Who Asked You?

ISBN 13: 9781482927566

Who Asked You?

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9781482927566: Who Asked You?

Family ties are tested and transformed in this novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back. With her wise, wry, and poignant novels of families and friendships, Terry McMillan has touched millions of readers. Here, in her eighth novel, McMillan gives exuberant voice to characters who reveal how we live now--at least in a racially diverse Los Angeles neighborhood. Kaleidoscopic, fast-paced, and filled with McMillan's inimitable humor, Who Asked You? opens as Trinetta leaves her two young sons with her mother, Betty Jean, and promptly disappears. BJ, a trademark McMillan heroine, already has her hands full dealing with her other adult children, two opinionated sisters, an ill husband, and her own postponed dreams--all while holding down a job as a hotel maid. Her son Dexter is about to be paroled from prison; Quentin, the family success, can't be bothered to lend a hand; and taking care of two lively grandsons is the last thing BJ thinks she needs. The drama unfolds through the perspectives of a rotating cast of pitch-perfect characters, each playing a part and full of surprises.Who Asked You? casts an intimate look at the burdens and blessings of family and speaks to trusting your own judgment even when others don't agree. McMillan's signature voice and unforgettable characters bring universal issues to brilliant, vivid life.

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About the Author:

Terry McMillan is a New York Times bestselling author of a number of novels, including Disappearing Acts, Getting to Happy, and Waiting to Exhale. She studied journalism at UC Berkeley and screenwriting at Columbia before making her fiction debut with Mama, which won both the Doubleday New Voices in Fiction Award and the American Book Award. She is also a recipient of the Essence Lifetime Achievement Award. She lives in Pasadena, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

I

You Go First

Betty Jean

It’s my day off and I’m in the kitchen getting ready to fry some chicken. When the phone rings and I see my daughter’s name on the caller I.D. I’m tempted to let it go straight to voice mail; the only reason I decide to go on and answer it is because I’m worried it might have something to do with my grandsons. Plus, I don’t trust her. Trinetta is not in the habit of calling just to chitchat or to check on her daddy. She always wants something. Her life is one continuous emergency. Since I’ve got flour all over my hands, I wipe them on my red apron, pick up the portable, and tiptoe into the living room because the last thing I want to do is wake up Lee David.

“Ma, I need to borrow a hundred forty dollars today and I swear as soon as I get my check I’ll pay you back, but the good news is I might have a job and I was wondering if I could bring the boys over for a couple of days so I can study for the test? Please say yes, Ma. Please.”

“Did I miss hello?”

“Hello, Ma.”

“Is something over there getting cut off?”

“No. But it’s important. I swear to God, I’ll give you my check when it comes, Ma. I owe Twinkle and her rent is past due and if I don’t give it to her by six o’clock she’s gonna get evicted.”

“That girl who lives down the hall from you?”

“Yeah. Her.”

“Isn’t she a drug addict?”

“Twinkle? No. She’s got three kids.”

“You and Twinkle seem to have a whole lot in common, then, don’t you?”

“I ain’t no drug addict, Ma. I might dip and dab every now and then, but I’m a long way from being strung out.”

“I know I didn’t just hear you say ‘ain’t’ on this phone talking to me.”

“My bad. ‘I’m not a drug addict.’ Better?”

I rest the phone on my shoulder and brush my hands again on my apron. “Why can’t you get it from what’s-his-name?”

“His name is Dante. He moved out.”

“Why?”

“’Cause the Section Eight people was gonna raise my rent.”

“What a pity, and he was so helpful.”

“Ma . . . please?”

I hate it when she begs. And I know there’s more to this story than what she’s saying, but since getting the truth out of her is damn near impossible, I just say, “I’ll write you a check when you bring the boys over.”

“I can’t do nothing with no check, Ma.”

“Since when? You’ve managed to cash all the other ones.”

“I had to close my checking account. And please, don’t ask.”

“I swear to God, Trinetta. You just go from bad to worse.”

“Yeah, well, I had a good teacher.”

