ABOUT THE BOOKWith their turbulent past firmly behind them, Belinda and her daughters are ready to live happily ever after. But before long new threats emerge and things spiral out of control as Belinda fights like hell to keep her teenagers on the straight and narrow. The tighter she pulls the reins the harder they rebel until secrecy, addiction, and wounds from the past send the Morrow girls hurling down unexpected paths.
EXCERPT FROM BLUE SKYWith their turbulent past firmly behind them, Belinda and her daughters are ready to live happily ever after. But before long new threats emerge and things spiral out of control as Belinda fights like hell to keep her teenagers on the straight and narrow. The tighter she pulls the reins the harder they rebel until secrecy, addiction, and wounds from the past send the Morrow girls hurling down unexpected paths.
My sisters and I were never alone with the woman we knew as Aunt Paula until the day my mama disappeared.
Aunt Paula sat at the kitchen table with her arm around Jackie, trying to explain why Mama had left us. "She'll be back. Everything'll be okay." She wound the ends of my sister's braids around her finger. Paula only had boys, so spending time with us was how she got her fill of pretty dresses, dolls, and braids. "Your mama will be back before you know it."
It failed as an explanation, but my sisters didn’t bothered to question her any further. They heard what they needed. Mama was coming back, and everything would be fine. So, I kept quiet.
In the morning, we went downstairs, expecting to see Mama there in her robe flipping pancakes. We found Paula instead, lining up four paper-bag lunches and smiling. Mama only ever packed us two lunches. One for Nikki, who like most sixth graders, brought her lunch, plus another bag for me and Jackie because we always ate together, and Jackie tended to forget if Mama trusted her with her own lunch. I started to point out Nat didn't need a cold lunch since kindergarteners ate hot lunches, but I decided against it.
"Here you girls go. Now, go learn something."
"Mama be here when we get back?” Jackie asked.
Aunt Paula smiled and nodded.
We raced home, convinced we were due a celebration because Mama had never been gone from us for longer than a few hours. Folks said she was overprotective, never wanting us to go to sleepovers and things. She liked having us close. Up the porch steps we ran, and Nikki took out her key to unlock the door. Silence met us in the foyer. No Mama. No Paula. Jackie took off running, calling out for her like Mama hid in the back somewhere.
“Mama not here?” Nat looked up at me.
Stunned, Nikki couldn't move to even close the door. She peeked over her shoulder at the outside world like maybe we shouldn't be alone in the house, like we might get in trouble.
"Times like this is why you got the key," I reminded her and locked the door behind us. "When Mama's at work. She’s at work is all.”
When Daddy moved out, Mama started working a lot. At first she worked the afternoon shift, but she got moved to the morning shift, so she could be home around the time we got out of school.
“She’ll be here soon.” I said.
So, we waited.
We got hungry, so Nikki made us a snack, and we waited some more.
Once suppertime came, Nikki thought we should surprise Mama by making it ourselves. She did most of the work, arguing with Jackie about where Mama kept things and how much of each ingredient was supposed to go in it. I kept watch from the window seat. At the first sight of her, I was gonna yell out, so my sisters would stop fighting and relax. Only, Mama didn't come home.
The next day we got up and did it all again. Only this time when school let out, the principal called us down to her office. Stacks of files and papers covered every inch of the desk with a few on the floor reaching knee-high. The principal was a burly woman with a high-pitched voice. She directed us to the empty chairs and in one long breath, laid out the problem at hand. Nobody answered when the school called our home phone, and the folks at Mama's job claimed she disappeared during her shift three days ago. Then she asked if we knew where Mama was. Asked if we had supervision at home.
"Yes. We're fine," I said.
But she didn't believe me. She said Nat had mentioned it to her teacher who told the secretary who told her.
"Mama must've gone to see somebody about a bike for us."
"Heziah," Jackie piped. Heziah was her answer to every unknown. Just the thought of him made her smile. She loved Mama's boyfriend the way I loved our daddy. "She gone to see Heziah, but she be back soon."
The principal shooed us out of the overcrowded office as she began to make a telephone call.
An hour later, a fiftyish woman in a navy blue suit showed up to take us home. She had two other women with her, both younger and trained to follow orders. They marched us up the stairs and into our bedrooms, lording over us while we each packed one bag a piece. One of the subordinates packed Nat's bag, which didn't sit well with Nikki since she thought she was the one in charge.
