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Sing With Cheer

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“I’m not moving Lucious,” Cookie yelled, throwing another pile of clothes back on the bed.

It was bad enough it was winter and she was at that point of pregnancy where things are just starting to hurt and swell, but now they had stick up boys trying to ruin their profit. She wasn’t moving with two little kids on top of all that mess.

“Nobody has time for you to be stubborn about this,” Lucious said, stuffing another big black trash bag with clothes from the dresser. “Those boys that stuck up Junebug know where we stay so you and the boys aren’t going to be here when they try to run up on the house.”

Cookie rolled her eyes. She’d sit on the bed and block the rest of the things he’s trying to move but the last time she did that she got a sudden tired spell and didn’t get up. “This better be temporary. The last thing Carol needs is me across town, she’ll be strung out in a minute.”

“I promise. It’s just until me and Bunky can handle these punks,” Lucious said. He slipped up behind her, resting his chin on her shoulder and his hands on her too damn big for six months belly. “You know I gotta take care of my babies, and I can’t do that if I’m worried while you’re in this house.”

“Fine, but it better be nice.”

“It’s nice, I promise.”

*

“What the hell is this Lucious?” Cookie asked waving her hand at the rest of the run down apartment.

“It’s as two bedroom apartment with a second floor, it’s nice.”

Andre stops bunny hopping in circles around Jamal long enough to ask, “Is this where we live now?”

“No,” Cookie said, firm.

“Yes,” Lucious sanpped. “Your mamma is just mad right now because the baby is bothering her.”

Cookie pointed a finger in Lucious face, “Don't you start with me. This is the damn projects. All you did was trade some some West Philly stick up boys for North Philly ones.”

Lucious laughed, “Except the North philly boys don’t know we holding. They ain’t wasting their time sticking up a pregnant woman with two little kids, they think you don’t have shit.”

“You better be right.”

“I’m always right.”

*

He’s right. The corner boys never bother Cookie and she hates the smug smile he gets whenever one of them asks her how she’s feeling.

Their apartment is right between two little old ladies who’ve lived in Richard Allen since it opened. They always want to tell stories about how nice it was around here before everybody started doing that damn crack. As soon as they decided Cookie was okay every wannabe gangsta started calling her Miss Cookie like she’s just another church lady.

Cookie felt bad about sitting there shaking her head while they talked about the evils of drugs. Even if they are only selling to get seed money for the music it still feels wrong in her gut.

There was a knock on the door almost every Sunday from Miss Pat, the neighbor on the right side who sells plates on friday nights and blasts gospel on Saturday mornings.

“Good Morning Miss Pat,” Cookie said opening the door. She’s never been religious but if this woman wants to get the boys out of the house for a few hours and put the fear of god into them Cookie is not going to say no.

“Hello baby,” She said patting Cookie on the cheek. “You gonna come with me and the boys today?”

Cookie smiled. Miss Pat never invited Lucious or even spoke to him if he didn’t speak first. It drove him crazy and cracked her up. “No ma’am. I gotta help my husband with some work today.”

Miss Pat frowned and looked toward the ceiling like god would show her the way. “That boy has you working when you’re just about ready to have this baby?” she asked, scorn seeping into her voice.

“Oh no, no, he just takes me along to make sure that foreman pays him right. They’re not gonna cheat him when his pregnant wife is standing there with him looking tired.”

“Mmm hmm,” she hummed, face mean like she didn't believe Lucious had done anything half decent in his life.

Cookie tried not to laugh and yelled, “Andre, Jamal let’s go!” and lets Miss Pat hustle the boys out the door without her ever managing to say a word to Lucious.

“Why do you keep letting that evil woman watch our boys?” Lucious asked dropping onto the couch to pull on his shoes.

Cookie slapped his arm, “She’s not evil just cause she don’t like you. And she’s free.” She grabbed her coat and slips on the only shoes that still fit, “Now let’s go, it’s cold and I want to be back before the boys are home from church.”

*

They get back just as the boys are rounding the corner ahead of Miss Pat and flurries are just starting to fall.

“Stop running!” Lucious yelled earning a glare from Miss Pat and sad faces in stereo from the boys. “I can’t win with that woman.”

Cookie laughed, “I don’t know why you keep trying. She’s never gonna like you.”

Lucious leaned over and kissed Cookie on the cheek, “I don’t need that evil ass woman to like me, I want some damn respect.”

“That’s the same thing to her,” Cookie said shaking her head and waving at Miss Pat as she got closer.

Cookie thanked Miss Pat and was just getting the boys into the house and out of their coats when Lucious said, “I gotta head back out.”

“Why?” Cookie asked. She paused, turning to Andre and said, “help Jamal,” before turning back to Lucious.

“I need to go to the studio and get a couple of these new tracks down.”

“It’s snowing!” Cookie said, pointing out the window at thte thicker flurries that had started to fall. “And we been out collecting money for three hours, why didn’t you say something about going to the studio then?”

Lucious scoffed, “You were going to let us be late getting the boys? We both know that’s not true. And it’s not even sticking, I’ll be home before it gets bad.”

“I don’t like it.”

“You worry too much, there was nothing on the news about bad snow and I’ll be back before you know it.”

“You better be,” Cookie said, “last thing I need is you stuck in the snow somewhere you know I can’t come help you.”

Lucious laughed, “I’ll be careful out in all those scary flurries that aren’t even sticking.”

Cookie narrowed her eyes, “I don’t care about careful. I’m too pregnant to shovel and the boys are too little to do anything useful out there.”

“Good to know you only love me for the manual labor,” Lucious said smiling as he walked out the door.

