Hi everyone! I can’t hardly believe that Christmas will be arriving in four days! Boy, has this year came and went. Anyway, the 31 Days, 31 Authors event is still going strong as today’s featured author is Perri Forrest. Perri is definitely an author that is not only diverse and captiviating, who is also not afraid to take a risk; that definitely shows in her novels such as the Rapture series, Captivated, and her latest novel, Family Ties.
Now, here’s Perri to explain her love for writing and being an author. 🙂
Perri Forrest is a California based author with seventeen titles to her credit. A writer who becomes one with her characters, Perri has produced numerous outstanding titles including having reached number one in African American Romance on the Amazon Best Sellers list. The fan favorite novel, Captivated was an international hit debuting at number two in Women’s Fiction for three consecutive weeks on the Amazon Best Sellers list in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Having studied psychology, Perri delves into the intrinsic elements that make her characters tick. She consistently creates strong female leads weaving in the complexities of fiction and real life. This dynamic writer, who has penned stories since a preteen, ensures that each novel is mixed with insight, passion and love. Having only professionally written for just shy of three years, Perri was nominated Best Romance Author of 2015 by Urban Books, Authors, and Writers of America (UBAWA).
An unintentional venture into blogging allowed Perri to express her raw emotion, break down her personal barriers and explore her gift of writing. Ultimately Perri’s blogs resulted in fans adoring her work and clamoring to read more. Writing quickly became her sole driving force, her goal is to nurture the minds and hearts of the readers who trust her to feed their literary appetites.
When not creating her own captivating characters, Perri can be found enjoying a good suspense thriller. She lists the work of James Patterson, Terry McMillan and Jackie Collins as being among her favorites. She also loves playing Words with Friends, which has been a constant companion while writing the bulk of her literary works.
1. Besides writing, what else do you like to do?
I’m a reader of suspense/thriller. I love badminton and air hockey. Very competitive. Reality TV is a guilty pleasure.
2. What inspired you to become and author?
I just love stories. There’s never anything that I’m doing that doesn’t birth a story idea. I could be driving, or watching movie, or reading a book. Anything. And a story comes to mind. Mostly when I’m in conversations with people. Being a psych major helped too because with all that I’ve been through in life, my love of suspense thriller and all things fiction, I knew I had to write something. Blogging jumpstarted it, and from there it just took off.
3. What was your first reaction when your debut novel was published?
I cried. After I went through my final edits and knew it was a finished product, I literally cried. There have been a lot of things in my life that I’ve started but didn’t finish and this was finished and all my own. Characters that I made up, places that I made up. It was highly emotional.
4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
This question stumps me every time because it just seems so cliché. I don’t know, really. I just see myself still trying to perfect my craft and learning all that I can so that I have the trust of the authors I plan to sign to my publishing company. I hope to have that up and running before the 5-year mark, so I guess by the 5th year, I just hope to be a household name and having people know that they can come to me to further their literary career. Oh, and a few movies under my belt by that time, God willing. Oh, and signed to one of the majors.
5. What advice can you give to anyone who wants to become an author?
a. Align yourself with like individuals.
b. Guard your spirit with lock and key. Not everyone wants your success.
c. Write all the time and make sure you’re reading traditionally published authors as well. I’ve met a lot of Indies who are only reading indie. It’s great to support, but reading the work of individuals who have been in the game for years, and edited by professionals, and who have the craft of character development down and execution perfected, is essential.
d. Again…write all the time.
e. Never force a story. Allow your heart to lead you to your story and never publish anything that you aren’t in love with.
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N0DAVG9
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N0DAVG9
Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01N0DAVG9
Here’s an excerpt from Family Ties
Malina Alexia Wright
Laney had her arms folded across her chest, leaning against the threshold of her best friend, Malina’s bedroom door. “Damn, girl!” she complained. “How long are you gon’ take? If I’d known you were around here laggin’, I woulda waited before I left my house! I coulda still been watching LMN. You know those Saturday movies that they show are hella good!”
