I watched as Tasha fumbled with her fingers, waiting to hear me say that I won’t hate her once she tells me whatever news she had to share.
“Well?” Her eyes met mine. “Tell me you won’t hate me after I tell you this.”
I stood next to Tasha. “Sit down.” I pointed to the step.
We sat, and for a moment we were both silent. I took my friend’s hand in mine. “I could never hate you. Whatever you have to tell me can’t be that bad.” After the day I’d had, I needed it not to be that bad.
Her eyes watered.
It was that bad. I braced myself.
“I’ve wanted to tell you this ever since I found out, but I couldn’t. Mom made it clear that we weren’t to say a word to anyone until the right time. I guess it’s time.” Tasha shrugged her shoulders.
“Then tell me.” I urged her.
“You remember a few years ago when my mom was sick a lot?” Tasha asked.
I nodded. I remembered it well because Tasha called every day worried that she would lose her mother.
“Well, when we were told she had breast cancer, she immediately thought the worse. She felt like she was going to die and wanted me to know the truth about our family.”
The screen door creaked open behind us.
“You told her yet?” Karen questioned right before she downed whatever clear liquid she had in her glass. Most likely vodka. Her drink of choice.
“I’m trying to tell her now.” Tasha slightly turned in Karen’s direction. She kept that position for a second before rolling her eyes and facing me again. If the situation weren’t so frustrating, I’d probably laugh at the antics between Tasha and Ms. Karen. That woman has worked Tasha’s nerves ever since I could remember and probably before that. I’d never understand why Tasha chose to stay here in Bayou and deal with Karen for the rest of her life.
“It don’t take that damn long to tell somebody y’all cousins. Hell just say it. Nadia, ya’ll cousins. See how easy that was?” Karen turned the empty glass to her mouth. “I need a drink.” She walked back inside leaving Tasha and me sitting there in a stunned silence. Mine was from shock and Tasha’s was probably from being pissed that once again, Karen had to take over and do things her way.
“Cousins?” I scooted away from Tasha so I could really see her face as she explained her mother’s words.
Tasha took a deep breath. “When she was sick and thought she was dying she..”
“Can you skip all that and just tell me what she meant?” My level of frustration and aggravation was at an all time high. I no longer had the time or desire for this rollercoaster conversation Tasha was taking me on.
“We’re first cousins. My mother and your mother are sisters,” Tasha explained.
I absorbed her words and no matter how I tried, I still couldn’t get them to make sense in my head. “What do you mean they’re sisters? What are you saying my grandparents gave your mother up or something?”
Tasha shook her head. “Not exactly.”
“Then what exactly?” I stood up and folded my arms. I needed answers and Tasha’s meek and mild attitude wasn’t helping.
Tasha stood too. “We have the same grandfather. Your grandfather had an affair with my grandmother and my mother and Aunt Faye were the products of that affair.”
Immediately the name entered my mind. “The children across the street. The children across the street were your mom and aunt. The children across the street were my grandfather’s children?”
Now it all made sense. Now I understood why the hate was so thick between my grandmother and the children across the street. Of course she hated them. Who wouldn’t?
“I know this is a lot to take in.” Tasha talked and I barely listened. I was still imagining what it was like for my grandmother to walk out of her house everyday knowing the children playing in the yard right across the street belonged to her husband.
“I have to go.” I was in my car and pulling off before Tasha could say another word. The short drive to my grandmother’s felt like an eternity. I wanted to go to her and hug her and tell her how sorry I was for all her pain. I know I didn’t cause it, but I still felt the need to comfort her.
“Grandma Hazel!” I called for her as soon as I walked through the door. “Grandma Hazel!” I called again when she didn’t answer. I walked in the living room where I’d left her relaxing in her chair. She was still there with her arms folded over her stomach.
She didn’t move. My heart stopped beating as I watched her closely. I couldn’t see her chest rise and fall. I panicked.
“Grandma Hazel!” I shouted as I shook her forcefully.
Her eyes popped open. “What the hell! What’s wrong with you? You trying to give me a heart attack!” Her wide eyes stared at me.
