Cover image for Hot Johnny (and the women who loved him)
Title:
Hot Johnny (and the women who loved him)
Author:
Jackson-Opoku, Sandra.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
306 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"A One World book"--T.p. verso.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780345428967
Format :
Book

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Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

Like a ray of sun that can warm your skin for a moment but can't be captured, John the Baptist Wright has touched the lives of many women-- heart, body, and soul. Now, in this brilliant new novel by Sandra Jackson-Opoku, award-winning author of The River Where Blood Is Born, we hear from the women who gave Hot Johnny his heat. Through the discerning eyes of those who have known and loved him, we watch Hot Johnny take a journey into the past, where a deeply guarded family secret lies hidden, waiting to be revealed. Along the way, pivotal moments of Hot Johnny's life begin to surface: his childhood struggles in the ghettos of Chicago, his rites of passage as a young gang member, his tragically short athletic career, his fantasies and obsessions, cruelties and compassion. Each woman has a distinct voice and her own point of view. Among them is Destiny, the damaged young woman he married, but cannot save; Lola Belle, the white lesbian with something to prove and nothing to lose; Tree, the college soulmate, whose first taste of tenderness came from Hot Johnny's touch; Cinnamon, the thrill seeker who only Johnny can satisfy; Peaches, the prostitute who gave the boy his name and sealed his reputation; Jonavis, the daughter he never knew he had; and Gracita Reina (Queen of Grace), his great-grandmother, who holds the key to Johnny's salvation. Each woman provides a piece of the puzzle that is Hot Johnny--until at last he is brought into dazzling focus. This deeply felt and emotionally involving tale offers a captivating portrait of a complex man who is both saint and sinner, hero and villain, and all the shadings in between. Sandra Jackson-Opoku has done nothing less than illuminate the shadowy places of a man's soul--and created a powerful novel of destiny and redemption.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Jackson-Opoku's second novel about John the Baptist Wright is an intriguing story of an African American man who has been the good and bad guy as well as the lover and fighter. The women who have loved him share intimate details of their lives but also the interconnectedness of having been a part of Johnny's life. Each woman recounts her relationship with him, from his grandmother to his daughter. He has been called by many names: John the Baptist, Juanita, monkey, Sergeant Hersey, Hot Johnny, the Gent, and Daddy. He was a student, an athlete, a serviceman, a brother, a husband, and a father. Yet, the illness of his daughter forced him to return to people that he had long since forgotten or ignored. And he is finally able to recognize that the women had given him what he had always been in search of. These women, from Chicago to Asheville, only wanted to love Johnny and be loved by him. --Lillian Lewis


Publisher's Weekly Review

Women love charismatic, faithless John Wright, and in this ambitious novel by award-winning author, poet and journalist Jackson-Opoku (The River Where Blood Is Born), they tell his story in a crazy quilt of interconnected episodes. From the hapless DestinyÄwho becomes his wife and bears a daughter plagued with sickle-cell anemiaÄthrough siblings, numerous lovers and an ancestor who holds the key to his past, Hot Johnny is portrayed in the various stages of his difficult life. From the time he was a little boy, abandoned by a mother who preferred life on the streets to raising a child, Johnny has had a knack for getting people to take care of him. Jackson-Opoku captures the different voices and attitudes of the women who cross paths with the unforgettable Johnny: his half-sister, Sister Baby Ruth; Miz Jones, a 38-year-old woman who has an affair with him when he is 19; Tree, the athlete who competes with him both on and off the college basketball court; and Gracita Reinu, his pioneering great-grandmother, who gave him his strong spirit and will to survive. Although the author adeptly juggles numerous personalities, she too often sends them off on crude, meaningless tangents or reduces them to speaking in awkward clich‚s. And the puzzling decision to throw in a possibly incestuous relationship and a contrived subplot in which Johnny is forced to search for a blood relative to aid his ailing daughter adds further distraction to an already intricate plot. Still, Jackson-Opoku's ability to craft memorable characters with distinct temperaments and sensibilities marks her as a writer to be reckoned with. Agent, Susan Bergholz. 5-city author tour. (Feb. 2) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

PROLOGUE Stone Soup He knew just how to feed them You see all our hungry faces in the photo album of his life. And you wonder. Who is he and what is he to you? You would never understand unless you know our story. So I'm going to tell you a fairy tale. Maybe you haven't heard this version. Once upon hard times Little Grandma Gracita planned a potluck picnic. We reached into cupboards and took out what we had. Every woman thought the other might bring something better to the table. Oh, it was sad. No fried chicken, no potato salad, no watermelon. Nothing but scrap bones, carrot tops; a pitiful spread. The mushy potatoes could hardly believe their eyes. I was the last to arrive, the one who brought pearl onions. Into this all steps a man named John, too good-looking to be good. Or so they say. If you didn't know different, you would cast him as the snake. Don Juan, con man, rogue. He said he knew just how to feed them. He brought out a pot and made a big fire. Into it went all their offerings, along with something special: a stone from his pocket, glowing with his own warmth. Bubbling in the broth of magic, stone soup was made. It was a miracle, and it was good! Each one ate until she was full. And they all lived happily ever after? Hardly. Real stories never end like the fairy tales do. Hot Johnny would stay so long as the soup simmered, dishing miracles into everyone's bowl. When the pot boiled over or turned cold, he would leave with his soup stone. Have you ever wondered where he went? He with all his hidden fires. We with all our hungers. Yes, we have our hungers. Don't be tempted to cast us as the victims. We take him in, hoping to touch his magic, and we ourselves are remade. I remember Hot Johnny like a ray of sun that touches your skin. It warms you for a moment, but you can't keep it with you. I remember him in tomorrow's dream, the bright one that dashes across your eyes right before you awaken. I remember him like John the Baptist. A chanted blessing and a splash of water, and those he touches are forever changed. But God's gift to women is not easy to be. He has never been sure of his power, you see. He doubts our intentions, questions our devotion. Those closest to him have even seen his scars. Cooks don't always get to enjoy what they create. What's the use of having cake unless you eat it, too? What's the sense in making stone soup unless you have a taste? Dishing up miracles for everyone else, what happens to Hot Johnny's own hungers? The beginning of the story starts at the end. Destiny I could almost be what he saw in me I didn't inherit much from my natural mother. Not a memory, not a snapshot; not even a surname. Just a sickle-cell blood trait that would blow up like a bomb one