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Turning Point
Author: Paula Chase


The Summer of Lonely.

The Lonely Summer.

She wasn’t sure which one to call it.

The second that her best friend, Mo, had come to her, excited about getting into something they called an “intensive” (why not just call it “dance camp,” for real?), Sheeda’s summer was turned on its head. But then Mila got in, too. And Chrissy was going away to spend time with family in Virginia. The entire squad was ghost for the summer. That just left her.

Well, and Tai. Tai wasn’t going anywhere. Low-key, a summer with Tai, who had exactly one speed—bossy—wasn’t any better than a summer totally alone.

Rasheeda Tate hadn’t had a Lonely Summer (That sounded better. Summer of Lonely was too fancy.) since her very first in the Cove. It was home now. She almost, almost couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t.

When she first left North Carolina to move in with her aunt, she mumbled to hide her slow drawl to fit in with the Cove kids whose words streamed strung together. Mo was the one who hadn’t teased her. Who had taught her the dead-eye stare when grown men hollered, “Hey, little momma, what’s your name?” Mo was the one who stood up to older girls who ordered them to do stupid stuff, like fetch snacks from the Wa.

The last six summers were hanging together out at the basketball court, even when it was scorching hot.

Going to the carnival together and eating funnel cake until the powdered sugar gave them a headache.

Hanging out at the rec’s open gym nights with their squad.

Now what was she going to do?

Stupid question. Because she was going to end up in church every day. Just like she was at this moment, sitting lonely in the second pew waiting until Sister Butler made everyone stop all the foolishness and get up in the choir loft. Sheeda knew she looked antisocial. Good, ’cause she felt that way.

For real, it always took her a few minutes to be all right with being stuck at church. Today she was feeling more standoffish than usual. Yola and Kita, her two closest church friends, were used to it and let her be until she felt like dragging herself up the three tiny stairs that led to where the choir sat staring out into the big sanctuary. Sitting alone on the long pew that could hold fifteen people, while everybody else bulled around, Sheeda might as well have been invisible.


Just like when she hadn’t made it into TAG.

Jealousy burned her chest. She didn’t want it to. But it did.

She danced, too. Not that anybody would know it, since she was the only one in their clique whose dancing wasn’t good enough outside of church. That’s how it felt. She’d been praise dancing for years and was good. Still, it hadn’t gotten her into the school’s talented and gifted dance program. Now Mila and Mo were going away for three weeks to dance. And Sheeda was bursting with why’s. Why hadn’t she been good enough to get into TAG dance? Why hadn’t their dance teacher from the rec center at least recommended her for the summer intensive thingie? And why in the world had she been stupid enough to admit how she’d felt to her aunt?

Auntie D wasn’t having any of her whining. She’d put her hands on her slim, barely there hips and said, “Rasheeda Tate, listen to yourself. The Bible says, ‘But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.’”

Sheeda had wiped her face of any expression. Her aunt paused, just enough to let the Bible verse sink in. “That’s from James, first chapter, fourteenth verse. If He wanted you in that school program for dance, you would have gotten in. Nothing good is going to come from you wanting something that wasn’t meant to be.”

Usually after a lecture, Sheeda thought about doing better. Not that time. Evil desire. Really? She’d been dancing at church forever and everybody swore she was good, but now, suddenly, wanting to dance was evil?

She’d almost said as much to her aunt. Instead, she’d quietly muttered, “Yes, ma’am.” There was no point. When Deandra Tate’s mind was made up, it was a wrap.

With no alternatives for summer, Auntie D would 100 percent fill any free second Sheeda had with church. And Sheeda hated that she didn’t have any choice in it.

Hated it like a chair scraping across the floor. Hated it like when the teacher volunteers you to read something out loud because she can sense you don’t want to. Hated everything about the never-ending schedule of choir and praise dance rehearsals, youth activities, Bible study—repeat, repeat, repeat.

A stony pebble of annoyance lodged in her heart at the thought of being stuck the whole summer inside the walls of First Bap, where the bright red carpet made the pews and pulpit look like they floated on a river of blood and there was an elder around every corner wanting to ask how your grades were, like they were gonna tutor you on the spot if you said you were failing.

Sister Butler plunked away at the piano, warming up her fingers. Squeals of laughter came from the back of the church, where the fifth graders were playing some game that consisted of them racing up and down the pews. Never mind that running in the sanctuary was forbidden, ten-year-olds had a way of making the best of being in church.

First Baptist was her second home since she’d moved in with her aunt. Six years ago her, Yola, Kita, and Jalen were the only kids in the whole church. The First Bap Pack, Sister Butler had named them. They all knew what it was like to be the entire choir and youth ministry.

She should have felt closer to them. Honestly, the four of them should hard-core be a clique by now. If five years at Bible study, youth nights, and Vacation Bible School didn’t make you close to somebody, what did?

Rasheeda was still trying to find out. She liked the First Bap Pack, but calling them friends felt like an exaggeration. Even a lie.

All total, there were twenty kids in the choir now. Most were fifth graders. Sheeda had loved choir and running the then brand-new church’s halls when she was that age, too. Now, at thirteen, it wasn’t the same. Maybe because they couldn’t be all wild like the fifth graders anymore.

Or . . .

She stopped herself from even thinking it. Because she was ready to think “hate” again and if she didn’t know anything else, she knew sitting in church thinking about hating was wrong. She mentally blinked the word away and focused on Yola and Kita pretending to be going over the lyrics for today’s songs. Sheeda knew they were really looking at the text Jalen had sent to Yola.

Jalen stood on the altos side by himself. Eventually she, Carlos, and Anthony would join him. First it bothered her to be the only girl alto, but whenever she tried singing in a higher voice Sister Butler smiled and said, “All right now, altos gotta alto.”

Jalen had his lyric sheet in his hand, lips moving as he read the words—no doubt trying to impress Sister Butler. Sheeda had no idea what Yola saw in him. He had a thick head of wavy hair and skin the shade of coffee that had too much cream in it. It wasn’t that he wasn’t cute, but he thought he was all that because he got all the leads in the songs and the Christmas play. Pastor’s favorite. All the women in the church acted like he was a prize. To them he was a “nice young man.” Outside of the view of grown-ups, he was mad cocky. It erased his cuteness.

Sheeda stared past him to the back of the pulpit at the big gold cross. There was a glint to it, like the cross knew she was dreading a summer inside First Baptist and was shining itself on her spirit. She wanted to duck from its presence.

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