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Just Say No!: A Novel

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Sometimes Dreams Come True...
and Sometimes Ther're Too Hot to Handle
Best freinds since childhood, Darin Harmon and John Williams are young men on the brink of realizing their dreams. For John, it his music; for Darin, football. When Darin suffers an injury that closes the door on his sports aspirations, he reluctantly follows his friend into the music scene and quickly gets swept up in promoting John's new "Loverboy" identity to R&B superstardom. But the celebrity lifestyle of big-time money, fast women, and easy drugs quickly takes it toll, and the friends find themselves at a crossroads that will forever shape each of their futures.
As only he can, Omar Tyree delivers another urban classic filled with irresistible characters you won't forget.

ISBN-13: 9780684872940

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: 07-02-2002

Pages: 496

Product Dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.30(d)

New York Times bestselling author Omar Tyree is the winner of the 2001 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work—Fiction, and the 2006 Phillis Wheatley Literary Award for Body of Work in Urban Fiction. He has published more than twenty books on African American people and culture, including five New York Times bestselling novels. He is a popular national speaker, and a strong advocate of urban literacy. Born and raised in Philadelphia, he lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Learn more at

Read an Excerpt

Verse 28

...that's when he started talking crazy...

"This is it, buddy, the Maryland Adult Well House."

I stopped daydreaming about the past and looked out of my cab window at a mental hospital of red brick and gray cement that was out in the middle of nowhere within the state of Maryland. There was nothing but factory buildings, trucks, and woods out there.

I pulled out a fifty-dollar bill to pay my taxi fare.

"That'll be thirty-five dollars."

I gave my driver the fifty and told him to keep the change.

His eyes lit up when the cash hit his hands. "Hey, thanks! You need a receipt?"

I thought about it and decided that I didn't. My visit was not about business anymore. It was personal. That's why I didn't order a limo. That would have been too high profile. I didn't want to make any news or score points in the media, I just wanted to see my boy.

I told the taxi driver, "Nah, you can keep the receipt, too."

He asked, "Well, ah, will you be needing a ride back out of here?"

He looked over my tailored style of dress and was probably sizing up my income.

"What business are you in?" he asked me.

I smiled at him. Big money makes people go out of their way for you nearly every time. I had gotten used to that.

I said, "The music business."

He nodded. "Oh, yeah? It's pretty good money there, isn't it?"

I answered, "Sometimes it is. But I have no idea how long I'm going to be here," I told him.

He pulled out a taxi receipt card and wrote his name and cell phone number on the back. "My name is John Beers. You can call me when you're ready, and I'll come back to get you. Hell,I'll even take a lunch break right now to make sure I'm available."

His name was John, how ironic. I took his card and nodded back to him.

"I'll call you when I'm done."

"Okay, well, good luck with everything. And I hope everything works out all right."

I said, "Yeah, me too."

He asked, "Is this a friend, or a family member?"

I stopped and thought about it. "I guess you would have to say both."

He nodded again. "Well, if you need to talk about it on the way out, I'll listen."

I chuckled and said, "Thanks."

When the taxi drove off, I turned to face the tall gates that surrounded the mental hospital grounds. I took a deep breath. The Maryland Adult Well House was huge! It looked more like an institution to me, a big, clean-looking jail. I guess the name was meant to trick you into believing that it would be a warm and cozy place.

Well, here we go, I told myself.

I walked inside the hospital and took off my wool coat. I was immediately run through a security station.

"Take out your keys, coins, pens, cell phones, guns, knives, and any other foreign objects," the head security guard said to me. I assumed that he was joking about the "guns, knives, and any other foreign objects." The other guards laughed at his humor, but I just did what I was told. I was too tense to laugh or even smile at them. The situation wasn't funny to me.

After I walked through the metal detector, I was asked to show some identification. Then they collected my things and put them inside a numbered box. They gave me a palm-sized plastic chip with my box number on it and told me that I would have my things returned to me when I was ready to leave.

"Mr. Darin Harmon, thank you very much for making our job easier," the head security guard said to me.

Next they sent me over to the sign-in tables. An older woman there asked me what patient I was there to see.

I answered, "John Williams."

She said, "Oh, today is his birthday."

I was finally able to smile a little. I said, "Yeah, the big two-seven."

