Read an Excerpt
I sat on top of a cardboard boxa box filled with all of the colorful sweaters my mother had bought for me over the years. There was the red turtleneck, and the brown one with the fuzz balls all over it and the yellow one that tied around the waistthe yellow one looked like one my grandmother would wear to church. I had refused to wear any of them, and some of them even had the tags still on them. My mother wasn't the best at picking out clothes for me, and I just wished she'd stop trying. It would save us both a lot of time and trouble.
She insisted that she knew my style, but the reality was she really didn't. She knew her own style that she wanted to be mine. And our tastes couldn't have been more different. If she knew my style, she would've stocked my closet with blue jeans that were tight in the hips and narrow at the anklesthe kind I would wear with the wedge-heeled sandals that I'd picked up at Bakers shoe store over the summer. Or she'd pick out one of those cute little cropped tops that you could only find at Charlotte Russe or the Papaya stores at the mall. She might even take the liberty of popping her head inside Forever 21 and sorting through the clearance rack for that one-of-a-kind sweater that I would actually wear. But she didn't even know that those stores existed. She had tunnel vision when she visited the mall. The only stores she recognized were JCPenney and Macy's because she carried around their charge cards in her purse. I don't know why she carried them, because most of the time they were maxed out.
She didn't know me at all. Because if she did, she'd realize how unhappy I was with this new living arrangement that she'd come up with. A three-bedroom apartment in the same apartment complex that my father lived in. He lived in Building 300 near the playground, and we lived in the new section of the complexin Building 700 near the pool. My bedroom window faced the back side of the complex, and the only view I had was of the highway where millions of cars traveled each day. I couldn't even see the front of the building where the kids my age hung out. At least at my father's apartment, I could see who was outsideand could decide if I wanted to go outside or not.
Sometimes Felicia Clark and Angie Miller would be outside talking trash to some girls from another neighborhood, or some boys from school would be in the parking lot leaned against their cars with their music blasting. At Daddy's I could see the pool and knew who was going for a swim. And at least in my old bedroom I could watch Chocolate Boy pull up on his little brother's bike when he snuck over for a visit. I could see him riding up the hill, breathing hard as he got closer. He would lift the bike onto his shoulder and carry it up the flight of stairs and to my front door. Mrs. Hernandez on the second floor would always frown as he took the stairs two at a time. She was so nosyI couldn't stand her. I was sure that she'd stop my father on his way home from work one day and tell him that Chocolate Boy had spent the day at our house even though he wasn't allowed to visit unless Daddy was home. What Daddy didn't know didn't hurt him, though. But if he ever found out, I would blame Mrs. Hernandez. It was easy having a life while living with Daddy, because he was never there. He was always working late at the office, or hanging out with his new girlfriend Veronica. Veronica was a home wrecker in my opinionif I was allowed to have an opinion, but most of the time nobody asked for it. My parents were divorced, but on the verge of getting back together. At least I thought they wereuntil now. Now I wasn't sure what they were doing. This was not my idea of bringing my family back togetherliving in separate apartments. We were supposed to be living together. Instead it seemed that we were moving further apart, and no one seemed to see it but me. I still couldn't understand why we couldn't have just moved in with Daddy, he and Mommy work out their differences and we become one big, happy family again. I guess that was too much to ask God for, because after all the praying I had done, he still didn't see fit to grant me that one thing. Even after I told him how good I would behave, and not get into any trouble in the upcoming school year. I even promised to keep my room and the kitchen clean before being asked. I guess he didn't believe me. I guess my track record with him wasn't that great, after all. After all, I hadn't been to church on Sunday in I don't know how long, even though that was the last promise I'd made.
I had been tricked into thinking that my family was on the road to getting back together. When my parents got a divorce during the summer before my freshman year, I thought my world had come to an end. Mommy took Mattie and me and headed for New Jersey to live with my grandmother. I was miserable the moment I set foot in Grandmother's housea house that smelled of mothballs and milk of magnesiaand she started setting rules that were almost impossible to follow. Mattie and I couldn't even walk across the shiny hardwood floors in the dining room without being accused of walking too loud. Or if I played my CDs at all, she'd yell at me to turn the music down.
"It's the devil's music," she'd say. And I'd roll my eyes and turn it down.
I would pray that we would get out of her house soon. She forced us to go to church several times a week, and would quiz us about what the preacher had talked about. I failed every one of those quizzes, because most of the time I'd fallen asleep right there on the back pewmy mouth open wide, sometimes with drool creeping down the side of my face. But I didn't care. There was nothing exciting about listening to someone say the same scripture over and over again, and beat it in the ground. Grandmother's church was nothing like our church in Atlanta, where we had a youth ministry that was actually interesting. We discussed things that pertained to kids my age, like boys, sex and school. We could discuss our thoughts about things and not be ashamed of what we said. I was starting to miss Atlanta more and more each day.
By the middle of my freshman year, I'd already decided that Grandmother's house was no place for me, and that I needed to be back in A-T-L. But not only that, I needed to reunite my family. My parents still loved each other they had to. And it was my goal to find out just how much. When I got into trouble at school, it forced my mother to ship me back to Atlanta to live with my father for a little while. My plan seemed to be heading in the right direction at that point. That is until I ran into the infamous Mr. Collins, my American history teacher, who thought that it was okay to touch me in an inappropriate way. It was the most humiliating experience of my life. As soon as my mother found out, she hopped a flight back to Atlanta just to make sure he was not only fired from my high school, but that he was also arrested and thrown behind bars. Mommy was so brave and didn't even flinch when Mr. Collins walked past, his arms in handcuffs, giving us the evil eye as two police officers escorted him off campus. She gave him the evil eye right back. I felt so protected and secure, and felt that there was nothing my mother couldn't handle. As different as we were, Mommy and I, at that moment I wanted to be just like herbrave and strong.
