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Excerpt One - Chapter Five

Push. Push. Push. The skateboard landed on the ground before it bounced across the street and scrapped the edge of the opposite sidewalk. Sunrays beat down on Robin's back and neck. She left her umbrella at work. It didn't rain all day. A runner brushed her shoulder and looked down 22nd Street. Lifting his legs and pumping his arms, he ran against gravity until he reached the end of the street.

Robin smiled when she glanced over her shoulders. New York City's faithful distance runners were out in great numbers. It was mid-evening, the time most walkers and runners took off on their daily training course.

Push. Push. Push. After pushing the skateboard three blocks down 22nd Street she stopped and wiped her brow. Her chests heaved. She struggled to catch her breath. A block later, she picked up the skateboard. Drawing in a deep breath and placing one hand over her heart, she decided to carry the skateboard home. She nodded at a woman walking her dog. The woman returned her nod, and she put the skateboard on the ground. She crouched and rocked from side to side until she reached the end of the street.

Her stomach growled. She passed the El Grande, Mama's Best, The International House of Pancakes, the 21st Street Diner and Mavis' Homestyle Restaurant. Each restaurant, distinctive aroma emitting from its chimney, sent a message of hunger to her mind and stomach. By the time she reached the apartment building's entrance doors, she was famished and her heart was racing.

Five weeks separated the last time she and Leslie saw one another. Telephone conversations between them were long and detailed. Leslie wanted to know if she talked to the Porsche dealer, told him she was going to pay the loan off next month. Robin wanted to know how hot it was in California. Leslie wanted to know if she talked to the apartment manager, told him she'd catch up on her share of the rent in a couple of weeks. Robin wanted to know if she had been in any earthquakes. Leslie wanted to know if her mother sent her the money she asked for a week ago. Robin wanted to know if she had stopped drinking now that she was riding the crest of another career wave. Leslie wanted to know if New Yorker's were raving about her new movie.

Six months prior to this latest separation, Leslie was busy working with Gavin Paris on a new movie. In her work, Robin found cause to be happy. Since she started working with Gavin, Leslie changed. She no longer screamed and cursed at her. She smiled with sincerity. She even laughed hard and without envy or indignation. Robin told her friends at church that God answered her prayer for Leslie to secure employment and with one of the industry's leading directors.

Working on the latest set kept Leslie away from New York for weeks at a time. The apartment seemed to carry a death silence while she was away. At night loneliness settled around Robin until she felt choked with solitude. She'd never been all by herself before. The apartment seemed to grow larger with each passing day. At the edge of midnight when stray cats cried into the blackness, she thought about Sonia. Every loud meow sounded like Sonia calling out to her. To silence the cries, she whispered long, panic stricken prayers. "God, keep me safe. Keep me from all hurt, harm and danger. You know I'm all alone. I'm here all by myself. God, don't let anybody come in here and hurt me. Keep me safe, Lord. Keep my mind and my spirit, Lord. Don't let anything bad happen to me. Don't let me be scared, God. Don't let me be scared. Don't let me be scared about Sonia. Lord, don't let anything hurt me. Don't let anything come at me. . . ." She prayed until her eyelids grew heavy and she started to yawn and nod. She slept with the television on. During the day when she skimmed weekly and monthly news and entertainment magazines, she smiled when she saw Leslie's face. Moviegoers admired her talent. She had regained her angelic presence. During one of their telephone conversations, Leslie chuckled and said, "I'm big time again."

The crew on the set of the Gavin Paris' When All The Flowers Bloom, Leslie's last movie, shared a professional and a personal camaraderie. Gavin would have it no other way.

He was a simple, energetic, man who set high standards for his staff, higher standards for himself. He had thirty years and over one hundred films of working as a director to his credit. He refused to feed alter egos. No one on his set was pampered. He worked on a low budget. He left no room for tantrums or fits of jealousy. He only worked with actors and actresses who agreed to a contract clause that stated: "I understand that during the course of the making of this movie, if I, without good cause, do not show up on set for work, I could lose one day's pay. If I refuse to arrive on set on time, I may lose one day to one week's pay, depending on how many hours and days I detain production due to my lateness or absence."

Leslie didn't know anyone except Gavin the first day on the set. Between takes, she spent the first week in her trailer. A week later, she struck up a friendship with a make-up artist and one of the stuntwomen. It wasn't long before she struck up friendships with the entire crew. For the first time in ten years, she looked forward to going to work.

Filming on When All The Flowers Bloom ended five weeks ago. Donald wasted no time finding her work. The movie she worked on now put her in the center of a stellar cast, but she was not happy.

Robin sighed when she walked inside the apartment building. Since October, she sold two plays to college drama departments. She hoped to finish the play she was under contract to former Broadway director, Richard Steinberg for, this week. At Leslie's advice, she signed Derrick Hall as her agent, her publishing house and stage show go between. Twice she met with Patricia and Robert at the factory and requested they cut back her hours.