Malina’s laugh echoed throughout her room, as she stood in her full length mirror applying finishing touches to her look. She snapped her neck around to where Laney stood to respond. “Girl! First of all, those movies are cheesy as fuck and don’t have a single cast member that looks like yo’ ass. And second . . . shut yo’ grumpy, compuhlainin’ ass up!” she yelled, turning back to face the mirror, to fluff around her wild mane of curls while gathering it all up into a curly ponytail.
“Oooh, mommy, you said a bad word!”
Malina shot her best friend a look through the mirror, and shook her head at her. “That’s because your auntie made me,” Malina reasoned with her young daughter, Mahri. Mahri was an adorable three-year-old that Malina had given birth to on her twenty-second birthday, and who was the apple of her mama’s eye. “Your auntie likes to say things to mommy to get a reaction out of her because she doesn’t have manners like you and me, baby.”
“Okay, Mommy!” Mahri exclaimed as she burst into laughter so contagious it always made her mother’s heart warm. “TT!” she yelled in her squeaky pitch, in between giggles, “Don’t make Mommy cuss okay?”
“Okay, lil’ mama,” Laney promised her God daughter. “I won’t make mommy cuss anymore. That was bad and I’m sorry. I just thought you and your mommy would be ready to go to the nice, big park when I got here, but—”
Mahri’s eyes grew in size and her face opened into a huge smile. “The park? Mommy!” Mahri jumped up and down excitedly, her four shoulder-length ponytails splashing against the air with each lunge of her little body. “We’re going to the park?! I wanna go to the park! I’m getting my pink shoes!”
As soon as Mahri darted down the hallway in the direction of her bedroom, Malina flipped Laney the middle finger with a look that said, ‘Bitch you knew exactly what you were doing, huh?!’ And the fact that Laney was smiling hard as hell at her, let Malina know that she had done the dirty deed on purpose.
“You heffa,” Malina shot, in a harsh whisper.
“What?” Laney asked, feigning innocence.
“Heffa you know damn well that I never tell Mahri when we’re going on outings because I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Really?” Laney made her way into the bedroom and plopped down on the ottoman at the foot of Malina’s bed, where she fell into laughter so hysterical that her eyes began to water.
“I’ma hurt you,” Malina threatened, in a harsh whisper. “Ain’t nothin’ right about y’all pretty-ass chocolate broads,” she hissed, just as Mahri skipped back into the room.
“Threats are so not nice in front of babies,” Laney admonished, shaking her head side to side. “Shame on you.”
Malina rolled her eyes at Laney and glanced over at her smiling baby girl, who even as beautiful as she was, looked nothing like her mom. Where Malina had long, wild, curly hair and was light-skinned with dark-brown eyes, Mahri was reddish-brown, with grey eyes and hair bordering on straight—all her father’s characteristics. In fact, Mahri’s father was what today’s trip to the park was all about. He had recently gotten in touch with a mutual acquaintance, and after a little bit of whining about how he’d fucked up and how he really wanted a relationship with his daughter, the mutual acquaintance had given up Malina’s phone number without so much as a warning.
Initially, Malina was pissed that her friend would sell her out so easily, but after the anger subsided, Malina shifted her focus to her baby and how she might owe it to her to see what the sperm donor’s change of heart was all about. The last thing that Malina would ever want to happen is for her daughter to be upset with her years later, after coming of age and discovering that Malina rejected an offer from this man to know his child. So, after a week of him leaving messages, and weighing her options, Malina had finally called him back with a simple response: “You called?”
Once he got past beating around an invisible bush with random and extremely hollow conversation, he offered up a bunch of weak-ass apologies about not having been there when he should’ve been. And somewhere near an hour later, he got around to asking Malina if she would bring Mahri to a barbecue that his family was having.
“I know I fucked up and that there’s no way I can make up for the past three years,” he’d said. “But I want to try. I know you probably hate the fuck outta me, but this shit’s been heavy on my heart for a minute—a long minute.”
As reluctant as Malina had been to do it, she ran the entire conversation by her mother later that same day. Of course her mother used a lot of expletives at first and talked about how she wanted to kiss his ass. It was all it took for Malina to completely oppose the idea. But once her mother had gotten her hate-filled rant off her chest, it surprised Malina when her mother did a three-sixty in her view of the situation. She ended up placing a guilt trip on Malina, and voicing her feelings that Mahri deserved to know the man who was a direct extension of her. Ultimately, it was her mother’s words that caused Malina to give in. So, she finally caved and agreed to make an appearance at the function.
