Dana L. Davis
Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now
I sigh. Uggh. This is getting complicated. I spin around. “I just got that phone. It was a birthday present from Grams.”
“Margaret and I got you a phone. That’s the one you’ll be using from now on. You’re on the family plan. Only texting and phone calls allowed. No internet. And you have to hand it over every night. We keep the phones in our room so we can monitor them. That means we have all passwords. And we do read texts, so keep it PG.” He rubs his forehead in that way grown-ups do when they seem stressed or overworked. “We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. Did you know that? Did your grandmother tell you?”
I remember Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on our door once in Chicago. They had a pamphlet and on one of the pages were cartoon images of very happy, smiling people walking away from a burning city. At the top of the page, it said, Get Ready for Armageddon. Grams was nice, but told them proselytizing wasn’t allowed in our particular apartment complex before she swiftly shut the door. When I asked her what proselytizing meant, she said it was “when people who think they know everything annoy everybody around them.”
“As you might know,” Anthony continues, “Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays or holidays.”
“Oh. So why are you having a birthday party for me?”
“It’s a family reunion. Margaret made a cake and...we want you to feel at home here. This is your home, after all, Tiffany.” He stands. “Is it just me? I feel like we may have gotten off to a bad start.”
“Yeah, me, too.” I turn back toward the dresser and pick up a copy of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. “One of my all-time favorite songs is ‘Bold as Love.’ So cool you have this. It’s got to be one of the most beautiful things ever—”
“Let’s join the others downstairs and talk more later. Okay? We don’t want to be rude and stay away from the family too long.”
I scratch at my trembling cheek. They’ve been around him their whole lives; I’ve only had five minutes, but, “Sure. Yeah.”
“You’ll want to wash your face a bit?”
“O...kay?” Rude much? I wipe at my runny nose again, self-conscious and majorly uncomfortable. “Can I ask you one more question please?”
“Why do you think my mom wanted you and me to take a DNA test?”
“Legal reasons, I suppose. I told her there was no need for any of that, though.”
“What did she say?”
“What do you mean?” He looks more than slightly frustrated.
“I mean, when you told her there was no need for a DNA test, was she all ‘Oh, okay, great’? Or was she like...? I mean, what did she say after that?”
Anthony folds his arms across his chest. “She thanked me for trusting her.” He smiles. But it’s not a happy smile. More of an I’m-done-talking-about-this smile. “May I hug you, Tiffany?”
I nod and he steps forward to embrace me. He smells like hospital soap and laundry detergent and his arms feel strong and defined. Like, this is a doctor who hits the gym before and after he delivers babies. But more important...they feel stiff. This time I don’t jerk away like a crazy person, but the hug still feels cold. It’s about as comforting as being embraced by the principal at my old school. And I hated that guy.
“We’re so glad to have you here. It’s a blessing to have my family all together. A real blessing.”
He leaves the room and I stand for a long moment feeling as if I’ve arrived at Disneyland to find out the whole park is closed for repairs. Or worse. Like I’m a millionaire stepping out of the Dublin airport. The sky is bright blue, and it’s a hot, sunny day.
“G’day, miss,” one of the locals would say. “Dinna unnerstan this weather, aye? So lovely. Forecast says no rain in sight. Not for a long, long time.”
Patio terrace: what they all keep calling it.
Backyard wonderland: what I’m calling it.
Stuff rich people have: what Keelah would probably call it.
Anyway...that’s where we all are and, whatever you choose to call it, it’s pretty amazing. Aside from the pool, fire pit, outdoor kitchen and full-size tennis court, there are also lots of colorful stones, granite and ultramodern furniture all around.
There’s a small lounge area facing a ginormous mounted flat-screen television and a dining table set with dishes, silverware and glasses. And not the normal glasses you get in a box at Target like we had back at home. These glasses have designs cut into them and gold rims. The sort of glasses that if you broke one it would probably be, like...bad.
Finally, there are strings of soft white fairy lights strung across the ceiling of the outdoor kitchen, and wrapped meticulously around the trees, and perfectly manicured bushes in the yard. It all feels very enchanting and not like anything I’ve ever seen in real life.
Margaret sets down a glass pitcher of water with floating slices of lemon, lime and...leaves?
“Those are mint leaves,” Margaret explains, catching me eyeing the pitcher. “Do you like mint?”
“Oh, yeah.” Not entirely a lie since I like thin mint Girl Scout cookies.
“Then you’ll find this refreshing.” She gives me her signature polite tilt of the head and I wonder if her neck hurts at the end of the day. It’s gotta.
On my left, and at the head of the table, is Anthony. No longer in hospital scrubs, but in a pair of dark jeans, a black shirt and a blazer. Looking not like a dad at all, but more like one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People. On my right is Nevaeh. Across from me is a very conservatively dressed London, a stark contrast to the nearly naked London that greeted me upstairs in our shared room. She’s dressed in a white blouse that is buttoned to the collar, dress pants and strappy sandals. Her pretty black hair is hanging neatly over her shoulders. Beside her is Heaven. Margaret and Pumpkin are at the opposite end of the table.
“We always thank Jehovah before we eat,” Anthony explains, taking my hand and bowing his head as everyone else joins hands, too, and I wonder who exactly this Jehovah person is. For some reason I picture a red-faced man with horns and a pitchfork but wait...no, that’s the devil.
“Jehovah,” he starts. “We give You honor and great thanks as we sit before this meal. Thank You for safe travels for Tiffany and for blessing us with a complete family. We praise Your holy name and give You honor and glory above all things. In the name of Christ Jesus. Amen.”
“Amen,” everyone repeats except for me.
“Tiffany,” Margaret starts, “now we go around the table and say something we’re grateful for. Why don’t you go first?”
My stomach drops. “Um, I’m grateful I didn’t die on the way here.”
Everyone sort of stops cold; an array of disturbed looks are tossed my way. Shoot! What was Grams thinking telling me to be myself?
“Was there some sort of accident or something?” Margaret asks quizzically. “On the freeway?”
“Yes,” I lie. “We barely missed it, thank goodness.”
“Thank Jehovah,” Anthony states seriously.
There’s that Jehovah guy again. Who is this man?
“Can I go next?” London asks with a quick raise of the hand.
“Absolutely, honey. What are you grateful for?” Margaret replies.
“I’m grateful that I could be Curington’s valedictorian and give the graduation speech. That’s a huge honor. I’d be the youngest valedictorian in the history of Curington.”
“What about Marcus McKinney?” Nevaeh asks.