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Alyssa, how am I supposed to get my dance on with Uncle Reed and Aunt Phoebe guard-dogging us all night long?" Sighing loudly, I throw my hands up in resignation, acting like a total drama queen. "I change my mind. I'm not going to the Sweethearts' Dance," I say, referring to the dance always held the Saturday before Valentine's Day.
"I can't have your mom and dad watching me like a hawk. Talk about total humiliation. If I wanted a bodyguard, I could call Leo and have him go to the dance with us. At least with him we'd look cool."
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. Leo was my dad's best friend and was employed as his bodyguard before Jerome went to prison.
"You really need to chill," Alyssa replies while checking her reflection in the full-length mirror standing in the corner of my bedroom. "My parents aren't just gonna be watching us. They have to keep their eyes on all the students."
"How much do you wanna bet?" I huff. "Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Reed have a vested interest in us. I'm telling you...girl, it's going to be all about us."
Tearing herself from my mirror finally, Alyssa asks, "A what kind of interest?"
She's standing there with this ugly frown on her face. I just love using the new words I learn daily in sentences because it drives my cousins, Alyssa and Chance, crazy and it makes me seem much smarter than they are. "Vested. It means protected or established by law, commitment, tradition, or ownership."
Alyssa shakes her head, her microbraids swinging back and forth. "We have to go to the dance, Divine. Everybody is gonna be there. And we get to go with dates. Girl, we're actually getting to go out with Stephen and Madison. How long have we been waiting for that to happen? It's a miracle."
"Well, I didn't expect your parents to be there with us," I complain, checking myself out in the oval, full-length mirror standing near the window. My new razor-cut, shoulder-length hairstyle is holding up well and looks great. "This sucks big-time. I can see it now...Madison and I start slow-dancing and here comes Uncle Reed measuring to see if we're too close -- no body parts touching. I bet we won't be able to walk outside to get some air without Aunt Phoebe hot on our tails. How can they embarrass us like this?"
"At least they're letting us go to the dance. Divine, you know how my dad feels about stuff like this," Alyssa tells me. "If it weren't for Mama talking him into letting us go, we'd be staying home tonight. So let's just go and have a good time with our boyfriends."
"Madison and I are not together," I quickly correct her. "We're just friends."
Alyssa chuckles. "Yeah, right. You know Madison is your boo."
I break into a grin because she's right. A warm feeling spreads through my body at just the mention of Madison Hartford's name. He has his name all over my heart. "I'm taking my time with him. Like I'm not about to let him think he can just come running back to me whenever he feels like it. That brotha is gonna have to work hard to get me back."
Picking up my comb, I style my flat-ironed hair, then check my makeup. Aunt Phoebe only lets me wear lip gloss and powder foundation. But I'm not tripping because I still look fierce. I have what my mom calls inner beauty. "It's gonna be some hatin' going on tonight when we walk into the dance."
"Girl...wait till Stephen and Madison see us. They're going to lose their minds over how cute we're looking tonight."
I totally agree. My cousin and I really look hot in our dresses. Mom bought them in Los Angeles and sent them two weeks ago. They actually look more sophisticated than some of the dresses she's bought us before -- more grown-up. Even Aunt Phoebe with her no kind of fashion sense managed to find the perfect purse and shoes to match Alyssa's red dress and my white one.
We'd arranged to meet Stephen and Madison at the school. Uncle Reed had suggested they ride with us, but I wasn't having it. It would be too lame to pull up in a car with our dates and my aunt and uncle.
I don't want to be late, so I say to Alyssa, "Hurry up. We need to get going."
Alyssa takes another look in the mirror. "Okay, I'm ready."
We walk out of my bedroom and head up to the front of the house where Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Reed are waiting for us.
For once, my aunt actually listened to me and decided on wearing the red suit with the silver trim. It looks good on her -- Aunt Phoebe can come out of the box when it comes to fashion. I'm trying to work with her, but it's so hard sometimes. Especially since she's six feet tall. I'm a trendsetter and prone to showing off my unique sense of style, while my aunt Phoebe would be buried somewhere under the jail by the fashion police.
At about five-eight, Uncle Reed is a conservative dresser. He just looks like a preacher all the time, and he probably owns more black suits than anyone else in the world. At least he's wearing a red tie tonight. I have a teddy bear that looks just like him, down to the wire-framed glasses.
"You girls ready?" Aunt Phoebe asks, checking us out. "Oh, you both look beautiful."
"Thank you," we reply in unison.
I'm as ready as I can be with my aunt and uncle coming to the dance with us. They are so messing up my style. I admit I got in over my head that one time when I met the psycho over the internet, but this time it's different.
It's just a dance.
On the short drive to the school, I think about my cousin Chance and his girlfriend Trina. They're not going to the dance tonight because he has to work and Trina is due to deliver their baby around the end of March. She's been dealing with a lot of swelling and feeling sick, so her parents are keeping her home until the baby comes. She's on independent study right now.
