Authors: Emilia Domino
On top of her painting skills, my mother had a flair for decorating. She changed the rooms in the house often and usually when I left and came back at least one of them was unrecognizable to me. She was definitely where I got my love of artistic things. My father had been married to her for almost thirty years and still none of it had rubbed off on him. He had no respect for feminine talent at all…not my mothers and not even mine.
“Miss Jackie! Hello!” I looked towards the sound of another unmistakably familiar voice. It was Amelia, our housekeeper. She was as old as the willows outside and it showed on the lines in her face, but her eyes were the same bright, sparkling blue they had always been. She wore a blue uniform dress and white shoes and her silver hair was tied back with a big white ribbon at the nape of her neck. Amelia had been around since before I was, and even in her advancing age she moved with the grace and agility of a teenager.
“Hello Amelia. How are you?”
She swept me up in a crushing hug and then held me back at arm’s length and looked me over. “I’m as fine as frog’s hair baby. How are you?”
I laughed. I loved her old southern colloquialisms. “I’m not quite that fine Amelia, but I’ll do, thank you.”
“It’s so good to see you. You’re looking as pretty as a speckled pup under a little red wagon but honey.... you look tired. You want me to get you some tea?”
“That actually sounds really good, Amelia…thank you. I’m going to go up to my room and freshen up and I’ll be down in a bit. Do you know where my father is?”
Amelia was one of the few of my father’s employees who was not the least bit intimidated by him. She rolled her eyes and said, “He’s in that office of his where he practically lives, Miss Jackie. I can’t imagine what a man who is surrounded by beautiful, intelligent women finds so interesting behind that big old oak desk.” I laughed. I didn’t say it aloud to her, but I knew what it was…it was called money.
My father loved it even more than his cars…and especially more than me, I was sure. “I’ll go get that tea and let Desiree know you’re home so she’ll be sure and set an extra plate for dinner.” As if it understood her, my stomach growled loudly. “You want me to get you a snack too, baby?”
“Thank you, Amelia…I think I can wait for dinner.” That was one dangerous thing about coming home. While I was here, everyone was going to try and feed me. Once I made it back to L.A., the sight of me would likely send my trainer and stylist’s into a tailspin.
After Amelia left I made my way back to the staircase and took it up to the second floor and into my old room. In spite of all the changes in the house, this room was still the same. At least my mother respected the fact that I liked my room just the way it was.
When I was sixteen she had bought me the mahogany canopy bed and matching armoire that I’d seen in an antique shop. I fell in love with it and to this day when I’m at home in L.A., I miss it. We had topped it with a white eyelet canopy and a white eyelet down comforter and about six fluffy pillows. My stuffed animals that I’d collected as a child still sat across the top of it now and the quilt my Aunt Betty made me when I was five lay draped across the footboard.
The perfume bottle collection I started in my teens still sat artfully arranged on top of silver platters across the dresser and the big oak bookcase off to the side was still filled with my old journals and mementos from when I was a kid. A corkboard that hung next to it held blue ribbons I’d won for one thing or another as well as old class schedules and stubs from movies I’d seen or shows I’d gone too. There were pictures tacked up there of me with my friends…smiling and relaxed. I missed those days…not being a teenager really, but just not being so anxious and insecure all the time.
Richard had sat my bags down near the door. I stared at them for a second wondering if I wanted to unpack before or after dinner…and that’s when I heard the giggle. I poked my head out into the hall and I saw my little sister Paige and her friend Rosie disappear into Paige’s room. I snuck down the hall and stood by the door for several seconds, eavesdropping.
“I bet you’re excited to see your sister today.”
“I am,” I heard Paige say. “She’s been so busy this is the first time she’s gotten to come home in months.”
“I love her new show.”
I heard Paige take in a sharp breath. The show is made for cable and it can get pretty risqué sometimes. “Your parents let you watch it?”
“Not really…I watch it on my phone app. Do you want to see?”
The thought of my little twelve year old sister seeing me in the kind of compromising situations I portray on the show caused me to blush hotly. I stepped into the room then.