I still remember the excitement I felt when Mommy and Mattie had shown up at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport and the four of us ended up at Red Lobster for dinner. I knew it was just a matter of time before our family would be back together. And when I caught my parents kissing each otheron the lipsin the middle of my daddy's kitchen, and holding each other like they used to, I knew that they belonged together.
"So when are you and Daddy getting remarried?" I asked Mommy one morning when she was flipping pancakes and wearing one of Daddy's Falcons' jerseys.
"We hadn't really talked about that, Jade-bug," she said, and squeezed my nose like she used to when I was a little girl. "I'm not even sure that's what we both want."
"What do you mean you're not sure? Don't you still love each other?"
"Of course we do, baby. I will always love your father, and he will always love me. After all, we gave each other two beautiful girls, you and Mattie. But that doesn't mean that we should be remarried."
"I don't get it," I said, holding on to the bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's maple syrup.
"What don't you get, Jade?" Mommy asked and stacked three pancakes onto Mattie's plate.
"I don't get why we're here together in Daddy's apartment. The two of you are running around here kissing each other like you're still in love. Look at you you're wearing his jersey and sleeping in the same room with him!" I felt like tears might start falling if I said any more, so I shut up.
"Jade, your father and I have apologized to each other for hurting one another. We have made amends, and now we're just enjoying each other's company. We're better friends now, and we both agree that we enjoy our freedom."
"Are you and Mattie moving back to Atlanta?" I asked and set the bottle of syrup in front of Mattie, and then placed my hands on my hips, the legs of my pajama pants touching the floor. I waited for an answer.
"I'm thinking about moving back," she said. "I know it's hard living with Grandmother. And I know that you and Mattie want to be near your father. It feels like the right thing to do."
"So we're moving in with Daddy?" Mattie asked, her mouth filled with pancakes.
"Don't talk with your mouth full, little girl," Mommy told her and then handed her a paper towel to wipe her mouth with. "We're moving back to Atlanta, but I don't think we're going to be moving in with Daddy."
"You're kidding, right?" I asked, not believing my ears.
"No, I'm not kidding," Mommy said. "In fact, I looked at an apartment yesterday and put a deposit down on it."
"An apartment where?" I asked.
"Right here in this complex," she said in a matter-of-fact sort of way. "That way you can continue to go to the same school, and Mattie can go to her old elementary school."
She didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that we'd be wasting a whole lot of money by spending it on separate apartments, when Daddy had plenty of room right here for all of us. And what was worse was that we'd be wasting money on an apartment in the same complex. Parents were strange. She was always telling me to think things through, and here she was not thinking at all.
"How many pancakes you want, Jade-bug?" she asked, changing the subject.
Suddenly my appetite was gone, and I wanted nothing more than to rush to my room and cover my head with a pillow.
"Not hungry," I mumbled and walked out of the kitchen. Left her standing there with a spatula in her hand and that Aunt Jemima-looking scarf on her head.
I made my way down the hallway to my room, my head hung low as I looked down at my big fuzzy pink slippers the whole way. Once in my room, I bounced onto the bed, covered my ears with the earphones of my iPod. Keyshia Cole was spilling her lyrics into my ears. I normally liked Keyshia Cole, but for some reason she sounded whiny at the moment. So I pressed the stop button and threw my iPod aside. I picked up my cell phone to see if I had any missed calls. There weren't any missed calls, but I had a text message.
"What u doin?" Chocolate Boy asked.
Chocolate Boy. The newfound love of my life, also known as Terrence. He was my first and only real boyfriend. A boy who had sat next to me in Mr. Collins's American history class, and slipped me notes from across the room. When he asked me to be his girl, I thought he was joking. But he showed me just how serious he was when he gave me a heart-shaped locket with his picture stuck all in it. I wore it every single day. We had become inseparable over the summer, and were already talking about sharing a locker in the upcoming school year. Things were getting pretty serious.
"Arguing w/M." I sent a text back.
"Again?" he asked.
"Not da end of the world, Morgan."
He always called me by my last nameMorgan, as if we were in boot camp or something.
"U always take her side."
"I'm on your side "
I disagreed, and was done texting with him. I shut my pink Razor phone, and threw it against the pillow, turned on my clock radio and tuned it to 107.9, Atlanta's hip-hop station, shut my eyes and enjoyed the music.
That was three weeks ago, and now as I sat staring out of my new bedroom window, tears began to fill my eyes. The rain bounced against the window and played a tune on the pane. It sounded like somebody was playing the drums. I glanced across the room at my bed frame and mattress that leaned against the wallstill needing to be put together. Daddy had called earlier and was supposed to be on his way to put beds and tables together, but so far, he hadn't shown up. I could hear Mommy and Mattie in the living room, unpacking boxes and singing some Marvin Gaye song at the top of their lungs. They acted as if this was a happy occasion. How could they be dancing and singing during a time such as thiswhen our lives were falling apart?