Thursday evening — 6:25 P.M
“It’s time to tell Tanesha the truth,” Rodney Smith said.
“Go ahead,” Gran raised an eyebrow in challenge. “You tell her the truth.”
“It’s your story,” Rodney Smith said. “I wasn’t even there.”
“This is private business,” Gran said. “If we have to tell the story, then we tell Tanesha alone.”
“Oh no,” Jeraine walked to stand between Rodney Smith and Gran. “You are not doing this. Not today. Uh huh. No way.”
Shocked by his tone of voice, they stared at him. Tanesha sat up from her Gran’s lap.
“What are you talking about?” Gran asked.
“All this mess, all of it, Tanesha has had to live with it festering inside her,” Jeraine said. “While you’ve kept your secrets locked behind your closed lips, the rest of us have to deal with it like it’s a members of the family.”
Gran flushed. She looked away from him.
“You want to tell your story. Good for you,” Jeraine said. “But you’re going to tell her where she’s safe and surrounded by the people who have lived with your secrets, the people who’ve loved her through it.”
“Are you saying I don’t love my daughter?” Rodney Smith asked.
“He’s a fool,” Gran said.
“No,” Tanesha’s voice cracked. She swallowed hard. “He’s right. He and I… We live with this, whatever it is, every day. I can’t believe him, commit to him; he feels betrayed and acts out. We live with your secrets like they’re precious antique figurines we step around so we won’t break.”
Her father and grandmother turned to look at her. Tanesha was watching Jeraine.
“Miss T’s girls are waiting for my call,” Jeraine said. “You want to lay out your bullshit? This time you do it when Tanesha has her support team with her.”
“I appreciate your concern, child, but this is not your business,” Gran said.
“I’ll be damned if it’s not,” Jeraine said. “She’s a tiny three year old when this stuff comes up. I’m not going to leave her surrounded by all this toxic waste. I won’t leave that little girl alone with you. There’s no storytelling unless she has us.”
Gran gave him a dark look and looked away. Rodney Smith looked him up and down. The room was painfully quiet. Jeraine caught Tanesha’s eyes and she gave him a soft smile. He was just about to tell her it was time to leave when Rodney Smith shifted in place.
“He’s right,” Rodney Smith stepped back. “Call the girls.”
“He’s right and you know it,” Rodney Smith said to Gran.
“You want to spread our private business…” Gran started.
“Gran…” Tanesha started.
“They already know,” Rodney Smith said. “They might not know the specifics. They might not know the whens and wheres, but he’s right. They have lived with this as long as they’ve known her. We owe them the truth for being there for Tanesha this whole time.”
Gran scowled and shook her head. Rodney Smith gave her a firm look.
“I’ll do all the talking,” Rodney Smith said.
Gran began to cry.
Thursday evening — 6:25 P.M
“One, two, three… that’s right Sissy,” Ivan said. “Turn, bow… yes, Misty, but remember to… yes, that’s right.”
Dancing to Ivan’s specifications, Misty and Sissy worked on point. Ivan had put them through an hour of the hardest ballet work Sissy had ever done. She had known this workout would be hard. With Misty here, he made it that much harder.
“You may stop,” Ivan said. “We have a little more than a half hour before the girls arrive. You need to rest and get some nutrition.”
“I just had my snack!” Sissy said.
“I haven’t eaten,” Misty smiled. “Why don’t you come with me to get something? We can talk.”
Sissy smiled and followed her off stage. Ivan gave them each a towel.
“You have a text message from your sister,” Ivan held Sissy’s phone out to her. “I must speak with the others.”
He leaned into Sissy and went through his ‘you will not embarrass me’ speech again in a low voice. Sissy nodded.
“Your sister brought smoothies for you,” Ivan said. “I hope that’s all right with you Miss Copeland. We checked with your people to find out what you liked and…”
“That’s perfect,” Misty smiled.
“Sandy was here?” Sissy asked. “She didn’t stay?”
“Read your text,” Ivan put the phone in her hand, gave a little bow, and left the stage.
Sissy looked down. Her phone said: “Emergency w Tanesha. Sorry Sis. Call if you’re not okay. Wouldn’t go if I didn’t believe you’d shine! Will be there when I can.” Sissy nodded. She was okay and Tanesha never had emergencies. Plus Tanesha’s Dad had set up this chance to dance today! She stood a little straighter. She could do this.
