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Kalia looked around the room slowly, realizing the significance of the moment. Everybody she knew and loved was there. Her mother, Elaine; her father, Ronald; her crazy sister, Mariama; and her best friend, Dewayne. In fact all of her friends were there and so were all of the other folks who made up her world. For a hot second she let this special moment eclipse her anger. She knew she would go off if she didn't get away for a minute.
The object of her venom came up behind her as she walked into the kitchen.
"What's up, sis?, said Mari. "Happy birthday!"
"I wish it was," said Kalia, whipping around, " but it's not because you messed it up!"
"What are you talking about? Everybody is kickin" it."
"Yeah, they sure are, but that's not what we agreed on. It wasn't just supposed to be a kick-it party. It was supposed to be special, but as usual you went ahead and did what you wanted to do. Why do you have to be so selfish?"
"K, it's hot outside. I'm burning up. Don't get on my nerves today, okay? It's my birthday," said Mari, getting a bottle of water out of the refrigerator.
"It's my birthday, too, Mari, and you're turning it into a straight hip-hop party. We said we'd compromise."
"I can't help what the deejay is playing," Mari said, smirking.
"If you'd hired DJ Spin Nice like we talked about you wouldn't have to help what he was playing. It'd be a mix, just like we said. You make me sick, Mari. You always have to have your way," said Kalia, pointing her finger at her smug sister.
Mari moved closer to Kalia. "I know you're not talking about somebody having to have their way, Miss Priss. you're the queen of selfishness. I told you earlier, DJ Spin Nice costs too much. We didn't have enough money for him. So that's right, I got my way this time, and there's nothing you can do about it."
"You think so? You think there's nothing I can do? Phhh," said Kalia, folding her arms across her chest.
"Look, I'm sixteen. I'm getting my license next week. you're eighteen. You canuhvote. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that the food is great, we look good, it's our birthday party. Let's just have fun," reasoned Mari.
"I'm not hanging out there with you and your little ghetto friends."
"Fine. Stay in here and be a crab at your own birthday party," said Mari, turning on her heels. "God. You must be on your period or something," she mumbled, walking out of the kitchen.
Enraged, Kalia stamped up the back stairs and into her room to look at the party through her huge open windows. Who the hell does she thinks she is? Kalia thought. This is probably my last birthday at home, and it looks like a hip-hop video. She surveyed the teenage crowd in her backyard, spotting Mari and her crew of girls up front near the deejay table. They were with some thug-looking guys, bouncing around in their baby t's, low-riding jeans and sneakers, and were shaking their behinds to the empty boasts of some rapper claiming he had a girl in every city in the world.
The beat is hot, Kalia thought, tapping her fingers in time with the baseline against the ledge. She spotted her friend Dewayne staring at her and motioned for him to come up to her room. Sitting at her desk, Kalia logged on the Internet to find her horoscope, wondering every year like always if her parents had planned to have her and her sister in the same month so they could always knock out both birthdays in one party. At least they came correct, ending the summer with blowouts every year.
Their birthday parties were the best. Anything could happen and anybody could show up. They had in-home puppet shows and cartoon-themed parties when they were little. When Kalia and Mari were ten and twelve, Elaine, a yoga instructor, used her connections at the National Black Arts Festival to arrange for an African dance performance with live drummers. A few years later, for their fourteenth and sixteenth birthdays, Elaine and Ronald blew their kids" minds when they threw them a Caribbean-themed party with a steel pan band, Carnival decorations and Caribbean-prepared food.
And this one would have been the best ever, thought Kalia. This party was the only one that their parents had let the Jefferson sisters plan by themselves. Kalia wanted something a little more sophisticated and formal, while Mari just wanted a good hip-hop deejay, so she and her crew and all their friends could sweat it out on the dance f loor. Kalia had envisioned high heels, dresses and finger food in the living room around their piano, not hot wings and crunk.
"Everybody looks like they're having a great time," said Dewayne, entering Kalia's spotless room. "What are you doing hiding out in here?"
"I cannot believe that Mari got DJ Love. He's played the same five songs all night," said Kalia, getting up from her desk and looking back out the window.
"Aw, girl, ain't nuthin" wrong with a little hip-hopa little Jay-Z, a little Ludacris, some OutKast," said Dewayne, bouncing his shoulders a bit.
"You know I like hip-hop, but just not 24-7."
"Stop pouting," Dewayne ordered, sliding his lean body halfway out of the massive window next to hers. "The only reason you listen to other stuff besides hip-hop is that you sing and play the piano. That's your gift. She's just listening to everything everybody else is listening to."
