Freedom Lane – Helen VS Kim Redding

“Out of my way!” Helen shouted, shoving Da’Quarius as she came into the living room from the kitchen.

“Watch it, biddy!’ Da’Quarius snapped. “What the hell is yo’ problem?”

“The five o’clock news is coming on!” Helen shouted, settling into her recliner.

“You watch da’ news all damn day,” Da’Quarius said. “What makes da’ shit dat goes on at five so special?”

“Helen has a crush on the new anchor,” Rose said, coming from the kitchen. “Her name’s Kim Redding, and she’s had her eye on her.”

“I have not,” Helen said. “Hot damn, here she comes!”

Da’Quarius sat on the couch and watched the opening credits for the news, showing the various anchors and crew members. Finally, the announcer introduced Kim Redding, a tall brunet in a red power dress. “Gotdamn!” he exclaimed. “I don’t blame you, Helen.”

“Back off,” Helen muttered. “She’s mine.”

Rose sighed. “Sure,” she said. “You used to be in love with the weather girl on channel four until she married the sports guy. After that you were threatening to send her dead squirrels in the mail.”

“This is different,” Helen said, looking at the TV. “Kim Redding is a goddess, a pure entity in a world of blackness. She even lives in the East Rock neighborhood, like us! I will never, ever say anything negative about that woman for as long as I live.”

Rose cleared her throat.

“She’s nothing compared to you, though, dear,” Helen said.

Rose laughed. “It’s OK,” she said. “I know it’s just a little infatuation.”

“Quiet,” Da’Quarius said. “I wanna watch her describe da’ active shooter in Vermont!”

“My lord,” Helen said. “She is a thing of beauty.”

****

Freedom Lane

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

Season 13 Finale: Helen VS Kim Redding

*****

Da’Quarius came inside from walking his dog, carrying a pile of mail in his left hand. “Mail’s here!” he called. “Nuttin’ for me as usual.”

“Be grateful,” Helen said. “All we get is bills and junk.”

“Yesterday you got a postcard form yo’ cousin,” Da’Quarius said.

“I already said ‘junk,’ ” Helen said. “Leave it for Rose. She always goes through the mail.”

“OK,” Da’Quarius said, depositing the pile onto the coffee table. “Umma go take a shit real quick.”

“Thanks for the announcement,” Helen muttered. The moment Da’Quarius was gone, she noticed Dutchie, his brown pitbull terrier, move to the table and snatch an envelope. “Oh no you don’t!” She got out of her seat and walked toward the dog, grabbing a magazine off the table and rolling it up. She held it like a club. “Drop it, mongrel!”

Dutchie moved away, envelope in his mouth.

“What I say?!” Helen shouted, throwing the magazine at him. She missed, but it caused Dutchie to drop the envelope. He ran upstairs for the solace of his master.

“Friggin’ mutt,” Helen muttered. She grunted as she bent down to pick up the envelope. “This thing is covered in slobber now.” Not wanting the drool to ruin whatever was inside, she opened the enveloped, and she was surprised to see a check inside. She pulled her glasses on from the chain around her neck so she could read the details. “Nixon’s ghost!”

“What do you have there?” Rose asked, coming in from the kitchen. “Oh, did the mail come?”

“The city of New Haven sent us a check,” Helen said. “It’s from the child welfare department.”

“Give me that,” Rose said, reaching out. “I’ll take care of it.”

Helen moved the check so Rose couldn’t snatch it. “How long have we been getting these?” she asked.

“Just give it to me, please,” Rose said.

“They’re paying us to keep the kid, aren’t they?” Helen asked. “Why haven’t you told me?”

“The money is supposed to go toward feeing and clothing Da’Quarius,” Rose said. “I didn’t want it spent on nonsense.”

“This changes everything,” Helen said, looking at the check.

“No, it doesn’t,” Rose said. “The money does go towards what Da’Quarius needs. We aren’t taking the money, we aren’t gambling with it, and we aren’t investing it in some weird scheme. It’s going right into our checking account, so we can continue to feed and clothe our son.”

“I’m not taking the money away from the kid,” Helen said. “I’m getting more of it.”

Rose crossed her arms across her chest. “Now how do you plan on… No.”

“Yes,” Helen said, a smile creeping onto her face. “I’m adopting another kid.”

***

“Are you sure you don’t mind helping?” Antonio Garcia asked as Da’Quarius helped him bring some recording equipment into their house, which was across the street. “It’s been tough with us running GarciaTube and the bodega at the same time. We still haven’t gotten a staff hired.”

