printed copy

Uptown Dreams

Kelli London

ISBN 9780758261281
Publish Date 11/29/2011
Format Trade Paperback
Categories KTeen , Young Adult

At the prestigious Harlem Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, students are destined to realize their uptown dreams—as long as friends, haters, and crushes don’t trip them up…

La-La Nolan’s killer voice could make her a superstar, but she’s more focused on scoring the attention of Ziggy Phillip—the cute Jamaican boy in her class. But a singing competition against her arch rival could cost her both Ziggy and her spot at the Academy…

The daughter of the school’s director and voice coach, Reese Allen has to work harder than everyone else to prove herself. But all Reese wants is to be a hip hop producer—a path her mother will never approve of…

Even though it’s clear that Ziggy loves the ladies, he has to keep his passion for dance a secret from his father. But then his brother discovers Ziggy’s ballet shoes and threatens to tell all—unless Ziggy gets him into the Academy too…

No one’s a better actress than Jamaica Kincaid Ellison. She’s even acted her way out of the boarding school her parents think she’s still attending and into the Academy. She’ll do anything to achieve her dream—unless her lies destroy everything…

If that weren’t enough drama, rumor has it that the Academy may close at the end of the year. Can these gifted students put their talents to the test to save it?

“An amazing tale that is sure to delight, teach, and intrigue teens everywhere!”—Ni-Ni Simone on Boyfriend Season

Chapter One

LA-LA NOLAN

“I don’t sing, I sang.”

“Lexus and Mercedes, get off my feet before you get murked!” I warned my two sisters, shaking my legs one at a time, trying to break loose from their three- and four-year-old grips. It was too early for a foot ride, and I needed to get out the door and make tracks to get to school.

“Please, La-La,” they sang in unison. “Foot ride. Foot ride. Foot ride!” they chanted.

“I. Said. Get. Off.” I shuffled my feet one at a time, enunciating each word while alternately swinging my legs back and forth. Reaching down, I pressed my hand against Mercedes’s forehead and pushed it with all my might.

“Boom-Kesha,” she yelled out to our mother. “La-La murked me!”

Her snitching really set my fire, so I swished my legs one at a time as if I were punting a football. Lexus was my first successful attempt. With a harder kick and powerful shake and swoop, I managed to break her grasp, then watched in semi-terror as she slid across the linoleum and connected with the painted concrete wall. The top of her head met the dent-proof wall first, colliding with a thump that I was sure would make her cry.

“Wee!” she shouted, surprising me, then jumped up and came back for another turn.

“Me too. Me too,” Mercedes pleaded. “Slide me, too.”

I pointed at Lexus like that Celie chick from that old Color Purple movie when she gave that ancient Mister dude that Hoodoo sign. Lexus froze in her tracks. Four out of six of my siblings were terrified of that hand gesture because they believed everything they saw on TV, and they were sure it was magic of some sorts. Well, I’d made them believe I had that power because it worked to my benefit whenever they rode my nerves. “‘Whatever you done to me,’ ” I threatened, parroting Celie’s line from the movie, making my voice deep and stretching my eyes wide.

Lexus ran out screaming like she was on fire; then Mercedes started to cry, releasing her slob and nose mucus dams.

“Ill.” Her nose and the sides of her mouth were running with clear and yellow gook. “Now you better get up. I don’t want your cooties on my clothes.”

She unwound herself from my leg, got off my foot, and whooshed away like a fire truck, screaming down the hall like a siren. “Cooties-cooties-cooties!”

“Henrietta!” my mother’s voice carried into the room. “Henrietta?”

Lexus came back to the door, peeking her head in. Then Alize, Remi, and Queen showed up, followed by King, crawling his way through their legs. I shook my head. My siblings were beautiful and smart, though many would never know it because my mother had cursed them. She had named them after liquor and luxury cars, or given them aristocratic titles like we hailed from a monarchy instead of a New York housing project. But, the truth of the matter was, she’d done what so many others do: named her children after things she’d wanted but would never have.

“Henrietta! Heifer, I know you hear me,” BoomKesha’s— I mean Momma’s—raspy Newport voice floated into the room.

“You better answer her, La-La,” Remi warned. She was thirteen and ten months younger than me, but so much older than anyone else in the apartment. She’d been sick for months, diagnosed with cancer, and it was hellish, making her grow up faster than she should’ve. I would’ve done anything to take it away from her. Remi tightened up the headscarf she wore to hide her hair, which had begun to fall out in big clean patches. “Her panties have been in a twist ever since she woke up, something about the city cutting her benefits. Like we was gonna be able to get welfare forever.” She crossed her arms and sucked her teeth.