day. Just a lacy, tattered pillow with Who art thou, my daughter? Ruth 3:16 stitched in faded thread. A question on a pillow is all she left me. That and a prediction: Destiny. My mother knew I was an accident waiting to happen, destined to wind up with a broken heart. Mrs. Malveaux was a little coupon-clipping white lady, the last foster mother in a succession of six. What little I learned about men in my life, she's the one who taught me. When she found out I had a crush on the cutest boy at school, Mrs. Malveaux told me to lower my expectations. "If you're going to love a man that other women want," she warned, "get ready for a broken heart. Better a butt-ugly man who is faithful than a handsome heart-stopper sharing his loving all over town." Maybe she thought marrying that hairy gorilla of hers would guarantee her a lifetime of fidelity. But it didn't go down like that. I know for a fact that butt-ugly Franklin was not faithful to Vivian Malveaux. A fine man cheated because he could, an ugly one because he had something to prove. What possible hope did that hold out? I knew I was doomed the moment I laid eyes on him. No, I'm lying. I couldn't have known that, because I never thought a man like Johnny Wright would give me the time of day. Maybe I'm lucky winding up like Mrs. Malveaux predicted--my big nose wide open, my stupid heart broken. At least it was Johnny who broke my heart, which is more than dozens of more attractive women can say. Any girl on Pope Air Force Base would have given her last dime to get with Hot Johnny. I'm the one he chose over any number with longer hair, lighter skin, slimmer hips. I may be nursing a broken heart now, but at least I had his love to myself for four whole years. At least I'm the one who got to have his baby. I remember the first time he spoke to me. I was on KP, slinging hash in the NCO mess hall. I would chat with airmen on the chow line: the older white enlisted officers, the women, one or two of the brothers who seemed safe for conversation. But Johnny Wright was one I refused to recognize. I was frightened of him, plain and simple. Afraid he might see the panic in my eyes. It was hard for me to look a handsome man full in the face. It would be like trying to stare at the sun. The glare of his beauty would almost blind me. My eyes would smart with tears and I'd have to turn away. So I focused on the hands pushing along a military-issue green plastic tray. Knuckles with sparse strands of sandy hair; long fingers with bitten nails. Those chewed-off nails were much easier to look at than the golden perfection of his flawless face. I would thrust Johnny's plate toward him without looking up at him. If he tried to make small talk, I would mumble a response and turn to the next in line. One day he didn't take the plate from me so quickly. I held it out to the empty air, my face shiny with sweat and shame. "You got a kind word for everybody but me, airman. How come? Is it because I'm black?" I didn't answer. "I'm going to make you look at me tonight, you luscious little chocolate drop." I couldn't see his face because I was looking down. But I could hear the chuckle in his voice. It had to be his idea of a joke, calling attention to my color. Pretending to like my looks, when everyone within earshot could see just how plain I was. "Look me in the eye when I address you, airman. And that's an order." "Yes, sir," I muttered, staring down at the steaming pan of hash. I tried to hand him his plate of food once again. "No excuse for my behavior, sir." "I'm not going to take that slop until you look at me." "Look at the fool, for Christ's sake," someone down the line muttered. "We're getting hungry down here." I was so humiliated. He was holding up the chow line and the others were enjoying a joke at my expense. I stole a glance at him, catching gold sparks glinting in olive green eyes. "Take your food, Sergeant Wright," I whispered. "Please, sir." He noticed the tears I was blinking back and grabbed the plate, brushing my hand as he did. "Aw, baby girl." He leaned forward, murmuring in a voice meant for my ears only. "I didn't mean to make you cry." I was nobody's baby girl, had never really been. It just made me want to cry all the more. I held it in until my duty ended, the steam table cleared and the chow pans scrubbed. I went out behind the mess hall, sat on the steps, and bawled into my hands. I was like a hot-water bag somebody filled up, put away, and forgot about. People might have called them curves, but I knew it was years of unspilled water that swelled the contours of my skin. Six different foster homes, no family to visit on leave, empty spaces in a photo album where a father and a mother should have been. Not even a safe place to cry. Saltwater tears leaked out, punctured by the random pinprick of a man too blindingly beautiful to behold. Then there he was. I don't know where he came from or how he got there. "What did I say to make you cry?" he whispered, sitting down beside me. He reached over, mopping up tears and snot with his clean white handkerchief, chanting some kind of gibberish beneath his breath. Sana, sana colita de rana Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana. "Huh?" My tears dissolved in sheer surprise. "What did you just say?" "Just a little something my great grandmother used to sing when life had put a hurting on me. I don't even know what it meant, but it always made me smile. I see it still works, that grin struggling beneath all those tears. Don't you know that brown sugar should always be kept dry? You don't want nothing melting marks into that pretty face." "I . . . am . . . not . . . pretty," I hiccuped. "You're just messing with me, sir." He had the nerve to look surprised. He tucked a hand under my chin, tilting my head back in consideration. He seemed to reassess my broad, tearstained features. "Girl, where were you in the seventies?" "Not even born." "You're probably, what? Eighteen years old?" "Nineteen last Tuesday," I told him. "Almost young enough to be my daughter." I shook my head. "You're not old enough to have any grown kids." "Thirty-seven years old? Hell, it ain't impossible. I did get started awfully young. I cut my teeth on morsels like you. My first true love was a dark little something I called Black Pearl. Churchgoing girl, all straitlaced and buttoned down. But hot as hell and sweet as honey under those high collars and long skirts. She used to sell candy bars for the church. World's finest chocolate. Lord knows, the girl wasn't lying." I felt a sharp stab of jealousy. My reaction shocked even me. "Church girls usually are loose like that, sir." He smiled at my outburst. "Loose and juicy. Nobody had to tell me--the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice. I wish you'd been around to hear it," he whispered into my ear. "Black is beautiful." I kissed my teeth, suddenly irritated. Who was this golden boy to be preaching me the gospel of blackness? "By your leave, sir. I've been in this body nineteen years and I know better. Nobody thinks girls who look like me are beautiful." "Then they ain't got eyes," he said solemnly. "Because you are one fine figure of a woman. Your mama should have named you Midnight." He pulled me up so quickly I hardly had time to react. "What are you doing, sir?" "Nobody here but us chickens, airman. You don't have to keep calling me sir." He took my hands and danced with me, swaying to a slow song he murmured in my ear. My heartbeat underscored the off-key melody, one of those ballads that comes on the oldies station late Sunday nights. A song about a pretty little girl named Black Pearl, worthy to be rescued from the background and placed upon a