Something to Die For: A Novel by Travis HunterSomething to Die For: A Novel by Travis Hunter

Something to Die For: A Novel

byTravis Hunter

Paperback | October 24, 2006

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Nasir Lassiter is a college basketball star with a promising future–until a murder rap lands him in prison with a life sentence. Without hope, Nasir shuts down. But after five years he’s suddenly free and surprised to see how much the outside world has changed.

He discovers he has a daughter, Brandy, who believes her father has been away in the army all this time. His girlfriend, Ayana, is now involved with Alonzo, a wealthy, possessive man. Nasir’s life takes another turn when he finds out that his mother has taken to drugs to ease the pain over his fate. Ayana, meanwhile, struggles to break free of Alonzo’s jealous grip and gets a taste of his seemingly endless rage.

Nasir would love to right the wrongs his absence has brought the women in his life. And when his daughter is kidnapped, he will risk everything to save her–even if it means putting his newfound freedom on the line.

A riveting novel of love, loss, and reconciliation, Something to Die For follows the twisted path of a man desperately fighting for the good life he deserves–and for the family who needs him now more than ever.
Travis Hunter is a songwriter, a screenwriter, and the bestselling author of The Hearts of Men, Trouble Man, A One Woman Man, Something to Die For, and Family Man. Hunter was named Author of the Year in 2003 by readers of the Atlanta Daily World. He lives in Atlanta.
Title:Something to Die For: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 8 × 5.19 × 0.63 inPublished:October 24, 2006Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345481674

ISBN - 13:9780345481672


Read from the Book

1 Guess who’s back? Nasir Lassiter pulled into an open spot in front of The “U,” the University Homes Apartments, and put the silver Aston Martin in park. He took a deep breath and exhaled. He’d been away for far too long. Nasir looked around and felt a chill roll down his spine. He couldn’t count the number of times he had dreamed about this day. It had been five long years since his feet touched these grounds. With the exception of a few minor adjustments here and there, The “U” hadn’t changed much since he’d been gone. The housing department finally paid someone to paint the doors the ugliest blue they could find and a short gate was put up, a blatant barrier constructed to separate the ghettofied residents of The “U” from the good-paying students across Fair Street who attended Clark Atlanta University, Spelman, and Morehouse College. A knock on Nasir’s car window disturbed his survey of the surroundings. “Ay, man, lemme hold a li’l something?” “Nah,” Nasir said, staring at the projects that raised him. “Nasir?” the vagrant said, leaning in for a closer look. “Is that you?” “Yeah.” Nasir got out of the car. “Boy, what you doing back here?” Nasir smiled. “I know I know you but I forgot your name.” The old man folded his arms, an offended look on his face. Nasir smiled and tried to place a name with the face. “Man, it escapes me.” “It escapes ya, huh? Well, just think of the best-looking specimen the good Lawd ever created,” the man said, closing his eyes and showing what he probably considered his good side, which really wasn’t all that good. “Monroe,” Nasir said. He reached out and took the old man’s hand and damn near choked on the funk. “Damn, Monroe”—Nasir frowned, holding his breath—“I see you still boycotting the bathtub.” “And I see you still got jokes. I was gonna let you just give me five dollars but since you wanna be Richard Pryor, make it ten. And where you get this fancy ride from?” Nasir reached into his pocket, pulled out a few dollars, and handed Monroe a five. “Here ya go, handsome.” Monroe quickly snatched the bill and slid it in his pocket, then nodded. “Thank ya, baby boy. Welcome home.” As if the streets could smell the return of their prodigal son, folks started showing up from nowhere and crowding around Nasir. He was backed against his car as little kids and adults alike rushed up to him asking all kinds of questions. “Hey, Nasir, you remember me?” “You seen yo momma yet?” “Damn you fine!” “You still play basketball?” Nasir couldn’t explain the joy he felt to be back among his people. Someone handed him a baby and told him the boy was named after him. “Forget LeBron James, you our hero ’round here,” the lady who handed him the child said. A loud scream came from behind the crowd and a large woman ran toward them with a raggedy smile and her hair in pink and yellow rollers. “Nasirrrrrr,” she yelled, stopping her momentum by slamming right into the shiny car he was driving. “You all right?” Nasir tried to hold back his laughter. “Get