<h2>IN THE BEGINNING…</h2> <h2>1</h2> <h2>WASHINGTON, D.C.</h2> <p class="dl">OCTOBER 2000</p> <p><span class="dropcap">B</span>efore I showed up at their door, the Brinkleys was already a big, old happy family. Their light blue house was just off of Rhode Island Avenue, and they had three big football-playing teenaged sons—Jamal, Ja’qui, and Jayson. There was another foster child named Danica, too. She had the biggest smile on her face when Ms. Lewis introduced me to everybody and grabbed my hand as soon as I walked inside.</p> <p>“What’s your name?” she asked, smiling and twirling one of her braids between her fingers. She had chubby cheeks and a belly that poked out a little.</p> <p>“Camille,” I said as I looked around the living room. Their house was just like <em>The Cosby Show</em> and nothing like mine. Family pictures was hanging on the wall, and there was a big-screen TV in the middle of the floor. A picture of white Jesus sat on a large bookcase with plastic flowers and tons of books. Mr. Brinkley was a tall, big man with shoulders that filled the whole doorway. He had a belly, but not as big as Santa Claus. When he smiled at me, the first thing I noticed was his chipped front tooth. Mrs. Brinkley smiled but turned away before I could smile back. She was tall and had frizzy golden brown hair. Mr. Brinkley took my suitcase, then him and his wife started talking with Ms. Lewis in the kitchen.</p> <p>“How old are you?” Danica asked.</p> <p>“Ten.”</p> <p>“Oh, I’m eleven,” she said, smiling. “You like magazines? I got some in our room upstairs.”</p> <p>I shrugged my shoulders, not really caring one way or the other. “A little bit,” I mumbled. This was gonna be my second foster family in a year, and even though Danica was being friendly, after my last family, I knew not to have high hopes.</p> <p class="spb"><span class="dropcap">“I</span>t’s okay if you want to call me Mama,” Mrs. Brinkley said after she saw me in the room with Danica. Mrs. Brinkley had real long fingers, and she kind of reminded me of Sideshow Bob from my favorite TV show, <em>The Simpsons</em>, with her frizzy, wild hair. Plus she was tall and slim except in the middle, just like him. I wondered if she was a little sneaky, too. Her eyes shifted around a lot, just like his did. She rubbed her hands and then combed her fingers through her hair as she looked around the bedroom. I watched her hand move jittery across the pink and purple bedspread on the top bunk bed. She said, “I hope you like it here. God blessed this home and this family.”</p> <p>I hadn’t seen my real mama in two years, and I ain’t have no plans on making this strange lady my mama. The last time I saw Mama, she was going through Nana’s drawers searching for something. Tossing papers, family pictures, and clothes all around Nana’s bedroom. Mama left out the house with a glass jar full of pennies, and I ain’t seen her since. When Nana came home, she cried and fussed about the mess Mama left behind. It was the first time I ever seen her crying. She sat me down and told me she was tired and she couldn’t do it anymore. Mama had to leave. My heart ain’t stop hurting for months after that.</p> <p>“Well, I’ll leave you two alone,” Mrs. Brinkley said before heading out the door. “I need to get dinner ready. Oh, Danica, don’t forget to show Camille where to put her things.”</p> <p>“Yes, ma’am.”</p> <p>I stared at the magazine in my lap with Lil’ Bow Wow on the cover, but I really just wanted to take a nap. I ain’t wanna go through this again. The introductions, the new routines and chores, the new school. I just wanted to sleep and wake up back home with Mama and Nana.</p> <p>“You like this skirt?” Danica asked, holding up her magazine.</p> <p>I nodded. “It’s pretty.”</p> <p>“Yeah, I’m gonna ask Ja’qui if he can get it for me.”</p> <p>My eyebrows rose up. “What you mean?”</p> <p>“He my boyfriend, but don’t tell nobody, though.”</p> <p>I ain’t know what to say to that so I looked back at my magazine.</p> <p>“Ain’t he cute?”</p> <p>“Who?”</p> <p>“Ja’qui?” she asked, all excited.</p> <p>“Yeah, but…”</p> <p>“But what? But nothing! He’s a cutie!” she said, rolling over on her bed and kicking her feet up to tap the bottom of the mattress on top of her.