Summer can’t come fast enough for seventeen-year-old tomboy Nia Mitchell who is dealing with the fallout of making her most embarrassing mistake ever, all for love. Desperate to put junior year behind her, Nia reluctantly accepts what seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, but is it? As she gets drawn into her new life, Nia fears she’s about to make another huge mistake, this time with the world watching. When her past comes back to haunt her, Nia wonders if it’s possible to turn her biggest mistake into her biggest blessing. Can life teach her that even when you mess up, sometimes the best thing to do is take a deep breath, paste on your biggest smile and find the strength to shine?
AFTER HEADING TO THE BATHROOM and fixing myself up as best I could, Trina and I bought a couple of sugar cookies from Great American Cookies to snack on later, then walked back to the underground parking lot to Trina’s brand-new-to-her 2000 Toyota Camry. Why did it feel like it was ten times hotter in the underground lot than it was outside? I was instantly drenched in sweat again.
It reminded me of the time my grandparents had been babysitting me when I was around eight or nine, and they had taken me to their neighbor’s church, which didn’t have air conditioning. The preacher had stepped into the pulpit sweating so hard there were huge stains on his light gray suit. He had jumped around, yelling that if we didn’t start living right, we needed to get used to things being much hotter than that in hell. The memory of it still scared me.
I rolled down my window, trying to release some of the heat as Trina cranked up the air conditioner and we were headed up Lakeshore Parkway to Walmart.
Within ten minutes of entering the store, I had found the perfect gift for Momma. It was a plaque with her favorite scripture, Ecclesiastes 9:11, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong...” I knew she’d love it. I did too because it was only two bucks, so I wouldn’t have to spend all of the ten dollars I had.
“I’m going to get a card,” I told Trina, and she shrugged and followed me to the greeting card section.
I stood there debating whether to get a funny or serious graduation card for Momma before finally settling on a generic congratulations one for ninety-seven cents. I figured I could decorate it and add a sappy note, which Momma would love.
I went to stand in one of the lines, which was almost to the women’s clothing section, and I found myself peering around to see if Fallon or any of her friends were there. I didn’t see anyone, including Trina, who had gone to use the bathroom, so I picked up the issue of People I had been flipping through in Books-A-Million. Looking at Matthew Cook was a wonderful way to pass the time.
“Excuse me,” a voice said, and I froze. I knew the voice didn’t belong to Fallon, but it could be one of her friends. I decided to just ignore whoever it was.
“Excuse me,” the voice said again. This time the person tapped me on the shoulder, which caused me to look up.
“Yes?” I said, glancing at the woman curiously. I had never seen her, and Momma had ingrained in my head to never talk to adults I didn’t know, which I knew was kind of silly since I was almost an adult.
“My name is Mariah Nelson. I’m an agent with Faces in New York City. Has anyone ever told you you should be a model?”
I looked at the woman like she was crazy. First of all, why would a New York City agent be in Birmingham? Second, why would she be trying to recruit me in Walmart?
I looked around, thinking I was the target for a new reality show, but nothing looked strange, so I gave the woman the side eye before burying my head in my magazine again. “No thanks, Ms. Nelson,” I said. I wanted her to at least know I was paying attention when she said her name.
She touched my arm again, and I jerked away, freaked that she would put her hands on me twice. The whole thing just felt weird. A few months back, a guy had tried to kidnap a teenaged girl from the Trussville Target, and I wasn’t about to let that happen to me. I took a deep breath, prepared to scream, making a mental note about what Mariah Nelson looked like in case I had to describe her to the cops later.
Mariah Nelson looked to be in her fifties or sixties and reminded me of a much older version of former Apprentice reality star Omarosa who was probably better known as one of the handful of blacks who worked for President Donald Trump. Word was Omarosa had been kicked out of the White House for acting a fool. I guess Mariah was kind of pretty, but I really couldn’t tell because she wore a huge wide-brimmed hat like my grandma Gigi wore when she worked in her garden.
“I’m sorry if I scared you,” she said. “Please call me Mariah. I really am an agent in New York. I’m originally from Birmingham, and I still have family here. I’m in town for a visit. I think you have star potential, and I’d like to meet with you and your parents while I’m here.”
She pulled out a business card, and it looked legitimate enough—it had gold raised letters, and the paper felt nice, not like those business cards kids at school order off Vistaprint.
“Have your mother or father call me,” she said.
I shrugged, took the card and stuffed it in my back pocket just as Trina walked up. “Hi,” she said politely.
Mariah smiled warmly at her. “Hello,” she said. She turned back to me. “I really think I can turn you into a supermodel,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, more to shut her up than anything.
She laughed like she knew what I was doing. “You know what, give me your number, and I’ll call your parents myself.”
I tried to make up a number off the top of my head, but I couldn’t think of something fast enough. Trina scrolled through her cell phone and recited Momma’s number, which Momma had given her for emergencies. I looked at Trina like she was crazy, but she ignored me.
“Her mother’s name is Olivia Mitchell, and in case she didn’t tell you, her name is Nia Mitchell,” Trina said, sounding like she was my wingman.
“Thank you. I’ll be in touch later today,” Mariah said.
I smiled, realizing a moment too late my chipped tooth was on display. Mariah looked at it without saying a word, nodded and walked off.
“Why’d you do that?” I asked Trina as soon as I checked to make sure Mariah wasn’t in hearing distance.
“The woman might be serious,” Trina said, looking at the business card Mariah had given her. “Just think, this time next year, after I get into NYU, we could both be living in New York.”
“Whatever,” I said as I paid for my stuff. “There’s no way I will put my picture on display ever again.”
Chandra Sparks Splond is a blogger, editor, speaker and award-winning author. Her young adult novel Make It Work was named Alabama’s Great Read 2017, Spin It Like That was chosen as a Popular Paperback for Young Adults by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), and The Pledge was a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. Black Pearls Magazine honored Splond as a Legends & Leaders for 2017 for her blog, Book of Splond (formerly known as Magic City Momma).