ARE YOU MY DADDY?
"Are you my daddy?" a soft voice asked. Dallas Dupree felt someone standing over him. He popped up in the bed and looked around the strange room for the speaker. His naked body was covered with sweat.
Where in the hell am I?
Dallas felt someone stir beneath the covers. His heart raced. Joy and fear took over. "Yasmin," he said softly. Then he looked down at the naked woman beside him and jumped. He rubbed his eyes and his head throbbed.
Things started slowly coming back into focus and he promised himself that he'd never take another shot of tequila for as long as he lived.
Last night, he and his coworker Kenya went to Cafe Intermezzo in downtown Buckhead to have a few drinks. Dallas ordered a round and tried to keep the conversation from venturing too far into his personal life because he wasn't ready to go there. But he knew the inevitable question would come.
Why is a man like you single?
And when it came, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Don't know."
But he did know and that knowledge hurt like hell. He started throwing back shots of tequila right and left, and before long Kenya didn't exist. Every so often he'd nod his head or grunt, but his mind was on Yasmin. The more he thought about her, the more shots he threw back.
The next thing he remembered was waking up buck naked to a child's voice.
Dallas glanced back at Kenya, who was still sleeping peacefully.
They'd met two weeks ago when she walked into the teacher's lounge at Alonzo Crim High School. He was sitting alone at the lunch table reading a book called The Pact, about three young men who made it out of the inner-city projects to become doctors, when Kenya walked in wearing a dress so tight he could see her heart beat. Dallas was convinced that she was a former stripper. He introduced himself and knew within the first thirty minutes of their conversation that she wasn't his cup of tea, but her body--now, that was another story.
Dallas hated the dating scene. All of this bed-hopping and trying to get to know someone was supposed to be over when he found Mrs. Right, but now Mrs. Right was gone and he found himself right back where he'd started. He took a deep breath, stood up and walked into the bathroom. He quickly washed up and then looked around for a towel; when he couldn't find one, he dried himself with some hard toilet tissue, which he was sure she had stolen from the school. He put a pinch of toothpaste on his finger, ran it across his teeth, and rinsed. He looked around the bathroom and grimaced.
She's a filthy li'l something, he thought, looking at urine stains on the floor around the toilet and the dirty bathtub.
Dallas walked back into the bedroom and quickly jumped into his clothes. When he reached down to put on his sandals, he noticed a used condom on the floor beside the bed.
"Aw, damn! Why the hell did I have sex with her?" he mumbled as he picked it up and checked for leaks.
Strange things happen to unattended sperm, he thought, taking the piece of latex back in the bathroom to flush it down the toilet. After he made sure it disappeared down into the swirl of water, he prepared to leave.
He was passing through the living room, which was also messy, when he noticed a little boy with big brown eyes sitting quietly on the sofa with his arms wrapped around his knees. He looked up when he saw Dallas and his eyes showed confusion.
"Hey, li'l fella," Dallas said, surprising himself. He walked over to the little guy.
"Hi," the little boy said cautiously.
"Why are you sitting here in the dark all by yourself?"
"I'm scared," the little boy said in a shaky voice.
"Scared? What are you afraid of?"
"I heard my mommy screaming. Did you hurt her?"
"No, I didn't hurt anyone," Dallas said, wondering if the little guy was talking about Kenya--but she hadn't mentioned that she had a son. "What's your mommy's name?"
"Kenya Latrice Greer."
I've been talking to this chick for two weeks and not once did she mention having a kid. Trifling!
"Your mommy's asleep. Would you like for me to go and wake her up?"
"No. She gets mad when I wake her up."
Dallas knelt down in front of the little boy. "What's your name?"
"Darius Nicholas Greer."
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Mr. Darius Nicholas Greer. How old are you?"
"Four," Darius said, holding up four fingers.
"A'ight, you're a big boy," Dallas said, reaching over to feel Darius's muscles. That got him to smile.
"Are you going to be my new daddy?"