She logged John's name in the book and asked me for mine.

"Darin Harmon."

One of the security guards looked over at me. He was a young black man around my age. I guess he had heard of me.

The woman logged my name next to John's and wrote in the time.

After that, the young security guard smiled and nodded in my direction.

He said, "John's on the North Wing. I'll take him over."

The woman at the sign-in table double-checked my name and nodded to me with her own smile. I was taking everything in like it was slow motion. I had never been to a mental hospital before.

"Have a good visit," the woman told me.

I walked over to the security guard, who led me down a long, light blue painted hallway toward an elevator. I counted every blotch and blemish in the shiny black floor as we walked. I had no idea what to expect in that place, and my mind wouldn't let me rest from the anxiety that I felt.

The security guard said, "It's fucked up what happened to John, man. I love that boy music! You can just tell that he sings from the heart, that old-school shit. But it just seems like a lot of good musicians are crazy in some way.

"What do you think?" he asked me. "You been around a lot of musicians, right?"

He did know who I was.

Instead of answering his question, I asked him, "What about athletes? Some of these young athletes are out there too." I could have been a professional athlete, I thought to myself.

The guy smiled it off. He said, "Yeah, some of them athletes are crazy. But not like musicians. We get more patients in here hearing shit in their heads than anything else, man. Some of these patients in here walk around all day long talking about, 'You hear that?! You hear that?!'

"Hear what? You know what I'm saying?" he asked me. "And then you get them types that's always seeing visions and shit. Taking about, 'I saw it last night. It floated up to me like an angel sent from God.'"

I began to smile. This guy was obviously making light of the situation in there.

He said, "Don't get me wrong, man, I'm not making fun of your boy, I'm just saying that musicians are out there. I mean, they make great music and all, but then they go crazy with them drugs and shit. And it's just sad, man. So I'm glad that I'm only a fan."

I admit, I didn't have much to say in defense of John, or of the many musicians I knew of. I had my own thoughts to deal with at the moment. I wasn't up for a debate.

We made it up to the fifth floor of the hospital on the elevator.

"Well, good luck with your boy John, man," the security guard told me.

I said, "Thanks," and walked out.

As soon as I walked out of the elevator and into the waiting room, I heard screams and shouts coming from inside the security-glass windows.

"NO-O-O! No I didn't have it! No I DIDN'T!"

"Calm down, and take a seat," a nurse was telling one of the patients, who was getting out of hand. "I know you didn't have it."

That didn't set my nerves at ease in that place at all!

I waited there to be introduced to John's doctor. A black man who looked more like a college professor, tall, poised, and stately, walked out. He was real calm, too. Maybe mental doctors were best that way, because their patients were not calm. Not in the least! I was getting nervous just looking at some of the patients there. Fresh images from the movie 12 Monkeys came to mind, along with images from every other mental hospital movie I had seen. I never imagined that I would ever have to visit one of them.

The doctor shook my hand and said, "Hello, Mr. Harmon. I'm Dr. Harold Benjamin, and I handle the case of your friend John Williams during his stay here."

I nodded to him and asked, "How's he doing?" I can't lie about it. I felt much more comfortable talking about John's mental state with a black doctor as opposed to a white one. Call me prejudiced, but it seemed as if many white men considered us to be a little bit crazy anyway, as if they were all sane. There were plenty of white men in that hospital. I didn't lose sight of that.

Dr. Benjamin took a breath and said, "John suffers from what's known as a bipolar disorder, or better known as manic-depression, where he fluctuates from extreme high states of energy and optimism to extreme low forms of inactive depression, and all in a rather short amount of time."

I nodded. I knew exactly what the doctor was talking about. I said, "And he makes it seem like the low stuff is more important. Or at least it seems to occupy more of his time."

The doctor nodded back to me. "Exactly. So, on this first visit I would advise you to just listen to him and hear what he has to say. And as I continue to monitor John's progress, I'll let you know what more you can do to help. But right now is not the time to go in there and offer him the world. Just remain a passive listener. Your presence alone, and a listening ear, will do wonders for him."

I said, "Yeah, because if you try to preach to him or criticize him, he'll just get mad at you."

Dr. Benjamin said, "Exactly." Then he smiled and added, "And remember to tell him happy birthday."

I said, "Oh, of course."

