The turn of the century did a 180 on Hamilton, Tennessee. Music had changed, children were becoming more and more adult-like and parents were too wrapped up in their own worlds to see it. It was definitely the case in the Daniels’ household.
It was now early May 2001, three years since Rico had been gone and seven days until Ava and Bri’s fourteenth birthday. Bri had been bouncing around the house in her cheerleading uniform, excited about their party. Ava only admitted to herself that she was a little excited. Bri was the social butterfly now. Ava rarely talked to anyone else besides her twin and she had no problem with that. She didn’t feel the need to try out for cheerleading or sit with the popular kids as Bri did. However, she knew that she was equally as popular as Bri was, by association. Their party had been the talk of Hamilton East Middle School for the past week.
Ava was more focused on today.
After much hesitation, Kita had finally allowed Granny Ran to take the girls with her to visit Rico. Granny Ran had called Kita about a month ago, to let her know that Rico had been moved closer to home. He was only about an hour or so out and she would be able to take the girls with her. Granny Ran and Kita hadn’t spoken much to each other over the last few years. Bri and Ava hadn’t been allowed back to their grandmother’s house after the big blow up about
Kita not picking them up on time and Ava and Bri burning her area rug up. Although Kita stuck up for them in public, when they got home, their punishment was anything but light.
Reluctantly, since the girls were teenagers now, Kita decided to ask them how they felt about seeing Rico. Bri protested.
She wanted nothing to do with jail, which meant she wanted nothing to do with their father. As a matter of fact, besides Granny Ran, Ava was the only one who wrote Rico. She would sneak and accept his collect calls whenever Kita wasn’t home. She usually got in trouble for it, but those twenty minutes were worth it.
It hurt Ava and made her angry all at the same time. How could someone go from being such a daddy’s girl, to acting as if he didn’t even exist? Ava, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to see him. Even if they would be separated by glass.
At that particular moment, Ava was standing in front of the long, rectangular mirror up against the back of her door. She pulled at her hair, not sure why her curls were defying her. With the onset of puberty, Ava was beginning to despise being a girl. It seemed as if Bri got the better end of everything. Her periods were light and short while Ava ended up staying home from school because her cramps were so bad. Ava’s face broke up like clockwork, while
Bri’s skin was still smooth. The only thing Ava could say was she was more developed than her twin. She could easily pass for 16 and boys were beginning to notice that as well.
Ava jumped back as her door swung open, barely missing her. Kita stepped in and frowned.
“Kita, you almost hit me,” Ava said, placing her right palm flat on her chest.
“Sorry,” she said. “Your granny said she’ll be here in twenty minutes. You sure you want to go?”
Ava rolled her eyes, but nodded in response. About a year and a half ago, Kita declared her single status to the public. Of course, many men in town, and even the women, had already suspected that her loyalty to Rico would falter. Ava wasn’t happy. She felt like Kita owed Rico that respect. Bri was indifferent about anything family related it seemed.
“Well here’s some money so you can eat afterwards,” Kita said. Ava frowned as she handed her a ten dollar bill.
“What’s up? You never give me money.”
“Well, Bri has cheerleading practice and I have company coming over, so I don’t need you to rush home.”
Ava gave her a blank stare. Sensing the uncomfortable glare, Kita walked over and straightened the cover on Ava’s bed.
It had been like this for a while now. Bri was oblivious, but Ava had discovered why her mother hadn’t had to get a job in the last three and half years. She didn’t want it to be true, but the fact that Kita was having sex in exchange for money wasn’t hard for her to figure it. It started with Kita accidently answering her phone while in the middle of sex and soon she was leaving the girls alone a lot, coming home with random guys dropping her off. Some even began to call the house.
Kita knew that Ava knew and although she wasn’t proud of it, she knew she wouldn’t be able to provide them with the life that Rico did any other way.
“Ava, baby don’t be like that,” Kita said, smoothing Ava’s shirt down her sides. Ava shied away from her mother’s touch and went to put her shoes on. “I gotta take care of my girls.”
Ava rolled her eyes at Kita’s use of a phrase that Rico used to say often.
“I’ll make sure I stay out late,” Ava said, walking past her. She waited for Granny Ran outside. While waiting, she realized she hadn’t seen her grandmother in a couple of months. She would have said she missed her, but the constant bashing of Kita that Granny Ran did kept Ava from doing that. Ava might not be able to stand her mother all the time, but she wouldn’t tolerate anyone talking about her.
She smoothed out her black Baby Phat shirt, making the silver cat more visible. She frowned at the wrinkle of her boot cut jeans, knowing she probably should have ironed them. Ava hadn’t worn the outfit to school because she had gym that day. She never wasted a good outfit on gym day.
