I’m borrowing this sample from the very first chapter in My First, My Last. This chapter is long because it is an introductory one. It is one of my favorite chapters in the book because this is the exact moment when Ayla and Hassani meet *swoon*. Now, it’s not the entire first chapter. You’ll have to subscribe to my newsletter to get that. Insiders receive a sneak peek at the first chapter days before release day. As always, since this work is not yet published, the text below has not gone through final edits and is subject to change. Enjoy and stay tuned for more 😉.
On Your Marks
August 2001 – Long Island, New York
“Why are we inviting them over for dinner?”
Seated on a cushion in the corner kitchen nook, I switched between snapping photos of my mother and sipping on a glass of lemon iced tea through a plastic bendy straw. I calibrated the lens on my camera and zoomed in on her dainty hands as she chopped the last of the tomatoes. She planned to add the diced tomatoes to the garden salad she prepared for dinner.
“Because your father wants to make a lasting first impression on his new boss. That’s why,” my mother, Sonia, replied. Her eyes were trained down on the wooden butcher’s block when she added, “I would think you’d be enthusiastic to meet someone your age being the new kid in Long Island and all.”
I placed the camera down and blew air through my lips, rolling my eyes and leaning forward to help myself to another sip of my drink. I knew better than to roll my eyes while she faced me. My mother was the sweetest person you’d ever meet, but she wasn’t that sweet where she wouldn’t check me for being rude.
I liked saying things every now and again to mess with her though. Case in point…
“Am I meeting this new kid in Long Island so he can be my boyfriend? Or…”
She glanced at me over her shoulder. “Say what?!”
“Boys are for dating, not for being friends, remember? Didn’t you tell Aunt Laurie that just the other day?”
“Your hardheaded aunt was lying to herself about a man she—oops!” My mother slapped her hand to her mouth. “I did it again” She slapped the counter’s surface next and mumbled, “I swear… the way you speak to me, Ayla, sometimes I forget you’re only a child.”
I couldn’t hold back my giggle. Just the mention of my aunt’s name made me peek down at the shiny gold charm bracelet she flew back here with from her trip to Paris three weeks prior. I toyed with the dangling Eiffel tower and beret charms, momentarily dreaming about being just like her when I grew up.
My mother cleared her throat and resumed dicing the final ingredient for her salad. “First, let’s get something straight – I told your aunt what I told her for a specific reason that is a little too grown for your ears to hear. Men can be friends… just not with her. And I think it’s also worth noting I said men and not boys, so there.”
“Second, what did I tell you about eavesdropping in on my conversations with your aunt, nosey? Because I know for a fact you weren’t present when I said that to her”
“But you said it, right?” I arched a brow. “And correct me if I’m wrong but don’t boys become men?”
“I am not answering that, little miss nosey.” My mother laughed to herself as she leaned to her left to peek out of the kitchen. “Gosh, and while we are on the subject,” she whispered this time while scooping up a handful of chopped tomatoes, “you better not let your father hear you say a thing about boyfriend anything, because he will not find it as funny as I did.”
I bit back my laugh.
“For Ayla Samuels, according to him at least, all boys are to be only friends to you and that’s it. Okay?”
“Okay, but mama, what am I going to talk about with this boy? My gut tells me nothing because we are clearly from two different worlds.”
My mother rinsed her hands under the running water in the sink. “And how do you know that?”
“Because half the boys I’ve seen out here so far might as well be nerds.”
“Well, beloved.” My mother glanced at me over her shoulder once again, this time sporting a knowing grin. “Nerd or not, we can’t change him into anything he isn’t in time for dinner, so you’re just going to have to find some way to find something in common with him… and in the friendliest and most cordial way possible. If for anything else, do this for your dad. What do I always tell you?”
“Not everything is about me.”
“Not everything is about you.” She held one finger up for emphasis. “Precisely.”
I conceded with a sigh and a nod.
It was the last Saturday in August and the last week of my summer vacation. I’d turned 14-years-old that March and was spending the last few days of warm weather on the very quiet, quaint, and quintessentially boring Long Island. Thanks to my father’s new job in the city, Aden Samuels thought it was the best time to move his tiny family out of Brooklyn and into Long Island. He’d been eying the two-story property in Nassau County for well over a year. Had a cork-board in the home office that wore the clipped and pinned picture of his dream house. He called the cork-board his vision board. He would stare at the thing for hours on end. I thought he was crazy until we drove out here for the open house, and I realized it was the same house in one of those magazine clippings he kept pinned to the board. My father spent several sleepless nights brainstorming ways to increase his income to afford the house he wanted his daughter to start her high school academic career living.
