Make it last forever, p.3

Make It Last Forever, page 3


Make It Last Forever

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  Dicey chuckled as if she were amused with herself. “Don’t you want to know what’s in your future, dear one?”

  Karen laughed. “I already know what’s in my future, lots of irritated teens if I don’t get in here and get things ready. The summer is a busy time of year for a youth center.”

  “I’m seeing love in your near future. Don’t you want to come and find out when you’re going to meet your soul mate?”

  Karen stopped laughing then and stared at Dicey really hard. She thought about the journal again and the story Amina had told her about Karla and Daniel. She shook her head, both to clear it and to say no.

  “All right then, but my offer stands whenever you stop being afraid and you’re ready to embrace your destiny, dear one.” Dicey offered a melodious laugh before heading into her shop.

  Karen unlocked the door to the center and went about her day.

  “If you can’t follow the rules then you won’t be able to come here again.” A familiar sadness began to creep into Karen’s heart as she kept her stern frown focused on Clarence.

  She had pulled him into her back office after she caught him trying to sell a marijuana blunt to one of the other young men. She went back and forth in her mind about the right thing to do and decided against calling the police. She hoped she wouldn’t regret that decision.

  The boy was only fifteen, and already she sensed it might be too late for him. But she didn’t think being sent back to juvenile detention would have helped him either. She knew that she might have been able to reach him eventually. But if he was bringing drugs into her center, then there was really nothing she could do. She couldn’t condone that.

  No way.

  She leaned back a little in her rolling office chair. The high-end office chair was one of the items in her office that she had spent a little extra money on. The rest of the furnishings were low-end Office Max cherry-stained plywood. But at least everything matched and looked professional. Her office was the only space in the center that she had cut back on when it came to furniture. She really invested all of her money and her time in making the center a nice, welcoming space for the youth, a space where they could come and get away from the lures of the street.

  Allowing Clarence to remain at the center would jeopardize everything she was trying to accomplish. And more than just Clarence’s future was at stake. So many young people needed the space that the center offered. Still, anytime she had to sacrifice one for the whole it hurt. She really wanted to save them all.

  “That’s cool. Whatever, yo, whatever.” Clarence shrugged his shoulders and twisted his face in a harsh manner.

  The bravado he put up didn’t fool Karen at all. She knew that he cared more than he let on. And if she could give him another chance she would have. But he had a long way to go before he stopped letting the wrong folks influence him.

  “I’ll tell your parole officer that it just didn’t work out here. But I’m sure he’ll be able to find another place for you.”

  “That’s jacked up, Ms. Williams. You pretend like you care and that you want to give us a chance. But then you just throw us out ’cause we mess up. I said I didn’t mean to—”

  “You didn’t mean to get caught. That’s all.” Karen ran her hands through her locs.

  Was she being too hard on Clarence? Could she allow him to stick around? She thought about the other young people at the center—the ones Clarence had tried to sell drugs to.

  No. No, he had to go.

  “Whatever, Ms. Williams. You just like everybody else. You ain’t really trying to give a brother a chance. You just talkin’, you don’t mean that shit you be saying.”

  “That’s not true, Clarence! You have to take some responsibility here. That’s the problem. You’re not taking responsibility. You just want to blame others.”

  Clarence pushed his chair back harshly and leaped out of his seat, knocking the cherry-stained wooden chair he’d been sitting on to the ground. “This place was wack anyway. I got better stuff to do with my time than waste it here.”

  “Clarence, don’t leave mad. Let’s talk about the other options available to you. I can’t let you continue to hang out here. But there are—”

  “Man, fuck this! I’m out.” Clarence went bursting out the door.

  Torn between following him and hoping that his leaving would help things remain on an even keel, Karen took a deep breath and placed her head on her desk instead. She wondered if she had done him any favors by just barring him from the center and not calling the cops. She told herself it was just weed. But she wondered if calling the cops on him would have ensured that he didn’t move on to other drugs in the future.

  As she mentally went over the reasons yet again why Clarence had to go, the phone on her desk rang, jolting her.

  She picked up the phone and paused before answering.

  “Shemar Sunyetta Youth Center, Karen Williams speaking.” Dragging a halfway pleasant greeting out was easier than making her voice sound like she meant it, so she settled for brevity.

  “Hello, Ms. Williams. My name is Cullen Stamps, and I represent Darius Rollins. He’s a rapper. You might have heard of him?”

  “Yes, I’ve heard of D-Roc.” Twirling her locs with a pencil, she waited for some sort of explanation.

  Who in the world hadn’t heard of hip-hop’s golden boy turned Hollywood movie star? A person would have to live under a rock not to have heard of D-Roc, especially a person in the East New York section of Brooklyn. He was the boy from the hood who had made it out and done good.

  “Yes, well. He is interested in devoting some time to your center as a way of giving back. You might have heard that his young cousin was just murdered and—”

  Cutting people off was rude, but she didn’t have the patience to let him go on.

  “Don’t tell me… He wants to spend a few hours here as a part of some publicity stunt, right? My goodness, what celebrities won’t do for a little bit of attention. Is he really trying to turn his cousin’s death into some kind of image or marketing opportunity? Sheesh.” She clicked her tongue in disgust.