“You okay?” I asked, ignoring my mother calling me. I didn’t like the coloring of Remi’s skin. It was starting to gray like my grandfather’s before he died.

Remi nodded. “I’m good. I just wish I had hair like yours. It seems too strong to fall out.”

“Henrietta!” Boom-Kesha boomed again.

I touched my head, wishing I could give it to Remi. “Well, I wish I had your teeth. They’re so pretty and white—so straight.”

“Henrietta!”

“Henrietta? Don’t shu ’ear you mami talking to ju?” Paco, my mother’s bootleg, pretending-to-be-Spanish boyfriend, poked his head into the bedroom and asked in his borrowed Spanglish. The man was crazy. Just because his skin was light and sun-kissed, his hair was straight black and silky, and people mistook him for Dominican, he’d reinvented himself as one. He even walked around with a Dominican flag wrapped around his head at the Puerto Rican Day parade, complaining that New York didn’t give the Dominicans a holiday. But, I guess—for him—it was cool. If he could pretend to be a real full- grown man and get away with it, he could lie about being anything else.

I looked at Paco, pointing to my ears. “Que?” I asked him what? in Spanish, pretending to buy into his fabricated heritage.

“Oh. Ju ears stopped up this morning? Up giving singing lessons all night to get free tutoring, chica? No problemo. I splain to ju mami for ju.”

I pasted a fake smile on my face and smirked a thank- you. Everybody in the house had bought my lie. I had them all thinking that I was receiving tutoring so I could keep up in the fancy performing-arts school I’d been offered a full scholarship to after the director heard me singing on the train. The Harlem Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, aka CAPA. It was a school that was supposed to make me and my mother Boom-Kesha’s dreams come true; it was going to help make me a star and help her milk some money from some bourgeois art society that dished out funds to kids like me—teenagers who showed talent and promise, and didn’t mind extra training to get into highfalutin Julliard, the other It school for college students that had recently showed interest in my voice. My mother was undoubtedly going to smoke and drink up the “extra” money, or use it on whatever her real addiction was. All I wanted was to get my teeth fixed, which was the reason I’d told them the tutoring lie. Really, I’d been hanging out in the adult singing spots in Greenwich Village, scouting singers I could one day sing backup for and, hopefully, stack my money for an orthodontist. “Good lookin’, Paco,” I said, grabbing my book bag and heading to the door.

“Henrietta!” my mom’s voice stopped me before I could put my hand on the knob.

“La-La, La-La, La-La!” I sang to her. I don’t know why I had to remind her of the name she crowned me with. She was the one who said I sang like a songbird and dubbed me La-La, as if I could’ve afforded one more reason for the kids to tease me. It was bad enough my teeth were raggedy, and I was so skinny the thick girls started calling me Anna—short for anorexic. I’d been jonesed about my lack of weight forever, but not my grill because I kept my mouth closed as much as possible.

“Make sure you bring a weapon with you, and don’t take the elevator because the gangs have it sowed up. I don’t want you to be a victim—you’re my star.”

No, I’m your paycheck. Your ticket out of the projects.

“Me, Paco, Alize, Remi, Lexus, Mercedes, Queen, and King will be waiting outside when you get home. ’Cause if that wench, Nakeeda, from last year wants it, we’ll give it to her. I ain’t above dusting a kid, and her raggedy mother too.”

“Word, La-La,” Remi added from behind my mother. “I may be sick, but I can get it in. I won’t even have to put my hair in a ponytail ’cause ain’t enough left to pull out,” she teased, but I felt her pain.

I mouthed I love you to Remi, then feigned a smile and looked at my mother. Her intentions were good, but that’s all they’d ever be—intentions. She really didn’t have a desire to better herself or her family. We were living the project stereotype. I felt sorry for her and us, her children. It was sad that everyone, including my family, had started calling her Boom-Kesha, because every time someone looked up—Boom! Kesha was pregnant by a different man, then gave the child a ghetto first name and a different daddy’s surname (except for me—I was named after my grandmother). What was worse was that my mother preferred to be called Boom-Kesha.

“I’m good. Cyd will be with me.”

Cyd was my girl, my sister from a different mother. We were beyond best friends, and we rocked out—boys, parties, dreams, it didn’t matter. And together, we were going to rock Harlem Academy, show ’em what we were made of, just like I planned to show Ziggy, the cute dude I’d met in the admissions office.