“I don’t mind,” Da’Quarius said. “Rose an’ Helen are arguin’ ‘bout somethin’, an’ I didn’t wanna be around for it. Besides, you guys are always hookin’ me up with shit anyway.”

“Manny got some new bootleg X-Box games at the bodega,” Antonio said. “You can borrow a few for the help.”

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. “Where’s this shit goin’ anyway?”

“Bring it right to the basement,” Antonio said. “We’re shooting a lesbo porn tonight, and we need to have the room looking like a psychiatrist’s office.”

“You guys do some freaky shit,” Da’Quarius said.

“Hi, Daq,” a voice said from the sidewalk. Da’Quarius turned to see his friend, Esmerelda Perez de la Hoya, standing there. “I came to see what d’jou were up to today.”

“I’m just helping Antonio real quick,” Da’Quarius said. “You wanna help too? I’m gonna get some X-Box games to play when I’m done.”

“I guess,” Esmerelda replied. “What are we doing?”

“Just grab something and follow me to the basement,” Da’Quarius said. “We’ll get dis done quick and hang out.”

“Cool,” Esmerelda said, grabbing a cardboard box from the back of Antonio’s car and following Da’Quarius and Antonio, who each had a side of a leather chair that looked like it was actually from a generic psychiatrist’s office. They made their way into the basement through the cellar door in the back of the house.

“Help me get this to the wall,” Antonio said. “Just put the box anywhere for now.”

Esmerelda looked around. She saw a table and walked toward it, but she tripped on a wire, spilling the contents of the box. Condoms, lube, and dildos spilled out onto the floor. “Mardre di dios!” she exclaimed. “What is all this stuff for?”

“You don’t know what da’ Garcia brothers do over here?” Da’Quarius asked, setting down the chair. He walked over the Esmerelda and picked up the contents of the dropped box. “Dey own a porn site.”

“And they make the movies in the basement?” Esmerelda asked.

“Sometimes,” Antonio said. “But don’t tell anyone, OK?”

“You help them?” Esmerelda asked.

“Sometimes,” Da’Quarius replied. “Don’t tell anyone.”

Esmerelda looked around like she didn’t want to be in the house anymore. “I’m going to go,” she said.

“You can go too,” Antonio said. “Thanks for the help.”

“No problem,” Da’Quarius said. “Text Manny and tell him I’m on my way. Yo, Ez! Wanna go down to da’ bodega with me?!”

***

“This is insane,” Rose said, following Helen as she went through drawers looking for various paperwork that would aid her in adopting another child. “We are not adopting again. We were lucky to get Da’Quarius, and that took over twenty-five years for them to give him to us, remember?”

“Bah!” Helen said. “We’ll go down first thing on Monday and pick up a new one. I’m sure Da’Quarius will get along fine with his new brother or sister. He can even teach it a thing or two.”

“We aren’t talking about dogs,” Rose said. “There are human children, and you should treat them as such.”

“I know we’re not talking about dogs,” Helen said. “The city pound doesn’t pay you to keep stray mutts in your house, do they?”

Rose sighed. “No, they don’t,” she said. “But that’s not the point. Raising a child is a big deal, not something you can just decide to do on a whim.”

“I remember this speech,” Helen said. “Didn’t I say the exact same thing when you went and adopted the kid?”

“No, you didn’t,” Rose said. “You said a lot of racist things and tried to call the police on him numerous times.”

“I guess you and I remember it differently,” Helen said. “Where’s that woman’s number, that woman who gave us the kid, Jolly something, right? Remember her? She’s fat, black, nappy, and chubby.”

“That’s a terrible description,” Rose replied, “and I’m not giving you her name.”

“Why not?” Helen asked. “We both know she’s as crooked as a brit’s teeth. If anyone can get us a kid, it’s her.”

“We don’t need the money badly enough to get another kid,” Rose said. “This is lunacy.”

“Hot damn,” Helen said, finding an address book in a drawer and pulling a business card out. “Jolene Jolie, City of New Haven, Child Welfare Division. I guess I’ll call and see if she’s been fired yet.”

“This is a bad idea,” Rose said as Helen walked toward the kitchen phone.

***

Da’Quarius skimmed through the X-Box games near the counter of Daq’s Bodega with Esmerelda by his side, looking over his shoulder. “You guys need some newer games,” he said.

“Just take what you want,” Manny said from the counter. “You want some snacks too?”

“Sure,” Da’Quarius said.

“Good,” Manny said. “They’re not comped too, you know.”

“Mo’ fucker,” Da’Quarius muttered. “I think I’m gonna take da’ new Madden if I can find it. You wanna come by and play?”