  Not that her center couldn’t use a little free publicity, but she was really protective of the kids, and allowing a celebrity—no matter how fine that celebrity was—to use them wasn’t going to happen on her watch.

  “Ms. Williams, I know that you are probably overworked, and we certainly appreciate the good work you’re doing with the youth. That’s why Mr. Rollins is determined to volunteer at your center. He has researched several, and he likes what you’ve done in such a short period of time with so few resources. He intends to volunteer a large amount of time while he is between films. He’s even holding off getting right back in the studio for his much-anticipated third album. Against my better judgment, I might add. To be frank, Ms. Williams, you really could stand to gain a lot from his presence at your little center. The publicity would work both ways. He’d put you on the radar, and you might just get more donations for your little cause.”

  Each time the man said the word little in reference to her center—her life’s work—her skin crawled. If this was the type of person D-Roc had representing him then she didn’t want any part of him.

  “Tell Mr. Rollins thanks, but no, thanks. My little center can get along just fine.”

  Something about the manager’s slimy voice made her skin crawl. She didn’t like Cullen Stamps. And no amount of free publicity was worth dealing with the smarmy man. D-Roc clearly surrounded himself with questionable people. And that was all the more reason not to be lulled by a shot at some free publicity.

  “Well, now. Ms. Williams—”

  “Well, now, what? I’m not interested in helping Mr. Rollins enhance his so-called positive image by letting him waltz through my center and these kids’ lives for his own grandstanding. Goodbye!”

  It felt so good to hang up the phone in his face. But as soon as she did it she realized that she might have done so in haste. Free publicity might mean more don
ations. She really could have used the publicity, because in these economic times the grants weren’t coming in as frequently as they used to.

  D-Roc personified the words media darling. Not since Will Smith had a rapper been able to totally enrapture the American public. He certainly was loved, and he might have brought some of that love to her center. But if he hired slime like Stamps, it probably wasn’t worth it. She was right to turn Stamps down.

  She was trying to instill values in the youth, not slick Hollywood images and media-induced frenzies. And there was something about the snarky sound of Stamps’s voice that rubbed her the wrong way. After the run-in with Clarence, she just wanted to be able to tear into someone. Stamps just picked the wrong time to call and plead D-Roc’s case.

  The rest of the day went on pretty much uneventfully, and Karen couldn’t help but feel glad. Usually running a center and doing “hood work,” as she liked to call her activism in the community, made for more drama-filled days than she desired. But most days, when she could look at the kids and know that she was keeping them off the streets and exposing them to things and ideas that would help them stay off the street, she knew that it was all worth it.

  After her very small group of staff and volunteers left and she got the last kid away from a computer and out the door, Karen went over to lock the door so that no one else could come in while she worked on some more grant applications for a little while. Before she could lock the door, it came bursting open, pushing her back. She looked up to tell whoever it was that the center was closed for the day.

  Depending on who had so rudely barged in, her tone might have been pleasant or it might have been filled with attitude; she reserved the verdict until she got a good glimpse.

  Looking at the muscled form and devil-may-care smirk that crossed a deliciously chocolate-brown face, she realized that she suddenly couldn’t decide. Standing in front of her, in a pair of jeans, polo shirt, expensive sneakers and a fitted New York Yankees cap, was the most gorgeous man she had ever seen.

  Stunned, she could not find her words.

  D-Roc apparently wasn’t one to give up easily.

  Darius Rollins came into the youth center all set to pull every trick in his playbook in order to make this Karen Williams person allow him to volunteer at her youth center. The thought of just finding another youth center in which to volunteer never even crossed his mind. He’d researched the few youth centers around his old neighborhood, and he liked this one. Even though he hadn’t known Shemar Sunyetta personally, he felt that the fact the center was named for the murdered rapper was a sign of some sort.

  He honestly didn’t know why he bothered paying Cullen. The man couldn’t get him a volunteer gig! He could only surmise that if it wasn’t something Cullen could make a commission off of, then he wasn’t pressed to work as hard.

  Cullen had said that the woman running the center was a bitch, and she wasn’t trying to be helpful at all. Darius just figured Cullen lacked finesse. Darius knew he had to go down to the center and work his magic on the woman. Cullen had said that the woman was probably some uptight, ugly prude with an attitude who hated men. Darius didn’t care what she was or how she looked. He’d have her eating out of his hands in no time, and he’d be able to finally do something to honor his cousin’s memory.

  Looking at the brown-skinned beauty with stunning crinkled auburn and copper locs, he had to say Cullen had gotten it all wrong. Yet again! The woman who glanced up at him with large chocolate-brown eyes, flawless toasted-cinnamon skin and lush red lips was—in a word—beautiful. She was of medium height and had a figure that was stacked in all the right places. She wore a pair of jeans with holes in them, and he got the sense that hers weren’t purchased that way. She also wore a black-and-white “No More Prisons” T-shirt and white Converse sneakers. The jeans fit her curves perfectly, and the T-shirt told him a little something about her possible politics.

