Sample text for And this too shall pass : a novel / by E. Lynn Harris.


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Counter I Shall Not Be Moved

Tamela Coleman had some major decisions to make regarding her personal and professional life, but she decided to start with a minor one. On the last Friday in August, she broke a precedent for her five-year legal career. She did not show up at her office nor did she call in sick or inform her secretary she was taking a personal day.

Instead, Tamela muted the ringer on the phone, turned down her answering machine so low she couldn't hear incoming calls, and with a feeling of pure defiance laid her uncombed head against six fluffy pillows on her king- sized bed for her first annual "I've Had It Up to Here Day."

When the "Today" show ended, Tamela used her remote control to switch to Chicago's own "Oprah Winfrey Show." Miss Oprah was looking good, Tamela thought as she reached under the covers to see how much fat she could grab on her own hips. She stopped before her hands touched her skin. No, she was not going to worry about her weight today, as she did on occasion. Besides, her refrigerator was filled with ice cream, half a chocolate cheesecake, fresh fruit, and leftover hamburger pizza, all of which she planned to devour during the day.

Tamela's hips were rounder than those of the models she saw on television and in fashion magazines. She knew they could be reduced a little without harm to her supple, sistah girl figure, which she assumed was about twelve pounds too much for her five-six frame. But she refused to allow thoughts of health club and StairMaster to spoil her day.

Tamela was a subtle, almond-colored beauty, with intense brown eyes, high cheekbones, and full lips. She changed her hairstyles with the seasons. Summer found her hair swept into a sophisticated french twist. Fall would be dangling curls.

She had a wicked sense of humor, with a tongue to match, but very few people were aware of her acid wit. The good girl in her didn't want to hurt other people's feelings. Sometimes in conferences with clients, especially those talking about how much wealth they had, she would have a concerned, interested look on her face, but in her head she would be thinking, Bitch, don't nobody care how much money you got.

In the overcast of the morning, Tamela settled into her comfortable bed and surrendered herself to her thoughts, soothed by her bedroom's pastel haze, which she had proudly painted herself. Her favorite childhood dolls and stuffed animals watched her from an old-fashioned overstuffed chair, as she lazed through the morning with the craziness of the guests on Montel, Sally, Rolonda, and Ricki. So this is what went on during the day, and where did they find these fools, Tamela thought. And why did the majority of them have to be black? "Telling all their business like somebody cares," Tamela said, laughing out loud at some of the antics of the guests. She could not believe one young black girl with blond hair would let a talk show put her name up on the screen over the words Self- Proclaimed Mall Whore. When an older black woman from the audience asked the teenager how could she be on television talking about going to malls and picking up men to have sex, the young lady told her, "You need to sit down and mind your own business. How can you be on TV lookin' like a box of Fruit Loops?" The audience hooted and hollered in support of the fast-talking young lady.

In the afternoon, Tamela flipped by the soap operas because she didn't dare become hooked on "All My Children" again. When she'd been an undergrad, she'd almost failed her biology lab class because it was at the same time as her soap. So Tamela put the television on mute and began to read from cover to cover all the magazines she only thumbed through during visits to the bathroom. Later she picked up the Walkman resting on her nightstand and listened to the last of Ruby Dee's narration of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Afterward, while savoring the comfort of her bed and half asleep, Tamela suddenly sat up straight. What if her superiors decided to fire her for taking the day off without telling anyone? Maybe she would beat them to the punch and walk in the office Monday morning, dressed to impress, and hand them a letter of resignation. For months she had been unhappy with her position at MacDonald, Fisher, and Jackson. She had dreamed of a private practice since her first day of law school, but always came up with more reasons why she shouldn't than why she should strike out on her own.

What would their reaction be? Would they be pleased or would they be concerned about how they were going to replace a double minority?

Five years ago she had joined the prestigious firm with high hopes. After finishing in the top quarter of her class at Northwestern Law School, Tamela had done the unthinkable at MacDonald, Fisher, and Jackson when she failed the Illinois bar exam twice. It did not seem to matter that she scored the fourth-highest grade after she passed on her third try. The firm usually made a big deal when associates scored in the top five on the test, but in Tamela's case, they simply seemed relieved that she had finally passed.

