Excerpt from the forthcoming release HONEY BUN
Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
He was almost nineteen, a legal adult in New Jersey but still a kid in the eyes of many, but Sharon’s mother had always called him Mr. Reynolds. It was kind of their thing, a private joke, though Troy didn’t know what the thing or joke was. For Mrs. Douglas to call him by his first name now meant the joke was over and she was being serious.
He’d been waiting in the Douglas’ living room for nearly an hour while Mrs. Douglas and her friends played cards in the kitchen. When he arrived Mrs. Douglas told him Sharon would be right back (though she didn’t say where she was) and told him to have a seat. Since Sharon was expecting him to come over he’d figured waiting almost an hour was long enough.
He got up from the sofa, and with some sixth sense that maybe only mothers had Mrs. Douglas knew he was leaving and came to stand in front of him at the front door. That’s when she’d called him Troy.
Yeah, something was wrong. Troy had no doubt it had something to do with that dude named Gary. Gary, as in Sharon’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her one-year old son. Gary, who two months before he’d met Sharon had broken up with her and moved to Brooklyn; Gary, who two months after he and Sharon had been together came back to town; Gary, who Sharon told him she would only see when he wanted to see his son Greggie, and whom she would never see alone.
He would have bet a paycheck that Gary was the reason Mrs. Douglas was blocking him from leaving her house and had called him by his first name for the first time.
As if to put an exclamation point on his thought, over Mrs. Douglas’ shoulder Troy saw headlights turn off the street into the Douglas driveway, stopping behind his Roadrunner. Mrs. Douglas stood aside, and they watched together as the front passenger door of the car opened. The car’s dome light brightened the inside of the vehicle and they saw Sharon, holding her baby son, slide out of the car.
The dude behind the wheel was looking their way. Troy had never seen him before but he would have bet another paycheck that that was Gary.
Gary was reversing out of the driveway almost before Sharon closed the passenger door. If he was scared and trying to get away Troy saw no reason for it. He didn’t have a problem with Gary. Dudes do what they do. Dudes were always trying to get the girl. It was up to the girl to stay straight with the dude she was with. A cat couldn’t get the girl unless she wanted him to get her. So the responsibility was on her.
Mrs. Douglas flipped on the porch light. If Sharon being out with Gary wasn’t already evidence enough, the guilty worry widening her eyes as she hurried up the walkway sealed the deal.
Mrs. Douglas squeezed his arm. Troy looked from Sharon to her in time to catch the plea for patience in her eyes just before she hurried back to the kitchen to let him deal with her daughter.
Troy opened the storm door and held it for Sharon. With her worried eyes on him she stepped in with her little boy in her arms. Her eyes widened more when rather than close the door after her he stepped out onto the porch.
“Where are you going?” Sharon asked. Her voice trembled, as if she might cry. Troy was too mad to care.
“You knew I was coming over, and what time,” he said. “Guess you had better things to do.”
“I didn’t do anything, I swear,” Sharon said. “You know I don’t do anything in front of Greggie.”
Troy knew from experience that Sharon didn’t have sex around her son. At least she didn’t with him. Would she feel different about doing it with the kid’s father? And even if she didn’t do it in front of her son, that still left a lot on the table. All they’d needed was a blanket to hide wandering hands.
“I’ll see you,” Troy said, and immediately regretted saying it. The way he was feeling, this was going to be the first and last time he got played by a girl, even a girl a year older than him.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Sharon said. “Just let me leave Greggie with Mom and we can go, okay? Do you have money for a room? If you don’t I do.”
Sharon had never before been so up front about wanting to get down. Either she was desperate to get his mind off being mad, or she thought sex would turn him dumb and make everything all right—as if her giving him some pussy would make him forget she’d just been out with her ex-boyfriend.
The idea that she thought he could be calmed so easily made him madder. He turned away from her before he could say something that reflected his boiling temper. He was mad, but she was still a girl. He couldn’t get really nasty with her.
As he reached the porch steps Sharon said to his back, “Are you still coming to the cookout?”
