Terra Little is the author of “Running from Mercy” (2008); “Where There’s Smoke” (2009); “Where There’s Smoke 2: When the Smoke Clears” (2010); and “JUMP” (2011). She currently resides in Missouri with her teenage daughter, and works in education and social service. Hang out with Terra online at www.terralittle.com and terralittle.blogspot.com to learn more about her work and see what else she’s up to.
After a few ups and downs, Alec “Smoke” Avery and Anne Phillips have found a rhythm they can both groove to, and they’ve made a love connection. But just when they think they can finally settle down and tie the knot, their past comes back to haunt them in ways they never imagined. When the smoke finally clears, truths will have to be told and Anne will have to accept the fact that she and Smoke are more alike than she cares to admit.
What is your earliest memory of your love for writing?
Honestly, my earliest memory is so early I don’t even remember it. All I know is that I was always running around with a pencil and paper in my hands, trying to write something and coming up with ideas for what that something would be. I do remember writing a “complete book” when I was in middle school – hand written and about five hundred sheets of loose leaf paper, it was. And my aunt recently showed me a letter I wrote her when I was something like eleven, telling her that I planned to have already written the “great American novel” by the time I graduated from high school. So I guess I must’ve been pretty young when the idea first took root.
Why do you think this love of writing manifested itself in you?
I have no earthly idea. Sometimes I wonder that myself, especially when I’m going through one of my “is this really what I’m meant to do” stages. I guess because it takes a little bit of everything to make the world go round and in every generation people are designated to do certain things. I like to think I was born to write, when I’m not going through one of my “is this what I’m meant to do” phases, that is.
I know that writing is something that you always seemed to carry within you. Despite that, you went on to earn BS degrees in criminology and sociology and a master’s degree in counseling. You also earned a paralegal certificate and a phlebotomy certificate. During this time, I’m sure writing was still a part of you, but why do you think you didn’t “heed the call” and jump feet first into becoming a full-fledged writer?
Plain and simple? Life got in the way and I didn’t have a clue how to get it out of the way. I had a child when I was eighteen and then it was all about putting food on the table and keeping a roof over my daughter’s head. College was put on hold and I worked so many entry level jobs it was crazy. That’s how I ended up with a phlebotomy certificate, a paralegal certificate and I also worked as a certified nursing assistant for a few years, too. I didn’t know what the heck I wanted to do with my life. Not that there’s anything wrong with an honest day’s work, because there isn’t. I just happened to always be struggling to make ends meet and when you’re consumed with how you’re going to pay rent, utilities, buy food and shoes for your kid – all out of one paycheck – stress is the name of the game. I had tunnel vision – survive by any means necessary. I forgot for a while that I once had dreams of being a writer and it took me an even longer while to remember. Then I decided to make time to write or else die a slow death from being deprived of something so vital to my existence.
I think “Life happening” is a cause for many would-be writers’ long journey to writing.
From From Where There’s Smoke 2: When the Smoke Clears…Alec and Anne, on what it takes to sustain a honest, healthy and loving relationship…
After I disconnected from Smoke’s psycho ex-girlfriend, I decided to bypass stopping to have a manicure and pedicure in favor of going straight home, where Smoke was waiting for me. We were planning on taking in a movie and having a romantic dinner afterward, but that was out the window now, wasn’t it?
As far as Diana Daniels was concerned, one thing she needed to hurry up and learn about me was that I hadn’t let a woman get the best of me in over twenty years and I wasn’t about to start now. Smoke was a different story though. He had obviously been getting the best of me for a hot little minute now and here I was too blind to see it.
I dropped my briefcase on the bed, checked to make sure Iris was sleeping soundly and then I followed the sound of the shower into the bathroom adjoining our bedroom. I stood there for a few minutes, watching him move around behind the frosted glass and taking deep breaths, so I wouldn’t lose it and plug in a hair dryer. Then I made a Bill Bixby-Incredible Hulk, turning green because I’m furious move.
I scared the shit out of Smoke, opening the shower door the way I did. He spun around with his mouth hanging open and his package swinging. “Woman, you were about to get a beat-down, running up on a brotha like that.”
I didn’t smile when he smiled, nor did I take a deep relieved breath when he took a deep relieved breath. Instead, I stepped halfway inside the shower and slapped the shit out of Smoke. Then I said, “Diana said for me to tell you it’s a boy. Congratu-damn-lations.”
He came tripping out of the bathroom with a towel pressed up against the family jewels and dripping all over the carpet. “Run that by me again?”