The doctor led me to a small private room with a large unbreakable window on the door. My lifelong boy, John "Loverboy" Williams, was waiting for me there with a big grin on his face.

When we walked in, Dr. Benjamin asked him, "John, you recognize this gentleman?"

John squinted his eyes as he looked me over.

He said, "Nah, who dat, doc? I don't know him."

Dr. Benjamin laughed and said, "Well, I guess you two need to get re-

acquainted then."

I finally cracked a smile, recognizing John's humorous touch. That boy knew who I was! I went to take a seat in the comfortable chair that was set for me and waited for whatever.

John looked at me as if I had pissed him off already. He said, "Come give me a damn hug, man! What's wrong with you?!"

I stood back up and walked over to hug him before I sat back down. I mean, I wasn't scared of him or anything. John couldn't hurt me. I was just apprehensive about everything! What would we say? How would we start? How would it go? I was just filled with questions.

As soon as the doctor left the room, I felt boxed in. I had been warning John for years that he needed to reevaluate the things that he did in his life. What more did I have to say? So I planned to do just what the doctor had told me. Listen.

I said, "Happy birthday, man," to get it out of the way up front. I didn't want to have him think that I had forgotten about it. They were all sure reminding me of that in there. As if I didn't know my boy's birthday. Or maybe John had told them to do that to cover his own bases. I had come to see him that day on purpose, because it was his birthday.

John smiled from across a small table and said, "Yeah, it's February eighth, two thousand and one, ain't it? I'm twenty-seven. But it seem like I'm fifty, man."

He was wearing a loose beige shirt-and-pants outfit and he needed a haircut and a shave. His hair was not that long, it just wasn't as short and groomed as he had kept it during the prime of his career. His eyes, however, were clear and steady, the best shape that I had seen them in in years. His skin looked great too, a strong bronzed brown, like he had been out in the sun eating healthy tropical fruits.

He said, "So, what up, man? How's your wife and kids? I see you looking all spiffy with the suit and tie on. I guess you're an all-the-way producer now. You got the limo waiting for you out front?"

He was full of energy. I shook my head and told him that I had no limo.

"I didn't need all of that. I just wanted to see you, man."

"Well, what's the suit and tie for then? You didn't need that to see me either. You could have worn jeans and a T-shirt."

I said, "I don't wear jeans and T-shirts like that."

He broke up laughing and said, "Aw, you big-time for real on me now. It's all about the imagery, right, D? The star representation imagery. Yeah, so how's the family, man? What's up?"

John had never been so boisterous in his life.

I remained calm and answered, "We're all fine, we're just thinking about you."

"Thinking about me as far as what?"

I said, "Just hoping to see you and tell you that we love you, man."

I wanted to be real careful with my choice of words.

John nodded, at ease with my response. "I'm doing good, man. I just made a stupid mistake, that's all."

He was referring to the assault and the dropped attempted-murder charges that he had been sentenced for. But since money can buy the best lawyers, and celebrity status tended to sway the American courtrooms, his lawyers worked out a deal for John to spend an undetermined time in a mental hospital for his manic-depressive behavior, followed by a year of drug probation and three hundred hours of community service. However, truth be told, if my boy wasn't the John "Loverboy" Williams, he more than likely would have landed himself in jail.

I just listened to him like the doctor told me to without passing judgment.

John said, "I'm just saying, man. I mean, what you was telling me years ago, to just say no to all of that star shit. I mean, that shit may sound easy, man, ain't that simple, man," he stressed to me.

He said, "I wish it was that simple. God, how I wish it was! Like, a girl come up to my room with no panties or bra on looking good and shit, and be ready to do whatever I want with her, and I just say, 'Nah, I don't want no pussy. Not tonight.'

"I mean, yeah, I was able to do that sometimes, man, but not after every fuckin' show! What if I wanted some real bad that night, man? What was I supposed to do, jerk myself off, while I got thousands of girls waiting outside for me?

"Man, go 'head with that! You was even into it when we first started touring," he said to me.

He smiled and added, "You still remember how you met your wife, right? Don't you go catching no amnesia on me, D. I mean, I know that was painful for all of us, man, but that's a part of your history with your wife. Don't erase a chapter. Tell the damn truth!"

