#29 You never approve of anything I do
“I got an internship,” I start. “Three days a week at a bridal boutique downtown.”
“What does it pay?” Mom asks, looking at me critically.
“Barely enough to pay for gas,” I admit. “But that’s okay. I’m gaining experience, I love it there, and I get to use the professional equipment to make my own clothes.”
“That’s nice, but you’ll eventually have to start making money,” Mom says, which gains her annoyed looks from both Dshawn and Marcus.
“Khiêm is happy to let her stay at his place rent free,” Marcus says in a tight voice. “He loves having her there. She’s been updating his web shop for him, designing logos… He showed me last night how much she’s increased his income since she started working for him. She’s not truly living there rent free. She could easily pay for her room at his place if he were to pay her for everything she does for him.”
I’m surprised to hear Marcus come to my defense like that, and to discover that Khiêm and him have been talking about me. What else did Khiêm say about me?
“She cooks, she cleans, she even does his laundry,” Marcus goes on. “She’s basically his marketing consultant, web designer, PR manager, and maid all rolled into one.”
Wait… what? “I’m not his maid,” I cut in, feeling my skin flush. “I just… do his laundry sometimes, because he tends to forget and walks around in the same old boxers for three days if I let him. But he cooks just as often as I do. He just… tends to burn the food and make it utterly inedible.”
Aston laughs. “That sounds familiar.”
“You’re a great cook,” Annabel says, rubbing his knee affectionately.
“Wasn’t talking about myself, babe,” he counters, which earns him a pointed look and a clack of her tongue. He laughs and gives her a quick kiss.
“I’m just trying to say that Nia can afford to invest in gaining experience and building a name for herself,” Marcus goes on. “She’s been doing great. Khiêm is always showing me the designs she makes, and she’s truly amazing. She’s got a knack for these things. I’ve been in marketing for years now, and when I find someone who can make recognizable logos like Nia can, I always lock the designer down for my clients. If she wasn’t so dead set on fashion, I’d be trying to get her job at my firm for sure.”
“Really?” I ask, surprised by this turn of events.
Marcus shrugs. “Of course. You’re good. You work hard. Khiêm doesn’t speak so highly of just anyone, Nia, and I’ve seen your work for myself. You’re good.”
“She is,” Dshawn agrees, jumping in to defend me as well.
“You’ve seen her work as well?” Mom asks, looking at her eldest son in surprise.
“Dshawn and Shaughna have been helping me this past week to create my very own website with an online portfolio, a web shop and a way to order custom made pieces,” I explain. “I’ve been working on stuff like shawls, bracelets and leggings during every second of spare time so I have something sell in my web shop, and my friends have helped me to get professional shots of my clothes.”
Holly being an underwear model helped a great deal. She and Ayaan may not be supportive of me liking Khiêm, but they had no problem to help me get a professional photoshoot for free with a photographer Holly has been sleeping with for weeks now. The two of them, Aimee and me made sure to showcase all the dresses and other clothes I’ve made for the four of us over the years.
“Look,” Dshawn says, grabbing his laptop from his bag and opening it to show everyone the website. “She’s been over at our place every single day to get it ready to launch soon. It looks amazing, and all I’ve done is help build it. The design is all Nia, as are the clothes.”
Mom and Dad pull the laptop to them, looking at the screen in wonder. Dad is smiling proudly, but Mom’s lips are pursed. Fucking hell, what does it take to impress this woman?
“I brought you something,” I tell Shaughna while the others are all huddled around the laptop to see what I’ve been working on. I get the blouse from my bag and hand it to her. “To thank you.”
“Oh, Nia, you know we loved helping you.” She immediately pulls her shirt over her head, not caring that she’s in her bra in the middle of the living room. She buttons the blouse and jumps up to look at herself in the hallway mirror. When she comes back, she’s glowing. “I love it!”
“That’s nice,” Creed comments, helping himself to what must be his fourth helping of rice.
“Nice?” Aunt Annabel repeats, running her hand over the fabric. “It’s beautiful.”
“Nia made every single piece she’s wearing right now,” Marcus chimes in. “The skirt, the blouse, even the belt.”
I’m growing shy under all this praise. Let’s just say I’m not used to my family rallying around me like this, telling me I’ve done a great job.
“And this is what you want?” Mom asks, her eyes finding mine across the room. “Designing and making clothes?”
“Yes,” I say, refusing to look away from her icy look. “I do.”
“Okay,” Mom says, shutting the laptop. “In that case, I’d like to be your first official customer. I could use a new little black dress for date nights with your father.”
“W-what?” I ask, tears welling up in my eyes. “You want me to make a dress for you?”
“I’ll pay, of course,” she confirms, giving me a small smile. “I’m not gonna lie, I’d prefer you to pick a more stable career, but that website looks amazing, and the boy you’re living with is a sweetheart, we all think so, and if Dshawn is right about you earning him a lot of money, it’s not more than logical that you don’t pay rent. That internship of yours is a great way of padding your resumé, which will come in handy in case this website doesn’t take off the way we all hope it will.”
“So you… you approve?”
Mom looks at me in surprise, her eyes wide. “Since when do you care if I approve of the things you do, Nia?”
I start crying, which takes everyone off guard. I don’t cry much in front of my family. Aside from my mental breakdown that night of the huge bitch fight, I don’t think my parents, Aston, Annabel, Shaughna and Dshawn have seen me cry in years. Marcus is the only one I see on a regular basis outside of the whole big family, one on one, so he’s not as taken-aback as the others are. He gets up to rub my back, pressing a kiss to my temple.
