Sample of Running to You
Copyright © 2016 Nikki Smith
All rights reserved. No part of the work may be reproduced without the expression written permission of the author. This book is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All characters, events, and incidents in this book are a product of the author's imagination.
Twelve-year old Tamera looked at her mother in confusion. “Why you want me to go in there with BeadyMan, mama?”
Puffing on a cigarette, Connie Wright frowned at her daughter. “The rent is due on this here place and we’re three months behind. Duke Energy done sent me a notice that they’re ‘bout to turn our lights off. You’re a big girl now, Tamera...it’s time for you to start making your keep ‘round here.”
Tamera frowned. At twelve, she kinda suspected what her momma was hinting at. But she could barely believe her. Full of fear, her eyes met those of the woman who was supposed to protect her...keep her safe...have her back. “You can’t really want me to go in there mama...it’s wrong.” She shook her head then in a soft voice said, “He’s old and nasty.”
At that point, Connie got all up into Tamera’s face. With her fingers digging into her daughter’s arm — and with her glowing-tipped cigarette only inches from Tamera’s cheek — Connie said, “You betta get your skinny butt in there, Tamera...that’s if you know what’s good for you.”
Tamera knew exactly what her mama was getting at. She’d been hit, kicked, spit on, burned and brutalized several times by her mother in the past...really for as long as she could remember. Forcing back the tears that threatened to come into her eyes, she lowered her head, went into that cramped little bedroom and got her mama’s rent paid.
* * *
Ten Years Later:
“Tamera you need to get your butt back on the stage, chica. They calling on you for an encore.”
A frown made its way across Tamera’s beautiful face. She hated it when she was called back on the stage for another stripping performance. Yeah she liked the extra money that a second act would bring. However, there was only so much groping and stripping that she could really take — even though she’d been taking her clothes off for money and much more since seven years earlier. She’d been fifteen back then. I probably would’ve started even earlier, she thought to herself. But my hips and boobs hadn’t come in yet. These fools wouldn’t have let me up there on the stage looking like a little girl — even though there’s some crazy mf’ers out there who’s into that kind of foulness.
She shook her head and began stepping into her backup outfit. It was a cute little policewoman uniform. Then she grinned as she put the police hat on her head. Next she said under her breath, “Yeah, them fools out there will probably like this.”
Twenty minutes later, she turned her back to her audience and sensually took off her last article of clothing...which was a teeny-tiny thong. She knew she wasn’t supposed to be completely naked on the stage. But since she got better tips when she went all the way, Tamera felt like she had no other choice but to make it do what it do.
As she turned back around to face her audience — after shaking what her mama gave her — her eyes met those of a man who’d just walked into the club. Their eye contact had only lasted a second at most. Then the man began handing out what looked like flyers.
Tamera shrugged her shoulders and began collecting the cash off of the floor. It was the money that she’d just worked so hard for.
Twenty minutes later, as she scoped out her surroundings for safety and cautiously walked out the club, a frown made its way onto her beautiful face. The man from earlier was standing close to the exit. He grinned and handed her one of his pieces of white paper.
Glancing down and seeing a cross on the flyer and the name, Jesus — amongst other text — she handed it right back to the fine chocolate skinned brotha. “Oh, that’s okay, boo. I don’t do God.” Then she shook her head and started laughing. “Wait a minute...you mean to tell me you up in a strip club trying to pass out flyers for church?” She’d seen a lot of stuff in her twenty-two years, but she’d never seen anything like that happen. She chuckled again. “This is a good one right here. What are you...some kind of preacher or something?”
Jermaine Cooper gave the pretty young woman in front of him a little smile. “Not a preacher...I prefer to call myself an evangelist. And places like this club...well, I kinda feel like it’s where the light of the Lord is needed the most.”
He handed the flyer — the one that she’d handed back to him — right back to her. “The church I’m repping has services every Sunday at ten. The address is on the flyer. I’m hoping to see you there.”
Still chuckling a little, she decided to keep the paper this time. She stuffed it into her oversized purse. “Ok, reverend.” Then she winked at him and suggestively roved her eyes up and down his fit body. “You sure that’s the only thing you up in this here club for?”
He gave her a tiny smile. “Yeah. I’m positive.”
Less than a minute later, as Tamera settled herself into her ten-year old Toyota Camry, she couldn’t help but frown, hoping that it’d crank up. Given all the money she made stripping — and since she didn’t spend her dollars on drugs like many of the other girls at Treasurz did — most people would have assumed that she would’ve had a better ride than the one she had. She frowned to herself. Too bad I’m using all my extra duckies paying for rent, food and putting myself through college.
