"Jalissa! My mama is going to know if you drink that much!" Vanessa reached for the glass of wine held by her cousin but the other girl quickly downed half of it.
"Just put water in the bottle. She won't know," Jalissa slurred.
"Don't drink any more!" Now she regretted ever telling Jalissa that sometimes when her mama was out she took a sip of the wine. Vanessa grabbed the glass from her cousin and then uncapped the bottle and carefully poured the remains back into it.
Vanessa saw that her eleven-year old cousin was pouting. Jalissa sometimes seemed bent on sabotaging things and she wondered if it was because her cousin was mad that she was older. It was only by half a year but Jalissa always brought it up saying things like, 'You might be older but I'm wiser'. Then her cousin would put her hands on her plump hips and try to look tough.
Well to Vanessa her cousin was tough. Jalissa lived at the bottom of the hill in the projects of Winton Terrace and she always told stories about the dope men that hung out on the corner by the store, or some kid getting snatched and then turning up later only to be taken by 2-4-1 KIDS. If 2-4-1 KIDS took you then you had to live in a foster home—which was the most horrible fate that can befall you. In a foster home you were treated just like some grown ups slave.
Vanessa admired her cousin. She knew everything. So Vanessa forgave her bossiness because they were blood and even if Jalissa sometimes punched her in the arm too hard she didn't complain. Jalissa was her only friend. And that was no joke. Her mama didn't allow her to go to the sleepovers at her classmate's homes and she wasn't allowed to go to the park or even to someone's house after school unless it was to Jalissa's.
But that was not a place that Vanessa ever wanted to go. And since Jalissa loved coming to the top of the hill that is where they mostly hung out.
"Lets listen to Richard Pryor," Jalissa exclaimed as if she hadn't just been completely obnoxious. Vanessa ignored her as she concentrated on not spilling a drop of the wine. It would be her getting a whupping and not Jalissa—and her mother would know if it was watered down, she wasn't dumb.
Jalissa sighed. "Okay I'm sorry. I won't do it again. Pleeeeeeeease? We can listen to Sparkle and you can be Sparkle this time." Jalissa had her palms pressed together as if in prayer and Vanessa relented and smiled. She already knew that Jalissa really preferred being Sister from the movie but because Vanessa preferred being Sparkle, Jalissa would always take that role. Once Vanessa had made the mistake of saying that she should be Sparkle because her hair was longer and Jalissa had punched her in the face and called her stuck-up!
Jalissa's hair was hopeless. She couldn't even pull it into a ponytail and sometimes she plastered DAX in it just to make 'baby hair'. Jalissa was short and pudgy but she had dimples that Vanessa secretly wished she had—not knowing that Jalissa secretly wished that she was tall and lanky with long 'Indian' hair like Vanessa's.
The two friends went to the stereo and listened to Richard Pryor for a while before putting on the well-used album from their favorite movie. They had gone to the Regal Theater to watch it no less than five times, sneaking in on two occasions one Saturday when mama was out all day.
The two girls began to shimmy and shake mimicking the dance steps perfectly. Jalissa belted out the lyrics to Giving Him Something He Can Feel but when Look Into Your Heart began to play, Vanessa sang much more quietly but with an intense fervor. Next they played the soundtrack to Lady Sings the Blues and pretended to be Billie Holiday. By that time it was getting dark and time for dinner.
"Is your mama coming home to cook dinner?"
Vanessa shrugged. Her mama said one thing but that didn't mean she would do it. She would say that she was going to pick her up after school and sometimes Vanessa would wait for half and hour before walking home all the way to the top of the hill—and by that time all of the other kids would have already left and she would have to walk by herself past 'the building'… and then when she got home she would pray that the key would be under the mat. Most times it was, but when it wasn't then it got scary.
Her mama had moved them out of the projects of Winton Terrace when she was four years old, but only to the top of the hill in new townhomes called Garden Hilltop. Everyone thought that you had to be rich to live there and Jalissa certainly thought that she was rich. Vanessa had her own bedroom with Princess furniture and dolls and her own record player. She even had an easy bake oven--which was broken, and a tea set that she never played with because there was no one to have tea with.
Vanessa decided that they probably were rich. Her mama had the coolest clothes and drove a Cadillac. When they went places she would put an eight track in the deck and they would start singing; 'Diamond in the back, sunroof top, digging the scene with a gangsta lean oooh ooh.'
After dinner of pork and beans and wieners the girls retreated to Vanessa's bedroom. The streetlights had come on and all the kids that played hide and seek and basketball in the large front parking lot had gone home. Vanessa sat in her window seat while Jalissa played with her Barbie dolls. She wasn't allowed outside when her mama wasn't home—which was most of the times, so she watched from the window. Sometimes the kids would spot her and beg her to come out with her toys and in embarrassment she would hide behind the curtains and watch them secretly.
Jalissa handed her a Barbie doll and joined her on the window seat. Vanessa accepted the doll but at twelve she had long ago lost interest in playing dolls.
"If you had binoculars I bet we could see straight down the hill and into my house." Jalissa stated although she didn't live in a house. She lived in an apartment where it smelled like pee in the hallway.
Vanessa thought that it was strange to look out her bedroom window and be able to see straight down the hill into Winton Terrace. She squinted and saw the distant figure of a boy riding his bike up the hill. He did it most every evening. She knew because she was always in the window watching when he made his circuit up the hill, around their parking lot, up the second hill and then back down to Winton Terrace.