Sample text for Diamond / Victoria Christopher Murray.

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We're gonna be so paid!"

I waved my magazine in the air and dumped my messenger bag onto the lunch table. I waited for my crew to say something, but not one of them even looked at me.

"Hello? Anybody home?"

India stuffed half a hot dog into her mouth. "I heard you."

"So, if you heard me, why aren't you excited?" But I wasn't just talking to India. I wondered what was wrong with Veronique and Aaliyah, too.

"Because," Aaliyah began, not taking her eyes away from whatever book she was reading, "you're always excited about something, Diamond."

"And what's wrong with that?" I asked. "I'm fifteen and fine! I'm supposed to be excited."

Veronique unplugged one of the earplugs from the MP3 player we'd given her for her birthday. "You are so the drama queen."

"Whatever, whatever. Call me what you want; I'm going to be a paid drama queen. And, I'm gonna let y'all ride because I love you and I'm special like that."

Veronique tried not to grin, but I knew she was feelin' me. She pushed her earplug in place and lay back on the bench.

When no one said anything else, I said, "Don't you want to know how I'm gonna make you rich?"

"Diamond," India said, now chomping on French fries, "you're already rich."

"Nuh-huh. My parents have money, but they've told me and my brother over and over that it's their money, not ours." I shrugged. "But it doesn't matter 'cause in less than a year, the cash will be flowin' my way."

Veronique sat up. "Okay, I'll bite. What's up?"

One down. But I still had to stare at India like she'd stolen something before she paid me more attention than she did her French fries. And then, we all had to give Aaliyah the evil eye before she -- with a sigh -- half-closed her book.

With their eyes on me now, I snapped the magazine open to the centerfold. "Peep this!"

India, Veronique, and Aaliyah stared at the pages that announced the gospel talent search, but then just as quickly, India tossed a handful of French fries into her mouth, Veronique stuffed her ears with the plugs again, and Aaliyah went back to her book as if she'd never stopped reading.

I could not believe them. I loved my crew like they were my own sisters. In fact, we always said we were sisters, since none of us had any biological sisters. But today I wanted to give them all back to their mothers.

"What are you guys doing?" I waited a moment. When no one answered me, I bounced on top of the bench even though I had rolled up my skirt so that it would look like a mini. "Hello!" I yelled. "Does anyone besides me want to be a star?"

There were plenty of cackles from everyone else in the school yard, but nothing from my crew.

Finally, Veronique said, "You're the one who wants to be a star, my sistah."

"Well, yeah," I said, wondering why she was taking the time to state the obvious. "Because I was born to be one. And we live in L.A. We're supposed to be stars."

"I don't want to be one." India wrinkled her nose like she smelled something nasty.

"Me neither," Veronique and Aaliyah piped in.

"That's un-American," I said. "But this is about more than just being a star." I paused, letting the drama build. "What if I told you we were about to be paid a million dollars?"

That made Veronique take both plugs from her ears. "A million dollars? Tell me more, my sistah."

"Actually, it's more like two hundred and fifty thousand."

Aaliyah lifted her eyes from her book just long enough to say, "That's a long way from a million."

I rolled my eyes. Leave it to the analytical one to take my words literally. Still, I said, "Not by much. And anyway, that's just the start. When we win this contest, we'll get phat contracts and we'll certainly have a million dollars then. Probably more."

"Go for it," Aaliyah said.

I rolled my eyes toward heaven and asked the Lord to help me. "You're supposed to be the smart one. Didn't you read that this is a group competition?"

"So, that's what this is about," India said. "You need a group; you need us." She shook her head. "And I thought you were telling us about this because you loved us."

"Love you, I do. But on the real, I need you." I paused, lifted the magazine, and began reading, "Glory 2 God Productions is the latest record label to take advantage of the American Idol phenomenon. Announcing their own talent show, G2G president Roberto Hamilton said, 'We're looking for fresh talent with hip-hop flavor, but with the heart and love for the Lord. We're excited about the possibilities. Our plan is to make the winning group superstars.'" I slammed the magazine shut. "They are obviously talking about us."

"We're not a group," Veronique said.

Inside, I moaned. "Not yet. But if you guys would pay attention and start dreaming this dream with me, we'd have a group in" -- I looked at my watch -- "how long will it take for us to come up with a name?" When no one answered, I whined, "Come on."