pedestal. "Don't even know how fine you are," he scolded. "Come here, girl. Let me lift you up where you belong." With me giggling like an idiot, he lowered me down into a dip, then hoisted me up toward the moon. The kiss I was foolish enough to antici- pate was a lazy salute he threw my way before disappearing through the lighted doorway. It even hurt to look at him in silhouette. I figured he and his buddies would have something new to laugh about. But later that week on my narrow cot, tucked under the Who art thou, my daughter? pillow was an envelope and an unwrapped white jewelry box. In it I found a simple gold chain, a glowing black teardrop-shaped opal dangling from its end. The birthday card in- side wasn't even signed; I opened it and read the eight-word saying scrawled there. The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice. "I couldn't find a black pearl, although I know they exist," he admitted one night, unfastening the top two buttons of my uniform shirt. "But why do I have to look anymore? I've got my pearl." "But Sergeant Wright," I whispered as he positioned the opal in the cleft of my cleavage, "my name is Destiny." It was a series of mixed signals, an endless pluck of a daisy petals: He wants me, he wants me not. "Whoa--down, boy." He pulled away in the middle of our first kiss, addressing himself below the belt. "Who told you to raise your ugly head? Don't mind me, baby girl. This licking stick needs a strong dose of military discipline." I thought our relationship was a secret until people started sniggering behind my back, whispering, "Saltpeter." The hottest brother on base was dating the homeliest virgin, or so they thought. Every weekend of his leave was spent taking classes at a monastery of wandering Taoists in Chapel Hill. He was going for holy, practicing celibacy, and seeing me on the sly. A lot of people figured it for a ruse, an evasive maneuver. Johnny used to manage the fitness center at the base but had been busted down to staff sergeant and given desk duty while under in- vestigation for sexual harassment. The brass claimed to be conduct- ing a confidential inquiry, but everyone had their own version of the story. Some called it racism, a put-up job. It was an unwritten courtesy in basketball to throw the game to a senior officer. Johnny pulled rank in one-on-one, wiping the floor with his stationmaster. Now the command chief was pulling strings to get him drummed out of the force. Others said he was guilty as sin. That at one time or another he'd slept with all three of the white women under his command. It was even rumored in some quarters that a gay man had been his accuser. Damned liars, that's what I said. Whichever one of them blew the whistle, and all those doing the whispering. Hell has no fury like a lover scorned, be it male or female. All four of them had dropped the ball in his court at one time or another, but Johnny swears he never picked it up. Not a once. "I've been twenty years poking around the candy box," he insisted. "Why fool around with vanilla creams and hard candies when you know what you like is dark chocolate?" Look at me. Chocolate can't hardly get darker than this. Anyway, why would a man as fine as Johnny have to force his attention on a woman, or even a man for that matter? Everybody out there was trying to give him some. Cashiers at the Fort Bragg PX would slip their phone numbers into his grocery bags. High school girls would follow him in town, giggling and asking to feel his muscles. Transvestite hookers would call to him from darkened doorways. Every woman from airman basic to staff officer would make their way over to his table for ladies' choice at the NCO club. This would go on right in front of my face, with me sitting next to him or across the table. We were playing pretend, we're just friends. But I was really practicing invisibility. I had become so dark I almost disappeared. No one seemed to notice me there in the glare of Johnny's sunshine. If you don't say boo, people will step all over you to get what they want. If nothing else, that's one lesson I learned in the force. His male buddies baptized him "Hot Dick Johnson." They would watch him shag some girl across the floor, a dance step I was never able to master. Slapping five in a mixture of envy and admiration. Commenting on his every move and posture. He was like the alpha male, the only one in the pack who got to mate. The other wolves got excited just yapping around him. "Look at that," one would call out. "Watch him bend her clean over backwards. Hah! Johnny calls that 'dipping the cherry.' " "Celibate, my balls. Hot Dick Johnson ain't fooling nobody." Lazing at the bar, guzzling beers. "That boy get so much pussy thrown at him, he got to go out with a helmet on." An explosion of sniggling and back-slapping, beer suds flying. Helmet must have had more than one meaning. "That's right," someone else would testify. "I seen that nigga on the basketball court, sure do know how to duck and dodge. Now me, I wouldn't be dodging no pussy." "You ain't got to. Don't see none raining down on your head." Johnny seemed bored with all the attention. Maybe that's what led him to me in the end. A woman who wasn't bold about wanting him. Who didn't chase him, never threw herself at him. Who barely spoke unless prompted. Not because I didn't want to. I was so nervous and insecure, whenever he turned his eyes my way I would quickly look in the other direction. He could have helped himself to whatever he wanted. What was I going to do, just say no? My quiet desperation must have looked like innocence. In fact, everyone assumed I was either a virgin or a lesbian. Johnny seemed to take my inarticulate silences for modesty and reserve. He made me out as the good girl on base. An untouched flower in a garden of sin, one he could sniff but wouldn't pick. He must have been mixing me up with that sanctified girl from his high school days. Maybe he felt guilty about taking her virginity and was trying to make it right by preserv- ing mine. Fat lot of good it did. We were seen out together on many a we're-just-friends occasion, and Johnny was hit with a fraternization charge. People who hadn't even been there reported that he had sexually harassed me that evening on the chow line at the NCO mess hall. Insult added to injury. I just knew a jealous female was behind it. Probably Nelda, that weasel-faced wigger from Florida. She acted like talking black and sleeping black would make her into something she wasn't. Wanna-bes like Nelda were the worst kind of white folk. Acting like they're down with the homies, when all they want is to take something from you. It was Nelda, I'm convinced, who took those pictures of the ugliest African-looking faces from the Benetton ads and stuck them to my locker for everyone to laugh at. "I hear you and Wright got a thing going on." She gave me the once-over in the showers one day, checking out my hair, my face, my figure. "You know he don't want nothing but your body. You know he going to drop you the minute you give it up, just like he did that little white girl year before last. You got any sense, you'll hold out for as long as you can." Holding out was never a strategy, at least not on my part. I would have been glad to give it up. He just never asked for it, not once during all the time we were courting. Although sometimes I could see him struggling. I slowly came to understand that I must have had a nice body, or so some men seemed to think. Even though I saw myself two sizes too big, with flaring hips and breasts so abundant they were a constant source of embarrassment. Those breasts had gotten me in trouble the moment they made their