Kindle Edition - $2.99 From 2/18/18-2/25/18.
by Joel Tuck
Kindle Edition - $2.99 From 2/18/18-2/25/18.
"A deathbed shouldn't be the peacemaker in this family." Fifteen-year-old Renee Steele never understood what PaPa's words meant, until she's caught in the middle of a growing battle between her two older cousins. Their clashing attitudes regarding skin tone, trigger a sensitive nerve in their Grandma Bell. She shares her secret courtship and eloping with Pa-Pa, because their fathers are archenemies. Grandma Bell's newlywed dreams become her worst nightmare as she begins her married life as the despised dark-skinned daughter-in-law. Her presence does more than anger her in-laws…it haunts them!
“A deathbed shouldn't be the peacemaker in this family.” Pa-Pa preached that to us like it was a promise we had to keep. He said, “It'll be too late for y'all to wait 'til you're dying, before you show love for one another. I don't want to see this family go through that . . . never again.”
I didn't understand what he meant—just took it as old folks talk. I wished I had asked more questions, especially when I started seeing tension between my two older cousins. I would have never thought skin color would cause a division between us. It was too late for Pa-Pa to explain his teachings—he was gone.
My stomach had a nervous twitch, as I stood at Grandma's kitchen window. Pat dashed across the yard. She wore her favorite sweatshirt, displaying Africa in a raised leather design of red, black, and green. The word MOTHERLAND was written in gold glitter and stretched across her broad shoulders.
She rushed in, with a gush of cool air following her.
“Good morning,” she said in unison with the bang of the screen door.
“Morning, baby,” Grandma replied. “What did I tell you 'bout letting my door slam like that? Close it easy, child.”
“Sorry, Grandma, but that was the wind.”
“It's that strong out there?”
“Yes, ma'am, it looks like a storm's coming.”
Pat dropped her backpack by the door and joined me at the window, just in time to see Cherie strutting across the yard. She was walking toward the end of the path where we caught the bus. She never turned in our direction—just stood outside, with her arms folded and her back to us.
“With all that brain, you'd think she'd have more common sense,” Pat said. “Supposed to be setting an example.”
“I'm telling you,” I agreed. “Can't she tell a storm's coming?”
“Maybe it'll blow her away,” Pat said, bumping me on the arm.
“Yeah, and bring back the old Cherie,” I added.
We both burst into sly giggles.
Grandma was busy humming, until she heard us snickering. “You girls are mighty tickled this morning for some reason.” Her eyes shifted to the clock on the wall; she frowned. “Where's Cherie? She should've been here by now. Is she sick today?”
“Yes, ma'am, she's sick all right,” Pat started, “sick in that high-minded head of hers.”
“What are you talking 'bout, child?”
“She's outside, Grandma,” Pat continued. “She probably didn't come in to speak to you because you're fixing salmon and eggs.”
Grandma's back stiffened.
“The last time you fixed it, she complained about her clothes smelling fishy,” Pat said. “You know, uppity folks eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, not fish and eggs.”
Grandma slowly crossed her arms into a tight fold, the corners of her lips dipped downward, and her nostrils flared to their full width to finalize the peak of her aggravation. “You mean to tell me she'd rather stand outside, 'cause of what I'm cooking? Humph, foolish thing. Tell that child to get in here.”
Pat rushed out the door. She was on a mission. I followed her onto the porch—just in case I was needed.
She stood in front of Cherie with her hands on her hips. Her head swayed from side to side, like a waddling duck. “I don't know why you're standing out here like somebody crazy.”
“There's a lot you don't know. And furthermore, what I do is my business.”
“I could care less about what you do,” Pat said, dropping her hands to her side.
“Then why are you antagonizing me?”
“There you go with your big words—probably don't even know what it means.”
“Small words are for small brains,” Cherie said.
“Girl, please. Your fancy talk doesn't change where you came from,” Pat said, clenching her fists tight.
“Get out of my—”
“Grandma said come in the house!” I shouted.
They turned toward me. I knew I had to distract them before something worse happened. It seemed like they were always fussing. I didn't like Cherie's new attitude either, but I tried to ignore it—Pat challenged it in every way possible.
Cherie sucked her teeth, rolled her eyes, and took one last look down the road. When she didn't see any sign of the bus, she threw her head in the air and swirled around like a top. It seemed to me that she wanted her backpack to whack Pat right in those poked-out lips of hers. Then she stormed right past me like I wasn't even there.
She jerked when she opened the kitchen door. Did the smell smack her that hard? If so, I couldn't half blame her. That salmon sure is a strong smelling fish, especially when pan-fried with onions. I guess I never thought too much about it, not until Cherie started cutting up.
We were right on her heels—she hesitated—eased her head into the kitchen, without exposing her clothes.
“Yes, Grandma, did you summon me?”
“Summon? I ain't got time for your proper talk, child. You ain't got no business out there, with a storm coming.”
“I thought I heard the bus.”
“You ain't heard no bus,” Grandma said. “Get in this house before you catch your death.”
Cherie slowly pulled herself inside. Pat bumped past her with a victory stride. I followed.
I felt sorry for Cherie, but I couldn't help but giggle when I noticed how close she stood in front of the screen door. My only thought was that she was trying to let the draft air out the strong smells that were seeping steadily into her clothes.
Grandma seemed completely satisfied. She went back to humming and pulled her golden biscuits out of the oven. The air had a mixture of salmon, onions, and butter all blended so richly; my stomach started rumbling.
“Y'all ready for something to eat?” Grandma said, with pure delight glowing from her face. “You need a hearty breakfast to get your lessons out good.”
“Yes, ma'am,” Pat and I answered together.