“What did you just say?”

“I said I shoulda had better teachers.”

“That is not what you said.”

“Can we not go there today? Please? I’m trying to fix a problem over here and I just need your help.”

“About what time should I look for you and the boys?”

“Between three and four. We gotta take the bus ’cause I had to let Dante use the car.”

“I thought you just said he moved out?”

“He did. But the only way he could move his stuff back out to his parents’ house was he needed a car.”

“Has he ever heard of U-Haul?”

“He didn’t have that much stu—”

“Forget I asked. When is he bringing it back?”

“In about a week or two, ’cause he might have a job opportunity, too.”

“Well, wouldn’t that just make you both lucky? Don’t answer that. But tell me this. And don’t lie, Trinetta. Did you pay the insurance like you said you would?”

“I paid half of it.”

“So, if you or Dante got in half of an accident do you realize who could get sued for their whole damn house?”

“We both very careful drivers, Ma.”

“You sound like a damn fool, Trinetta. You know that?”

“I’ll see you in a few hours.”

I just shake my head and head on back to the kitchen. I can hear these boards creaking under the carpet but I pretend I don’t hear it. I didn’t dare ask what kind of job she might be applying for that required her to study for the test, but I’ll just cross my fingers I won’t have to add it to the long list of things she didn’t end up doing.

Oh Lord. Did I just hear him move? Please don’t let this be a Commercial Break Nap. He only watched four episodes of Dora the Explorer and he’s got six more to go. Plus, I am not in the mood for entertaining him while I stand in this hot-ass kitchen in front of this electric stove in the middle of the afternoon with no air conditioner. It’s broken. Just like he is. And I’m right behind him. I can live without fried chicken. I’m just doing this to make Lee David happy. He doesn’t ask for much these days but he did manage to say, “I want some soul food,” and then flapped his bony little arms and made a clucking noise, which is why I’m in here suffering. It’s amazing what you’ll do for your husband, even if you never loved him but he convinced you he loved you so you went on and married him and had his babies. Hell, I could be ironing my uniforms or writing Dexter a long-overdue letter, or reading a good paperback instead of struggling to fix enough food to last two or three days, since I can’t be Julia Child every day.

Even though I propped that fan on top of four old encyclopedias and a phone book, it’s still not cutting it, so I go to Plan B. I open the door and slide a chair in front of it, then set everything on top of it, turn that oscillator on, but all it’s doing is pushing warm air on my behind, which is big enough to generate its own heat. I stick my head inside the freezer for a minute; inhale the cold, hoping it’ll spread inside my body, which of course doesn’t work.

I think I hear him stirring in there again so I lean my left ear toward the bedroom, but just to be on the safe side, I say, “Anything I can get you, Mister?” (Which is what I call him when I’m talking directly to him.) While I wait for the response I hope not to get, I tighten the strings on this apron, cup my chin in my palms, and press my elbows on the damp counter. I look out the window at the orange trees at the side of the driveway. Not a single leaf on any of them is moving. This feels too much like earthquake weather. I don’t appreciate this kind of stillness. We hadn’t been here two days back in ’71 when that 6.6 sucker hit at the crack of dawn. We had come from New Orleans and I thought what a fucked-up welcome to California this was. But like fools, here we are almost thirty years later. You kind of get used to your house shaking, and you almost feel grateful if nothing breaks or the walls don’t crack.

He clears his throat. So I carry on, making sure the oil is hot as I flick a few drops of water into a giant skillet and jump back. When a geyser shoots up from it, I know it’s ready. I wish I could get rid of this big old electric stove and get a gas one. And a Kenmore. Stainless. It took years, but our Sears card has a zero balance and I’m afraid to charge anything until I can be more certain about our future.

I pick up the Ziploc bag full of flour and sprinkle some seasoning salt, garlic powder, white pepper, and paprika inside it. Chicken breasts and thighs are piled up on a floral platter. These are the only pieces Lee David likes. After thirty-seven years of marriage, I’ve forgotten how much I used to love wings. I dip a few pieces in a bowl of whisked eggs, drop them inside the bag, shake them back and forth, and then place them in the skillet. I wash my hands in warm water, stand in front of the sink even though I should sit down, and start snapping string beans.