“I forgot how he could be,” Misty said. “Very Russian.”
The ballerina sat down on the edge of the stage. She smiled and Sissy sat next to her.
“He’s okay,” Sissy said. “I’ve known him since I was little. Do you know him?”
“Everyone either knows Ivan or knows of him,” Misty said. “You’re a lucky girl to work with him.”
“Oh?” Surprised, Sissy shook her head. “I mean, he’s just… Ivan.”
“He’s a world class instructor,” Misty said. “You didn’t know?”
Sissy shook her head. Misty laughed.
“I’m not very good,” Sissy whispered. “And I don’t go to the high school where all the good dancers go or anything. I need lots of help.”
“Sissy,” Misty put her hand on Sissy’s arm. “Most girls your age couldn’t even begin the routine we just did. You flew right through it.”
“I’m going to be sore tomorrow,” Sissy touched her healing breast. “I have some… cuts.”
“I heard,” Misty took a drink of her smoothie. “This is perfect. Your sister is wonderful for getting them.”
“Sandy’s really great,” Sissy said. “She found Ivan for me.”
“I think Ivan works for your guardian,” Misty said.
“No,” Misty said. “Mr. O’Malley.”
“That was my understanding,” Misty said. “I know the ABT was going to offer you a position a few years ago when you were in New York at the New York Ballet summer school. You remember you danced at the ABT?”
“We were told in no uncertain terms that you weren’t available until you were eighteen. That’s one of the reasons I’m here. To ask you if you would consider coming back to New York with me.”
“To do what?” Sissy asked.
“With you?” Sissy flushed. “Well I’d… I’d be honored to dance with you anywhere.”
“With the ABT,” Misty said. “How old are you now?”
“Fifteen,” Sissy sat up straighter. “Next month.”
“We were told you were getting the instruction you needed and you weren’t available until you were eighteen,” Misty said.
“Who told you that?” Sissy asked. “I’d go… in a heart beat! I would have gone and…”
Realizing what she was saying, Sissy fell silent.
“Your guardian has told every company you’re not available until you’re eighteen,” Misty said.
“Sandy and her husband Aden are my guardians,” Sissy said. “They wouldn’t say that without talking to me. That’s how they are. Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk.”
“Mr. O’Malley is very powerful in ballet and symphony circles, especially in New York,” Misty said. “No one would risk crossing him. He might pull his funding or ban a company from using his work or… No one would cross him.”
“Uncle Seth?” Sissy asked. “He’s not my guardian. He wouldn’t have a say.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Misty said. “I’m staying with him tonight. I’m taking a piece of his back to New York with me, something special. If I bring it back, I get to dance to it when it’s debuted. I’ll ask him about the guardian thing tonight.”
“Why aren’t you eating your smoothie?” Misty asked. “The Denver Ballet Company picked a few of their students to dance with us tonight. We have a long night ahead of us.”
“I just had my snack,” Sissy said.
“Drink.” Misty put the smoothie in her hand. Sissy took a polite sip and set it down. “Anorexia or Bulimia?”
“How long have you been out of rehab?” Misty asked.
“Few months,” Sissy said. “But I live with my sister now and I’m not screwing up. It’s just… hard.”
“I know how you feel,” Misty said.
“To dance, you must be tall, thin, and…”
“Like a bird,” Sissy sighed. Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m not very bird like. I want to be a ballerina so bad, but it’s like…”
“You’re body isn’t right enough to do it,” Misty said. “I’ve felt like that.”
“I bet.” Sissy nodded.
Not sure what else to say, Sissy drank some of her smoothie.
“Is it hard?” Sissy asked.
“Being a dancer?” Misty asked. “It’s brutally hard and it’s amazing. I really love it. Do you?”
“I love dancing,” Sissy said. “When I’m dancing, I’m really happy. I didn’t dance for a few years because… of some family stuff. And life was barely worth living without dancing. But then Sandy came and her husband insisted we live with them and now… everything’s better. And I get to dance. But not at school.”
“Why don’t you go to the arts school?”
“I was sick when they had try outs,” Sissy said. “And… I like where I go now. It’s close to where we live and my new brother will be there next year. My older brother plays basketball there. He’s really good.”
“He must be tall like you,” Misty said.
“Is there anything you’d like to know about being a dancer?” Misty asked.
“Do you think I stand a chance?” Sissy’s voice came out as a whisper.