I ignored him and kept on doing what I was doing, which was easing Iris off of our bed and into my arms. I stood still and waited for her to settle back into sleep and then I tiptoed her down the hallway to her own room. When I came back to our bedroom, Smoke was stepping into boxers and eyeing the doorway warily. I closed the door behind me, stepped out of my heels and shrugged off my jacket; took my earrings off and laid them on the armoire. Then I rushed Smoke like a Stealth Bomber.
“What the hell…”
I succeeded in driving him back into the dresser before he caught my hands and tried to pull me into him. I wasn’t aware that I had started crying until I pushed him away from me and had to wipe my face with my hands, so I could see him clearly. “I love you, Anne. I want to be with you, Anne. I don’t want anyone but you, Anne. Marry me, Anne. Isn’t that the shit you said to me, Smoke?”
“I know what I said. Baby, listen to me, this is not what it looks like, okay?”
He came toward me with his hands out and I stopped him with a look. “If dying right here and now is what you want to do, then you go right ahead and put your hands on me.”
“I haven’t been creeping around with Diana the whole time we’ve been together. If she said that, she was lying.”
“Oh, I got that part, Smoke. The silly whore was only too happy to tell me that she had my man twice and apparently, this last time she got,” I paused to punch him in his chest, “pregnant. So not only were you screwing her, but you were screwing her without protection. Bringing that whore home to share with me!”
“That’s not how it was.”
“So you didn’t screw her twice?”
“And you used condoms both times?”
His mouth opened, snapped shut, and then opened again. “No, but…”
“So you willingly put my life in danger. Is that right?”
“If you would just listen to me for a minute, I can explain. I wasn’t running around with Diana behind your back. What happened between her and I was nothing. Didn’t mean shit to me.”
“But you did it anyway.” I pushed a hand through my locks and closed my eyes against fresh tears. I couldn’t believe I was standing here, letting him see how devastated I was. Couldn’t believe something like this was what it took for me to realize how completely I had given myself to him. Couldn’t believe… “Two times, Smoke? You can call one time a mistake, but two? You knew what you were doing. You went to her looking for sex.”
“I didn’t go to Diana looking for anything. She kept coming to me and I…”
“Gladly gave her what she came for.”
“…made a mistake.” He searched my face. “Okay, two mistakes.”
A thought crossed my mind and I pointed behind me to the bed. “Where? Please don’t tell me you brought her here, because I swear to god I will strike a match up in here.”
“She came to my school. Five minutes tops, both times. It meant nothing, Anne.”
“Meant enough for you to get her pregnant, Smoke.”
Suddenly I was tired. Exhausted, really. I sank down to the bed and let my face fall into my hands. It took me a few minutes to collect my thoughts and set them straight, but I finally managed to calm down enough to accomplish the task. I was too outdone, I mean really thrown for a loop, and it showed on my face as I propped my head up on my fists and stared at Smoke long and hard.
He mistook my silence for acceptance. “It was nothing.”
“I changed my whole life for you,” I said softly. “I sold a business I built from the ground up and walked away from an entire life for you. And this is what I get?”
“I made some changes, too.”
I looked around me with big eyes. “Like what? You sure didn’t give up other women, as far as I can tell. You still have your house, your career and all of your friends and family. Hell, you even got another baby out of the deal. Diana isn’t the only one who got screwed here, Smoke, but at least that whore got some good sex out of it.” I lifted my hands and let them fall. “I got to feel like the fool of the century.”
“I love you.”
“Sure you do,” I said as I pushed to my feet and scrubbed my hands across my face. “You have a strange way of showing it. Excuse me.” I went to step around him, but he stepped with me and blocked my way. I stared at his chest. “I said, excuse me.”
“Say it back to me.”
“Oh my god, please don’t start this right now. You ought to know I’m not in the damn mood, okay?”
“Say it back to me.”
“Get out of my way, Smoke.”
“You can’t, can you?”
“I don’t need this right now.”
“What do you need?”
“To pee, first of all,” I said, still staring at his chest. “And then I need to get as far away from you as humanly possible.”
“So you’re leaving?”
“Yep.” I took a deep breath and nodded resolutely. “I’m leaving.”
“This is convenient as hell for you, isn’t it? You’ve been looking for a way out ever since you came here.”
“Was I looking for this mythical way out before or after I sold my house and my business? Or was it before or after I got pregnant? Yeah, that’s what I thought. So don’t try to run game on me. You did this, not me. Now I’m going to ask you one more time and then I’m going to lose my mind on your ass. Get out of my way.”
“You don’t even want to know why I did what I did?”
“It’s enough just knowing you did it. I don’t need to know why.”
“Look at me.”
I tipped my head back and met his eyes, hopefully for the last time. We breathed in the smell of each other’s breath and stared each other down. “What?”
“Do you need me for anything? I mean, other than for taking the trash out and laying the pipe to you when you’re in the mood, do you need me for anything else?”
That was actually funny enough to make me laugh. I took a step back, raised my eyebrows at him and…laughed. “You have got to be kidding me. You go out and sleep around on me, you get somebody else pregnant and you want to make this about me?”
“It’s not just about you, sweetheart. This is about us and what’s going on here in this house. About the fact that you don’t need anybody for anything, least of all me. You can’t even bring yourself to tell me you love me, which tells me that you don’t. Either that or you can’t.”
“What part of washing your damn drawers, cooking your damn meals and cleaning your damn house isn’t love? What part of kissing you in the morning before you brush your teeth and massaging your back until my fingers cramp isn’t love? What part, Smoke?” I bent over at the waist and pressed the heels of my hands against my eyes, feeling like I was about pass out. This mess was making me lightheaded. “I swear to god I don’t need this.” I slapped at Smoke’s chest until he finally stepped aside and let me by.
“That’s what was messing with my head, Anne. I had a woman at home that I loved like I ain’t never thought about loving a woman who wasn’t my damn mama, but I was still thinking all the way to the left. Tripping off of you not being able to look me in my face and tell me you love me. You not needing me to be or do nothing for you. And what about the wall you have around you, every damn minute of the day and all damn night? A brotha can’t break that mug down for nothing.”
“A brotha exaggerates.” I turned on the faucet and splashed cold water on my face. “Kiss my ass, Smoke.”
“You’re not hearing me, Anne. I think you do that on purpose, too. I need you to see if you can dig this, though. You listening?”
I stopped patting my face dry long enough to give him my eyes. “I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
Smoke backed away from the bathroom doorway, chuckling and shaking his head at the same time. Looking at me like I was the one with the problem, like I was slow in comprehending something important.
“I’m feeling like I’m not needed. Some days more than others, but that’s beside the point. The point is, I’m feeling like I’m not needed, like whatever it is I’m doing for you ain’t enough. How can I help falling for the okey-doke, Anne? I have to get my needs met somewhere.”
“And once again, Smoke, it’s all about you and what you need, what you want. Well, you know what? You needed to mess with Diana, so you must’ve wanted me to leave. Mission accomplished.”
“See, this is…forget it. You know what?” He held up a finger and moved out of my line of sight. I heard him rumbling around in the closet and then he was back with my carryall. He tossed it on the floor in front of him and pointed to it. “You want to leave? Go. But trip off of this for a minute, baby. Your bag is already packed!” He kicked my carryall so hard it left the floor and slammed into the wall beside the doorway. “I wonder why?”
Without missing a beat, I said, “This is why.”
“Where are you going?”
To be such a little thing, damned if Anne didn’t move like a speed demon. She raced down the hallway, zigzagged through the den and skidded into the living room, looking around like she was seriously considering jumping out of the nearest window to get away from me. Or else looking for something to knock me unconscious with. She saw me coming after her and spun on her heels, heading for the kitchen. I jumped over the coffee table and almost managed to grab a handful of the silky tank top she was wearing before she kicked it into overdrive.
We faced off across the kitchen table, both of us breathing hard. “I asked you where you were going, woman.”
“I’m leaving your castle, King Smoke.”
“You heard me, Negro.”
She went to pressing on her chest and sucking in mouthfuls of air, turning on the dramatics. I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. “Don’t start hyperventilating. This is not the time for you to be…”
“See, there you go again, telling me what to do. I don’t think you should do this, Anne. And that doesn’t sound like a good idea, Anne. Or I don’t want Zay doing this or that. You don’t stop to ask me anything, Smoke. You just hand down your decision and expect me to go along with it. You’re talking this shit about me not needing you, but you haven’t stopped to think about the fact that you don’t need me to need you. You don’t give me time to tell you I need you before you come charging in and taking care of everything.”
“Oh, so now I’m wrong for handling my business, running my household and being a man for you?” This was getting better and better. More and more, I was convinced that women didn’t know what the hell they wanted from men. At least the one standing in front of me didn’t. “If I was one of those brothas who sat around on their asses all day and couldn’t keep a job, you’d be whining about that. If I didn’t come to the door and run those damn Jehovah’s Witnesses off, you’d be saying I don’t have any balls. If you had to tell me to take the trash out or when to take your car in for servicing, you’d be telling everybody you know that you have three kids, instead of two. What do you want from me?”
