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Authors: Simone Bryant

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BOOK: Famous
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eleven

Dionne
October [email protected]:47 a.m.| Mood: Scared

Dionne was still trying to pinch herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming. Her eyes went from her mother's mouth moving a mile a minute to her father throwing in his dime whenever he got a chance. They both were teaming up to get on her.
Now they want to get along,
she thought, leaning back into the sofa of her father's living room as they stood over her.

Her mom was still in her hospital uniform, her two pairs of earrings clanging together overtime as she worked her head.

Her dad was in his usual attire of denims and a black wife beater. Diamond chains swinging, denims hanging low, diamond grill in place, shades in place even though there wasn't a bit of sunlight in sight.

All of this because she'd asked for permission to spend the night at Starr's tomorrow even though it wasn't her week to be with her dad. Her mother casually asked why. Dionne casually answered that they were practicing for their new singing group.

And, boy, did the ish hit the fan right then.

One phone call to her dad and a wide-open ride to New York in their Honda and,
ta-da,
she was in the middle of a parent sandwich, catching hell from both sides.

“What happened to you wanting to be a lawyer, Dionne? Huh? What happened?” Risha asked. “Huh? Huh? Huh?”

“Ma, pleeeaaase. Oh my god,” Dionne yelled, her frustration spilling over.

Dionne clamped her hand over her mouth.
Uh-oh.

Risha's arched eyebrow shot up. “Who do you think you talking to, Dionne?” she asked, completely fired up.

Lahron stepped in between them. “A'ight, ladies. Chill. Just breathe and relax,” he said, his voice raspy.

“I'm sorry, Ma,” Dionne began. “But you're acting like me being in music group is going to change my plans. I can still go to college.”

Risha threw up her hands. “Lawd, take me now,” she wailed dramatically.

“Rish, yo, let me holler at my daughter for a sec,” he said, hitching his pants up before sitting down next to Dionne.

Her eyes went in between the two, raising her finger to point at both. “You're right,
your
daughter.
My
little girl wanted to be a lawyer. Fix this,
Lahron the Don,
” she said sarcastically before she reached down and flicked his Gucci shades from his face.

“Ain't a bit of sun,” she muttered before she walked out of the living room and into the kitchen, still fussing.

Dionne reached down and picked the shades up to hand to her dad. He took them and laughed as he set them on
the leather end table. “Your mama stays on ten. She always ready to blast.”

Dionne smiled. “Always.”

“You almost got your head chopped off right then,” he said.

“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be disrespectful.”

“Huh. Group my behind. She better group them grades and get her butt in college if she know like I know. 'Round here, losing her mind, yelling at me. I can bring her back to reality. I can bring her back real quick. Trust and believe that,” Risha said, still fussing aloud in the kitchen.

Dionne and her dad exchanged a look.

“I'm not the one you need to apologize to,” her father said.

Dionne nodded, reaching up to massage her scalp with her fingertips. “I will.”

“Now tell me about this group you in.”

Dionne sat up. “It's me, Starr and Marisol,” she said.

Lahron scratched his chin giving his daughter a side-eye. “Tell me something I don't know.”

“True,” she agreed. Who else would she be in a group with but her girls?

Dionne explained their plans, their roles in the group and the dream team Starr put together. “But we don't have a record deal or nothing. Even Starr said her dad didn't play when it came to his business and if we weren't on point, he wouldn't even mess with it.”

“This industry is way more than you kids get to see firsthand,” Lahron said, moving his diamond-encrusted microphone up and down the chain. “To be honest I don't
want that for you. I don't want you to get caught up in that mess. Your moms and I had plans for you. Even when we have beef with each other we never lose focus of wanting the best for you. I don't know if this is it.”

Dionne was surprised by his words and his serious tone. Her father was always the easygoing one and the one to give her the world even if it cost him his last dime.

“It's just for fun right now,” she said softly, trying to convince him. “And you know Mr. Lester's not going to let anything crazy happen to us.”

Lahron pressed his elbows into his knees and folded his hands in the air between them. He said nothing.

Dionne knew he was going back and forth with it. “I promise my grades won't drop and I will go to college regardless of what happens.”

Lahron looked over at his daughter. “Let me sleep on it and talk to your moms some more. I'm not saying yes—” he continued.

“But you didn't say no, Daddy,” she said, allowing herself to get excited as she jumped over and hugged his neck.