“No thanks,” Cherie said, rotating in the draft. “I ate before I left home.”
Pat gave her a disgusted look. “You're too good to eat at Grandma's now?”
“I said I ate before I left home. Obviously, I'm not hungry,” Cherie said.
“No, what's obvious is your snobby attitude,” Pat said.
“You're one to talk about attitude.”
“Y'all stop,” Grandma said. “She ain't got to eat here if she don't want to.”
Pat and I sat down at the table and went to work. I didn't understand what was going on with Cherie. She knew Grandma looked forward to feeding us on school mornings. We had always met there, ever since elementary school.
Grandma's house was in the middle, and ours formed a semi-circle around hers. Her house was the meeting place for the whole family: to gather, eat, discuss our problems, or just socialize. Things didn't seem so natural anymore.
Oh well, Grandma didn't seem a bit bothered by Cherie's funny ways. I tried to make up for them by starting little unnecessary conversations.
“Grandma, may I take some of your biscuits on the bus? I love it when everybody begs for them.”
Grandma's face shone with pride, but it seemed like she tried to be humble. “Say what? Them chil'ren want some of my biscuits? Um, um, um.”
She shook her head, as if in disbelief, but I noticed her eagerly bagging biscuits.
It wasn't long before we heard the bus' horn blow at Cynthia's house—only one stop from us. Cherie was the first one out the door.
“Bye, Grandma,” she said, as she ran to the edge of the path.
Pat and I grabbed our books and thanked Grandma for the breakfast. I took a handful of napkins and the bag of biscuits.
As I stepped on the bus, I handed our driver, Tyrone, a few. He squealed. “Thank you, Renee. I just love your grandmama's cookin'. Don't allow no eating on the bus, but this here is an exception.”
When we were seated, that ole trouble-making Anthony Parker started teasing. “Fresh fish, fresh fish. Come and get your fish from the Steele's Fish Market.”
All the kids burst out laughing. I never knew what to do in situations like that, so I just laughed, too. I noticed Cherie sitting as straight as an arrow, with her nose stuck in the air. It seemed like her Steele pride had her hypnotized into an intense gaze.
On the other hand, Pat, always the one with the mouth, spoke out on our behalf. “You're one to talk, Anthony. Smells like you had chit'lins for breakfast.”
I knew Pat would stop his mouth, but I didn't know she would make it drop—low ooohs swept across the bus.
I just looked down at my bag, hoping no trouble would break out. I sure didn't feel like fighting that morning. Pa-Pa always said that we Steeles had to stick together—no matter what.
Tyrone must have felt the same way I did. “Ant, Pat, y'all cut it out before somebody starts passing licks,” he said, with biscuit crumbs flying from his mouth.
Everything quieted down. I could still feel tension in the air. I wouldn't dare look up; I didn't want to meet those angry eyes of Anthony.
Somebody started a conversation in the back of the bus. Boy, was I relieved.
The warm, buttery smell drifted out of my bag and reminded me of my purpose for having it. It wasn't long before a backseat voice inquired, “Renee, you got any more of those biscuits?”
It was hard to concentrate in my classes. I kept meditating on what had happened at Grandma's. I wished there was something I could do to make things right between Cherie and Pat. Their clashing attitudes were tearing my world apart.
I was glad to hear the bell for lunch. I fused with the students filling the halls with commotion. I ignored the bumps and pushes of the people rushing past me. Their conversations were at a distance, as I walked in a daze.
I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder. It was Pat. “Hey, girl, glad I caught up with you. Didn't you hear me call you?”
“No, I guess my mind was on other things.”
“Oh, you had me worried there for a minute—didn't know if you were turning into another Cherie,” she joked. “Listen, do you have any extra money? I forgot my wallet.”
We stopped in the commons area, outside the cafeteria. I checked my purse. “I don't think I have enough.”
Pat spotted Cherie walking toward the cafeteria with her friends. “She really gets to me,” she said, sucking her teeth.
It grieved me to see Cherie laughing, talking, and falling into her friends—her new family. I longed to be with her, too.
“Let's go ask Cherie,” I said. “I'm pretty sure she has enough money.”
One look at Pat told me how dumb I sounded.
“I don't want to ask her for nothing,” she said. “I'll starve first.”
“Well, I'll go.”
I ran into the cafeteria. Cherie and her friends clustered at the end of the line. Her back was to me.
She turned in my direction.
“I need to talk to you. It's real important,” I said, motioning for her to come over.
She turned back to her friends; I felt invisible.
“Cherie!” I said, pleading.
She never turned around again. I felt sick. I ran past Pat and headed for the bathroom. In seconds, Pat burst through the door.
“What's wrong with you, Renee?”
I splashed cold water on my face to soothe the stinging in my eyes. I couldn't answer because of the lump in my throat.
“It's Cherie isn't it? I don't know why you even try.”
“She's so different,” I said, choking back the tears.
“She's forgetting who she is. Don't worry about her.”
“I'm not hungry,” I said, drying my face with a paper towel. “Just take my money and get yourself some lunch.”
“If you don't eat, I don't eat,” Pat said. “Some of us Steeles have to stick together.”
Pat hugged me tight. I was swallowed up by soft fleece, as my face pressed against the warm leather on her sweatshirt. I cried on the motherland.
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Pamela M. Tuck is an award-winning author and mother of 11 children, who credits her writing to her upbringing surrounded by southern storytellers. She began writing in elementary school, and winning her first poetry contest in 2nd grade inspired her to continue writing. She later branched out into writing short stories and plays. She also comes from a family of civil rights activists, and often weaves some of her family’s experiences into her writing. She hopes that her books offer inspiration and encourage each reader to embrace diversity and have the courage to make a difference.