“I want you to stop stomping around here, issuing orders and giving commands,” she had the nerve to say. “I was perfectly capable of thinking for myself and making sound decisions before we started doing whatever this is we’re doing and believe it or not, I can still manage to do it now. Plus, I don’t know where the hell my daddy is, but you’re not him.”
“Yeah, my daddy.”
I thought about that for a minute while I looked out the kitchen window and chewed on my bottom lip. I had a sudden urge for some water, so I took a glass down from a cabinet, filled it with tap water, and stared at her over the rim of the glass as I drank every last drop. Then I set the glass in the sink, scratched the back of my neck and took the gloves off. They came off calmly and in a rational voice, but they still came off. I figured it was time.
“Maybe if your ass wasn’t forever moping around, depressed about every damn thing under the sun and feeling victimized every time somebody raises their voice, I’d come to you about things. Shit, by the time I wake you up from one of your psychotic episodes the crisis is long over with. Am I supposed to wait for the Prozac to kick in and make you normal before I take the initiative and handle the situation?”
The way Anne narrowed her eyes to slits and hissed at me told me that I had hit a sore spot. Giant tears popped out of her eyes and rolled down her face without her even realizing they were there. She was too busy wishing me dead to take notice. Now, I thought, now we’re getting somewhere.
“Go to hell, Smoke,” she sobbed. “Go to hell, okay? I don’t take Prozac and you know it. I refused the prescription for an anti-depressant because I’m not depressed. I…”
“The hell you’re not. You sleep too much, you’re antisocial and you stopped enjoying life months ago,” I cut her off, my voice large and in-charge.
“So you need to deal with your past and quit thinking up ways to avoid it. You can sleep forty days and forty nights, but when you wake up your mother and sister are still going to be there.”
“And so is Diana, because for some odd reason you can’t shake off that whore to save your life.” She snatched a set of keys off the hook by the door and pointed a shaky finger at me. “You and the rest of these mixed up Negro men out here, with your high-yellow women and your self-hatred. You make me sick.”
I took two steps back and feinted against the refrigerator, wondering if I had heard her right. My eyes stretched big with shock. “And ain’t nothing wrong with black women?” She got quiet and offended. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. You and the rest of your big, strong black women. The ones that claim they don’t need a man, but have vibrators in every shape, size and color under the bed. It’s you chicks who are keeping the Energizer bunny in business. What you sistas need to do is recognize when you have good men and sit your asses down and let your men be men. You can’t run every damn thing and I don’t even know why you would want to. Then, the minute a brotha walks out, you want to cry about not being able to find a good man. Now that’s what makes me sick. Hell, if god meant for a woman to do everything by herself, he would’ve given her balls, too. But he didn’t and here’s the catch, baby. This is one brotha who ain’t giving his up.”
“So it’s your way or the highway, right?”
“In a pink Cadillac,” I said and had to laugh.
She twirled her melodramatic ass out the door and left it standing wide open. It took me a minute of staring at the key hook to realize that something was out of order about it. Took me another ten seconds to figure out exactly what that something was.
“Shit!” I felt shock waves coursing through my body as I watched Anne almost sideswipe my new truck. She was backing it out of the garage and not looking where the hell she was going. Too busy flipping me the bird and gunning the motor like she had lost her mind. I didn’t even drive my truck like that. “Woman, if you jack up my truck, I swear to god…”
“God ain’t got shit to do with the fact that you lie, Smoke.” She took off down the street, screaming out the window. “You lie, you lie, you lie…”
I took off running after my truck. “This shit ain’t over, Anne!”
I was standing in the middle of the street in silk boxers and nothing else, screaming after a truck and a lunatic woman that I couldn’t even see anymore. “This shit ain’t over! You hear me!”
“How you doing, Mr. Avery?”
I looked at the little chump who lived across the street from me. Kenny something or other. Isaiah ran around with him sometimes, when he was home from school. The idiot didn’t have the sense god gave a goose. Working three minimum wage jobs when he needed to be in somebody’s college. At the very least in trade school, learning how to do something besides flip burgers and throw boxes into the backs of trucks. And he had the nerve to be cheesing at me like I was the one with the problem.
“Boy, don’t you have a dead end job you need to be at?” I sucked my teeth all the way back inside the house and slammed the door behind me.