“Da’Quarius,” Esmerelda said. “Something has been bothering me.”

“What’s dat?” Da’Quarius asked.

“The Garcia brothers,” Esmerelda said. “They make porno.”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “So?”

“And you help them,” Esmerelda said.

“No,” Da’Quarius said. “Well, yeah, sometimes. It’s not like I’m in da’ movies or on set. OK, one time I held da’ boom mic, but dey made me wear a blindfold.”

“But they named this bodega after d’jou,” Esmerelda said. “D’jou have to be doing a lot more for them than just helping them move some furniture.”

“Wait a second,” Da’Quarius said. “Did you not know da’ Garcia brothers run a porn site? Remember da’ time we built a snowman just to have dem hire a guy to fuck it for their site?”

“I thought it was just a prank for a meme,” Esmerelda replied. “I just want to make sure d’jou’re not getting into anything too major with them.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Da’Quarius said. He pulled a game from the bin. “Umma get this one. Come one, Ez, let’s get some gaming snacks and go.”

Da’Quarius went to the aisle with the snacks, leaving Esmerelda, who stayed where she was, thinking.

***

“This is ridiculous,” Rose said, walking with Helen through the New Haven Department of Child Welfare offices on Monday morning. “I can’t believe you talked me into this.”

“Believe it, sister,” Helen said. “Now where’s this Jolie broad?”

“Helen?” Jolene Jolie said, stepping out of her office. “I got your message. You didn’t have to come down here.”

“I think I did,” Helen said, walking past her and into her small office. “Step into my office.”

“It’s my office,” Jolene said, following Helen in with Rose.

“Look,” Helen said, standing in front of the desk by the window. “We need a kid, and we need it fast.”

“I can’t do that,” Jolene said.

“You gave us Da’Quarius through nefarious means,” Helen said. “So you can give us another black kid through the same means.”

Jolene looked to Rose who simply shrugged.

“Who’s available to go home today?” Helen asked. “I’d like another bald one like Da’Quarius. It will save us on shampoo.”

“I don’t think you want to open this can of worms,” Jolene said. “Getting you Da’Quarius and keeping him in your care was me pulling a lot of strings I shouldn’t have tugged on. Giving you a second kid is using those strings to swing like Tarzan over all the higher ups in my department.”

“Say it plainly or keep your donut hole shut,” Helen said.

Jolene signed. “Getting you a second child will bring heat on all of us,” she said. “I don’t want to lose my job, and you don’t want to lose Da’Quarius. I think we need to drop this issue and drop it now.”

“I came all the way down here for nothing then?” Helen asked.

“I never told you to come here,” Jolene said.

“And I told you not to,” Rose added.

Helen grunted. “I guess I’m getting teamed up on today,” she said. “I should just leave before you-”

“Thank you again, Miss Jolie,” a woman said, peeking into the office, a young black child by her side. Helen recognized her right away.

“Well toss my salad,” Helen said. “You’re Kim Redding, from the news.”

“Yes,” Kim Redding said. “I am.”

“What are you doing here?” Helen asked. “Are you doing a story about crooked employees who work for the city of New Haven?”

Jolene cleared her throat.

“No,” Kim replied. “I’ve adopted a child. This is DeAndre, my new son.”

“You adopted a…” Helen said, looking from Kim to DeAndre. “This is how it is, huh? A celebrity is allowed to adopt, and I, a common peasant, cannot? This is an outrage!”

“Oh Hell,” Rose said, looking down and shaking her head.

***

Esmerelda sat at her kitchen table. She had her notebook and algebra book in front of her, but she wasn’t concentrating. Lee, one of her adoptive fathers, came in. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Is that math?”

“Yeah,” Esmerelda said, realizing there was homework in front of her after all.

“I didn’t learn math well,” Lee said, looking over Esmerelda’s shoulder. “Good thing I’m pretty.”

“OK,” Esmerelda said, tapping the paper with the eraser on her pencil.

“Is something wrong, dear?” Lee asked.

“It’s nothing,” Esmerelda replied.

“Come on,” Lee said. “I wasn’t born yesterday. I was actually born seventy-something years ago if you can believe it with my youthful features.”

“It’s really nothing,” Esmerelda said. “Just that… Well… Something is bothering me.”

“I knew it,” Lee said, pulling a chair out and sitting down across from Esmerelda. “You can tell me what’s on your mind, and I won’t judge you.”

“I don’t really know how to say it,” Esmerelda said. “Is someone who works with pornographers a bad person?”