appearance. They bulged out as bodacious as two street-corner whores. I wasn't quite twelve, and I felt like cutting them off. Maybe it would have kept the boys and men from staring. Would have kept foster fa- ther number six from sticking his hairy hands under my sweater and squeezing them every time we were alone together in the house. If it hadn't been for those breasts, maybe I wouldn't have been in the United States Air Force, looking for a father whose name I never knew. Maybe the Willises would have adopted me and I'd be gone off to college. They had been the happiest two years of my life. Elegance Willis was dark like me, but his wife was cream-colored with long, pretty hair. Lorraine could have had her pick of brown-skinned children or even a biracial baby. She didn't have to settle for someone as black as dirt, way past the cute-and-cuddly stage. But she said I was just what she wanted, a girl child who looked "just like my husband's people." Lorraine Willis could have almost passed for white if it wasn't for all that African jewelry and clothes she draped herself in. "Oh, no, you are not drawing pictures of little pink people," she'd scold, grabbing away my crayon box. "Where's that purple? Here. I want you to make me a beautiful eggplant-colored girl, just like you." I had never seen an eggplant before, but I looked it up in the World Book encyclopedia. I learned it wasn't a plant at all, but a squash with purple-black skin. A pretty color, though I never imagined myself quite so dark and shiny. Mrs. Willis called them my "womanly curves." She was tall and flat-chested, just like a model. When I started developing womanly curves by the age of twelve, she snapped the strap of my new brassiere. "You're getting too big too quick. Don't let your boobies write checks that your butt can't cash. You know what I mean, Destiny darling?" I knew but didn't worry. Nothing could hurt me now. I had my very own room, a frilly bed where I could leave my Who art thou, my daughter? pillow out without worrying about it being taken. I was in a good home with nice parents and an older brother who promised to "kick ass and take numbers" if anyone ever messed with me. Jamal Willis called me "sister-girl." I never thought I'd have a family, never even imagined I'd have a big brother to call me "sister-girl." Both the Willises were high school teachers. Elegance taught gym and coached the track team most days after school. Lorraine was a painter and an art teacher, always taking evening classes--herb gardening, calligraphy, tai chi. The family owned the apartment building where we lived, reminding their tenants in writing each fall that "we keep your rent low by keeping the furnace turned down during the day." I always got home first, walking from the middle school two blocks away. Jamal, three years older and in high school, only had an hour to wait before one parent or another arrived to turn up the thermostat. Until then, we'd just be cold. On days when we could see our breath in the air, my foster brother would crab and complain about those "penny-pinching misers" who were his parents. I didn't mind. I'd been through much worse hardship than that. The cold apartment was kind of companionable. We wore thick sweaters, hobo gloves with the fingers cut out. We drank endless mugs of hot chocolate. I would put on my hobo gloves and tuck my cold feet underneath me, doing my homework under a mound of blankets on the living room sofa. Jamal would let himself into the apartment, blowing to see if he could see his breath. "Sister-girl, I'm freezing," he'd groan, diving for the sofa. "You better share those covers." We would cuddle together, keeping warm. We'd sit up and talk, or lean back and watch TV. This was the life. Having a sibling to cuddle with and watch TV on the living room sofa. Jamal challenged me to a tickle fight one afternoon. He won, of course, straddling me and tickling until I cried uncle. Tickle fights became a regular game. One day he didn't let up even after uncle. When tickling turned into touching, I didn't try to stop him. It was only a game. "Ooh, sister-girl. You're soft under there." He lay on top, fully dressed at first, clutching at bulges under clothes, rubbing his body between my legs. I knew it wasn't right, but it didn't seem so very wrong. "Sister-girl got some big titties." He would hold his upper body away, not heavy on me. Not crushing me. I would lie still as a little girl listening for Santa Claus while my body warmed, thawing like icicles. Drip, drip, drip. It's not like we were really brother and sister. Maybe this was love. Maybe someday we'd get married. The games got more frequent, more demanding. Clothing would be shed, a little more each time. The day it came down to naked skin, where else was there to go? I'd spent a lifetime yearning for a mother, but that was the moment when I wanted a father. I lay there quiet, not protesting. Trying hard to make my father materialize. I could almost picture him. Tall and fine like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman. Only difference, he'd be brown, but not too dark. I could almost hear him at the door. He'd walk through it with purposeful strides, splendid in full-dress military whites. He'd scoop me into his arms and carry me out through the open door, pilot of his own aircraft. I'd close my eyes and we'd go flying, soaring off into the wild blue yonder. Then the fantasy popped like an overstretched water balloon. "Ooh. You came, too." Jamal whispered panted congratulations. His movements slowed to a grind, erasing my father's face. "Sister-girl, you sure know how to do it." "No, I didn't." I denied the fading throb, the confusing wetness between my thighs. "No, I don't." Jamal smiled, self-assured. Like he had been the pilot, the one who had taken me into the skies. "Oh, yes, you did." He thrust out his open palm, then squeezed it shut. "I could feel it." It wasn't my father who stepped through the door just then. It had been Lorraine Willis's key turning in the lock, catching us both red-handed. She flew across the room, yanked Jamal from the sofa, slapped him across his face, and sent him to his room. But I was not comforted. I was not whisked away to safety. Clothing was tossed carelessly at me. Questions were too, cold and demanding. "Who got this started? El warned me I might get a damaged child. I should have listened to him. Is this the kind of thing you learn in foster care?" After two court-ordered family counseling sessions I left the Willises without explanation, with no further contact. Foster father number six made Jamal's tickle fights seem like a walk in the park. I would have to leave my body to go looking for my father on a regular basis. When I turned eighteen my birth records were unsealed. I slammed into another brick wall. I learned that my mother had been a minor: no name, no phone number, no forwarding address. The surrender of custody had been arranged by the pastor of one Pentecostal Sanctuary in Chicago. I wrote and got back a typed letter with no signature: We are sorry to say that Bishop Peter Paul Pleasant has recently passed into the Lord's care. See? I couldn't win for losing. There went my one chance of finding my parents. The letter went on to inform me (while certain that I had "no connection to this church or anybody in it") that my father had left Chicago years ago and may have joined the Air Force. The rest of it was filled with Bible quotes and hard-sell preaching: I'm putting you on my private prayer list, child. You don't need no mother or father now. What you need is the Lord in your life. Maybe it was that rescue fantasy, a man in a military uniform swooping in to save me. I