Veronique nodded her head slowly, as if she'd had a little peek into my dream. I knew I could count on her. Even though I considered India and Aaliyah my best friends, too, I was closest to Vee, which was what we called her. Veronique was quite different from me; she was different from all of us. With her wild, bronze-colored fro, the little gold stud in her nose, and wooden and beaded bangles up and down her arm, she looked like she was some kind of flower child from the sixties. I think she got her style from her mom. It was kind of old-fashioned to me, but I loved Veronique anyway. And I loved her even more right about now.

I clapped my hands. "So, you're in?"

Veronique said, "I didn't say that. I need to know more."

I sighed as India and Aaliyah looked at me like they agreed with Veronique. What more did they possibly need? Sometimes I wondered how we all became friends, because I was so far ahead of them it wasn't even funny. I believed in dreams that they hadn't even begun to imagine. But I stayed with them because India, Veronique, and Aaliyah needed me. India needed me to help her with her self-confidence, Veronique needed me to show her life's possibilities, and Aaliyah needed me...well, I wasn't sure what Aaliyah needed from me because she always acted like she didn't need anybody. But I loved them all.

I said, "Okay, what else do you need to know besides the fact that Glory 2 God Productions is doing a national talent search to discover us?"

"Are we old enough to enter?" India asked as she dumped her empty food containers into the trash.

"This is a teen competition, so you have to be between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. I guess nineteen is too close to twenty. And after that, all we need is to be sponsored by our church."

"Sponsored? What does that mean?" Aaliyah asked.

"I don't know, but whatever it is, Pastor Ford will do it for us."

"Are you sure?" Veronique asked. "Pastor's never heard us sing."

"What are you talking about? We sing in church every month."

Aaliyah said, "You want to enter the entire choir in this contest?"

I looked at Aaliyah wide-eyed. There was no doubt she was the brains; Aaliyah had never received anything less than an A since elementary school. But sometimes she acted like her brain went on vacation. "Of course I'm not talking about the entire choir. I'm talking about just us. If we can sing in the choir, why can't we form our own little group?" When they said nothing, I added, "Okay, let me break this down to you like you're two-year-olds: the four of us form a group, go to church, get sponsored, send in the applications, begin practicing, sing some songs, do some steps, win...and then get the big bucks."

"I like that big bucks part," Veronique said.

"So, you're in?" I asked.

India, Veronique, and Aaliyah looked at each other, and inside, I prayed, Please, God, let my crew have some sense.

Slowly, India and Veronique nodded. But Aaliyah held out her hand. I tossed her the magazine, then watched her look over the article.

"This says that the participants are responsible for their own expenses...."

"Expenses?" Veronique frowned.

Aaliyah continued, "All travel, lodging, and any expenses associated with the contest will be the responsibility of the applicants."

"So, hold up." Veronique stopped Aaliyah. "How much money are they talking about?"

"According to this," Aaliyah paused and read some more, "if we win in Los Angeles, we'd have to pay our way to San Francisco. Then to..."

Veronique shook her head. "I can't afford to be in this contest."

I was about to burst with frustration. "Why're you worrying about the money right now? Let's just form the group. If we're serious, you know my parents will cover everything."

"No way," Veronique said, lying back down on the bench. "My mother is not about to spend money she doesn't have. At least that's what she's always telling me."

"I said don't worry about the money."

"We have to think about how much this will cost. If we win this, like you say, we'd have to go all the way to...," Aaliyah said as she looked down at the magazine, "New York and Miami."

Veronique bolted up from the bench. "New York? When would we go to New York?"

I guess somehow money wasn't a problem for her now.

"That's where the semifinals are going to be," Aaliyah said.

"I always wanted to go to New York." Veronique bit her lip, then said to India and Aaliyah, "Maybe we should talk to Pastor Ford and see what she thinks."

"Okay, I'm willing to start there." I was doing everything I could to hold in my excitement. "So, are y'all ready to roll with me?" I held out my hand, and after a couple of moments, Veronique gave me a high five. Then, India. And although I could tell she wasn't really feeling this, Aaliyah finally did the same.

"You know singing ain't my thing," Aaliyah pouted. "But y'all my sisters, so when you roll, I roll."

I grinned. None of them were as excited as I was, but all they needed was a little time. India, Veronique, and Aaliyah had no idea how blessed they were to have me. I was on my way to making us all stars!

Copyright © 2008 by Victoria Christopher Murray

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Singers -- Fiction.
Gospel music -- Fiction.
Best friends -- Fiction.
Friendship -- Fiction.
Contests -- Fiction.
African Americans -- Fiction.
Family life -- California -- Fiction.
Los Angeles (Calif.) -- Fiction.