Authors: Kendra Norman-Bellamy
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version.
Editor: Suzette Dinwiddie
Interior Design: Ragont Design
Cover Design and Images: Jaxon Visual Design and Illustration
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fifteen years / Kendra Norman-Bellamy.
1. African Americans—Fiction. 2. Foster children—Fiction.
3. Atlanta (Ga.)—Fiction. 4. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
1 3 5 7 9 1 0 8 6 4 2
Printed in the United States of America
Many daughters have done virtuously
but thou excellest them all.
To the national sisterhood of the
Iota Phi Lambda Sorority, Incorporated
Thanks for being such an essential part
of my un-biological family.
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
TO MY LORD and Savior,
: Thank You for my gift and for allowing me to use it for Your glory. I write for You, and you are the best employer in the universe. Without You, I’d be just an ordinary girl with a blank sheet of paper and an inkless pen. You are my everything.
To my supportive family,
: Never-ending appreciation goes to you for being the first members of the Kendra Norman-Bellamy fan club. Thanks for keeping me grounded all while being the loudest voices in my cheering section.
To my extraordinary parents,
Bishop H.H. and Mrs. Francine Norman
: Thank you for providing for me, protecting me, teaching me, being an example to me, encouraging me, and when I needed it, you chastised me. But most of all, you prayed for me. I love you for everything you’ve done and continue to do to help mold me for this season of my life.
To the world’s greatest siblings,
: Thank you for just being three great sisters and the best brother ever. Whoever said that preachers had the worst kids must not have read the fine print that said “… unless you’re Bishop Norman’s children.” LOL!
To my guardian angel,
(1968–1995): Thank you for being who you were on earth and who you are in heaven.
To my best friends,
: Thank you for granting me solid, healthy, and totally drama-free friendships that span back as far as grade school. My, how time flies! Living hundreds of miles apart hasn’t stopped us from growing in grace together. I cherish each of you.
To my godparents,
: Thank you for all you do to support me whenever I have an event “back home.” In case I never told you this before, it means the world to me to see your smiling faces approaching my signing table.
(better known as
Anointed Authors on Tour
): Thank you for adding another level to my writing ministry. I’ve enjoyed touring the country with you all for the past four years spreading the message of Jesus Christ through literature. Let’s do it again.
To my publicists,
: Thank you for being on call when I need your services. You promote me in such an extraordinary manner, and I appreciate it.
To my agent-attorney,
: Thank you for the peace of mind that your outstanding representation provides. I wouldn’t trade you for all the tea in China.
Bishop Johnathan & Dr. Toni Alvarado
(Total Grace Christian Center—Decatur, GA): Thank you for your remarkable spiritual leadership. You are two of the most amazing pastors I have ever had the pleasure of being connected to. There is no place like Total Grace!
Bishop Frankie & Dr. Kim Carmichael
(Love Center Deliverance Ministries—Hamden, CT): Thank you for being my “Connecticut Pastors.” I fell in love with you and your ministry the first time I visited your church in Hamden, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to fellowship with you again.
Bishop A.A. & First Lady Doris Barber
(Revival Church—Riviera Beach, FL): Thank you for the prayers and the prophetic seeds that you have planted in my writing ministry. I have great faith in your words and have seen so many of those prophesies come to fruition. I look forward to sharing more victorious testimonies with you.
and all of the wonderful ladies that I’ve met by way of
: Thank you all for just being exceptional in every way imaginable. Who knew that a simple meeting would turn into such a valued sisterhood? I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity to send a shout-out to you all.
: Thank you for being a fabulous asset to me and my calling. Not just through your print ministry (Papered Wonders) when I need marketing materials, but also through your faithful friendship when I need a partner in prayer.
To my friends of the pen in
The Writer’s Hut
The Writer’s Cocoon Focus Group
: Thank you for bringing such principle and purpose to these online connections that I created as a way to be a blessing to new and noted writers. I feel privileged to play a vital role in your literary growth and expansion.