“Go get your jacket, lil’ mama,” Laney instructed Mahri.
“I’m not cold, TT,” she pouted, anxious to get on the road.
“It’s gonna be cold later though, sweetie.”
“But it’s still early,” she fussed.
“I know baby, but when the sun starts to go down, your little arms are gonna be really cold. And then even if you’re having fun, we’ll have to leave and come back home.”
“Okay!” she finally agreed. “I’ll be right back!”
“That’s manipulation. Bad auntie,” Malina kidded.
“It worked though, right?” Laney laughed. Then as soon as she was sure that Mahri was out of earshot, Laney shifted onto one knee, dug her elbows into the plushness of the bed and jumped into interrogation mode. “What’s up, girl?” she asked in a hushed tone. “You having second thoughts?”
“Why you say that?” Malina posed, turning toward Laney.
“Because you’re moving hella slow. You changed your mind, huh? Girl, fuck him. He ain’t never been there. Our baby can’t miss what she never had and you don’t owe him shit. If you don’t wanna go, we don’t need to go. Fuck—”
“I got it!” Mahri announced, jumping onto the ottoman with Laney, her thin pink jacket in hand, and wearing a big smile. “We ready to go yet, Mommy?”
“Yeah, baby . . . we’re ready,” Malina told her daughter, sliding in her silver hoop earrings.
“Yayy!” Mahri exclaimed, darting full speed toward the front of the house.
Malina sighed loudly and flexed her shoulders. “Let’s gone and do this, Laney. You see I’m dressed for the occasion,” she laughed. “I got my Jordan’s on, this tank, these sweats and a messy ponytail on top of my head.”
Laney laughed. “Right. Casual, cute and battle-ready if that’s what it comes down to. You know I got your back, girl.”
Malina knew that Laney having her back was a non-issue. The two had been in each other’s lives since birth. But that was inevitable since their mothers had been best friends since their senior year of high school. With them each being their mother’s only children, and only four months apart, they had grown up more like sisters.
On the ride to the park at Lake Temescal, Malina was deep in her thoughts as the music blared in surround sound inside the car. She had no idea how she was supposed to act at this thing. Was she supposed to hang back and let the introductions play out? Was she supposed to put on a fake smile like everything was all good when it wasn’t? All she knew was that she was thankful that Laney had agreed to come with her. It wasn’t like she couldn’t hold her own, but she did want to have somebody to talk to in a sea of faces she didn’t know.
As her thoughts drifted around in her mind in no particular order, Malina thought back to running into Rocco a week after their initial conversation. She hadn’t seen him or talked to him in years and then when she finally did, she somehow managed to see him out in public. It was weird how things worked out that way. Shit was totally coincidental, and left Malina feeling as though it was even more of a sign for her to get Mahri together with him.
At first when she saw him walking toward her, she was fully prepared to act like she hadn’t seen him, but he’d stepped into her path and made it difficult for her to take that stance. As big and bad as Rocco always managed to come across, that day was a different story. He was nervous as ever. She observed him constantly rubbing his hands together; at times he rushed them into his sweat pockets. He also avoided direct eye contact while he talked. That was a definite giveaway, and it kind of gave Malina a certain level of satisfaction to know that he was uncomfortable.
As he chatted up her and began to feel more at ease, Malina remembered being pissed that his conversation became more relaxed. As she watched his lips move, the only she wanted to do was drop-kick his ass. The way his conversation progressed she got the distinct impression that he assumed since she’d given him a tentative ‘yes’ on his invitation, that all was peachy keen.
But shit was far from peachy keen—about as far as the distance between Mercury and Neptune. All Malina could think of while he stood just inches outside of her personal space was that she had only ‘interacted’ with Rocco twice in the past almost-three years: the night that she went into labor and called him but he never showed up to the hospital, and again when Mahri was seven months old. And she knew just what that ‘visit’ was all about. It happened in a lot of black families—his mother had probably urged him to, “Go see if that baby belongs to us.”