</p> <p>“How long you been here?” I asked.</p> <p>“Since the beginning of last school year,” she said. Her mood changed and she sat up. “I came after our house caught on fire. We all got split up—my mother, my sister, and my little brother.”</p> <p>“Oh.”</p> <p>“I see my mother sometimes, but she live in a shelter, and she don’t want me living with her.”</p> <p>I turned back to my magazine. I hoped she wasn’t gonna ask about me, cuz I ain’t wanna talk about it.</p> <p>“What about you?”</p> <p>I thought about telling her a lie, that my mother was in the army and that she got killed overseas or that we had a house fire, too, but the words ain’t come out. So I told her half of the story. “I used to live with my grandmother, but she died last year.”</p> <p>“Oh, sorry,” she said touching my knee. “I know you miss her.”</p> <p>I nodded, surprised by the tears in my eyes. I blinked and one dropped. My grandmother was the only person who knew everything about me. The way I felt inside and how I felt about Mama. She was the only person I told when I saw Mama sucking smoke from out of a pipe in the bathroom and when her ex-boyfriend Tony smacked her three times in the living room. She was the one I told about Lil’ Damien teasing me about my boney legs, and how he called them crooked and retarded looking. I never told her that I caught him by the big trash can beside the building and beat him up, even though he was bigger than me.</p> <p>I loved Nana so much. She used to say, “God is in the rain, don’t be afraid,” every time a thunderstorm scared me into her lap. The words always made me feel better, cuz Nana never lied. When she could only get around the house in her wheelchair, I was the only person who she asked to get her medicine. Mama always fussed about doing stuff for Nana. “Mama, why you always calling my name?” she used to yell. “I get so sick of hearing you yelling ‘Shelly’ all over the damn house like I’ma slave or something.”</p> <p>But Nana wasn’t the only person I missed. I missed my old neighborhood on Stanton Road, I missed the hills and the buses and going to Wilkerson with my friends. Sometimes, I missed Mama, too. Even though she sometimes acted like I got on her nerves and that she wished she never had me. Sometimes she let me lay my head in her lap and she would brush my hair, or sometimes she would even braid it up with zig-zags like everybody else wore them at school. Sometimes Mama pushed me away from her. She said I wanted to be a baby, even though I was a big girl. “You always up under me,” she used to say. But I wanted to be up under her. Her skin used to smell like vanilla and cocoa butter until after I started seeing her staying in the bathroom all the time. Then I noticed her skin ain’t smell like that no more and I ain’t care no more that she ain’t want me up under her, either. Nana let me cuddle up to her whenever I felt like it, and she always smelled like cakes and pies. So that was good, too.</p> <p>“Well, don’t feel so sad,” Danica said, looking me in my eyes. “You got me now. I’ll be your best friend.”</p> <p>I wiped my face and smiled.</p> <p class="spb"><span class="dropcap">M</span>y first week with the Brinkleys turned out to be okay. They told me I had to help with some of the chores. The bathroom was my responsibility, and I always had to clean the stovetop after dinner. I ain’t care. I helped with chores at Nana’s and even at my last foster house. I always used to help Nana in the kitchen. She even let me help her make pancakes once. It was so easy.</p> <p>The brothers spent most of the day teasing Danica and me. I walked in the room once just when Ja’qui was about to kiss her, but when he saw me, he walked out the room. He was fifteen, and I just couldn’t believe that she and him was messing around.</p> <p>“Girl, you gonna get in trouble,” I whispered after he left.</p> <p>“Not if you don’t tell,” she said, smiling.</p> <p>“But what if I was Mrs. Brinkley? She would’ve seen y’all!”</p> <p>“That lady walks around here sleepwalking. I’m not worried about her. All she wants is for me to call her Mama and help her do the damn dishes. I ain’t thinking about her.”