Yep, I cracked the 50,000-word mark tonight with a day to go. Man, it’s been an incredible ride with these characters. I still have about 8 more chapters to go, so the party’s not over, but this little chickadee is pooped.

Here’s the beginning of my NanoWrimo work-in-progress, La Doña Rising:

The Chill of Death – December 31, 2006

Ladoña Maria Moretti Taylor wondered how she got here. Here being on her back, in the snow, on a starless New Year’s Eve night, with a gunshot wound to her chest.

She gasped for breaths, but with each breath, more blood pumped itself from her. On the outskirts of her mind, she could hear Yvette say, “Everything gets finished tonight, bitch.” Footsteps crunching through the snow alerted Ladoña to Yvette’s approach.

When she opened her eyes, she could make out the fuzzy outline of Yvette’s thick, brick house body, clad in a black cat suit and black parka. The .38 pointed at the center of her forehead, however, came through clearly.

Ladoña had wanted to be in the family business. She didn’t want to be her father’s piccola angela any more. And though her father was adamant that at least one of his children stayed “pure,” free of the business, Ladoña had found her way into the lies, the deceit, the heavy burden that everyone else in her family had to carry. Now, she had to show that she was strong, that she wasn’t scared.

And in the end, she wasn’t. She didn’t cry or beg for her life. She wouldn’t be the bambina her sister Santana Maria always professed her to be. “Know your place,” Santana Maria would say. “You are the baby of the famiglia, Ladoña. This shit we do is too scary for you, love.”

Not once, not through any of it was Ladoña scared, and she refused to go out with fear treading her heart.

So when Yvette growled, “Look at me and watch me kill you,” Ladoña simply looked into the black sky, her tiny body spread as if about to make snow angels, her blood staining the white crystalline canvas beneath her.

“Forgive me, Father,” she whispered to a sky so black she feared there might not be a God to hear her prayer. “I should have listened to you.”

“Say hello to your family for me,” Yvette said, laughing.

Ladoña closed her eyes to Yvette, to the coldness of the ground, to the burn in her chest. She just wanted to drift off into whatever was next, and as she did, she barely heard the words that seemed to swirl in the cool wind and fall onto her face like snowflakes. She did, however, hear the sound of gunfire.

Chapter One – Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bridgewater, New Jersey, is the type of place you raise a good family in. It’s full of nice homes and nice schools and nice people. Everything’s nice. Everything’s perfunctory. Everything’s normal, and that’s what Chester Jerome Taylor, Sr. and Anna Maria Moretti Taylor wanted for their family: normalcy. Or at least the appearance of it.

For over thirty years, Chester and Anna Maria loved each other fiercely despite the naysayers who didn’t understand how a beautiful Italian woman would ever want black man, regardless if he was a strong, good one. The love that connected them trickled down into their love for their children, of whom they distilled morals, values, conviction, and the importance of doing their absolute best in everything. Their children didn’t fail them.

As the whole Taylor clan sat around the expansive oak table laden with Thanksgiving eateries, Chester and Anna Maria couldn’t help but to smile and feel their chests swell with the pride of knowing they had raised four children who grew up to do wonderful things: their eldest, CJ, was a well-loved police officer; Santana Maria, their eldest daughter was a doctor; their son, Jordan Payne, was a high-level bank executive; and their daughter, Ladoña Maria, the baby of the family, was an English professor.

“Let us pray,” Chester said in a baritone voice that boomed. Each family member took another’s hand and bowed heads. “Heavenly Father. Thank you for this wonderful meal that Anna Maria and my girls have prepared. Thank you for allowing us all to be here, healthy and happy. We will continue to honor You all the days of our lives. Amen.”

“Amen,” the others whispered.

“Let’s eat!” Jordan yelled, rubbing his hands together.

He reached for a turkey leg, but his mother smacked his hand with the gravy ladle.

Ragazzo, act like you have some sense, please,” his mother chastised.

“He would have to have some sense first,” Santana chided.

Ladoña lifted her wine glass with pale, thin fingers. After taking a small sip, she quietly piled a few tastes of everything on her plate.

“I swear you eat like a bird,” Brenda said to her.

Ladoña turned, staring at Brenda’s belly, which was round and tight. She smiled as she saw CJ’s protective arm traipsed over the back of Brenda’s chair. Married for five years, Brenda and CJ were finally bringing a grandchild to the family. It would be a girl, which excited the women and silently saddened the men: boys, so they thought, were better to carry on family traditions.

“Brenda,” Ladoña said as she picked at a roll, “you’re about to pop any minute. You’re eating for two. I’m only eating for one.”

“More like half of one,” Jordan said, chuckling. “With your bony ass.”

“Watch your mouth,” Chester said.

Ladoña quickly stuck her tongue out at a sulking Jordan before laughing. She always found it amusing how just being back in the family home reduced them all to kids though at 28, she was the youngest person in the house.

“I can’t help it if I’m small,” she said. “I get it from Mama.”