I'm still tripping over the fact that Chance and Trina are really having a baby next month. My aunt and uncle were totally upset at first, but now everyone is all excited. I guess they had no choice but to accept it because the baby's coming anyway. Uncle Reed is a preacher and says sex before marriage is a sin. He and Aunt Phoebe were disappointed because their own son wasn't listening when it came to that. Uncle Reed probably thinks that other people won't listen to him if his own children mess up. Personally, I don't think it's their fault at all. Teenagers are going to try stuff no matter what sometimes. It's not right, but it's just being a teen. To be honest, I'm not exactly thrilled to have a crying baby in the house. But then again, it's not like this is my real home -- it feels like it is, but it's not.
Uncle Reed parks the car near the gym where the dance is being held. Alyssa climbs out, looking around for Stephen and Madison. They're supposed to be meeting us right out front. I get out of the car, checking out the surroundings, too.
It's cold outside and I'm not about to freeze standing out here waiting on Madison. I can't believe they're late. We'll look all crazy walking into the dance by ourselves. I'm not going out like that. I'll go back home first.
Stephen walks out through the front doors of the school with Madison following him. I release a soft sigh of relief.
My boo is here.
Aunt Phoebe pauses long enough to tell us, "I expect you both to act like young ladies. Once you walk inside this school -- y'all better stay inside until we're ready to leave. We ain't having no funny bizness going on. I mean it."
A couple of kids walking by us pause long enough to hear Aunt Phoebe's mouth and start to giggle. I'm so wanting to die of embarrassment. Now would be a really good time for Aunt Phoebe to catch a bad case of laryngitis.
Just before we walk inside, my semi-best-friend Mia and her boyfriend show up. She looks pretty in the red leather pantsuit she's wearing, but Tim...oh my gosh...he's looking all thuggish.
His pants are hanging so low, they look like they're about to fall off his tail, and he's got a bandanna tied around his braids. I wonder if he knows that his fashion risk actually started in prison. It's how prisoners advertise their willingness to have sex with another inmate.
Jerome told me that even before he went to prison. He had never been a fan of baggy pants and oversize shirts. I used to think the look was cool until I found out where the style originated.
We wait for them to catch up and make our grand entrance together.
I steal a peek at the boy Mia's been seeing for the last three or four months. He's kind of cute. I don't know what it is exactly, but I don't really like Tim. It's just something about him that doesn't feel right to me. He doesn't say a whole lot when he's at school -- just walks around with an attitude all the time. He only seems to kick it with the boys that stay in trouble all the time for fighting or skipping school and smoking weed.
"Divine, you wearing that dress, gurl," Mia complimented. "You look hot."
I smile at the compliment. "You do, too."
I feel Tim's gaze on me and glance up. He's just standing there staring at me, a shadow of annoyance hovering in his eyes.
Feeling uncomfortable, I turn to Madison and say, "I feel like dancing."
My boo's so into me that he doesn't notice the sudden tension in the air. Grinning, he takes my hand and leads me to the dance floor.
On the dance floor, I allow the music to sweep me up and carry me away with the rhythm. I love music and I love to dance. Alyssa and Stephen follow us, and soon the four of us are dancing and singing to Yung Joc's song "It's Goin' Down."
I hold back from showing off some of the dance moves I learned off BET because hawkeye Aunt Phoebe is standing near the edge of the dance floor, checking us out hard.
I wish she'd go get a life.
Mia and Tim navigate through the crowd, finding us. We dance through three more songs. I need a minute to make sure I'm not looking whack, so Madison and I leave the dance floor. He takes a seat at our table while I make a bathroom run. Alyssa and Mia join me there a few minutes later.
"I didn't know Stephen could dance like that," Alyssa says. "My boo can really dance."
I laugh. "He's okay...Did you see Nicholas out there? Now, I didn't know he had any rhythm outside of typing on a keyboard." He's a good friend of mine, but the boy is a major nerd.
Penny and Stacy walk into the bathroom giggling about something.
"It's about time y'all got here," Alyssa says.
"It was Penny. You know she always late for everything." Stacy pulls a brush out of her purse and makes an attempt to tame her hair. She has curls flying all over the place. I have no idea what she's trying to do, but in my opinion -- it definitely didn't work. "That music's sounding good. I'ma get my party on," she tells us.
"Did I really see Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Reed out there?" Penny questions while touching up her lipstick.
"Yeah," I respond. "Our bodyguards are here."
Mia laughs along with Stacy and Penny, leading Alyssa to pinch me on the arm and say, "You need to not be talking about my parents like that."
"Like you're happy about them being here," I respond. "You were just as upset about it when you first found out, Alyssa."
"They're here and there's nothing we can do about it. Let it go, Divine."
I take a step back when Alyssa tosses her braids over her shoulder. "Hey, watch it...you're dangerous with those things."
"I love my braids. I'll probably wear my hair like this forever."
"That's a bold statement. Fashion risk and all. Not to mention what it might do to your hair."
"Don't hate," Alyssa responds with a grin.
We stand around in the bathroom talking about everything -- from boys to makeup to curfews. After chatting for a little over ten minutes, we walk out to reunite with our dates.