“Mrs. Butler? You got a big brown one from Dexter today. Want me to set it inside the screen door for you or leave it out here on the top step?”

“Inside is fine. Thanks, Mr. Jones. And you have a nice day.”

“Is that fried chicken I smell?”

I just chuckle. Mr. Jones has been our mailman since we moved into this house, and it doesn’t seem like he’s ever going to retire. He’s been a widower going on five years now. I don’t know how he manages to do so much walking, especially in those thick black special shoes he has to wear. “Stop back by when you get to Tammy’s and I’ll wrap you up a couple of pieces.”

“You are so very kind,” he says.

I walk through the dining room and living room and down one step onto the sunporch and pick up the mail. I recognize the bills by the color of the envelopes and set them on the buffet. I put Dexter’s big envelope inside the magazine pouch on the left side of my La-Z-Boy with a ton of his letters I have not read. I get one every week, sometimes two. I can’t read them like I used to.

I’ll be the first to admit that I probably could’ve been a better mother, and I’ve got three grown children to prove it. It goes without saying that I do love them. I’m just disappointed in how they turned out. Trinetta is the baby, and at twenty-seven she seems to have a hard time saying no to drugs and low-life men, which has made her allergic to working more than a few months at a time. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to believe she’s the same daughter who lived on the honor roll all during junior high school. But then between ninth grade and junior college she fell in love too many times to count and lost her mind. She also loved beautiful teeth and was on her way to becoming a dental technician when she got pregnant. Over the years, Trinetta tiptoed back and forth, and the last I heard, she’s only twelve units shy of being employable. I used to remind her of this small fact but she would just get defensive. She has given birth to three children. The last one was Noxema. Her daddy went to court and got custody after she drank some shampoo and had to be rushed to emergency. I wish he would’ve claimed those other two. Who they belong to is a mystery that may never get solved. In all honesty, I’m one step away from calling Child Protection Services on her if she doesn’t clean up her act soon.

My oldest, Quentin, likes cracking necks and backs, getting married, and getting divorced. He’s a chiropractor and lives up in Oregon, where hardly any black people live, which has made it very easy for him to forget he’s black. He enjoys being the token and hates the ghetto. He even calls me “Mother,” which gets on my nerves because it sounds so official, and he says it using the same tone as telemarketers when they ask for Mrs. Butler. I’ve told him about a thousand times I don’t like being called Mother, but he just ignores me. He was the same way when he was little. He doesn’t bend. Does everything his way, which is what has made him so difficult to like. Somehow, someway, he has made himself believe he’s superior to most folks. I don’t know how he got this way, and why he feels more like a stranger I just happened to give birth to. The only time I seem to hear from him is when he’s getting married or divorced. He’s on his fourth or fifth wife. I can’t keep up. One thing they all have in common is that they’re white. Not that I care. But why they all have to be blonde is what baffles me. On top of everything, Quentin has the nerve to act like he’s religious. He does not go to any church that I know of but claims to read the Bible every single morning. He must be a slow reader.

Then there’s Dexter. He’s in the middle. Another smart one who fell in love with stupidity. He’s doing nine to twelve years for carjacking a Filipino woman in a Costco parking lot in broad daylight using a deadly weapon (which to this day he claims was just a flashlight and not a gun). He and his high school buddy, Buddy, thought this would be a fun thing to do since the bus was taking too long and they were both high on that marijuana and Bud Lights. Dexter said they were just trying to get out to Valencia so Buddy could go see his girlfriend in the hospital who had just had his baby, and Buddy didn’t want to miss visiting hours. Dexter swore up and down this was all Buddy’s idea even though Dexter was also supposed to meet his girlfriend, Skittles, at Great America, that amusement park right down the street from the hospital. Unfortunately, that marijuana must’ve caused a temporary memory loss, because Dexter forgot that even stolen cars run on gas, which is why the highway patrolman didn’t believe him when Dexter told him the bright yellow Jetta with “Divina” on the custom plates was his.