The house was okay, I guess, if you were into that long-block-of-huge-houses-in-the-middle-of-nowhere vibe. Compared to our three-bedroom two-family rowboat house on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, our new home in Long Island was definitely more spacious and quieter. Did I mention how quiet it was? So quiet, if you listened well enough, you could hear other people’s thoughts while out and about. An exaggeration, yes, but it was that quiet to me. And for a Brooklyn girl, silence bored me.
“Everything all set in here?” my dad asked as he stepped into the kitchen. Like my mother, my father dressed himself up like he had somewhere important to go. I lifted my camera to make my dad my subject this time. He struck a pose immediately, like he always did whenever I held my lens within view.
I laughed. “Just act natural, dad.”
“Not when I look this good.” He placed a hand on his chin. “Make sure you capture me at the perfect angle.”
“Oh, always,” I confirmed, playing along.
He sported a short-sleeved navy-blue button-down shirt with dark slacks and shiny cognac colored oxfords while my mother wore the prettiest floral chiffon dress with a hem that moved with the breeze blowing through our opened backyard door. I couldn’t understand why this dinner was such a huge deal. So much so, my father had to beg me to replace my denim shorts and Converses with a yellow and gold summer dress, and the matching slingback thong sandals. I wore the same getup down to the shoes at the last Easter Sunday service we attended at our church in Brooklyn.
“Yes, everything is just about ready,” my mother answered, glancing his direction while smiling at him. “Just adding the finishing touches to the salad now.”
I watched as my father moseyed up behind my mother and wrapped his long arms around her slim waist, hunching his tall frame forward a bit to plant a kiss on her neck. I snapped a photo, and then another, before placing the camera down on the table below me so I could finish off my iced tea.
She giggled like a schoolgirl, like he was kissing her for the very first time. She always did that when my father laid his lips anywhere on her.
I made puckering noises loudly behind them, so they’d hear me and stop. They were never shy about showing affection in front of me. Sometimes it was sweet, other times annoying.
The two of them laughed to themselves before my father turned to approach me.
“And how about you?” he asked, sliding into the nook across from me. “Ready to make your dad look good for his boss the way you make me look good in those pictures you’re always taking?”
“Now you know you don’t need me to help you do any of those things, dad. You’re a natural.”
He smiled that smile that made it seem like everything was right with the world. My father, Aden Samuels, was one of my favorite people on the planet, next to my mom and my Aunt Laurie. He was funny, smart, charismatic, and understanding. Not to mention extremely affectionate with the woman who stole his heart their sophomore years in college.
“Yeah, but with my baby love.” He reached over to pinch my cheek, “I’m sure I’ll shine even more.”
I blushed. “Dad, if your boss can’t like you for you, then I know the problem ain’t with you.”
He pointed while nodding. “Ayla, when you’re right, baby, you’re right. But listen…”
I cocked my head to the right.
“I want you to be hospitable to their son when he gets here, all right?”
I had to keep my eyes from rolling again.
“He’s your age, and the two of you will attend the same school next month. It’ll be great if you two hit it off. You can have at least one person you know at a new school. I think it will make for an easier transition.”
“What’s wrong with him?” I crossed my legs beneath the table and leaned in. “He’s a geek, huh? Uppity? An Oreo?”
My father sputtered a laugh. “A what?”
“Well, mama told me you told her your boss’s son grew up here in Long Island and so far, the black boys I’ve seen here, which are very few by the way, are Carlton Banks-like.”
He furrowed his brows. “Carlton Banks-like?”
“You know, ultra preppy and stuffy. Probably buttons his perfectly pressed white shirts all the way up to his collar and wears his sweater’s sleeves around his neck.”
“My daughter.” He scoffed a laugh while shaking his head. “Hassani is an athlete. From what his father has shared with me over lunch, Hassani is a track runner. Has won a few medals and trophies for his junior high school. That’s the reason he’s attending Garvey. The coach for Garvey’s track team sat with Hassani’s parents and asked that Hassani attend Garvey High School and run for the school starting at the varsity level. That’s rare. And from what his father tells me, he’s pretty good, too.”
I bit at my bottom lip. “Interesting.”
All our eyes moved toward our front door without us uttering a word.
My dad peeked down at his silver wristwatch while my mother undid the knot on her apron in record speed.
“Seems like they’re on time.” My father glanced my way. He was up and out of his seat, running his hands down his shirt, then over his head nervously.
“Dad, you look fine,” I assured.
He smiled at me before inhaling a deep breath. He brushed his hand down the top of his head a second time.
I’d never seen him so nervous until that day.
My father’s new job was a big deal. He’d secured a position at an investment firm in Manhattan. A firm with an office in One World Trade Center, to be exact. A huge upgrade from the tiny office suite he slaved at in Jamaica, Queens. That place was literally a hole in the wall spot that sat beneath the underpass of the Long Island railroad. How ironic, right? The trains he worked beneath would travel the route that would one day bring him to his dream home.
