Beans greets me at the door. He’s doing his normal happy dance. Standing on his tiny Yorkshire Terrier hind legs, he pleads for me to throw him a proverbial ‘bone’. I give him a few chin scratches to appease and then stop outside of Grandma Jojo's room. Kyla pushes past me and makes her way through the narrow entryway, heading directly for the kitchen. I knock on the wall lightly since there's no door. I don't want to wake her if she's napping.
“Grandma Jojo? Are you here?” I carefully slide the frayed curtain covering the doorway of her room to the side and peek in. It’s empty.
“She's not here, Cori. There's a note on the fridge. She's with Mira,” Kyla says. She sounds breathless, so I’m guessing that she has just finished drinking something. She complained about being parched the entire walk home from school.
“Oh, that’s right. She had her dialysis treatment switched to today. I forgot about that.”
Still in the entryway of the apartment, I begin sorting through the mail that I brought up with me. There are two parcels, a large envelope and a stack of mail, most of which look like overdue bills. I check the contents of the box first. I'm never beyond shaking a package, but the small box belongs to my grandmother, so I refrain from my contents-checking instincts. It could be medicine for her and I don't want to risk breaking anything because I'm an imbecile at times. I'm sure the floppy package belongs to me even though I haven't read the address form yet. For a certainty it is the sacred blouse that Kyla ordered online for me.
Pulling the bulky envelope from the bottom of the pile, I search for the name of the recipient. To my surprise, it is also for me and that’s when I see what it is in relation to. I know for a fact that I didn’t apply to this college. I didn’t apply to any major university for that matter. Our financial situation would never allow it, even with a substantial scholarship. So why would one of the leading art schools in America, even if it is right here in Chicago, send me anything? Especially since the number of people who know about my secret talent can be counted on two fingers. I break out in a cold sweat. Think, Cori. Where can I hide this before anyone sees it?
Quietly surveying my grandmother’s room again, I gently toss the envelope so that it slides silently across the carpet and under my grandmother’s bed. I’ll retrieve it when Kyla goes home later. Adjusting the rest of the mail in my arms, I bring them with me to the kitchen.
My earlier suspicions regarding Kyla are verified. Her tote bag is on our handmade breakfast bar, the contents spilling out, while she is downing the remains of a bottled water that she has pulled from the refrigerator. Beans bottom end is currently resting on top of Kyla's foot. He's waiting for his special ‘hello’ from her.
“Oh, my goodness! I needed that.” Kyla wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. She turns her attention to Beans and does her usual baby talk at him. “Hi Beansie. Hi my Beansie. How’s my big boy, huh? How’s my big boyyyyy?” She exaggerates her words and Beans just eats it up. He’s on his back wiggling relentlessly, clearly exuberant over her belly rubs.
Kyla's attention is now on me since Beans belly rub quota has been filled. He's trotting over to his favorite blanket by the balcony doors, probably to sit and spy on us, then rat us out to Grandma Jojo later.
“Is that the blouse?” Kyla asks. Before I can answer, she has snatched it from my hand and is ripping at the packaging, but only after she has established that the package is indeed the one that she had sent. She takes the plastic covering off and unfolds an off-the-shoulder lacy black peasant blouse that has an iridescent shimmer and is a bit sheer. Doubt is written all over my face. Kyla pats me on top of my head per her routine and sings, “Trust me on this.”
My eyes roll of their own volition. I toss my backpack somewhere near the foot of my rickety daybed, place the rest of the mail on the computer desk and then put my grandmother's package, which I’d forgotten I’d still had, in her room so that she can examine the contents in private if need be. Coming back to my daybed, I kick off my shoes, giving my toes some well-deserved freedom.
Noticing the corner of my sketchpad sticking out from its hiding place under my bed, I give it a swift kick which sends it sliding deeper underneath. Kyla may be my best friend, but she is the last person that I want knowing about my artwork. Our best friendship over the last three years has taught me that she’ll be the first to have all my work plastered all over downtown Chicago. I know that she would do it solely out of love and pride, but my heart just can’t take the criticism. My pieces are so deeply personal to me that I need to let people in on my secret in my own time and in my own way. Someday soon I will get up the nerve to show it to her, but not now. Not yet.
“So, spill your guts, woman. What happened today with Sean?” Kyla grabs another bottle of water before she retreats to our worn-down excuse for a couch. Once seated, she props her feet up on the small coffee table. She took her shoes off as soon as she came in like she was supposed to, unlike me. Kyla's taking some liberties with the furniture since my grandmother isn't here. Beans is watching her like a hawk. Traitor. I pick up her empty bottle left on the breakfast bar, which is my dad’s pride and joy, and drop it in the recycle bin on the far side of the room. It took him six months to build it when it probably should have only taken a few weeks, but he did it and I want to keep the wear and tear on it to a minimum.