Lee thought for a moment, mulling over what Esmerelda had just told him. “What I’m going to say may startle you a bit, so I want you to be prepared,” he said.

“OK,” Esmerelda said.

“I’ll respect you no matter what,” Lee said, “but you’re a little young to be going into the porn business. I actually think it’s illegal for you to be filmed performing sexual acts.”

“What?!” Esmerelda snapped. “I’m not making porn!”

“Then why are you so concerned?” Lee asked.

“It’s Da’Quarius,” Esmerelda said.

“That’s probably up his alley,” Lee said. “He’s still too young, but there’s always a need for more black bucks. I’m sure he’ll make a killing once he’s eighteen or old enough to pass for ‘barely legal’ anyway. I’d love to see him burst into the gay porn scene.”

“He’s not doing porn either,” Esmerelda said. “He’s just doing some odd jobs for a couple of guys running a porn site.”

“Then why bring it up at all?” Lee asked. “I’m about to just give you some milk and cookies and send you to your room for the night.”

“Whatever,” Esmerelda said, looking away. “Thanks, I guess.”

“You’re welcome,” Lee said, smiling and getting up. “You finish your homework and wash on up, now.”

“OK,” Esmerelda said, looking at her paper.

“There you go,” Lee said to himself, going into his den. “And some people think this parenting thing is so hard.”

***

“It’s time for a family meeting!” Helen said, coming out of the kitchen, grasping a notebook in her hands.

“What?” Da’Quarius asked, shutting off the TV and turning to look. “I thought you were ignoring us all day.”

“No,” Rose sighed. “She’s been plotting something since we left the Child Welfare offices.”

“For real?” Da’Quarius asked. “What were you doin’ dere? You ain’t tryin’ to send my ass back, are you?”

“No,” Helen said, waving a hand as she made her way to the dining room table. “We’re just trying to get another kid to get some money out of them like we get for you.”

“You biddies get money for me livin’ here?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Please don’t tell me there’s some kind of drawn-out plan in that notebook,” Rose said, sitting across from Helen with Da’Quarius to her right.

“Here’s the plan,” Helen said, placing her notebook on the table and opening it. “Da’Quarius will find out where Kim Redding lives. That’s step one.”

“On it,” Da’Quarius said. “I’ll google da’ fuck outta dat ho.”

“No, you’re not,” Rose said. “This is getting crazy.”

“Step two,” Helen continued. “We plaster her house with flyers for Paulie’s Pizza, and we have Paulie call us when she shows up, wanting a pizza. The phone call is step three.”

“Is Paulie even willing to do this?” Rose asked.

“Did you ask him?” Da’Quarius asked.

“He doesn’t have to be asked,” Helen replied. “Paulie should be calling his big sister out of general politeness if a local celebrity piece of ass steps foot into his pizzeria.”

“Good point,” Da’Quarius said.

“Oh lord,” Rose groaned.

“Kids love pizza too,” Helen said. “That kid of hers will be with her, and we’ll take him. That’s step five.”

“What was step four?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Weren’t you paying attention?” Helen asked in return.

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius replied. “Dat’s how I know you skipped step four, biddy.”

“I’m looking at my paper,” Helen said. “It’s a five-step plan.”

“Dat’s great,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m just sayin’ you skipped step four.”

“Can we just move on?” Rose asked.

“Fine,” Helen said. “Step six: we tell the child welfare people we’re raising the kid, and the checks start rolling in.”

“I’d like to make a point here,” Da’Quarius said.

“Go ahead,” Helen said.

“If you guys are gettin’ checks cuz I’m here an’ shit,” Da’Quarius said, “shouldn’t I be getting’ da’ money?”

“You raise a valid point, kid,” Helen said, nodding. “Assuming you help raise your future little brother, you are entitled to a third of what he brings in.”

“Fuck dat!” Da’Quarius said. “I want a third of what dat kid brings in plus all of my money!”

“How about a third of what the kid brings in,” Helen said, “and I don’t pop you in the mouth for trying to strongarm me during my friggin’ child heist!”

“OK,” Rose said, getting up. “I’ve had enough. One: you are not kidnapping Kim Redding’s adopted son. Two: if you did kidnap the child, there’s no way they’d send us any money for it, seeing as you’ve kidnapped him. Three: what you’re doing right now is called conspiracy to kidnap, and it is a crime.”

“You’ve had your say,” Helen said, “but notice my plan has five parts. Your little speech only has three.”

“Technically you had four,” Da’Quarius said, “unless you count da’ sixth one. If you did, den you’ll have five.”

