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I spot Uncle Reed and Aunt Phoebe immediately, they were standing near the street entrance of the baggage claim in Atlanta. I walk over to them saying, "All right, the diva is here. Divine Matthews-Hardison is back."
I remove the strap of my loaded-down Gucci backpack from my shoulder, praying that I'm not left with a bruise because I intend on wearing my new halter top tomorrow that Mom bought me in Martinique. She's finally loosening up enough to let me wear halters. I'm fifteen and starting tenth grade soon. I had to tell her to get a clue -- I'm growing up.
"You won't believe what I had to sit beside on the plane. He was like, so totally gross." Tossing my hair over my shoulders, I huff, "They let anybody buy a first-class ticket these days."
I stiffen, momentarily distracted by my aunt's neon-green shirt and matching pants that don't quite reach her ankles. They're wide-legged pants at that. My aunt stands almost six feet tall and -- glowing in this outfit the way she is -- people can't help but notice her. Here I am looking all fly and she's dressed like... I'm like totally embarrassed.
"Aunt Phoebe, you can't be going around here wearing stuff like this," I fuss. "I can't believe you actually wore this out of the house." Stealing a peek at my uncle, I ask, "Uncle Reed, why'd you let her come with you to Atlanta looking like that? I see we need to do some serious shopping to get you a new wardrobe. And just so you know, Aunt Phoebe, neon colors are out."
"It's good to see you too, Divine," Aunt Phoebe says with a chuckle.
It's then that I realize I've temporarily forgotten my manners. "Oh, I'm sorry!" I wrap my arms around my aunt, giving her a hug. "You know I can't have you looking any kind of way. You have an image to keep, Aunt Phoebe. You're my aunt."
I embrace Uncle Reed next. "Sorry for being rude." I put on a big smile and say, "I'm back..."
A flash of humor crosses his face. "So, how was Martinique, Miss Diva?"
At the mention of the island where I spent the last couple of weeks, a grin spreads across my face. "Oooh, Uncle Reed, I had a great time. Mom and I didn't do anything but hang out on the beaches, eat a bunch of good food and shop."
"Child, I'm so glad you're here," Aunt Phoebe interjects. "Alyssa's been worrying me to death about when you were coming back."
"I told her that it would be a couple of weeks before school started." School starts August fifteenth, approximately ten days from today.
I pick up my Gucci backpack and continue, "I have a couple of suitcases. Mom said I didn't need to bring much more than that. I don't know who she's trying to fool. She carries this much luggage for a overnight trip."
"You still got a lot of clothes in the closet back at the house. A whole closet full. I don't even know if I've ever seen you in the same thing twice."
Running my fingers through my hair, I tell her, "Aunt Phoebe, you know how I am. I'm a trendsetter. Besides, a girl can never have enough clothes."
She cracks up with laughter.
"C'mon, let's get your luggage," Uncle Reed says, his eyes bright with humor.
"Let's get them quick," I say. "Because we need to stop at the first mall we find. Aunt Phoebe definitely needs a new outfit."
"Never you mind, Miss Diva. I'm comfortable in what I got on. Besides, I just came out here to get you. If your plane had come on time, I probably wouldn't have gotten out of the car."
Looping my arm through my aunt's, I say, "Aunt Phoebe, you know I love you so I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but please, never ever wear this outfit again. It's so done."
Fingering her collar, Aunt Phoebe responds, "Oh, I was actually thinking about wearing it to the back-to-school dance. You know I'm going to be one of the chaperones."
Tilting my head back, I peer up at her face to see if I can tell whether she's joking or not. I can't, so I say, "I'm staying home that night."
Laughing, we follow Uncle Reed over to the slowly revolving conveyor belt, laden with a mixture of suitcases and garment bags ranging from super cheap to top of the line. We stand there, our eyes searching for my new Hartmann luggage, a gift from my mom.
Ten minutes later, with suitcases in hand, we make our way to the parking deck to Uncle Reed's car. I keep telling him and Aunt Phoebe that they need to upgrade to a Mercedes S600 sedan. My friend Mimi's dad just got one and it's tight.
As usual, Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Reed think they're down with the people or something by driving that boring black Cadillac. I have to admit it's cooler than the Nissan Quest Aunt Phoebe drives, even though the Nissan has all the tight stuff like DVD screens and a navigational system in it. Vans are just not cool. She should get an SUV.