She squealed and launched herself into my arms. Now this was a homecoming. After she nearly squeezed me to death she pulled back and said, “Jackie! I’m so happy you’re here. I missed you like crazy!”
“I missed you like crazy too, kid. Hi Rosie.”
Rosie’s eyes were wide as if she hadn’t known me her entire twelve years of life. “Hi Jackie,” she finally said, almost breathless, and then she giggled.
I suppressed a smile and said, “What are you girls up to today?”
“We’re going to a movie with Rosie’s sister after dinner. What about you?”
“Well, since I just got here I’ll probably be catching up with Mom and Dad. How about you and I hang out tomorrow squirt?”
“Sounds good,” Paige hugged her sister again. “I’m so glad you’re home.”
“Me too honey.” I looked over at Rosie again. She was pulling something out of her backpack. With a shy smile she said,
“Jackie…would you sign my notebook for me?”
I laughed. “Sure…but you need to do me a favor first.”
“You might change your mind when I tell you what it is…”
“No really, anything!”
I laughed. “Okay. I want you to delete that app on your phone that you watch my show on.” Her little face turned bright red. Paige giggled and said,
“Were you eavesdropping on us?”
“No, I just overheard the last part of your conversation before I came in. Straight Forward is a show fo
…not twelve year old girls.”
“But you’re so good in it…and Matt…” My stomach twisted in knots at the sound of his name.
“That’s the deal. You delete it and promise me you won’t watch it again unless your parents give you permission, and I sign your book.”
With her lip still protruding Rosie took out her phone. I had strong feelings as it was about a twelve year old having a phone. My parents indulged Paige quite a bit…but even she didn’t have a cell phone yet. In Hollywood they had them at eight in some families…but I was still a southern girl at heart. She deleted the app and handed me the phone to show me. I smiled gently at the her.
“Thank you, Rosie. Let me see your book.” She handed it to me with a Sharpie. I wrote, “To Rosie, one of my BFF’s for life,” then I signed my name and drew a heart. I handed it back to her and she looked at it like it was a gold bar.
“Thank you Jackie!”
I laughed again. It was still funny to me that anyone found me that fascinating or important. I’m just me…Jacqueline Manning.
“Come on; let’s go see if dinner is ready yet. If not I’m going to sneak in the kitchen and see if Desiree made any beignets today. I’m starving!” The girls giggled and followed me out of the room. Sometimes it was nice to be adored. Most of the time…I just wanted to be me.
When the girls and I reached the landing Amelia was there, just on her way up to tell us that dinner was being served. “I put your tea on the table Miss Jackie.”
I smiled at her. “Thank you, Amelia. I got sidetracked with the girls.”
Paige and Rosie raced on ahead and Amelia shook her head after them. “I know how that goes Miss Jackie, trust me. Those two are hell on wheels somedays. But I love ‘em.”
“Me too,” I told her with a smile. I followed the girls into the dining room. They were already seated at the large, formal table. The sight of this table alone made me a nervous wreck. It was where most of my father’s famous lectures took place in our house. I had been on the receiving end of most of them. My mother looked up and smiled at me, but my father continued to look straight ahead.
I decided that tonight I was going to be the bigger person. I walked up behind my Daddy and slid my arm around his shoulders. I felt him tense…but told myself it was my imagination. I’m sure he’s happy to see me…in his own way. I pressed a kiss into his cheek. “Hi Daddy. How are you?”
He reached his arm up and gave me a half-hug in return. It was an effort, I suppose. “Hello Jacqueline. I’m doing well, but I’m hungry. Would you like to join us so we can eat?”
I felt a sharp pang in my chest. “Sure Daddy. I’m uh sorry.” I went over and kissed my mother’s cheek and then I took my seat. My father tipped his chin at Amelia and she disappeared into the kitchen. A few silent minutes later, Amelia and Desiree came back in with a tray that had a big steaming bowl in the center of it. The aroma was amazing and my taste buds were on high alert. One thing you cannot get in L.A. is homemade Cajun food. Desiree grew up in the bayou and the woman can cook like nobody in the world. One of Daddy’s friends offered her a job as head chef in one of his restaurants in the French Quarter years before after having dinner with us. Daddy was so furious he never spoke to that man again and he tripled Desiree’s salary so she wouldn’t dare even think of accepting an offer like that.
