversation like that?" She was a tall, medium-brown girl wearing a green-and-white sweatshirt from Tulane University.

Bridget nodded. "I'm afraid so. But sometimes she talks. I mean, we couldn't have become friends without it, right?" She forced herself to grin. "I mean, she'll come around. She just needs to be comfortable in front of the camera, that's all."

Kaiyah returned her nod. "Well, as long as she keeps it real with herself. You don't want her to act outside of herself. Documentaries are supposed to capture people just how they are in everyday situations. So she did good by just being herself."

Bridget asked, "Well, do you think they'll still decide to use us in the documentary?"

Kaiyah couldn't promise her anything. Even the question bothered her. She liked the chocolate crew. They would have added the needed flavor to the documentary of college students that she and a handful of Tulane classmates were working on. However, Kaiyah also understood the racial politics of America. Blacks were often not included in popular American culture, and she didn't want to set Bridget and her housemates up for a letdown.

Kaiyah took the safe road. She said, "Well, we'll have to wait and see. I mean, since you guys all live here in the same house, that would make it easier for us to stay in contact and film all of you."

"That's what I'm saying. We would be perfect for it, like MTV's The Real World, right?" Bridget joked.

Kaiyah smiled, but she still made no promises. "I'll see what happens and call you."

Bridget sighed. It was out of her hands. She would have to be patient and await the outcome. She refused to hide her disappointment from her friends when she reentered the house.

"Oh well, now we have to just wait and see," she told them in dejection. Bridget looked forward to her college life being documented. She wanted to stand out and be special.

Yula looked at Ayanna, and Ayanna looked over at Leslie. Leslie looked up from her work again but didn't comment. No one wanted to blame her, but they all thought about it. They all wanted to be special and to stand out. Who didn't? Maybe it would have been best if Leslie had not been home and they had left her out. However, Bridget remained optimistic. Leslie would come around. Besides, they couldn't come down on the New Orleans homegirl too hard if they still wanted to eat well. Leslie was the best cook in the house. She was the best cook that any of them had ever known, including their mothers and extended family members. Leslie could outright "throw down" with exotic meals. Cajun food. Creole food. Soul food. Haitian. You name it!

Ayanna broke the stale silence in the room and asked, "Well...what's for dinner tonight...Leslie?"

The room was filled with laughter again. Even Leslie chuckled at it from the table.

She said, "Don't worry about it, I'll hook it up like I always do."

"Yeah, and I don't even need the names," Ayanna joked. "I can't pronounce most of that shit anyway. Jambalaya. Etouffé. Whatever, just hook that shit up, L. I still love you."

Leslie had a joke herself. "Seven dollars a plate," she told them.

Ayanna stopped and looked at Bridget.

"You still giving her a discount on the rent for her cooking?"

Bridget looked embarrassed again. She looked at Leslie and shook her head in disgust.

Yula said, "Wait a minute, I can cook, too. What kind of discount do I get?"

Leslie said, "You can cook tonight then."

Ayanna frowned. "Oh no she can't. I'm too hungry tonight for that experimentation shit. I'll fuckin' go to Popeyes for all of that."

Yula said, "Don't even try it, Ayanna. My cooking is not that bad."

Leslie flashed an eye of reprimand at Bridget before she responded to Ayanna. "Popeyes cook some of the same stuff that I cook anyway. Maybe you should eat there every night."

Ayanna stopped the joking. She realized that Leslie was pissed about her big mouth.

She said, "Leslie, don't even get like that. I'm not sweatin' that rent thing. You deserve a break on the rent. I mean, you get most of the groceries."

"Well, why you bring it up then if you not sweatin' it?" Leslie asked her.

Ayanna felt trapped and guilty. She looked for a way out.

She said, "Well, Bridget told me about it. Maybe she got problems with it."

Bridget raised up her hands and closed her eyes. Ayanna's mouth was unbelievable!

Bridget said, "Ayanna, you are just too damned petty!"

"Whatever, as long as I eat tonight. I pay my damn rent. Or my mother pays it, 'cause I ain't got no money like that." She looked at Bridget and said, "But your father does. I don't know why you sweat any of us for real, Bridget. You know how hard college is on us."

Bridget snapped, "Ayanna, you knew how hard college was going to be on you financially before you ever met me. So don't even play that. That's just plain foul. And you know it."

Ayanna chuckled and said, "You can't blame a girl for trying."

Yula continued to feel left out of the argument.

"I can cook and buy groceries, too," she protested. "I need a damn break on the rent."

Leslie took a deep breath and let it all slide. She got back to her schoolwork.

Hot spices sprinkled into the simmering pot that Leslie stirred with a long wooden spoon that night. She stood in front of the stove inside the kitchen, wearing a full apron. She no longer needed to measure her ingredients. Her cooking had become a precise rhythm. Time and practice had made it perfect. As she cooked, she looked expectantly every few minutes or so at the white telephone that hung on the kitchen wall near the refrigerator.

Leslie could feel the phone before it would ring sometimes. Her ears could zone in on it before it made a sound. It would be another call from her family. They were always calling her. By age nineteen, in her sophomore year of college, she was used to it. Her family needed her. So she had learned to expect their calls while in the middle of anything.

As she watched the phone, anticipating its ring, she noticed the abused telephone cord that had been stretched out of shape, dangling almost to the floor, twisted and deranged, and twirling without reason. Yet they still managed to use it.

Leslie watched that phone cord bouncing up against the wall and wondered. What would her life be like if she had more control over it? Or perhaps...if she had control over others, so that she might unravel herself and break free from their grip. She wanted to fall to the ground and unshackle her feet from the past, so that she could run away and feel...alive again, like when she was younger. She wanted to be exempt of responsibility. But as she was, they still managed to use her -- her loyal stability, her levelheaded dignity, and her high regard for duty -- against herself, while they ignored her, the telephone cord stretched out of shape, dangling almost to the floor, twisted and deranged, and twirling without reason. Maybe she should have left and traveled far enough away from home to avoid the entanglement. If such a thing were even possible for a woman. Freedom from family and friends was sacrilege. A woman was the root of things, and Leslie felt every one of her roots. They were holding her down instead of allowing her a chance to grow and extend her branches toward heaven...and toward the sunshine. But instead of receiving a phone call from her family, Bridget snuck into the kitchen to apologize to Leslie for her indiscretions.

She placed her right hand on Leslie's shoulder. "I'm sorry about that, Lez."

Leslie brushed it off with a shrug. "That's all right." Only it wasn't. It was never all right. Leslie had always gotten the short end of the stick, and she had found a way to make do with it. But that didn't make it all right. Why did Bridget feel a need to express their private agreement to Ayanna in the first place?

"If you want me to pay the full rent, just tell me," Leslie commented. She remained focused on her pot and the spoon that stirred it.

Bridget apologized a second time in a lower tone. "Leslie, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I don't need you to pay the full rent. I mean...I understand your situation."

Leslie asked her curiously, "What situation?" She was unmoved by the apology and tired of its ritual. She didn't want anyone's pity. She wanted respect for all that she had done and would continue to do.

Bridget felt ashamed of her assumptions. She stammered and said, "Well, I...I mean..."

"You mean what? That I don't have as much money as you do?" Leslie asked her.

Bridget did not understand her situation. It was about more than just money. It was about having peace of mind. Bridget had peace of mind. And her father's income as a physician allowed her to be able to do things that Leslie could only dream about.

"Well, I'm starting over at zero, Leslie. It's not like it's my money," Bridget reasoned. "I mean, I'm using it right now to help all of us. And my father knows that. But I can't let it be like a free ride on me. We still have to work for it. Everybody has to work for it. That's what we go to school for."

"And I'm not working for it?" Leslie asked her, spoon in hand in her apron at the stove.

Bridget sighed and said, "How many times do I have to say that I'm sorry?"

"Until you remember not to do that shit again," Leslie told her. "Because you can't just buy my acceptance of an apology, you have to work for it."

Leslie turned away from her and went back to her cooking.

Bridget only looked and shook her head. She still didn't know how to figure Leslie out, but she never stopped trying. She wanted to be there for Leslie as a true friend whenever she would need it.

Leslie felt the stare on her back and added, "Dinner'll be ready in ten minutes."

Bridget responded with a nod. "Okay. And thanks for everything. I really appreciate all that you do, Leslie. And I mean that."

Leslie met her friend's eyes with hers and nodded back to her for a truce. However, when Bridget had left the kitchen, Leslie smiled to herself and thought about her words, "starting over at zero."

That girl don't know what "zero" means, Leslie thought to herself. Let me start at zero from her house.

When they all sat down at the dining room table to eat, Leslie felt good about the absence of her usual phone calls. She didn't let on to it, though. She held that small semblance of peace to herself and kept busy to lessen her anxiety about it. How long would it last?

"L, why don't you sit down and stop moving around so much?" Ayanna complained. She noticed Leslie's diligence around the table. She joked and said, "Let Y do some of that shit. She could use the exercise."

Bridget grimaced and shook her head from behind her plate at the table.

Yula said, "Don't pay her no mind, y'all. I don't even think about that girl. Because if she really bothered me, I would just toss her tomboy ass on the floor and just sit on her."

Bridget said, "She has no respect for anyone." At the same time, she thought to herself, Why is she even here with us?

Ayanna responded to Bridget's statement and thoughts on her.

"I mean, I love y'all and everything, I'm just keepin' it real. And I'm that nigga to say what needs to be said," she responded with candor.

Yula looked around the room and raised up her hands. "Well, there you go. That's why I don't pay her no mind. She's that nigga, and niggas will say anything out their mouth."

Bridget said, "But I thought that we were here in college to learn how not to be niggas, and bitches, and hoes, and all that other negative shit."

Ayanna's eyes popped open at the table from behind her own devoured plate of food.

She said, "Did you hear that shit, L? B just said 'niggas,' 'bitches,' 'hoes,' and 'shit,' all in the same sentence. Oh my God! I must be having a bad influence on this girl."

She continued joking and said, "Bridget, don't be like me. Okay? Be better than me. Be yourself. Okay? Because I don't want your father to disown you. That would fuck it up for all of us. I like this house. I really do."

The room filled with laughter again.

Ayanna added, "To be honest about it, though, B, you never was a nigga, you just a brown American. But you came to N'awlins to be around niggas, so don't even front. That's why you like me. I know you like me. 'Cause I'm raw like that with no seasoning. But see, Y and L know what being a nigga is all about. They know what I'm talking about. We know."

Leslie said, "Don't put me in that."

Yula agreed with her. "I know. She acts like it's a badge of honor or something, and it ain't. I came to college to get away from that nigga shit just like Bridget said."

"Well, how come y'all all didn't go to a white school then, since y'all want to get away from 'nigga shit' so much?" Ayanna asked them. When the response didn't come quickly enough, Ayanna concluded, "That's what I thought. Everybody's in here frontin' but me. I'm the only one keepin' it real."

Yula smiled and said, "I wanted to feel comfortable around other educated black people, but not niggas."

Leslie answered, "Those white schools cost too much anyway, unless you're on a full scholarship." Leslie was on a partial academic scholarship at Dillard, with off-campus employment and student loans. Ayanna and Yula were attending school on straight tuition, student loans, and work-study programs. And Bridget...was another story.

"So what's your excuse, B? Go ahead, spit it out," Ayanna told her. She knew that it wasn't a money thing with a doctor's daughter.

Bridget answered, "Like Yula said, to be around other educated black people."

"You could have gone to Xavier for that. You could have been down like Brandy over there at Xavier with your little Creole friend, Eugene. Why you choose Dillard?" Ayanna pressed her.

Bridget snapped, "Does it matter? Would you be better off if you never met me?"

Ayanna thought about it and came out grinning.

"Nah, girl, you my dog. I'm glad you came here," she responded with a chuckle.

Bridget said, "And I'm not your dog, Ayanna, I'm your girl. That sounds a lot better to me. Stop talking like these rapper guys so much. And stop sweating Eugene, too," she added. "You act like you're jealous."

Ayanna denied it. She said, "That boy ain't even my type."

Leslie smiled at it. Ayanna was lying. She was jealous of Eugene. Secretly, Leslie figured that Ayanna wanted her own light-skinned, wavy-haired friend. Ayanna wanted more than what she felt she deserved, and she envied Bridget for going for it. Leslie even wondered if her Houston friend would fall for her older brother, Pierre. He didn't have the light skin but he had the dark wavy hair. A head full of it.

Yula looked at Bridget and frowned at her choice of words.

She joked, "You're her girl, Bridget?"

Ayanna caught on to it and started laughing.

"Oh, I don't get down like that. I gotta have the wood after the tongue. The real wood."

Leslie laughed and shook her head. Ayanna was a trifling fool! But she was harmless, as long as you never took her too seriously. However, the self-assured remarks from Bridget kept Leslie on her guard, joke or no joke. Bridget understood that she was privileged, and she was secure in her wealth. Leslie envied that security. She had toiled every single day of her life to earn any and every thing that she had, and it was never secure. Yula coveted Bridget's slim, trim waistline, although she would never admit it. Yula had learned to live with what size she was given. So they all envied Bridget. Bridget could afford to be confident and optimistic. She was rich beyond income. She was rich in mind, body, and in spirit, the most important wealth.

"Anyway," Bridget told them, "I'm glad that we're all here with nowhere to go tonight, because I always wanted to play this thing with you guys."

She stood and rushed over to the coat closet. She pulled out a white bag from the bottom and hurried back to the dining room table, tugging out a brand-new Ouija board.

Yula took one look at it and said, "I know that ain't what I think it is."

Bridget smiled, all giddy about it. "Yeah, it's a wee-gee board," she confirmed.

Ayanna grinned and said, "Every time I see that word, I think, How come it's not pronounced ou-jah board, or just spelled differently?"

Leslie smiled and said, "O-u-i is pronounced we in French and it means 'yes.' And ja or gee, spelled j-e-u, means, like, a game. So it basically means a yes game, or an answer board." She began to clear their plates from the table and added, "It's like witchcraft, where you call out the spirits for answers."

"Is it anything like voodoo?" Ayanna asked.

Yula looked back and forth at them with large eyes.

Leslie continued to smile while shaking her head. "I don't know why you keep asking me about voodoo. I don't know much about that. You probably know more than I do, as much as you like to talk about it."

"I mean, it's just interesting to me, that's all," Ayanna explained. "And with you being from New Orleans and knowing French and Creole and everything, I just figured that you would know."

Leslie shook her head. "Well, I don't."

She had often asked her father about voodoo as a child, out of her own curiosity. And her father would never talk about it. But she had never asked her mother.

Bridget asked them all, "So is everyone willing to play it?" It was slightly after eight o'clock.

Leslie nodded her head and grabbed the last of the food to put away.

"I'm willing," she said, moving swiftly to the kitchen.

Ayanna said, "Yeah, count me in, girl."

But Yula was uninterested, and that was an understatement.

She said, "Aw, hell naw! I'm not playing that shit. Hell no!" she hollered.

Bridget opened up the box over the dining room table.

"Come on, Yula, it'll be fun."

Yula shut her eyes and refused to even look at the game.

Ayanna said, "Oh shit! You got a glow-in-the-dark one?"

Bridget said, "I figured it would be more fun to play it in the dark."

Yula started to get up and walk off, with her eyes still closed.

In the kitchen, Leslie shoved the leftover food into the refrigerator and tossed the dirty plates into soapy water in the sink to wash later. She began to pray that the phone didn't ring. She even thought of ignoring it if it did. She had some serious questions to ask the spirit world. She had never come face-to-face with an actual Ouija board before. She had only heard and read about it, along with palm readings, numerology, tarot cards, and everything else that was deemed mystical, including the often talked about voodoo.

Ayanna tried to keep Yula from leaving the room as Bridget read the instructions.

"Come on, Yula, stop acting stupid. It's only a damn game. That shit ain't real," Ayanna insisted while yanking Yula's arm.

Leslie sat and helped Bridget with the instructions while picking up the message indicator, a raised, triangular-shaped pointer with an open eye at the center. The Ouija board sat out under the dining room light to effect a strong glow while in the dark. It was labeled with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet in a downward arc, with the ten basic counting numbers from one to nine and then zero below. Above the alphabet, and in opposite corners of the board, were the answers YES and NO. And at the very bottom was the written message GOOD-BYE.

"So, this is supposed to point to something as we hold on to it?" Leslie asked Bridget, referring to the message indicator.

Bridget answered, "Yeah. But it looks more complicated than I thought. How are we supposed to actually spell stuff with it? That seems like it'll take a lot of time. And we only have thirty minutes until the glow starts to fade."

"I guess we start with simple words first," Leslie suggested. She smiled and said, "Maybe we'll ask it what kind of grades Ayanna will get this semester."

Ayanna yelled, "I heard that," while still struggling with Yula. "Come on, y'all, help me to get Yula back to the table. She's acting all paranoid and shit."

Yula said, "Girl, I'm not messin' with that witchcraft stuff. I know I didn't come to college for that. So y'all can just leave me the hell out of it!"

Leslie told Ayanna, "Let her go, then. We'll just ask it whether or not she'll be able to sleep tonight without having nightmares."

Everyone laughed but Yula. Yula froze in her stance, immobilized. Then, with a desperate heave, she freed herself from Ayanna's grip and flung her to the floor. The panic of fear had strengthened her.

She said, "That shit ain't funny, Leslie. It's not. I don't play with that kind of stuff. Y'all just need to leave that damn thing alone. I'm serious, y'all. Put that thing away."

Bridget smiled at her overzealous friend and paid her no mind. She was eager for a new experience, and Yula was acting childish about it. Yula reminded Bridget of far too many Southern stereotypes and slave films, where black actors and actresses responded to everything that moved. Their eyes would widen comically while they ran about in circles, hands raised to the sky, wearing ragged servants' dresses and farmers' overalls. And those embarrassing images of America's past perceptions of the "Negro" made Bridget more determined to ignore Yula's misguided fears. But how could she explain it to her friend without offending her?

As Bridget thought it over, Leslie glared at Yula from the table and asked her, "Why? What is this Ouija board gonna do to us that people can't?"

Good question. They all looked toward Yula for the answer.

"I don't know, I just don't want to fool with that thing," Yula answered.

Ayanna looked back to Leslie. Leslie seemed excited while in a game of willpower.

"Well, go to bed, then," she told Yula. "You wanna be afraid of things just because you've never experienced them before? Go to bed."

They waited again for Yula's response.

"There's gonna be a lot of things that you've never experienced before, Yula," Leslie told her. "You need to get over that shit. Just face it head-on. Be a woman about it. This here ain't nothing but a game. And we're all friends in here."

Leslie pointed with her right finger toward the front door. "But that shit out there," she continued, "is real. So what are you gonna run from out there? Or who are you gonna run from?"

Yula took a deep breath and calmed her nerves. "That's different, Leslie."

"How so?"

"I mean...like you said, that's real life. But I don't have to play with no game if I don't want to."

"Well, just say that, then, instead of acting all scary," Ayanna jumped in on her.

They all waited there for Yula. Would she step up and face her fears, or would she back down and crawl away to safety?

Yula took another look at Leslie and decided to defy her. She wasn't going to bed like some kid afraid of a damn game board. She was bigger than that. And she would prove it to them.

Yula flicked her head in defiance and said, "I'll play the damn game, then," and strutted back over to the dining room table to join them.

Leslie grinned, slyly. Yula had done exactly what she wanted.

Ayanna recognized the game and laughed to herself. I don't believe Yula fell for that shit, she thought to herself. That's the oldest trick in the book. She stupid!

Once they were all seated at the table and surrounding the Ouija board, Bridget took control again. After all, it was her idea. Bridget had all of the ideas, or most of them. She snidely considered herself to be the leader of the group.

She said, "Okay, the first question I want us to ask is if this thing really works or not, before we even take it seriously."

Ayanna chuckled and said, "Yeah, because it looks like a kiddie toy with those happy-faced moons on it."

Leslie said, "Wait a minute. Let me turn off all the lights."

Yula's heart damn near jumped in her throat. "You don't have to turn off all the lights, Leslie."

Ayanna started laughing again. Bridget chuckled at Yula herself. But Leslie went about her business with urgency. She clicked off the lights and returned quickly to the table.

They were all seated and ready to play the game of fate, questions, and answers. Yula composed herself, taking several deep breaths. The last thing in the world that she wanted was to put an evil spell on herself while in the middle of getting a college education, friends or no friends. Yula had always stayed away from getting too involved with things. She tried to make herself invisible, so that she could sneak her way into a nice life. But on occasion, she would appear and reveal something extra from deep down in her soul. Something that she had been holding back. So there she was, trying to be brave with her college friends, pushing herself to stick it out with them, and to test her fate with her foot placed heavy on the gas instead of selecting cruise control.

They were all gathered at the dining room table in New Orleans.

Bridget smiled, Ouija board set out in front of her, glowing lime green in the dark. She took a breath and said, "Well...okay...here we go."

Copyright © 2002 by Omar Tyree

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