Shauntae slammed down the phone. She hated, absolutely HATED Devon Wright. He had ruined her life in so many ways and this was the worst yet. First, he had kicked her out of his house when the child they had together was only six months old. Then he hadn’t married her like he had promised. But putting out an arrest warrant on her so she had to leave Atlanta? That was too much.
She had called to beg him to lift the warrant, but he wouldn’t even listen. He just said “no” without giving her a chance.
Shauntae’s door creaked open and her mother slid into her room. “So that’s what you been keeping from me, huh?”
“Why you sneaking around listening to my phone calls?” Shauntae sat up on the bed and folded her arms. She stared straight in her mama’s face.
Mama folded her arms and stared back. Funny that she wasn’t a very big woman, but something about the way she talked to and treated people always made her seem a foot taller than she really was.
The bedroom felt too small for the both of them. It looked like the many rooms Shauntae had grown up in, moving from housing project to housing project with her mother, sister, and brother. How in the world did she end up back under her mother’s roof? She swore when she left that she would never, EVER, come back. But here she was. Sleeping in a twin bed like she was a child.
Not only was she not a child, she was gonna have a child in about five months.
After a few minutes of staring each other down, Shauntae finally looked at the floor. Her mother sat on the chair opposite the bed. “You been here three months with a warrant out on you and ain’t said nothing?”
“It’s a Georgia warrant, Mama. Can’t nothing happen out here in California.”
“What you do?”
Shauntae knew she wasn’t showing no motherly concern. She was just nosy and liked drama.
“It ain’t important.”
“It is important. If I been harborin’ a fugitive, I got a right to know what she did. I needs to know if my life is in danger.” Mama chuckled. “And here I thought you was coming home because you missed me and wanted me to help you raise your child.”
They sat there in silence for a few moments. Shauntae knew her mother wouldn’t leave without knowing what happened. And the next thing out of her mouth would be how Shauntae had stayed there rent-free for three months and had been fed and provided for. She didn’t feel like having all that throwed up in her face, so she started trying to figure out how to tell the story.
“Me and Devon started having problems –”
“Started having problems? Y’all been having problems since before your child was born.”
Shauntae glared at her mother. “He got a girlfriend and things got worse.”
Mama laughed. “Ain’t that always the case? Another woman comes along and they get all tight in the pockets.”
“Yeah, and I lost any chance of ever making Devon marry me.”
“Shauntae, please. That man was never gon’ marry you. You shot too high with that one. Ain’t he a computer person or something like that? How you thank you was gon’ keep a educated man with that empty head of yours?”
Shauntae pressed her lips together. The last time she had cussed her mother out, things hadn’t ended well. She had found herself on the street at age seventeen, left to pick up the same habits she had grown up hating her mother for. Shauntae had sworn her life would never get so low that she had to hustle men to pay rent and eat. But she had ended up doing exactly that.
Her mother kept fussing. “I don’ told you don’t be looking for no smart, rich man to marry you. Give ‘em some good sex that keeps their pockets loose for as long as you can. If you do get pregnant by one, let it be a married one that you can blackmail for money because he don’t want his wife to know. That’s how you get set for life. But this dream you got of marrying somebody rich and smart to take care of you, you need to let that go. Like I been telling you for years…”
Shauntae zoned out on the sermon her mother had preached too many times. Mama was right, though. She shoulda never thought she could hold on to Devon Wright. When she first met him, she had planned to do him exactly like her mother had taught her.
She had seen Devon a few times in one of the many upscale bars where she went looking for sponsors. He was always drunk and she could tell he was dealing with some serious mess. Some woman had probably broke his heart and so he needed some sexual healing – which she was all too ready to give.
After the first time they hooked up, he was drunk every time she went to his house, half naked under a long, trench coat. He invited her into his bed without much conversation. She didn’t have to fake being smart or having some culture like she usually did.
The day she realized she was pregnant, she knew she had struck gold. Devon was a good man. He wouldn’t be like the many other guys that slid her money for a abortion. Plus, she had waited to tell Devon she was pregnant when it was too late to get a abortion legally. She showed up after disappearing for a few months and gave him the news. She didn’t make the usual threats she made when she told a guy she was pregnant. Even though he had bent over sucking air like she had punched him in the stomach, she knew Devon would do the right thing.
And he did. She left that day victorious, making plans to move in his house and start counting the days to her wedding.
Her mother stopped her sermon and interrupted Shauntae’s thoughts. “Wait a minute. Devon got a girlfriend? So y’all wasn’t messin’ around anymore?”
Shauntae sucked her teeth. “Devon hadn’t messed with me since I told him I was pregnant.”
Mama frowned. “But you was living with him for a while. Y’all wasn’t…”
Shauntae shook her head. When she’d moved into Devon’s house, she figured they’d still have good sex on a regular, but he didn’t touch her. She hadn’t had the good sense to know that was a sign of how things would end up.
“How a man gon’ live in the house with a woman and not have sex?” Mama asked.
“Like you said, he was educated.” Shauntae never told her mother that she “caught” Devon while he was drunk. Things changed after he was sober. “When I moved in, he wanted to talk all the time. Always wanted to know what I was thinking, what I thought about stuff that happened on the news and in politics and all sorts of stuff. And he was smart. And it didn’t take him long to realize that I wasn’t.” Shauntae had knew after their first conversation at the dinner table that she was in way over her head.
It wasn’t long before he would hardly speak to her. He would come home from work and watch TV or read or be on his computer. Which was fine with her. As long as she had a roof over her head and food to eat, it didn’t matter if he talked to her. In fact, it was easier not to have to try to sound intelligent or understand what in the world he was talking about.
He took her to her prenatal appointments and bought whatever she wanted for the baby. He bought some things for her too, but she didn’t push him too far. When she asked for too much, he would get salty with her.