your damn hands offa me and give me a hug. Don’t act like you don’t remember me.” “Crystal, if I lived to be a hundred and fifty, I couldn’t forget you. I’ve tried, trust me.” Nasir smiled and stretched his long arms as wide as they would go for an embrace. “You still got that smart-ass mouth,” Crystal said, hugging Nasir. “And I see yours is still filthy,” Nasir said, stepping back to get a better view of her. “Girl, what have you been eating?” “People,” Monroe said in the rear of the crowd. “Shut up, Monroe, and go wash. You smell like you dead,” Crystal barked. “Don’t pay her no attention, Nasir, she gets like that when she’s hungry.” Nasir tried to hold in his laughter. “What you laughing at?” Crystal snapped. “Nothing.” “Guess what?” “What?” “I got four kids.” “Four? My God, you’ve been busy,” Nasir said, surprised that Crystal was even into men. As long as he’d known her, she dressed and carried herself with more masculinity than most of the men in his neighborhood. If there was ever a woman who could make the argument that people could be born gay it was Crystal. “Nah. Got quadruplets. You believe that? It ought to be against the law for poor folks to have that many damn kids at one time,” Crystal said. “But they my babies. With they bad asses.” “Bad! Those li’l fuckers are possessed,” Monroe said. “You might as well take they li’l asses down to the jail right now and save somebody from getting knocked crossed they head. And I don’t know how they got like that ’cuz we all know they mammy is a positive role model and all. Smoking, drinking, cussing like Jesus ain’t coming back.” “Say one more thing and you gonna wish Jesus was already here,” Crystal said. “Girl, you look good,” Nasir said, trying to save Monroe from a guaranteed beat down. “Don’t come back here lying now,” Monroe said, shaking in disgust. “You know doggone well ain’t nuttin’ look good on her big ass.” “Monroe, I already warned you now. I’mma knock them two rotten teeth out of your mouth if you keep on.” “Make your move, Sasquatch,” Monroe challenged, getting in his boxer’s stance. Nasir couldn’t hold in his laughter. Even Crystal smiled and shook her head at the neighborhood drunk. Man, it was good to be home. “What’s up, playboy?” a voice called from the street. Suddenly, everyone got real quiet. Savion Jackson sat behind the wheel of a navy blue 1964 Impala hitting switches that caused the car to bounce up and down. Standing there looking at the man who set his life on a collision course with hell sent Nasir’s mind back to the night that changed him forever. * * * Five years ago, the rain came down in mothball-like sizes as Nasir hustled his way down Martin Luther King Drive toward his girlfriend Ayana’s apartment. When he arrived he found Ayana sitting on the sofa with a sad face. “Hey,” Nasir said as he walked over to her. “Is everything all right?” “No,” Ayana said, shaking her head. Nasir sat down beside her and placed his arm around her but she pulled away. “I’m pregnant,” she spat. Shocked, Nasir shook his head to make sure he heard her correctly. “Say that again?” he asked. “I’m pregnant and I . . .” “Hey, that’s a good thing. Why do you look so disappointed?” Nasir smiled from ear to ear. He couldn’t control his joy. “Because I don’t want a baby.” “Ayana,” Nasir said, touching her leg cautiously. “No! I told you how I felt about this a long time ago. So you can save the sweet talk. It’s not happening. I’m getting an abortion.” “Wait a minute. This is my child too.” “But it’s my body and therefore it’s my choice.” “You gotta be kidding me. How could you be so selfish?” “Selfish? I was beaten, raped, and treated like I was the scum of this earth for as far back as I can remember just for being born. So you can think what you will but I will not bring a child into this world.” “Baby, I understand all of that but none of those things will happen to our child.” “How do you know?” “Do I look like some deadbeat to you?” “Nasir, we’re wasting our time. I’m getting an abortion.” “So why did you even bother to tell me about it then? If you already had your mind made up?” “I just thought you should know.” “Maybe we can talk about it later.” “There’s nothing else to say.” “So it’s like that huh?” “Pretty much.” Nasir stared at his girl in disbelief. He grabbed his book bag and stormed out of the apartment. He took off running to avoid the pelting rain when a beat-up Chevrolet pulled up beside him. “Playboy,” Savion called. Nasir stopped. Something told him to keep running but his reputation in The “U” had been taking a hit. Even though he didn’t actually live in University Homes, he claimed them and lately some of his people started to accuse him of forgetting where he came from. They were calling him bourgeois and said he preferred the company of those rich white folks at Georgia