“You never approve of anything I do,” I whimper, wiping at my eyes as everyone stares at me. “I’ve felt like such a failure ever since I decided not to go to college after high school. I was so nervous to tell you about my plans.”
“Honey,” Dad says gently, getting up and kneeling in front of me. “You know I’m proud of you, right? Always have been.”
“I know,” I say, hugging him tightly. “I know, Dad. But Mom…”
“Of course I’m proud of you!” she exclaims like that should have been clear all along. “Just look at yourself! You’re in clothes you made yourself, you go after what you want, and you changed your whole damn life around after hitting rock bottom. Do you have any idea how long it took for me to do that?”
“Rock bottom being my birth, I gather?” Dshawn asks with a wry smile.
“Getting pregnant at 16, yeah,” she confirms. “Not you, honey, you know that. But you also know that until Terryl came along, I was a pretty flaky mom, having trouble paying rent, flitting from job to job, fucking up left and right.”
“You were great,” Dshawn assures her.
“You were, honey,” Dad chimes in, looking up at Mom with a proud smile. “You know I fell in love with your strength, the fact that you didn’t take crap from anyone, and how always put your kid first.”
“I was a mess,” Mom says, waving away their praise. “Thank God Nia is less like me than I thought. You’re fierce,” she says, pride shining in her eyes.
“I get that from you.” I wipe my eyes and sniffle a few more times before pulling myself back together.
“Nah, you get that from yourself,” she counters, grabbing my hand and pulling me up from my chair to hug me. She squeezes me tightly, and I can tell that she truly meant everything she just said. Mom is proud of me. She approves of the choices I’ve made. I never thought I’d live to see this day.
“Are you crying?” I hear Dshawn ask, and I look over Mom’s shoulder to see who he’s talking to.
Dear God, Uncle Aston is rubbing his eyes. “No,” he groans, denying the fact that he’s definitely crying. “I don’t cry.”
“Ahw, you big softie,” Annabel says, snuggling against him on the couch.
“I’m not crying!” he insists, frowning at all of us. “Stop looking at me.”
“You’re so crying, dude,” Pierre says, laughing at him.
“Fine, maybe I am,” Aston admits, shaking his head. “I don’t know how the fuck the rest of you aren’t. What are you? Robots? Made of stone? That was beautiful moment, and you all know it.”
“Sure, baby,” Annabel says, smiling at her husband. “God, you’ve grown soft over the years.”
“I haven’t!” he exclaims, pouting. “I’m still a big, fierce, scary motherfucker.”
“Language!” Mom tells him, her arm still around my shoulders.
“Dad, you’re a huge softie,” Steffi says from the corner of the room where she and her brother Benji are entertaining little Luke and Maisy.
“Hey, at least I tell you I’m proud of you every fucking day!” he yells at his daughter.
“Language!” Mom and Annabel roar at the same time.
Everyone laughs, and the tension is gone. I’m still feeling a little wobbly, but Mom won’t allow me to sit back down. She drags me to her bedroom so I can take her measurements for the dress she wants me to make her.
“I’m sorry if I don’t tell you often enough that I’m proud of you,” Mom says while I write down her sizes. “I am, Nia. I really am. I just worry about you sometimes, and you know that my parenting style has always been yelling and telling people what to do. It kind of has to be with so many kids and a softie like your dad as my partner.”
I grin. Mom is definitely the hard-ass and Dad the push-over in our family. “I get that. It just… it would be nice if you didn’t make me feel like I’m worthless without a college education, my own apartment, a great job and a boyfriend.”
Mom winces. “God, I sound awful when you put it like that. Please tell me I didn’t do too much damage. You seem happy now… right?”
“I am,” I assure her. “And no, you didn’t ruin me completely, Mom. I wasn’t kidding when I said I get my fierceness from you.”
She sighs in relief. “Okay, good. I’m sorry, for the record. I can’t promise I won’t make you feel bad ever again, but I will try. Could you… could you tell me when I’m too hard on you?”
We stare at each other for a moment, and then she pulls me against her again, stroking my hair. “I can’t get over how grown-up you are,” she murmurs. “I hope Aliyah ends up like you. That girl keeps getting into trouble at school and she’s already interested in boys. She’s a handful, that one.”
“Mom…” I laugh as I pull back. “Please don’t tell her to be more like me, okay? Never ever say that to her.” I love that I’m suddenly a role model, but it has always annoyed the living hell out of me that Mom kept telling me to be more like my brothers. I don’t want Aliyah to resent me the way I’ve often resented Creed, Marcus and Dshawn.
The heavy part of the night is over, and the rest of the evening goes by in a flash. I end up in the backyard with Marcus, Beatrice, Creed, Dshawn and Shaughna. Drinking beers, talking about our lives, laughing at funny things that happened at The Palace, making crude jokes and flipping each other off. Not Beatrice, of course, she never flips anyone off, and I can’t help but wonder if she and my brother will last.
It’s one of the best nights of my life. For the first time, I feel like I’m just as worthy as my brothers. No, I don’t have my own apartment, or a high-paying job, or a boyfriend, but I’m also not a failure. I’ve got my family, Khiêm, my internship, and my own website.
If even Mom can get behind that, I must be doing something right, at the very least.