Book Excerpt – Overtime

by Connie Barrett

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    Publication Date: Dec 05, 2005
    List Price: Unavailable
    Format: Paperback, 304 pages
    Classification: Fiction
    ISBN13: 9780974013619
    Imprint: Morris Publishing
    Publisher: Morris Publishing
    Parent Company: Morris Publishing

    Read a Description of Overtime

    Copyright © 2005 Morris Publishing/Connie Barrett No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher or author. The format of this excerpt has been modified for presentation here.

    Chapter One:

    With one foot lodged in her house shoe, Toi searched in vain for the other, all the while fighting the urge to roll back into the warm covers that invited her to resume the deep sleep she so desperately needed.  The cold floor beneath her only enforced the desire.  Instead she inhaled ’ hard uneven breaths, then, almost in a trance, dragged herself towards the room at the end of hall, beckoned by the unrelenting demand of her daughter’s cry.

                For the third night in a row, no sleep.  Another day of work after suffering from sleep deprivation and she would lose the little sanity she had left.  The serge of heat that met her at Nessie’s bedroom door blinded her into an even tighter squint.  Toi had left the door slightly ajar, but the heat had managed to stay trapped inside.  She turned off the space heater and carefully reached into the crib, making sure to protect her back as she lifted her three-year-old from her nightly prison that Nessie, no matter how upset she might get, would never venture to climb out of in the dark.  Her daughter’s tiny body weighed heavily in her exhausted arms as she carried her into the kitchen and filled her training cup with water.

                If her own bedroom wasn’t so chilly, she would have taken Nessie to bed with her.  Last night had been Nessie’s first night of sound sleep since their trip to the walk-in clinic.  Toi was used to sleeping in Nessie’s room, but lately she couldn’t handle lying on the unforgiving hard floor.  There were no separate room controls for the furnace and as far as finances were concerned, it was too early in the season to turn on the heat.  She would have preferred leaving Nessie’s door wide open and placing the heater in the hallway, but there were no outlets in the narrow space.  Her own room was just as restricted; faulty wiring would blow the fuse the moment she turned the heater on.

                Toi grabbed her pillows with her free hand and threw them on the bunched up pallet that Nessie had played on much earlier that evening.  She then raised the blinds just enough to gaze at the night sky from her spot on the floor.  There wasn’t much of a view.  The dark gray clouds hid the faint moon light, yet it was enough to draw her eyes away from the closed in quarters.  After cushioning the wall with her pillows, she positioned the small of her back along the padding, then drew up her knees, cradling Nessie in her lap.  The cool drink and her mother’s unconscious rocking was all Nessie needed.  In no time her little arms and legs hang limp.    

                Toi wished that she could return to her rest just as easily.  Lord knows how much she needed it.  Now that it had been interrupted, it would escape her until the wee hours of the morning.  Then, at the most inopportune time, she would have to fight her body’s natural inclination to not move a muscle and pry herself from solid slumber.  She resented it ’ both the loss of sleep and the commute to a job that she detested.  Yet, as much as she hated it, it held little in comparison to how she felt about leaving her daughter in the care of a woman she hardly even knew.  This was not the way things were supposed to be, not by a long shot.  The plan had always been to be a stay at home mom, but one thing led to another and here she was abandoning her daughter when she needed her the most.  Nessie had been diagnosed with her fourth ear infection this year alone.  Toi wanted to cry herself when she thought about how Nessie would cling to her and cry out for her not to leave.  These were her impressionable years and she would never get them back.  Nessie needed her mama, but her mama was forced to work.  Nessie was spending way too much time with the sitter, but that decision, like every other decision in Toi’s life, had fast become a matter of being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.

                Maybe that’s why tonight felt so strange.  Next Friday would be a year ago that she made the drastic decision to pack her few belongings, hop on the Greyhound, and leave the only life she had ever known behind, uprooting from family, friends and the constant reminders of the life she and her husband had failed to build together.