Tech. So, against his better judgment, he climbed into the backseat of Savion’s car. The passenger seat was already taken by a shady-looking character Nasir had never seen before. “Man, what you doing out in this weather? You gonna fuck around and catch pneumonia, then how we gonna go to the NBA?” Nasir smiled. For as long as he could remember it was always we with Savion. As elementary schoolkids whenever Nasir made some athletic team, Savion would run into Nasir’s house screaming, “Mrs. Lassiter, WE made the team.” When Nasir scored fifty-five points against a rival high school, Savion walked around telling anyone who would listen, “We hit them hoes up for a double nickel last night,” and when Nasir shunned the offers of the University of Maryland, Georgetown, Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest to shoot threes at the hometown Georgia Tech, Savion had T-shirts printed up for the residents of The “U” saying, We Staying Home. Savion pulled into a gas station off Martin Luther King Drive in the West End section of Atlanta. “Bring me a Gatorade,” Nasir said right before he noticed a beautiful woman pumping gas at a nearby pump. Since his selfish girlfriend Ayana practically sealed their fate as a couple with all of her abortion talk, it was time to start looking for a replacement. And that five-foot-nine, curvy piece of work was just the one to help get the search started. As soon as the car stopped Nasir hopped out and walked over. “How you doing?” The young lady ignored him. “Hello,” he said, waving his hand. Still no response. “What’s up with the sisters? Does it cost anything to speak?” For his efforts all he got was teeth sucked and a pair of rolled eyes. “Well f—” Nasir started. “Well what? Fuck you bitch?” the woman challenged. Nasir stopped and stared at her. “Now was that necessary? I wasn’t about to call you out of your name. But I guess that’s what you think of yourself if that’s the first thing that came to mind.” “No, that’s the first thing that comes out y’all ignorant niggas’ mouths when you get dissed,” she said, hands firmly planted on her hips. “First of all I’m not a nigga and second, why are you dissing me? Have I done anything to you?” “Leave me alone,” she snapped. “Gladly,” Nasir said, turning to leave. He paused, then stopped and turned back around. “You know you are a very pretty lady but that attitude makes you ugly real quick.” “Whatever,” the lady said, then her eyes widened as a hint of recognition crossed her face. “Oh my God. Are you Nasir Lassiter?” Nasir kept walking. “Wait a second.” Nasir stopped. “I am so sorry,” she said, putting her hand up over her mouth. “You are like my son’s favorite basketball player. You did a camp at his school and you signed a poster for him. He talks about you all the time.” “Tell your son I said hello.” “I will but will you sign something for me? He’s not going to believe I met you.” “Let me ask you a question,” Nasir said, pissed. “Okay.” “Where do you see black people ten, twenty years from now? Being that we seem to have plummeted to the point of not even being capable of speaking to one another without some drama?” “I’m sorry about that,” she said, slightly embarrassed. “I was having a bad da—” POW! POW! POW! “Was that a gun?” she asked. “All day long,” Nasir said, looking in the direction of the blast and ducking down. “Get in the car! Get in the car!” Savion yelled as he ran from the store with his thug of a friend hot on his heels. Nasir froze. “Nasir, get yo ass in this car!” Savion snapped. Nasir didn’t move. He couldn’t. Savion frowned and tossed a blood-soaked bottle of Gatorade at him right before he screeched out of the parking lot. Just before the hooptie turned onto the MLK, Nasir saw his book bag fly out of the passenger window. Nasir found his legs and turned to the woman but she was already in her car and speeding out of the parking lot. He watched as the silver BMW screeched away and burned her license plate into his memory, 1dIva4u. Nasir heard the familiar wail of police sirens and although he wanted to wait and explain what happened, his instincts told him to run. He picked up his book bag and ran like his life depended on it. He didn’t make it fifty yards before Atlanta’s finest had him thrown across the hood of a police car. After being handcuffed and roughly tossed in the back of the police cruiser, Nasir watched through the pouring rain as a police officer went through his backpack. Relief coursed through his body. The only things they could possibly find in that bag are books, he thought. But then everything changed. The police officer removed a shiny silver gun from his backpack. The officer walked over to Nasir and opened the car door and got right in his face. “I’m willing to bet you a million dollars to fifty cents that all that blood on