Malina was hurt by his actions. But it wasn’t because she wanted him in her life; it was because she’d hoped he wanted to be in their daughter’s life. And it just didn’t happen that way. And to let him tell it, there was more to the madness that she’d just not given him time to say back then.
“When I said that I didn’t want any more kids, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t gonna step up and take care of my responsibilities. But you cut me off and I didn’t even have a number for you.”
“Nah, you weren’t going to have a number for me because the minute you said that you didn’t want to have another child, I let go. I had already made my decision to keep her and I wasn’t about to be somebody’s baby mama sitting on the sidelines sulking because the dude didn’t want nothing to do with his own child. That’s not who I am. And I also wasn’t about to be a phone call away when you wanted some pussy just because I had your child in my womb. Nah.”
“It wasn’t even like that, Malina. I was just telling you how I felt about the situation. I was keeping it real when I said that I didn’t want any more kids. But again, it didn’t mean that—”
“Rocco, she’s three. Don’t feed me the bull. I’m not them . . . your other baby mamas. I ain’t them. You didn’t show up to the hospital and you came and saw her once after she was born and that was it. So, miss me with the stories. Let’s just leave shit as it was with you apologizing and saying you want to see where shit can go now. Because, I’ll be honest; there’s a huge part of me that don’t want that shit. But there’s a bigger part of me that doesn’t want my baby to resent me later if she finds out that you made an effort—no matter how much later it was—and I rejected it.”
“Alright, you got that. I fucked up. I did. But I wanna know her and I want her to know me—and my fam. That’s real.”
In her dazed state, Malina shook her head side to side. It was as if doing so would completely get rid of the thoughts of that day’s conversation. But it was ultimately Mahri’s little voice asking, “Mommy, are we almost there?” that made Malina keenly aware that she had zoned out. And she knew the cause of her disappearing act, too. It was because the closer they got to their destination, the more she was starting to think that the first introduction to these people shouldn’t have been at a fuckin’ park. It should’ve been a one-on-one with Mahri’s quote-unquote ‘father’ first, and then depending on how that went, everybody else later. She exhaled sharply, as the butterflies in her stomach began to perform acrobatic summersaults.
Because of the pause in the music at that very moment, Laney heard the sigh and turned to look at her. When the music began playing again, Laney pressed a button on her steering wheel to increase the noise just a little bit. She didn’t want Mahri to hear what she was about to say.
“It’s not too late for me to turn around, Malina. Like, for real. The tension from you is reeking over there. Shit, can you even breathe?” she kidded. “For real, though, I’m just as protective of lil’ mama as you are. So, just say the word. I mean, she’s three years old. I don’t trust this shit at all. These niggas shouldn’t get passes like that, man. You come nowhere near the babies when they’re hella little, and when starring roles need to be played . . . but then you all of a sudden get a conscience and wanna step in—out the clear blue. Fuck. That. Is he gonna know when she needs new t-shirts because she outgrew the old ones? Is he gonna know when she needs new shoes because her little toes are scrunched at the tip? Shit, is he gonna be there on her first day of preschool and calling every day to see how school was? Ugh! This shit just . . . ugghh. We can turn this bitch around and take her to Marine World or something and she won’t remember shit about a damn park.”
Every single emotion that Laney expressed, Malina shared as well. Every. Single. One. But since she’d already committed, Malina felt a sense of obligation to see it through. She didn’t know why, she just did. And besides, she got the impression that if she didn’t show up, he would keep calling. The phone call and the subsequent encounter with him, post call, told her as much. So she felt she might as well get it over with.
Malina reached across the seat and rubbed Laney’s resting forearm. “You know I agree with everything you said. But I’m good. We’re gonna go ahead and make an appearance and I just gotta hope that I did the right thing.”
“No . . . he gotta make sure we did the right thing. At least that’s what he would want to do.”
“Girl, okay!” Malina yelled out, slapping a high-five with her bestie.
“Are we almost at the park yet, TT?” Mahri blurted out from her car seat in the back.
“Almost babe,” Laney replied.
She’s so precious, Malina thought to herself as she turned to look at her baby in the backseat. Mahri’s excitement made her happy, but she had to admit that she was beyond nervous. You better do right by her, Rocco. Because if not, there will be more than the devil’s hell to pay.