Granny Ran’s silver Camry pulled up and Ava jumped off the porch.
“Hey Granny,” Ava said, sliding in the passenger seat, shutting the door and putting her seatbelt on. Her ears had to adjust to the loud volume of Granny Ran’s church music.
“Hey baby,” Granny Ran said. “Where you been hiding?”
“Bri’s not coming?” Granny Ran asked, looking back at the house. Ava just shook her head. She could tell that Granny Ran was disappointed and wanted to say something, but she didn’t comment on that.
“Well, I spoke with your dad last night and he’s excited to see you,” she said. Ava slowly smiled.
“I’m excited too.”
It had taken Granny Ran fifteen minutes to get Ava’s paperwork together. Prior to their visit, Rico had to send forms for them to sign. Ava could tell that Granny Ran forged Kita’s signature, but she didn’t mind. She knew it would have been a waste of time trying to get Kita to sign it. Ava felt like she was the one in jail. They made her take off her shoes, her belt, and a female officer even patted her down. After she walked through the large, gray metal detector, Ava had to stand up against the wall between a metal bench and the corner and take a picture for the system. Once everything was done, she had to sign her name under Granny Ran’s, next to their time in and the inmate they were visiting. Instead of Rico Daniel’s in that spot, there was a row of seven numbers. The only way Ava knew who it was, was that Granny Ran had written “son” in the spot that asked for relation to inmate.
Ava quickly wrote daughter in hers and smiled a little. Something about writing that made her feel important. Sure, he was just an inmate to the officers who had registered her, but he was Rico Daniels to her: her Daddy. And Ava knew that when she walked in the door he would be excited to see her. Everyone else would think of her as just another visitor, but Rico would see his daughter.
The registering officer handed them a small, silver key attached to a round, brown button-like keychain with a number on it. It was registered to a small locker on the opposite wall. They had to put all of their belongings into it, all except a small bag filled with quarters for the vending machine.
“What are the quarters for?” Ava asked, as the two sat on the metal bench and waited to be called.
“Your daddy doesn’t like the food they feed him,” Granny Ran said. “So he eats a lot out of the vending machines when I come.”
“How do you get the food through?” Ava asked, confused. Granny Ran looked back at her in confusion.
“Through the glass.”
Granny Ran chuckled a little, realizing what Ava was referring to.
“Child, every jail isn’t like that. We sit down at tables in here,” she said. “You can hug him and everything.
Ava’s heart stopped. She had been preparing to sit on the opposite side of glass and talk to Rico through a telephone. Tears threatened to fall because her heart swelled. Soon, she would be able to hug her daddy.
The twenty minutes that it took for them to call their name seemed like forever. They had to pass through two revolving doors that closed and locked before the other one could open. The visiting room was big and had windows that were not reachable, but did allow light. There was a row of vending machines on the left, next to a door with a small glass window. There were three rows of tables with three tables in each row, chairs lined on either side. Granny Ran and Ava walked past the bathroom and sat at an empty table closest to the machines. Ava looked around. There were only a few other people visiting.
“They come out that door,” Granny Ran said, pointing to the door near the vending machines. Ava’s body turned to it and she stared it down. Granny Ran chuckled.
Once she saw him come from behind the door, she tried to jump up. Granny Ran held her in the chair, letting her know that was a sure fire way to get their visit ended early. Ava’s leg bounced as she watched him look around, and then smile. He walked over to them and Ava could see his unruly curls and scruffy face. He hadn’t had a hair cut or a shave in a while but she knew who her daddy was. Once he got close enough, Ava looked at Granny Ran for approval. When she nodded, Ava went to stand up. Rico stepped back a little.
“Ma, who’s this teenager you brought with you,” Rico said, playfully rejecting her reach. “I told you to bring my baby girl.”
“Stop playing,” Ava said, on the verge of tears. Rico and Granny Ran laughed before Rico finally pulled her to his chest. Ava sighed in relief. He was real.
“You are getting way too grown,” he said, squeezing her just as an officer asked him to take a seat. “What are you, 17 now?”
“You know how old I am,” Ava said, not wanting to let him go. The officer called over to them again.
“This my kid!” Rico said, “Give me a minute, man.”
They let Ava have her moment. It wasn’t as long as she would have liked, but Rico rocked her a little and rubbed her back.
“I’m sorry you’re going through this,” he whispered before he sniffed. Ava couldn’t see if he was crying. Her face was buried deeply into his tan jumpsuit. After a moment, she finally pulled back and sat down.
“Isn’t that supposed to be orange?” Ava asked, pointing at his clothes. Rico laughed as he scooted over to hug his mother.
“You watch too much TV,” he said, before kissing Granny Ran on her forehead. “How you doing, Momma?”
