Running down the hallways of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, Victoria Howell was literally fighting with time. Not only did she have less than two minutes to make it to the guidance office to do something for herself, she had less than forty to make it home safely with her younger sister.
“Out of the way!”
She bypassed one of the few friends she had and the young girl shook her head. “Vicki, Fontenot is going to get you for running in the halls! You know she threatened to get spy cam!”
Victoria ignored it and continued running, turning down a left corridor and zooming past all of the lockers until she made it to her destination, only to be met by a long line of other hopefuls.
“Dang it, can’t you all move any faster?”
Jennifer, one of the few girls who disliked Victoria, chuckled and turned her nose up before facing her class mate. “Stick a sock in that ugly hole in your face. I don’t know why you’re even trying to sign up, you won’t get chosen.”
“At least I can sing! You and your flunkies are standing in this line for nothing.”
“We all know it doesn’t take extreme talent nowadays. It just takes good looks, something you don’t have.” With that, Jennifer turned around, going back to her conversation with her friends.
Victoria wanted badly to knock the smirk off of her face, but she knew that if she got into another fight, it would mean the end of whatever she wanted to do.
Checking her watch every few seconds, she was thrilled when she finally got to the signup sheet.
An audition for a girl group. For the first time in a few years she was happy her mother insisted on moving from Boston to Philadelphia. Finally alone in the hallway, she gleefully read the notice out loud.
Young Ladies of Philadelphia,
Have you ever seen yourself in a girl group? Have you ever considered trying out for a girl group? Well this Friday and Saturday, February 22nd & 23rd could be one of your luckiest days. Come down to Luckii’s Dance Studio for African-Americans and audition for the one and only Richard Barrett; lead singer of The Valentines.
He’s discovered and promoted some of the biggest names in music, and now he’s looking to do it again with future stars from Philadelphia. Think you have what it takes? Sign up today! You will be given audition numbers and the day of your audition from your school’s guidance counselor. Numbers must be worn to auditions or you will not be permitted to enter.
Auditions are opened to all females, African-American, from ages 15 to 18.
She smiled as she quickly signed her name and thanked God for her luck in hearing about it.
Remembering that she had a more pressing matter to attend to, Victoria made a quick dodge out of one of the school’s back doors and down the block, managing to catch the trolley just as it was pulling off.
Out of breath, she took one of the middle seats and stared out the window, hoping this would be one of the quickest ten minute rides ever. Just as she was getting into her own little world, her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a voice she’d grown to hate.
“Come on Vicki; don’t act like you’re not excited to see me.”
“Ugh, not you again. Benjamin, do you have a life, somewhere off of this dang trolley?”
He smirked before sitting beside her. Benjamin James, known around most of Philadelphia as Benny was one of the few boys who expressed any type of interest in Victoria, much to her dismay. While most considered him to be some type of golden boy, the son of a minister, Victoria only saw trouble.
From his infamous basement parties to pregnancy scandals, she’d heard all about ‘Benny the King’ and his wild ways. She was having none of it. “My life could be you, Vicki, if you’d just give me a chance.”
“My name is Victoria, not Vicki, and you don’t deserve a chance.”
He sighed before moving closer, taking her small hand in his. “Why do you treat me so badly? All I ever am is nice and respectful towards you.”
“I don’t know why.” She looked around at the other passengers before lowering her voice. “I know your ways, and you sweet talking me won’t earn you the chance to pull up my dresses or lower my pantyhose.”
Benjamin looked Victoria up and down as best as he could. Today she was wearing what some considered a Catholic school uniform. White button-up shirt with lapels, a grey skirt that rested just below her knees, stockings, and black dress shoes. She had her beautiful auburn hair styled in a bouffant, showing off her lovely face. He looked down at their hands, loving how good their golden skin tones looked next to one another.
He’d heard some of his friends call her strange; a stick figure with bug eyes and stuck up ways. But when he looked at Victoria, he saw so much more. She was beautiful, and sophisticated. She wasn’t easy like some of the other girls he knew, and he liked that.
He loved the chase.
“You know Vicki, I love when you talk low like that, with that sexy growl in your voice. A brother could get used to being turned down if the insults rolled off the tongue as smoothly as they do when you toss them.”
“After two years you should be used to them.” Will this dang trolley hurry up, she thought to herself as she inched closer to the window. Benjamin was making her uncomfortable. “At any rate, you should want to give up.”
“I like you Victoria, you know that. And my feelings are on the level.”
“On the level until you get exactly what you want.” They finally came to her stop and Victoria stood, brushing past Benjamin quickly. “And you will not be getting it from me. In case you forgot Mr. James, I am a young girl. I am fifteen, and you’re practically a man.”
“I’m eighteen, that’s not so bad. And your mom likes me.”
“You worked some kind of voodoo on my mama. Goodbye.”
Victoria quickly made her exit before the trolley driver could get anxious and yell at her. She’d made it, just in time to see her seven year old sister being walked around the corner by her teacher. She met up with them and thanked Mrs. Smith before taking Leslie’s hand.
“I thought I was gonna have to wait for you again, Victoria.”
“And risk you telling Mama that I forgot about you again, no chance. Do you have homework?”
“Yes. All of my teachers, except for Mrs. Smith, are being so strange this year.”
The girls stopped walking and Victoria bent down to her sister’s level. “What do you mean strange? Are they hurting you?”
“Hurting my mind. I’m a second grader, the homework they give me seems like it’s for someone twice my age.”
Victoria let her guard down and rolled her eyes, kind of upset that she’d let Leslie put her on edge like that. “And here I was thinking someone tried to get fresh with you. Bring your butt on here. Second grade lessons are not hard at all, and if you do need help just ask me or Mama.”
“But you and Mama are always busy.”
She sighed as they went back to walking, making the two block trip home. “Busy or not, you ask. Or would you prefer Mama taking a belt to your backside for failing?”
Leslie took one of her hands and rubbed her butt, instantly remembering the last spanking she gotten three weeks before. “No, I don’t want that at all. Will you help me tonight?”
“Sure. Come in my room after dinner and I’ll help you while I’m rehearsing.”
Leslie, absolutely in love with art and performing was hoping that her older sister would be singing. She wanted to do the same when she was older, and taller. “What are you rehearsing for? Are you in a group like you said you wanted to be?”
“Not yet Leslie, but hopefully I will be after this weekend. There’s this amazing audition coming up, and a real life celebrity will be there. Oh, if Mr. Barrett likes my voice as much as you, Mama, and our neighbors do, it could be the start of a better life.”
The young girl turned her lip up a little, effortlessly showing both of her deep dimples as she stared at Victoria. Better life? “You’re always saying better life, as if we’re poor or something.”
Victoria took a deep breath, remembering that her sister was a bit bright for her age. “No Leslie, we aren’t poor, but I am so tired of seeing Mama work so hard to make sure we keep a decent roof over our head, suitable clothing, and good food on the table. Naturally we’d settle for whatever she could get but her pride won’t let her settle for anything less than what we’re used to. She got by for a long time after Daddy passed away but I see now that it’s such a strain on her.”
Victoria nodded, politely waving to a few of the older women who spoke to her and Leslie as they passed. “Yes, she is. She works all day long and sometimes she goes out and works all night cleaning for ungrateful people. While doing that she comes home and she stresses out about us so much. Are we safe, are we eating, and are we focused on school? It’s too much on her now and I want to make it where she doesn’t have to spend the rest of her life working and worrying, especially scrubbing the floor of others, and looking after other people’s disrespectful children. Being disrespected and mishandled simply because she’s African-American, and a woman. It’s not right.”
“Are you gonna be rich when you sing?”
“Rich enough to take care of you and Mama, and I won’t ever forget about either of you. I like Philly, but there’s somewhere better for all of us and I’m gonna get us there, that’s my promise.”
Leslie smiled, thinking on what her sister had said. Even though she was young, she knew a thing or two about struggle. Most of her friends had parents who struggled and couldn’t hold it together. Yet, every time they faced their mother, she had a smile on her face. “You know Victoria, maybe we can make a sister act one day. You sing, I tap dance. We’d be putting those lessons Mama got us to good use.”
“Haha, it’s a deal. Now come on Squirt, let’s get you home and fed. I’ll cook so Mama won’t have to worry about that.”
“You know Victoria, we’re some darn good daughters!”
Victoria nodded in agreement as they both ran towards their front door.