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My head bounced against the leather seat, the headphones of my iPod on my ears, the latest copy of Vibe magazine facedown in my lap, and a little bit of drool crept down the side of my mouth. When I felt a little turbulence, I sat straight up, looking around to grasp my surroundings. We were still in the air. Had to be. Because when I peered out of the small porthole window, I saw nothing but white clouds all fluffy and smooth, like huge pillows in the sky.
My mind wandered back to the scene at the airport. My mother was trying to be all hard, but I knew she wanted to cry because I did. This would be the first time in all of my fifteen years that we'd be separatedforever. Or, as she put it, at least until I got my stuff together. She had to feel it. But she just stood there, with that goofy look on her face, holding on to my little sister's hand for dear life, so Mattie wouldn't run off and get lost. She hugged me, but then pulled away quickly, turning her face from me. My mother was never the mushy, kissing-and-hugging type. She hardly ever even told me she loved me. Only in conversation. Like she might say, "Jade, I'm only whipping your behind because I love you." She never just hugged me before bed, like white kids' mamas did, and said, "You know what, Jade? I love you." Never that.
My daddy, on the other hand, was always kissing and hugging my sister and me. He always told us how much he loved us. Every single day he told us. And he listened to uslistened to our thoughts, our ideas. And he didn't fuss nearly as much as my mother did. She was always fussing about something. No wonder my daddy packed his things into a U-Haul and moved away from us. Iremember that day like it was yesterday. He'd come home latereally lateagain. And Mama was really mad. She started an argument with him and told him that she wanted him to move out. He pleaded with her to change her mind, but her mind was made up. The next thing I knew, he was gone. He moved into an apartment on the other side of town, where Mattie and I only got to visit him every other weekend. Then, as if that wasn't enough, Mama decided to up and move us away. Just smack out of the blue, we packed up and moved to my grandmother's house in Jersey.
Just when I was about to experience the time of my lifegoing to high school for the first time, trying out for the dance team and hanging out with my best friend, Indigoshe took all of that away from me, just like that.
Now, separated from my father and my best friend, I knew for sure that my world had come to an end. But Mama didn't care. She only cared about her own agenda, and making my daddy suffer for making her mad. She didn't care that I hated New Jersey and living with my grandmother who made us go to church three, sometimes four, times a week. She didn't care that I didn't know a single soul at my new high school. She didn't even care that my grades dropped and that I'd lost ten pounds because I stopped eating. And every time I tried to explain it to her, she simply said, "Jade, you just have to give Jersey a chance. You'll meet some new friends soon."
I did meet some new friends, but they weren't Indigo. Indigo and I had history. We had been friends since kindergarten, and that was something that couldn't be replaced by new friendships. And I missed my daddy like crazy. I called him every single night, but it wasn't the same as seeing himin the fleshevery day. And he missed us, too. I could hear it in his voice. We were the apples of his eyeMattie and me. He told us so all the time.
I had to do something and get Mama's attention somehow. She wouldn't listen to my pleas, so I put together a plan of action. I started skipping school, stopped turning in my homework assignments and started giving my teachers a hard time. My plan was to get Mama's attention one way or another. Once the teachers started calling, she'd have to take notice after all, and realize how unhappy I was. She would hear my cries when I landed myself into out-of-school suspension. Ten days was the minimum for sassing a teacher, so I went for it.
When Mr. Douglas, the assistant principal, called Mama at work, I was sitting in his office, my arms folded across my chest with my lip poked out as I proclaimed my innocenceeven though I knew I was straight-up guilty. I had to play the part just right. Make them all believe I was just a victim of circumstance, at least until my mama packed us up and moved us back to Atlanta. That was my goalto get my family back together. And it was working, until I got home and felt that thick leather belt against my backside. That wasn't supposed to be a part of the plan. But you can't win every battle during war. There are always casualties, but the war wasn't over yet.
I overheard her talking to my daddy that night on the phone, telling him how I was out of control.
"I don't know what's wrong with Jade," she'd said.
"She is getting to be a handful, Ernest. And I can't do this by myself."
The next thing I knew, I was on a plane headed for Atlanta. As much as I missed my daddy and wanted to live with him, my plan was to reunite my whole family, not get sent away like some juvenile delinquent. But here I was, in the window seat on a flight to Atlanta, wondering if my dad's beating would be any worse than the one I got from my mama. I guessed I would soon find out.