REESE ALLEN

“I’m a musician second, and a producer first.”

5A.M. Five ay-em. Five o’clock in the morning! Is she

serious? I peeled open my eyelids and looked at the beaming red numbers, then closed them again. It was way too early for anything, especially getting up.

“C’mon, Reese!”

Clap. Clap.

“It’s time to practice!”

Clap. Clap.

Ohmygod. Ohmygod. She was serious and in Mrs. Allen form like whoa. What was up with her waking me before sunrise and Sandman the wino’s bedtime? I would’ve done anything to go back in time if high school was going to mean this.

Clap. Clap. Clap.

“Perfect practice makes perfect. Up-up-up!”

Oh, no. Not the triple claps. I knew what that meant. First slapping her hands together as loudly as possible, and now her hand was on my shoulder, shimmying me from side to side as if shaking me was gonna make me want to get up. I crossed my eyes, and cursed in my head. Was she certifiably crazy or just really enthused? I’d just gone to bed at midnight. Had just hit the pillow five stinking hours ago because she’d insisted that I practice cello, piano, violin, and the sax until she was satisfied. But I wasn’t surprised, it was always about her. My life was hers.

I don’t know how I got past her and her incessant clapping, but, somehow I managed to whir by her in a flash, but not before noticing she had a nametag pinned to her lapel. Mrs. Allen, Director. There was no way I was going to pull up to Harlem Academy with her. It was bad enough I had to attend the school she directed instead of the one I wanted to go to—Bronx Science, which was hard to get into, and where you needed to be borderline genius to be a student. I also didn’t need anyone to know I was her daughter.

Before the shower’s spray rained on the bathtub floor, I’d worked a shower cap around my bobby-pinned wrapped hair, sloshed a mask on my face, and stuck waterproof headphones in my ears. I’d played classical music last night; my mother’s favorite. This morning, my choice: the tracks I’d been sneaking and working on behind her back—hip-hop and hardcore rap. The beats bumped in my ears loud enough to rattle my eardrums and allow the bass to vibrate my skeletal system. If Mommy Dearest could hear it, and knew I’d produced them with Blaze, my boyfriend she also knew nothing about, she’d topple to the floor. The music continued to take me away while I dressed.

“Reese, you’ve been in there almost an hour!” The boom of her fists shook the bathroom door, and I knew it was time to make an appearance.

With bobby pins removed, my hair flowed down to my elbows, cascading across my shoulders and hiding the small earbuds I’d stuck deep in the canals of my ears. I pulled out the piano bench in the living room, lifted the lid covering the ivory keys, sat down, and turned up my iPod all at once. Then I played. I straight grooved and allowed the piano to drown out the thump-thump-thump of the hip-hop that caressed my soul. Jay-Z, Drake, T.I., and Kanye all accompanied me as I stepped into the music like a pair of comfortable slippers. Beethoven had never flowed from my fingertips like this. I’d remixed his classical concerto with the hip-hop greats, and it was funky. Mozart was next, with a dash of Bach added for flavor and a touch of Pharrell for color.

“What’s that, Reese? I’ve never heard The Greats like that before.” Her hands were on her hips, and her smart shoes were tapping.

Yeah. This is hip-hop, baby. I cut my eyes at her. To my surprise, she was enjoying the flow. But only because she didn’t know I’d mixed classical and hip-hop. If she’d known that, she would’ve had a straight fall-to-herknees- and-wiggle-on-the-floor conniption fit. Immediately, I stopped playing, closed the lid on the ivories, and got up. “That’s a piece I’m working on for Julliard,” I lied, and then snatched up my knapsack. “I’ll meet you at

the school.” After I cop a new mixer to produce these beats, I added in my head. I had a competition coming up, and I planned to win.

She wanted Julliard.

I wanted hip-hop.

May the best woman win.

About Kelli London:

Kelli London, aka Kells, has been writing since she was six years old. She’s pro anything that uplifts girls (ok, boys too), is a mentor for A Dream Inc. (a non-profit organization for teens), and creator of Kelli Girls’ Pearls—gems for a girl to live by: Positive Affirmations & Daily Quotes. She lives in The Moment, is a social butterfly (social networking and newsletter butterfly too), has a passion for education, reading, writing, running, chocolate, life and, of course, her readers.

Photo Credit: Marion Saunders


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