Stunned, Dallas replied, "I'm sure you already have a nice daddy."
"But my mommy told me last night that she was going out with my new daddy," he said, crossing his arms and pouting.
"You know what? It's a little too early for little guys to be up. So why don't you go and crawl in bed with your mom," Dallas said, making a mental note to cuss Kenya out for doing this to her child.
"Okay," Darius said, reaching out for Dallas's hand.
Dallas walked Darius to the bedroom door of the room where just hours before he'd been reintroduced to the freakiness of his past and waited while the youngster snuggled up beside his mom. He waved at the little guy before leaving the house. He knew then that he would never come back.
On the ride back over to his side of town in the West End section of Atlanta, he started thinking about his life and what it had become. With the exception of his daughter Aja, his life was empty. Yes, he could have the company of a different beautiful woman every night of the week, but after they left he would end up feeling just like he felt now--unfulfilled.
Dallas exited off of I-20 at Joseph Lowery and headed toward his house by Clark Atlanta University. He stopped at a red light and took in the grim environment in which he chose to live.
Even at five-thirty in the morning, crackheads, drunks, and all the rest of society's problem children were out in full force getting their hustle on. He furrowed his brows and tried to act like he didn't see the familiar face running up to his truck with a spray bottle of dirty-looking water and some crumpled-up newspaper.
"Can you spare some change? I'm hungry..." The guy in the shabby clothes started his speech but stopped when he recognized Dallas. He abruptly dropped the bottle in the street and pulled his left arm up to his face as if he were checking the time. "Where the hell you coming from?"
"What's up, Baldhead?"
Baldhead still looked at his arm as if he were a scolding parent.
"Answer me, boy," Baldhead said, still inspecting his watch-less left arm. "Yo ass out here creeping, ain't cha?"
Dallas didn't answer; he just smiled and shook his head.
"Gotcha self a new truck, huh? What's that, a Cadillac Suburban?" Baldhead said, eyeing the shiny new vehicle.
"Baldhead, you get a job yet?"
"What kind of job I'mma get? Shit, all I know how to do is iron. You know anybody who needs they clothes pressed?"
Dallas laughed. "Can't say I do, Baldhead."
"Dallas, let me hold a li'l sumptin'? A dollar or sumptin'."
"I'm flat broke," Dallas said, showing the palms of his hands.
"Damn, Dallas, you got to be the stingiest rich nigga I know. You buying up all the houses 'round here, gotcha self a brand-new truck, so I know you got some money," Baldhead said as he stepped back and did a little dance. "You ain't think I was up on your business, did you? Boy, I know everything 'round here."
"Then why don't you know how to get a job?"
"Tell your evil-ass brother to give me a job," Baldhead barked.
At the mention of his brother, Dallas bristled. "You tell him," Dallas shot back.
"Hell no. That nigga be done kilt my ass for smoking up all his shit," Baldhead said, smiling and showing off a surprisingly bright smile. "You know Priest ain't used to be that mean when he was a cop. Now he's worse than the devil."
The light turned green.
"Baldhead, I'll see you around," Dallas said, driving off.
Priest, his older brother, had once been a pillar in the community, but he had traded in his police badge for a journey to the other side of the law. The fact that he could do this after the toll drugs had taken on their family ate at Dallas. Their mother died of a drug overdose, their father died of cirrhosis of the liver because he couldn't give up his addiction to the drug called alcohol, and their brother, Antoine, lost his life in an altercation with a small-time drug dealer. Dallas couldn't understand it.
But Dallas owed his life to Priest. At least the Priest he used to know. The Priest walking around now, killing his own people with his poison for profit, was a lost soul. He'd lost his soul when he was fired from the police department for taking money from a drug dealer. After that he stopped caring about his people. When Dallas found out his brother had joined the ranks of the wicked, their bond was forever broken.
But as much as he hated to admit it, he knew it was because of Priest's street reputation that he was allowed to come and go, in the heart of the ghetto, unmolested. Even standing a full six feet three inches and weighing two hundred and forty pounds, he knew someone would eventually try to test him, but it hadn't happened yet, and that could only be the work of Priest Dupree. His big brother was still looking out for him.