“And I know you’re having fun with Helen, Da’Quarius,” Rose said, “but I’m going to insist you stop encouraging her.”

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said, getting up. “I’m thirteen an’ she’s like eighty. She should know better than my black ass, right?”

“I am not eighty!” Helen snapped. “I’m only seventy-nine.”

“I’m going to bed,” Rose said. “Hopefully you’ll wake up with some better sense.” She left and went upstairs without further argument.

“You still want me to look up dat bitch’s address?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Friggin’ right I do,” Helen said. “Get it to me in the morning, and that government kid money will soon be ours.”

“But seriously, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “I want some of my money.”

“Then go talk to Rose,” Helen said, waving a hand. “She’s the one who using you for cash. I’m trying to get a kid of my own!”

***

“Look,” Tony said, coming from the kitchen of Paulie’s Pizza into the main seating are where Paulie was sitting in a booth. “All I’m saying is that Katy Perry made that ‘I Kissed a Girl’ song a long friggin’ time ago. If she hasn’t eaten any pussy yet, then it’s all bullshit.”

“I don’t know who you’re talking about, or why you’re still going on about this,” Paulie said. “What do you care about who kisses who or eats whatever. Just live your life and they’ll live theirs.”

“It’s a matter of principle!” Tony said, his right hand almost flying off his wrist as he visibly made his point. “If you’re going to be a tease about some lesbo shit, at least have the balls to write a song down the line about the first time you munched another chick’s box!”

“Alright,” Paulie said. “I am officially done with you for the day. You’re out of words. You can no longer speak.”

Tony’s face was a mask of confusion. “But…”

“That’s a word!” Paulie said. “I just told you you’re out!”

The door opened, and Da’Quarius came inside. “Hey, guys,” he said. “You don’t mind if I hang out, do you? Esmerelda wanted to meet after school.”

“No problem,” Paulie said.

“Hey!” Tony said. “Let me ask the kid about this!”

“No!” Paulie shouted. “You’re done, capeesh?! What part of ‘out of words for the day’ do you not get?”

“Aw shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Tony got cut off from talkin’ again? It must have been good too.”

“He’s being disgusting,” Paulie said. “Do you and your friend want something to eat?”

“Sure,” Da’Quarius said. “I’ll take a medium pepperoni and mushroom.”

“Get it cooked up,” Paulie said, addressing Tony. “But do it in silence.”

Paulie turned away and Tony gave him an Italian salute before going to make the pizza for Da’Quarius.

“Before I forget,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen wants me to get a bunch of flyers if you got ‘em.”

“Sure thing,” Paulie said. “Wait… Why does Helen need these?”

“She’s tryin’ to get Kim Redding to come in here,” Da’Quarius replied.

“That stacked broad from the news?” Paulie asked. “I’d love that! I’ll have to get a leash for Tony, though. Why does Helen want her in here?”

“Do you really want to know?” Da’Quarius asked in return.

Paulie thought for a moment. “I think that’s one of those things I’m better off not knowing.”

The door opened with a jingle of the bells attached to the top corner, and Esmerelda came inside. “Hey, Daq,” she said, spotting him and coming over to his booth.

“What’s up, Ez?” Da’Quarius asked. “I ordered us a pizza. Tony is cooking it now.”

“OK,” Esmerelda said, sitting down. “Can we talk?”

“Sure,” Da’Quarius said. “What’s going on? You OK?”

“I’m OK,” Esmerelda replied. “I just wanted to talk to d’jou about d’jour involvement with the Garcia brothers and their porn site.”

“Dis again?” Da’Quarius asked. “I already told you I just help ‘em our every not an’ den. I’m actually helping ‘em make da’ movies.”

“I know I don’t have any say in how d’jou live d’jour life,” Esmerelda said, “but I don’t want to see d’jou end up on the wrong path because d’jou end up too engrained with those two and their business.”

“Dis ain’t somethin’ dat’s gonna be a problem,” Da’Quarius said. “I ain’t gonna end up doin’ porn or anytin’ like dat. I just help ‘em out from time to time, an’ dey hook me up with X-Box games or shit from their bodega. So don’t worry ‘bout it.”

“OK,” Esmerelda said. “Just promise me d’jou’ll distance yourself from them if they want d’jou to do anything other than odd jobs. I don’t want to see d’jou damage your soul for those two.”

“I ain’t damagin’ my soul,” Da’Quarius said. “Just drop it please.”

“I’m just worried,” Esmerelda said.

“Well don’t,” Da’Quarius said. “I know what I’m doin’.”