"What are you doing? Defending her now?, snapped Kalia, yanking herself out of the window and sitting down on her well-made bed.
"What you need to do is go out there and show them young girls how it's done," said Dewayne, looking down at Mari and her girls dancing, and ignoring Kalia's question. "I'm not putting one foot in that yard," said Kalia, stopping her head from nodding to DJ Love's hip-hop beats.
"Come on. You know you want to walk it out. I've seen you shake it like a saltshaker before," teased Dewayne. "you'd probably cause an earthquake if you got to trippin" on the dance f loor."
"I told you, Dewayne Craig, I am not dancing to that deejay. I wanted some variety in the music. Mari just had to have her way. She is so selfish."
"Well she may be selfish, but she's the one having a blast at y'all's birthday party. There's nothing you can do now," Dewayne reasoned,
"so you might as well go on downstairs and get your dance on."
Kalia looked hard at her best friend. He always knew how to reason with her and make her see the logical and practical sides of situations. He was the calm yin to her high-strung yang, and so their friendship was a natural fit.
"All right, well I guess you're right," acquiesced Kalia, combing through the stylishly funky f lip in her hair, which she'd been wearing ever since her mother let her get a perm at age twelve.
"We can go downstairs, but I'ma get Miss Mari. Believe that."
"Cool, but let me check my e-mail first since we're up here," said Dewayne, scrunching his long legs underneath her computer desk.
"Okay, Dewayne, but as soon as you sign in, I'm turning the timer on," warned Kalia. "Ten minutes and that's it. I think I'll change clothes while you do that."
Standing in front of her closet, Kalia knew she needed to cheer up if she was going to get the happy back in her birthday. Surveying her conservative but cute wardrobe, she glanced back at Dewayne, who'd already gotten sucked into the Internet. Ever since a drunk driver had killed his older brother, Spencer, five years before, Dewayne had been obsessed with anything animated and technology oriented. he'd even started referring to himself as the Chosen One, a character he'd created.
"I'll be right back," she said to Dewayne, grabbing a change of clothes, kicking off her high heels and f louncing out the door in her lace dress. Minutes later when she reappeared in a pale yellow sleeveless blouse, lime green Capris and matching lime f lip-f lops with yellow rhinestones, Dewayne had that same engrossed expression on his face.
"I'm back," she announced. "Kalia, come over here and check out this site," he beckoned.
"I've been looking for something like this for a"
"Time's up," interrupted Kalia, speeding the timer up until its bell rang.
"For real? Okay, just let me"
"I'll see you outside."
"I'm coming right now," he said without budging from the computer.
Dewayne could hear Kalia's "umm, hmm" moving down the hall. "The Chosen One is left alone again to save the world," he said to no one in particular.
The next voice he heard a few minutes later was Mari's. "Boy, you need to come downstairs and dance with one of these ladies," Mari said, thumping him on the head.
Grabbing her wrist without turning around, Dewayne said, "you're right, 'cause there sure aren't any ladies in this room."
"Whatever, man," said Mari, rolling her eyes and thumping him again with her other hand. "I'm a grown-ass sixteen-year-old woman. Did you hear me? Woman!"
"Real women don't hit men on the head, and they definitely don't get themselves in situations they can't get out of," said Dewayne, standing up from the desk and tightening his grip on Mari's wrist.
"Stop playing, boy! you're gonna make me hurt you," Mari said unconvincingly, even to herself. She caught a glimpse of her five-foot, petite frame next to his lengthy six foot two and felt the ridiculousness of her empty threat. Squirming to break Dewayne's hold, she knocked over one of Kalia's glass-blown picture frames, breaking it.
"Ooh. you're in trouble now." Dewayne laughed, letting her go and backing toward the door. "You know how Miss Perfection is about her room. you're not even supposed to be in here, right?, With a "See ya, wouldn't want to be ya," Dewayne left the room.
Mari picked up the now unframed photo and glared at a Kalia who was a few years younger in the picture, but still had that same f lip in her hair and self-satisfied look on her face, like she knew exactly what her life was going to be like. She kicked the broken glass under Kalia's bed, making a mental note to clean up the mess later and to try and replace the frame before Kalia knew it was missing. But that was going to be hard, she thought, looking around her sister's room, which was more a work of art. Kalia had her music keyboards in the corner, schoolbooks stacked neatly on her desk, an unwrinkled spread on her bed and a ridiculously color-coordinated closet with all of the clothes hung on hangers facing the same direction.