knew it instantly. My father must be an Air Force pilot! I enlisted on a whim, convinced that even without a name, I would know my father the moment I saw him. After all, how many black pilots could there be? I had gone through basic training and been stationed in North Caro- lina when I realized what a wild-goose chase this really was. After nearly a year in the service I still hadn't found the slightest trace of my father. But I did find someone. Johnny was an enlisted officer, not even a pilot like in the movie. What he felt for me was no kind of father love. He was attracted to my body just like Jamal and the rest. He made that very obvious. Still, he was an officer, and a gentleman in his way. It wasn't just about body parts. I wasn't just a distraction to draw attention from his sins. Yes, he would gaze hungrily at my breasts. But he also looked into my eyes as we sat together in a parked car on steamy summer nights, watching the view from a lookout point above the airfield. I never told him how I had grown up. Knowing that I had been an unwanted child might give him ideas I couldn't risk. I would talk to him about safer things: the books I was reading, movies I had seen, my hopes to one day learn to fly. He talked about his new experience with God and religion. He had grown up in the Pentecostal Church, then studied Islam in Africa several years before. Now he was reading from Chinese metaphysics, the Tao Te Ching. He seemed to be testing the ideas he spoke, trying them on for size. He posed questions, philosophical riddles that neither of us could answer. Did abstinence prepare the soul for a state of grace? What was it like to be filled with grace? Would it be with you forever, or did it need to be replenished from time to time? He spoke about his struggle with celibacy, admitting he had been a fornicator most of his life: "I abused the privilege until it lost its magic." He was now "sexually weary," but filled with the conviction it would one day be redeemed in the wedding bed. Johnny was a reformed womanizer, saving himself for marriage. Then he would turn attention to my breasts. It may seem hypocritical, but it wasn't fornication. Johnny was no teenager; he had been around the block a time or two. For a man like that, titty squeezing wasn't real sex. Besides, what was I going to say? No? I never had before, not to other men who hadn't meant half as much. I would take a deep breath and steel myself against the familiar intrusion of a man's hand stealing under my shirt. I would turn my body toward him but my face away, swallowing back my secret shame. It was easier if I didn't have to look. Johnny liked to see me in bras that fastened in the front. He said unhooking them was like opening a present on Christmas morning, the contents tumbling into his waiting hands. These words were meant to reassure, but they only frightened me. Still, it was a ritual I grew accustomed to and gradually learned to accept as the price I paid for being with him. His fondling hands, his caressing lips, his searching tongue. He could nuzzle for hours at a time, sucking and stroking like a contented baby. At first it was a sacrifice, something I did to make him happy. Then it became mildly pleasurable. I even began looking forward to it. There came a night when something surged, a tsunami of sensation rising out of nowhere. I felt throbbing in other places. A cord connected my nipples and genitals, a chord he strummed with teeth and tongue. Teasing and tasting and tugging. I tried to push Johnny away, to quell the slippery suddenness in my groin. To my dismay, I found myself moaning. Attempting to twist away from him, while at the same time pressing his head into the pillow of my bosom. A thing strained down there, swelling open like floodgates. It was something I had felt before, several nightmares ago. I was flooded with fluid, a disturbing déjà vu. I burst into tears and bolted from the car, the crotch of my panties wet, naked breasts bouncing in the moonlight. I rushed into a night that smelled of pitch and pines, Johnny fast on my heels. He grabbed me and pulled me to him, laughing away my tears. "It's all right, baby girl." Patting my back like I was a child, kissing my neck like I was a woman. "Why'd you run off like that?" "I didn't mean for that to happen," I sobbed. "You must think I'm some kind of freak." "If you're a freak, then you're my kind of freak. To see you get off like that, I know just how our honeymoon is going to be. Think of it as basic training. Your first climax, baby girl." Wrong again, Johnny Wright. But how could I tell him that? Hadn't he just said "honeymoon"? That is why I didn't protest when he lowered me to the ground, laying me on a bed of pine needles that seemed placed there just for us. Touching me all over again. My hair, my eyes. Kissing all the lipstick from my mouth. Cupping my buttocks. Caressing my thighs, then finding something tender in between them. Testing that thing with one finger, fiddling it like a harpist. Pointing a breast toward his mouth again. "This time," he made me promise, just before his lips engulfed me, "I want you to tell me when you come." It didn't take long. The warning flare of lights, the buzz of an aircraft on night training exercises, the whine as it passed overhead--it seemed like some kind of signal. "It's coming," I whispered, clutching at him against the approach of this it. It was different this time, calmer, steadier. Less like a dam bursting, more like . . . like flying. Like stretching out and gliding on a cloud of pure silk. "Johnny, it's coming again." Only when the plane had disappeared, the endless moan had faded from my lips, the pounding of my own blood had settled in my ears--only then did the motion of his hand cease, the sucking cadence of his mouth subside. There in the stillness of stars, a night bird twittering in the pines, his face pressed against my ear, Johnny whispered six strange words. "Baby, I need you so bad." How could he? Why should he? What had I done but follow him down a road that had already made him weary? Something else Mrs. Malveaux taught me sprang to mind. "Ever see a man in the supermarket, Destiny? He'll grab what he craves before buying what he needs. Beer, snacks, cigarettes. You don't want a man to need you. Need is a perishable thing. Even if the man doesn't love you, better that he should want you, desire you. Hunger has a longer shelf life." I leaned back and closed my eyes, letting his lips follow the trail his hands traced yet another time. I pushed those words away, back into memory where they came from. Because I could hardly push Johnny away, the best thing that ever happened to me. The only thing that had happened to me. I wasn't used to having much of anything in life, and look what I wound up with. If what it came down to was needing me, then I'd take that and be happy with it. I never saw him completely undressed until the day we married. I had neither touched his body nor knew jagged "war wounds" were carved into his thighs until the night of our honeymoon. It is not because I wanted to wait. Sex was something that had always been forced on me. I had no experience in asking for what I wanted. He seemed quite happy with the kissing and petting we did when we slipped off the base. To undo all seven buttons, unhook my bra, suck and fondle my breasts. He seemed content to see me writhing in passion, never taking anything for himself. If he asked no more, then why should I? Johnny just assumed I was a virgin, and I never told him any different. When he was hit with fraternization charges, Johnny was purely livid. He was a practicing Taoist, after all. Why was it assumed we were