your shirt came from those people in that store. And I’ll double that bet if Ballistics comes back and says this gun doesn’t match those bullets that killed those people,” the cop said before slamming the door. Killed those people? he thought as his heart ached. This cannot be happening. Nasir sat in jail for more than three months before his case made it to trial. None of the pro scouts or agents, who had acted like his best friends when they were wooing him to sign with them before his arrest, came to his rescue. He watched as the media portrayed him as another ghettofied ballplayer who thought he was above the law. He became the poster child for what was wrong with African American athletes. But the press neglected to mention that he had never been in trouble a day in his life and that he earned a 3.2 GPA at one of the top colleges in the country. That wasn’t the slant they were go- ing for. Nasir was assigned a public “pretender” fresh out of law school to defend him. He told the man at least ten times to look up the license plate number of the woman he met in the parking lot who could corroborate his story of being outside the gas station during the shooting, but the guy was determined to remain incompetent. His dumb lawyer faced a top-notch, overzealous prosecutor, who wasn’t about to let the facts get in the way of winning this high-profile case, which would surely boost his career. Adding more fuel to Nasir’s already hellish nightmare, Savion showed up with his own top-dollar lawyer. Pissed that Nasir ratted him out, Savion retaliated by cooperating with the prosecution to pin the murder and robbery on Nasir. Nasir was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of the store clerk and his wife. Nasir looked around the courtroom as he was handcuffed by the court’s bailiff and found it ironic that his entire life was undone by black people. The shooter, the cops, the prosecutor, the public defender, and most of the jury and the judge were all people of color. Nasir turned and looked at his mother who was being comforted by Ayana and when they made eye contact, he literally saw her will break. Her face was contorted by a pain that ran to the depths of her soul. He couldn’t take his eyes off of his mother as she collapsed into Ayana’s arms much too weak to cry. Seeing his mother’s pain hurt Nasir more than any life sentence any judge could throw at him. Now, five years later, Savion had the nerve to approach Nasir as if he had just returned from vacation instead of hell. “Looks like you hit the lottery or something,” Savion said from his car. “What kind of ride is that?” Nasir steadied his breathing. He couldn’t believe the audacity of this fool. At that moment, he’d have given his right foot if he could walk over and choke the life out of Savion without going back to prison. Savion shut his car off and jumped out. He walked over to the Aston Martin and ran his hand across the hood. “Looks like life done took a turn for the better. What we do, banged the warden’s daughter or something? I knew we wouldn’t be up in there for long,” he said extending his hand. Nasir didn’t respond. Savion pulled his hand back and faced Nasir. “Hey, looka here, homie. I know I went out a little foul on that case you caught but them crackers had me on them papers already and you know they would’ve thrown my ass under jail if I didn’t get that lawyer. He was the one who told me to worry about me. He said you had a big-time lawyer and you were copping pleas and thangs. But it’s all good. You home now,” Savion said. Nasir’s hands started shaking and he forced himself to breathe. “Looks like prison been good to ya. Playboy done got diesel.” Savion reached out and touched Nasir’s thick bicep. One touch was all it took. Nasir’s fist crashed into the side of Savion’s face with the impact of a big rig hitting a cardboard wall. The skinny man’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he was unconscious before he hit the ground. His body crashed to the pavement, and Nasir was all over him. “What the fuck you mean ‘we’?” Nasir said, straddling Savion and punching him in the face. “We didn’t go to prison.” Smack! “We sold me out to save your own sorry ass.” Smack! “Now yo ass gotta pay.” Smack! Smack! Smack! Punches rained down on Savion for every wrong Nasir ever endured in or out of prison and not a single person moved to stop him. That was until Sammy showed up. “Knock!” Sammy called out Nasir’s nickname as he grabbed his cousin’s hand and pulled him off Savion. Nasir stopped and looked at his enemy before standing and removing his shirt, which now had Savion’s blood all over it. Monroe walked over and poured a little beer on Savion. “Get your ass up. You ain’t dead,” Monroe said, kicking the man. Savion came to and struggled to his feet. He looked around trying