"What took you so long?" Tim demands as soon as we return to the table. "I'm sitting here waitin' on you."
I glance over at Mia, who suddenly looks like she's scared of the boy. She's over there stuttering and stuff trying to explain that we took a little girl time for ourselves. What's up with that?
Madison strokes my arm, bringing my attention back to him. "You look good," he whispers in my ear. "Right now I just want to kiss those sweet lips of yours."
I giggle until Aunt Phoebe's tall Amazon self walks over to the table. She gives me this funny look before asking, "Y'all behaving yourselves?"
"Mama...," Alyssa groans.
"I'm just checking," Aunt Phoebe responds before moving on to the next table.
I glance over at Mia, who's in what still looks like an intense conversation with Tim. I drop my eyes when he glances my way.
Madison stands up and grabs my hand. "C'mon, let's dance. I like this song."
Holding hands, we make our way to the center of the dance floor. Madison and I move to the beat, looking fierce as can be. I bet we're the best-looking couple here.
Just as we make it back to the table, Tim rushes to his feet, pulling Mia with him. Mia plasters on a fake smile and practically whispers to me, "I'll s-see y'all later."
"You're leaving?" I ask.
She nods. "Tim's ready to go. I'll call you tomorrow."
Tim grunts something to her and Mia looks like she's about to cry.
What is going on between them? I wonder. I do know one thing -- I'd never let the thug talk to me any kind of way. Humph.
He wouldn't punk me like that.
"What's up with that fool?" Madison asks when Tim and Mia leave.
I shrug. "He's a real jerk. Can you believe he got upset just because we went to the bathroom? That's crazy."
Madison reaches over and takes my hand in his. I quickly search the room to see where my aunt and uncle are -- I don't need them tripping. He leans forward to steal a kiss.
"They're on the other side of the room talking to the principal," he whispers. "It's Valentine's Day and I miss kissing you."
I check out the room one more time because I've been missing Madison's lips, too. I'd never admit it to him though.
We kiss, sending the pit of my stomach into a wild swirl.
"Y'all better cut that out," Alyssa warns. "My mom and dad will be checking on us soon. You know they usually show up around now."
"Chill, Alyssa," I respond. "It was just a little kiss. It's not like we were in a lip-lock."
"Tell it to my parents when they catch you. Personally, I don't care what you and Madison do, but I'm not getting in trouble with you."
"Like we have anything to worry about," I respond. "Nobody saw us."
No sooner have the words slipped out of my mouth, Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Reed walk up to our table. I scan their faces to see if I can get a heads-up on if I'm busted or not.
I steal a glance over at Alyssa, who looks like she's been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. I think she's trying to tell me something, but I can't figure it out.
Uncle Reed asks, "Where is Mia and her date?"
"They left," Madison answers.
"Son, you might want to wipe off that lip gloss," Uncle Reed tells him. "You look like you've been eating pork chops."
Stephen and Alyssa burst into laughter while I hand my boo a napkin.
Aunt Phoebe places a hand on my shoulder, leans down, and whispers, "Keep those lips of yours to yourself, sugar. Understand me?"
I can feel my face growing warm. "Yes, ma'am."
Right now I'm hating Uncle Reed for calling Madison out like that. My aunt and uncle truly suck.
I let out a long sigh when they move on to the next table. I can't believe they just did that to us.
"You got busted," Alyssa says with a laugh as if I didn't have a clue. I'm the one sitting over here flaming with embarrassment.
"Shut up," I snap.
My revenge comes later when Uncle Reed walks onto the dance floor to pry Alyssa and Stephen apart. I howl with laughter. My cousin looks like she's about to pass out in her humiliation.
Back at the table, Alyssa pinches my arm.
"Hey, that hurts."
"That's for laughing at me."
"You should've seen your face." I chuckle. "I thought you were gonna die right on the spot."
"To be honest...I thought I was, too. I thought Mama was gonna take me out right on that dance floor. I can't believe she embarrassed me like that."
We decide to sit at our table talking for the rest of the evening. Especially since the deejay is playing a lot of slow songs.
Five minutes past one a.m., Aunt Phoebe comes to the table and announces, "We're getting ready to leave. Say your good-byes and meet us at the car."
I glance over at Madison. "I guess I'll give you a call tomorrow. We're going to Atlanta to see my mom."
"Put your phone on vibrate. I'ma call you later."
"Okay. If I don't answer right away, call me back. I know Aunt Phoebe's going to want to fuss."
Alyssa interrupts us. "Mama and Daddy just walked out. We better get out there. I don't feel like being embarrassed any more tonight."
Sighing in resignation, I pick up my leather coat and slip it on, thinking it would've been better to just stay home than to have to live down the humiliation of having to leave with my aunt and uncle as soon as the lights come on. We barely have any time to say good-bye to our friends.
Parents can be so mean.
It's times like these that I consider going back to live with my mom. But with my dad in prison and Mom starring in movies and recording a new album, I don't have a stable home environment -- not like I do with Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Reed. With them I feel like I have a normal life.
And a curfew.
Copyright © 2007 by Jacquelin Thomas