Despite my relatives' poor taste in cars and clothing, I can hardly contain my excitement over being back with them. It's so obvious that they really need me.
I spent the first part of my summer at home in Pacific Palisades, California, with my mom up until a couple of weeks ago. Mom decided we should do some serious bonding, so we escaped to Martinique, French West Indies, before it was time for me to return to Atlanta.
During the drive from the Atlanta airport to Temple, I reflect back on how upset I was when, in true Hollywood style, Mom was sentenced to a court-ordered rehab program for abusing drugs and alcohol and sent me to Georgia to live with relatives I'd never met.
I was so totally against leaving sunny California for some hick town in the middle of nowhere. I was only fourteen then, but I've matured a lot since turning fifteen.
I still love California but it really doesn't feel much like home anymore. Not like Temple does. Maybe it's because my mom, R & B artist Kara Matthews, is away most of the time; since becoming one of Hollywood's most sought-after actresses, she spends more time starring in movies than singing in the recording studio.
Mom still owes Sony one more album. But after that, she plans to focus on acting. We decided that the best place for me right now is with Uncle Reed and Aunt Phoebe. I don't mind because my boo, Madison Hartford, lives in Temple. It was really hard not seeing him over summer break but we were determined to make our relationship work no matter what. We kept in contact via email and phone calls.
Alyssa was looking out for me too. She made sure that Madison didn't get stupid and cheat on me. As far as she knows, he's been a good boy. That's my boo. He's so crazy about me.
I pull out my compact mirror to check my makeup. I can't be caught looking whack. After all, I'm still a celebrity. I touch up my lips with my favorite lip gloss, Dior Addict Euphoric Beige. When I look up, Uncle Reed is pulling into the driveway.
"Oh my gosh!" I exclaim. "The house... it looks so different." Gone was the small, aluminum, matchbox-looking house that used to sit on this land. In its place is a sprawling ranch-style home with red brick covering the front and sides. "Wow. You even have a two-car garage. This is nice."
"We've had a lot of work done to it," Aunt Phoebe tells me. "We have all this land out here. We decided to make the house bigger."
I rush out of the car. "I can't wait to see what it looks like on the inside." I slip out of my jeweled thong sandals to feel the crisp, green grass tickling my bare feet.
It feels so good to be home.
My cousin Alyssa runs out of the house, screaming, "You're back! You're finally back.... Girl, I have so much to tell you."
We hug each other, jump up and down and then hug some more. We're both very excited about starting our sophmore year in high school.
"I told you that I was coming back."
"I thought you might change your mind. Divine, I'm so glad you're back. We have something to show you," Alyssa sings. "I can't wait until you see it."
"You must be talking about my room."
"Yeah. Divine, wait 'til you see it. I just know you're gonna love it."
We rush inside and down the hallway.
"I have my own bedroom! Praise the Lord," I scream. "Yes. Yes." I am beyond thrilled to have my own room and a full-size bed, but I'm ecstatic that Aunt Phoebe didn't decorate my room in that Pepto-Bismol pink she's so crazy about.
"Calm down, Hollywood... I mean, Divine. You act like you've never had nothing before." Alyssa has apparently developed a case of short-term memory. She was acting as hyped up as me not more than two minutes ago.
"You don't know how much this means to me," I tell her. "Don't get me wrong -- it wasn't too bad sharing a room with you." I stop for a moment. "Okay, I'm lying. I hated sharing a room with you. I love you, Alyssa, but I just need my own space."
"Hey, it wasn't no prize for me either having you for a roommate. You kept hogging up all the closet space. Even after Mama got you that armoire."
"Well, now you don't have to worry about it anymore. I have my own room and my own closet. A walk-in closet at that. Yes." I run my fingers along the scalloped edge of my new dresser. "I love it."
"I have a walk-in closet too." Alyssa takes me by the hand, leading me back toward the front of the house. "You'll see my room later. First you need to see Mama and Daddy's room. They have a sitting room now. And a big Jacuzzi."
I glance over at my uncle, who looks like a big teddy bear. "And why do you and Aunt Phoebe need such a big tub?"
"None of your business," he replies smoothly before giving Aunt Phoebe a wink.
"Gross," I mutter. The last thing I want in my mind is an image of my Amazon-looking aunt and uncle being all hugged up or worse, being all lovey-dovey. "You two are way too old to be... you know."