to figure out what had just happened to him. “Who jumped me?” he asked, looking around wild-eyed. Nasir stared at his former friend and wanted nothing more than to finish the job but Sammy had a death grip on him. Savion wobbled but stayed on his feet. He strained his eyes to make out who was standing before him. “Okay, somebody gonna get fucked up. Whoever it was that jumped me, I’mma tighten that ass up.” “Ain’t nobody jumped you,” Crystal said. “No, buddy, what you just experienced was a good ole-fashion ass whipping. Something you young folks don’t know nuttin’ ’bout. Too busy running to get a gun. Li’l sissies is all ya is,” Monroe said. “You wanna get back at somebody holla at me,” Nasir said. “Knock, don’t even sweat him. You fresh out of prison and he ain’t worth going back,” Sammy said. Just because you live in the ghetto doesn’t mean you have to be ghetto, his mother’s words registered as he looked down at his bloody hands. Those words served him well until he went to prison. There, he learned there was no such thing as taking the high road. But standing on the grounds that raised him, he felt ashamed. “Oh, it was you who snuck me? You gonna regret the day you left the penitentiary, boy. You were safer inside,” Savion said, almost crying as he ran to his car and got in. “Oh, shut up and get yo raggedy ass up outta here,” Monroe yelled at Savion. “Go to hell, stink man, and since you wanna run off at the mouth I’mma tighten yo ass up too,” Savion promised before he took off in his car, his tires screeching all the way up Fair Street. Nasir calmed down enough to give his cousin a hug. “When did you get home?” Sammy asked. “Friday,” Nasir said, happy to see the first person from his family other than his grandmother in five years. They embraced. “How you doing, cuz?” “Friday!” Sammy yelled. “Boy, today is Sunday. Where the hell you been?” “At Granny’s. Just trynna get adjusted to being home.” “You seen your mom yet?” “Nah, I’m about to go and holla at her right now.” Sammy sighed and seemed like he wanted to tell Nasir something but changed his mind. “Cuz, I swear that car is off the heazy,” Sammy said, walking over to the Aston. “This real pimpish right here, boy.” “Yeah, it’s nice.” “This you?” “Nah, a friend from Tech let me borrow it to get around until I can get on my feet,” Nasir said. Sammy smiled. “I could use a friend like that.” “Tell me about it.” “You always had them on-the-ball-ass friends. That’s why I couldn’t figure out why you were out slumming with Savion,” Sammy said. “I asked myself that question a million times and still haven’t come up with a good answer.” “It’s all good. How you get out so soon? You ain’t snitching are ya?” “Snitching? Man, I would’ve told on God if it would’ve gotten me out of there but that’s not the case. Some guardian angel came and got me,” Nasir said with a smile. “What?” “Must’ve been. I mean one day I’m locked up going through the motions and the next I’m told to pack up. They gave me some papers and said I was free to go.” “No lie?” “None.” “Well damn.” “Damn is right. I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. Somebody gonna say something.” “How you doing for money?” “I’m not. I mean I got a few bucks but I’m going to have to get something going with the quickness.” Sammy reached in his pocket and pulled out a large roll. He peeled off several bills and handed them to his cousin. “Thanks, cuz. I’ll get this back to you when I’m on my feet,” Nasir said, wiping the blood from his hands onto his balled up shirt as he walked over toward the building Sammy grew up in. Sammy turned around and noticed Crystal peeping into the fancy car his cousin was driving. “Crystal, please don’t get in that car. It ain’t built to hold all that ass.” Crystal gave Sammy the finger and opened the door of the luxury sports car and plopped down in the driver’s seat. The poor car’s shocks screamed for mercy. Nasir and Sammy took a seat on the steps of the building. “Man, a whole lot has changed since you left.” Sammy sighed and pulled a little furry animal from out of his pocket and let it climb onto his shoulder. “Oh yeah,” Nasir said, sitting down beside him. “What’s up? Give me the short version,” Nasir said, smiling. “You know how long-winded you can get.” Sammy didn’t smile. He just shook his head. “Why you cut everybody off?” Nasir turned away and changed the subject. “Why you walking around with a squirrel on your shoulder?” Nasir asked. “This ain’t no squirrel, man. It’s a ferret.” “Like a weasel?” “The weasel’s cousin. I breed ’em. Got folks buying ’em up like crazy,” Sammy said, picking up the long animal. “This my stud right here. Boy, I give ’em a shot of Viagra and he’ll break his li’l dick off in some ferret coochie. I’m telling you I got a sweet business here, Knock. I can’t keep up with the demand.” “Boy, you’re a fool.” “I’m doing big dough, baby. Two bills a pop and I’m selling twenty or so every other week. Cuz, I got cages all over The ‘U.’ ” “Guess that means you stopped selling drugs?” “Yeah, I had to let that go,” Sammy said. “Too much work. Now I just rob a summabitch if things get tight,” Sammy said with a straight face. “You better let that go too. Being locked up ain’t no joke.” “Don’t you worry about that. I’m scared of cells.” “Good,” Nasir said, then turned to his cousin. “Yo man, I heard about Aunt Kim. I’m sorry.” Sammy stared at his cousin then dropped his head. “You aight?” Nasir asked. “When your mother dies, something deep happens to you. Losing a father is different. Shit, half of us lost our daddies on day one, but Momma”—Sammy shook his head—“ain’t nothing to prepare you for that.” “I hear ya.” “Yeah,” Sammy said, ready to change the subject. “Granny told me you were swole up. What are you, about two hundred and thirty pounds?” “Cuz, you can do one of three things in prison. Fuck, fight, or check into protective custody. So I made up my mind on day one, I wasn’t fucking and I wasn’t checking in. So I did what I had to do to keep my manhood.” “Yeah, cuz, they would’ve had a field day with your pretty ass.” “Wasn’t happening.” “Yeah. You know the ghetto ain’t nothing but a prison itself. Just a different location. When cats got out they would give me the word that you were in there holding it down.” “Whatever,” Nasir said. He didn’t want to talk about prison. “What’s new?” Sammy’s smile disappeared. “Man,” Sammy sighed. “Your mom.” “What about my mom?” “She missed you, Knock, and when you wouldn’t write her or take her visits that did something to her, man. Why you do that?” Nasir sighed and stared off into the distance. “What’s going on with her?” he asked. “Keep it to yourself if you want but that was a dumb-ass move on your part, potna. Not to mention selfish. But I’ll tell you what’s going on with her. When you got sent up, she flipped out. Started walking around here talking to herself and shit. Then she took the plunge and started putting that shit in her arm. Man, she’s walking around here like a damn zombie. I’m trynna keep folks off her and she ain’t helping me. I damn near caught three-four cases behind her.” “Wha . . . What?” Nasir said, stunned. He felt like he had just gotten hit by a ton of bricks. “Yeah. That’s real.” “How the hell did that happen?” Nasir said, still confused. His mother was one of the strongest women he’d ever known. “You know Auntie ain’t like us. I love her but . . . Now, no disrespect to you or her but she’s one of them cultured suburban black folks. That silver spoon she grew up with didn’t help her around here. She ain’t built for no adversity.” Nasir closed his eyes and when he opened them they were filled with tears. He jumped up and darted off toward his house across the street from Sammy’s building. “Wait up, Knock,” Sammy said, snatching up his stud of a ferret and running along beside his cousin. “Don’t go in there going off, man. She missed you and this was just her way of dealing with it.” Sammy grabbed Nasir’s arm to stop him. “Remember, only God can judge us,” Sammy said. Nasir nodded. He and Sammy gave each other brotherly hugs. “Glad you home, cuz.” “I’mma holla at you later.” “I’ll be around.” Nasir ran across the street to the house he grew up in. He took in its condition and surmised that it could use a total overhaul. The gable edges were falling down, bars over the windows were rusting, and the paint had all but evaporated. He knocked on the door and a cute little girl answered. He leaned back and checked the number on the door. “Is this Marcy Lassiter’s house?” “Yes,” answered the little girl, who looked to be about four or five years old. “She’s not here right now,” the little girl said, standing behind the door as if her fifty pounds could stop an intruder. “What’s your name?” he asked. “Brandy.” “It’s nice to meet you, Brandy. Are you Mrs. Marcy’s little friend?” The little girl looked him up and down. “She’s my grandmother.” Nasir smiled. Kids in the ghetto were always claiming other people’s parents. “What’s your mother’s name?” “Ayana.” Ayana? That’s when his heart hit the floor. 