Born of mixed heritage, Jayliah gravitates toward her father's side of the family more than her mother's because that's all she knows. Her actions are being tested daily by a biased mother that she has to defend her choice of friends. While exploring her sense of identity, her parents are experiencing their own crisis. Ambrielle has been harboring a dark secret for most of her life. When she feels threatened to expose her shameful past, it plummets her into acting out. This secret has caused a wedge between her and her husband's marriage. How could she think it was all water under the bridge? Not only is she not close-knitted with her daughter as she wishes, but the endless arguing weakens the mother-daughter relationship.
As Jayliah encounters typical teenage ventures associated with adolescence and challenges like her upcoming 18th birthday, prom, and graduation, she deliberately conducts secret meetings with her maternal grandparents. All things were good, so she thought until a bombshell dropped on her life.
Will Jayliah accept the newfound beliefs, or will it send her racing in a downward spiral?
Tyrese has been a faithful man to his family and would do anything to protect them, but when his back is pressed against the wall, will it be enough to save his daughter from the chaos caused by lies?
Four years ago
As Ambrielle sat on the edge of the bed, she bawled her fists until her nails dugged into her palm, forming pain. She twisted her head in the direction of her husband as he aggressively grabbed a duffle bag from the closet in horror. "Where are you goin'?"
"I need time." His mellow voice was harsh-sounding.
Ambrielle shifted and slid off the bed to a standing position. "I made a mistake." She clasped her hands together.
Tyrese stopped dead in his tracks and stared disbelievingly at his wife of more than twenty years with bloodshot eyes. "A mistake!" The veins in his neck popped as a feeling of hotness came over him that made his head pound.
She flinched from his emotional outburst, causing her heart to almost jump out of her chest. She knew her past would make him angry, but not to the point of leaving. What was she to do now? Stuttering, she cried. "I'm sorry...I lied. I never meant to hurt you," she swore honestly.
Tyrese chuckled sinisterly, snatching another bag and stuffing his toothpaste, cologne, deodorant, and the rest of his personal belongings. Not wanting to hear anything else from his wife, he hurried. "When I said I do, it was for the good and the bad, but this is worst..." He paused, choking on his words. "I...would never have done anything like this." Tyrese lowered his head with tears in his eyes. "I love you, but I need time to myself...to figure this out."
"Think about your daughter," Ambrielle rushed, trying to manipulate him into staying and working it out.
Tyrese froze and pierced his wife with a deadening glare. "My daughter?" he questioned heatedly, jerking his neck back. "I am thinking about our daughter. I've thought of her since I brought her home from the hospital. She's been my little girl from changing diapers to daddy-daughter socials. I was there." He jabbed a finger into his chest and shook his head in disbelief. He zipped up his bags and glanced away before landing his gaze on her again. "Love doesn't lie. Love doesn't betray."
Ambrielle needed to feel her husband, so she reached out, but Tyrese kindly rejected her touch by pulling away. "Don't!" He seized the bags and hurled one over his shoulder while gripping the other.
Ambrielle covered her mouth with her hand and shivered, swaying her head. "I love you, Tyrese."
Tight-lipped, he walked out of the room and the house.
Ambrielle watched him from the second-story window. The second his truck left the driveway, Ambrielle collapsed against the bed and wailed, kicking frantically and screaming hysterically until she couldn't anymore. Ambrielle realized she'd lost the only man she ever truly loved.
After two weeks, Ambrielle prayed for Tyrese to find forgiveness in his heart and return home, but he wasn't there. Weeks turned into months that her knight in shining armor abandoned her. Many nights, her calls went unanswered as she developed insomnia, experienced weight loss, and a decreased appetite. Not only did she mourn a loss, but her daughter constantly reminded her of his absence. Truth be told, she wanted her husband back.
The fierce range of emotions stemming from her father's tone startled Jayliah as she jolted upright in bed. A lazily smirk stretched wide across her face as she tried to recall the satisfactory dream. Rubbing the sleep out from her eyes, she twisted her head toward the door at the audacity of her parents’ arguing. It caused her to slightly raise her eyebrows in question. She couldn’t remember the last time they argued like that since she was thirteen or fourteen years old. Jayliah reached up, turned on her night lamp, and slipped out of bed. Quietly twisting the knob to the door and concentrating on her footwork, she tried not to tip them off to let them know that she was eavesdropping, but oddly the argument stopped.
When she retreated to her bedroom, the argument started back as soon as she plopped down under the covers. Trying not to entertain her parents’ foolishness, she twisted in bed and grabbed her iPod Nano, and plugged it into her ears as she drifted off to sleep.
Morning came, and a buzzing noise rattled in her ears. It caused Jayliah to slap her ears as she realized she fell asleep with the earphones still attached. She kicked off the covers and instantly jumped to her feet, scrambling around to get ready for school. As she headed downstairs, the sight of her father piqued her interest. On an ordinary day, her father was gone by six in the morning ever since he became the plant operator at his job.
“Good Morning, daddy---” Her voice was hesitant. “--- Why you ain’t at work this morning?”
Tyrese faced his daughter with a forced smile. “Good morning.” His tone was dull, not lively as usual. Last night’s argument nerved him, but he knew his daughter wasn’t at fault. It was him loving her mother.
He watched his daughter’s facial expression and then he shook the newspaper in his hands and spoke, “I took off today.”
“Oh,” she answered.
His daughter grabbed her book bag by the door and stuffed her feet inside multicolored Skechers. As soon she placed her hands on the doorknob, he asked, “What time do you get off the bus?”
Jayliah stared at her father like he was crazy. She didn’t know if this was a trick question or old age. “I get off the bus the same time every day at 3:45, daddy. Why?” she asked over her shoulder while glancing down at her wristwatch, reading twenty-five minutes after six.