Envy washed over Mari as she left Kalia's neat-freak room and shoved open the door of her own, which looked like it was arranged by a hurricane. Stepping over almost every item of clothing she owned, Mari threw Kalia's picture on her dresser. Sometimes she wished she had some of the same characteristics as her big sister. It would be nice to be organized and talented, but that just wasn't her.
Mari smoothed the building oil off of her cocoa-colored skin, pulled her ponytail tight and slid some gloss across her thick lips. She admired her well-toned athletic build in her full-length mirror. She worked hard, running year-round, to perform well during track season. She winced at the thought of running cross-country in the fall, as all track athletes were required to do at East Moreland, the private, mostly white high school she attended. She loved running, but anything over two miles was just a waste of time to her. "It is time for him to notice me," she said aloud, spraying a little Tommy Girl behind each ear and bounding down the back stairs to find one of her girls, Colby, in the kitchen.
"You know Qwon's here, don't you?, asked Colby, reading her mind.
"Yep. Shauntae told me he was on his way with one of her boys. Have you seen him?"
"Umm, hmm. He just got here with like a gang of fine guys."
"Girl, you might catch a holla tonight, but stay away from Qwon. He's mine," Mari half joked.
"You don't have to worry," said Colby. "Those type of guys never even look my way."
"What are you talking about, Colby?"
"I'm too skinny. Those guys either go with the dance team girls, ones with curves like Shauntae or the kind who wear that expensive designer stuffBaby Phat, Coachand get their hair and nails done like every other day. You know, the popular kind."
"That's not always true. And it sure ain't true tonight 'cause I'm none of that, but Qwon is going to kick it to metonight," said Mari.
"I hear ya. He does look good, and Shauntae did say he asked about you when he came in."
"For real? Where is he? Wait, what did he say? What's he got on?, demanded Mari, taking Colby by the shoulders and shaking her.
"Girl, you're so crazy. Let me go," said Colby, backing away from her excited friend.
"Well?, said Mari, putting her hands on her hips expectantly.
"He's all geared up. Got on a light blue hoodie and some Girbauds. He's rocking some of those new Carmelo Anthony Jordans, too."
Mari let out dreamy "oohs" all through Colby's description. "What's going on with his hair? It's always so tight," said Mari.
"He's got one of those old crazy braided styles that you dig, going every which way, all symmetrical and stuff," said Colby, squinching up her face. "And he's got his full shine on. His neck, his wrists and his ears are all iced out. I don't know if it's real or not, but he's probably out there blinding everybody at your party."
Mari clapped her hands in glee. "I gotta go find him," she said, heading out of the kitchen. "Oh wait." She stopped. "What did he say?"
"I don't know, Mari," said Colby. "Shauntae just told me he was here. You better go find him, too, 'cause she was getting that look on her face. You know how she gets when she sees a dude she wants to get with."
"Please," dismissed Mari, " Shauntae knows better. She can get with, and probably has got with, every dude at Crunk High, but she betta keep her hands off Qwon. She ain't no fool."
"Whatever you say. Anyway, he's probably out back. Come on. I'll go with you," said Colby.
Outside, the party was jumping. DJ Love was putting it down, and about a hundred teenagers were working it out on the grass dance f loor. Mari and Colby stood against the back of the house, craning their necks, looking for Qwon. Spotting him, Colby pulled Mari toward the side of the house. "There he is. Over there by the cooler," she said.
As they walked up behind Qwon, he and his boys were crowded in a circle around something. "Haaay, Qwon," said Mari, tapping him on the shoulder. Qwon turned around and grinned a crooked smile. "What's up, birthday girl? Happy birthday," he said, bending down and giving her a peck on the cheek.
"Thank you," said Mari, wrapping her arms around his neck so he couldn't get away.
"Dog, girl." Qwon laughed and disengaged himself from her.
"Don't choke a brother."
"Oh," said Mari, slightly embarrassed.
Spying Colby, Qwon said, " What's up, slim?"
"Girl, when are you gonna gain some weight? Mari, you need to take your girl to IHOP and get her two big stacks of pancakes."
"Shut up, Qwon," said Colby.
He laughed, rubbed one hand over his intricately woven braids and started to turn back toward his boys. It was then that Mari saw Kalia in the middle of the group, looking slightly guilty. When she spotted Mari, she looked at Qwon and started smirking.
"Your sister is looking kind of tight tonight," Qwon whispered in Mari's ear.
"You think so, huh?, she said, seething.