“The important question is, can you spit?” he asked, leaning back to look up at her.

Bashfully, Dionne looked at the ceiling and shrugged.

Lahron closed his eyes and shook his head with a groan.

 

The next day Dionne sat down on the metal stairs leading up to the second floor of the sports complex. She hit Send on the last text to all her hair-braiding clients notifying them that she was out of business. It was just too risky.

At the beginning of the school year the headmaster had called her into his office to give her a letter for her parents. One good snoop and she'd discovered her father hadn't paid her thirty-thousand-dollar tuition. Embarrassing.

Thinking he'd been about to fall into the growing category of rappers-who-get-rich-quick-and-spend-it-even-quicker, she had cut back on her shopping and even started braiding hair for pocket money. It had been her way of helping her daddy for all he did for her before and after his rise to fame.

But Dionne had told her clients to keep their lips zipped and obviously somebody couldn't hold water—i.e. they talked too much.

Before her dad hit platinum with his music, Dionne had always wanted to work and make her own money, even though her mom wanted her to focus on school.

She hadn't really thought about it until that nicely worded letter, with its veiled threat of her expulsion, was sent home. That had caused one helluva argument between her parents.

“There goes my baby…”

Dionne was just headed to her art appreciation class when her ringtone sounded. She looked down at the picture of her and Hassan hugged up outside IHOP together.

“Hey, you,” she said, reaching down to swipe dust from her favorite cherry-red Vuitton loafers.

“What you doing?”

Trying not to die of embarrassment.
“About to head to lunch.”

“Yeah, me, too.”

Silence.

“Something wrong, Dionne?” he asked.

She shook her head like he could see her. “Nope.”

“Let's go to the movies tonight.”

Dionne perked up, but her spirits were shot back down.

“I can't. I have practice tonight,” she said.

After begging and pleading with her parents to let her stay in the group, they'd given in. But there were big-time stipulations like keeping up her grades, staying on track for college, no profanity, sexy music or nasty dancing.

“Practice for what?”

“Me and a couple of my friends are starting a group,” she admitted.

“So my baby gonna be famous?” he asked, sounding excited for her.

“We're just getting started so I don't know 'bout all that.”

Famous? Like the next Destiny's Child? Her mind hadn't even gone that far yet. She was just working up the nerve to be able to write sixteen bars to fit the song Starr was supposed to write.

“Don't forget about me when you give your acceptance speech at the BET Awards,” he joked.

Whoa! BET Awards. Acceptance speech. His brain was moving faster than Starr's.

“I had to beg my parents to let me be in the group,” Dionne admitted, looking up as the doors to the building opened and a group of teenagers walked in and then noisily jogged up the stairs.

“Your dad, too?”

“Yup.”

“Crucial.”

Dionne smiled. She'd forgotten how
crucial
was slang for everything back in eighth grade.

“I'll be home tomorrow night and we can catch a flick then,” she said, not caring that she sounded hopeful. She made the choice to go for Hassan. Somehow she would find a way to make it work.

“Okay. That's whassup,” he said. “Lunch is almost over. I'll call you later.”

“Okay.”

She ended the call, thinking of him looking good and catching the eyes of plenty of girls at school. For the first time she kinda regretted going to a different school than Hassan. And after the Diva of Dumb called her out with that hair-braiding ish, Dionne was trying to remember why she was at Pace, too.

She grabbed her pocketbook and jogged down the steps to walk out the door and into the cold air. She pulled her jacket collar around her ears to shield her from the swirling winds and made her way to the main hall.

“Hey, Dionne! Wait up.”

She turned and looked as Eric caught up to her. They had talked briefly around the time Starr was planning her big birthday bash. He was someone who fit in with her life at Pace, but she never forgot about Hassan. Plus Eric's text had started to creep her out, making her think that he was a major perv.

They'd actually made up at Starr's party and he'd promised to not be such a horny toad. That lasted all of two days
before he'd called her one night and wanted to know what she was wearing—if anything. Ugh!

She gave him a brief wave and turned to keep it moving to the cafeteria. No time for his mess, she thought, as she breezed through the doors of the caf.

Dionne paused as all eyes turned her way. She felt everyone staring at her as she made her way to the table, mindful of keeping her head held high. “What did y'all get for lunch?” she asked, as if she didn't have a care in the world.