Cookie frowned looking out the window as he got into the car and pulled off. The snow had started to come down a little heavier and it’s wasn't sticking yet but her gut was telling her that it was going to be bad.

*

Cookie got the boys calmed down enough to eat at the table, just some quick grilled cheese sandwiches while the three of them split two cans of warmed up tomato soup. Then she shuffled Jamal up the stairs.

“Come on, bath time. You’re up first baby.”

He drug his feet and said, “but mama there’s a show on.”

“And it’ll still be on. Andre can tell you about it before his bath. Come on.”

He settled down long enough to get through his bath, singing the whole time.

By the time Jamal was in his pajamas and settled onto the couch watching that stupid show with the dinosaur family, the ground outside was covered in a layer of snow and it was still coming down hard.

Cookie rubbed at her back a little. If Lucious wasn’t on his way now there was no way he was getting home anytime soon.

Cookie sighed. “Andre, it’s your turn,” Cookie said holding out a hand.

Andre didn’t fight her, just grabbed her hand quickly before letting go to run up the stairs.

Cookie stopped in front of Jamal, “If anybody knocks on the door you come upstairs and get me, you hear?”

At his nod she headed upstairs.

Andre spent his entire bath talking about how much he likes going to church with Miss Pat. Cookie knew he was working his way around to asking to go every Sunday and she’s was trying to work out what she’s going to say when the light’s flicker.

“Alright baby I think we’re done. Go get your jammies on.” Cooke said wrapping Andre in a towel and gently pushing him toward the boys room.

She sat down on the toilet to rest a minute, this new, last, baby playing hell on her back when the lights flicker again before going out.

“Shit,” Cookie said as Jamal yelled from downstairs and she heard Andre’s quiet, “mom,” from across the hall.

Cookie pushed herself up and tried to remember where she put the candles and the flashlight.

“I’m right here Andre,” Cookie said stopping in the doorway. “can you make it downstairs without any lights?”

At his nod Cookie added, “Then you go down and keep Jamal company, you know he doesn’t like the dark.”

“Now where is the damn flashlight,” Cookie mumbled to herself, trying to remember the last time the power went out. It hasn’t been that often, much less than Cookie was used to when she was little at least, but it’s been enough for her to really start to hate this place and keep a flashlight with working batteries on hand.

She found it at the top of the closet, close enough to the edge to almost crack her on the head on it’s way down. Then she headed downstairs to her boys.

*

The boys were huddled together on the couch when Cookie got downstairs, a blanket pulled from somewhere around them.

Cookie put the flashlight light up on the floor giving at least the illusion of a little bit of overhead light and went to the window to check on the snow situation.

It was much, much worse. She couldn't see more than a few feet out onto the sidewalk and there’s was no way to tell where the sidewalk ends and the street begins. Lucious wasn't making it home that night but if there was any luck the management would get the power back up before morning and the heat would stay on.

“Okay, who wants hot chocolate while we wait for the lights to come back on?” Cookie asked, turning around to face the boys.

Andre perked up but Jamal just sanl back into the couch. Cookie went to sit down between them, “Come on now, make a space.”

“What’s wrong baby?” Cookie asked as Jamal tries to wrap his arms around her waist. His arms were short and her belly was too big now for him to get far.

Andre snorted but scooted closer on Cookie’s other side and said, “He’s just being a baby.”

“I’m not!” Jamal said, muffled from where his face was pressed up against Cookie’s belly and then. “s’scary.”

“Baby.”

“I’m not!”

“Alright, enough of that,” Cookie said, glaring. They had enough problems without the boys trying to fight in the dark and give her a damn headache.

“There ain’t nothing wrong with being scared, you hear me?” Cookie said looking at Jamal and Andre in turn. “When was little and got scared it wasn’t so bad because I had my sisters with me. Sometimes, most of the time, they got on my nerves they always helped me feel better.”

Andre frowned and asked, “How?” and Cookie could see the little gears in his head trying to work out how Carol and Candace could help anybody.

Cookie smiled remembering the last time she was scared enough for her sisters to come through for her. It was right after her labor started with Andre, she was terrified something would go wrong. This was back before Candace was too good to bother with them.

“They would sing and make me sing too,” Cookie said, “Sometimes it was a song that I liked but most of the time it was our mama’s favorite songs.”

“He probably wants to sing the Barney song,” Andre grumbled hands crossed over his chest.

Jamal tried to climb over Cookie to hit him yelling, “Shut up!”

Cookie grabbed Jamal by the back of his shirt and planted a hand on Andre’s chest yelling, “Stop it. If you don’t stop fighting the only song you’ll be singing is one about your aching butt. Are we clear?”

At their quiet yes’s Cookie said, “I’ll pick the song and then everybody is going to bed early.”

Neither of the boys look happy but that’s the price for fighting. “Now this is a song Carol used to sing, even though she always sounded terrible. It was our mama’s favorite and sometimes we’d catch her singing it alone,” Cookie said right before she starts to sing.

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain, we all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tomorrow

Lean on me when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on

Cookie got the boys singing along and marching upstairs to their room by the chorus, sleepy but not fighting anymore. They’re both tucked in their beds by the end of the song.

“Remember,” Cookie said leaning down to kiss Andre on his forehead. “You’re brothers so you have to take care of each other.”

She does the same for Jamal and finishes, “even when you don’t like each other very much.”

Cookie leaves the flashlight on top of their dresser, pointed up at the ceiling like a night light.

She still disliked the apartment and the neighborhood, so far from everyone and everything she’d ever known, more often than not. But that night with the snow, the blackout and Lucious god knows where it’s wasn't too bad. Her boys were safe and eventually the light would come back on.