Sample text for With friends like these / ReShonda Tate Billingsley.

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"My name is Tameka Adams, and I don't want to be here." Tameka made the announcement like she was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She twirled her fingers through her long ponytail as she sighed in frustration.

Personally, I wanted to tell her to beat it, then. I know one thing, if she was coming to join our group, homegirl was gon' have to lose the attitude. I mean, I know she's Rachel's niece by marriage and all. But she and her funky attitude needed to go.

Rachel is our group leader, the founder of the Good Girlz community service group. Don't let the name fool you, though. We all are far from good. Rachel started the group here in Houston as part of some youth outreach program at Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church, where her husband was pastor. Her old snooty church members didn't want her to start the group. But even though she's First Lady, Rachel marches to a beat of her own. She told those old biddies where they could go. Now here we are, a year after we started. And even those people who didn't want us at first are now feeling us.

I ain't gon' even lie, though, I came here kickin' and screamin'. But since my choice was either the Good Girlz or jail, well, I guess you could see why I'm here. The bad part was, I got in a whole bunch of trouble over my stupid, no-good, stank, dirty dog ex-boyfriend, Keith. Long story short, the fool went to jail for a carjacking, broke out, and had me hiding him in my grandma's house. Then when the police came, he took off through a back window, and I was the one who got arrested for harboring a fugitive. Can youbelieve that? Me, a straight-A (well, sometimes B and C) person, got arrested. I was only fifteen, so I didn't have to go to regular jail. I spent a week in a juvenile facility while they had a manhunt for Keith. And do you know where they found that dog? At his baby mama's house. That was a bit of a problem because I didn't know he had a baby. And I dang sure didn't know he had a baby mama.

Anyway, he got sent back to jail. They eventually found out he didn't do it -- it was his stepbrother -- so he got out. And of course he tried to come running back to me, but I wasn't hearing it. (Okay, maybe I did take him back one time, but he messed up again, cheating on me with his crazy baby mama, so I kicked him to the curb and I hadn't talked to him since.)

"Hello. Earth to Camille."

I looked up to see Angel waving her hand in my face.

I snapped back to the meeting, not even realizing my mind had wandered off.

"Glad you could rejoin us," Rachel said with a smile.

I shot her an apologetic look as she continued talking.

"Now that I've explained to our new girls all of the benefits of our wonderful group, we want everyone to introduce themselves," Rachel said. "Starting with you, Jasmine."

"Aww, Miss Rachel, it's not like Tameka doesn't know us. She's been here before," Jasmine protested. Tameka had come to our first meeting, but at the time she chose not to participate. I don't know what had brought her back this time.

"It's not like she even wants to know us," I mumbled.

Rachel must've heard me because she cut her eyes at me. "Yes, but Julia doesn't know everyone," Rachel said, referring to the brown-skinned girl sitting in the front row. "And why must you give me a hard time on everything?" Rachel asked Jasmine.

"Fine," Jasmine said. "I'm Jasmine Jones." She turned to Rachel with a huge smile. "How's that?"

Me, Alexis, and Angel cracked up laughing. Jasmine was our girl. Even though she was pretty, she used to have a complex about being so tall and athletic-looking. She'd been like Tameka when we first started, a mean tomboy who didn't want to be here. But we'd broken down her guard, and now she was totally cool. We are all tight. The only other person who'd been in our group was Alexis's friend, Trina. She joined for a little while, but got arrested for shoplifting and sent to jail. (That's another long story.) So I think none of us were too keen on anyone else joining our little circle, especially somebody with a funky attitude like Tameka.

Rachel rolled her eyes. "You all are working my nerves."

Alexis raised her hand. "I'll go, Miss Rachel. My name is Alexis Lansing," she said, standing up, tossing her long golden brown hair over her shoulder. You couldn't tell Alexis she wasn't Beyonce; 's twin. Well, you could but she wouldn't believe you. "I'm a junior at St. Pius Catholic School."

"But she definitely ain't no Catholic schoolgirl," I playfully muttered, referring to her part in the little shoplifting spree she and Trina went on a few months ago. Angel highfived me as Alexis, who was standing in front of me, shot me the finger behind her back.

"Bigmouth over here is Camille Harris," Alexis continued, pointing at me. "And that is Angel Lopez," she said, pointing at Angel. "All of them are juniors at Madison High School."

Julia gave us a smile. She was a weird-looking girl with long black hair that looked like it was in need of a good washing. She wore a long black skirt and long-sleeved black T-shirt, even though it was the middle of August.

"Now, Julia, do you want to tell us a little about yourself?" Rachel asked.

Julia shrugged. "Not much to tell. I go to Lamar High School, and I had to come here because my friends do drugs. I don't, but my parents think I do because I hang around them. They think if I come here, it'll cure me."

We all stared at her. That girl was a druggie if I ever seen one.

"Well, even though you don't think you need to be here, maybe you'll get something out of our group," Rachel said.

Julia didn't look convinced. But Rachel didn't seem to notice as she began talking about all the community service projects we would be working on, including the one we had scheduled for Saturday.

By the time we wrapped up, I think all of us were worn out. Alexis, Angel, and Jasmine immediately gravitated toward one another, so I decided to personally welcome Julia and Tameka, who were sitting off by themselves.

"Hey, are you guys going to be at the community service project Saturday?" I asked.

Tameka folded her arms and stuck out her bottom lip. "I guess, since it seems like we don't really have a choice."

Julia rolled her eyes. "Not if I can help it."

The three of us stood there, looking around awkwardly. I noticed Angel, Alexis, and Jasmine cracking up about something. Finally, when I saw neither Julia or Tameka were in a talkative mood, I shrugged. "Oh, well. See you guys later." I went back to my friends, telling myself I'd tried. I'd just stick to the original Good Girlz, the ones I knew were my true friends. I guess we just had no room for outsiders.

Copyright © 2007 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Friendship -- Fiction.
Christian life -- Fiction.
Interpersonal relations -- Fiction.
African Americans -- Fiction.
Mexican Americans -- Fiction.