sleeping together when he had exercised such restraint? "A simple medical exam would put that lie to rest," he'd complain. Then, looking over at my worried face, he'd give me a reassuring hug. "But I'd never put you through that, baby girl." I never told him the truth, not even on our wedding night. My virginity had been canceled a long time ago, courtesy of Jamal Willis, foster family number five. Franklin Malveaux had left a more lasting mark. I had already had an abortion by the age of sixteen. That is when I had enough. No more. I left the clinic with the blood still flowing from an unhealed wound, a few items of clothing and the Who art thou, my daughter? pillow crammed into my knapsack. I walked away from the foster care system in Memphis, Tennessee, and never looked back. I was afraid what might happen if another foster family member tried to touch me again--afraid not for me but for him. I was practically homeless those last two years, living here and there, on the streets, with a varying assortment of well- and ill-meaning friends and acquaintances. But I managed to finish high school, number twelve in a class of a hundred and eighty. Not bad for a girl who slept on city buses and did homework on park benches. If Johnny figured out my lie of omission, he never said a word to me about it. Anyway, I was a virgin in a way. It wasn't the first time I had sex, but it was truly the first time I'd made love of my own accord. I had to pinch myself constantly to remind myself I wasn't dreaming. This man was mine, all six foot four of him. Every square inch of his fine brown frame, every wiry curl in that head of sandy hair. Every kiss that fell from his lips was mine, as free as the rain. The golden magnificence that still hurt my eyes, I learned to take in snatches, in furtive glances. Get ready for a broken heart. When the voice of Mrs. Malveaux intruded into my happiness, I put it aside. Just because Mr. Malveaux was a no-good cheat who liked to force his attentions on a fifteen-year-old foster child didn't mean my man was like that. I had me a good man. Johnny soon had to leave the service, forced out on general discharge after a fifteen-year tour of duty. It might have been dishonorable had it not been for his Joint Service Commendation Medal. He lost most of his benefits and our lifestyle went way down. I got work in a convenience store. Johnny was hired on entry level in a furniture factory, working on the side as a fitness trainer at a gym in Asheville. The first few years were the best, even though they were lean ones. I was happy being married, although my inadequacies sometimes caused me to suffer. Everywhere we went I felt women sizing me up, wondering what Johnny saw in me. I'd feel left out when he got into intellectual conversations that floated just above my head. I'd barge in with big words I'd read in the dictionary or seen on TV. I could tell by the amusement on people's faces that I only succeeded in making myself look dumber than I already was. I was painfully suspicious, slow to make friends. Always afraid that women were after my man. There was this middle-aged lady who used to do my hair. "Lucille, the original," she would introduce herself, laughing. "Honey, B. B. King named the guitar after me." I never got tired of hearing it. Every time she told that joke, she seemed to be tickled to death, like she was telling it for the very first time. A big-boned, easygoing woman with a hardworking husband and a passel of kids. The kind of woman I fantasized my mother might have been. Lucille Moseley knew we had no relatives in town, and invited us to her family reunion on the grounds of the Biltmore Mansion one Fourth of July. Black folk in the East really don't know how to barbecue right, but I never criticized her cooking. Lucille and her husband welcomed us like family. The least I could do was sit at a picnic table, chew her vinegary pulled pork, and act like it tasted good. I learned over the years what got Johnny into trouble with the opposite sex. It was his gentleman complex. He treats a woman halfway nice, she thinks she has a hold on him. He could never bring himself to tell a girl, "Go to hell, get out of my face." Even obnoxious women like the one at the Moseley family cookout. Lucille's husband had a cousin visiting from Ohio, cussing up a storm. "Ali," she introduced herself, looking a long way from any kind of Muslim I'd ever met. "But I'm a lover, not a fighter." She looked more like a little teapot, short and stout. A loud-talking, bid-whist-playing, ghetto-acting woman a good twenty years older and at least one shade darker than me. Drinking whiskey and slamming down her cards like a man, her pants zipped open at the waistband and her belly sitting in her lap. When the soda water ran out, she cussed her family for their carelessness. "Y'all hillbilly niggas don't know mixoloy for shit. Bunch of rotgut-swilling, moonshining muthafuckas!" Lucille's relatives laughed like they thought it was funny, but I was offended for them. "You can't put no tap water on top of no Old Grand Dad. Come on, Chicago. Run me over to the Food Lion." Johnny had been her bid whist partner. He looked around for the mystery man, not realizing that he was the one she called "Chicago." "I think I'll go too," I piped up. "I need some Mylanta." It wasn't really a lie. That pulled pork was tearing up my stomach. Ali cut her eyes across at me like Who is this hussy horning in on my action? When Johnny opened the front door on the passenger side, she elbowed her way in past me. "Girl, my ass is too fat to squeeze in that narrow little backseat. This here body is a Studebaker classic. Built for comfort, not for speed." She said it like she was proud of it or something. The supermarket was closed for the holiday. Johnny drove to the mini-market where I worked. Ali shifted in her seat but made no move to get out of the car. She pulled a wad from her bra and peeled off a sweaty dollar bill. "You get a discount, right? Run get some soda water and a ten-pound bag of ice." She flipped it over her shoulder, not even bothering to look back and see if I caught it. "Let me know if that ain't enough." All that stuff for one lonely dollar? What did I look like, a magi- cian? And since when had I become the errand girl, anyway? I leaned forward from the backseat, tapping my husband on the shoulder. My husband. "You coming, Johnny?" "No, baby girl. I'm drunk and funky." He kicked his seat back to semirecline, turning up the air-conditioning full blast. "You go ahead." "Take your time," Ali simpered as I climbed from the backseat. "Us old heads will be in here chilling." Didn't I tell you before? If you don't say boo, people will step all over you to get what they want. When I got back in with the ice and soda water, the air-conditioned interior was rank with whiskey fumes. They must have been passing the bottle, soda water or no. Why'd he have to go and drink with that old nothing woman? It just gave her ideas. Johnny was stretched out, hands folded behind his head, eyes closed. Maybe he was asleep, not noticing the drunk woman leaning over him. Or maybe he had and was just ignoring her. "Open up them pretty-ass eyes, Chicago." Reaching for his face, prying open his lids with her pudgy hands. "You got a real woman sitting here next to you." I have never been a violent person. I was always the kid who backed down from confrontations, a favorite target for bullies. Men like Jamal Willis and Franklin Malveaux knew just where to push and I wouldn't say boo. So this wasn't like me at all. I didn't realize I had lunged across the seat until I had cracked the windshield with the woman's forehead and Johnny was pulling