He didn’t have to go there anymore though. The sky was the limit that year. My dad worked close to the clouds on the 95th floor in the North Tower of one of the most iconic buildings in the world with a firm that, according to my mother, was as famous as the building itself. At my age, none of that mattered at the time though. It all sounded great in theory, but I didn’t really know how major it was. I would be lying if I said I didn’t know enough to be at least proud, though.
“How do I look?” my mother asked my father as she tossed her apron on the bronze hook by our kitchen’s entrance.
“Like a woman I can’t wait to turn in with later tonight,” my father replied, wrapping an arm around her waist to draw her close to him.
The two of them were a vision of perfection, to be honest. I used to tease them a lot, but I loved their love and how willing they were to show affection in front of me. Even back then, I wished that when I grew up, I would find the perfect somebody and nurture a beautiful relationship with my other half. I also hoped I could have the freedom I often saw missing in romantic relationships. The freedom to do as I pleased and see the world without restriction, just like my Aunt Laurie.
I released a loud and exaggerated sigh. “Don’t we have guests to let in?”
My father snickered as he made his way around my mother to approach the front door.
She turned to me and pointed. “Be nice, be kind, and treat Hassani the same way you would like to be treated by him, understood?”
He’s a Carlton Banks.
“Of course, mama,” I assured.
There were voices before faces became visible.
“Wow, he’s taller than me,” I heard my father say from the front of the house.
“Hmmm,” I hummed. “A tall geek.”
“Stop that,” my mother whispered.
“Oh shoot!” I heard a woman with a slight accent exclaim from a distance. “I forgot the rum cake in the car. Hassani, run out and get it for us please.”
There were a few more unintelligible words exchanged between the men. Deep voices didn’t penetrate the air like higher pitched ones, so I couldn’t make out what they said. A bass-filled laugh followed before my father informed, “Everyone is in the kitchen, please follow me.”
The chorus of footsteps started toward my mother and I and my curiosity had me leaning in my seat to see around the corner wall to get a glimpse of the people we had to impress for the next few hours.
First, my eyes landed on an older gentleman with a salt and pepper beard who appeared to be a year or two older than my father. My view then landed on a woman who was considerably shorter than the man. She had the prettiest and most sincere hazel-green eyes I’d ever seen on a person. I liked her instantly.
“Percy, Joslyn, this is my wife, Sonia,” my father introduced, and the gentleman greeted my mother with a soft handshake. “And this is our daughter, Ayla.”
I stood from my seat, something I knew my parents wanted me to do without being told.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ayla,” the gentleman greeted first. “Your father speaks of you often.”
His voice had an authentic Caribbean twang, and I immediately traced its origin to Jamaica. I would know. Back in the city, most if not all our neighbors were originally from the islands, often Jamaica. The rhythmic tenor of his accent in his bass-filled speaking voice reminded me of where I considered home to be, Brooklyn. And just off that, I liked him as much as I did Mrs. Franklin.
When he extended his hand, I accepted.
“Ayla, this is my boss, Percy Franklin.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Franklin,” I greeted with a smile.
“And his wife, Mrs. Joslyn Franklin,” my father added.
“Ayla,” Mrs. Franklin spoke after leaving my mother’s side. She too had a Jamaican accent. A porcelain doll face and a bright smile rounded out my first glance of her.
Mrs. Franklin took my hand and held it in a gentle grip. “It’s lovely to meet you, my dear.” She glanced at my father then turned my mother’s way. “She’s gorgeous.”
My smile transformed into a toothy grin.
“She’s aight,” I heard near the kitchen entrance. “I guess.”
I switched my eyes in that direction and jerked my head back at the boy standing at the entryway.
He was… wow. So not a geek.
“Ayla, don’t mind this one,” Mr. Franklin explained, stepping toward the tall teenager sporting the sly grin feet away. Mr. Franklin took a Tupperware bowl out of the boy’s hand and handed it to my father, who sat the plastic container down on our kitchen counter. “Hassani enjoys saying things to get a rise out of people.”
“Oh, well, Ayla likes to do the same,” my mother spoke next, then winked at me. “So, I know she and Hassani will get along just fine.”
Mrs. Franklin giggled. “Hassani, this is Ayla. Ayla, this is our knucklehead of a son Hassani.”
Our eyes met for only a moment. That’s because I shifted mine away from his analytical stare. His eyes glowed like gold-green marbles; fancy marbles collectors would obsess over. Instantly, I realized Hassani inherited his mixed eye color from his mother. But while her eyes were sweet to gaze at, on Hassani they were intense on impact, shaded by naturally heavy lids and black feathery lashes. His skin mirrored the mellow reddish-brown that colored the mornings during a sunrise.
Hassani was… wow.
If only he was less wow and more like what I expected.
END OF SAMPLE.
My First, My Last will be available for purchase Friday, June 25th.