She nodded at the doorman before she made her way to the elevators. She spoke to a pair of women she knew, pressed the 'up' button and waited. A male friend stepped around the corner, and she lifted her head. She smiled and waved at him. They walked close to each other and entered into a conversation the opening elevator doors cut short. "Stop by later. Are you still singing and networking in the business? I miss talking with you." She said ending the conversation and stepping on the elevator.

"Yea. I'm still singing, and I'm good. Hey!"

Pressing the 'open' button, she stuck her head between the elevator doors. "Yea?"

"Some guy was around here looking for your roommate."

"Oh, yea?"

"Yea. Said his name was Jack. Said something about a party months ago. I guess Leslie gave him her number. I don't know. He was around here asking about her."

"Never heard Leslie mention a Jack. Sure he wasn't just a fan?"

"I don't know. He didn't act like it. Acted like he knew her. He knows where you two live."

She waved to him while the doors closed. On the elevator, her head bowed, as if controlled by a string and not will. She shifted the skateboard in her hand and thought about Leslie. She whispered, "Thank you, Lord," when she thought about how the stalking calls stopped a few months ago. She wondered what Leslie was doing and wished the director would release the crew for the weekend, so Leslie could fly in from California. It scared her that their careers would flourish and send them thousands of miles, months ... years apart. It scared her that success would cause her to be alone, especially at night.

Unlocking the door to Apartment 1201, she went into her bedroom and pushed her skateboard under the bed. Then she went into the dining room and checked for notes from Annette. Leslie and she hired Annette Combs to be their secretary six months ago. Annette was another tool they used as proof that their careers weren't growing them apart.

She grabbed a pile of phone messages and a thick stack of fan mail addressed to Leslie c/o Donald Riggs Acting Agency. She walked into the kitchen and pushed a frozen dinner inside the microwave. When she stepped back and opened the refrigerator, a sinking feeling came over her. She took the pitcher of orange juice off the shelf and poured herself a glass.

The last six months Leslie and she visited one another on major holidays. They ate together on Thanksgiving and exchanged presents on Christmas. They hollered, "Hey, girl!" when they passed each other on busy thoroughfares in Manhattan while Leslie completed a round of community service commercials as a penalty for the stack of overdue traffic tickets she accumulated over the last year.

A potholder padded the aluminum dinner tray. Robin carried the frozen dinner, now hot, into her bedroom. After she laid the tray on her dresser, she fell, face down on her bed, reached overhead and turned on the stereo. The radio was turned to WPMZ, an AM gospel station. She sighed before she mounted to her elbows. She lifted her arms overhead and pulled off her T-shirt. Next she stood and pulled down her blue jeans. Last weekend, after tithing, donating to the United Negro College Fund, the American Heart Association, the United Way, the Center for Better Mental Health and the National Writer's Union she treated herself to a shopping spree. She bought shoes, dresses, nightgowns, and a designer purse. A new leather coat hung in her closet. Its hem brushed the top of a new set of tan luggage pushed to the back of the closet. A $5000 oil painting of four bright-eyed African American children running down a steep hill covered with dandelions sat on the dining room floor next to the bureau. She told herself to ask Annette to help her hang the painting.

To tighten her schedule and "make a difference," as she told her dad, she worked with Derrick to arrange college campus speaking engagements. She was also busy laying the groundwork for a television documentary on religion and its effects on African American society. Enlisting the aid of fifteen prominent African American historians and ten widely respected African American theologians, she hoped to complete the documentary in three years and sell rights to PBS. For Thanksgiving and Christmas magazine editions, she was scheduled to interview with two leading African American literary journals.

Outside entertainment endeavors, Sigma Gamma Rho consumed much of her time. Eight rushees pledged the sorority the first week in September. The 60's dance the sorority sponsored was a huge success. Over five hundred students attended. After paying the food and soda bill, Sigma netted over one thousand dollars on the dance. Dinah moved through the dancers dressed in a tight, white sweater and a purple mini skirt. Heavy mascara and eyeliner and artificial fingernails accentuated her outfit. The knee length boots she wore only served to make her look increasingly outlandish. Betsy and Loretta wore short, tight green dresses. Sharon looked like a motorcycle rider flanked in her brown leather pantsuit. Pictures of the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Vandelles and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were blown up and taped on every wall of Room 202W in the Student Center. Betsy and Loretta styled their hair in a pageboy. They wore big, looped earrings. Their faces were hot with make-up. Trish and three Kappas posed as Gladys Knight and the Pips. When time for the talent contest came, Trish and the Kappas took the honors. Anna, wearing knee length, black, leather boots and a snug, mini skirt, won the apple-bobbing contest. She and an Alpha entered the talent contest and sang an Ike and Tina Turner hit. They took third place. Robin, an avid Aretha Franklin fan, lip singed "Respect" and finished second in the talent contest. After the dance, rather than return to their dorms, most attendees milled into the streets in search of more fun and loud music.