I had other concerns. "Where we going? You taking us to our Mama?"
"No. You're going to stay somewhere else for now."
"You'll find out soon enough."
"I'm not going nowhere until my mama get home!" Jackie said, glaring at the woman in defiance. Only one person in our family was as stubborn as Jackie. When my sister put her foot down, she meant it.
"Me neither," Nat said, squeezing tight to her stuffed teddy bear.
"Young lady, I didn't give you a choice. Now...let's go."
"You can't make me! You not my mama."
The front door opened and the standoff ended. Daddy strolled into the foyer, twirling his key around his finger. I was so happy I was about ready to burst. Flew down the stairs and into his bulging arms. Folks said his strength was legendary, and I knew he'd throw down before letting them take us anywhere.
"I missed you, Daddy!"
"Missed you too, baby girl. Where's your Mama?"
The old woman and her sidekicks joined us downstairs. They were still holding on to our bags. I smiled thinking about what was in store for the DCFS woman and her friends. Nobody messed with my daddy.
"Mr. Morrow, hello. I'm Judith Gibson. I work for the Department of Children and Family Services."
"What you want?"
"Do you live in the home?"
"Not at the moment, I don't." His gaze traveled over to Jackie, who dragged the toe of her shoe along a crack in the floor boards. "But I will be soon. Why?"
"We're taking temporary custody of the girls. Now, we don't want to make this harder on them, so please..."
"N'all. They my kids. I'll take 'em until they Mama get home from work."
"She not at work! She gone to get Heziah!" Jackie said. "He’s our daddy now! You ain't nothing!"
Daddy's jaw twitched, his chest swelled, and his mouth spat, "You wanna take one of 'em? Take that one. The rest of 'em comin' with me."
"Daddy, where you live?" Nikki whispered.
But his address didn't matter. The social worker had made up her mind before he stepped over the threshold. She took out some fancy document from her purse and held out the sheet of paper, proving we didn't belong to him no more.
He read it over and said, "She lying! I ain't never did nothing like this here...this here letter say! She the one be neglecting them! Where she is? How she gonna say I ain't a fit parent?"
The woman gave a little nod, and one of the younger women disappeared into the kitchen. Daddy didn't mind. He kept right on yelling. Yelled until the police showed up. They tried to calm him down, but they were doing it all wrong. Daddy ain't calm down for anybody but me. They were ushering us toward the front door, but I was trying to stay in his field of vision. My calming powers ain't work otherwise.
"Mya," Jackie's hand clutched mine, and I read the plea in her eyes. Last thing she wanted was to be anywhere near Daddy. My sister's fingers tightened around mine.
Folks always thought we were twins on account of how close we were in age. I nodded and walked with her out to the porch. We were down the steps and almost to the gate before we realized what was happening. Two cars—one tan, the other black. One of the social workers was holding Nat's hand and standing in front of the tan car. Nikki was cowering in the shadows of the black car's rear seat.
Jackie said, "We go together."
"No. You're going to this car, and Mya here is going to the black car."
"We go together," I said.
"You girls need to say your goodbyes."
Jackie's grasp only tightened, and I thought my chest might cave in and crush what was left of my heart. First Daddy left, then Mama, now my sisters. I never hated anyone before, but I hated the smug DCFS woman with every fiber of my body.
"No!" My sister let out a blood curling scream, and I pulled her body to mine, clutching at her clothes.
"Please, if you relax..." The woman was saying as she tried to pry us apart.
"Get off me! You get off me! No! Myaaaa!"
"Jackie...," I said, mumbling, as she slipped out of my grasp. A stranger's hands were guiding me toward the black sedan. I stumbled over the grass, over the curb, failing to see through the curtain of tears. A car door closed, and a second later, we were moving. Nikki was crying next to me, but she didn't make a move to stop them. She didn't even try.
I pressed my fingertips against the rear window.
"Please turn around and sit down. We want you to be safe."
Jackie's cries rang in my ears, but I couldn't make her out. Couldn't distinguish her from the other bodies on our front lawn. Even that didn't last very long before we took a right at the corner and sped away from the only home I ever knew.
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