2 Life Sandstone subdivision’s million-dollar estates were home to many of Atlanta’s well-to-do African American athletes, entertainers, prominent attorneys, and anyone else who was long on cash. Ayana Zion sat on the terrace off of her bed- room overlooking a beautifully manicured lawn and watched the ducks swim in the lake on her property. The house she shared with her boyfriend Alonzo could be described as nothing short of fabulous. Six bedrooms with nine-foot ceilings, six bathrooms, a four-car garage, a theater room, an entertainment room with full-size arcade games, and many more bells and whistles. She always dreamed of living in a house like this and now that she did, she could only think of how it felt more like a gilded cage than a home. For Ayana, the best part about living in Sandstone wasn’t all the unnecessary extras, which they hardly ever used, it was the life it provided for her daughter, Brandy. She had just returned home from dropping Brandy off with her grandmother for her weekly Sunday visit and now she was thoroughly enjoying some much needed quiet time. The song “Heaven Must Be Like This” danced in her head as she lay back and enjoyed the beautiful Sunday morning. The phone rang breaking the peacefulness of the moment. She reluctantly picked it up. “Hello?” she said. “Oh, you still in my house?” a venomous voice snapped. “I’mma kill you, you conniving bitch . . .” Ayana placed the handset down in its cradle and closed her eyes again. Alonzo’s ex-girlfriend was the caller. Every two or three months the woman would get drunk and start with the harassing phone calls. Ayana wished the woman would just come to grips with the fact that her days were done and move on. Ayana closed her eyes again. She felt a twinge of guilt for her role in the woman’s misery because God knew Alonzo wasn’t her type but at the time he was her only choice. The phone rang again a few minutes later and Ayana checked the caller ID: the ex again. She stared at the phone and felt bad. She felt bad for the woman on the other end of the line and she felt bad for herself. Alonzo wasn’t really her man and this wasn’t really her house. The man she really loved didn’t want anything to do with her, and if she was honest with herself, she was just as homeless as she had been when she was born. Ayana tried to clear her mind. Just as she sat back to reclaim her solitude she heard the chime of the front door. That could only mean one of three things. Someone was breaking in, Alonzo was home, or his ex-girlfriend had somehow jimmied the lock. She closed her eyes and prayed for a burglar. Ayana jumped up and hurried toward the master bathroom, anything for a few more minutes of serenity. Alonzo rushed into their bedroom, which was on the main level, and stopped in his tracks when he caught sight of her walking into the bathroom. “Hey, hey! Where you running off to?” he asked. “I’m not running off anywhere. I’m going to the bathroom,” Ayana snapped. “Is that allowed?” “You can’t speak?” Alonzo said, eyeing her suspiciously. “Can you?” Alonzo narrowed his eyes at her, tilted his head back, and took a whiff of the air, trying to sense if anyone else had been in the house. “How are you, Alonzo?” Ayana said, shaking her head at the paranoid nutcase in front of her. “Fine now that I see you,” Alonzo said, loosening his tie, lustfully eyeing Ayana. “Why don’t you turn the Jacuzzi on while you’re in there and I’ll join you?” “I’m really not feeling well,” Ayana lied, rubbing her stomach. Alonzo narrowed his one good eye and cocked his head to the side. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “Cramps.” “Cramps?” he asked, confused. “It’s not time for your cycle,” he said, rushing over to his nightstand for the calendar. “Alonzo,” Ayana said, not believing what had just come out of this man’s mouth. “Have you completely lost your damn mind? You don’t know everything that goes on with my body.” “Oh yes I do and if you cuss one more time in my house I’mma choke the shit outta you.” Alonzo stormed toward Ayana. He lunged toward her as if he was about to hit her. She didn’t even flinch. “I think I might’ve been gone just a little too long. You done forgot who pays the cost to be the boss up in here.” Alonzo owned a string of travel agencies, catering to Atlanta’s wealthy African American population, that often kept him away from home, and that suited Ayana all too well. Alonzo refused to tell Ayana when he was leaving or when he would return. That way he could catch her “in the act,” if she was indeed acting up. Ayana knew where Alonzo’s insecurities stemmed from: his five-foot-two-inch frame. Plus, he wasn’t the most attractive man in the world. He wasn’t quite ugly but he was beating on its door. And like most short men, Alonzo overcompensated by acting tough. The smallest issue would send him scurrying for his gun. Alonzo had never been with a woman as beautiful as Ayana. She was five feet eight inches tall, with more curves than a Magic City stripper. She usually wore her long, silky hair in a bun. Her skin, smooth as milk and dark as night, was accentuated by a pair of hazel eyes that had the hypnotic powers of a voodoo priestess. And Alonzo was indeed hypnotized. Never in his wildest dreams did he think he would end up with a woman like her on his arm, and he didn’t have a problem letting anyone know what extreme measures he’d take in order to keep her.