To my family at
, and especially to my incredible editor,
: Thank you for always operating in the spirit of excellence and for being a vehicle that allows me to walk “on purpose.”
Finally, to some special men of music,
The Ace Livingston Trio
: Thank you for your God-given musical genius. It proved to be the positive, inspirational melody that I needed to keep me motivated during those long nights that I sat up to create “Fifteen Years.”
EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD Josiah Tucker sat up in his bed and stretched his arms above his head. It had been a long twelve years. Thirteen if kindergarten counted. Fourteen if he included having to repeat the third grade due to excessive absenteeism. Despite the impressive 4.1 GPA that netted him the title of valedictorian of his graduating class, nothing about school had been easy for Josiah. The teen had many fond memories of his time at King College Prep Academy, a school known as Martin Luther King High. If Josiah never saw the painted halls of the school again, it would be just fine with him. He’d been there … done that.
The sounds of faint popping noises echoed in the air of Josiah’s bedroom as he snapped his head from side to side, ridding his neck of the stiffness that set in every night as he slept on the lumpy pillow and sunken mattress, both of which were probably as old as he … if not older. At six two, he’d outgrown the twin-size mattress at
least four years ago, but it was the best that he could do. The bed was the perfect centerpiece among the other tattered, outdated, and unmatched bedroom furniture. Josiah’s cedar wood chest still wore the original ugly scars it had when it was purchased from a local Goodwill three years ago. A makeshift computer station made of a standing, portable, wooden dinner tray and a metal folding chair was tucked in the corner. And to prove once and for all that one man’s junk was another man’s treasure, only half of the drawers were usable in the black lacquer dresser that had been left behind as garbage by the apartment’s former tenants.
Like any teenager, Josiah desired to have the best and latest of everything, but his part-time job as a fast-food cook just didn’t pay enough to buy new furniture. It barely paid the bills and kept food on the table for his family.
, right. That was a joke, but not the ha-ha kind.
Josiah was an only child. At least, as far as he knew, he was. He was the only one that his mother had given birth to, but there was no telling how many other siblings he had by way of his dad. His father lived in … well, to tell the truth, Josiah didn’t know where Al was these days.
… It sounded so generic and fabricated. No last name. Just Al; that’s all he’d ever heard. Sometimes Josiah wondered if it were even his real name or if his mother truly had any idea who his father was. That was another one of those not so funny running jokes in his life.
Last Josiah heard, “Al” lived somewhere down south, but even if there was any truth to it, that could have changed a hundred times over by now. Josiah had no memories of his invisible father. He was told that he had inherited Al’s smooth brown skin, lean, muscular build, and thick, coarse hair. But the only real proof Josiah had that he looked like his dad was his short, dark, rail-thin, wavy-haired mama. He definitely hadn’t gotten any of his physical traits from
her. None except his eyes, that is. The hazel eyes that stared back at him every time he looked in the mirror came compliments of Reeva Mae Tucker.
Reeva claimed that he had spent time with his father. She said Josiah was five … maybe six years old the last time he saw Al. Josiah didn’t believe her. Reeva was always lying. She timed her lie just right. She made sure that it would be too long ago for him to have any firsthand memories of him and too long ago to have any firsthand love for him. He couldn’t miss a father that he’d never had.
And speaking of the elusive parent, Reeva wasn’t much better. She was still around, but she might as well not be. From the time of Josiah’s birth, she’d been in and out of his life like a babysitter with a second, more important, higher paying job. Two sunrises and two sunsets had come and gone since Josiah had last seen her. He wasn’t worried though. Her disappearance wasn’t abnormal. She’d come banging on the front door when she sobered up enough to remember where she lived. Josiah imagined that his alcoholic, drug-addicted, man-hungry mother was somewhere coming down from her latest high. When the drugs wore off, the hunger would set in, and she’d come raiding the refrigerator like she’d been the one to purchase the food that was sparsely stocked there. Like she ever spent what little money she got her hands on buying anything other than her poisonous vices.
