"How long are you going to leave her with me, Joey?" Ginny Barr stood in the apartment doorway and watched her younger brother's retreat to the stairs. She wrinkled her nose against the acrid and musty odors that assaulted her. As usual, the bulb at the head of the stairs was out. Her brother vanished into the shadows.
"A month, maybe two."
"Are you in trouble?"
"These past couple of weeks have been rough," he said. "I really loved Pookie, you know. I need to get my head straight."
She wanted to believe him. He sounded like he meant his words, but their relationship was studded with broken promises. "I'll stay clear of the gangs." He hadn't. "No boozing for me. Look at Mommy." He had. "College will be a breeze. I'll make my mark just like you did." Then he'd dropped out.
At one time, Ginny had believed he would be the second of the Barr kids to escape the spiral of poverty. Maybe this time, he would keep his promise.
After closing the door, she slid the dead bolt home. Her plans for the evening had included an hour's work on the first of her Master's projects. Joey's arrival with his infant daughter had shot down that idea.
Then, before he'd told her why he wanted to leave his baby with her, Annette had arrived. Joey wasn't her friend's favorite person.
For several minutes, the temperature in the apartment had soared above the already abnormal September high. The sharp words between the pair had ended Ginny's chance of learning the entire story behind her brother's flight and his decision to leave his daughter behind. Part of her didn't want to know.
"What kind of name is Pookie?" Annette stroked the baby's light mocha skin with her dark brown finger.
Ginny shrugged. "A pet name. That's all he ever called his wife."
"Were they married?"
"He said they were."
"Ever meet her?"
"No." Ginny lifted Manda to her shoulder and rubbed the baby's cheek with hers.
"What's wrong with you knowing the girl's name? He afraid you're going to approach the grandparents?"
"You heard what he said. They forbade her to see him and when they learned she was pregnant, they tossed her out. They refused to have anything to do with a biracial grandchild. Guess they didn't think Joey was good enough."
"I don't think he's good enough and I never met the girl. You're blind and deaf where that boy's concerned." Annette held up her hand. "Girl, you're crazy taking this on. Don't you have enough on your plate with Honor, work at the hospital and a double Master's program? You'll wear yourself to the bone and you ain't got that far to go."
Ginny fumbled in the brown bag Joey had left beside the lumpy gray couch. She pulled out a bottle. When she looked up, she saw concern in her friend's dark eyes. "You heard him. Just a couple of months. I have to trust him."
"Sure you do ... not. That's like believing I'll be elected president next November. What's wrong with him taking care of his own kid?"
"He's young. He's a guy. What does he know about raising a child?"
Annette straightened. "I'm going to pretend those words never came out of your mouth. What's wrong with a guy raising a child? He sure helped make her. I know he's your baby brother and you've always cleaned up his messes. Don't you think it's time he stood on his own?"
Ginny sighed. "And if I didn't take Manda, he was going to ask Mommy to keep her."
Annette laughed. "He got you again. That boy sure knows how to twist your knobs. Your mother would have 'bout as much care for the baby as her other grandmother. You know how your mother is?"