Standing in the center of their bedroom; walls painted white, adorned with varying objects and accents of colors to suit each personality; Maxwell and Joel stared in their full length mirror as they made funny faces, singing into their hairbrushes as Sheila E’s Glamorous Life blasted from their record player. Though five years separated them in age, both girls wore their hair in two ponytails, curls spiraling down until the beautiful strands reached the center of their backs.
Ten and fifteen, the only thing the either of them could do to pass the time before bed was to jam out to their favorite artist, hoping to block out all of the negativity currently surrounding them and their once perfect lives.
Maxwell politely stepped in front of her older sister, flipping one ponytail over her shoulder as she sang the chorus, belting out for real, rather than the lip-syncing they usually did. “She wants to lead the glamorous life. She don’t need… a man’s life. She wants to lead a glamorous life. Without love…”
Joel nudged her lightly, joining in. “It ain’t much.”
Pouting their lips momentarily, both girls laughed before dancing about their room, careful not to bump into one another or knock anything down. Temporarily oblivious to what was going on in the bedroom just across the hall from theirs.
“Alright, alright. We’ve played the Glamorous Life album all the way through. Now, it’s time to throw on Romance 1600.”
Maxwell took one deep breath, falling back onto her bed, positioned on the right side of their bedroom. Looking out the window right next to her bed, she gave a tiny smile, speaking a bit louder than she normally would. “I still can’t believe they actually got it for us, and on release day at that?!”
“I know right? How many times has Dad got us with that it’ll be cheaper in a month or two line, just to avoid paying for an album we wanted? As if they’re actually expensive.”
“Oh, only when Thriller dropped and we had to wait almost a year to get it because he thought it wouldn’t stay sold out.”
“And don’t forget when Candy Girl came out.”
Maxwell nodded, remembering a particular stunt she pulled in hopes of getting their father to buy the album. “Cherrelle’s album that came out last year. AND, everybody had Glamorous Life four full months before us. Do you think he finally agreed because of what’s going on around here lately?”
Joel looked over her shoulder, shrugging earnestly as she thought about it. “I mean, maybe. But let’s get real; they fight all of the time. They always say they’re going to leave each other, or beat other down, and neither happens. Shoot, last time it got this serious, where they fought every night, they made up and you came along.”
“Tuh, even I’m old enough to know that now-a-days babies don’t keep people together. I just wish they’d wake up one morning, forgive one another, and move on for real. Just be happy again.”
Clearing her throat, Joel walked to her side of the room where their record player sat. Pulling up the needle carefully, she set it aside and removed the first Sheila E. album, placing it back in it’s sleeve before setting it back in it’s space on their record shelf. She grabbed Romance 1600 and pulled it out, smiling as she sat it in the player and slowly set the needle on the first track groove of the album.
Before they could even get into the very first notes of Sister Fate, both girls turned their heads towards their bedroom door when they heard a loud thud against the wall outside. Shutting the record player off completely, a few seconds passed before they heard anything else. And from that moment, an instant wave of sadness and stressed washed over the young girls.
Muffled screams rang out before a slew of profane words followed, spoken loudly and clearly. Taking a seat next to her younger sister, Joel wrapped her arm around Maxwell and pulled her closer, rubbing her shoulder, half-way wishing that she too had finally reached the point of remaining silent, rather than shedding tears for something they both knew was beyond salvaging.
“Lay another hand on me, you dirty bastard! I swear, I will kill you.”
Maxwell and Joel looked at one another, a mixture of fear flashing through the youngest eyes. “I’m sick of you disrespecting me! I’m the man in this house.”
“I make the money, I provide for you and our children, and all you have ever been is an ungrateful, greedy bitch! But let’s see how you make it without me.”
“I’ll be a hell of a lot better! That’s for sure. Get the fuck outta my house, Jose!”
“Bitch, I paid for this house and everything in it. But you got that. I’m gone.”
Wanting to jump up and stop her father, Maxwell felt a bit of rage rise up when she realized her older sister was holding her back. “Let me go, Jo, he’ll listen to me. He’ll take it all back. He’ll apologize. At the very least, he won’t lea-”
“Maxee, we can’t step in this time. If you’re old enough to know and understand that babies don’t help relationships, you should be old enough to know that sometimes it’s best for people to leave toxic relationships. For the kids, that doesn’t help anyone.”
“I know that, but still… if he leaves her, he leaves us. I know how it works. Dad’s around here say I’ll be back, and next thing you know it’ll be twenty or thirty years before we hear from him again.”
“Dad wouldn’t abandon us and you know tha-…”
Before Joel could finish her sentence, their bedroom door burst opened. Both girls looked into the eyes of their father. A handsome man with beautiful cocoa brown skin; he looked ten years older within the span of the week since they’d last saw more than a quick glimpse of him.
His face; sunken in, scars here and there from the scratches that his wife left after many of their physical fights. His hair, graying much faster than he could dye it back to it’s natural black color. Lips, dry and split with his shoulders drooping as he walked in.
The bearer of bad news.
Maxwell freed herself from her sister’s grasp, loose now that her focus was on their father. She ran into his arms, nuzzling deep into his chest as he bent just enough to meet her height. “What are you crying for, Maxee? None of this is yours or your sister’s fault.”