“Ugh. Where do I start with that?” I plop down on my daybed and contemplate my starting point. I lie on my side and pull Dexter the bunny rabbit into my chest and hug him tight. Noticing a hard lump between my hip and the mattress, I search for the source. Turns out to be my cherry lip balm, still in my pocket from earlier today. I pull it out of my pocket and rest it on my bedside table. “He told me that he loved me.”
“CHITLIN’ GREASE!!!” Kyla is standing now. She jumped up so fast it was like I flipped from one photo of Kyla relaxed on the couch to the next of her in a crouched stance ready to tackle someone.
“Weren't expecting me to say that now, were you?”
Kyla is in my face in three strides of her long legs. “You better tell me everything and I mean EVERYTHING. Don't leave out one detail. This is too good.” She pushes my legs over and sits cross legged at the foot of my daybed, all ears now that I've got her attention.
I dig in and tell her everything. I tell her how Sean was so affectionate and vulnerable one minute as we sat by the tranquil pond near our school. How he told me that he knows that I’m the one for him and that he can see our blissful future together as man and wife. Then the next minute, our future together consisted of him becoming this huge NBA megastar and me being the docile trophy wife that cranks out a kid or two, boys of course, to carry on his legacy. Those words coming from the everyday Sean that we all know. I tell her how I just sat there like a big dummy and said nothing when he told me that he was falling in love with me. Especially after he made several quips about me keeping my body just right for the cameras that will constantly be on us because of his superstar status after we’re married. I tell her how sometimes my feelings are like scrambled eggs and that I have no idea what to do when it comes to Sean although it should be quite obvious regarding him. My super sweet Sean. Major jerk Sean. Makes me weak in the knees and then want to choke him Sean. When I finish speaking, I wait for Kyla to save the day.
She puts her hand on my leg, patting it gently. “Look, anyone would have been speechless in that situation. I mean, how were you to know that he would use those words? If I were you and I’m not, I’d tell him to get gone. You're only seventeen and weddings and what not are for old people. Seriously. We haven’t even graduated high school yet. We all know that he’s smitten with you in some weird way but love? Wow! I never thought that he would go that far.”
I sit up and face her, mimicking her position. I open my mouth to defend him albeit weakly because despite our six months together and our handful of dates, which were all insufferable I might add, I have a soft spot for him. Kyla cuts in before I can release a word of my ill prepared argument.
“I know that love is not the word that you would use to describe your feelings for him but, be honest, how do you feel about him? Do you even know?” She takes Dexter from my lap and fiddles with his ears. I reach for the necklace of blue stones hidden under the collar of my shirt. I know I have to be as honest with myself as possible in order to get this situation straight in my heart.
“Okay, when I think of Sean, the first thing that comes to mind is… annoyance. That's not good, I know. He drives me bananas because he's so… himself, for lack of a better word. I mean, he’s very confident in himself, verging on arrogance. Does that make sense?” Kyla nods in agreement, not speaking. “Confidence is good though, right? Most people aren't attracted to someone that's not sure of themselves, I would think. What else?” I ask myself while I squirm around, repositioning my legs to get more comfortable.
“He’s easy to talk to when he’s not talking about himself or basketball. That’s not good either because he’s always talking about himself or basketball. Umm, he has a good heart and he’s nice to people, most days.” I shake my head because it is so hard to admit how shallow your crush is until you hear yourself say it.
Kyla doesn’t say anything. She just stares at me with her all-knowing eyes.
“But he’s so cute, Kyla,” I say. And he keeps me from feeling so lonely when you’re off on one of your modeling jobs and my dad’s gone because of work. That part I keep to myself because I know that she will take it personally.
Kyla gives me this big cheesy grin. “Oh, so now we're getting somewhere.” She starts poking my sides with her fingers. “That's why you let him hang around. You only want him for his ultra-manly bod. His delicious man muscles. You want his kisses, don't you? You want him to slather you with his manly-man kisses. Say it, Coriander! Confess!” I smack her hands away while she playfully chides me.
“I never said that he wasn'tcute. Aaahhh, who am I kidding, Sean is friggin’ gorgeous. His wavy, sandy brown hair. Those dreamy hazel eyes. His perfect body. Fudgsicles! His major problem is that he knows it. What I can't put my finger on is why he's so attracted to me? Why am I so special? I haven’t given him one reason to think that he and I will be “together” in that special way so I’m at a loss here.” Kyla's big brown eyes frown, imitating her mouth.