                But that wasn’t it.  Tonight marked another anniversary.  She remembered it clearly.  It was exactly two years ago to the date that she was in her home in Cleveland, Ohio when she was asleep in a bedroom not much bigger than the one she was in now.  The thud was loud enough to wake the dead.  Startled, Toi got up and looked out the bedroom window.  Larry had been downstairs and immediately went out to fuss at Chump Change for his carelessness.  Chump Change and Reecie, Larry’s running buddies, were just returning from their weekend trip to Chicago.  As Chump Change backed into the driveway, he rammed into the trash can, sending the metal container spinning across the pavement.

                From the looks of it, their outing had been a success.  They had taken a U-Haul to pick up more appliances for Larry’s garage based rental business, mostly washers and dryers as well as some televisions and other household electronics.  They then had come straight back to unload the merchandise in Toi and Larry’s garage.

                As Larry talked with Chump Change at the driver’s window, he nodded in Toi’s direction.  Larry was more than likely warning Chump Change not to wake her, but he was letting Larry know that it was too late for that.  As they conversed, Larry continued to look tenderly towards the bedroom window at his wife, but her returned occupation was more a dazed reaction to the sudden interruption of sleep than it was any real interest in the source of the commotion.

                Toi dropped the curtain, then headed to Nessie’s room.  Nessie had slept right through it.  Larry had probably just gotten her to finally fall asleep for him, she assumed.  She walked to her crib and peered in.  Tears began to well in her eyes.  She was sleeping so peacefully, so sweet, so innocent.  Although she hadn’t been able to hold her just yet, Toi wanted to kiss her goodnight, but she didn’t have the strength to let down the crib rail.  She then looked across the room at the other crib, the empty crib.  Softly she closed the door, made a trip to the bathroom, then returned to bed; not her own, but the one in Ken’s room, Larry’s kid brother.

                Cautiously she lowered herself as she held onto her mid section, still feeling for the belly that not even two weeks prior had been teeming with movement.  A jolt of pain ran through her as she climbed back onto the twin mattress.  Twenty-two hours of agonizing labor, drifting in and out of consciousness is what they had told her.  When it was over, the nurse took the baby away from the delivery area while Larry protested, demanding answers to questions he already had.  Her obstetrician offered to tell her, but Larry pulled himself together, realizing that the burden was his alone to bear.

                It was after 5:30.  Larry would be back to check on her any minute, to bring her dinner and to give her more pain medication.  Her appetite had not returned.  The little she managed to force down was barely enough to keep the medication from aggravating the lining of her stomach.  She cupped her breasts in her hands.  They were sore, still producing milk even though they’d given her something to dry them out.

                Larry left Chump Change and Reecie to deal with unloading the truck.  He softly shut the front door behind him when he came back inside.  Ken was in the living room where he had taken his PlayStation II, but the television was so low that it may as well have been muted.  Larry had taken the phone off the hook and kept Nessie downstairs during the day so that Toi could recuperate.  Outside of her family, her pastor and a couple of sisters from her church, he had been turning away the other visitors who came to offer their condolences.

                In minutes Larry emerged carrying a tray.  The chicken was reheated carry-out and the vegetables, a broccoli and cauliflower blend from the freezer.  Larry had carefully followed the instructions on the box when he made the au gratin potatoes.  He had brought her healthy portions even though he knew she would only pick through her meal.  He was quite the attentive husband, bringing her tea, taking care of the house and kids, doting on her at every opportunity.

                ’Baby, you need anything else, you just let me know.  A’ight?’  He was tired too.  He hadn’t been able to sleep, beside himself with grief and worry.

                Toi gave him one of those looks.  He cowered away like a puppy with its tail tucked between its legs.  What did he expect?  She had nothing to say to him, nothing she hadn’t already said.  The doctor said the bruises would go away and that she’d be able to have more children.  The afterbirth pains, even they wouldn’t last.  In time her injuries would heal, but her heart, it had been shattered beyond repair.

