The morning was dull and grey, as it had been the previous three mornings. There was enough rain to gently pat against the window panes – like a humble visitor too timid to knock – but not enough to be heard inside, under the eaves. The quiet streets were lush and green from the recent accumulation of precipitation, and a tall black woman strode confidently through the puddles. Her long braids fell to her hips as she walked and her retro, earth-tone African print dress swished around her with a life of its own with every step she took. She navigated through streets until she reached an old brick building on a well tended corner lot. She climbed the back steps and knocked rapidly at the screen door, but let herself in before anyone could answer anyway. She found a middle-aged man and woman scurrying around an old – but tidy – kitchen, while a teenage girl sat at the table and stuffed bits of cereal into her mouth with the usual amount of disdain found in teenagers these days. She raised an eyebrow at the new entry into her environment and asked, “Hey, Shaleeza. What happened to the dreadlocks?”

Shaleeza leaned to the side and ran her hands along a portion of her tightly braided hair, “Nah. I'm a professional now. Gotta look the part. You like the braids, Arianna?”

The teen girl shrugged noncommittally, “They're okay, I guess. You here to see Tasmin?”

Shaleeza grabbed a piece of toast from the counter next to Arianna's mother and gave the woman a peck on the cheek, “Good morning, Mister and Missus Beretan.” She popped the toast into her mouth and walked over to Arianna, gave her a nudge with her elbow, then sat next to her when the girl moved.

How's your sister? Out of bed yet?”

Again, Arianna shrugged, “I dunno. She might be dead.”

Arianna!” Mrs. Beretan shrieked, “how could you say something so dreadful?”

But Shaleeza nodded, knowingly, and said to the teen seated next to her, “Your heart is very tender, girl. When it gets broken you feel like maybe you could die. You can make it through to the next heartbreak, but sometimes you just need a little help and support from loved ones.”

Arianna nodded and grabbed her book bag, “And that's why you're here, Shaleeza? To nurture my big sister?”

Shaleeza rocked her head back and let out a sharp burst of laughter, “Not exactly. I'm here to kick her ass.”

Arianna grabbed the last bit of bagel as she rose from the table and slung her bag over her shoulder. She gave Shaleeza a nod and headed for the door, “Well, good luck with that,” she said and exited without another word.

The End

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