“Are you being serious right now?” Kyla sits back, and her wrinkled brow becomes more pronounced. “I’m gonna say this again but slowly this time so that you can understand my words.” I purse my lips at her. “You are funny, talented, intelligent, selfless, giving and not to mention, cute as a button. You may be a little innocent and naïve at times as well but, that’s what is so endearing. You have no idea how many guys have come to me inquiring of your relationship status. Most of them are too afraid to ask you out because of Sean. Everyone just assumes that you two are a serious item because he’s always around, to my dismay. But you already know why I think Sean has latched on to you and I think you realize it too since you just mentioned it. All he wants from you is what you aren’t offering.”
“That sucks lemons, Ky.”
“Yeah, well.” She ruffles my hair and moves to the tall dresser drawer next to my daybed. We keep our jewelry-making supplies in the top drawer. “One day, Cori, you will see for yourself how special you are. And a guy that is deserving will see it too. I have never had a friend like you. I can be myself around you and I know that you won't betray my confidence or my trust. You are, seriously, my best friend. Any guy would be a legitimate idiot to not want to date you. I'm including Kellen Hamasaki in this as well, so consider yourself awesome.”
“Aaaaawwww,” I gush. I jump off the daybed and run over to where she's standing but she's ready for me and fights off my impending acts of mushiness. “Let me hug you, baby girl. You know granny gives the best hugs and kisses.”
Kyla is screaming now, fending me off to keep my granny kisses at bay. I make sloppy kissing sounds as I chase her around the apartment. Neither one of us can even stand after five minutes of running and laughing. That's when we hear my grandmother’s voice.
“Hellooooo!” Grandma Jojo calls from the entryway.
“We’re here Grandma Jojo. Do you need help bringing anything inside?” I'm lying on the floor by the daybed, holding Beans in a tiny bear hug. He tried to attack me with his ninja licking skills while I was on the floor incapacitated by laughter. Kyla is somewhere between the couch and the wall. She fell back there trying to get away from me. My belly is still aching from watching her antics. I couldn't even help her up because I had no air in my lungs anymore. I thought I was, literally, gonna die from lack of oxygen to my brain.
“No, my porcelain doll. I can handle my bag,” she says as she walks into the shared living space and places her tote bag and her purse on the breakfast bar next to Kyla's things. “Is Kyla with you?”
“I'm here, Grandma Jojo,” replies the couch. Grandma Jojo just stares in that direction for a moment.
“I'm not even gonna ask.” She waves her hand and starts emptying the contents of her bag. I get up from the floor to check on Kyla. I can hear her struggling, so I do my part to help her. I pull the couch further away from the wall after kicking the rug over so that the couch can slide easier. Better late than never.
“Thanks a lot,” Kyla mocks as she throws her arms over the back of the couch. There are a couple of dust bunnies stuck to her clothes, so I start dusting them off for her. “Hey, hey! I think I've had about enough of you today.”
“Oh, shut up before I push this couch back on you.” I begin pushing it slowly towards the wall, but Kyla shrieks and jumps over the back of the couch and onto the cushions like an Olympic hurdler. I'm dying again. My grandmother continues doing whatever it is that she's doing, paying us no attention whatsoever.
“Have you started packing yet?” Kyla is beating the dust bunnies from her shirt as she questions me.
I run over to my bed, slide my gym bag/suitcase from underneath and throw some underwear from my drawer into it. “Why, yes I have.”
“You stink, Coriander. You know that we will be gone for an entire week and we leave the day after tomorrow. I told you that I need you to carefully select proper outfits for this trip. You’re not even gonna try?” She looks so disappointed.
Hopefully, I can guilt trip her into packing for me, especially since I’m only going to New York with her and her cousin because her parents trust me more than they trust twenty-one-year-old Keisha. Besides, her parents are footing the bill and we get to miss a week of boring school.
“Now Kyla, you know my sense of style consists of jeans and a t-shirt most days, hence you purchased that blouse for me to wear tomorrow night. It’s quite obvious that I need your help. Just this once. Please? I promise that my future clothing selections will be more impressive if you help me this time.” A pillow sails past my head.
“Fine. I may have a few things at home that you can use while we’re out there. I really hope that these auditions go well. This could be my big break, Cori.”
“I know. You’re gonna slay like you always do. I’m glad that I get to be there for you this time so make me proud.”
