The place was jumping; the bass was thumping. Bodies mingled covered with sweat. In the pungently pissy corridors, bodies were covered with kisses and hickeys. Wanna-be men, rubbing up some what-you-thinkin'-of women in the project stairways. How romantic.
Yolie was oblivious to all that. Her hands worked the turntables furiously. She had the crowd in the palm of her hand. They all were familiar to her. The buildings of the Roosevelt Houses were like a small town. Everyone knew each other and their business. Yolie had received many invitations into the hallways, but she had other things on her mind. Giving the neighborhood something to gossip about wasn't on the agenda.
She had the center jamming to Busta Rhymes, P-Diddy, EPMD. Yolie got her props. She could rock a jam (even though she was "a girl").
"Damn, Yo. It's about to jump off in here!"
"We about to raise the roof in this mug!"
Hundreds of hands were pushing up an imaginary roof. Everyone was "FUBUed" down. With a little Tommy thrown in for good measure. Borinquas and Morenos. Yolara belonged to both. She looked to the back and saw her half-sister, Egypt.
Yolie didn't have anything against Egypt. They shared the same father, Meshach Burkette. He wasn't a faithful husband (Yolie's mother, Caridad, was evidence of that), but he was a dedicated father who loved his daughters. Yolie often felt bad that she couldn't have a real relationship with Egypt, but she couldn't blame her. She was the "legitimate" one who couldn't stand Yolie, the "love child." Egypt glanced at Yolie for a second and then turned to some guy she was with.
"What's up, Yo?" a voice yelled above the music.
Yolie turned around to see BulletProof. Now with a name like that you just knew what was what.
"What's up, B.P.?" Yolie said to him.
"You seen Kaliq? The nigga said he was gonna be here."
"I haven't seen him yet," she answered.
"How's that butter pican Rican doing? Yo moms is da bomb. She got it going on, no joke," BulletProof exclaimed.
Yolie was used to the guys acting up over her mother. Caridad was a beautiful woman. She was her mother, but also her best friend. Cari had made a lot of mistakes, but her heart was always in the right place. It often led her to the wrong place, but her motto was "que sera, que sera" (what will be, will be).
"Mommy is all right. Is Kaliq still picking the boys up this weekend?"
"You know my cousin don't miss no opportunity to spend time with his shorties, bee."
"He is a good father. Me and Mommy do our best with the twins, but they need their dad."
"I can't say if I woulda been better off with my pops around, but it woulda been nice to have a choice."
BulletProof had lost his father a long time ago. The saying goes you don't see too many old drug dealers. BulletProof should heed that, but he was just "caught up."
"I'm tired of hollering over this music. Let's go over there," Yolie suggested. She brought the crowd under control by throwing on a slow jam. Mary J. singing about "A Dream."
"You know my cousin is feeling you, right?"r
Yolie could feel a blush come across her face. "B.P., you know me and Kaliq together would just be too tacky. He is my little brother's father."
"Yeah, but him and yo moms ain't never had nothing together, but that one time. Yo moms is fine and all, but I told him you the one he should be hittin'. I ain't with that older woman taboo shit."
Yolie was saved from having to respond to that comment when a fight broke out. She saw the flash of metal just as someone grabbed her by the arm. People were making a mad dash for the exits. Yolie had just made it out the door as the first shots rang out. She had thought it was Bullet Proof who had grabbed her, but she looked up to find Kaliq was the one with the firm grip on her arm.
"Let's get out of here," he said.
"I can't leave my equipment in there."
"All right, but we're waiting out here until we see what's what," he told her.
"Damn, can't even throw a party without some shit going down," Yolie complained.
"That's why I hate Brooklyn. Do or die Bed-Stuy. I'm not trying to take Travis and Trevor away from your mother, but I wish she'd move out of these projects."
She often wished the same thing, but it wasn't easy. Cops finally arrived at the scene. Of course, no one admitted to seeing anything of importance. An argument had taken place that led to shooting. Same old, same old. Once the excitement died down, Kaliq helped Yolie take her stuff upstairs.
