At sixteen, gifted pianist and poet Nia Daniels has already known her share of heartache. But despite the pain of losing her mother and grandmother, she's managed to excel, thanks to her beloved father's love and support. He's held her through every tragedy, and cheered her on through every performance. Nia can't imagine what she'd do without him--until an illness suddenly takes him, and she has no choice. And Nia's in for one more shocking blow. The man who'd always been her rock, her constant, wasn't her biological dad.
Orphaned and confused, Nia is desperate for answers. But what she finds will uproot her from the life she's always known in California and bring her to the east coast--to Omar. He's a man who's spent most of his life--and all of Nia's--behind bars. He's her biological father. An ex-gang member. Living in the hood. And he's determined to do whatever it takes to win the love of his only daughter and make up for his mistakes. If only she'll let him...
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About the Author
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By AMIR ABRAMS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Amir Abrams
All rights reserved.
The Umoja — pronounced oo-MOE-jah — (meaning unity) Poetry Lounge in L.A. swells with lively chatter and fiery energy. There are drums and congas and tambourines and hips swinging.
We've taken the twenty-five-minute drive from Long Beach — where I live — to be here tonight. It's a Thursday evening, and open mic night.
I'm at my table scrambling to finish my piece. It's a last-minute surprise for Daddy, who's sitting at the table with me.
And I'm anxious, really, really anxious.
As if it's my first time taking the stage.
My nerves are fluttering up around me.
Because I've decided at the very last moment — less than ten, no ... eight minutes before open mic starts — to change my piece. And now I'm frantic.
Most of the people here are spoken word artists, like myself, but much older; college-age and older, but an eclectic bunch nonetheless.
I'm one of the youngest.
An eleventh grader.
But I've earned the respect of the more seasoned poets. The poets with tattered notebooks filled with much more life experience and depth than I can possibly have at sixteen.
Still, I hold my own among them.
Being on stage is the only time I feel ...
They embrace my innocence.
Embrace my openness about the world around me.
And allow me license to just be.
That's what I love most about poetry. The creative freedom. The freedom to weave words together. Colorful expression. A kaleidoscope of emotions, imagination, passion, hopes, and dreams. We are surrounded by similes and metaphors.
And tonight will be no different, no matter how anxious I am becoming. There's an uncontrollable energy that lifts me, and sweeps around the room. The feeling is indescribable. All I can tell you is I feel it slowly pulsing through my veins.
Like with all the other open mics, there are no judgments, no stones cast.
Well ... not unless you are just unbelievably whacked, that is.
I am not.
Whacked, that is.
Well, okay ... at least I don't think I am. So I know I should have no reason to be worried tonight.
But I am.
See. Tonight is special. I mean. It has to be special. It's Daddy's birthday. I brought him here for dinner. And then, I had this bright idea to surprise him with a poem. My dedication to him, my way of thanking him for being the most wonderfully incredible father a girl could ever ask for.
I am an only child. And Daddy is my only parent.
See. My mom was killed in a car accident when I was six. So for the last ten years, Daddy has been singlehandedly raising me on his own. Well, wait. Okay. He did have help caring for me the first five years after my mom's death. Nana. My maternal grandmother, she stepped in and helped Daddy provide some normalcy in my life.
But then ... she died, too, from cancer.
I was eleven.
So you see, Daddy is all I have.
It's him, and me.
And, no, this isn't a sob story.
It's my reality.
I've endured heartache and loss; more than I've ever hoped for. But I know love, too. Real love.
And, for me, there is no love higher than his. He has helped me to endure. Still, I can't lie. I lost pieces of me when my mom was killed. And even more pieces of me when my nana passed. But, over time, Daddy salvaged me. Helped put me back together. Loved me whole again. His unconditional love has been my soothing balm. It heals me. It protects me. It gives me promise.
That there's nothing I can't get through.
And I love him for that.
I know there are no coincidences. Everything that happens to us in our lifetime happens for a reason. And sometimes that reason is much bigger than us. We can't see it. We can't always understand it. Still, it happens because that's the order of destiny.
Daddy taught me that.
That we live, we love, we —
Daddy must sense my trepidation. He reaches for my hand and gently squeezes it. I look at him and smile. No words are needed. His touch is all I need. But he gives me more. He always does. "You've got this, sweetheart. This is your world."
I smile wider.
Instantly, I calm enough to focus and write a few more verses.
Maybe I should just speak from the soul.
Let words flow from my lips in synch to what I feel in my beating heart.
I quickly glance around the dimly lit room. Candles flicker on the tables.
Suddenly, I am feeling nervous again.
I try to calm myself, to no avail.