“I don’t know any other way, bae.” She holds out her fist and I give it an approving bump.
After Kyla makes a few outfit selections for me to pack, we get to work on making our jewelry. We started making necklaces about a year ago using money from babysitting jobs. Then about four months ago, started selling them online. I hate to ask dad and grandma for money and all the local jobs that I qualified for wouldn't allow me the time to help my grandmother. It was the perfect solution to a teenage problem.
Grandma Jojo is cooking in the kitchen while listening to the news broadcast from the TV sitting on its table in the shared living area. I volunteered to make dinner, but she refused. She always tells me that she needs to feel useful and cooking is her way of helping. The wonderful aromas emanating from the stovetop and oven cause my mouth to water.
“Grandma Jojo, when will dinner be ready? It smells so good.” On cue, my stomach starts demanding nourishment.
“Very soon, Cori. What are you girls doing?” she asks, wiping her hands on a nearby dish towel.
Kyla holds up the necklace that she's been working on, still knotting the cord after each carefully placed bead stone. My grandmother smiles and nods her head, approving Kyla’s hard work.
The jewelry pieces are quite beautiful, to me at least. When Kyla and I started brainstorming ideas, trying to figure out what we could do to make a few bucks, jewelry making wasn't even on our radar. I even considered selling some of my better sketches at my grandmother’s prodding, but I nixed that idea pretty early on. Then one night, feeling nostalgic, I started examining my necklace. The necklace given to me by my mother before I ever had a chance to meet her. I studied each of the three blue stones dangling from their cord, knotted at intervals so that each stone has its own place. A single stone is about the diameter of a dress shirt button, the thickness of a thin wafer and has a faint swirling pattern in its texture. The true allure of these stones is that they have a brilliance so alive that each stone actively glows. They are, in fact, minuscule luminaries. Like stars or the sun. Okay, they don't have that type of strength but, in the dark, is when they are glorious. One stone calls to mind a clear blue pool hidden in a cave with only a small cavity from above providing light from the noonday sun. It seems as if the light is radiating from the center of the stone, outward. It is truly mesmerizing.
So, I began to research my necklace. I needed to know where my mother would find something so exquisite. There had to be more out there like it. My first move was to check different internet search engines for any sign of a stone that matched. I found nothing. So, I took the necklace to local jewelers. That got me nowhere except for a few offers to purchase it. I tried libraries, books and magazines. Nothing there either. I even took the stones to a couple museums in downtown Chicago. The scientists there told me that they had never seen anything like them. They even asked me to donate them to be studied and put on display. I politely declined. This necklace is all I have of the woman that gave me life. My only connection to her. I could never part with it.
Finding that all paths led down dead ends, I figured that maybe making our own necklaces would help unconventionally. That using an imitation of my original stones could possibly find a connection to my mother from an outside source and maybe make some cash in the process, so it became my mission. Research and trial and error led us to the jewelry that we produce today. Our necklaces are really just cheap knockoffs of my own, but we do our best to imitate that radiating glow that's so enchanting. I think we’ve pulled it off for the most part.
Kyla finishes tying the knot to hold the last bead stone in place on her necklace. She hands it over to me so that I can add the magnetic clasps that accommodate the diminutive button that activates the miniature lights embedded in each bead stone. Once the clasps are tied and the extra cord is clipped, I test the necklace’s lights. I push the button and the bead stones slowly generate a glow from each stone simultaneously.
“Beautiful as usual, Cori. We do good work,” Kyla says, smiling. Seeing that it works perfectly, I turn it off and put it to the side. My hunger pains are starting to truly distract me, so I decide to check my email for any new orders.
“Girls, five minutes until dinner. Wash your hands please.” Grandma Jojo is adding some sort of spice to each of the baked sweet potatoes while she directs us.
“Will do, Grandma Jojo. Just checking my email for any jewelry orders. I'll be done in a minute.” I pick up my cellphone and search through my emails to find a new one with a subject regarding jewelry. I tap my phone to open the email. I read it curiously.
To whom it may concern,
I stumbled across your jewelry website today and was pleasantly surprised at what I saw. The stones that you use in your jewelry pieces are mesmerizing. I am curious as to your inspiration if you do not mind sharing. I do hope to hear a reply from you.
I type a quick reply to the sender.
I am happy to share my inspiration. I have a necklace of great sentiment that I used as my model for the bead stones. The stones on my original jewelry piece have a natural radiating glow to them and I really wanted to share that with those who would also appreciate it. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I am more than happy to help.
I finish my reply and promptly send it off so that I can wash up for dinner, excited for the feast that will soon satisfy my famished belly.