Nice try, Troy thought.
Sharon’s mom was hosting a cookout on Memorial Day weekend. She’d invited him. She’d told him he was a part of the family—that he was like her son. Too bad her daughter was on the fence about how close they were and what he meant to her.
“I doubt it,” Troy said. He hopped off the porch and headed for his car.
By the time he reached his car the pain of his pending loss had punched its way into his chest, wrapped heavy fingers around his heart and begun a slow squeeze. The fingers tightened as he backed out of Sharon’s driveway and saw her silhouetted in her doorway, watching him.
He could stop. He could go back right now and the fist would let go of his heart before it squeezed too tight and killed him.
But going back meant giving up a part of himself. His pride. His dignity. Going back meant he was okay being the dog she kicked. It meant he was okay crawling back on his belly, hoping next time she would pet him instead of kicking him again.
By the time Troy reached the end of Sharon’s block he’d decided that not only wouldn’t he be her punk and crawl back to her, but he was going to make sure she never saw him again.
He had a plan, one that had been in the back of his mind almost since he’d graduated high school last year. What put his plan on hold was Sharon, though she didn’t know about his plan or how she’d altered it because he liked her, a lot.
Now she’d never know.
Troy liked to think about his future. He liked to envision how he wanted it to be, and how he would make it happen. Because of a girl he’d put his plan on hold. But now his plan was back in action.
He liked to envision his future. He didn’t have a clear picture of it, but he knew that a year from now his world would be different than anything he’d ever known.
It was early May.
Mapleton, North Carolina July 1975 Friday Night Sprouts Drive-In
“Girl, what you keep looking at the door for?” Lola asked.
“You know why she’s looking” Michele said. “She’s looking for her city boy, ain’t cha Mina?”
Mina looked away, trying to hide her smile. “Both a ya’ll need to shut up,” she said, knowing what her cousins were saying was true. She was so anxious to see Troy she felt like she was going to bust wide open.
She kept looking toward the door that opened onto the small lobby of Sprouts. The lobby served double duty as a take-out order station for fried chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried fish and chuck wagon sandwiches and assorted sides and beverages, to include beer and wine coolers. Beyond that space was the front door entrance.
“You gonna give him some?” Michele asked.
“I bet she already did,” Lola said.
Mina laughed to cover her embarrassment and her guilty thoughts. “Will ya’ll go dance or something and leave me alone? I ain’t fast like you heifers.”
Mina figured she spoke the truth. She knew Lola was doing it every chance she got with her boyfriend Wiley. They’d been going together for three years, every since their junior year in high school. And Michele, who was twenty-two, got an abortion over in Ahoskie last summer. Best everybody figured Otis Hanks would have been the daddy if she’d kept it.
Mina figured she wasn’t as bad as either of her cousins. She did it for the first time last year, with Ricky Hill, the night of her junior prom. But if she’d known he was messing with some girl up in Suffolk she never would have gave him nothing. She’d learned her lesson, though. She hadn’t done it since, not even on the night of her senior prom. She didn’t trust none of these lying fools any more.
But that was before Troy.
Troy came down from the city the first time last summer, and she didn’t think she’d ever seen a cuter boy in her life. All the girls were trying to talk to him. He seemed so shy though, which made him even cuter.
Troy was a year older than she was, so he was already out of school when he came down last summer. She’d seen him a couple of times, but before she got a chance to meet him he was gone back up north to New Jersey. So she was surprised and happy to see him back this past May, hanging out at the Tastee-Freeze with his cousin Lonnie.
This time she made sure she went up to him and said “Hi,” even though her mama always told her to let a man make the first move. But she couldn’t take a chance on waiting. If she didn’t get to him first some other girl would, that was for sure.
“So did you give him some yet?” Lola asked.
Mina figured it wouldn’t hurt to tell the truth about that. “Almost,” she said.
“Whatcha mean ‘almost’?” Michele asked. “Did you or didn’t you?”