I try to —
"Peace and blessings, my beautiful people," I hear the emcee say. I look over toward the stage. She's a beautiful brown-skinned woman, the color of milk chocolate, wearing a fire-engine-red halter-jumpsuit that complements her curves and her complexion.
Her skin shimmers under the glow of the light.
She stands at the mic, confident.
Her presence is electric.
"Peace and blessings," the crowd says in unison.
"Y'all ready to get lifted?"
The crowd raises their arms, fingers snap.
"I am Sheba, your host tonight. And trust me. Tonight you are in for a real treat. We have a lineup of some of the west coast's finest spoken word artists slated to take the stage and stimulate your mental. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the prose. First up to take the stage is Nia ..."
I am taken by surprise when the emcee introduces me.
That can't be —
I think I am hearing things, but then she announces my name again.
I hoped to be somewhere in the middle. Not first.
Daddy must sense my hesitation. "Go do your thing, Butterfly," he says beaming. I smile back nervously, then lean over and kiss him on the cheek. Daddy has been calling me Butterfly since I was three years old. He says it was because I would get excited every time I saw one in our yard, and that I reminded him of one because I was light on my feet and always flitting about as a child, never settling on one thing for any length of time before moving onto something else, like a butterfly.
I push up from my chair, grab my book, and head toward the front of the lounge. I slowly take to the stage, the glare from the lights blinding me.
I blink. Blink again.
My nerves are getting the best of me.
I am literally trembling.
My piece isn't finished.
I'm never unprepared.
But tonight ... tonight I'm feeling mentally disheveled.
I stand at the microphone, head bowed, hands clasped, trying to collect myself, trying to gather up my anxiety.
I clear my throat.
Take a deep breath.
"Hi, everyone. Tonight I'm sharing a piece I've written for the most special person in my life. My rock. My anchor. My world. My one constant. Since birth, he's been everything to me." I glance over at Daddy. He leans in, his attention fixed on me. "And, tonight, I want to share with all of you a piece of who he is, who he has been, to me." I glance over at Daddy again. "Daddy, this one's for you."
I look out into the crowd. "Y'all please bear with me. I didn't get a chance to finish it, so I ..."
Someone says, "Take your time, little sister."
"That's all right," someone else says. "We got you."
Glance over at Daddy one more time. Then grab the mic, and close my eyes.
You are ...
in warm maple syrup,
eggs scrambled hard,
grits with lots of cheese.
You are ...
ice cream cones,
lemon pound cake
painted toes ...
hide 'n' seek
and Barbie dolls.
You are ...
roller coaster rides.
You are ...
hot fudge sundaes.
and Venice Beach.
You are ...
Gershwin piano keys
Bach French Suite
that's what you are to me.
and glass slippers.
so full of love;
that's what you are.
And dress up.
My super hero
to save the day ...
sunshine in the rain.
The gentle breeze
fluttering wings ...
and tummy tickles;
and butterfly kisses ...
That's what you are.
That's what you are.
"And I'm the luckiest girl in the world," I say, so full of joy. "Happy birthday, Daddy. I love you."
The room erupts with applause. Then everyone joins me in singing "Happy Birthday" to the world's greatest dad.
With my heart full and my soul fed, I step away from the mic and glance over at Daddy. The look on his face says it all.
He is so very touched.
And I am loved.CHAPTER 2
"So how was last night?" my best friend, Crystal, asks in her hoarse, raspy voice. If you didn't know Crystal, you'd swear she'd gotten her voice from drinking jugs of moonshine and smoking packs of cigarettes a day since birth.
However, she doesn't drink or smoke.
But she sort of looks and sounds like the late singer Amy Winehouse. Bless her heart. But don't tell Crystal I told you that. She'll beg to differ. Ask her, and she'll tell you she's Etta James all the way. But everyone, anyone, who knows anything about Amy Winehouse also sees the uncanny resemblance.
And they hear the similarities.
Crystal even has a mole over her lip like her. She's just a browner, thicker — not much thicker though — version of Amy sans the grungy beehive hairdo, and the smoking, drinking, and drugging.
Crystal cringes every time someone tells her how much she resembles her, but then she'll break out in song, singing, "I say ... no, no, no ..."
All I can do is laugh.
Because she really does sound so much like her.
Rest in peace, Amy ...
"Ummm, hellllllo?" I can hear her snapping her fingers. "Earth to Nia. Are you there?"
I chuckle. "I'm here."
"Oh, good. Welcome back," she says sarcastically. "I thought you might have been kidnapped or something."
I playfully roll my eyes. "You're so theatrical."
"Uh-huh. What. Ever."
I laugh again. "Soooo, why weren't you in school today?"