The apartment was dark when she opened the door. "I guess everyone's knocked out."
"I'm surprised Cari slept through all that commotion," Kaliq commented.
"Mommy can sleep through anything. I know she did some overtime before her tour today. I call that post office a plantation. You know she works a mandatory six days on them stupid machines."
"I'll get more construction work when the weather gets warmer. I'll be able to help out with the kids even more then," he said while fidgeting.
"You want something to drink?" Yolie offered as she kicked off her platform sneakers.
"No thanks. Actually, I got to get going. I only stopped by the center to pick up something from Dennis, a.k.a. BulletProof," he explained still fidgeting.
"What's the matter?" Yolie giggled.
"I gotta go bad," he answered.
"Why didn't you say so? You know the way to the bathroom."
He followed her to the bathroom. Her room was right across from it. She sat on her bed and started to pull her socks off. In her dresser mirror she could see Kaliq hadn't closed the door completely. Yolie tried not to peek through the door. Kaliq was tall and muscularly slim. His dark good looks reminded her of that R&B singer, Brian McKnight. She averted her eyes as she saw the light go out.
"Thanks," he said. "Tell Cari I'm still taking the boys Saturday."
"All right. Thanks for the help, Kaliq." She walked him to the door and said good night. Lying across her bed, Yolie thought about what Bullet Proof had said (who would have thought his real name was Dennis!) She didn't know if she should believe that Kaliq liked her. For that matter, should she even want him to? That would be one for the Jerry Springer show.
"I'd like you to meet our next guest, Yolara. Yolara has a secret she'd like to reveal today on our show," Jerry would say.
"Yes, Jerry. I'm in love with my mother's one-night stand."
(Ooohs and aaahs from the audience)
"If there was no love relationship between the two, what's to stand in your way?"
"Well, you see, that one time resulted in my five-year-old twin brothers, Travis and Trevor."
(More ooohs and aaahs from the audience)
"How do you think this man feels about you?"
"I have no idea. His cousin did say he was attracted to me, but..."
"Well, let's bring him out and see what he has to say. Here's Kaliq."
Kaliq emerges from backstage with Caridad right at his heels.
"My daughter is NOT going to go out with my sons' father. No way. What kind of sick shit is that? All in the family? First the mother, then the daughter!" Cari yells at Kaliq, smacking him in the head. Everyone breaks out into a fight. The crowd goes wild. (Yolie knew her mother would never hit anyone, but it made the daydream funnier.)
She pulled off her stripped nylon Adidas warm-ups, but left her Phat Farm T-shirt on. Yolie was glad she had gotten her pay for dee-jaying the party upfront. She did pretty well for herself. She was saving up for college expenses. With her father, Meshach, being a bus operator and Caridad working for the Postal Service, financial aid would be a joke; they earned too much to qualify. They were good jobs, but they hardly made you rich. Caridad had heard there was some kind of benefit the P.O. had to help employees put their kids through college. Yolie wasn't sure how things would work out from her father's end of the bargain, but she had every confidence that he would come through for her.
Yolie's mind was so wound up, that she was having a hard time falling asleep. Her thoughts wandered back to Kaliq. She could recall a time when he was one of her least favorite people. When Cari told her she was pregnant, Yolie was twelve years old; a kid who was still clinging to the hope that her parents were somehow going to come together. She had no basis for that, but it was a dream that she felt was ruined by Kaliq's presence.
Yolie remembered giving Kaliq a hard way to go whenever he came over to the house. He took it in stride and tried to win her over despite her teenage tantrums. As she got older, her girlfriends started to comment on how fine they thought her brothers' father was. At first, she thought they all were crazy, but eventually she came to the same conclusion. One day Kaliq had offered to baby-sit the boys at Cari's house while she went to an appointment. Yolie was fourteen and the twins were a little too much for her to handle on her own, so Kaliq wanted to help out. It was a blistering hot day and the babies were cranky and uncomfortable.
"Why don't we run a bath with cool water and let them chill out in there for a while?" Kaliq had suggested.