Uncle Reed and Aunt Phoebe laugh, but Alyssa looks about as grossed out as I do.
"The only folks in this house that should be doing anything is us. We're married."
"TMI, Aunt Phoebe. TMI."
"What in the world is TMI?"
"Too much information, Mama," Alyssa explains with a laugh.
Aunt Phoebe can be so lame at times.
Chuckling, I announce, "I think I'll go put away my stuff."
After a quick look at Alyssa's room, she helps me carry my luggage to my new bedroom. I still can't believe it. I actually have my own room.
"Where's Chance?" I ask. "I haven't seen that boy in a minute. I would've thought he'd at least hang around long enough to say hello."
"Pleeze... he's got Trina on the brain."
"I guess there's no point in me calling her then."
Alyssa agrees. "Especially not while she's with Chance. All they ever want to do is be alone. They don't even want me hanging with them anymore."
"Well, I'm back now. We can hang out together."
"Good. Penny's dating this boy named James, so she put me down too. I hardly ever hear from her these days."
"What?" I can't believe Penny's acting that way. My friend Mimi sometimes acts like that when she's going with a boy. But after I don't speak to her for a few days, she usually comes around.
"Yep. My own cousin put me down for a boy."
"What about Stacy? You still talk to her?" I question.
Alyssa nods. "Stacy and I still hang out from time to time but we don't do it a lot. She's been dealing with some drama with her mama and grandmamma."
"I'll give her a call tomorrow."
"She'll be glad to hear from you. She told me that you called her from California."
I nod. "Yeah, I did. Right before we left for Martinique. We didn't talk long because she was on her way out the door. What's up with her mom and granny?"
"Her grandmama had a stroke and she's living with them right now. She and Stacy's mama don't get along too well. Stacy says they fuss and fight all day long."
Alyssa keeps me company in my bedroom while I unpack my clothes. She even helps me put them away.
"Girl, Stephen is such a good boyfriend. He sends me emails every day. He's always talking about how much he loves me."
"Don't let Aunt Phoebe get to them," I warn her. "Get a Web-based email address like Yahoo or something. You know she checks your Charter Broadband account."
"I already have one. Only Stephen has the address, but I'll give it to you too. It's sweetlyssa at yahoo dot com."
I chuckle. "That's so corny."
"Stephen likes it. That's all that matters."
"Whatever," I mutter as I open a suitcase. "I bought you something."
Alyssa's eyes light up in excitement. "What?"
"You'll have to wait and see. It's a surprise."
"C'mon, where is it?"
"I'm getting to it. Just chill for a moment." I laugh at the expression on my cousin's face. I love irritating her like this.
"Okay, here it is." I toss a gift-wrapped package to her. "You're not going to get your other gift until your birthday."
Pouting, Alyssa complains, "That's almost a month away, Divine."
"Well, you'll just have to wait another four weeks." Pointing to the gift-wrapped present in her arms, I say, "C'mon... open it."
"Oh my goodness," she screams. "A pair of Gucci shoes."
"I knew you'd love them. Mom bought Chance a pair of those Nikes he really wanted."
"I love my shoes." Alyssa slips them on her feet and starts dancing around the room. "These are so tight. Divine, thanks so much. You were really looking out for me."
Grinning, I sit down watching my cousin strut around in her designer shoes -- her very first pair. Maybe now I can keep her big feet out of mine.
Putting away my clothes and talking nonstop has made us hungry. Alyssa and I stroll to the kitchen, laughing and whispering.
I notice that Aunt Phoebe had her entire kitchen remodeled. The ugly white cabinets have been replaced with custom-designed, honey-maple ones topped with double crown molding. "This looks so nice," I say.
"Mama loves her kitchen. She stays on me and Chance about keeping it clean, so you better watch out."
We hear the front door open and close. Shortly after, Chance strolls through the dining area.
"Chance, Divine's back," Alyssa announces when her brother walks into the kitchen.
He glances over at me. "Oh, hey girl."
I eye my cousin. I didn't expect Chance to jump up and down with joy, but I thought he'd at least sound a little more cheerful about my return.
"You okay? You look upset," I ask out of pure nosiness.
"I'm fine. Just got a lot on my mind. I'll talk to y'all later." He leaves us and heads to his room.
"What's wrong with him?" I ask Alyssa.
She shrugs. "I'on know. He was okay when he left here earlier. He and Trina must've had a fight, but they'll be fine tomorrow. They always do that."