Tony came to the table and set their pizza between them. He looked at Da’Quarius with an intensity in his eyes.

Da’Quarius looked back toward Paulie’s office. “He can’t here you,” he said. “Tell me what you wanted to tell me before real quick.”

“It’s about that Katy Perry chick and the ‘I Kissed a Girl’ song,” Tony said, keeping his voice low. “Isn’t about time she took it to the next level, if you catch my drift.”

“Madre,” Esmerelda groaned, taking a piece of the pizza and transferring it to her plate.

“Dat again?” Da’Quarius asked. “I don’t get why e’ryone makes a big deal out of this chick kissin’ another chick; but Kanye and Lil’ Wayne are always makin’ out, an’ nobody says a damn thing.”

“You’re missing the point,” Tony said.

“Are you talking again?!” Paulie said, storming back in from his office.

“NO!” Tony said, running back toward the kitchen.

“YOU GET IN THAT FRIGGIN’ KITCHEN AND YOU STAY THERE!” Paulie shouted. “Friggin’ stunad thinks I’m playing over here!”

***

“OK,” Da’Quarius said, walking up to Kim Redding’s house with Helen. “Dis is her house. I can’t believe she only lives a few blocks away from us an’ shit.”

“Believe it, kid,” Helen replied, stopping and supporting herself with her cane. “It’s a small friggin’ world. You ready to put up those flyers?”

“Ready,” Da’Quarius. He held the stack of flyers he had gotten from Paulie and a roll of packaging tape. “Where should I start? Da’ telephone pole?”

“No,” Helen replied. “We’re not trying to be subtle here. We want them to drool at the prospect of getting pizza. Put them on her porch. All of them.”

“OK, biddy,” Da’Quarius said, walking toward the porch. “You da’ boss.”

Helen watched with pride as Da’Quarius taped every flyer all over Kim Redding’s porch. When he was putting up the last one, the door opened. “Abort!” Helen shouted. Da’Quarius leapt over the edge of the porch and caught up with Helen, who was already shuffling down the street. He didn’t even look back to see Kim Redding leaving her house with her adopted son, DaAndre, finding her porch covered with ads for Paulie’s Pizza.

***

Paulie came out of the back of his pizzeria and to the counter, to where he had customers waiting. He found himself face to face with Kim Redding, from the news. “Oh my,” Paulie said. “You’re Kim Redding, from the news. Welcome to Paulie’s: home of me, Paulie. Also pizza.”

“Your pizzeria is charming,” Kim said, looking around.

“And who’s this with you?” Paulie asked, looking down at the boy with Kim.

“This is my son, DeAndre,” Kim replied.

“Anything you and your son want is on the house this time,” Paulie said. “As long as I can get a photo to prove you’ve been in here, that is. Tony! Come take my picture with Kim Redding!”

Tony came running out of the back, the clanging of his platter and utensils hitting the floor heralding his appearance. “You’re – ”

“You’re still not allowed to talk!” Paulie snapped. He took his phone out of his pocket and handed it to Tony. “Take my picture and maybe I’ll let you say hello if you promise not to bring up that pop singer nonsense again.”

“Actually,” Kim said, stepping away from the advancing Paulie. “I want to know why my house is covered in your flyers.”

“Your house?” Paulie asked. “Covered in my flyers?”

“Yes,” Kim replied. “That is what I said. Somebody taped them all over my front porch.”

“Oh,” Paulie said. “I don’t know anything about that. How about that pizza for you and your son here?”

“Who’s those women in the picture on the wall there?” Kim asked, spotting the picture on the wall of Paulie and his family.

“Dammit, Tony!” Paulie said, turning. “Were you motioning toward that photo?!”

Tony shrugged.

“Those are the two women from the New Haven child welfare offices,” Kim said, walking closer to the picture, “and I swear I saw a bald kid like that running away from my house earlier today.”

“I bet you think they all look the same,” Tony said.

“OH!” Paulie shouted. “You’re not supposed to be talking!”

“Where can I find them?” Kim asked, turning back toward Paulie.

“I have no idea,” Paulie said.

“I know who might,” Kim said, taking her cell phone out of her pocket and flicking through it. She put it to her ear. “Hello, Miss Jolie? It’s Kim Redding. I was wondering if you could help me find someone.” She left the pizzeria, holding DeAndre’s hand.

“What a nut job,” Tony said. “Who brings a kid to a pizzeria and doesn’t even buy him a slice?”

“Tony,” Paulie said. “Will you shut the frig up!?”

***

“Hot damn!” Helen said. “That was Paulie on the phone. Kim Redding is on her way here now!”