“Well, look sis,” Laney added, “if we get there and you feel the slightest bit of discomfort or regret, we get the fuck up outta there and we don’t owe a muthafucka a single explanation. For real. Okay?”
Malina offered a crooked smile and a nod of her head, in response.
“As soon as I bend this corner, we got a short incline and then the place comes into full view. Last call, chick,” Laney announced.
Malina spoke slowly and with a bit of reluctance. “It’s all good, sis . . . I got this.”
Morocco “Rocco” Lee
The barbecue was in full swing with multiple generations present. The music played loudly while some danced in the large section of grass they had managed to reserve, others played board games, and some just talked amongst themselves. The mood was festive and nothing short of what all the Lee events were like. Food was everywhere, and it looked more like a family reunion than a birthday party for a six-year-old. Good-looking men and beautiful women, and cute-as-a-button kids, made up the Lee clan.
Even with as lively as everything was, Morocco “Rocco” Lee was nervous as fuck. Nothing ever stroked his nerves—but this day most definitely did. Today he’d be seeing his daughter for the first time in almost three years. He didn’t know how it would go; only that he needed to make it happen and that was what caused him to look for her mother, Malina. He had to make things right. He had kids in his life who had been in his life the entire time; but that hadn’t happened with his and Malina’s daughter. He was wrong for it and he knew it.
In between chatting it up with his male relatives gathered around the barbecue pit, Rocco intermittently rubbed his hands together. He was quickly becoming agitated with how quickly the film of sweat was forming. It was okay for him to be nervous, but the last thing he needed was anybody else realizing that shit and having some slick ass comment to make. So every chance he got, he folded his arms across his chest.
“What yo’ ass thinking about, bruh?!” one of the guys asked Rocco, catching him off guard.
“That steak look good as hell! A nigga hawngry as fuck!” Rocco yelled out. “That’s what the fuck I’m thinkin’ about,” he lied.
“Hell yeah, it looks good! I know that shit!” Rocco’s uncle boasted. “My shit always a hitta!” he laughed. “But, shit, it’s hot as fuck out here, man. The fuck I agree to this shit for?!”
“Because, nigga! Yo’ ass think you the only one can burn some shit. That’s why you agreed! And yo’ ass is yellow as fuck anyway, you can use some damn tan!”
“Fuck outta here. You need a damn color chart, dude. Ain’t shit yellow about this one. And if it was, I ain’t worried about a fuckin’ tan. If anything, a muthafucka worried about passin’ the fuck out. Y’all lazy-ass niggas would come and reserve the spot where the pit ain’t nowhere a fuckin’ tree!”
“Nigga quit whinin’!”
“Whinin’? Yeah, okay. You just fucked ya’self out a steak or six, you hungry bastid! You can feast on these toddler hot dogs for the whole day, and shit!”
Rocco guffawed loudly, as he backtracked. “Okay! Okay! I take that shit back!”
“Yeah, I know you do! Grab me one of those Smirnoff’s out the cooler. Muh’fukka need a damn breeze out this bitch!”
“Bruuuh, you need to quit with that cryin’ and shit!” one of the cousins chimed in.
“You mean cryin’ like yo’ chunky ass was doin’ when you came over here and thought all the meat was gone?!”
Rocco doubled over in laughter at the comment.
“Rocco! The fuck you laughin’ at, chump?! You need to be over there mingling with all yo’ baby mamas! Get you some of them damn skinny jeans that all the little soft niggas is wearin’ and hug yo’ nuts up! The Lee’s ain’t never gon’ be extinct as long as you out in these streets!”
“Y’all crazy as hell!” one of the other guys hollered through uncontrollable laughter. “Aye! Just gone and throw me one of them plump steaks on and y’all can keep goin’! Shit is entertainin’!”
The laughs always kept coming when Rocco and his uncle Zeke were together. The men were more like brothers only being three years apart. Zeke was the younger brother of Rocco’s mother, Rosalind, and they’d virtually grown up together in the same household and didn’t even realize that they were in a hierarchy until they were older. And even then it still didn’t change things in the relationship. They were each other’s ride or die and were always there for one another; even going so far as to go into business together.