                Her mother had come by earlier in the day and spent as much time as she could with Toi before she had to be at work.  Larry was out in the hallway crying ’ real tears, explaining himself to her.  Toi’s silent treatment was killing him.  Latavia loved Larry like a son and she assured him that it was going to be just fine.  Toi remembered the look on her mother’s face the day she came to the hospital.  It had to have been the very same expression she had for her mother when she found out that her father had left them, only Larry hadn’t left her.  Instead, it was his infidelity that caused the death of her unborn infant.

                Her son’s body lie in a cold grave when he should have been in her warm arms.  Larry brought his whore into her house, into her bed, defiling it.  She came home from church early and found them together.  He didn’t hear her come in because he was distracted by his whore, breathing hard and wincing loudly as she straddled him.  He was so into it that he didn’t see her walk in.  But Alaundra, she not only saw Toi, but continued with shouts of raw pleasure as she continued the exaggerated bouncing.  Toi broke from her shock and gasped in horror.  Larry threw Alaundra on the bed and ran after her.  Toi pulled away from him, from his dirty, filthy hands and that’s when she fell down the stairs.  While Larry called 911, Alaundra came down and letting Toi know just how little she thought of her, showed no remorse as she stepped over her face on her way out.

                Larry had gone back out to help Chump Change while Toi tried to eat her dinner.  She felt her lip. The salt burned it where it was still open.  She looked at the clock then sighed.  Where is Tia?  she wondered.  Her sister had only come by once since the accident and didn’t stay long then.  She needed her shoulder to cry on but no one had been able to catch up with her.

                ’You need anything, Toi?’

                It was Ken.  Ken was her heart.  He had come up after he thought she might have finished.

                ’No, I’m fine.’

                He tiptoed in and sat at the foot of the bed even though Larry told him not to bother her.

                ’Nessie walked all by herself, but I was behind her.  At first I was holdin’ her and then I let her go and she did like this,’ he said, shuffling his feet forward, imitating Nessie.  ’But I caught her.  I wasn’t gone let her fall.’

                Toi tried to smile.  ’I know, sweetheart.’

                Ken was Nessie’s protector.  He was more like her big brother than her nine-year-old uncle.

                ’I just need to rest now.  Okay?’

                ’You want me to take that downstairs?’

                ’Would you, please?’

                He smiled awkwardly, took her tray and left the room.  He was worried too, not just for Toi, but he had just as much at stake as Larry.  Ken’s birth had been planned, the product of a booty call gone bad, but planned nonetheless.  Kay, Ken and Larry’s mother, was mean, conniving and didn’t have an ounce of compassion.  She was not the type of woman Toi would have ever chosen for her mother-in-law, let alone Nessie’s grandmother.  She had tried to trap Ken’s father by getting pregnant.  He was close to retirement age and she was looking at his assets, his house, his cars and the fact that he had grown children, all of whom he had done well by.

                Kay had played the game of being in love, but was only out to find someone to take care of her.  From the time Ken’s father found out that Kay was pregnant with Ken, he didn’t want anything to do with either of them.  He said he had taken care of his children and whether Ken was really his or not didn’t matter because he wasn’t about to start over again.  Kay took him to court but the court ordered payments didn’t amount to much of anything.  His oldest son had taken over the house payments in his name and his settlement that he had bragged to Kay about, apparently he had put the lump sum in at least one of his other children’s names, telling the court he had gambled it all away.

                Ken’s father died before Kay started collecting so Kay was stuck with Ken and that’s just how it came across.  He spent a lot of time with Toi and Larry when they were in their apartment.  After they bought the house, they gave him his own room.  Kay never once objected.