After dinner, Kyla and I clean the kitchen since Grandma Jojo did all the hard work, preparing our delicious meal. Soon, we are all parked in front of the television, engulfed in the newest episode of Grandma Jojo’s favorite dance competition show, Beans included. I secretly love the show although I feign interest when my grandmother brings it up. I know if I say how much I enjoy the show, she'll never stop talking to me about it, like I can stop her now anyway. After the fourth dance of the night, which in my opinion was the best, down playing it when Grandma Jojo begins gushing over it, I notice my cellphone vibrating. I get up off the floor, stepping over Kyla and Beans stretched out bodies, to answer it. I pick up my phone that is laying on my daybed and feel the excitement rise in me as I answer the call.
“Hi Daddy! How’ve you been? I've missed you so much! Where are you now? Are you on the road right now or resting? I'm so glad you called,” I blurt, not giving my dad a chance to answer. I can see his jovial face clearly on the screen, his wide smile filling the gaps.
“Which question would you like me to answer first, Addy babe?” He is the only person on earth who calls me that, a play on my middle name, Adelaide. He says it is the name my mom gave me. Sometimes I feel like I should hate that name but, the variation makes me feel better about it. I'm always so conflicted over how I should react toward her for leaving us but, mostly it just makes me feel sad. For missing out on our family and excluding herself from our lives. I think about her, but I can't dwell on her. It always has the potential to ruin my entire day.
“Answer the first one. How are you?”
“I'm good, honey. How about yourself? How's school going?”
“It's school. Super boring. I can't wait for graduation. Only a few more weeks. You on the road?” I can see that he is in the cab of his truck, but I can't tell if he's mobile.
“I've just pulled into a rest stop. I figure I'll have a bit of dinner here and pick up the drive for a couple more hours, then get some sleep. I should make it to my first drop off point by tomorrow, early afternoon. I just wanted to talk to my girl before I got on the road again.” My dad must be getting out of the truck because the screen is showing an awful lot of jostling around. I miss my dad and I try not to whine like a baby when I talk to him, even though that's exactly what I feel like doing.
“Okay Dad. Text me when you get there okay? Just so I know that you made it safely. Oh, before I forget to remind you, Kyla and I are gonna go to that premiere downtown that I told you about. The one with Kellen Hamasaki?”
“So, you girls scored tickets to that, huh? Good for you, Addy babe. Get out and have some fun, just be safe. You girls stick together, okay? That goes for New York as well.” His soft, coffee brown features go serious. The furrowing of his brow lets me know that my dad would drop absolutely everything and be back here pronto if anything bad ever happened. I don't want him to excessively worry about me, so I answer him as I always do.
“We’ll be good, Dad. No worries.”
“No worries Mr. Fenton. Coriander is safe with me!” Kyla yells, still sitting on the floor with her ankles crossed while petting Beans behind the ears, obviously listening to my conversation. I cock my head to the side and purse my lips, giving her my best ‘stop eavesdropping‘ look. She gives me a thumbs-up.
“Tell Kyla that I'm counting on you both to be sensible young ladies while you're gone.”
“I will. Oh, and remember since I'll be gone, call Grandma Jojo directly if you need her.”
“I will do that. Is she staying on top of her medication?”
“Yes, Doctor Fenton!” Now my grandmother is answering my dad's questions. I make a mental note to take all my calls elsewhere from now on.
“Tell her that I'll call her tomorrow. I love you, Addy babe. I'll talk to you soon okay?” My dad kisses his hand and makes a loud ‘mwah’ sound into his cellphone camera. I reciprocate.
“Okay Daddy. I love you. You be safe too. I'll look for your text tomorrow. Bye.”
“Bye Addy babe.” The picture shuts off and I feel his loss all over again. It happens every time he leaves, and I have to be without him taking care of me. I shuffle back to the couch and sit next to my grandmother and lay my head on her shoulder. Moments from letting my emotions get the best of me, a light show reflects off the furniture in the house. I get up quickly and rush to the balcony doors. Dancing high in the evening sky across town, fireworks are on display.
“Someone must have hit a home run,” I say. Quickly picking up my cellphone, I check the score for the Chicago White Sox, my favorite professional baseball team. Their baseball stadium is only a neighborhood over from my building. Dad, Grandma Jojo, Kyla and I walk to games during the season on discount days. It has become our family tradition. “Sure did. It’s 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning.” Kyla is standing next to me now, watching the colors fade in the sky.
“That's what we’ll be doing tomorrow, Cori. Lighting up the night.” Her words help push out the sorrow and build the energy for tomorrow. I can definitely use the distraction.