"I'll get their bath toys."
It had definitely done the trick. Yolie and Kaliq were soaked by the time the kids were ready for their naps.
"So, what do you want to do now?" Yolie asked.
She could tell he was only trying to be nice. "Uh, I don't know. What do you feel like doing?
"We could hook up the PlayStation," Yolie said while running off to get the CDs.
They competed against each other fiercely for a whole "NBA Live" season. The two played and pigged out until Yolie fell asleep on the couch. With everyone in the house asleep, Kaliq flicked through the rest of her CDs to see what else was worth playing. He had just popped a game in when someone started knocking on the door. Kaliq had recognized Meshach through the peephole and opened the door for him.
"Hey, what's up, man? Is Cari here?" Meshach had asked, but stopped short when he looked past Kaliq and saw his daughter sprawled out on the couch. Kaliq could feel the tension build immediately. He knew there was about to be trouble. Meshach marched over to the couch and shook his sleeping child.
"Yolara, where is your mother?"
Rubbing her eyes, it took Yolie a moment to get her bearings. "Hi, Daddy. Mommy is out. Kaliq came over to help me watch the babies."
"Why couldn't you take the boys to your house and watch them?" Meshach asked Kaliq suspiciously.
"Mr. Burkette, I was just trying to help Cari out. These are my children. If they were gonna be more comfortable here, then here is where I was gonna be." Kaliq tried to speak to him respectfully, but Yolie could see it was a strain. She wondered what her father had thought was going on.
"I just don't think it's appropriate for you to be here alone with my daughter."
"We were playing 'NBA Live.' Everything is cool," Kaliq tried to reassure him, annoyed that it was necessary to do so.
"What time did your mother say she would be back?"
"She had to go into Manhattan. Who knows how long that's gonna take," Yolie answered her father. He glanced at his watch. Since he was in his uniform, she knew he was about to head out to the depot.
"Tell Cari I will call her tonight." He contemplated telling Yolie to come ride the bus with him until her mother returned.
"Okay, Daddy," Yolie told Meshach as she hugged him.
"Kaliq, walk me to the door." Kaliq sighed as he followed the man. "Just watch yourself all right. If I hear any shit..."
"Mr. Burkette, I don't know what you trying to say."
"I'm trying to say that you'd better not be trying anything with my child."
"That's ill. I'm here to do right by my kids, just like you, Mr. Burkette."
Meshach did not look convinced, but he let it drop for the time being. That night Yolie recalled there was a big battle over the phone. She could only hear her mother's side of the conversation, but that was enough.
"Burk, you cannot tell me who to have up in my house. He is my sons' father and he is welcomed here anytime. More welcomed than you if you want to know the truth about it."
Back then Yolie would cry in her room whenever her parents got into it. She heard Cari say that Meshach had no business being jealous of Kaliq. He hadn't wanted her, so why should he care who she was dealing with now? This made Yolie's feelings for Kaliq uncertain again. Sure, she had developed a crush on him, but was he really the cause of her parent's breakup or not? Ultimately, she realized he wasn't. No matter whom Cari was seeing, Meshach's reaction was the same.
Yolie finally began to drift off, wondering what new drama was in store.
Copyright © 2004 by Michelle De Leon
Once Upon a Family Tree
Michelle De Leon brings her unique storytelling talents to this immensely entertaining tale of family, friendship, love, and relationships that are just a little more unconventional than most.
Seventeen-year-old Yolara has grown up surrounded by a close, supportive network of friends and family in the neighborhood. She's the love child of Caridad Flores (who's also Yolie's best pal) and Meshach Burkette, and she has a wild half-sister named Egypt. To complicate things further, Yolie has a powerful crush on Kaliq Nichols, Caridad's one-time lover. Then there's Meshach, who is still in love with Caridad. Every day brings a new drama to this singular extended family.
Featuring characters who groove to the beat of their own drums and filled with catchy, authentic dialogue and fast-paced action, Once Upon a Family Tree is a novel about community, the unique challenges facing today's intricate families, and the love that keeps them together.