“I’m good baby,” she said. “Glad to have some company on this trip.” Ava settled into the chair, tucking one of her legs under her body and letting the other one sway back and forth by the table.
“How’s Bri,” he said, before clearing his throat. “And Kita.”
“They’re okay,” Ava mumbled. “Um, Bri had cheerleading practice.”
Rico looked at her for a moment then slowly nodded. It was almost as if he could tell that Ava was trying to cover for Bri. It wasn’t even on Bri’s behalf. Ava didn’t want his feelings to be hurt.
“But, your favorite girl is here!” she joked. Granny Ran protested jokingly and Rico laughed.
“Sorry Momma,” Rico said, throwing his hands up. Granny Ran gasped while holding her chest and Ava smiled victoriously. “I need one of those chicken sandwiches,” he said, pointing to the vending machine. Granny Ran tossed Ava the bag of quarters. “Put it on a minute and a half.”
Ava walked over to the vending machine, making sure to keep her ear on Granny Ran and Rico’s conversation. She pressed the revolving arrow and waited for a chicken sandwich to come into view. After she put seven quarters in, the door unlocked and she pulled the sandwich from its space.
She walked over to the older model microwave, grabbed a few brown napkins that were on the top of it and slid the sandwich into the microwave.
“She was tripping?” she heard Rico ask.
“She acts like she doesn’t want them to see you and that other one is just all into herself now,” Granny Ran said. “And I won’t even mention all the stories I’ve heard about these different men.”
Ava looked out of the corner of her eye to see Rico shake his head before running both of his hands down his face. She heard him silently curse. Ava knew why. He had to be hurt by Kita’s disloyalty. Rico prided himself on his family. He would always talk about how in love he was with Kita from the day he met her and how he knew she’d be his and all this other stuff. Bri and Ava used to get so disgusted, but now Ava wished she could hear it. She wished she could run from the living room when her parents forgot they were present and began kissing and hugging on each other. She wanted it all back.
“What is she anyway?” Granny Ran asked. “Really?”
“Ma, don’t start.”
“You never even asked about her people?”
“It wasn’t about nobody but us,” he said. “But I told you her moms was Asian.”
Ava frowned. Granny Ran always wanted to discuss Kita, but this time, Ava wanted to listen. She never even really thought about Kita’s family. The only grandmother she knew was Granny Ran, who wouldn’t even speak on Rico’s dad. She didn’t find it odd; there were a lot of kids at school that didn’t know all their family. But now that someone had mentioned it, it made her think.
Kita did have Asian features. Many women in the neighborhood were envious and the fact that men were after Kita didn’t help. Ava and Bri were both light, but so was Rico. What were they?
The microwave beeped three times and Ava pulled the hot sandwich from the glass plate. The red bag was puffed up and Ava could feel the heat radiating from it. She carefully walked back over to her seat and put the sandwich on the table. Rico smiled and asked her to get him a Pepsi and some chips as well. Ava got them quickly.
“How is school, love?”
“It’s okay,” Ava said, too quickly for Rico’s liking.
“I only have two bad grades,” she spoke quickly. Rico smirked. “Well, make them good.” Ava sighed in relief, glad that Rico hadn’t made a big deal as he usual would.
“Ma, did you speak to my lawyer?” He asked.
“He’s working on it.”
Rico nodded before putting his attention back on Ava. For the next two hours they joked, laughed, and played a hand of War before Rico’s visit was called to an end. Immediately, Ava’s tears came.
“Hey, don’t do that,” Rico said, pulling Ava to him once again. “I need you strong, you hear me?” He demanded. Ava nodded. “You and Ma are all I got in here.”
“I’ll be okay,” Ava mumbled. Rico pushed her back to look at her face. He examined it a little before nodding in approval. He then hugged his mother, instructing her on giving Ava his new mailing address. She promised to write him.
On the ride home, Ava was silent. Her emotions were all over the place. After three years, she’d finally seen her daddy. She felt relieved but it only lasted until he was handcuffed and taken back through the locked door. She hadn’t expected to be so emotional. However, Ava was still happy to see him. When Granny Ran dropped her off, Ava noticed an unfamiliar car in front of the house.
“I’ll call to see if you want to next time I go,” Granny Ran said. Ava nodded.
“I want to.”
Ava walked into the house and looked around. Bri’s cheer leading bag was near the door, so Ava knew her twin was home. She rolled her eyes, not even wanting to deal with her mom or Bri. She crept upstairs towards her room. Just as she was opening her door, Kita’s door swung open. Ava stood still as an older man slid out of the room. His hazel eyes shined as he gave Ava a nod of acknowledgement and fixed his tie. Ava didn’t nod back or move, she just watched him walk past her, down the stairs. She didn’t move to go into her room until she heard the front door close.