I smiled back at him and shook my head as I loosened up a bit. No way in the world could I forget how I met my wife or the hurt that John had caused us.

I told him, "I didn't forget."

"Yeah, I know you didn't. It wasn't that long ago. You only twenty-six until your birthday comes up on April twenty-eighth," he reminded me. I figured that he did tell the hospital to remind me of his birthday, after he quoted mine. He was showing me that his memory and our friendship were both still tight.

He laughed and said, "You gotta be like forty-something before you start catching amnesia, especially since you don't smoke weed no more. And then when your kids are teenagers, you gon' start lying to them, saying that you met their mother in the church choir."

I couldn't help myself. I started laughing.

John said, "But she changed you, man. She changed you. Then you went back to church on me. And I'm saying, man, I just wish that I could. But like I said before, that crazy stuff be calling me. All of it; the weed, the girls, the limos, the Jacuzzis, all that shit, D. You was there. You was just stronger than me, man. You was always stronger than me."

After he said that, he began to slow down and go silent on me. I didn't know exactly what that meant, but I'd rather he kept talking.

I said, "You had the talent, man. They weren't screaming my name. So the temptation was never the same for me. You can't even compare the two. People don't even know who the manager is unless they read the fine print somewhere. And any manager who gets bigger than the talent he represents will end up being an ineffective manager."

I added, "You're the Loverboy, not me."

John started to smile again.

He said, "You ever think about just getting together a bunch of girls and weed, just for old times' sake, man, and just having a big party?"

Instinctively I said, "Man, that's crazy!I'm a happily married man now." It was too late to catch myself. I didn't want John to blow up at me, but how could I talk to him for any length of time when his mind would ramble onto craziness so often and so easily?

He nodded and said, "See, that's just what I'm talking about. It's like a drug for me, man, all of it, and I gotta have it. I gotta have it!"

He said, "Remember when I started fucking around with hookers? I was just paranoid of so many girls trying to set me up and ruin my career, man. Then their boyfriends and shit were after me. That's how our boy got shot and killed out in L.A., man."

I nodded to him disgustedly, but it was all true.

He said, "Well, I had to stop dealing with them hookers, man, because they were so out of touch with the world that they didn't even know who the hell I was. I was used to girls screaming my name and shit when I did them. 'Loverboy! I love you! I LOVE YOU! LOVERBOY!'

"But them damn hookers, man, they wasn't even saying shit."

I broke up laughing again. John was out of his mind, but he had always told the truth, and it seemed that the fame game had hooked him forever. I didn't even know if there was a cure for that.

He said, "And the weed, man. I mean, to be honest with you, D, I wish that I had never started that shit, man. Because once you really start smoking it like I was, it's like you damned if you do and you damned if you don't.

"I just needed it to feel normal after a while. Imagine that, man," he told me. "You gotta smoke fuckin' weed to feel normal. And then the money? Man, you know I never sweated no money. It seemed like the money just got me in trouble with people, man. I mean, you know how them rappers talk about wanting the money and not the fame. Man, fuck that! I think I want more of the fame and not the money. At least I'm famous for being me. But when you famous just for having money, they don't respect you, admire you, want to be you or nothing. They just want a damn payday. And that shit is the worse."

I sat there and listened to everything John was saying, but I still couldn't feel the pressure of walking in his shoes. It's one thing to walk beside a superstar, but it's entirely different to be the superstar. In a nutshell, that's what my boy was telling me. I would never be able to understand it. Not really. I could only imagine it.

He said, "Man, I even thought about turning that shit into a song, D. Check this out: 'Just say no-o-o, no-o-o,, no-o-o, no-o-oh. Just say no-o-o, no-o-o,, no-o-o, no-o-oh.'"

He stopped and asked me, "You think the people would like that, man? I don't have no lyrics yet, that's just the hook. But what do you think? You think the people would like that, or what?"

When John first started with his music, he could care less about what people thought before he had completed it. And he never called anything a hook. He called it a chorus or the title. That was just how much the music game had changed him over the years. He went from a music purist to a music popularist. He had to struggle with what would be more popular with the fans, versus what was true to his heart.

I just smiled and nodded to him. I said, "Why don't you work on the lyrics for me, and I'll tell you once you finish with the lyrics. All right?"