Relief flooded my body. “I thought you were dead.” I was still trying to calm my breathing.
“Dead? Hell I’m sleep, but I’m half dead now.” She held her hand over her chest.
“Don’t ever do that to me again.” I leaned down and hugged her.
“You feeling better? You rushed out of here like the house was on fire,” She asked when I finally let her go and sat on the stool next to her chair.
“Why’d you stay?” I asked the questioned I’d wondered ever since I was able to fully process the news I’d just received.
“I couldn’t run behind you. I’m not as fast as I used to be.” Grandma Hazel laughed.
I shook my head. “That’s not what I mean. Why’d you stay with Grandpa Will?”
Grandma Hazel’s eyes narrowed. I understood the look of confusion very well. “What kind of question is that? You wanna know why I stayed with my husband?”
“I want to know why you stayed after he cheated on you. After he had children with another woman.”
She tilted her head and her eyebrows squished together. It was apparent she never intended for me to find out. “Who told you?”
“A better question is why didn’t you? You hated those people and now I get it. Why couldn’t you tell me that?”
Grandma Hazel looked away. “Your Grandfather was a good man.” She looked at me. “He was a good provider and a good father. He made his mistakes and I forgave him for it. There was nothing left to say about it.” She raised her brows and gave me a quick nod. Her nod was her period, final,no more questions to be asked or answered.
“That’s your story and you’re sticking to it right?” A voice came from the entryway.
I looked up and into the face of the last person in this world I wanted to see today… or ever for that matter.
I stood. “What are you doing here?”
“I heard you were here. I wanted to see you.” Rachel walked into the living room and sat her designer purse on the sofa. She wore a fitted dress and heels, her signature look. Nadia could never remember a time her mother didn’t wear a dress and heels.
“Hey Mother.” Rachel leaned down and kissed Grandma Hazel’s cheek.
“Hey.” Grandma Hazel was unusually quiet. Intuition said she’d set this up. I should’ve known there was a reason she kept mentioning Rachel yesterday.
“You look beautiful.” Rachel’s watery eyes scanned my body.
She stepped closer to me.
I stepped back.
She looked hurt, but it didn’t matter.
“I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation when I walked in. I’m guessing your grandmother finally told you the truth.” Rachel looked at me for answers.
I remained silent. I had no words for her.
“She ain’t hear nothing from me.” Grandma Hazel suddenly found her ability to speak again. “I don’t talk about it and I don’t want to hear about it.”
Rachel laughed. “I should’ve known it didn’t come from you. No, it couldn’t have come from you because if it had you’d tell it all. Isn’t that right?” Rachel looked at Grandma Hazel who’d become a mute once again.
“Right Mother?” Rachel folded her arms. “You wouldn’t have your granddaughter running around here with a half truth would you?”
Grandma Hazel stood and walked in front of Rachel. “I called you here to fix things between you and your daughter. My life is none of y’all’s concern. I don’t wanna hear about this ever again do I make myself clear?” She looked back and forth between Rachel and me.
“Very clear.” Rachel’s narrowed eyes showed she wasn’t done, but I was… for now.
I tried to hold it in, but I couldn’t remain silent a minute longer. “I’m so sick of all the secrets in this family. I’ve been here two days and everywhere I turn there’s another secret to be discovered. Why can’t we all be honest for once? This is why I don’t come home. I always leave more confused and with more questions than before I came.”
Grandma Hazel looked at me. “You’re right, there are more secrets to be discovered, but the only ones you should be concerned with are the ones your mother’s carrying around, not mine.” Grandma Hazel walked to the entryway then stopped. She turned back to Rachel and me. “You walked in here so anxious to share the truth. Why don’t you start by telling your daughter the truth about her father.”
With those words, she was gone. Rachel and I were left alone, smothered by the silence that wrapped around us. More questions. More secrets. More lies. The life I had when I arrived in Bayou two days ago felt like a distant memory. Who are these people? Hell, who am I?
Written by: L.A. Lewis
Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson