Chapter One

Stilettos strapped up my calves made my legs look likewhoa. My navel
was only visible with certain movements, and my dark blue skinnies were fitting just right - doing the guys in the club no justice. I was fresh out of a failed relationship with a punk named Sanchez so I was free to flaunt what I was blessed with. I had it all on display with abeige, brown and blue, spaghettistrapped top baring most of my caramel back. My hair was amber at the time with honey blonde highlights. It was pulled up with a few tresses touching my face and shoulders. Club H2O hadn·t seen the best of me; but they were about to. ´Uh-huh, whoa, shorty! Uh-huh, whoa, boo!µ The DJ·s chant echoed throughout the club as the bass pulsed through the crowd. His booth sat to the far right on the huge black stage in the back of the club. It had four large turntable stands with blue glass tanks filled with fizzing water lighting up the four sides of it. Drinks and hands in the air, everybody bounced back and forth as the multi colored LEDs shifted with the beat. All the guys barked at the pretty young thing that had just stepped offstage after competing for the ´Shake it Right Contest.µ She was number three on the list. I was up next. Best for last, I thought to myself as DJ Juan continued his chant along with the dudes in the crowd. Most females hated you afterbecause they·d lost their dates for the three minutes you were on stage. Only a few would reluctantly cheer, letting you know you did your thing. The Grand prize for this contest was free drinks, VIP for life, and a spot in Antonio Donavan·s video for his new single. I didn·t know who he was, but Anjie did. She said he was fine, but I wasn·t trying to be nobody·s video chick. I just liked doing my thing for the crowd·s enjoyment. And I was hoping there were fewer scrubs in VIP.With adrenaline pouring through my veins, I stepped up to the center of the stage and gave it all I had. Nobody besides me and Anj knew that I was only 17. My body had them all fooled. I was gyrating left and right, keeping up with the pulsating beat that the DJ selected for me. I won two other contests on the same stage, which made me the defending queen. I felt the music all through me as I took it down to the ground and came back up. No sweat. ´Oh!µ The crowd yelled and continued until the song played out. Moments later, I was throwing my hands above my head, smiling at my best friend, Anj as the crowd cheered the loudest for me. It was no sweat. ´Yeah, yeah! You did your thing, girl!µ Anjie shouted. She widened her eyes at the other girls who were stepping down off of the stage after the

unanimous vote. ´That is the hottie right there!µ She told them pointing to me on stage as they walked away mean-mugging her. The DJ spun a reggae beat and Antonio Donavan stepped onto the stage. ´Gal, you know just what to do to mek· me feel fine!µ he shouted. He wore an orange, brown, and white jersey with some brown jeans. He was pushing it though.His big belt buckle clanged against a weed-leaf-shaped pendant that dangled from his platinum chain.His dreads were straight. He would look good if he shaved that nappy beard. The ladies in the crowd went wild. He came dancing closer to me with acrown in hand. He reeked of alcohol. DJ Juan scratched the record and spun it again. ´Ladies and Gentleman, Antonio Donovan!!µ

´Hol· on, Hol· on, mahn,µ Antonio said. ´Miami has the finest women worl·wide!µ he shouted at the crowd·s approval. I felt his little seductive vibe as he stepped closer to me with a grin, and placed the crown on my head. ´Mek we go da-hnce, mek we go dance!µ he sang, circling me with bedroom eyes. I danced along with him as the ladies in the crowd screamed his name. Every beat drew him closer, and his tendency to touch what was not his made me glad that DJ Juan didn·t play the whole song.
´Don·t go too far, you hear, gal?µ Antonio said watching me as I exited stage right. ´He is so fine!µ Anjie went on about Antonio as we stepped into the VIP section of the club. ´He was all over you!µ I made a face. ´He·s alright.µ ´Dang, he was all over you!µ she repeated flipping her long, dark, wavy hair as she eyed a well-dressed guy walking by. She turned her attention back to me. ´You should give him your number.µ ´Ooh, you think so?µ I joked then waved a hand. ´Girl, by the way he was looking at me, I know he only wants one thing. And I·m no groupie. I don·t even own a reggae CD.µ She shook her head. ´I would give him my number and at least let him take me out a few times.µ ´That·s the difference between me and you Anj,µ I laughed. ´I·ve got scruples. I·m not interested in no playboy reggae singer.µ She sucked her teeth. ´Adios Mio,µ she muttered. She sounded more ghetto than Puerto Rican.

´Girl, if I hooked up with him, he·d make me miserable while I·d spend all of his money.µ

Beach strip witnessing, Sunday school, caroling in old folks homes, camping out in the boonies to get closer to God ² you name it - I·ve done it. Makes you wonder what I was doing on the VIP lists of three South Beach clubs and one in Cancun. I was born and raised in the church. In ninth grade, I was on the young women·s dance team. In tenth, I joined the praise and worship team. I worked in every ministry you can think of; but there was a beat pulsing through my system that didn·t quite fit the chorus of ´Have You Tried Jesus.µ Once I was a junior, I was feeling the need to express what was really going on inside of me. Daddy wasn·t having it. The first time he saw my style of dancing, he flipped out ² which brings me to the ten things I hate about me: I·m a preacher·s kid. Back when we were still in middle school, my little sister, Deyannaand I were practicing a dance step for a youth talent show in my room when Daddy walked in.

´What in the world was that?µ he asked. He was standing by my bedroom door with his bushy eyebrows furrowed and his reading glasses in hand. ´How would it look for the Pastor·s daughters to be dancing like that? You need to keep it holy young lady,µ He said looking at me. ´What?µ I asked him. ´We didn·t do anything bad.µ He walked further into my room and snatchedour practiceCD out of the player. ´What music is this? Who is Breeyon Isaacs?µ ´It·s Breyan Isaac, Daddy. It·s gospel,µ I answered. ´Rap?µ ´Uh, yeah.µ Dee was quiet. ´Rap ain·t gospel,µ said Daddy. ´Yes it is, Daddy. Just listen to it.µ ´Rapain·t gospel,µ he said again his bright skin turning red. ´And neither is that gyratin· you·re doing.µ ´What? I·m not gy-rat-in·!µ

´Hush!µ he said, getting more perturbed by the minute. ´Close your mouth before you get your behind in trouble. You two better come up with something else or you·re not dancing tonight,µhe said shaking his preaching finger at us. I glanced at Dee who still said nothing. ´Dang, Daddy, we·ve been practicing this for a month!µ Daddy gave me a warning glance, took my CD, and left the room. Dee got up and went into her room pouting with her arms folded. I followed angrily. ´Why didn·t you back me up? You know he·ll listen to you.µ She shrugged and dropped onto her bed. ´Uh! You always punk out when Daddy gets mad!µ ´Leave me alone. I didn·t want to dance any way.µ ´Yes you did.µ No I didn·t! She grabbed a pillow, balled it up and dropped her head on it. ´You make me sick, when you act like that,µ I breathed wanting to pull her hair. I pushed her pillow making her head flop then left her room. She got up and slammed the door behind me. That night, a group with half the talent won the contest. The dance that Dee and I threw together wasn·t enough. I was so angry, I could have fist fought my Dad. It wasn·t until years later that he realized Christian Hip Hop wasn·t a sin. But by that time, I had already had my taste of the nightlife.

The VIP area of H2O was straight. It was up one flight of stairs in the back of the club. The air was remarkably fresher. I walked onto the glass-enclosed balcony checking out the crowd as a hostess led me and Anj past half-dressed glass-pole dancers to our own table. ´Very Important Poles,µ Anjie said laughing. ´Indeed,µ I chuckled. ´Aye, Shawty,µ a voice called behind Anj and I. I spun around, ready to give some major attitude because I hated to be called ´Shortyµ ² let alone ´Shawty.µ I relaxed, when I saw who the culprit was. He was probably vacationing in Miami.On the latest episode of ´Making the Video,µ he said he

lived in Atlanta. He was brown-skinned with a baby face and a mouth loaded with gold. I kept my eyes on his neck, searching for the ´THUGGED OUTµ tattoo that I admired every time he was on TV. There it was peeking out of the collarof his blue, white, and green button-down.His dark blue boot-cut jeans were hot. His shoes - 310s ² he must be driving one of his fast cars or his motorcycles. ´Gleam, gleam,µ Anjie muttered, spotting his diamond cufflinks as the LEDs flashed yellow, causing them to sparkle. I shot her a glance in agreement. He was looking good. His outfit was a long way from the white tank tops he wore on TV. ´Come here, Ma,µ he said to me, walking me away from Anj. ´I gotta tell you, you did your thing,µ he said looking me over as the DJ spun one of Antonio·s slower cuts. ´Can I get your drink?µ He waved a hand for hisVIP hostess. ´Whatare you gon· have, Ma?µ I smiled. ´Something sweet and non-alcoholic ² I·m driving,µ I said looking over at Anjie who shamelessly stepped towards us. She didn·t want to miss a thing. ´Responsible too, huh?µ he said as though he were older than me. He had to be my age, or just a year or two older - not old enough to call me ´responsible.µWho does he think he is? He lifted his glass to the hostess. ´Get me another one of these,µ he said pointing to it. ´And bring this lovely lady a virgin mango-strawberry smoothie.µ The hostess left us alone as Ray eyed me. ´Tell me somethin·,µ he said clasping his hands together which made his big watch and bracelet collide. Why don·t you let me get your number so we can hook upsome time?µ His bright eyes shifted, giving away his friends who were rooting him on from a table in the corner. I gave Anjie a mischievous smile. I knew he was expecting me to fall all over myself like a groupie. ´So« where you gon· take me, playa?µ I asked stepping in closer, giving into the sensual beat throbbing in the background. He shrugged. ´Where you wanna go?µ I raised my eyebrows at Anj. Good come back. Quick too. I·m loving his ATL accent.´To the movies,µ I flirted, tilting my head to the side. ´Straight. I·ll take you wherever you wanna go.µ ´For real?µ I grinned, gently slapping his arm. ´Yeah,µ he answered.

´When?µ ´I·ll take you out tomorrow.µ I smirked. ´For real?µ I asked, again, humoring him. Handling the approach of a guy isn·t as easy as they think it is. When he says, ´Hey wus up?µ a lady has only a couple of moments to find out where he·s coming from, and ask herself a few questions like: Is he a player? A square? A control freak? Does he have money? A car?A baby·s mama? Is he going to cuss me out if I say no? Should I give him my number or will he just waste my time? I knew this had a car, I mean carz, because he was always showing them off on TV. And he was definitely more of a player than a square. He didn·t strike me as a control freak. I wasn·t into that ² Anj was. Most of her boyfriends were hotheads. She told me that before she moved to west palm, she dated some overbearing church boy who made her fast once a week, and the latest was Ahmar. He thought he was the bomb. He wasn·t. She met him at some club one night while I stayed home³because if I was with her, I·d a told him to take a walk - a short one - off of a cliff. Her experiences were exactly why I never dealt with cats I met in a club ² unless I just wanted to hang out ² and why I refused all church boys³ ¶cause I was never the one to go on a fast. ´What·s your name?µ I asked, teasing my celebrity friend a bit. ´Raymond,µ he answered, enjoying my cheekiness. I was glad he didn·t try me by giving me his stage name. I licked my lips and gave him a smile he wouldn·t forget. ´I·m just playing,µ I sang. ´I know who you are. But«µ I shrugged. ´I don·t know« I shouldn·t give you my number.µ A streak of surprise came over his face. Guys hate being let down ² especially in front of their friends. I took it easy on him. ´I appreciate you coming over here and I like the way you approached me,µ I sang, tugging on his crisp shirt collar.´But I·m seeing somebody right now.µ Anjie gasped. ´Don·t get me wrong, you are tempting,µ I said moving in even closer, hoping he hadn·t heard Anj embarrassing me. ´And you did order me the right drink; but « I think I·ll stay true to my man.µ He shot me a smile. ´I hear you, Ma.µ I leaned in and gave him a hug. ´It was nice tomeet you though, Raymond.µ

He laughed, giving me a good squeeze in return. ´Yeah,µ He said looking me over from head to toe. ´Oh, my God!µ I heard Anj say under her breath. ´That·s cool, Ma,µ Ray said. He pulled my drink off of the hostess· tray and handed it to me. ´You should be true to ya man. I feel you. I would want you to stay true to me if I was your man. But if I see you without him again, I·m definitely going to step to ya,µ he said, with smiling eyes. He slipped me a dark red business card with a replica of his ´Thugged Outµ tattoo on it and licked his dark lips. ´Call me when he run out of money.µ He flashed a mischievous gold grin and walked away. I turned toward Anj who had been sticking me in the back with her fingernail. ´What?µ ´Why you ain·t givehim your number?µ ´Didn·t want to. I·m staying single this summer,µ I said taking a few steps with her. She folded her arms scolding me with her eyes. ´What? He doesn·t even have any hair, Anj.µ She planted her hands on my shoulders and shook her head. ´No hair? He could grow that!µ She whistled. ´Lil· Ray? Hey! She·s changed her mind!µ ´Shhh! Shut up!µ I said pinching her arm. ´Ow!µ ´Stop embarrassing me.µ ´Meeka,µ she said slowly shaking her head as if she was about to say something worth listening to. ´You·ve dated guys with no hair« Meeka, we·re seniors! Don·t you know when you get a guy like that you don·t even have to go to college? And if you want to go, he·s got the loot to pay your tuition.That·s the kind of scholarship we need. I could be watching you on Hip Hop Wives by next year.µ I sat down at our table and took a long sip of my smoothie. It was the perfect blend of mango and strawberries. It was just enough to keep me from taking Anjie seriously. ´So you·re my pimp now. You know, I·ve been looking for a good one.µ

She sucked her teeth. ´Least you wouldn·t be broke.µ ´I·m going to ignore that,µ I said peering through the glass wall at the stage below. Antonio Donovan was still serenading the crowd. Whatever he was singing down there had the whole crowd whirling and wriggling themselves around each other on the dance floor. ´I would·ve at least let Lil· Ray take me out a couple times!µ Anjwhined, loud enough for Ray and his friends to hear her. ´Shoot, even if he don·t live down here, he can come down whenever he wants.µ ´Would you please shut up?µ I said, glancing over her shoulder at Ray·s table. She pointed at me. ´Oh, I know what it is. You·ve got something secretive going on.µ She frowned. ´It·s not Sanchez is it? You shouldn·t keep secrets from your best friend, TaMeeka.µ ´Just because Ray is a celebrity doesn·t make me want him,µ I said discreetly. ´Now stop embarrassing me.µ ´I·m going to give him my number then, kay?µ I rolled my eyes at her.

Anj and I hit it off as soon as we met the year before. She and her family, the Diaz·s moved to West Palm from Miami. Daddy was impressed with her parents· music during a worship conference,so as soon as he got the chance, he asked them to lead the choir at our church. Their music was different from what our church was used to; but it was cool.We needed something different.On their first Sunday at our church, Anjie·s older brother, sang just before Daddy got up to preach. It was miles away from the choir·s rendition of my most un-favorite song of the year: ´Pay Day is Coming After While.µ He sat at the keyboard. ´I heard he lived a good life. I heard he lived it right«,µ he began smoothly. He had a short-on-the-sides andcurly-on-top dark brown froand his sideburns came down into a perfectly tapered beard. He sported some black slacks and a crisp white cotton shirt with a spread collar lying out over the collar of his black sports jacket. He was flawless as he sat playing the keyboard singing his gospel remix of ´Killing Me softly.µI didn·t know whether to wave my hand or throw a handkerchief and shout, ´Sang that song, boy!µ I glanced down at myself discreetly thanking God I wore something appealing. I was sure we would meet after service.

´You·re healing me softly-ee with your song« changing my whole li«fe with your word« healing me softly« with your love«µ No he didn·t put the Al B. Sure spin on that last note. By the time he got to the ´oh·s,µ I was floored. Dee was sitting beside me with a smirk on her face when he ended with a ´Hallelujah.µ She passed me a note that read: ´You know you·re a ghetto Christian when you remix secular songs and end praying in tongues like you feel Jesus.µ ´He was wrong for that,µ I wrote back to her. Daddy stood tall behind the podium wearing his black and silver robe. ´Wow, brother Angel. That was lovely,µ he said. Perfect name. ´You know saints,µ Daddy began. ´God is«. the Healer.µ Dee looked at me and smirked again. Angel had changed Daddy·s whole message. ´Amen,µ she said, trying not to giggle. The South Florida sun had to be at it·s hottest for the day when church let out. Dee and I walked out to Daddy·s car to cool it off a few moments beforeMa came out of the church. She was having the Diaz·s over for dinner that afternoon, so she was trying to get back home to the turkey she left slow-roasting in the oven without sweating out her up-do. ´Ladies,µ Daddy called pulling off his suit jacket to drape it over his arm. ´This is the fine young man that sang this morning. Angel, this is my lovely wife, Valerie, and my two daughters, Deyanna ² who will one day run our church day care and TaMeeka ² who will run the business and finance side of the ministry.µ Why did he have to introduce me like that? I looked Angel over as he greeted Ma with a kiss on the cheek. Finer up close. He greeted Dee with a ´Hello, nice to meet you,µ then took my extended hand with his hot, slender hand and said, ´How you doin·?µ a bit slower as Daddy turned away to talk with a few of the other members. Our eyes locked for a moment.We both knew we·d be friends. ´Have you all met my sister?µ he asked, releasing my hand before Daddy turned back around. ´No,we haven·t,µ Ma answered, swaying his attention from me. His sister walked toward us with a smile. ´Hello, I·m Anjie,µ she said politely. She hugged ma, then Dee, then me. ´Nice to meet you, Anjie,µ Ma said. ´Are you joining your parents at our house this afternoon? The invitation is to the whole family.µ ´Great. I·ll be there,µ Anjie said with a sweet smile. ´Thank you so much.µ Game recognized game at that very moment.

´The Diaz·s are an answer to prayer, baby,µ Daddy said to Ma on our way home from church that day. ´And their children are anointed, too.µ Ma smirked at us in the back seat. ´I know you·re not talkin· about their pimp of praise and worship son?µ She laughed, looking back and forth between Dee and I. ´Y·all saw how he kissed me on the cheek?µ Dee cracked up. ´Daddy, you know how you can tell a ghetto Christian?µ Daddy fell for it. ´How?µ ´When he changes the words of a secular song and sings it to Jesus,µ she said joking. Ma slapped her thigh and laughed. ´Now see, you went with the Holy Ghost on that one, Dee.µ ´Stop it, honey,µ Daddy said. ´That boy sang well today.µ Ma·s eyebrows shot up. ´Well, he was checking out your daughter.µ ´Who? Meeka? Any young man would. See honey, you never give people a chance!µ Daddy said, shaking his head. ´You got to stop being suspicious of people.µ Ma grinned looking at us from the corner of her eye. Daddy called it ´suspicion.µ She called it ´discernment,µ and she was usually right.