She grinned as her beater sprang to life and she made her way out of Treasurz’s parking lot. “Only one more summer session and semester of this stripping and tricking, then I’ll be a school teacher with an honest gig.”
Tamera couldn’t help but think about her no-good mama as those words went past her lips. From the time she was little, all Tamera could remember was Connie Wright telling her that she’d never be nothing but a welfare-mama and part-time whore like herself.
A scowl worked it’s way across Tamera’s pretty face. As a stripper, I might not be too much better than a whore right now, but all that’s about to change. You can trust and believe that mother dearest.
When her car started making spurting noises, she’d only made it a little over a mile down the road. She was traveling in the rough side of town. “This is not the place to be breaking down...especially not at one o’clock at night.” That’s what she muttered under her breath as her old clunker gave a last little cough and gave up its life.
Five minutes later, Tamera shook her head in disbelief as she kept trying over and over again to get the car to start back up. She would’ve called one of her friends from Club Treasurz or her sister, but she’d accidentally left her cell phone at home.
Walking anywhere in that particular part of Durham was dangerous in the daytime...downright deadly at night. But she slung her purse over her shoulder anyway and stepped out into the warm night air. It’s not like she really had a choice.
She hadn’t taken but ten steps when a white Benz pulled up behind her on the surprisingly deserted city street. When a sketchy-looking dude — who she identified as one of the patrons from Club Treasurz — got out of the Benz and began walking towards her with a lustful gleam in his eyes, she kinda suspected she was in trouble. She’d seen the very same look in the eyes of every man her mother had tricked her out to as a young girl.
Why didn’t I buy that gun like Veronica told me to? she questioned herself. Dang, I’m so stupid! I’ll strip and trick anytime I want to on my own terms...but I ain’t just letting no nigga take it!
“I love your performances every weekend, Diamondz.” The man pointed behind himself using his thumb then continued speaking. “I see your car broke down right there. Need help, shawty? I can give you a ride to wherever you want to go.” He grabbed her by the arm. “Come on with me back to my Benz, beautiful.”
She began trying to pull her arm out of his grasp, but he only tightened his grip. He grinned, revealing a full top row of 14-karat gold plated teeth. “Why you fighting me, Diamondz?” He chuckled. “I’m just trying to be nice to you...you know?”
She shook her head. “I’m good, man. I’m alright with the walk.”
With a dangerous glint in his dark eyes he snarled in a low voice, “I said, let me take you where you want to go, shawty. I throw enough bills your way e’ery weekend for you to at least go with me on a little ride.” She wasn’t too surprised that he flipped the script from Mr. Nice Guy to Mr. Thugged Out Rapist.
One thing Tamera knew for sure, she wasn’t getting into his freaking car without putting up a fight. Springing into action, she kneed him in the testicles. In her estimation, his balls must have been nonexistent. He definitely didn’t keel over in pain like she was expecting him to — so that she could break out into a run across the street to possible safety. Instead, he got even madder, grabbed her by the hair and began dragging her back towards his car.
All the kicking and scratching that she was doing wasn’t doing her a bit of good. He had her in such a position, that she just couldn’t put up a successful fight. When she finally was able to somehow land a kick on his leg, he pulled back his fist and sucker-punched her in the jaw.
The pain was instantaneous. When by some miracle unknown to her, she felt him being pulled away from her body, Tamera was shocked but glad.
Jermaine Cooper’s fist connected with the man’s smooth face only one time and crumpled him to the ground. He was knocked out cold. Then in two steps, Jermaine was by the girl from the club’s side. “You okay?” he asked her.
Tamera nodded her head up and down, choosing to ignore the pain in her face. Just as long as she was out of Trick-Daddy-Nasty’s clutches, she figured she was okay.
Jermaine’s eyes met Tamera’s. “I don’t know your relationship to brotha-man down there on the ground, but do you want me to call the police so you can press charges?”
Tamera quickly shook her head. As much as she wanted to make sure that the man paid for attacking her, she’d had her run-ins with the po-po a few times in the past and didn’t too much want to see five-o that night.
Without her saying a word, Jermaine kinda understood where she was coming from. He nodded his head. “Alright. The least I can do is walk you back to your car then. These streets are dangerous at this time of night —,” his eyes met hers, “—but I suspect you already know that.”
She knew alright. That’s why she was hesitant to try to walk back to the club or even be left out on the street on her own.
“Uh—,” she said, “—my car kinda died on me. I was trying to walk back to Treasurz for help when I got stepped to by that fool down there.”