He nodded back to me and said, "All right. That's on, that's on!" Then he started bobbing his head to an imaginary beat and yelled, "You feel me?! What if I die tonight?!"

I shook my head. John was going back into his legends-must-die mold. It was his theory that living too long after your prime only made you a mortal, and to be immortal you had to die in the prime time of your life and career work. The soldier of his philosophy was the one and only musical fatalist, Tupac Shakur.

I said, "John, man, don't start that stuff again. Barry White is a legend, and he's still living. Isaac Hayes. Smokey Robinson. Gamble and Huff. Stevie Wonder..."

John ignored me and went on quoting more of Tupac's anthems: "'I smoke a blunt to keep the pa-a-ain out, and if I wasn't high I'd probably try to blow my bra-a-ains out!'"

In desperation, I kicked some legendary lyrics that I knew of: "'You got these har-r-r-rd rocks, with har-r-r-rd times, in har-r-r-rd play-ces...wouldn't you like to go-o-o...go awaaay, go AWAAAY, go awaaay!'"

John stopped cold and smiled. "Yo, who wrote that shit right there, man?" he asked me sarcastically.

I answered, "The same bad brother who wrote: 'If we shared the moon tonight / we could talk of lessons learned / say the things we've yearned to say / and fade our pains away.'"

John chuckled for a minute, then he turned stone serious on me.

He said, "You think that shit is something to die for, man, some love song shit? The people don't hear that shit no more, man. So if the soul of rhythm and blues is dead, then tell me this, love something to die for in the year two thousand and one?"

He said, "They don't feel that love shit no more. They listen to your shit for a week and a half, and then they move on to the next nigga's shit."

John had me on the spot.

I said, "Love is something to live for, man. And if you really love something, then you would want to live to see it every day; see it grow, develop, and prosper, just like when God created the sun, the moon, the earth, and everything in it. Us even! Darin Harmon and John Williams, boys for life, through all of the stress and the strife, regardless of how other people feel about it, man."

John just started laughing and talking loud again. He said, "Aw, don't tell me D trying to get po-etic on me! What are you thinking about, writing songs, too, now? Whatchu gon' write, man, some gospel? Sanctified music?!"

I said, "I thought about writing a few things. Yeah."

John started laughing louder. "Aw, man, you want me to write something for you? I could write something for you. You just tell me what you want."

I said, "First, I want you to finish the lyrics to your own song. And then I could check that out the next time I come to see you."

He said, "When?"

He had me on the spot again.

I said, "Ah...I guess whenever you want me to, man. I'm your boy, right?"

He said, "Tomorrow then."

I was shocked by his decisive answer for a second, but then I smiled it off. John had always been decisive when it came to crafting his music. He just knew right off the bat what he wanted.

I nodded my head and said, "All right, then. I'll come back and see you tomorrow."

He stood up from his seat and said, "Yeah, and I'll have that song ready for you then. Just Say No! with an exclamation point at the end, because you gotta mean that shit when you say it. 'NO! I don't want no drugs! NO! I don't want no pussy! NO! I don't want no money!' All those things will just lead you to the devil anyway. Ain't that right, D? You a church boy again, now. I just ain't."

How could I keep a straight face with this guy? I laughed hard even when I didn't want to.

I slipped up at the mouth again and asked him, "Have you talked to your mom lately?" It was his birthday.

He said, "Nah. But she knows where I am just like you do. If she wants to talk to me, she knows where to find me." With that he sat back down again.

John's relationship with his mother had never really been a good one. She suffocated him when he listened to her, and she flat out ignored him when he didn't. I still couldn't quite understand her, but I figured that their silence with each other had gone on long enough.

I asked him, "You want me to call her up?"

John looked at me with spite in his eyes. "Call her up for what, man?"

"You know, to tell her that you're all right. That I sat down and talked to you."

He stood up again and said, "Man, fuck that! She knows how to dial seven numbers! Or ten! Or eleven! Whatever, man! She knows how to get in touch with me. She don't care about me anyway. She probably the one that made all this crazy shit happen to me. She probably had a voodoo doll, sticking needles in my head just 'cause I ain't stay in the church with her.

"She a hypocrite, man! That's all!" he shouted. "She a big hypocrite! Acting like she all perfect!"