And she did. She, like Santana, inherited their mother’s slender frame, olive complexion, and small bump in the bridge of the nose. They also inherited her huge black eyes and long, dark hair though Santana had to perm hers to keep it straight and manageable, and Ladoña had her famous silver streak that went the length of her thick, black mane. Her parents often told her she was born an old soul, knowing far too much for someone of her age.

“And you’re beautiful anyway,” CJ said, giving Ladoña wink. “Don’t listen to your knucklehead brother.”

“Hey, this knucklehead just cleared a quarter of a mill this year.”

Chester raised his fork, silencing everyone. “No talk of money around the table.”

Ladoña raised her eyes to her father and took in the piece of turkey dangling on the fork, threatening to fall into the bowl of sweet potatoes. She stifled a laugh. The small grin that graced her full lips faltered when she spotted the small tattoo on his left wrist. She quickly glanced at everyone at the table, and though she couldn’t see them, she knew they all had it. A tiny black broken heart on the inside of their left wrist. She didn’t have one. She wouldn’t have one. Not as long as her father kept her out of the business. Not as long as she allowed him to keep her out of the business.

Everyone quieted and commenced to eating.

“Answer your phone, baby,” Jordan’s sexy ring tone whispered. “Answer your phone, baby.”

Jordan smirked. “Sorry. I should answer that.” He removed the cell from its case on his hip and said, “Hello?” He listened for a moment and nodded his head. Both Chester and CJ took in every gesture made by Jordan. “Got it. See you then.”

When he hit End, Jordan smiled. “Hell yes. Got me some shit to do.”

“Jordan,” his mother warned.

“Dang y’all,” Jordan said. “You act like people don’t curse.”

“For one,” his father said, “you’re talking like you don’t know anything about English. Dang? Got me some shit to do?”

“With an English professor in the house at that,” Ladoña added.

“You know how you act at work?” Santana asked before flipping a lock of hair over her shoulder.

“Yeah, and?” Jordan said.

“That’s what we expect in the house. It’s about being bilingual.”

Silence ensued, followed by laughter.

“I’m serious,” Santana continued. “And you all know I’m telling the truth. We have our business language, our friend language, our family language. Mama and Papa would prefer we talk like we each received a good education.”

“Exactly,” Chester said. “Those educations were not free.”

“Except for Ladoña’s,” CJ said, grinning.

“Well that’s because she’s our little ingegna,” their mother said.

Ladoña blushed. “So,” she said, changing the subject, “who was on the phone?”

Jordan immediately switched moods; in a dark, quiet voice, he said, “I have some business to take care of. Will you all excuse me for a minute, please?” He stood and looked at Chester and CJ. “Pops, CJ, I need to talk to you both for a second.”

Brenda took CJ’s hand and asked, “What’s wrong? Is everything okay?”

CJ smiled and tenderly kissed her forehead. “Everything’s fine, baby,” he replied. He rubbed her belly through her beige silk dress for good measure. “I’ll be right back.”

When the men disappeared down the hall toward Chester’s office, the women looked at each other.

“Well, eat up, girls,” Anna Maria said. “Can’t have my babies wasting away.”

“Not a chance with all this food, Mama,” Santana said.

“Not when I give you all a hefty doggy bag to take home, I know.”

They all laughed.

Brenda rubbed her belly and with some effort, stood. “I swear, I might as well just live on the potty these days,” she said, slight perspiration dotting her cinnamon skin. Fair wisps of curls kissed her hairline. “Excuse me.”

“If you need help off the toilet,” Ladoña said, snickering, “let me know.”

“Thanks, sis,” Brenda said, shaking her head. “That’s something I expect Santana to say with her crazy self.”

“Now you know that wasn’t right,” Anna Maria said, softly laughing. “It’s hard carrying around a whole other person inside of you.”

“I can only imagine,” Ladoña said before piling some mashed potatoes and peas onto her fork and eating it.

“Ladoña, you say that as if you want no children. You want children, yes?”

Ladoña watched the pained look on her mother’s still youthful face. She couldn’t help but smile. As an only child, Anna Maria watched as her mother received lamented looks and words of shame for only birthing one child. It didn’t matter that her mother had complications during Anna Maria’s birth that eventually caused her to become infertile. Anna Maria took note of all the cousins that were born every year from her parents’ siblings. She knew that children helped to define a woman’s life, and even in 2006, it was expected for the women of the family to want to become mothers. They could be doctors, lawyers, and executives, yes, but at the end of the day, their number one career should be motherhood.

And Anna Maria was the epitome of that woman having gone through several ranks in the police department, a career that though fulfilling to her gave caused great disdain amongst the women. When she retired, her mother – just before she passed, said in full Italian melodrama, “Well, it’s a little late to leave the job now, Maria. The children are grown. They do not need you as when they were children.”

She didn’t realize that Anna Maria was more of a mother to her children than most women who stay at home. No matter what her schedule was, she always made sure food was cooked and ready for the children, homework was checked, and everyone was kissed at least once a day, told “I love you,” and read a story from the Bible. She knew the importance of being a mother, and she wanted her daughters to know it, too.

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