He nodded his head. “Say no more. I can drop you off wherever you need to go. You shouldn’t be out here on these streets.”
She didn’t know the man from Adam — didn’t even know his name — but something in her mind was telling her that she could trust him. And being with him is probably much safer than being out here on the street. I’m sure that fool on the ground is about to wake back up. Knowing his type like I do, I’m sure he’s gonna come looking for me.
She gave her rescuer a slow smile. “Okay Preacherman. I live off of Carruthers and Fayetteville Street. In the Sunrise Apartments.”
He nodded his head. “I know exactly where you’re talking about. Let’s go.”
It took Jermaine less than a minute to escort the pretty girl back to his car.
When he opened her door for her, Tamera looked at the man in surprise. That was the first time in her twenty-two years that anyone had ever done that for her.
After Jermaine had started his Lexus and pulled out onto the city street, he flashed the girl a smile. “The name’s Jermaine by the way. Jermaine Cooper. And you are?”
She nodded her head and decided to give him her government name instead of one of her many aliases. “Tamera...Tamera Wright.”
He looked over at her and grinned again. “Well, Tamera Wright...it’s nice to meet you. Even though technically, we already met...back there at the club that is.”
“Yeah,” she said in a soft voice. She was experiencing another first in her life. And that was being embarrassed of what she did for a living. For some reason — one that she didn’t even understand — she was ashamed that Jermaine had seen her naked and stripping back at the club.
He pulled into her apartment complex then said, “Which way do I turn to get to your unit...left or right?”
“Right. Just drive all the way down to the end and we’ll be there.”
Less than a minute later, he brought his car to a smooth stop outside of her unit. He gave her a smile. “I own an auto repair shop here in the city.” He handed her his business card. “If you agree to come out tomorrow to the church on that flyer I handed you, I’ll call my twenty-four hour wrecker guy and have your car towed in to my shop tonight. I’ll even look at it for free. But it’ll have to be after church services tomorrow.”
She gave him a sly look. She was used to men running game like that in return for sexual favors. Dang — she thought to herself — just when I was thinking that PreacherMan here was different. But since she liked him, she was willing to pay whatever price he asked...even with her body. She’d done much worse in her past.
Her eyes met his. “And what do I have to give you in return for you taking care of my car?”
He smiled. “I just told you that. I simply want you to show up at my church. I’ll even pick you up...seeing that your car is down.”
“You’re telling me you’ll just tow my car in and look at it — maybe even fix it for free?”
He shook his head. “No. Not for free. You have to come out to my church. Remember? That’s the payment I want in return.”
She still wasn’t quite trusting him, but she gave him a tentative smile. “What time do I need to be ready for you to pick me up?”
He grinned, pleased that she’d decided to come out. “Nine.”
Tamera was even more surprised when her rescuer insisted on walking her to her front door. Unless they were coming in to be sexed, all of the other men who’d ever driven her home had simply dropped her butt off in the parking lot and left.
After she’d taken her keys out and opened her front door, Jermaine said, “I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning, Tamera...at nine.”
She nodded her head. “Alright. At nine.”
Tamera had set her alarm clock to wake her up at eight because she’d wanted to make sure that she was ready on time. As she looked through her closet trying to find something to where, the realization hit her that none of her clothes were probably appropriate for church. Not that I’ve been but two times in my life.
She frowned. Maybe my sister has something. It only takes me ten minutes to get over to her place. Then, remembering that she didn’t have her car, she grimaced again. Veronica probably ain’t got nothing any better than these hoochie-forms I got in here anyways. Our wardrobes are almost identical.
She finally decided on a bright red dress that fit her like a glove. It was long and hit her right above her ankle. Problem was the dress had a slit in the front that went all the way up to her upper thigh — well actually, it went up to her private parts.
She shrugged her shoulders. “Well, this is the best thing I’ve got. It ain’t like I asked to go to this place anyways. Plus, I think Jesus, Methuselah or somebody from the Bible said to go to church just as you are.” She scrunched her eyebrows together. “Maybe it was Moses who said it.” She nodded her head. “Yeah. I’m pretty much sure that’s who it was.”
Once she’d gotten her clothes on, then it was time to beat her face. She frowned at the large bruise right under her cheek. “I’m gonna need a whole, whole, whole lot of concealer for this right here. Good thing I’m a pro at applying makeup.”