“I think if you work hard, with your talent, you’ll do really well,” Misty said.
“I’ll be really…” Sissy made a gesture to her chest.
“Join the club,” Misty and Sissy laughed. “What about boys? A lot of really talented girls don’t make it because of boys.”
“Oh,” Sissy shook her head. “I don’t have a boyfriend. I used to think that I might have a boyfriend. This guy Wade? I met him in rehab. But he decided that he was a girl in a boy’s body.”
“Not much of a boyfriend,” Misty said.
“No,” Sissy said. “But we’re good friends still. He’s now Wanda and goes to school with me.”
“So you don’t have to worry about boys and me,” Sissy said. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“I date,” Misty said. “But right now, I’m married to my dancing. Everything I do revolves around dancing - workouts, practices, performances… There’s not a lot of space for a man.”
“Me too,” Sissy said. “With practice and Ivan and dance school and regular school, chores, family…”
“It doesn’t get any easier, Sissy,” Misty said.
“That’s okay,” Sissy said. “I like it.”
Misty gave Sissy a big smile.
“What?” Sissy asked.
“I’m glad I came,” Misty said.
Thursday evening — 6:45 P.M
“Now that you ladies are here,” Tanesha’s Gran said. “It all seems like a lot of fuss for nothing.”
Rodney Smith gave Gran a hard look.
“I’m glad we’re here,” Sandy smiled at Gran and sat down next to Tanesha.
Heather took Tanesha’s other side on the couch and Jill sat at her feet. Jeraine hovered near the edge of the living room. Tanesha’s Gran sat down in an arm chair and Rodney Smith sat across from her. For a moment, they were silent. Heather slipped her hand into Tanesha’s.
“What was the dream about, Mrs. Jones?” Jill asked. “We’ve racked our brains and can’t come up with anything. Do you know?”
“I…” Gran gave Jill a quick, pleading look. She glanced at Tanesha and nodded. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
“It sounds crazy now, but when I was charged, Yvonne, Tanesha’s Mom, and I, we didn’t think even one thing about it,” Rodney Smith said. “We were so happy, so very happy, then. I think we didn’t believe anything could take that away. Your Dad, Jeraine, was my best-friend. He told me that his friend O’Malley had heard weird things about this case and that I should worry, but I didn’t. I believed in this country. I believed in our legal system. How could an innocent man be found guilty in such a horrible crime?”
Rodney Smith shrugged.
“So we continued our life,” he said. “I was interviewed and released. I thought it was over until one day we got a notice that I had to be in court. Yvonne and I took the notice to Bumpy and… well, he was upset. Tanesha was with us. She was just a baby, not quite a year old. You were with your Mom on tour, Jeraine.”
“My Mom on tour?” Jeraine asked.
“She has a gorgeous singing voice,” Rodney Smith said. “She toured nightclubs in major cities a little while Bumpy was finishing his schooling and you kids were babies.”
Not wanting to get in the way, Jeraine nodded.
“Anyway, Bumpy called a lawyer,” Rodney Smith said. “And it all got worse. All the mess I had ignored was worse than we thought. A lot worse. The police had no other suspect. I was it. By the time we got home, Yvonne was…”
“Hysterical,” Gran said. “She was never strong, my Yvonne. Not like you Tanesha. She was like paper. And she…”
“When we got home, she tried to kill herself,” Rodney Smith said. “She couldn’t see her life continuing without me, and we could see that we were going to lose. I mean, we were poor, black, and they were sure I’d done this terrible thing.”
“What did she do?” Tanesha’s voice came out in one croak.
“I was arguing with her,” Rodney Smith said. “Telling her she was a fool and we’d be all right. She grabbed a knife and sliced up her wrist. You started screaming the moment the knife hit her skin and… She had this skin… so thin you could almost see the blood move underneath it, fragile and beautiful, gorgeous skin really, and the knife… I took off my shirt and grabbed you from your crib. You were screaming; she was screaming; I wrapped her arm in my shirt and called Bumpy but…”
“She’d cut a tendon,” Gran said. “We didn’t have insurance or anything like that. They patched her up at the hospital but that’s about all. She couldn’t use that hand much after that.”
“She can’t,” Tanesha said. “She can’t. You guys act like she’s dead. She’s not dead. She still has beautiful skin. She still can’t use her hand.”