“Ugh!” Just thinking about it annoyed Josiah. “Can’t wait to hear what excuse you’ll have for missing my graduation, oh loving mother.” Sarcasm dripped from Josiah’s words as he released them into the air.
In frustration, he pounded his fist against the headboard, and the worn sheet on his bed floated to the side like a slip of paper when Josiah freed his legs from the thin covers. He came to a standing position and gave his body one last stretch, and then removed his
sweaty T-shirt. Two things were certain about his home. In the winter it wouldn’t be heated evenly, and in the summer it would be sweltering. Central air was for rich folks, and the rickety ceiling fan that twirled above his bed did little more than stir the stale warmth.
Josiah shuffled to the green folding chair that sat behind the dinner tray in the corner of his poorly decorated room. He stared at the gold and black keepsakes that he’d so carefully placed there last night. His graduation cap rested on top of the matching gown, and his diploma lay beside the cap. Josiah forgot his disappointment long enough to smile, but the moment was fleeting.
Since ninth grade, school had been an escape mechanism for Josiah. His advance placement classes and elevated GPA were probably a bit deceiving. Josiah wasn’t a prodigy by any stretch of the imagination. He only kept his head buried between the pages of his textbooks so he wouldn’t have to breathe the air of real life. World Literature, AP Calculus, Spanish III, AP Chemistry … all of them were coconspirators in his quest to avoid reality. Computer Programming III was his favorite. His fascination with technology gave him hours of relief from reality. Maybe he’d fire up his laptop later today and try and find something interesting enough to erase the memory of having no one sitting in the seats that had been reserved specifically for the family of the valedictorian.
Reeva had promised she’d be there. Said she was so proud of him that she didn’t know what to do. No way would she miss out on seeing the first step to her baby becoming a man. That’s what she said. But she said a lot of things. If Reeva kept only half of the promises she made, Josiah would be satisfied.
“Come water or high… whateva it is, I’m gon’ be sitting right there on that front row screaming to the top of my teeth.” Even then, she was drunk. Too smashed to understand that she’d gotten her words twisted. Too smashed to realize that she was talking way
too loud. Too smashed to notice the disgusting particles of spit that flew from her mouth as she slurred out the lie.
Josiah should have known better than to believe her. But even with all the fabrications and broken vows Reeva had made in the past, he was sure that she’d make good on this one. What mother—perfect or imperfect—would miss her child’s graduation? What brand of liquor … what kind of drug … what breed of man was so irresistible that she would choose it over the opportunity to hear her son speak on behalf of his graduating class or see him march across the stage with honors cords and medallions draped around his neck?
Josiah shook his head. He almost felt too sorry for his mom to be mad at her.
He hadn’t been the perfect child. Mistakes and bad decisions had been made on his part over the years too. But drugs and alcohol were two things that would never come nigh his body. Josiah had made that declaration a long time ago. He’d seen what they could do to a person. How their dignity could be stripped, how their outlook could be jaded; how their esteem could be shattered, how their dreams could be tormented; how their beauty could be robbed. A five-by-seven framed photo of his mother as a beautiful young teenager sat on Josiah’s dresser as a constant reminder of the latter. No. Josiah wanted no parts of drugs or alcohol. Life was hard enough as it was.
Turning back to face his bed, Josiah’s eyes fell to the grey piece of carpet that he had kneeled on just about every morning and every night for the past five years. Since the age of thirteen, he’d had a personal relationship with God. He hadn’t been the model Christian though. There had been times when he’d said the wrong things, gone the wrong places, and made the wrong decisions. But in the midst of his wandering, God would remind Josiah of how much He loved him, and somehow, Josiah always found his way back to his
knees, the same posture he’d been in when he first met Christ.