Starr pushed her asymmetrical bang away from her eyes. “A blogful of gossip,” she answered, slightly caustic.

“I wonder who she is talking about,” Dionne said, removing her denim trench before she grabbed a handful of grapes from Marisol's tray.

Marisol and Starr exchanged a brief look.

“It's not you?” Marisol asked.

Dionne shook her head. “So everything the Diva of Dumb says is gospel now. Y'all really think she's keeping it hundred percent?”

Dionne felt herself relax as the conversation changed to their practice that night and the upcoming talent show.

twelve

Marisol
October [email protected]:47 p.m.| Mood: Pissed!

Marisol
grabbed a hand towel to wipe the sweat from her neck and face. She had to fight the urge to toss the towel in on the whole Go Gettas plan. She rolled her eyes as she grabbed her water bottle and took a healthy swig as she paced around the polished hardwood floors of the dance studio.

Dionne slumped down on the floor and spread her limbs like she was prepared to make snow angels. “Marisol, girl, I thought I knew how to dance,” she gasped. “I can't keep up.”

Starr paced in her bright pink shorts and white tank. “I think we can do better on the dance moves,” she said, using the remote to turn down the volume on their track.

“Huh?” Dionne asked, surprised by the comment as she lifted her head up from the floor to eye Starr as if she was crazy.

Marisol did a quick ten count as she adjusted the shorts she wore over her leotards. “If you are already struggling to
handle the simple dance moves I came up with, why would I make them harder?” she asked, talking slowly.

Starr shook her head. “We're not struggling to learn. I think you're struggling to teach us properly.”

Marisol wrung the towel between her hands, pretending it was Starr's neck.

Dionne hopped up. “Maybe we should just focus on getting the song together first. Do you have the lyrics, Starr?”

“Of course,” she said, bending over to remove a fuchsia folder.

Marisol fought the urge to put her Nike into Starr's behind. Starr had been just too picky and difficult through Marisol's whole routine as she first ran through the steps alone. It seemed like she complained about every step the whole time.

Who? What? When? Where? And why?

It only got worse when she tried to teach them the steps and they couldn't pick it up. An hour and a half later, and still nothing. And the routine wasn't complicated at all.

I missed Percy's game to hear Starr whine?

“I know it seems like I'm being hard on us. But as soon as anyone catches a whiff that we're doing this, all eyes will be on us—watching, critiquing. We have to have a thick skin, the kind that water rolls right off,” Starr said, eyeing them both with determination before she handed them each a piece of paper.

“Marisol, I'm sorry. But please just come up with something that gives us strong stage presence. Let's really work it. 'Kay?”

Like you're working my nerves?
Marisol cut her eyes at Dionne. Ever the peacemaker, Dionne just shrugged and focused her attention on the lyrics on the paper.

Marisol had worked hard to choreograph that routine, and for somebody who hadn't even learned it to criticize was big-time annoying. She felt like packing up her stuff, calling her driver and hightailing it to Percy's game.

“Okay, so, I thought the song should be all about us and the things we love—boys and fashion,” Starr said, sitting down on one of the leather-upholstered benches along the wall. “Like our theme song. Read it over and tell me what you think.”

 

Go Gettas

Pull up to the party, dressed in my best

All boyz eyes on me, can't settle for less

Took my spot in the middle

Work my hips like a riddle

Your boyz eyes on me, watching me jiggle

Go Gettas…Go Gettas…Yeah.

All the boyz wanna get with me

Go Gettas…Go Gettas…Yeah!

All the girlz wanna chill with me

Go Gettas…Go Gettas…Yeah!

Marisol lifted up the paper.
“Work my hips like a riddle”? What the hello and goodbye does that mean? And why all the
me-me-me?
Where's the
us
and
we
and
our?

She didn't even bother with the next two verses.

“So what do you think?” Starr asked.

Dionne nodded. “I like it, but let's hear it as a song,” she suggested.

“Good idea,” Starr said, rising to grab the remote and fill the air with the track.

The bass line filled the air and Starr began to bounce her shoulders. “Pull up to the party, dressed in my best. All boyz eyes on me, can't settle for less,” Starr sang, closing her eyes as she pointed with her finger.

Marisol frowned. The music was too loud. She could hardly hear her. She looked at Dionne, mouthing, “I can't hear her.”

Dionne nodded in agreement.

“Work my hips like a riddle.”

Marisol stepped up and picked up the remote from the bench, turning the surround system down.