“But you’re still going to leave, aren’t you?”
Pushing her back gently, he looked into his daughter’s eyes, wishing that he’d let this one moment happen when they were both far too young to know and understand anything going on between him and their mother. “I have to, or something really bad will happen.” Jose stood, taking a deep breath as he ushered Maxwell back towards her seat next to Joel. “But here’s the thing girls… there’s going to be a lot of changes, and one of those changes will include who has custody of the two of you. I just want you both to know that, no matter what happens over the next few weeks or months, I love you both very much.”
Though she wanted to burst into tears, Joel gave a small smile and threw her arms around her father once he bent down to her level. She had high hopes that they would just do like most kids. Full time with their mother, weekends and summers with their father. Maxwell, on the other hand, felt something worse was coming from this. She withdrew, ignoring her father’s urging from another hug. Instead, she climbed to the top of her bed and leaned against her headboard, refusing to say another word.
Weeks passed, their house full of silence and a strained existence as they watched their mother and father divide their assets, speak on rights, alimony, child support, and more. Maxwell had finally come to terms with the change that was about to happen, Joel on the other hand had heard a bit more of the pending details of their parents agreement, and she couldn’t bring herself to look at or talk to either of them.
Nodding her head to LL Cool J’s Dear Yvette, Joel sat tickled as she watched the interaction between her younger sister and one of the neighborhood kids they’d befriended six years earlier.
“One day Max, I’m goin to marry you.” Maxwell rolled her eyes, slightly annoyed by his Jamaican accent and jovial tone. “And when I do, I’m going to take you away from everything that’s ever hurt you, and I’m going to give you the world. And, we’re going to live happily ever after.”
Blinking twice, slowly, Maxwell took one deep breath before turning her attention to Kingston Harvey. “King, you’re nine. Why don’t you go and read Stone Soup or something?”
“And what does age have to do with anything? I’m wise, you know. You are the girl of my dreams, and trust me when I say that you and I will be together when we are old enough. I will treat you like the queen that you are.”
“Please, leave me alone.”
“Why you always shut me down? I pour my heart out to you every day; I bring you flowers…”
“From my own yard.”
“I bring you candy.”
“That you take from your grandma’s candy bowl.”
He sighed. “I write you poetry, straight from the heart. And you shoot me down, stepping on my poor little heart as if I were some dusty rodent. It’s because I’m dark skinned, huh? I see how you look at them bright boys, and let me tell you… they will only cause you heartbreak later on. Every other week they come crawling back to you, crying and sniveling as if you’re the one that hurt them, and then they mess up a good thing all over again. Believe me; my brother does it all the time with his girlfriend.”
Maxwell shook her head. “King, shut up. If you could get out of your perfect little world for a moment, you would have noticed that things are not good for me now. Sometimes I don’t even want you around, I don’t want any friends around but I can’t say that because it’s mean.”
He sighed, taking a seat next to Maxwell. In Kingston’s young eyes, she was the most beautiful girl in the world. “I know what’s going on; everybody does. You know Miss Belle is a gossip, she tells all your parents’ business.”
Smiling gently, Kingston cautiously took Maxwell’s hand in his. “But that’s why I come over and try to make you smile all the time, especially lately. You forget, my parents are divorced too. I’ve been used by both of them in the worst ways possible; as if I were simply some accessory or something they could toss aside if they didn’t get their way. Believe it or not, it gets easier to deal with. You’re not losing either parent, you’re not going to lose your sister. You’ll just be living separate lives, and it might actually be a good thing that you are.”
Maxwell said nothing else, hanging her head until she heard both her and her sister’s names being called. Looking towards their front porch, she spotted her father; standing and waiting with his luggage… and Joel’s.
Kingston cleared his throat, knowing that it was time for him to remove himself for the time being. “I’m right across the street. If you want to talk, let me know.” Out of habit, Maxwell nodded, but she knew that if her suspicion was correct, there would be no one she’d want to speak to ever again.
As Kingston stood and walked across the street to his grandmother’s home, Maxwell stood up and dusted the back of her pants off. Eventually, she’d made it to the steps of her parents’ home, standing next to Joel. “Dad, why do you have my bags?”
“And not mine?”
Jose looked between his girls, sighing heavily. “Because, Joel, you’re coming with me. And Maxwell, you’ll be staying with your mother. It’s just temporary, until we work out the rest of the details and come to an agreement.”
“So I was right…”
“Joel, please try to understand. We don’t want to split the two of you up, but it’s the only thing we can do right now. It’s how I know your mother won’t take both of you away from me and disappear. Maxwell, I jus-…”
“I’m not even her favorite. She didn’t even want me.”
Jose shook his head, attempting to pull her into a hug. She jerked away, moving back down the steps. “That’s not true Sweetie, and you know it.”
“Whatever. Bye Dad, bye Joel.”
Without saying anything else, Maxwell brushed past the both of them and headed upstairs, locking herself in the bedroom that she would now occupy alone. It wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair. But she knew that neither of them had a say; and what could she and her sister do? Nothing more than hope that this situation would only last for a few weeks, a month or two at the most.