His introduction to Christianity, and subsequently, the grey prayer mat, had come during one of his many stints in foster care, when the state would separate him from Reeva to give her time to seek permanent sobriety. Josiah’s Christ-connection was the only thing that kept him sane and focused. Prayer had gotten him through some of the roughest times of his life. Like the miracle that God worked when He gave Josiah just enough of a raise on his two-year anniversary at Bionic Burgers to pay the gas bill so he and his mother wouldn’t have to live without heat in the latest harsh winter that Chicago had endured. Or the pregnancy scare he got when he exchanged everything he knew to be right and righteous for fifteen minutes of pleasure with head cheerleader, Serena McCarthy, on the night of their junior prom. Josiah had prayed harder about that one than he did about the gas bill thing. He would have chosen any day to shiver himself to sleep for a few cold months than to have been forced to take on the lifetime responsibilities that came with fatherhood.
Why the Lord had been so merciful in the midst of his rebellion, Josiah didn’t know. He was just glad to have unmitigated proof that his heavenly Father really was a God of second chances. The scare was enough to make him a celibate senior despite the bait that adoring female classmates dangled in his face on a daily basis.
Josiah turned his eyes away from the prayer mat at his bedside and decided that he’d bathe and brush his teeth first. The heat had him feeling sticky, and he hated feeling unclean. Plus there was a bad taste in his mouth that he needed to get rid of. When he cupped his hands across his lips and nose and blew into them to test the severity of the damage done by the chicken pizza he’d eaten late last night—the one with the extra onions—Josiah rocked on his heels.
“Ooooo-wee!” He had to laugh at the magnitude of the lingering reek. Josiah was sure that God wouldn’t get close enough to him to hear his prayers if he didn’t freshen up first.
A half hour later, Josiah felt refreshed, having showered, brushed, and said his prayer before he stepped in the kitchen wearing a grey Hanes T-shirt and a pair of black Dockers shorts. He filled the sink with hot soapy water and wiped down the kitchen counter before preparing his favorite breakfast: a glass of orange juice, a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and one slice of dry wheat toast. Then he took the same cloth and cleaned the already clean surface of their card-playing-sized dinner table before sitting in one of only two chairs. Shoving a spoonful of the sugary cereal in his mouth, Josiah picked up the small stack of envelopes that he had tossed on the kitchen table when post graduation activities left him too tired to thumb through them last night. It was time to determine which invoices would take all of his hard-earned dollars this month.
To Josiah’s surprise and delight, there was only one bill in the pile. The electric company would get theirs, but right now, he was more interested in looking in the other three envelopes; all from colleges. He’d begun getting and filling out college applications during the summer between eleventh and twelfth grades. The GPA he maintained at Martin Luther King had gotten Josiah noticed by some of the nation’s top universities. Opening these newest envelopes was just a formality. Josiah liked the feeling of having colleges kiss up to him in hopes that he’d choose them over their worthy opponents.
He had decided long ago to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, accepting the offered full academic scholarship into their Department of Computer Science. North Carolina would do three important things for him. Give him the same alma mater
as his basketball hero, Michael Jordan; empower him with all the computer knowledge he would need to become a systems analyst, and put just enough space between him and his mother so that he could keep pretty good tabs on her without her having easy access to him. Every time Josiah admitted to himself that the last reason was probably the most appealing, guilt hit him like a ton of bricks.
He knew that when his mother disappeared for days at a time, she was somewhere using or being used, but sometimes he looked forward to her drug-induced and/or sex-driven mini-vacations. It was a sad truth, but for Josiah, Reeva’s absent days were the only ones that carried a hint of what peace of mind must feel like. When his mother was home, he had to hide his belongings as though he shared his life with a kleptomaniac. When selling her body didn’t bring in enough money to support her expensive addictions, Reeva stole everything that she could get her hands on in order to make up the difference.
When Josiah left to go to school every morning, he carried his books in his hand. His backpack was too cluttered to accommodate any school supplies. His digital camera, MP3 player, laptop computer, collection of CDs and DVDs, and other valuables were kept there. The backpack went everywhere with him, to Bionic Burgers on days that he had shifts there, and to the vacant lot where he and his friends sometimes met to shoot hoops on Saturdays. Josiah even took the backpack of belongings with him to church on Sundays.