Gran blinked at Tanesha for a few minutes. The silence dragged on.
“I have that tattoo,” Rodney lifted his shirt. “It says ‘Forever Yvonne.’ She has one that says ‘Forever Rodney.’ She… You know the rest. We sold our house to pay the lawyers. I went to prison. You and she lived with your Gran for a while but… She couldn’t work as a secretary anymore because she couldn’t use her hand. And…”
“We never got along,” Gran said. “She thinks I’m crazy.”
“Mean,” Sandy said. Surprised, Gran’s head jerked to look at her. “I cut her hair once a month. Tanesha and Heather bring her in. They have lunch, get her cleaned up, ask her keeper if he’s ready to let her leave, and bring her back when they have to.”
Gran glanced at Rodney Smith. His eyes were glazed over as if he’d been hit with a brick. She continued her story.
“There isn’t much more to say,” Gran said. “I lost track of her, and you. She moved around… seeing men… I thought…”
She glanced at Rodney Smith again and he shook his head.
“You’re right,” Gran said. “This isn’t the time for me to tell you that I failed her. But I did. And you, Tanesha. Rodney called me and told me he’d lost track of her.”
“She used to write me every day,” Rodney Smith said. “Suddenly, the letters stopped.”
“He asked if I would I find her?” Gran swallowed so hard that her head bobbed in a slight nod. “I didn’t. He called again. Bumpy called. I… don’t have excuses for what or why I abandoned my daughter, but… that’s what I did.”
For a moment, Tanesha’s eyes locked on Gran’s in the silent communication between people who know each other well. Tanesha saw the whole of her grandmother – stubborn, mean, kind, loving, righteous – and Gran took in Tanesha. As if she had drawn in the strength to continue her story, Gran nodded.
“I got a call from the police,” Gran said. “My daughter had hurt herself. Would I take the baby? I went to one of those horrible motels on Colfax to find… awful things. As you said, Tanesha, blood everywhere and… you were the one crying, screaming really. You were hiding under a table with your back to a wall. Your hands were over your ears and you had your knees pulled up. You were howling at the top of your lungs. It took me almost an hour to get you out. You and Yvonne were in the hospital for… days. I thought she was… Doctors said she’d injured her brain and I thought she’d finally come home. I went down there on the third morning and…”
A single silent tear rolled down the contours of Gran’s face. Her eyes traveled the lines of Tanesha’s face.
“Yvonne was gone,” Rodney Smith said. “The man who owns her came to get her in the night. They left you. We’re not sure how she pulled that off, or what it cost her, because… he… and you…”
“He told me,” Tanesha said. “He used to sell me too.”
“Like it was something she should be proud of,” Heather snorted.
“He used to make more money off Tanesha,” Sandy glanced at Tanesha. “And she was supposed to be proud of that?”
“He told us he was coming for Tanesha after high school,” Jill said. “That he was waiting for her to grow up so she could get to work. So you’re probably right, Mr. Smith. Tanesha’s mom probably agreed to go with him if he would leave her alone until she was grown up.”
“We snuck her out of town,” Heather smiled. “He’s a fool.”
“I wondered what happened,” Rodney Smith looked from Heather to Sandy and then Jill. “Thank you.”
“It was more blood, Tanesha, than I’d ever seen,” Gran said. “Yvonne had some brain damage from… everything and… She saved you. In my heart, I know that she saved you.”
“I believe that too,” Rodney Smith said. “No matter what happened, Yvonne loved you, Tanesha. She used to call you her special light.”
“So that’s our story,” Gran said. “Blood, tattoos, and failure. We failed Yvonne and you. Can you forgive us?”
Tanesha threw herself in her grandmother’s lap and cried. The moment she hit Gran’s lap, her grandmother began to sob. They cried for the loss of the beautiful Yvonne, for the things mothers do for their children, and their own inability to make the horrible past any better. Tanesha held on to her grandmother until all the tears were spent. When she looked up, her friends were gone. Rodney Smith was drinking tea with Jeraine in the dining room and she was starving.
“Dinner?” Tanesha asked. When she gave a partial smile, Jeraine knew that, even though she wasn’t all right today, she was on the other side of this horrible mess.
“I’ll see what I can make,” Jeraine said.
“You better not make a mess in my kitchen,” Gran yelled.
He gave her a curt nod, almost a bow, and went to make dinner.
The Denver Cereal will continue next week
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