“Can you believe it, Ky? We are going to be at the Kellen Hamasaki premiere!” I say, doing a little happy dance. We both start to fan ourselves at the thought of seeing Kellen Hamasaki up close and personal, even if it is behind security guards, barricades and hundreds of other screaming fans. My dreams have loved him ever since his first film, Blade Block. His perfect lips and high cheekbones surrounded by his flowing bluish black hair makes most girls go ga-ga. Not me. For me, it's his deep-set serious eyes that make my heart flutter with every glimpse of his gorgeous face.
“I'm so excited! But, tell me again. How did Caesar get a hold of these tickets? We're never this fortunate, Ky. I'd have to hurt Caesar if I found out that these tickets ‘fell off the back of a truck’ or something.” I take one of the tickets that has fallen out of Kyla’s tote on the breakfast bar and start examining it for any forgeries like a wrong date or venue misprint.
Kyla's laughter rings through the living space. “Remember I told you that his uncle is good friends with the promotions people. The only reason he's not going is because he and his girlfriend didn't want to miss prom tomorrow night. His uncle gave him four tickets to the premiere and he owed me a huge favor. Caesar gave us two and his sister, April, and her friend have the other two tickets. We’ll most likely be sitting next to them in the theater. I think it's assigned seating.” Kyla studies her ticket too, looking for evidence of assignments. “You remember April, right?”
“I think so. She's a few inches taller than me, straight light brown hair, wears that denim vest with all the vintage patches. She's a sophomore, right?” Kyla nods her head while shoving her ticket into an inside pocket of her tote. “Well, I really hope that Kellen shows up. It will seriously suck if I let you doll me all up for nothing. He’ll miss his shot at seeing me from across the crowded room and professing his undying love for me before sweeping me off to Rome to make me his wife.” I wrinkle my nose at Kyla. She simply shakes her head and smirks.
“So, what makes you think that he's going to take you to Rome over me? I'm a celebrity, you know.” She flips her head back and crosses her arms over her chest.
“You were in a commercial for pimple cream, girl. He’s friggin’ Kellen Hamasaki. He doesn't get pimples!”
“Yes, he does. They're simply where we don't see them.” She looks at me like she has no idea what she has just said.
“So, is he using your cream on his butt pimples?”
“Eeeeewwwww!” we snicker in unison.
“You’re so gross. No more talk of Kellen’s butt pimples, okay. What we need to do is figure out what we're wearing. Well, you’re halfway there since the blouse I ordered you came in. We’ll figure out the rest tomorrow.” I bump her arm with my elbow before I head back toward the kitchen area to find a snack. “Oh Cori, did we get any orders when you checked your email earlier?”
I had forgotten all about the email. Food does that to me. I pull up my emails and search for the most recent. I find that the initial email now has a response to my response. “We did as a matter of fact. It was a simple inquiry, but they've just sent us another email.” I pull it up and read it out loud.
Thank you for the response. You have piqued my interested in this original jewelry piece in your possession. I will be in touch.
Kyla shrugs when I'm done reading, clearly as baffled as I am. I look at the email again and notice that there is a video attachment. I load it and angle my cellphone so that Kyla and I can see the image together. Grandma Jojo is still on the couch, totally immersed in her show. It must be getting toward the part where they eliminate someone because she's perched on the very edge of the cushion. The video download is complete, and I tap play, not having any expectation as to what this video reveals.
The video feed is dark so I'm not real sure what's about to transpire. I'm silently praying that I didn't stumble across one of those insane murderers that film their kills and then sends the footage to the next victim. I do not voice my thoughts but I'm getting nervous. My hand trembles just a touch so I place the phone on the breakfast bar, forcing Kyla and I lean over it.
Nothing is happening until we can just make out what looks like a picnic table. The shadows playing over the area start to fade and confirm that there is indeed a park of some kind in the recording. I can make out a slide and a jungle gym in the background. Kyla says nothing. She simply continues to watch as I do.
Suddenly what appears to be a hand is raised directly in front of the camera. I brace myself instinctively, grabbing Kyla's arm for support. She doesn't shake me off. The hand on screen shakes around a bit and I notice the long sleeve of a light jacket falls slightly. The hand shakes around again revealing more of the wrist. I can hardly make sense of the video until something remarkable happens. Kyla and I gasp at the exact same time.