If I had it to do over, I probably wouldn’t have had any kids. It’s too much responsibility trying to steer somebody else’s life when you’re still trying to navigate your own. Back then kids didn’t come with instructions, so you had to wing it. And based on all these modern books full of recipes on how to be a deluxe parent and raise damn near flawless children, I guess I’d have to give myself a C or a C– because apparently I did a whole lot of things wrong.

For starters, I didn’t always put my kids first. I mean I had needs, too. Back then, between them and Lee David, I felt just like a pie. Everybody wanted a piece of me and barely left me with a little crust. Plus, I had to work. I did not talk to them in what they now call an inside voice. I talked to them like they were hard of hearing. It was the only way I could get their attention and let them know I meant business. Plus, I didn’t like being a repeater. Saying the same damn thing over and over and over again and still not getting the results I was after. They were hardheaded. I’m proud to say I did not swear at them, but every once in a while they did hear me say shit and damn and oh hell no, and five or six or ten times the “F” word. Apparently this was supposed to ruin them but I don’t think that was what did it. I also said no a lot because many of the things they asked for were unreasonable. Or ridiculous. Time-outs hadn’t been invented yet, which is why if they disobeyed me, I sometimes popped their little behinds. I didn’t beat them, mind you, and never used any hand-held items. Again, my kids were hardheaded, so I doubt if sitting on a little stool in a corner would’ve worked on them anyway.

Lee David might as well have been one of the kids, because he was just as needy and actually competed against them for my attention. I think he won. But my clock was slow: it took about twenty years to admit to myself how bored I was being his wife. He was pleasant enough and a reliable father and all but sometimes he felt more like a good friend who wouldn’t go home. I guess it would be fair to say that I was just too lazy to divorce him. I also discovered that you can get used to a man, much like you do a household pet.

My mama raised four of us and she made it look easy. (I shouldn’t count Monroe, who was almost thirteen when she took him in after her sister died, and he was trouble from the start.) But I’m here to testify: Raising kids is not easy. It’s work. Hard work. And work you don’t get paid for. The worst part is when the little suckers grow up and don’t appreciate the time and energy you put into them. Mine seem to have major lapses in memory. What they remember most is how much I got on their nerves. What I didn’t give them. Not what I did. And they blame me for the things they didn’t bother listening to. As if I never taught them anything. Or, that it was useless.

As a mother, you can’t help but wonder where you went wrong and how much of your kids’ confusion is your fault. I probably should’ve read more fairy tales and more often instead of just on my days o...

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Book Description Blackstone Audiobooks, United States, 2013. CD-Audio. Book Condition: New. Unabridged. Language: English . Brand New. Family ties are tested and transformed in this novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back. With her wise, wry, and poignant novels of families and friendships, Terry McMillan has touched millions of readers. Here, in her eighth novel, McMillan gives exuberant voice to characters who reveal how we live now--at least in a racially diverse Los Angeles neighborhood. Kaleidoscopic, fast-paced, and filled with McMillan s inimitable humor, Who Asked You? opens as Trinetta leaves her two young sons with her mother, Betty Jean, and promptly disappears. BJ, a trademark McMillan heroine, already has her hands full dealing with her other adult children, two opinionated sisters, an ill husband, and her own postponed dreams--all while holding down a job as a hotel maid. Her son Dexter is about to be paroled from prison; Quentin, the family success, can t be bothered to lend a hand; and taking care of two lively grandsons is the last thing BJ thinks she needs. The drama unfolds through the perspectives of a rotating cast of pitch-perfect characters, each playing a part and full of surprises.Who Asked You? casts an intimate look at the burdens and blessings of family and speaks to trusting your own judgment even when others don t agree. McMillan s signature voice and unforgettable characters bring universal issues to brilliant, vivid life. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9781482927566

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