“Your boyz eyes on me, watching me jiggle.”

O-M-G!
Marisol mouth dropped wide-open right along with her eyes.

“Go Gettas…Go Gettas…Yeah. All the boyz wanna get with me.”

Madre dios, she can't sing. Oh. My. God.

Starr couldn't sing and was obviously tone deaf as she hit a riff that made Marisol cringe and cover her face with the lyrics sheet.

What in the hello and goodbye?
Marisol thought.

As the song went on, Starr's singing got worse—the highs, the lows, the missed notes. It was like the first week
of
American Idol
when the truly awful singers got most of the airtime.

Marisol eyed Dionne, whose face was just as shocked as hers. “She can't sing,” Marisol mouthed.

“Not at all,” Dionne mouthed back.

When Starr started dancing to the track, Marisol had to bite her bottom lip to keep from bursting out laughing at Starr from sheer embarrassment for her friend.

 

As soon as Marisol climbed into the back of her chauffeur-driven car the next day, she called Dionne's phone. The two friends hadn't been able to talk since last night, and neither had the heart to text each other about the performance in front of Starr.

“I was waiting for your call.”

Marisol held up her hand, like she was trying to stop traffic. “Okay, what are we going to do?”

Dionne sighed. “We have to tell her. Right?”

“I don't know,” she admitted, crossing her legs that were clad in a pair of skinny jeans. “The only thing I do know is that if Starr had to sing to save her life we might as well buy black dresses,
mami.

Marisol didn't miss the chuckle from her driver.

“You didn't know she couldn't sing?” Dionne asked.

Both of Marisol's eyebrows went up. “I never heard her sing, but her mother is Sasha! Come on, she should have picked some of that up.”

“Nope, she missed it all. She didn't get one bit of singing DNA from her mama. Not one bit.”

Marisol shifted her eyes to look out the windows as the
car left Bernardsville, New Jersey, to her parents' estate in Upper Saddle River. Suddenly she remembered the talent show. She gasped so deeply that she sounded like a vacuum cleaner just turned on.

The chauffeur eased down on the brakes and turned around. “Are you okay, Miss Rivera?”

“Marisol? You okay?” Dionne asked.

“I'm fine,” she told them both.

The chauffeur settled back forward and off the car went.

“Dionne, the talent show? What are we going to do?” she asked.

“I don't want to hurt her feelings.”

“Yeah, but we don't want to be the laughingstock of Pace
and
the Diva of Dumb,” Marisol insisted.

“Listen, Marisol, I gotta take this call, but I'm going to call you back as soon as I get off the phone,” said Dionne of the other line.

“Okay.” Marisol locked and then slid her phone into the side pocket of her Birkin tote.

Starr wanted fame so badly that she was ignoring the issue of whether she had talent or not?
Would Mr. Lester actually give them a record deal with Starr howling to the moon like that?
Marisol thought.

Fame wasn't Marisol's main goal. She loved to dance. Period. In truth her dreams involved standing center stage, in the spotlight, ready to give the performance of her life—the kind of physical and emotional dance that would bring people to their feet. And she didn't care if it was a crowd of
two or two million as long as they understood the passion she had for dance.

Fame wasn't her goal in life, especially when she saw how quickly fame became infamy.

“There goes my baby…”

Marisol yawned from their late night of hearing Starr completely kill the music as she pulled her cell back out.

“Hey, you.”

Marisol's heart smiled. “Congratulations on your win,” she said sweetly, completely crushing.

“I scored two touchdowns. My dad kept the ball,” he said, sounding very proud of himself.

“I get the next touchdown football for my desk,” she insisted.

“You got it.”

They fell silent on the phone and neither rushed to find words. Sometimes at night they fell asleep that way.

“How was your practice?” he asked, filling the silence.

Marisol caught a flashback of Starr hitting a sour note and visibly winced. It seemed to echo in her head. “Long story, short on patience. Let's move on,” she said.

“Huh?” he asked, sounding confused. “Move on where?”

Marisol just shook her head. She read in one of her favorite magazines that there was no such thing as the perfect man (or in her case, boy). Percy was
really
cute—like really, really cute—popular, nice build, from a wealthy family,
good in sports and on track to follow his father's football legacy.

But bless his heart, Marisol had found his one flaw. He wasn't exactly the sharpest pencil in the box.

BOOK: Famous
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