“Are you girls watching those silly ‘Fail’ videos? If you are, you are welcome to pull them up on the TV. I'm done for the night. My favorite couple is still safe for the next episode.” I hear Grandma Jojo rise and make her way to her room, Beans clinking collar tags mark him as her loyal follower. I hear all of this, but I never turn away from the screen of my phone. The video has ended but Kyla immediately hits the replay button. We watch the video three more times and then her phone rings. Kyla answers it and signals to me that her mom is waiting in the car outside. She hangs up the phone.
“Cori, we will talk about this tomorrow. I can't even believe it.” She starts collecting her things and I help her. When she's ready to leave, she hugs me and then implores, “Please don't go into Coriander mode and over think this video thing, okay? We’ll talk about it tomorrow when I get to school. Promise?”
“But they have them, Kyla. They have stones just like mine. What if…,” I start to protest but Kyla abruptly cuts me off.
“Nope. Listen to me, Smalls. Do not start. We will discuss this tomorrow. Got it?” She's holding my head so tight that her palms are squeezing my temples.
“Okay fine. Just stop choking my brain.” She lets go and pats me on my head. Her tote is throwing her balance slightly off, so she readjusts it.
“I’ll see you tomorrow at lunch okay?”
“Okay. Tell your mom that I said hey.” I open the door and Kyla steps out.
“Say good night to Grandma Jojo for me.”
I nod my head and agree, “I will. See you tomorrow.” The door slowly closes between us.
Knocking on the wall before I enter, my grandmother invites me into her room. She's sitting in her rocking chair near the doorway, already in her night clothes, knitting something. I can't tell what it is going to be.
“Do you need anything Grandma? I'm gonna let Beans go potty one last time and start getting ready for bed. Oh, Kyla said to tell you good-night.” I pause just inside her doorway hoping for some excuse to come in and locate the envelope I hid under her bed earlier without her noticing. Beans jumps from his bed, tail wagging sporadically, because he heard his name.
I look around her room and it is a filled with relics of her day. Old pictures and books fill the few shelves opposite of where Grandma Jojo is currently sitting. Her bed, which practically sits in the middle of the room, is covered in a multicolored quilt hand made by her great grandmother and handed down over the years. She says that it is her gift to me when she kicks the bucket. Her words. Not mine. I would much rather keep her around than the quilt but, not much us humans can do about nature. Grandma Jojo makes more loops with her yarn and pulls with her needles before answering me.
“No, my porcelain doll. I'm good.” Heart deflating.“Oh wait, if you can take that coffee mug and put it into the dishwasher for me, I would appreciate it.” Yes!
“Okay,” I say in the most generic of tones.
Fortunately for me, the striped mug is resting on my grandmother's nightstand on the far side of her bed. I walk around the bed and notice that on the nightstand sits a stack of papers and receipts. Thank you. Reaching for the mug, I knock over all the papers. My blessed distraction.
“Sorry, Grandma. I’ll get them.” Getting down on my hands and knees, I pull together most of the papers before I lay on my belly and scan underneath the bed with what little light is seeping underneath. Finally locating the envelope after wildly sweeping my arm back and forth in the great unknown, I tuck it in the back of my waistband and pull my shirt down over it. I replace the papers and grab the mug. Standing without letting the envelope slip is a bit of a task, but I get it done and bring the mug with me. I shuffle along stiffly to keep the envelope paper from making crinkling noises as I plant a kiss on the top of my grandmother’s tightly-coiled salt and pepper hair, which she has pulled back from her face with a stretchy black headband. Scurrying swiftly with Beans in tow, I say good-night.
When I’m free from prying eyes, I snatch the envelope from my pants and stuff it under my pillow. Rushing around, I check the leaky dishwasher and see that it is full after the addition of the coffee cup. Adding the soap, I press the button to get it started and adjust the towel on the floor underneath the dishwasher door. The lidded pot is already sitting on the stovetop ready for tomorrow’s breakfast of oatmeal and whatever fruit Grandma Jojo chooses. I give the kitchen a last once over before turning off the lights above the breakfast bar. Making my way to the balcony doors, I open it just enough for Beans to get to his potty box without letting too much of the night air in. I thought of constructing the box when I got tired of getting fully dressed for fifteen-degree weather to take a five-pound runt dog down eight floors to go on a pee-pee walk. It makes things so much simpler and safer.
While Beans is taking care of his business, I fetch my pajamas from the bottom drawer of my dresser. I pick up my cellphone, place it on its charging station on my bedside table and remember to turn my bed down. Beans returns and goes straight to his bed in Grandma Jojo's room. I close and lock the doors to our convenient but miniscule balcony, secure them with the sawed-off broom handle and close the curtains for the night. Still holding my pajamas, I make my way to the bathroom. Unfortunately, my pinky toe doesn't completely clear the nearest stool at the breakfast bar.