“No reason. Have a good day sweetie.”
“Okay,” she said cautiously, stepping outside to catch the bus at the end of her driveway.
As she rode the bus to school, Jayliah tried to pinpoint the argument that jolted her from her sleep last night, but nothing came to mind. Feeling defeated, she shrugged her shoulders and leaned her head on the window. The closer she got to school, a peaceful smile spread across her face. Although the atmosphere was tense, she liked to think she was the perfect blend of her mother and father.
Her mother was ethnically mixed with Colombian and Sicilian heritage and stood five-four inches tall, with dark brown waist-length, loose curly hair and green eyes like an Egyptian Mau cat. Her skin complexion was olive beige with yellow undertones, and her father always said she had nice curves for having a petite statue.
Now her father was what most folks would consider black. He was a Cherokee Native American from the coastal plains of North Carolina. His smooth, cinnamon-brown complexion with raven hair and dark chocolate irises made him the height of a willow tree, standing six feet even.
From the shade of her almond complexion and mahogany, thick, curly hair, most people assumed she was black or Puerto Rican. Jayliah didn't mind being labeled or identified as such great people. She preferred black, and that's what's checked under 'race' as well.
She could count on her fingers how many times she heard from her father’s side of the family, 'if you're mixed with 1/8 percent black, then you're black.’ And to satisfy her friends and family, she did just that; grasping her black side by learning how to cook soul food and recalling the lyrics to the modern Hip-Hop era songs.
To discover her unique identity in her world, Jayliah joined various groups like Spanish, Health and Science, and Technology clubs. She even played basketball a year but found out it wasn't her thing. What she wasn’t was disrespectful, thanks to the humble upbringing on her father’s side.
Jayliah's favorite pastime was styling hair. Thanks to Aunt Charlene, her dad's sister, for teaching a skilled trade. She learned to cornrow tight to the scalp, do sew-ins, feed-ins, perming hair and put highlights in.
While doing her best friend's hair, the door flew open with her father standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips and a smile parting his mouth.
“Yes, sir,” Jayliah answered, possessing the comb in her right hand and acknowledging her father.
“I need you to finish up because we're leaving in the next thirty minutes.”
He shut the door without a response.
Sharika jerked her neck to the side. “Where y’all gon’?” she asked bluntly in a southern Georgia accent.
“Girl, we ‘bout to go buy me a prom dress,” Jayliah admitted, twisting Sharika's neck around with her hands. Sharika was one of her best friends since the tenth grade. Sharika and her family moved to Matthews, NC from Thomasville, Ga.
“Oh,” she said before Jayliah parted her hair in sections. Soon as Sharika left, Jayliah put on some shoes and jogged downstairs. When she rounded the corner of the stairs, her mother was dressed in khaki capris, a purple shirt, and some Sketchers.
Ambrielle looked at her daughter, head to toe, before grabbing her purse and walking outside to the car.
"Hurry up, ‘Liah," her father yelled.
Jayliah locked the front door and jumped into the backseat of his ’05 black Expedition. Her father took pride in keeping his car cleaned, and sometimes it felt like he cared for it more than he did for her.
When they pulled into the JCPenney parking lot, Tyrese got out and came around, and opened the car door for his wife. He side-eyed his daughter and Jayliah shook her head, releasing the handle and joining them at the entrance.
Tyrese held the door open for his girls, and the purses were the first items on display. He swayed his head as they started walking toward them. "Not today ladies'... dresses," he fussed as Ambrielle rolled her eyes and Jayliah whined, throwing her arms over her chest.
Jayliah skedaddled toward the reds and pink dresses. While rummaging through the different styles of dresses, she heard her mother do the same thing not far from her. “Ma, I found a dress, possibly two,” she squealed excitedly.
"I found some dresses too," her mother exclaimed.
"I'm 'bout to show you my dress, Ma." Jayliah walked out of the dressing room and tapped on the stall next to hers. "Ma?"
"Just pick one, ‘Liah."
The corner of her lip curved upward as she released a groan. "Ma! I need to show you this one. It’s gorgeous, but it doesn’t fit me.” She pouted, reaching behind the back and unzipping the tiered dress. “You know, I don't have any breasts, but this dress is sooo cute."
Jayliah stepped out of the strapless gown and hanged it back on the hanger. A few seconds and three dresses later, she walked out of the dressing room and saw her parents standing at the cash register desk.
"I found you the perfect dress, ‘Liah. It's already paid for," her mother stated nonchalantly.
“Ma, I didn’t say I wanted that dress.”
Ambrielle gave her daughter a nasty eye roll. “That other dress didn’t fit,” she snapped, walking outside with the dress bag in her hand.
Jayliah nearly lost it as she cast a death glare at the audacity of her mother. Her brows narrowed as her eyes connected with her father for not speaking up, which by the way, rubbed her the wrong way. She angrily placed the dresses onto the rack and tucked her hands under her armpits. Sulking, she stomped all the way to the explorer. The ride back to the house was quiet except for the 'oldies' blaring through the speakers.
Soon as the SUV came to a stop in the driveway, Jayliah jumped out of it without the dress. When her father unlocked the door, she grabbed the cordless phone on the kitchen wall before ascending up the stairs and slamming the door to her bedroom.
A moment later, the high pitch noises coming from her parents could be heard through the walls, but at this point, she didn't care. She dialed Sharika's number.
"You ready to do my hair," Sharika responded as soon as she answered the phone.
Jayliah cracked a smile. "Yeah, I need to get away from that woman."
Sharika cackled obnoxiously, snorting like a pig. "What she do now!"
"Getting on my nerves," she admitted. "You busy because I need to come now."
"Come through. I'm home."