“Speakin’ of entertainin’, Bubba yo’ ass need to be less worried about some damn steaks and turn off this soft ass music!” Rocco blurted. “Here . . .” he reached out toward Bubba. “Put my iPod on that deck! Y’all gon’ put all the kids and the elders to sleep!”
“Nigga, hopefully, it put yo’ sperm to sleep!” Bubba countered, followed by a roar of laughter.
“Aww! This fat nigga got jokes!” Rocco roared, holding onto his stomach. “Okay, you got me! But yo’ punk ass still need to change the music, though!”
Just then, in the middle of his chuckle, Rocco looked in the distance and spotted Malina approaching holding a little girl’s hand and his heart sank. He snapped to attention watching the small figure. It was his baby girl. His hands immediately began to sweat again, causing him to rub them down the side of his jeans. He noticed the girl with Malina too. It was Malina’s sister, Laney. Shit, he thought. He remembered all too well how Laney’s mouth was set up so he knew to prepare himself.
“Looks like we got new meat approaching,” another one of the guys in the group commented.
“I’ll be back y’all,” Rocco announced.
As Rocco took off in Malina’s direction, he could hear one of the guys behind him comment loudly, “No this fool not about to holler at a broad . . . in broad daylight . . . with his main one here. I ain’t breakin’ up no chick fights today!”
All Rocco could do was chuckle to himself at the shenanigans. He knew there wouldn’t be any issues with fighting or anything like that. He’d already had the conversation with Kai, his woman of six years, the night before. So, she knew to have her act-right intact and to keep her mouth decent and her claws in. So, he didn’t anticipate any mishaps. Kia knew, like he knew, that today was about him getting some long overdue time with the only one of his kids that he didn’t know.
Moments later, he approached Malina and tried his best to keep his glare as casual and nonchalant as possible. The whole time though, he was thinking about how fine she was. A pretty ass head of wild hair that made anybody that walked past her take notice. Today she had it in a ponytail and he already knew why. He remembered her hot temper. She was operating on the safe side of things and wanted to be prepared for anything brewing. And even though she didn’t have to worry about anything jumping off, Rocco couldn’t help but laugh a little knowing that her fine-ass was down for it.
The girl was bad—in a good way. She had a nice round ass on her and even though she was petite, she had curves like a thickum—he even remembered what the lean on those curves was like. Yeah, she was all-woman. Damn, girl, he thought to himself as he watched her work the fuck out the fitted sweats she had on and a tank top that was so tight it tamed the fuck out her soft-ass titties. Even though the two of them were never technically in a relationship, the friendship they did have . . . yeah, it came with some good-ass benefits and a whole lot of memories attached. Fuck, man.
Rocco took a sly look around. He knew that even with all the family and friends present, all eyes went to Malina and company, because they were new. Rocco’s main goal was to keep the drama all the way down. Of course as soon as he looked over at the picnic table where Kia and her sister sat with some of their friends, he discovered that they were looking right at him; just as he knew they would be.
He ignored their stares and threw his waved his hand above his head so Malina could spot him and come his way as he continued his short trip to where she was.
“‘S’up, girl?” Rocco greeted, leaning in to give Malina a quick hug.
Malina tensed, then pulled back from the uncomfortable embrace. “Not much,” she responded looking around cautiously.
“S’up, Laney?” he greeted, dryly.
“Shit . . .” Laney responded, mimicking the same tone that he’d used.
“It’s a lot of people here,” Malina observed. “A lot of people.”
Rocco smiled. “Yeah, this how we roll. The squad is deep.”
“Wow. That’s awesome,” Laney scoffed. “And yet not one of them . . . never mind,” Laney said, catching herself mid-shade about to say something about how nobody even showed an interest in Mahri.
“So, what’s goin’ on?” Malina asked. “What’s the plan?”
Rocco shrugged his shoulders casually. “I was just gonna get y’all introduced to everybody and then go from there.”
“Umm, I don’t need to meet anybody. You can just direct me to a seat where it ain’t hella broads staring for no reason,” Laney stated. “Because all this ice-grillin’ might cause problems that they don’t want.”
“Man, yo’ ass is still thugged out. Time to mature, don’t you think?”
“Pssh, you don’t wanna know what I think,” Laney spat. “Just show me our VIP section where we can go and be in peace while you play fake daddy.”