Amelia ladled a generous amount of crawfish and shrimp etouffée into my bowl. I could hear my nutritionist’s head explode as I inhaled the spicy, rich dish. I took a bite and it was so good I had to close my eyes for a second and savor it. I honestly didn’t care if there were three thousand calories in this bowl, I was eating every bite.
As we ate, Mom looked at me and said, “Jackie honey how long are you going to stay?”
I swallowed the spicy stew and washed it down with a big drink of the sweet tea. “I’m not sure Mama. I just thought I’d play it by ear.”
“Waiting for the sex scandal to blow over?” I heard my father’s words just before my mother’s spoon hit the china bowl. Paige and Rosie had fallen completely silent.
“Frank…this is not the time,” Mom said tightly. Her eyes cut over towards the kids. I was relieved they were there...the doorbell rang.
“I think that’s Rosie’s mom,” Paige said.
Daddy looked at the girls and said, “Well go on then and have fun. You be good, Paige.” The girls scooted their chairs back and excitedly got up. Paige kissed Mama and Daddy and then as she gave me a kiss on the cheek she whispered,
“Good luck.” I almost smiled. She’s so sweet that she almost makes putting up with Daddy worth coming home for. Once the girls had cleared out I looked back at my father. His steely gray eyes were trained on my face, still waiting for an answer to his question.
“Daddy, I wasn’t the one who started this shit…”
His eyes turned to ice and I froze. “Do you think that matters? Do you think anyone cares who started it? You’re smack in the middle of it and it reflects on you and this family poorly.”
“Lily, stop saying my name!” Daddy boomed. “If she’s big enough to get involved with a man like that then I guess she’s big enough to handle the consequences. One of those consequences is the shame that all of this brings on her family.”
“I’m sorry that you’re ashamed of me, Daddy.”
“Oh Jackie, that’s not what he means. He’s not ashamed of you honey…”
“Damn it, Lily! Stop speaking for me.” He looked back at me and said, “We raised you to be a lady. We sent you to the best schools and gave you the opportunity to be anything you wanted to be…and you choose this. You get on television in front of millions of people and get involved with this man that you’re practically having sex with on the screen and then he tells the whole world that you’re a whore…”
“Frank! That. is. enough!” Mom stood up and threw her napkin down in her plate. “That’s enough,” she said again. “What she does is beautiful work. Our daughter is talented. What that man said about her is not true and you well know it! If you would just watch something that she acts in…”
“I don’t have any desire to see my daughter made up like a hussy and acting like one on television.”
I stood up then, the rock in my chest pressing heavily against my heart. “I’m sorry that you feel that way about me, Daddy. Nothing I can sit here and say will help. I’m not going to argue with you. Excuse me….”
“Jackie honey, please don’t go,” Mama called after me. I turned back and offered her a weak smile.
“Thank you for defending me, Mama. I’m okay…I’ll be back I just need to get some air.” My father was staring straight ahead again, not looking at either of us. My mom smiled back at me and then glared at him. I slipped out while they were busy glaring at each other and on my way through the kitchen I grabbed the keys to my old Mustang.
“Baby, it’s starting to rain out there,” Amelia called after me as I went out the kitchen door. I just offered her the same weak smile I’d given my mother. I didn’t care if it was snowing. I had to get out of here.
As I walked from the house to the detached four car garage, the light rain misted down over me. I barely noticed it as I went inside and pressed the button to open the stall where my Mustang was kept. It had been my sixteenth birthday present, but when I left home to go to college, my father told me it had to stay behind. He was angry at me for going out to California. He couldn’t go so far as to not pay for my education…but he was going to make it as hard on me as he could.