The only time he was really nice to her was when she went into labor with Brianna. So nice, it surprised her. The whole time she was in the hospital, Shauntae pretended in her mind that Devon was always nice to her, paid attention to her and really cared about her.
“After a while, it got to the point where he couldn’t stand me, so he put me out.”
Shauntae didn’t tell the whole story. When they brought Brianna home from the hospital, Shauntae knew she wouldn’t make it. Brianna cried and wanted to eat every two hours. After a couple of weeks of having to get up and make bottles, Shauntae was mad she let her breasts dry up. It would have been easier to breastfeed in the middle of the night. But she didn’t want her titties all floppy. It was clear by then that Devon wasn’t going to marry her and she wouldn’t be able to catch a new man with saggy titties.
Brianna was always peeing and pooping and needing her diaper changed. Sometimes she cried and Shauntae couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. She couldn’t imagine why any woman would trap a man by having a baby because it was too much work. It woulda been easier to get a real job.
And then when Devon’s parents had came, she was completely busted. Devon was at work most of the day so couldn’t see how bad she was messing up. But Devon’s mama watched everything she did. She never said nothing, but there was this look in her eye that said she knew Shauntae wasn’t no good mama.
Shauntae wasn’t surprised when Devon’s parents said they was moving to Atlanta. She wasn’t surprised when Devon told her she had to get her own place when Brianna was six months old.
She was surprised Mama was still sitting in the chair waiting to hear more of the story. She never listened to or cared about Shauntae. The most she ever did was preach to her about how to catch a man.
“So even after you moved out and he was paying child support, he still wasn’t getting none?” Mama stared at her, perplexed. “But wait a minute, if you collecting child support, why you been acting all broke since you been out here? Where your check been going every month?”
Shauntae bit her lip. “I don’t get it no more.”
Her mother stood up, hands on her hips. “You lost your check? You carried a baby in your belly for nine months and raised it all those years and you ain’t got nothing to show for it?” Her mother paced around the tight room. “And you got a arrest warrant on you? Shauntae, what did you do?”
Shauntae sat there swinging her legs and biting her lip, like she was a little girl again. “Well, what had happened was, Brianna got sick –”
“My daughter.” Shauntae rolled her eyes. “Brianna got real bad sick with diabetes and I couldn’t take care of her by myself. The first time she stayed with me after she came home from the hospital, I messed things up and she had to go right back in the hospital. So Devon was scared for her to be with me. So I had to let her go live with him.”
“I can understand that,” Mama said. “You ain’t really mother material and a sick child ain’t easy to deal with. Especially with sugar. So that explains how you lost the child and the check, but what about the warrant?”
Shauntae wished she didn’t have to tell the rest. “My rent got behind so I needed money bad. Even though Devon said he was taking Brianna full time, the court papers still said I was supposed to get child support.”
“Wait a minute. You let the check go without going to court first? How you –”
“If you would stop interrupting me…” Shauntae stopped herself. She knew better than to raise her voice at her mama and wondered if at thirty-two, she was finally too old to get slapped. She didn’t want to find out, so she lowered her voice. “That’s why I did what I did. I needed some money, so I picked Brianna up from school and told him to get me my check and I would give her back to him.”
The next part was so bad, Shauntae didn’t want to say it out loud. “But I gave Brianna too much insulin and she got bad sick again and caught a seizure. The amalance came, but right after that, the cops showed up to take me away.”
Her mother frowned her question instead of interrupting.
Shauntae explained, “The first time Brianna got sick staying with me, it was because…I sorta kinda left her in the house alone and Devon found out about it. So he got me in trouble with this social worker who got me in trouble with the police.”
Mama got up and started pacing again.
“It wasn’t my fault. I was about to get kicked outta my apartment. I needed a new sponsor. I had to go.”
Mama’s pace slowed down a little. “Keep going.”
“The police came to get me while the amalance people was working on Brianna and I left. And came here.”
“That’s real low, Shauntae. Leaving your child sick like that.”
“What you expect me to do? Go to jail?”
“I never once lost none of y’all to the system and I never would done nothing low like that.”
“Oh yeah, you was a real good mama.” Shauntae rolled her eyes. “The best.”
Even though Mama was older, she still moved like she did when Shauntae was a little girl. Before she could blink, Mama was up in her face with her hand drawn back.
Shauntae stood up fast. “You gon’ slap your pregnant daughter?”
They stood facing each other for a few seconds until Mama finally put her arm down and went back to her chair. She gave Shauntae a look that said she was lower than dirt. “So whose baby is this?”
“His name is Gary. Gary Jackson.” Shauntae couldn’t help but smile thinking about him. Now that was a real man. He was a much better catch than Devon. Shauntae was disappointed the first time she had went to Devon’s house. He dressed like he was a serious baller, but his house was small and old and his furniture was cheap looking.
Gary had as much money as he looked like he had. Big pretty house, fancy Lexus, expensive suits. He was a baller for real. With him, she wouldn’t have to worry about nothing for the rest of her life.
“So what’s his story?” Mama sat on the edge of her seat like she was watching the latest episode of Single Ladies.
Shauntae didn’t want to hear all the mean things Mama would say if she told her Gary was waiting for her to come back to Georgia so they could get married.
Her phone rang. She looked down at the caller ID “It’s Gary. I need to take this.”
Mama didn’t move. “Why he calling you so late?”
“Mama, please get out. I need to take this call. And don’t be standing outside my door listening, either.”
Shauntae shook off her frustrations with Mama, Devon, and her whole situation so she could focus on her conversation with Gary Jackson. Even though her mama didn’t believe she could pull it off, she had to find a way to get this guy to marry her.