It only took her five minutes to do a job that would’ve taken a normal girl at least twice as long. Maybe even three times, she thought to herself. I got skillz. Then, a look up at the clock on her wall showed that it was eight fifty-two. “Uh-oh...running out of time...I think I’d better get a move on,” she said under her breath. “Preacher dude will be up in here any minute.”
* * *
Jermaine gave Tamera a pleasant smile as he escorted her out to his car, while at the same time trying not to notice how good she looked in her skin-tight dress with the slit up to her private parts. She had curves in all the right places and after all, he was only a man.
Lord give me strength. That was the silent prayer that he said to himself as he got the car door for her and ushered her inside.
He wasn’t one to judge a person, or jump to conclusions about an individual. He liked to leave that up to the man up above. So as he pulled away from her housing unit he said, “These apartments that you live in are right around the corner from the college...you wouldn’t happen to be a student there would you?”
That was the first time anybody she’d ever met had assumed up front that there was a possibility that she was actually trying to educate herself...to better her situation in life. She flashed Jermaine a genuine smile, “Yes...I’m a student at Central. I’m almost done. I get my degree in my hand in about six months...that is if things go as planned.”
“What are you majoring in, Tamera?”
“Elementary education. I plan on being a school teacher.”
“A school teacher?”
She felt some kind of way when she told him her career plans. He hadn’t outright said anything against her, but she felt like he was judging her. After all, what good parent would actually want an ex-stripper/borderline ex-prostitute around their kids? That’s exactly what she asked herself. She may not have had the best of upbringings, but something within her — and she didn’t know what that something was — made her aware of that fact.
“Yeah, a school teacher,” she almost mumbled under her breath. “I’m going to be a school teacher, preacher-man.”
He nodded his head. “Teaching is an admirable profession, Tamera. What made you want to enter that particular field?”
She blew out a breath. “Why don’t you just come out and say it, huh? Why don’t you ask me the question that you’re burning to know? I can see that you want to from the look in your eyes.”
He frowned. He understood exactly what she was talking about. Why? Because he was thinking what she thought he was thinking.
Without taking his eyes off the road he said, “Being a teacher is a far cry from being a stripper. I’m just wondering how you chose both professions, that's all.” He also couldn’t help but wonder if she also prostituted herself. Before giving his life over to the Lord, he hadn’t exactly been an angel. He knew what came with the lifestyle she lived. Some women took stripping a step beyond just taking off their clothes on stage, some women didn't. That’s why he was up in clubs trying to save people. He didn’t want to see another woman like his ex-girlfriend murdered while trying to service some John, or another man like himself carrying the guilt.
She wanted to become defensive. But something about the tone of his voice when he’d delivered his words stopped her. He hadn’t sounded judgmental at all. Not like everybody else who found out what I did for a living.
She sighed. “Stripping is how I’m paying for college. Back when I was seventeen, I caught a drug-related case. Because of that, I couldn’t get federal financial aid.” She frowned. “Now I don’t do drugs or anything — they’re for losers. But I was with some friends who had some stuff in their possession. Needless to say, I went down right with them.” She shook her head. “The government doesn’t give financial aid for school purposes to people with records like mine. Stripping is the only way I know to make rent money and pay my tuition. A regular nine to five at McDonald's just won’t cut it.”
Even though he understood her logic, it seemed to him that her plan was flawed. And that’s not even taking into account that stripping is immoral. It was his turn to frown. “Have you ever thought about how you’re gonna get a job after you get your degree? You know your record follows you right? It’s gonna be hard to convince a school administrator to give you a job.” He quickly added on, “Now I’m not trying to discourage you...just giving you some facts.”
She’d be lying if she said she hadn’t thought about that. She’d thought about it alright. A look of determination made its way across her pretty face. “I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get to it. But I’m a smart woman with quick wits. I’m sure I’ll figure something out.”
At that moment they arrived at the church. Tamera was nervous for some reason. Sensing her state of unrest, Jermaine reached over and gave her hand a squeeze of support. He smiled. “Don’t worry, most of the people here at New Day of Faith are pretty nice. You’ll be okay.”
Just like he’d done when he’d picked her up at her apartment, he came around and opened her car door for her.
“Uh, thanks,” she said with an unusually shy smile on her beautiful face. The smile was unusual because she normally wasn’t timid about anything. How could she be in her occupation?
He grinned. “Oh, you’re welcome, Tamera.” Then he handed her a bible that looked just like the one that he kept in his right hand for himself, but a little newer. He winked. “You might just need this. You can keep it. It’s yours.”
She took the book into her hand. It was the first Bible she’d ever owned. She didn’t quite know what to think of the gift but she told him, “Uh...okay. Thanks.”