me off her. Lucille never spoke to me after that and I had to find another hairdresser. That wasn't the first time I would embarrass myself in public with jealousy over Johnny. I went from being a woman who wouldn't say boo to biting back at the drop of a hat. At a hole-in-the-wall nightclub some skanky stripper came gyrating up, jiggling her titties in Johnny's face. I stood up and lifted my top, showing which of us had the bigger treasure chest. "You want to take my man, you need more than that to show for yourself." "Bitch," she spat back. "Who says I want your man?" But you better believe she backed off, went to shake her flabby tits in some other man's face. At a church fund-raiser a girl dressed as a gypsy stepped between us. She snatched Johnny's hand from mine, offering to read his palm. I offered to show her the back of mine if she didn't leave my man alone. I'd make five kinds of fools of myself, then weep with shame afterwards, begging Johnny to leave me. I'd point out the finer qualities of other women. "What about Lisa, with all that long hair? She's perfect for you. Or Monica, that schoolteacher who talks so proper? That's the kind of woman you really want." But he'd kiss away my tears, my fears. Figure out the worst aspects of those very same women and run them down. "Lisa ain't got no chest to speak of, and you know I'm a breast man. If I wanted something like that, I would have married an ironing board. And that old talk-me-to-death Monica? She's in love with every word that falls from her own mouth. Baby girl, I'm not thinking about all those tired hos. All I want is you. Why can't you believe that?" He'd light all kinds of candles and place them around the full-length mirror. He'd strip me naked and force me to look. Draping himself over my shoulder, stroking the curves of my body. The irony of it burned in the candlelight. He loomed over me like a long yellow flame, trying to make me love my blackness. "Baby girl," he would whisper into my ear. "Dark wonder of my life. Just look at yourself." If I twisted away, he'd take my head in his hands. Make me turn to face my reflection. "Open your eyes, Destiny. Behold God's finest creation. I want you to see exactly what I see." The flickering light would cast a pattern across my body. Shadows wandered over me, just like his hands. Just as I had calculated the charms of other women, Johnny would point out mine. "Your hair," he'd croon, his fingers winding through it, "it's like a rain forest. Thick, dark, mysterious; a man could get lost in it." I'd laugh his compliment aside. "I guess it's time for my touch-up, then." "Listen to me," he'd command, his voice husky with tenderness. "Your mouth. Baby girl, I love your lips. So full and soft and shapely. That behind. Woman, that's the kind of butter butt men write poems about. 'Ode to an African Ass.' And your breasts. Oh, my God, your breasts." And here language would fail him. He'd sink to his knees, a priest worshiping at the shrine of some pagan goddess. He'd take one into each hand, the excess spilling over, his fingers molding me like a piece of sculpture. He'd guide a nipple to his own mouth, reverent as a Christian taking holy communion. Teasing me with his tongue. Tasting me until I melted in my own liquid, tears running from my eyes, my voice no longer my own. "Oh, Johnny. I love you so much." "I know you do, baby girl." He'd take his lips away just long enough to tell me. "I want you to love yourself, to know how beautiful you are." I would swell open for him like a night-blooming flower. He would enter me like a probing honeybee. Safe in his arms, his body moving in mine. With the candles burning low, the lamps switched off so I wouldn't be blinded by his radiance. So he couldn't double-check the width of my nose or the rough texture of my hair. It was not the pounding of the current, the arc of the waves that moved me. It was faith. No matter how rough the storm or strained the moorings, I knew I was in a safe harbor. With Johnny loving me, teaching me to love myself, I could almost be what he saw in me. I learned to dress well, to apply makeup expertly. I never missed my weekly beauty shop appointment. I may have dark skin and nappy hair, but no one could say that Johnny Wright's wife wasn't well put together. I felt my man deserved an educated woman by his side, so I started making myself into one. Working part time, I carried a full course load at Warren Wilson, working on my sheepskin with Johnny's support, if not his approval. "I want it if you want it," he'd assure me, staying up late to help me write my papers and study for exams. "But just make sure you're doing this for yourself, not for me. After all, I don't have a degree and I don't miss it. It ain't nothing but a piece of paper." It was easy to say that when you had those big-city ways like Johnny did. The kind of poise where you can talk bad English just for style and not be afraid somebody would think you were ignorant. Nobody could talk down to him, because Johnny had been so many places in life. He survived that embassy bombing in Africa and lived to tell the story. The war wounds on his thighs started throbbing, warning him to get the hell out of there. He escaped by the skin of his teeth, then went back into the rubble to help with the rescue. He'd seen tours of duty in the Philippines and Panama, Grenada and Somalia. He had shaken hands with General Colin Powell. That's the kind of man I was married to. Self-educated, self- confident, self-made. I guess it was his growing up in Chicago, his travels in the service that gave him that polish. I rubbed a little of his polish off on myself, parlaying it into a part-time job as a clerk in the Asheville Public Library. And we were happy for a while. I should have known it was too good to last. When I was ready for a baby it just wouldn't happen. I read all the gynecological texts and articles in the vertical file. I worried about the abortion I had had four years before. I had myself checked out numerous times and everything seemed to be in working order. I tried to get Johnny to go in, but he stubbornly refused. "I'm not having some doctor poking around my privates. Just let nature take its course. Ain't no hurry; you're still young." The only cooperation I got was making him change from briefs to boxers. I read that tight underwear could elevate the temperature of the testicles and cause a low sperm count. Johnny didn't want to go along with it, said he'd been wearing briefs all his life and didn't feel right dangling around loose. He said nobody but old men wore boxer shorts. Maybe he just didn't want to have a baby with a woman who looked like one of those black Africans in the Benetton ads. I cried, I begged, I finally threw away all his briefs. I was pregnant within six months. I still don't believe I made such a pretty baby. I would sit holding her for hours, my old Who art thou, my daughter? pillow propped beneath her sleeping head. I was so amazed that this perfect little creature came out of me. Beauty looked more like Johnny than he did himself. She was long and golden, with a halo of sandy curls and a mouth like a little red bow, every bit her father's child. She had nothing from me but her big dark eyes. I always dreamed my babies would have green eyes like Johnny's, but the moment I saw Beauty, I knew I wouldn't change a thing about her. She was such a good baby too, so easy to take care of. She rarely even cried. It was right after the baby came that we started having problems. My body had changed in alarming ways. I picked up fifty pounds during the pregnancy, lost half of it after giving birth, and seemed to plateau at that point. Twenty-five