“Laney . . .” Malina started. She shook her head in disapproval, then lowered her eyes toward an innocent Mahri who was busy looking around at all the people.
“Alright,” Laney surrendered. “Where can we sit at though?”
Rocco ignored Laney’s question and her sarcasm, then kneeled down in front of Mahri and stared at her for a few long seconds before looking up at Malina. “Damn, man . . . she is hella pretty,” he complimented a blushing Mahri. “She got that texture,” he acknowledged, carefully playing with one of her long ponytails. He chuckled as he released her hair. “And she got those grey eyes. I see she lookin’ just like her—”
“Don’t do that, Rocco,” Malina snapped angrily. “We’ll talk to her away from here . . . later.”
“Ohh, my bad,” he apologized, looking at his daughter once again. “I respect that. I can’t stop looking at her though.”
“Hmph,” Laney hissed. “I’ll be over there at the table next to the no-manner-havin’ hoes.”
“See ya!” Rocco said, as she walked off.
“Damn, you had to bring Mouth as your plus one, huh?” he laughed.
“Yep, you know it.”
He refocused his attention on Mahri. “I’m Rocco. What’s your name?” he asked.
He knew that there was no way she would remember that she’d seen him before because she was too young to remember. He felt remorseful as hell about it too. There was no reason for him to not be a father to the beautiful little girl all those years, but every time more time passed by, he felt more and more like a fuck-up for not stepping up. He couldn’t promise her out loud yet, but all of that was about to change.
Mahri looked up at Malina before speaking to the stranger; then after her mother nodded her approval, Mahri looked over into Rocco’s eyes and responded, “I’m Mahri . . . it’s M-A-H-R-I.”
“Oh wow, you are so smart. You spell your own name?”
“Uh-huh. I spell my Mommy’s name too,” she said proudly. “It’s M-A-L-I-N-A.”
“Wow, pretty girl! Can I give you a high-five?” he asked.
“Yep!” she shrieked excitedly, slapping her little hand against the palm of his.
Rocco stood up. Man . . .” he sighed, slowly rubbing his hands against the sides of his low cut fade. “We made something beautiful,” he said, in a low tone. “She got everything of mine,” he stated proudly. “Malina, I wanna damn near cry right now. I gotta make this right. Thank you for bringing her.”
“It’s all good,” she quickly responded, trying to keep him from saying too much more that could accidentally be overheard. “Thanks for the invite.”
“You think she’ll take a walk with me?”
“Where too?” Malina questioned.
“It’ll be cool. I just wanna introduce her to a few people.”
“Like who?” Malina asked, alarmed.
“Just some of my family. I won’t introduce her as . . . you know. I’ll just introduce her as Mahri,” he promised. “Is it cool?”
“That’s all you’re gonna do, right?”
“Yeah. I’m not doing nothin’ outside of what we talked about. I want this too bad. I wouldn’t do that. You got my word.”
“Okay,” Malina reluctantly agreed.
“We won’t be gone long.”
“Alright,” she said, slowly letting go of her baby’s hand.
Rocco jerked his head in the direction of the large spread of food across six long tables. “There’s hella food over there, but if you wanna wait until I get back, I can make y’all plates. Even mean-ass Laney.”
Malina couldn’t help but laugh. As Rocco walked in one direction with Mahri, she walked over to join Laney; periodically glancing back over her shoulder.
“Why did you let him do that, Malina?” Laney asked. She shook her head, disapprovingly, as they both watched Mahri walk off, hand-in-hand with her dad.
Malina released a heavy sigh. “Do what, Laney?” she said; her tone low.
“Take Mahri with him. She don’t know his ass like that.”
Malina was close to tears watching her baby walk off without her and not even once looking back. For whatever reason, Mahri seemed to be comfortable with Rocco, and that was rare for her to be that free with anybody outside of her maternal circle.
“I don’t know, sis,” Malina finally responded. “Just felt like the right thing to do, I guess. Trust me; I’m nervous as fuck. Watching this scene play out is like watching my heart detach from my soul.” Malina sighed deeply. “So, yeah, I don’t need you coming down on me about it. I already can’t think straight.”
