Terry rushed through the aisles of the supermarket, realizing the girls had to be picked up from school in twenty minutes. Why weren't there ever enough hours in the day? he thought. Between work, Alisa, and Ariana, there is hardly time to breathe. But hey, breathing is an option, right? The line was so long, he feared he would be late.
"How am I ever going to make it out of here to get to the school on time?" Terry wondered out loud.
Just then, a young woman with a warm smile pointed at him and said, "I can help you over here." Miraculously, Terry was soon out of the market and headed for the school.
With not a moment to spare, Terry pulled up at the usual pickup point. Alisa pulled Ariana by the hand as she ran toward the car. "Daddy, Daddy, I got second place in the essay contest!"Alisa said breathlessly.
Terry popped off his seat belt and sprang from the car. He ran to the passenger side of the car to hug his older daughter as she leapt into his waiting arms. "Congratulations, baby! I am so proud of you!" Terry turned to his other daughter, "How did you do with the artwork you presented with the story, Ariana?" Terry asked as he let Alisa slip from his arms.
"I won first place," she stated simply as Terry looked into her big, brown eyes.
He hugged her tightly and shouted, "Alright! My girls, the superstars! I am so proud of both of you. I was going to make meat loaf tonight, but this definitely calls for tacos."
Both girls yelled, "YES!" and high-fived each other.
As he stood in front of the elementary school, Terry felt so full that tears welled up in his eyes. "Get in the car, my superstars. Let's stop at the bakery and buy a cake to celebrate!" The happy bunch scrambled into the black Ford Explorer and sped away singing along with their favorite old Temptations song, "My Girl."
The girls were identical twins, yet so unique. Their physical features were the same, down to the birthmarks on their right forearms, but their personalities were quite different. Alisa was outgoing and vibrant, while Ariana, who was only four minutes younger, was quiet and even-tempered. Since Terry had brought them home from the hospital nearly eleven years before, he had never regretted his decision. Catherine, their mother, was a woman he had dated for three years on and off right out of high school. When she became pregnant, she announced she had no intention of keeping the child. Catherine was in her third year of college and felt she had no time for a baby. She threatened to abort the baby every time she was angry at him, but through some miracle she never followed through. He had pleaded with her not to kill his baby and said that if she delivered the child, he would raise it. Then, four weeks earlier than her scheduled due date, she called him from the hospital. She told him that she had given birth to twins and that if he did not want them, she would sign the adoption papers in two hours. He rushed to the hospital, and while looking through the glass at the two screaming baby girls, he fell in love.
The girls chattered all the way home and into the evening, and although on occasion the giggles were a bit much to handle, Terry so much enjoyed seeing these two very special young females in his life so happy that the noise hardly bothered him. Toward the end of the evening, the phone rang, and Alisa leapt for it as usual and sang, "Helloooo?"
The look on her face told Terry exactly who it was.
"Hi, Catherine, you want to talk to my dad? . . . Oh, we're doing okay. We won an essay contest that required artwork today, and we were about to have cake to celebrate. When are you coming back to Texas to see us? . . . Oh. Well, we'll write you to let you know what we want for Christmas."
It was their mother. Alisa's gaze shot toward Ariana, who got up from the couch and headed for the upstairs bathroom as soon as she realized their mother was on the other end of the phone.
"No, Ari is in the bathroom. You want to talk to Dad?"
Anger welled up in Terry's chest as he slowly walked toward Alisa to take the phone. How dare she disappoint them again, he thought. "Hello, Catherine. How's it going? It's been a while. How's life treating you these days?" Terry struggled to keep his tone even. His internal voice was screaming and cursing. He had to remain civil for the girls' sake. "Very glad to hear it . . . Oh yes, I get the child support checks on time every month. You are very generous . . . So you won't be here for Christmas this year? I thought it was all set." Terry could feel every beat of his heart in the palm of his hands as he tightened his grip on the receiver. "No, they haven't really expressed what they want. You would really have to know them in order to shop for them, especially for clothes . . . Yeah, you could send a check, and I'll be glad to pick the gifts up for you . . . Of course, they will know it comes from you." Terry spoke the words through clenched teeth. "No, she hasn't come down yet . . . Okay, I'll tell her. If it isn't too much of a bother, let us know when you'll be back in the States." His words dripped with sarcasm. He hung up the phone without another word.
The hurt on Alisa's face was undeniable as she stared at her dad, but she only said, "Can I cut the cake?"
"But Dad, she did it last time!" Ariana whined as she descended the stairs.
"She's right, Lisa, but I'll tell you what—you can scoop the ice cream," Terry said with a broad smile, knowing that would please his older daughter.
The remainder of the evening was quiet, and as the girls were about to climb into bed, Ariana called to her dad. "Can you come in and tuck us in, Daddy?"
"Tuck you in? Now, that is an unusual request. Wasn't it you who said you were too mature for that?" Terry said with a chuckle.
"What we really want to do is talk to you, Dad," Alisa volunteered. "We've been talking and we know that Catherine is sending us a check for Christmas, again, and you want to know what to buy us with the money, right? So we were thinking that this year we want you to buy two airline tickets."
"Oh, and where do you two plan on going? Do you want to go see Catherine in Spain? Her checks are considerable, but I am not sure it will cover two international airline tickets," Terry said, a little sad that they wanted to be away from him during Christmas vacation.
"Oh no! Daddy, we would never leave you for Christmas," Ariana interrupted.
"We want you to buy tickets for you and Ms. Rogers to go to the Bahamas or Hawaii or somewhere romantic," Alisa chimed in.
"Neither one of you ever goes anywhere without us or Michael and Michelle," Ariana chirped.
"We want you to go alone, but there is one condition: you can't go for Christmas, you have to go for New Year's,"Alisa concluded.From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from The Shirt off His Back by Parry "EbonySatin" Brown. . Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.