                Ken was in love with Toi, always under her.  He never caused her a moment of grief.  When he and Larry’s middle sister, Jackie, moved in with them to get her life back on track, Ken kept a close eye on her three children especially when they were around Nessie and did what he could to keep them from tearing up the house whenever Toi left.  Living with Toi and Larry had been his only stability.  He feared that if they separated, he would no longer have a place or a family to call his own.

                At first it sounded like Ken had mistakenly turned up the volume on the television, but then the myriad of sirens grew uncomfortably loud.

                Nessie awoke, crying.

                Toi forced herself up for the second time and returned to the window.  Police cars covered her front lawn.

                ’Ken, come up here with Nessie!’ Toi yelled.

                Before Toi knew it, she was outside.  They had Chump Change face down on the loading ramp and Larry sprawled on the side of the U-Haul.  One of the officers grabbed her from behind and threw her against a washer where she was handled roughly in spite of her fragile appearance.

                ’She ain’t got nothin’ to do with this!  Don’t touch her!’  Larry demanded.

                One of the officers who held Larry told him to shut up.

                ’Get yo’ mutha fuckin’ hands off my wife!’  Larry fell as he tried to break free.  ’She just lost a baby, damn it!’

                Larry struggled until the officer in charge stepped forward and had the officer holding Toi to release her.  Ken soon came out with Nessie.  Not trusting them to go back inside, Toi and the kids were made to sit in one of the cars while they conducted their investigation.

                Larry was supposed to have gone with Chump Change and Reecie to Chicago, but after what happened to Toi, he entrusted his business affairs to Chump Change, giving him the money and expecting him to come back with his merchandise.  The warehouse Chump Change should have gone to sold their inventory so fast that their policy didn’t allow them to take orders.  Merchandise was sold on a first-come first-serve basis so when it came to documentation, Larry had no purchase orders to back him up.  Instead, Chump Change had cut a deal with some hometown acquaintance of his when he found out that Larry wasn’t going.  He spent Larry’s money buying fenced merchandise, then took the money he saved from his underhanded deal to get his cocaine.  Larry was now serving seven years behind bars, charged with grand larceny, a crime he didn’t commit.

                The drug charges against Larry were dropped when it was determined that Chump Change and Reecie had acted alone.  Reecie still claimed to know nothing about the cocaine Chump Change had stashed inside one of the washers, but he was given an additional ten years for possession with the intent to deliver while Chump Change coped a plea bargain, getting his sentence reduced to one year with probation.  Larry’s lifelong friend swore it was all his idea.  It wasn’t enough that the district attorney was only interested in his drug connections, but Chump Change didn’t want to take any chances and turned on Larry and Reecie as well, anything to get the heat off him.

                At the trial Larry never tried to hide how scared he really was.  After the judge read the verdict, as a last gesture to Toi before they took him out of her sight, he lipped the words I love you, but Toi couldn’t find it in herself to do the same.

                Toi didn’t have anyone to take her in after she lost the house.  Her own family was too unstable and Larry’s, she could always count on them to not so much as lift a finger on her behalf.  Devastated, she did the only thing that seemed remotely logical ’ she made a clean break.  With money that wouldn’t even begin to cover her debts, she took as many personal belongings as she could manage and high tailed out of town to Newark, New Jersey where she moved in with her great aunt, the only stable relative she had.  Toi got there just in the nick of time for her aunt to add her to the lease, which was only a month away from expiring.  Her aunt had plans of her own and was moving out West to be with her daughter.  After her aunt left, Toi and Nessie had since been in Newark by themselves.

                Only four more hours before she had to be at work.  Toi grabbed the bottom of her nightgown and wiped away the sweat that had formed at Nessie’s hair line.  Deep inhales had replaced the short snivels.  Toi snuggled her big cheeks, knowing that she was her only reason for toughing out this storm that had no end in sight, this sea of madness she was forced to endure.  But for now she would try to get some sleep, and pray that God would grant her the strength to ride out another wave of turbulence come morning.


    Read Morris Publishing’s description of Overtime.