“And why is she on her way here now?” Rose asked.

“She stopped by Paulie’s after the kid and I plastered the flyers all over her porch,” Halen replied.

“You did that?!” Rose said, getting up. “Is that why you and Da’Quarius went on that walk? I should have known you didn’t think it was a lovely day!”

“Oh hell, Rose,” Helen muttered. “I should have just told the kid. Where is he?”

“He’s helping the Garcia brothers across the street,” Rose replied.

“Dammit,” Helen said. “There goes plan B.”

“What was plan B?” Rose asked.

“Our black kid, Da’Quarius, takes the place of her black kid,” Helen said, “then we keep her black kid, and our black kid sneaks out of Kim Redding’s house, comes home, and we collect twice as much black kid money!”

“That’s awfully racist,” Rose said.

“No it’s not,” Helen said. “She barely knows her knew kid after such a short amount of time. It took me months to remember what Da’Quarius looked like and be able to pick him out of a crowd. I still can’t most times.”

The doorbell rang, and Rose and Helen both turned to look at the door. “Hell,” Helen said. “Let me see if I can think of a plan C.”

***

“I hope dis is it,” Da’Quarius said, lifting a box from the Garcia brother’s backyard. “I don’t know why you guys keep makin’ movies here an’ shit. You gotta redecorate every time.”

“It’s a hobby,” Antonio said. “The money maker is the site and the cams.”

“An’ da’ bodega?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Oh yeah,” Antonio said. “I get forgetting we have one now.”

“Daq,” someone said from behind Da’Quarius. He turned to find Esmerelda standing there, her hands folded in front of her.

“Hey, Ez,” Da’Quarius said. “I thought you didn’t like what I was doing with these guys.”

“I’m sorry I pried,” Esmerelda said. “I trust you, and I know d’jou’re not going to end up as a black buck in barely legal gay movies.”

“What’s dat last part?” Da’Quarius asked.

“I’m saying that it’s OK if d’jou help out Antonio and Manny,” Esmerelda said. “I don’t think you’ll be damaging your soul.”

“Damn right,” Da’Quarius said, nodding. “An’ I’m sorry I got mad at’chu. You were just lookin’ out for me. For what it’s worth, dese two guys are a couple of nuts anyway, but I know not to let shit go too far.”

“Speaking of which,” Esmerelda said. “I heard a lot of shouting coming from d’jour house. Is everything OK there?”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s just Rose yelling at Helen over that Kim Redding lady. Helen is going to give up soon. Nuttin’ is gonna happen.”

***

“Why would you put all these flyers around my house!” Kim shouted, holding a torn flyer for Paulie’s Pizza. “Are you crazy?! Are you a stalker?!”

“Calm down,” Helen said. “I just thought you and your new son would like some pizza is all. Do you not like pizza? Are you one of those gluten-free nuts?”

“You’re stalking me!” Kim said. “You’ve been following me since we met at the child welfare offices, haven’t you?”

“No,” Helen said. “Don’t be ridiculous. “You don’t have to follow anyone around in this day and age. My son was able to find you just fine using only his phone. Imagine what I’d have to do if I was his age? I’d have to follow you home from work, write down your whole routine, make contact with your friends and relatives under a false identity, root through your trash…”

“What my wife is trying to say,” Rose interrupted, “is that she’s very sorry for the little prank she played. She’s old, and her mind sometimes plays tricks on her.”

“The hell it does!” Helen snapped. “I’m as sharp as a tack!”

Kim sighed. She looked at Rose. “I don’t want to make a big deal out of this,” she said. “I’m just getting DeAndre settled into his new home, and I don’t want any craziness during this process. You’ve adopted too, it seems. Can’t you understand what it’s like?”

“I know exactly what it’s like,” Rose said. “Helen really disrupted Da’Quarius when he was trying to settle in too.”

“I wasn’t expecting that kind of empathy,” Kim said, giving Rose and odd look, “but thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Rose said. “I’ll have a talk with Helen, and let her know… Where’d Helen go?”

Kim looked around. “Where’s DeAndre?”

“Hello, Jolly?” Helen said, on the phone in the kitchen. “I adopted a second black kid, so I’ll need more money. What do you mean where’d I get him? He was in my home, so he’s legally mine!”

“Helen,” Rose said, entering the kitchen. “We need to talk.”

“Did she just kidnap my son?!” Kim said, following Rose.

***

“Da’Quarius!” Helen shouted, standing just outside the front door. “Where the hell are you?!”