Dallas pulled into the driveway of what used to be a crack house. But it looked nothing like it did in the past. Gone were the broken windows, rotting woodwork, and dirt driveway. He had completely gutted the entire place, purchased the lot next door, added on a few more rooms, and manicured the landscape. Now his place looked like it belonged in an exclusive gated community. He pushed the garage-door button and slid his SUV in beside his convertible Lexus.
Dallas walked into his beautifully decorated home and tossed his keys onto his baby grand piano. He took the stairs two at a time and headed straight for his shower. As he removed his clothes the telephone rang.
He checked the caller ID and frowned. It was Kenya. He immediately became aggravated but quickly calmed himself.
Dallas could kick himself about his new predicament with Kenya. He knew she wasn't any different from any other woman; she wanted a man. And since he was nice to her, took her out for dinner and drinks then obviously sexed her up, she felt like she was on the right track to getting one. Wrong! He decided to let the call go to his voice mail.
Even before he went out with her, he knew things would change if they ever had sex. Things always changed.
Dallas wasn't the find 'em, fuck 'em, and flee type. He was more of the find 'em, see if I halfway like 'em, then spend some time with 'em type. He prided himself on not taking people for granted, and when most of his peers were taking full advantage of the disproportionate ratio of women to men in Atlanta, he was proud to call himself a one-woman man. He was always up front and honest, and he tried his best to treat everyone with the same level of respect. It didn't matter if the person was a doctor, a lawyer, or a straight-up hood rat; they all walked in the door with the same value. He especially knew how to treat women, but he rarely ran across a woman who knew how to treat herself.
The minute the phone stopped ringing, his cell phone rang. Dallas shook his head and groaned. "Aww, damn! I gotta stop dealing with these damn stalkers," he said, not even bothering to check who it was.
Another Monday morning was upon him, and he really wasn't looking forward to dealing with a bunch of hardheaded students, petty teachers, and an incompetent principal.
He went into his bathroom and turned on all the jets in his shower. When he had it as hot as he could stand it, he hopped in and let the steam and heat relax him. Ten minutes later he jumped out, dried himself, and took care of the rest of his morning grooming duties.
Dallas walked into his closet and scanned his extensive wardrobe. The way he felt always affected the way he dressed, and today he felt like wearing shorts and a tank top, but if he did, Mrs. Locus, his principal, would have a fit.
For the last few weeks, every morning when it was time to go to work, he started feeling fatigued. I'm beginning to hate my job, he thought.
Dallas stood there for a moment and let his newfound reality sink in. He walked over to the window and looked down at the addicts on the corner. Most of them were out prostituting themselves to pay for their habits. He wanted so much more for them, but he shook his head and pulled back the shades.
A simple white shirt and a pair of black pinstriped slacks would do for today. As he dressed, the telephone rang again and he cursed. He walked over and checked the caller ID, and his mood lifted.
"Hello there, little lady," he said, taking a seat on the side of his bed.
"Rise and shine, good-looking. It's time to get up and make the world a better place," Carmen LaCour said to her younger brother.
"I'm tired," Dallas said.
"Well, good morning to you too! Why are you so tired?"
"I don't know." Dallas sighed as he ran his fingers over his closely cropped hair. "Maybe it's my job, maybe not."
"Your job? I can't have the right telephone number. Is this the house of Dallas Dupree?" Carmen said sarcastically.
"Cut it out. I just wanna go someplace where the schools don't have metal detectors. Someplace where the parents take an interest in how their children make out in life. I get so tired of having to do it all myself. I send some parents a note home about their child's behavior and it's never returned. I spend most of my time disciplining rather than teaching. So yes, I'm getting a little tired of it."
Carmen made some sound that meant "I told you so."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from A One Woman Man by Travis Hunter. Copyright © 2004 by Travis Hunter. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.