Failing the bar had surprised everyone who knew Tamela and it had left her in a state of shock. Tamela had graduated from Southern University magna cum laude with a dual degree in Political Science and English. She had always done well on standardized tests, but she had psyched herself out on her first attempts at the bar by a recurring dream that had started weeks before the exam.

In the dream a heavyset white man with long white hair was sitting at a large bench with a gavel in his hand. Tamela gave him her completed bar exam and without even looking at it, the man started laughing and pounding a large gavel across her exam.

She didn't understand the dream and couldn't get it out of her mind during the second time she took the exam. When she told Desiree Brown, her triple G--(good-good-girlfriend)--about her dream, Desiree had advised, "Girl, you need to forget about that dream and go in there and kick ass and take names, like I know you can." There were no dreams before Tamela's third try.

Still, she knew that in the minds of the partners and other associates, Tamela Coleman didn't have the right stuff to become a member of Chicago's legal elite. She feared it was only a matter of time before they informed her of that fact.

She had chosen the firm because it was one of the few large practices that had not only another minority woman, an Asian-American, but a black partner as well. Never mind that Tim Franklin was a black Republican who was clueless when it came to his racial heritage. A Yale Law School grad, Tim was constantly embarrassing the few blacks employed by the firm, mostly paralegals, secretaries, and mailroom clerks. Tim would comment on their clothes and was fond of saying, "Excuse me," at the top of his lungs when they used what he considered substandard language. To make matters worse, he only did this when white associates were in earshot of his reprimands. Once, when a couple of white partners were close by, he said to Bettye, one of the senior and most popular black secretaries, "It's a shame you didn't take English as a Second Language while you were in high school." He pulled stunts like that on almost every black person working at the office, except, of course, Tamela, who had given him a don't-go-there look the moment he fixed his mouth to comment on one of her new braided hairstyles.

There were other reasons Tim didn't come after her. In her first six months at the firm, Tamela had made the error of dating Tim for a short period. Huge mistake. She almost laughed out loud the first time she saw his chubby body in boxer shorts. He strutted around her bedroom with knock knees and titties bigger than her own. Throw in his IBM (itty bitty meat), and Tamela felt as if she were with a woman while he grunted and flapped on top of her. This educated Negro couldn't even grind good. Initially, Tamela was attracted to him because he was so damn smart when it came to the law, but she soon learned he had no common sense. Her father used to say all the time, "You can have all the book sense in the world, but it don't mean jack if you ain't got common sense." At times she wanted to just haul off and pimp-slap him when he started talking Republican nonsense and bragging about his boy Clarence Thomas, make that Justice Clarence Thomas. She made a point of reminding him she still had her I Believe Anita buttons.

He didn't protest when she suggested that their dating was not such a good idea with him being a senior partner and especially in their field, with the constant worry about sexual harassment claims. Tamela figured he had some white woman stashed away in his Gold Coast condo, since he had never invited her there during the three months they dated. Their misguided attempts at sex had always occurred at Tamela's apartment. She found herself pleased at the possibility of some white woman having to put up with Tim's dumb shit. Regardless of their personal relationship, however, Tamela still respected Tim's skills as a lawyer.

After a day of mindless talk shows, Tamela went to her bathroom to draw water for a soothing evening bubble bath, complete with candles. As Tamela relaxed in the warm bath, her thoughts went from her possible resignation, her own practice, and finances, to the absence of a decent male companion. She leaned back in the water, and drank some wine, relaxing as a warm buzz spread through her body. Tamela had enough in her checking, savings, and money market accounts to last maybe four months before she would have to consider moving back to her parents' Hyde Park home. Her only major expense besides rent and her student loans was her Marshall Field's account. Moving back home would not be that bad since her mother, Blanche, was her best friend and her daddy, Henry, was the most remarkable man she had ever known. To the best of her knowledge he had been a faithful husband to her mother for over thirty-five years and had been a wonderful father to Tamela and her brother, Hank Junior.