"President Ronald Reagan discusses sending troops to Lebanon." Robin uncrossed her ankles and said, "Oops!" when she ripped a page of the newspaper. Flipping the pages, she stopped when she read, "Carl Lewis breaks his own long jump record. Can he break Bob Beamon's monumental leap?" Turning the sports page, she saw no distance race coverage. She twisted her mouth until she came across a letter to Ann Landers. She sat forward and stared at the newspaper. Halfway through the letter, she shook her head. She said, "Heaven, help us." when she read the plea from a twelve-year old daughter to her mother. In the letter, the girl begged her mother to stop belittling her, to accept her as she was.

She folded the thick New York Times, returning it to its former state, before she pushed off her bed. Turning off the stereo, she walked into the bathroom. Water splashed across her face while she smiled and turned her head from side to side. Her two plaits slapped the sides of her face when she turned her head in the shower. She ran her hands over the top and sides of her head and helped the water get down onto her shoulders. The cool, prickly water loosened the ends of her plaits. The soap plucked salty sweat and dirt gently off her skin. Soon, she decided to wash her hair. Gold colored shampoo cooled her palm and filled her hand and ran through the cracks between her fingers. Half an hour later, her body was wrapped in her favorite beach towel -- the one Theo ironed a skateboard to the front of.

In front of her bedroom mirror, for the first time it occurred to her that all her hair accessories came from Miss Lillie's Flea Market. Miss Lillie's Flea Market was in Queens. It used to be a barbershop. It sat across from the old high school track and field she held her Saturday timed runs at. The school, Young High School, was closed five years ago. It spent three years as a school for adults seeking their GED. It stood alone in the surrounding woods, one block away from its track and field.

The curling iron cost a mere $1.50. Each morning when she plugged it into the outlet at the side of her bed, within minutes it was piping hot. Miss Lillie told her she used it only five times, and she knew Miss Lillie didn’t lie. From the hair accessories to blue jeans to tea kettles dating back to 1910, worthy collectibles to her, Miss Lillie's presence shadowed her bedroom.

Dental floss, a yellow toothbrush, jars of hair grease, pink, sponge hair rollers covered her dresser tray. Two wrist watches, one hadn't run in over a year, balled pairs of sport socks, bottles of shampoo, one extra large bottle of strawberry hair conditioner, a tub of facial cream, talcum powder, Ben Gay and a bag of half eaten jelly beans cluttered the oak of her dresser.

When the dresser drawers were closed, revealing more of the room, a tall navy, blue filing cabinet came into view. The first drawer of the filing cabinet was crammed with plays and short stories mailed to theatres and slicks that were not returned. The second drawer was crammed with plays and short stories mailed to publishing houses, rejected and returned. The third drawer was half full with scribbled on ruled notebook paper detailing plots for plays and novellas. The fourth drawer was half full of plays and short stories mailed and accepted for publication. Because the second drawer was crammed to the top, sometimes the papers spilled to the back and fell into the third drawer, she wrote feverishly. Tomorrow another file cabinet, also navy blue, was to be delivered from Office Requisitions. She planned to use it to file letters of correspondence between Derrick and her.

Presently, her interest aimed at college drama programs. Through major schools like the University of Southern California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles, New York University, SUNY campuses, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, she hoped to gain national exposure. In between cranking out five and six act plays, she ate frozen dinners, worked at the factory fifteen hours each week, and caught four to five hours of sleep at night.

At nine o'clock tomorrow morning, she was meeting with Derrick. He wanted to discuss two stage play contracts with her. His voice rolled with excitement when he called earlier, briefing her on the projects before she walked to work.

Tomorrow's meeting with Derrick on her mind, she let out a deep breath and placed her comb, brush and a jar of grease on her dresser. Her hands empty, she walked to her wastebasket and dropped a ball of hair inside. She wiped her hands on her butt before she saw a note scribbled on a piece of purple stationery. Peering down at the note laying on the edge of her dresser, she wiped her hands on her butt once more.

"The only thing I didn't get to was Les' fan mail. Rob, I did get to your fan mail. That girl from USC wrote again. You might want to write her back. Some guy stopped by and asked for Les. Said his name was Jack. Said he met Les at one of those Armstrong parties. Talked about Les' father too though. Said something about a red head. Don't know. You know that Leslie. Have a good day. Rob, tell Les (I know you'll pass this message to her), that guy she's seeing. What's his name. Jimmy? Well. He called and he came by once. And Rob, your sweetie Michael called. Said to call him as soon as you got in. Said it was urgent. Sounded like he was in some kind of trouble. Let me know if you need my help. Talk to you later. Annette."

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New York City is a place where celebrities, writers and artists live, perform and meet. Love Has Many Faces is a book that explores the beauty and the busyness, especially the arts and entertainment, provided in New York City in areas like the Chelsea District. Leslie Fletcher and Robin are two main characters, an actress and a play writer who take center stage in Love Has Many Faces, a mystery book and a friendship book set in New York City. .