“Fudgsicles!”I whisper yell, grabbing for my mangled toe. I limp-walk the rest of the way after I grab my dropped pajamas off the floor. Finally changing out of my school uniform, I brush my teeth in preparation for bed. My dark hair gets wrapped in my silk scarf to try to keep my curls hydrated. Most mornings my scarf is lying next to me instead of on my head where I originally put it. A dead giveaway of my wild sleeping habits but I choose to wear it anyway.
Out of the bathroom, I now set up my second-hand room dividers around my daybed so that I can have a measure of privacy. Not that Grandma Jojo goes wandering around at night but a couple times she has made tea to help her sleep and had to turn on the light over the sink to see what she's doing. My dividers help in that aspect.
Fortunately, I didn't have any homework to complete, so I pick up my uncommonly light backpack off the floor and place it in the stool on the far end of the breakfast bar by habit. I return to my dresser drawers and pick out a stark white short-sleeve polo, my favorite Khaki skirt and underwear for tomorrow and place them across the computer desk chair. I also grab a pair of thin runner’s shorts, adding them to the pile. I never wear a dress or skirt without shorts underneath for obvious reasons. Double checking my night prep list in my head, I decide that it is safe to turn in for the night.
Before getting comfortable, I fish around underneath the bed and retrieve my sketch pad. Opening the pages to my last unfinished doodle, my eyes wander over the curving lines and varying gradients. The charcoal grey of my pencil transforming the page from blank to beautiful. Most days, I wonder if my mother has a love of art like I do. My dad can’t draw worth squat and Grandma Jojo’s talents involve knitting needles or a mixing bowl.
I wonder if my mother likes to draw or sketch? Or does she prefer paint like water colors or oil? Has she perfected some work of art somewhere that I would appreciate? I hate knowing so little about her. About the only information that I have fished out of my dad over the years is that she has the same fair complexion as I do and lovely amber eyes, unlike my very dark brown ones. I don’t even have a picture of her. One night of unbridled passion and a baby on a doorstep. Yep. That’s my life.
Sometimes I sketch what I think she might look like. The results don’t vary because I feel like I would know her if I ever saw her even though I know that’s not true. And the sadness in my dad’s eyes keep me from inquiring anything further about her. He’s never even gone on a date since she left us. Still, I do hope to find her one day. I have yet to work out what I will say to her when we meet but I hope for her all the same.
In the meantime, I sketch. It brings me comfort. Especially when I’m feeling frustrated or overwhelmed or lonely and depressed. Maybe one day, my drawings will bring her back to me. She’ll see one of my brilliant pieces on a poster or in a museum if I’m so fortunate, and she will investigate because she was so touched. Maybe. And if not her, maybe my work will mean something to someone other than myself someday. If I ever get up the nerve to show them to anyone besides Dad and Grandma Jojo. I’m still working on that part. Tracing my finger over the borders of my outline one last time, I close the pad and slide it back into its hiding place.
Sucking in a breath of air, I lift my flimsy pillow and fold it in my lap as I sit and stare at the envelope. The envelope that reads the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the top corner. The school that could mold me into the artist that I know I can be. The school that I have dreamed of attending my entire life. The school that I thought didn’t know I existed.
I have every belief that this envelope sits here because of my father. He has only ever encouraged me in my art. Bought me art supplies that I know that he couldn’t afford. Made every effort to be supportive when I’ve felt lost. So now what? What do I do with this? How do I tell my father that going to this school will push us well past the brink of poverty when we are already skating the border? How do I attend classes that will take me away from my grandmother and the care she so desperately needs? How do I tell him no when he has told me yes so many times? I return my pillow to its place without moving the envelope.
My bed covers are borderline cold which sends a slight shiver down my body as I wrap them around me and my flat, useless pillow does little to cushion my head or rest my racing thoughts. Eventually, I do find a cozy position and now is when I begin to focus on the video. What I saw I still can't believe to be true. How can it be? Is it real? This must be some sort of trick. I want to believe it but after all that I've been through trying to find stones like mine, there's no way that it can be true, can it? I pull my necklace from underneath my nightshirt and unfasten it. Holding it in my hand, I stare at the stones and they are doing what they do best. My three little blue pools are shimmering in the noonday sun. I admire them momentarily but soon restore them to their home.
I know that Kyla has warned me not to get ahead of myself but all I want to know is how does the wrist in the video have the exact same stones that I possess? I must find out the truth.