But what about her sex life? That probably wouldn't be a major problem since Tamela had decided two years ago to remain celibate until she found the right man. All the STD's floating around and the threat of AIDS scared the hell out of her. She had never had sex in her parents' home and since she was very vocal during sex, Tamela couldn't foresee doing the nasty there. Besides, along with a clean bill of health and condoms, Tamela wanted a man with his own place. Men who lived with their folks or who boasted of their permanent potential or protested using a condom didn't get far with Tamela Faye.

But Tamela was getting ahead of herself. One day off wouldn't solve the shortage of black men, so maybe she should concentrate on making sure she had money in the bank. There were still a number of medium to small firms interested in her services, although as she had said to Desiree, she didn't want to have to get used to some new white folks or stuck-up black folks for that matter. If she made a move then it would be to her own suite of offices. Even though Tamela hadn't discussed opening her own practice in detail with her parents, she knew she could count on their support.

Blanche had wanted to be a lawyer but settled for a career in teaching when she married a month after graduation from college. She taught English at Southside High, one of Chicago's most dangerous high schools. But nobody messed with Blanche because they knew her husband and her massively built son were just minutes away, coaching the Washington High football team. She was elated when her firstborn decided on a career in the legal field, instead of becoming a starving artist, painting, or attempting to write the great American novel.

Tamela had to decide what she was going to tell her parents about wanting to quit such a good paying job. Well, she thought, the truth might work. Her parents could always tell when she and her brother were skirting the truth. She would tell them how the firm showed her no respect and treated her like a first-year associate.

Most of her time was spent on what Tamela referred to as shit work--the few personal-injury cases the firm took, trust accounts, and probate work for the firm's pampered clients. These clients were usually rich, old, gray- headed white ladies whom none of the men wanted to work with. The assignments were always very tedious and required a lot of paperwork, but very little court time, and Tamela loved her moments in court. One of her lead cases had involved representing a prominent African-American woman suing a white franchise beauty salon for damaging her hair when they left a relaxer in too long. The partners assigned her the case when she mentioned in the staff meeting that she, too, had experienced problems with the product in question. After only two meetings with the attorneys representing the salon and hair care company, Tamela was able to resolve the woman's case for a nice six-figure settlement. She took a little extra pleasure in the fact that it wasn't a black-owned hair care company, but a white counterpart trying to exploit the lucrative black hair care market.

But after that settlement, it was back to the ladies, wills, and paperwork. The only cases that brought her in front of a judge were the many pro bono cases she handled from the overworked Legal Aid Society or the legal assistance Tamela provided for members of her church who couldn't afford an attorney. Most of these cases were criminal matters, and Tamela loved the challenge and rewards they provided. These cases made her feel as if she were making a contribution to her community.

She was confident that her parents would understand her thinking and feel that she was making the right decision by leaving. The thought of having their daughter at home in this dangerous city would also influence their support. Even though she was thirty years old, her father called her almost every night after the news to make sure that she was safe. He would always say something like, "I just got through watching the news and saw where this girl had been raped. I just wanted to make sure that my pumpkin was all right."

After her bath, Tamela brushed some of the day's food crumbs from the light blue sheets. She arranged the pillows carefully for neck and back support and climbed back into her bed. With her remote, she changed the channel to WON's "Evening News" with Allison Payne, the beautiful black anchorwoman whom both her daddy and brother had secret crushes on. Reminded of her father, Tamela reached for the phone and hit the speed dial button for her parents' home.

"Hello, Coleman residence," Tamela's mother said.

"Hey, woman. What'cha doing?" Tamela said.

"Hey, baby. I was just thinking about you," Blanche said.

"Something good I hope," Tamela said.

"Of course. How was your day?"

"Just wonderful," Tamela said.

"Oh. What happened? Something good at work?"

"No. Nothing happened. I didn't go to work. Matter fact, Mama, I didn't leave my apartment today and it was wonderful."

"What? You're not sick, are you?" Blanche asked, concer


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: African American families Fiction, African Americans Fiction, Football players Fiction, Chicago (Ill, ) Fiction, Sportswriters Fiction, Grandmothers Fiction, Gay men Fiction