</p> <p>I ain’t know what Danica meant by that, but I started paying more attention to Mrs. Brinkley whenever we was in the same room. She spent most of her time cleaning this and wiping down that, spraying bleach or Windex, or reading her Bible. Besides seeming nervous all the time, I can’t say that Mrs. Brinkley was sleepwalking. I thought she noticed every single thing that happened under her roof, even like whenever somebody moved the seasonings around in the cabinets.</p> <p>One day I was in the living room watching TV when Mr. Brinkley walked in from work. He had hands so big that looked like they could pull trees up from the roots. Danica told me he used to play football for a minor league before he messed up his back, and that’s why he wanted Jamal, Ja’qui, and Jayson to play so bad. But now Mr. Brinkley worked at an insurance company out in Maryland and spent most of his time trying to coach from the bleachers with the rest of the fathers who wished they could still play.</p> <p>Mrs. Brinkley seemed nervous as usual when he walked in and she headed straight to the kitchen. I can’t figure her out yet, but she never said nothing unless she was saying something about the Bible or church or chores. I can hear her opening and slamming cabinets shut and metal pots clanging together.</p> <p>“How you doing, young lady?” he asked me as he stood in the hallway with his hand lying on his stomach, holding his work bag with the other.</p> <p>“Good,” I said before turning back to the TV.</p> <p>“You don’t have any homework?”</p> <p>“No.”</p> <p>“No, what?”</p> <p>“No, I don’t have no homework.”</p> <p>“Sir?”</p> <p>“Sir?” I asked, confused.</p> <p>“Yes, in this house, you call me sir, and Mrs. Brinkley ma’am.”</p> <p>I can’t help but roll my eyes.</p> <p>“Is there something wrong with your eyes?” he asked as he leaned forward, his forehead crinkling up into lines.</p> <p>I shook my head.</p> <p>“Is that supposed to be an answer, young lady?” Mr. Brinkley asked.</p> <p>“No.”</p> <p>“No what?”</p> <p>“No, sir?”</p> <p>“That’s it.”</p> <p>I sat staring at the TV, but I wanted to get up and leave. His presence made me feel funny, like I was doing something wrong by just breathing. I ain’t like Mr. Brinkley, and it was clear that Mrs. Brinkley had issues with him, too. I tried to breathe soft whenever he was in the room.</p> <p>A few weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night because I heard strange sounds coming from Danica’s bed. I rolled over and looked down, straining my eyes to see, since it was so dark. But even in the pitch-black room, I can see a large figure sitting on her bed. I covered my mouth with my hand, to keep me from making any noise, and then I listened close. I can tell Danica wasn’t screaming, either. She was moaning, and I can hear another voice whispering something I can’t understand.</p> <p>I rolled over on my back and stared at the ceiling. I ain’t know what to do. I closed my eyes real tight when I heard the person standing up and the shrill sound of his zipper closing. I ain’t wanna hear. I ain’t wanna know. I ain’t wanna see, but my eyes opened just as Mr. Brinkley closed the door.</p> <p>I stared up at the ceiling for what felt like hours listening to cars driving down the street. I must’ve finally fell asleep, cuz Danica pushed me awake the next morning yelling, “Get up, girl! You overslept! We goin’ be late!”</p> <p>“Huh?” I said, wiping my eyes.</p> <p>“It’s Friday, and I can’t wait to get home from school. We’re gonna see Ja’qui’s football game,” she said, smiling and running to her closet. “What am I gonna wear?”</p> <p>I hurried to the shower and washed up. It wasn’t gonna take us long to get to school since it wasn’t that far of a walk. On the way, I looked over at Danica to see if she’d act different or if she’d say something about what happened last night, but she didn’t. She was the same as always, talking a mile a minute, this time about the tennis shoes Ja’qui was gonna buy her. That’s when I knew whatever happened last night had been happening for a long time.</p> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Damaged</b> by <b>DuPree, Kia</b> Copyright © 2010 by DuPree, Kia. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.