My father stood at the top of the escalator at Hartsfield–Jackson Airport, his trench coat opened, a half smile on his face. I could tell he was frustrated. I'd disappointed him. It was written all over his face. What did he think of his little Jade-bug now after reading that five-page letter from my school's principalthe one that spelled out every curse word that I had used and a few that they just threw in there for the heck of it? It was true that teachers made up stuff sometimes, just to make it sound good. My heart pounded as I tried to read Daddy's face, my eyes locked with his. Was it really possible for a father to stop loving his daughter? Surely I wasn't his baby girl anymore, not after my behavior.
"Hi, Daddy," I said, biting my thumbnail and putting on my best innocent voicethe one that had gotten me out of so many whippings in the past. My daddy was a sucker for the innocent voice and the sad eyes that I only used in cases of emergency.
"Jade-bug." Daddy grinned from ear to ear. "How was your flight, baby girl?"
Wow! He called me Jade-bug and baby girl all in one sentence. Guess he still loved me after all.
"My flight was fine. I slept most of the way."
"Good." Daddy grabbed my carry-on gym bag and slung it across his shoulder. "You hungry?"
"Starving," I said, and followed my father toward the baggage claim area.
"Good. I know just the place."
Daddy's SUV pulled into a space at the Varsity, a smile across his face.
"Your favorite place, right?"
"No, Daddy, this is Mattie's favorite place." I frowned. Had we really been gone that long that he'd forgotten where I liked to eat? "My favorite place is Burger King, remember?"
"Oh yeah, that's right. You like the Whopper, hold the cheese and pickles, cut in half, large Coke mixed with Sprite, and make sure the fries are crispy, right?"
"You remembered." I smiled.
"Yes, I did." Daddy pinched my nose like he used to when I was five. "But we're eating at the Varsity today. Since we're already here and all."
"Cool," I mumbled. "I can always use a good laxative."
I followed Daddy inside and he ordered us cheese-burgers, fries and Cokes.
"Grab some napkins and I'll get us a booth."
I pulled a handful of napkins from the dispenser on the counter, grabbed a couple of straws and found my way toward the booth where I caught Daddy stuffing a handful of my fries into his mouth. He gave me this innocent look as I slid into the booth.
"You been eatin' my fries, Daddy?" I asked.
"Got my own fries, Jade-bug," he said, and then dug into his own. Meanwhile, mine were half-gone.
"It's not cool to eat people's French fries, Daddy," I said while unwrapping my burger. "Not cool at all."
"Well, tell me what's cool because I'm thinking that it's very uncool to sass your teachers like you did the other week." Daddy's face became serious. I was just teasing, not meaning for this to turn into an issue about me. How did we get here from an order of French fries? "What's going on with you, Jade-bug?"
I just went for it.
"Daddy, I hate New Jersey. Didn't want to move there in the first place."
"I know, baby girl, but that's the place that your mother chose for you to live."
"Why didn't you fight it, Daddy? We're your kids, too. You could've sued her or something."
"Barbara wanted to be near her family. I couldn't fault her for that."
"What about what we wanted? We wanted to be near you. You're our family, too." I stuffed a handful of fries into my mouth. "Why did you have to break up in the first place? Everything was just fine."
"Everything wasn't just fine. Your mother and I had been having problems for a long time, Jade."
"Couldn't you go to counseling or something?" I asked, not really expecting an answer, but I was grasping for straws at this point.
"There were a lot of things we could've done, honey, but it's too late for that now."
"It's not too late. You're single. And Mama's single. So get back together. Simple."
"It's not that simple, sweetheart."
"Yes, it is."
"No," he said, and stopped chewing. "It's not."
"Give me one good reason why."
"I've met someone else," he said. I couldn't believe my ears.
"Yeah. Her name is Veronica. I can't wait for you to meet her, baby. You're really going to love her."
My heart started pounding at full speed. It was as if time stood still, and my heart was the only thing moving, pounding so fast that my brain could hardly keep up. Did he say that he met someone? Surely I'd heard him wrong.
"What're you talking about? What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that I've met someone and I want you to meet her."
"No," I said. That was all I could think of to say.
My life was falling apart. This was not supposed to be happening. My plan was to get my parents back together, not to have some Veronica home-wrecker person ruin my life. Yeah, I wanted to meet her alright. I had something for her. My daddy sat across from me at that table, smiling and chewing on that nasty, greasy Varsity burger. I wanted to slap that silly smile off his face!