“I ain’t gonna come down on you about it. But at the same, I’m not just about to be all buddy-buddy with this ninja just because you are.” Laney, as Mahri’s godmother was just as protective of the baby as Malina was.
“Now you doin’ way too much. Ain’t nobody buddy-buddy with him. Trust and believe that.”
“Shit, I can’t tell.”
“Whatever, girl. You’re reading way more into that little-bitty-ass exchange than you need to be. Now let’s go find somewhere else to sit. Somewhere that I can still see my baby’s every move; but somewhere that ain’t so close to these staring-ass chicks next to us. I’m not tryin’ to have to pop off at somebody else’s function.”
“Yeah, let’s go ahead and do that,” Laney agreed, throwing her legs over the bench.
Together they walked to another section of the park and found a large picnic table that had a few people gathered around a game of Bones, and took a seat there. While Laney took out her phone to respond to a text message, Malina continued to watch intently as Rocco walked Mahri from one cluster of folks to the next. Rocco had picked her up and was carrying her by this time, and Malina took note of the fact that Mahri still hadn’t turned around to look for her.
“Ugh, she actually likes these people” she mumbled, before realizing that she’d said it loud enough to be heard.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Laney concurred with a soft chuckle. “Because to be honest, I didn’t even think we’d be here this long. I was hoping that lil’ bit was gonna start asking when she was gonna get to the swings and the slide.”
“Right?!” Malina said, throwing her head back and laughing loudly. “Mahri’s over there like, ‘Fuck what you heard!’”
“Pfft! I know one thing; there’s a lot of damn people here. Lil’ mama got a lot of family if this is all of them.”
“At least three of these young ones around here are her siblings. I just don’t know which ones they are,” Malina shared.
“Tragic. This fool just making babies all over the damn place,” Laney shot. “Wait . . . who is the woman that just picked Mahri up?” she asked, preparing to get up from her bench seat.
“Calm down, killa,” Malina reasoned, lightly tugging her arm. “She’s good. Let’s just see how it plays out. And they’re walking this way anyway, so just put ya claws away.”
“Girrl,” Laney sighed exasperated. “I think I need something to drink to calm my nerves. I wasn’t gonna drink because I gotta drive us out this place, but—”
“It’s cool. Go ahead and get you something. You did me a favor by coming with me. I’ll be our designated driver on the way home. And trust me, I’m staying sober.”
Laney gleefully clapped her hands together. “That’s all I needed to hear!” she exclaimed. Her brown eyes lit up with excitement, as she pulled her thick size ten frame from the bench, adjusted her skinny jeans and ran her fingers through the length of her full head of wavy micro braids.
Malina smiled because she knew that Laney was going to get so much attention the moment she burst into the fold. Her smooth, deep chocolate hue complete with Lauren London sized dimples always brought the boys to her yard. And the auburn color she chose for her human hair was sure to be an attention-grabber when it bounced off the sun’s aggressive rays.
“Are my lips good?” she asked, puckering them. “I forgot my damn lip gloss.”
“What you trying to do? Go over there and kiss on some boys?”
“Nah, retard; but I need my lips looking nice though.”
“Ha! Too funny. Yeah, they’re good. Just don’t be over there kissing on no new-new and thinking you’re gonna put those lips on my baby later! We don’t play that, homey.”
“Whatever!” she said laughing. “See you in a sec.”
“More like a few secs!” Malina called out to her. Laney’s response was to wag her thick tail at her while she put on an extra hard switch of her hips across the grass. “A mess . . .” Malina giggled, under her breath. “A whole entire mess.”
Malina’s eyes scanned back in the direction of where Mahri was. She thought they were on their way to where she sat, but she noticed instead that they had detoured and were still chatting with some people. She watched in awe as Mahri was handed off, kissed and coddled. A part of Malina felt good about what appeared to be family—probably aunts and cousins—taking to Mahri, but she didn’t want for all of this to be overwhelming or misleading for her baby either. Especially, if Rocco was on some temporary shit and not planning to be in her life on a consistent basis. Malina was a parent all day every day; it was a habit for her to tend to her daughter’s needs at any given moment, and she had no plans of allowing him to come in and be a parent of convenience to Mahri. It was all or nothing.
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