She blows out a long, exaggerated breath. "Please, don't get me started. My mom had this bright idea that I should spend the day riding with her to San Diego to drop things off to my brother ..."
Crystal has three brothers, and is the only girl. She's also the baby in her family. Need I say more? Nope. The youngest of her brothers, Christian, is a junior at San Diego State. Her brother CJ recently finished law school and lives in Miami. And her brother Cordell is in the marines.
She always says she wishes she were the only child.
And I'd give anything to have older brothers.
She huffs. "... I mean, like really? She needs a new hobby besides ruining my life. Like I have nothing else better to do than miss a day from school, while she prattles on — the whole drive — about how awful her cuticles look, and how she needs her edges touched up, and how much weight she thinks she needs to lose. For Christ's sake, she only weighs a hundred and thirty-seven pounds, and she's stressing over having gained seven pounds! I can't with her sometimes. She's going to be the reason I OD on Kit-Kats and gummy bears."
I laugh at that. "Crystal, you're hilarious. You know that, right?"
"No. But I know my mom is determined to drive me crazy with her fresh-fruits-and-vegetables speeches. It's overkill, Nia. Geesh! I get it. She wants to see me starve to death."
I can't stop laughing at Crystal's overexaggeration of her mom. I mean, Mrs. Thomas is really, really cool. But she is kind of obsessive when it comes to her weight, healthy eating, and always looking her best. Mrs. Thomas is always in the gym, or doing yoga, or taking Pilates classes. And she always tries to drag Crystal along. But Crystal's so not interested. But I have to give it to Mrs. Thomas. She looks sooo good for her age. When people see Crystal and her mother together they automatically think that she's Crystal's older sister.
Crystal hates that.
But I think it's cool.
"... Nia, girl, my mom acted like that little road trip couldn't wait until Saturday. I asked her why she couldn't go by herself, and she just stared at me, then narrowed her eyes. No explanation. Nothing. Just glared at me. Like who does that?" I can see her shaking her head and rolling her eyes in my mind's eye. "I swear, she's going to drive me to drink dark sodas just for the sugar high."
"Hahahaha. You're comical, Crystal."
"I'm serious, Nia. But, annnnyway. Let's get back to you. I asked you how last night was, and you still have yet to give me details."
"Well, that's because your mouth has been going nonstop since we've been on the phone. You haven't stopped talking long enough for me to get a word in."
She sucks her teeth. "That's beside the point, Nia. I need details. Starting with the cutie alerts. Were there any cute boys there? I'm dying over here."
I swear I love her.
But the older she gets, the more boy crazy she gets.
When we were like ten, Nana would say every time Crystal came over, "Somebody better watch that one. She's gonna be hotter than a firecracker."
I used to beg Nana to not say that. But she'd say it every time. Truthfully, I don't think Crystal's going all the way with boys, yet. Well, wait. I know she isn't. Well, I hope not.
She would have told me.
I mean. We tell each other everything.
Crystal and I have been friends since kindergarten.
Thick as thieves.
The dynamic duo.
That's what we are.
We've shared every milestone together.
Shed tears together.
And explored the world together.
Like sisters, we share a very special bond.
She's traveled with me on vacation with Daddy. And I've gone places with her and her parents as well. Two summers ago I spent a month in Paris with her and her parents.
It was amazing!
And this summer, she'll be going to Vienna, Austria, and Hamburg, Germany, with Daddy and me.
Why those places?
Because Daddy let me choose where I wanted to vacation this year. And I chose those countries because I love, love Europe and they are both musical capitals — considered home to classical music, and I want to experience everything each country has to offer from classical concerts and opera houses to the ballet.
I love the arts.
And so does Daddy.
Unlike most kids my age, I've been listening to classical music for as long as I can remember. Thanks to Daddy.
And, when my mom was alive, the sounds of Motown could also be heard playing through the house on any given day.
She'd sing to me.
And when I was old enough to learn the songs, I'd sing along.
Then when Nana moved in to help Daddy raise me, she'd play nothing but jazz. The sounds of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday and Etta James caressed my ears religiously.
So music has been all around me.
Good music, that is.
Music that makes the spirit come alive.
Umm, I guess you can say I kind of have an old soul.
I don't think like most kids my age.
Nor do I see the world like most of them, either.
I do not think I am better than them. I've simply been exposed to more cultural experiences than most that have broadened my perspective on life and the world around me.
Still, I am the first to admit my own truths.
That I am spoiled.
That I am well traveled.
That I am very much sheltered from the harsh realities of many kids my age.
Excerpted from Chasing Butterflies by AMIR ABRAMS. Copyright © 2016 Amir Abrams. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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