Checking my watch, I note the time. "I need to call my boo and let him know that I'm back."
"He already called. Girl, all Madison did was walk around here looking pitiful."
"I missed him too. We emailed each other almost every day."
I excuse myself and rush off to my bedroom to call Madison. I'm so ready to see him, but I know Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Reed aren't going to let that happen. They're still stuck on that stupid rule of no dating or company until Alyssa and I turn sixteen.
Alyssa's the lucky one because her birthday is in four weeks and mine is still four months away -- an eternity.
Pushing the depressing thought out of my mind, I focus on what's really important right now: talking to the love of my life.
"Madison, hi. It's me."
"Hey, boo." Just hearing his voice sends my spirit soaring up to the clouds. I can't help myself. I just start grinning from ear to ear.
"Where you at?"
"Uncle Reed's house. I got in today."
"Girl, I'm glad you're back. I didn't know if your mom was gonna talk you into staying in Cali."
"No. I told you she wouldn't. She's hardly ever home. Plus, she's thinking about selling the house in California and moving permanently to Atlanta."
"Are you gonna move up there when she does?"
"No. Mom knows I don't want to change schools. I only have two more years after this. Don't worry, boo. I'm not going anywhere."
"I'm glad. I don't want to lose you, Divine. I'm crazy about you."
"I feel the same way," I gush. Mentally, I tell myself to maintain my cool. I like Madison a lot but I don't want him to know exactly how much. I don't want him getting a big head.
Just when our conversation starts getting good, Madison's stupid sister picks up the phone, demanding, "When y'all getting off? I need to make a call."
"Hang up, Marcia," Madison yells.
I'm crazy about Madison but I can't stand his sisters. Especially Marcia. She is such a ghetto chick, which I find interesting since they don't live in a ghetto -- they live on a farm with cows, chickens and I think there might even be a goat or something over there.
"Why won't your mom let you have a cell phone?"
"She says I don't need one."
I totally disagree. I need to be able to talk to my man whenever I want and it's hard with those crazy sisters of his always wanting to use the phone.
"Why don't you ask your dad?" I suggest.
"He ain't gonna do nothing."
Madison tries to change the subject, but I'm not ready to let this go. He shouldn't just take no for an answer. Play one parent against the other -- at least try. "Have you even asked him?"
"I'm telling you, my pop is not gonna do a thing. He don't care about nothing but hisself, his animals and this land. He don't care nothing about cell phones -- no kind of phone."
Marcia picks up a second time. "Get off the phone, Madison. I need to call my boyfriend."
"Hang up. I mean it."
I've had enough. "Madison, I'll call you back later."
He sighs loudly. "Okay. Let me let this stupid girl use the telephone."
Three hours after we hang up, I call back, checking to see if Marcia is done so Madison and I can finish our conversation.
"Look, Divine. Me and my boyfriend hafta work out some thangs. We gon' be on here for a while, so you need to just try and catch up with my brother tomorrow."
Before I can respond, she clicks off. Oooh, I can't stand her. She's so rude! I'm dying to call back and tell her off but I figure it's not in my best interests to make my boyfriend's sister angry.
I get on my computer and send Madison an email, telling him to call me when his ol' hateful sister gets off the phone. If she gets off at a decent hour, that is. My aunt and uncle have strict rules about stuff like phone calls after a certain hour.
I lay back on my bed thinking about how much my life has changed since moving in with my relatives. Mom and Jerome never really gave me a phone curfew or anything. I even had my own private line in our house.
They didn't monitor my emails either -- not like Aunt Phoebe does. She doesn't know about my Hotmail account, though.
It's not like it's a big deal anyway. I'm not doing anything sneaky. I've changed a lot in my way of thinking since I first came to Temple. Alyssa used to get on my nerves like crazy but we're cool now. She's like my best friend.
Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Reed aren't anything like my parents, but I don't hold it against them. I like being here with them because I know they love me and they care what happens to me. My parents care for me too. I know they do -- they just got caught up in some madness for a while. My mom's really trying to get her life together -- at least, that's what she keeps telling me.
I feel like I've changed a lot since becoming a Christian a few months ago, but then there are days when I think I'm the same Divine I've always been. The way I see it, there's not much that can be done to improve upon perfection. Still, I'm trying to be the best person I know God would want me to be.
Copyright © 2007 by Jacquelin Thomas