Bringing up his mother was the wrong thing to do. So I quickly changed the subject to something that I knew he would love. Music.

I asked him, "So, you really think you can have this song ready for me by tomorrow?"

He looked and studied my face for a second. "Just Say No!? Hell yeah! Tomorrow!"

I grinned and nodded to him. I said, "You know I love you, right, man? You my boy. You like a brother to me."

I just felt that it was the perfect time to say it. It felt right.

John eased up and smiled. "I love you, too, man. Now stand up and give your boy another hug before you leave."

I stood up and hugged him a second time.

He backed away and said, "All right then, I'll see you tomorrow."

I didn't know that I was ready to leave yet, but John was already walking toward the door.

I shrugged it off. "All right then, I'll see you tomorrow."

When Dr. Benjamin met back up with us, he asked John his question again.

"So, do you recognize this gentleman yet?"

John said, "Yeah! This my boy D, from back Charlotte, North Cacalack! We came up in the church together. Christ Universal on the east side. And D is a big-time producer now. He got a wife and kids, a big house, and everything!"

He said, "I'm proud of him, doc. Real proud! He's even coming back to see me tomorrow. Is that all right with you, doc?"

Dr. Benjamin nodded and grinned. "That's good."

John said, "Yeah, that's what I thought, too. So I'll see you tomorrow then, D. And I'll have that song ready for you."

John broke away from us all energized, as if he were about to start writing his new song, Just Say No!, immediately. In the doctor's presence, I felt kind of embarrassed by it. I didn't know if challenging John to write a new song in his present state of mind was a good thing to do.

I looked to Dr. Benjamin and said, "I kind of asked him to write the lyrics to a new song that he brought up to me. Was that a good thing to do? Or not?"

The doctor chuckled at my hesitancy.

He said, "Has John ever had problems writing music before?"

I answered, "Never. But the music itself was never a problem for him. It was all of the stuff that went on surrounding the music that drove him..." I stopped myself and said, "You know..."

"Crazy?" Dr. Benjamin filled in for me.

I smiled and had to look away, ashamed of myself. John was my boy! How could I think about him and talk about him like that?

Dr. Benjamin said, "You can say it. We're all cracked up in our own little ways. But most of us find ways to hold all of the pieces together, and that's what we're going to attempt to do with John. So a challenge of music will be good for him."

He said, "But what do you think overall about your first visit with him?"

I said, "Well, you know, he seems a little loud, but he knows what he's saying and everything. I mean, I understand him."

The doctor looked at me funny. "How did you think he would be?"

I was at a loss for words. I said, "I got no idea, doc. I mean, I've never been know, a place like this before."

Dr. Benjamin starting to laugh and tossed a reassuring arm around my shoulder. "John's in good hands here, Darin. He's not ready to jump out of any windows or anything. He's doing fine."

I said, "Well, I guess since he's not around all of the hype and the temptations out there on the street, that he's actually better off to be in here for a while. I mean, that's what I thought about it when they first sent him here."

The doctor nodded. He said, "We all need a moment of sanctuary every once in a while, don't we?"


He said, "Okay. So, I guess I'll be seeing you tomorrow," and shook my hand as he walked me back to the elevator.

On my way, I asked him, "Hey, doc, does this manic depression run in the family or anything?"

He nodded and said, "Yes it does. There have been many hereditary studies done on depression. Why, is his father or mother manic?"

I said, "I don't know about his father, but definitely his mother. I think somebody needs to check her out too." I was serious!

Dr. Benjamin was willing to talk to me in detail about it, but I was anxious to get out of there and prepare myself to come back the next day. He noticed my rush and let me go.

He said, "I'll see you tomorrow."

I got on the elevator and thought, I don't even have a change of clothes with me. But it wasn't as if I couldn't go out and buy some. A pair of blue jeans and a T-shirt, just for John.

As soon as I made it off the elevator on the main floor, the young security guard was there to walk me back to the entrance.

He asked me, "So what happened up there?"

I tried to pull his leg. I said, "John got upset with me and slammed a chair into the window. After that they had to tie him down and restrain him."

The security guard just smiled at me.

He said, "Man, he ain't that damn crazy. I've been around him since he's been here. He just needs some mental rest, man, that's all. He just needs to rest his mind a minute."

I nodded. That was a good way of looking