As he escorted her towards the building Jermaine said, “I normally sit towards the front of the church. We can sit in the back if you’d like to.” He smiled. “You know, so you won’t be all front and center.”
She nodded her head. “Yeah. I think I’d like the back.”
As soon as she saw Jermaine walking into the church with what appeared to be a skank on his arm, Denise Madison frowned.
Porsha Lee leaned over and began whispering into her best friend Denise’s ear. “Girl, Denise...you see what Jermaine just walked in here with?”
Denise had seen alright and she didn’t like it one little bit. She’d had her eyes on Jermaine ever since he’d become a member of New Day of Faith a couple of years earlier. She looked down at her own elegant, refined attire and smiled. She wasn’t too worried about him coming into the church with the skank. Jermaine is a man of the cloth, she thought to herself. He’d never be interested in a girl like that. Shoot...she looks like a streetwalker. Like she trotted up in here out of some strip club.
Denise’s smile got even wider as she remembered what Jermaine had told their pastor at their church’s charity event the previous afternoon. He told Pastor Washington that he intended on passing out flyers at some clubs throughout the city on Saturday night. He said he wanted to invite as many sinners as he could out to church today. She nodded her head. Yep, he probably pulled that skank — the one who’s sitting right beside him — out some strip club. Maybe even from prostituting herself out on some street. She narrowed her hazel eyes. She might be a little prettier than I am. But I don’t have to worry about that girl. At the end of the day, she ain’t got nothing on me. I can tell just by looking at her. Whores don’t make good wives.
Denise’s thoughts were interrupted by Porsha tapping her on her arm.
“Stand up, boo,” Porsha whispered. “Pastor just called you up to do the announcements.”
* * *
Tamera had only been in a church a couple of times — and both of those times had been for funerals. Outside of what she’d happened to have seen about church on the TV or in movies, she hadn’t really known what to expect that morning.
As the choir began to sing, she thought to herself, Why in the world did I agree to come here? She looked around. All of this is boring. Then, as the choir got into the middle of their selection — she thought the preacher had said the song was called Amazing Grace — she started feeling an unfamiliar stirring on her insides. She closed her eyes as a voice came into her head. The unfamiliar voice said, “Open your heart...let me in.”
Out of nowhere, Tamera felt tears begin to trickle from her eyes as she felt an overwhelming love wash over her. She didn’t know what was going on with herself, but she’d never felt like that ever before. She felt so loved...so accepted.
Altar call wasn’t supposed to be until the end of the church ceremony. But as Pastor Cornelius Johnson looked over his congregation, the Lord put a message on his soul. The portly man stood and answered his Master’s command.
With a smile on his face, Pastor Cornelius approached his podium. “Now I know we’re used to the call to the altar being done after I deliver my sermon, but the Lord put it on my heart to do it right now.” His eyes directed themselves right to Tamera. He said, “The Lord has brought someone in our midst. Someone who’s been waiting for what seems like a long time for a deliverance. I’m here to tell you to stand up and walk on up to this altar. The Lord has interceded in your affairs...your old life is over...your time for deliverance is now!”
Tamera had never known she had a soul before that day...before that moment. She’d heard people talking about God. But she’d doubted his existence. In her mind, if there were a such thing as a God, he never would have let her childhood be filled with abuse as it had been. The mental abuse, the physical abuse, the sexual abuse...all of it. But at that moment in time, she knew that God was very real and that he had come to deliver her.
Pastor Johnson smiled. “You know who you are. Stand up and come on down to the altar. The Lord is here for you and your chains of bondage have been broken. Come on up here right now.”
Jermaine felt a tear or two trickle from his own eyes as Tamera stood up from where she’d been sitting in the pew beside him. Feeling a desire to support her as she made her way to the front of the church, he stood, took her hand into his and began the walk right alongside her.
As the pastor placed his hand on her forehead and prayed for her, Tamera felt her soul — the one she hadn’t known she had — crying out its release. With tears in her eyes, she was more than grateful that the God she’d never believed in had chosen to touch her with his spirit that day.
* * *
As a Christian who’d been in the church her entire life, Denise should have been happy seeing the evidence of another soul being brought into the house of the Lord. But she wasn’t. She had to literally fight to stop an angry scowl from appearing on her pretty face. Now that whore wants to come all up in here and play getting saved. Look at her up there holding Jermaine’s hand, pretending she got the Holy Ghost. Before I know it, she’s gonna try to put her hooks in him. She pressed her lips together in a thin, angry line. Oh, we’ll just see about that.