  She intrigued him immensely. At least he wouldn’t have to fake it when he flirted with her. Because—seeing her—he knew exactly which tactic he was going for. Strong-arm tactics were out. Smooth-talking-mack-dropping-game-slinging skills were in and definitely more in line with how he planned to play it.

  “Hello” was the extent of what he could manage to utter as he took in her overwhelming beauty. His heart actually felt as if it had stalled and kick-started as he really looked at her this time. Shaking his head in an effort to clear the foggy uneasiness that had started to creep into his being, Darius cleared his throat.

  She had glanced up at him when he walked into the center, and she was still looking at him. Her big, brown eyes slightly widened, and she finally blinked several times in rapid succession.

  He guessed by her wide-eyed, prolonged stare that she might have been experiencing a reaction very similar to his own. But what would be the best way to find out if she was?

  “So, you’re Karen Williams.” He let her name roll off his tongue, and he could have sworn he tasted each syllable.

  She blinked and shook her head. The dazed look in her eyes was quickly replaced by a stern expression. “Yes, I am. And we are just about to close, Mr. Rollins. I don’t know why you’re here. I’ve given my answer to your request to your very condescending manager.”

  So she knew who he was. That could be a good thing. Maybe she was a fan. However, if she were a fan, she probably wouldn’t have declined his offer to volunteer. He glanced at her and found her lips twisted to the side and her left eye slightly slanted; the entire look was a mixture of incredulity and disgust. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t such a good thing, and she definitely wasn’t a fan. He could deal with that. He firmed his resolve to woo her.

  “I apologize for whatever Cullen did or said to turn you off. But I would like to speak with you about me volunteering here. I read about the good work you’re doing, and I really want to help out. In fact, seeing your pretty face is enough to make a brother long for community service.” He gave her his very best Hollywood smile, his most sultry and seductive leading-man smile.

  Judging by the extra dose of sour she added to her expression, he probably could have left that last sentence out. But it wasn’t a lie. Seeing her made him want to volunteer there now more than ever.

  “Yeah, whatever. Listen, it’s late, and I’ve been here all day. I don’t have time to talk with you now.”

  “How about I take you out for a bite to eat, and we can get to know one another. You know you can fill me in on how we can best make use of my very generous offer to volunteer here. And I can fill you in on all my many talents and the amount of publicity and donations I can bring to your center. You know, the perfect win-win situation.”

  The beautiful woman arched her left eyebrow and twisted her lips again. “I don’t think so… I don’t know.” She gave him a hesitant once-over, and he let himself hope that she was reconsidering.

  “Okay, you can come in tomorrow morning when we open. We can talk about it then. Good night, Mr. Rollins.”

  Although the last thing he wanted to do was leave there without making a better connection with the lovely Karen Williams, Darius realized that he probably wasn’t going to get very far with her that evening. Good thing he was so determined to do everything in his power to make her say yes. He’d have plenty of time to get her to think better of him.

  “Solid. That’s cool. We’ve got plenty of time to get to know one another and to connect. Plenty of time.”

  She stared at him, and he thought he saw a glimmer of something in her eyes. He almost wanted to kick himself for giving up so quickly. He might have had more of a chance than he thought he did at wearing her down that evening. Dang.

  Then, just as quickly as the sparkle flashed in her eyes, it was gone and replaced with “sista-tude.”

  “Yeah, well, whatever. I’ll see you in the morning. Peace.”

  Giving the beautiful and sexy woman one last glance, he begrudgingly turned to leave. It hardly seemed like the right thing to do, and everything in
side of him screamed, “Stay until she at least warms up to you!” He hoped that he’d get the opportunity.

  One thing he was sure of was that he wouldn’t give up until he accomplished what he wanted. The other thing was that he was no longer sure if exactly what he wanted was a chance to volunteer, a chance to get to know Karen or both.

  Chapter 3

  Karen leaned back and tried to calm the rapid—almost erratic—beating of her heart. It had been all she could manage just to string words together to speak to D-Roc. While she had never been one to be starstruck or anything like that, she figured that must have been the reason why her skin felt clammy and all the air seemed to be gone. She was damn near hyperventilating because she had seen a rap star.

  No, that couldn’t be it. She had been around rappers before. Her now-deceased best friend had been a rapper, and she’d hung out with him and other rappers lots of times. But she had never been around D-Roc. And now she wondered how in the heck she was going to manage being around him if he managed to sweet-talk her into letting him volunteer at the center.

  The brother was fine. She had seen his shirtless, perfectly chiseled torso on countless magazine covers, and it always made her stop and gaze longingly. And the photos of the ripples and muscles in his chest and those bulging biceps of his always had a way of making her heart rate rise. But she had no idea that seeing the man in person—fully clothed—would almost send her into heart failure! Good Lord! The man gave new meaning to the phrase “sex appeal.”

  But it was more than that. Something deep inside of her was calling out to him. She felt it as sure as she ever felt anything in her life. And that scared her.

  Locking up the center, she started off down the block to the bus stop. The evening walk usually gave her a fair amount of time to clear her head, especially in the summer. Yet this evening the only thing her mind wanted to focus on was D-Roc. On second thought, she wished it was only her mind stuck on the rapper and actor.

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