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said, coming from the back of the Garcia’s house. “Wonder why she’s shoutin’ like dat.”

“DA’QUARIUS!”

“Maybe she’s hurt?” Esmerelda suggested.

“GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE RIGHT THE HELL NOW!”

“Nah,” Da’Quarius replied. “She wants something.”

“KIM REDDING IS HERE!”

“Oh shit,” Da’Quarius said. “You gotta come over and see dis. Helen has been tryin’ to kidnap dis lady’s kid.”

“OK,” Esmerelda said, walking with Da’Quarius across the street. “Now that I think bout it, d’jou working for the Garcia brothers doesn’t seem that bad compared to living with Helen.”

“How is it livin’ with Harold an’ Lee?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Kind of fucked up,” Esmerelda replied.

“There you are!” Helen said as Da’Quarius and Esmerelda came up the walkway. “We don’t have much time to lose. I just got busted trying to sign up the kid for financial benefits. Another minute and the checks would have been rolling in.”

“What’s she talking about?” Esmerelda asked.

“She found out New Haven gives her an’ Rose money to raise me,” Da’Quarius replied, “an’ she’s tryin’ to get ‘em to give her money for another kid.”

“They get money for raising you?” Esmerelda asked. “Do the putas get money too?”

“Probably,” Helen said. “Those dusty, old sodomites wouldn’t take you in for nothing.”

“So, what’s going on with Kim Redding?” Da’Quarius asked.

“She’s here!” Helen said. “She figured out where we live, and she came to tell on me. Like I said before: I was able to get the kid, but they heard me on the phone with child welfare. Now, Rose is trying to talk her out of calling the police right now.”

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “I should’ve stayed home. I miss all da’ fun!”

“But we can still win this!” Helen said. “Here’s plan D: we go back to plan B where we switch you out for her kid, and then you come home during in the cover of night.”

“So it’s just plan B?” Da’Quarius asked.

“No,” Helen replied, scowling. “It’s plan D. Plan B is long gone. The alphabet doesn’t go backwards.”

The door opened, and Rose came out with Kim Redding and DeAndre. “Miss Redding is going home,” Rose said. “Please just let her go.”

“I hope you get the help you need,” Kim said, placing a hand on Rose’s shoulder. “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.”

“Jesus,” Helen said. “What the hell did you tell her?!”

“I told her enough,” Rose replied. “Miss Redding agrees to let this whole thing go if you agree to never bother her again.”

“It saves me from getting a restraining order,” Kim added. “I’m sure that’s something you know plenty about.”

“Live life, get retraining orders,” Helen said with a shrug.

“Word,” Da’Quarius added.

“Well,” Kim said with a sigh. “Have a good life.”

“You too,” Helen said. She watched Kim leave with her son. “Class act, that one.”

“This ends now,” Rose said. “I’m not joking. You’re lucky she didn’t call the police.”

“Fine,” Helen said. “It ends now. It’s a lost cause anyway. She got attached to that black kid of hers like a gorilla and a kitten. Who am I to break up a fucked up connection like that?”

Rose shook her head and went inside. “Come on in,” she said. “Let’s just forget this whole thing ever happened.”

Helen turned to look at Da’Quarius and Esmerelda. “OK,” she said. “Let’s do plan E.”

“Can’t, Helen,” Da’Quarius said. “I gotta stop encouragin’ you an’ shit. Come on, Ez. Let’s go play some Madden.”

“Sure,” Esmerelda said, walking with Da’Quarius into his house.

“Damn,” Helen said, turning to go inside too. “Whole damn world’s against me.”

***

“In other news,” Kim Redding said, smiling into the camera. “This week, I became a mother. I adopted my new son – ”

“Why’d you shut the TV off!?” Paulie snapped, sitting in the booth of Paulie’s Pizza. “Kim Redding was on!”

“I’ve had enough of that chick,” Tony said, tossing the remove to the counter. “Did you know I used to date her?”

“No,” Paulie said. “It was a fact that slipped your mind when she was standing in here and the two of you made no indication to have even met.”

“Whatever,” Tony said. “She never ever farted, and you know what I say about that. Never trust a broad who doesn’t fart after a good meal.”

“That’s it!” Paulie said, slamming his fist on the table, getting up. “You’re done for the day again. No more talking.”

“Boss!” Paulie exclaimed. “It’s only five-thirty!”

“You’re done!” Paulie said, leaving and heading toward the bathroom. “No more talking until tomorrow!”

Tony watched as the bathroom door closed. He opened his mouth to make some quip, but he closed it, heading back toward the kitchen in silence.

The End

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