Mina leaned over the table in the booth so nobody else would hear her. She cut her eyes around to see who might be looking their way. “He came to see me at the house last Tuesday,” she said as low as she could. “We were on the sofa, and he was kissing me with those soft lips of his. We was about to do it when Mama came home early from work ‘cause she had the cramps real bad.”
“Girl, whatcha mean, ‘almost’?” Michele asked again.
“Well, when we heard Mama pull up in the yard we had to move quick. By the time she got in the house Troy was sitting on the sofa watching TV, and I was standing at the sink washing dishes. But my panties was under the sofa cushion.”
“So ya’ll was doing it?” Lola asked, not keeping her voice down.
Mina shot a guilty glance around, hoping nobody heard big-mouthed Lola over the music. “Girl, don’t be so loud,” she snapped at her cousin. “No, we hadn’t got to it yet.”
“But he saw your pussy?” Lola asked.
“Well, if I said I had to put my drawers under the sofa pillow, what do you think?”
“Ooh, you little skank!” Michele laughed.
“Did you see his thing?” Lola asked.
Mina felt her face flush warm. She was glad it was dark in Sprouts. She tried her best not to grin, which made it impossible not to.
When she grinned both of her cousins leaned over the booth table. “Aw shit now! Was it big?” Lola demanded.
Unable not to smile Mina said, “Well…let me just say, if ya’ll ever see me walking on crutches, then you’ll know.”
“Damn it, I knew I shoulda jumped on his ass before you got to him,” Michele pouted.
“I thought you didn’t mess with niggas younger than you,” Lola said to Michele. Troy was nineteen, three years younger than Michele.
“Shit, there’s a first time for everything,” Michele said. “Especially if he’s swingin’ low.”
“Well, don’t even think about it,” Mina said. She took a sip of Strawberry Hill from a paper cup and told herself not to get mad—that Michele was just playing.
Lola laughed at her. “Girl, that boy got your nose open like a bull and you ain’t even got none yet. Look at you, sitting here staring at the door with your pussy just a jumpin’. I bet if Troy stood outside and whistled your pussy would holler back. Little eighteen year-old hussy.”
Mina didn’t say anything, mainly because what Lola said felt kind of true. She sure did like Troy.
Somebody played Cut The Cake by the Average White Band on the jukebox. June Bug Holloway sauntered over, trying to look cool as he approached their booth. “Come on give me this here dance Mina,” he said.
“I don’t feel like it,” Mina said. She liked to dance, and liked this song for sure, but she didn’t want to be dancing with somebody else when Troy came.
“Hell, I’ll dance with you,” Lola said to June Bug.
Mina watched Lola and June Bug doing the Bump while she kept one eye on the entrance. She imagined how jealous all the other girls here would be when Troy got here and they did that new dance from up north he’d taught her called the Hustle. She liked that dance because it was a kind of like a swing dance, but not like they did down here. She liked the way he held her hands when they did the Hustle.
“Maybe he didn’t get back from Raleigh,” Michele said.
“He said the bus would be here this afternoon,” Mina replied. “He’ll be here.”
“You like him for sure, huh?” Michele asked.
Now that that fool Lola wasn’t here Michele was more serious.
“Yeah, I do,” Mina said.
“So whatcha gonna do when he’s leaves for the service?”
Mina shrugged. She didn’t know what she was going to do. And she didn’t like thinking about it. Troy said that his recruiter told him it would probably be a few months before he had to go to basic training. Until then all she wanted to do was not think about him leaving, spend as much time with him as she could until then and let God take care of everything else.
But all that was down the road. Right now she couldn’t stand sitting still anymore. She got up and said to Michele, “I’m gonna go outside for a minute and get some fresh air.”
Michele smiled up at her. “Girl, standing out there looking ain’t gonna make him come no faster.”
Mina didn’t care. If she didn’t move she was going to scream or bust wide open.
As she walked past the dance floor June Bug yelled at her, “Damn girl, how you squeeze all them hind pots in them dungarees?”
Her face got warm again as other eyes turned her way. She’d squeezed into her new tight jeans on purpose. But not for these fools in here.