pounds overweight and all of it in my breasts. I started feeling self-conscious again, burdened by the weight of those basketballs bouncing in my bra. I was still wearing my maternity tops six months later for camouflage. I couldn't bring myself to accept Johnny's heated assurances that he was aroused by all that extra flesh. I started avoiding his touches, for some reason thinking of that foster father whose hands would steal under my sweater when no one was looking. All during the pregnancy Johnny was on me about breast-feeding. Constantly. He would be so proud to have his child nourished by her mother's own body. What could be more natural? I told him I'd think about it, but secretly began laying in a supply of baby bottles. I couldn't stand the idea of nursing. It brought to mind those primitive women in National Geographic with babies on their backs and teats hanging to their waists. It made me think of a bitch nursing her litter. I couldn't bring myself to offer for nourishment that part of my body so closely connected with our lovemaking. When the baby was delivered and the obstetrician offered a shot to dry up my milk, I ignored Johnny's protestations. After all, this was my body. I said I'd be back at the library within weeks and couldn't organize nursing a child while going back to school and work. He seemed to accept this explanation, even started getting up nights to help with bottle feeding. And backed into the corner of my lie, I rose from the birthing bed in just two weeks. I wound up taking her to a baby-sitter, when all I wanted was to stay home with my Beauty. But when my stitches had healed and my blood dried, Johnny begged me to reconsider. If not for the baby, then for him. He had dreamed all his life of nursing from a woman's overflowing breasts. I could make his fondest fantasy come true. "I'm just an old titty freak," he confessed, balancing a breast in the palm of each hand, the way he sometimes held a basketball. "Probably wasn't weaned right. Won't you do this for me, little mama? I need you." Need is a perishable thing. He'd never begged me before. And he'd never called me "little mama," either. I didn't like it. Before Beauty came, his pet name for me was "baby girl." Not that I was jealous of my own daughter. All I wanted was to have my endearment back. I wanted to be his baby girl again, not his mama. "I already took the shot, Johnny." I found myself squirming under the pressures of his hands, the familiar searching of his lips. "It's too late now." "No, it isn't. Your hormonal levels are still high. Prolonged, repeated stimulation will get you flowing in no time flat. Women who've never had a pregnancy manage to nurse their adoptive babies this way." And he proceeded to demonstrate the technique. I was surprised he knew so much about the secrets of women's bodies. It wasn't much he was asking of me. And I really wanted to please my husband. But I couldn't bring myself to do it, I just couldn't. Where before I used to enjoy his attentions almost as much as he did, now his amorous squeezing and fondling, licking and suckling simply left me cold. Why are men so fixated on breasts, anyway? They're really nothing but bags of fat. It is no coincidence that bust also means "failed, collapsed." The very fullness of them was a mockery, a contradiction. I rarely examined my own body anymore. Between lullabies and diapers and midnight feedings, there was never any time for those candlelit sessions at the full-length mirror. But I would catch the occasional glimpse of myself while changing for bed or after showering. Nipples seemed to stare me down with dark accusation. Breasts bulged from my chest, symbols of a lifetime of bad luck. How could these sacks of shame bring forth sweet mother's milk? They were containers for my twenty years of sorrow. If anything flowed from them at all, it would be bitter tears. Our sex life suffered, especially after Beauty started getting sick. At first it was frequent, persistent ear infections. Then she was diagnosed with FTS, failure-to-thrive syndrome. I was spending half my nights avoiding my husband's attentions, the other half walking the floors with my sickly baby. Wondering if maybe I was the cause of her suffering. If only I hadn't started back to work so soon. If only I had breast-fed her like Johnny wanted, maybe my beautiful brown-skinned angel would be thriving now. I admit it. I was neglecting my husband. After a while he stopped making the effort. Our love life simply fizzled out, and I was relieved. I told myself I'd make it up to him. I'd have him climbing the walls again as soon as Beauty was well. Maybe I'd buy one of those electric breast pumps I'd seen on the maternity ward, the kind that made me think of cow-milking machines. Maybe I could bring myself to give this man what he needed from me. Once my baby was better. I guess it was bound to happen. I knew it the first time Johnny was with that other woman. Not because he was tense and tight as a wind-up toy, but just the opposite. He was relaxed and easygoing, just like he'd been before the baby, when our lovemaking was going strong. Hunger has a longer shelf life. I'm not going to lie. I'm not going to put on a brave face and pretend my heart wasn't broken. It destroyed me. Even though it was bound to happen eventually. Even though I'd brought this on myself. Especially when I found out that the other woman was white. When Beauty was rushed to the emergency room and I discovered him there with her, I felt like dying. If my baby hadn't needed me at that moment, I might have climbed the bridge and jumped into the French Broad River. When I confronted him, he confessed quickly enough. He seemed almost relieved to unburden himself. He apologized, promising me it was over. It would never, ever happen again. And he thought that was enough. He started making love to me again, and I didn't refuse him this time. But whenever he kissed me, I knew he was really kissing her. He seemed to drift away before my eyes. When he closed his eyes, as he always did during lovemaking, I knew it was her he was thinking of. Her blond hair streaming across the pillow, her rosy nipples in his mouth, her creamy thighs opening up for his golden rod. I had been on the receiving end of Franklin Malveaux's passions too many times. Maybe this was my payback. I'd let that white woman's husband lay his hands on my body, and now another one like her had my husband's soul. It was a torture worse than anything I'd endured at the hands of foster fathers and brothers. I was desperately afraid of losing my husband, but completely unable to respond to his touch. I'd leave Johnny's arms while he made love to the empty shell of my body. My mind would go searching for my father. He would walk through the door with purposeful strides, scoop me up, and take me flying. I don't think Johnny was fooled at all by my pretense at passion. Too empty to cry, I lie awake nights while my husband sleeps. I spend almost every visiting hour at the hospital, watching my daughter fight for her life. I guess I'm just a throwaway child, after all. I was just a dark-skinned daughter named Destiny whom nobody wanted to keep. It seemed almost natural that what I wanted most in this life, I would always have to lose. I'd been loving out of my league all these years, lucky to have had a taste of happiness for as long as it lasted. It was just like Mrs. Malveaux said. If you're going to love a man that other women want, get ready for a broken heart. Excerpted from Hot Johnny (And the Women Who Loved Him) by Sandra Jackson Opoku All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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