I’d been dating LaToya Foster for a few weeks before I finally met her sister. It happened the same night I was to meet her parents and for obvious reasons, my thoughts were focused on impressing them. I’d accepted their invitation to dinner and showed up looking my best. Well…my second best. My work uniform – white shirt, dark pants, dark tie – was actually more formal, but I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard. It’s as easy to hate a suck-up as it is a slacker.
LaToya had, of course, mentioned that she had a younger sister, but I didn’t give that much thought. It would have been the same as if she told me she had a dog or a parakeet or a senile aunt who lived with the family. Nothing, as far as I knew, was coming between me and my girl.
I’d arrived early at the Foster home and Mrs. Foster showed me in. She explained that both LaToya and her husband would be along shortly. In the meantime, that left me with Jasmine, the sister.
LaToya had told me that Jasmine was 14, but the girl sitting in the cream-colored recliner didn’t look a day over 12. She was short and skinny and very dark and flat-chested too. It was as if puberty took a sick day when her turn came around. But, as I would soon learn, there was little about that girl that was what it seemed.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught her sizing me up. She had a scowl on that reminded me of my grandmother’s face when she ate spicy food. She said nothing, just stared. Not knowing what her deal was, I was content to let her.
“So you’re the new boy, huh?” Jasmine asked at last.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“You datin my sister, right?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I said, annoyed by her forwardness.
“Well, we’ll see how long you last,” she said before lapsing back into silence.
While I ended up getting along just fine with LaToya’s parents, there were several more clashes with Jasmine in the weeks that followed. I would come around after work some times and she would ask me why I always looked like I was going to a funeral.
“If I were going to a funeral, I’d wear my suit,” I told her.
“Whatever,” she said. “Y’all know what I meant.”
Another time, she asked me if I was sure I was really black.
“You so light I thought you might be Po’ Rican or sunburnt or somethin,” she said.
“Your sister’s light too,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but she ain’t uptight like you.”
I shook my head. It was ridiculous. I worked at the rental car agency, LaToya at the finance department down at city hall. We were both young professionals. Yet despite those and other similarities, I was doomed to the status of a perpetual outsider in this child’s eyes. Worst of all, I was starting to let it get to me.
Another point of contention between Jasmine and I was my name. She called me Des. To all but a handful of people, I was Desmond. I made exceptions for my Uncle Philip, my friend Lamont and my boss, who was casual with everyone and ignored my attempts to correct him. I was not prepared to make another exception for Jasmine. Desmond Taylor was 22-years old and coming up in the world. Des was some teenage fool shuffling around with his drawers sticking out of his pants that I didn’t want to have anything to do with any more.
Finally, when LaToya and I were alone one night, I asked her what her sister’s problem was. Truth be told, I didn’t expect much of an answer. She could have said Jasmine was just dealing with being 14 and acting out and I would have accepted it. After all, we were all there once (remember that fool Des I was telling you about?). Instead, LaToya gave me a very different kind of answer.
“She’s just mad all the time because she still wets the bed.”
“For real?” I asked, embarrassed by how surprised I sounded.
“Mmm-hmm,” LaToya said. “Has to wear diapers for it too. If you ask me, that’s why she’s so sour. But don’t say nothing about that.”
I smiled and assured her I wouldn’t. The next time Jasmine tried to bring me down, I’d think about her wearing her diapers to bed and I’d hold back a laugh.
A couple of months into our relationship, LaToya’s parents celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary. They were headed for a night out and I assumed LaToya and I would be as well in our own way. But when I went to pick her up, I was met with rejection.
“Can’t do it,” she said with a mournful shake of the head.
“Why not?” I asked. “They don’t trust you?”
“Isn’t me they’re worried about,” she said.
Jasmine strikes again, I thought. This time, she didn’t even have to open her mouth to start causing trouble.
Fortunately, LaToya assured me we could still make a night of it. We had her parents’ house mostly to ourselves and the Fosters had not prohibited LaToya from having me over (“Don’t be having no parties now,” was Mr. Foster’s lone caveat). So we decided on a movie and sat together in the dark and let our hands and bodies do all our talking for us.
Around 8 p.m., we caught a brief flash of Jasmine as she cut through the dining room en route to the back door.
“Hold it,” LaToya called, turning to turning to flip a switch.
The sudden light stung me and I instinctively put a hand to my face. When I was able to refocus, I saw Jasmine in a too-short denim skirt and a shirt tailored to show off assets she didn’t have.
“Just where do you think you’re going?” LaToya asked.
“Out,” Jasmine said. If she was worried about being caught, she wasn’t showing it.
“Looking like that?” LaToya said. “On a school night? Nuh-uh.”
“What do you care?” Jasmine said. “Y’all’s just gonna be getting it on anyway.”
I flushed slightly at the suggestion and watched as LaToya took on a scowl the likes of which I’d never seen from her.
“Now what would Mom say if she saw you right now,” she said.
“She’d probably be proud I had friends,” Jasmine taunted, taking a few steps closer to her sister. “I ain’t no nerd like you were.”
Now it was LaToya’s turn to flush. I wanted to take her hand and tell her not to worry about what some 14 year old thought, but I knew this wasn’t just some 14-year-old. This was her sister. This was personal stuff, family stuff, and I had no business being there. I made up my mind to excuse myself at my earliest convenience.
“You know what?” LaToya said, rising and placing her hands on her hips. “I think it’s about time you get ready for bed.”
The previously unflappable girl grew wide-eyed at the suggestion and shook her head frantically.
“Nuh-uh,” she said. “Hell no!”
“Yes,” LaToya repeated. “I really think so.”
Jasmine turned to run, but she’d barely taken a step before LaToya was up on her feet running after her. I watched with horror and guilty amusement as the two girls chased each other around the dining room and the den, bumping off of chairs and tables and cussing one another. It was a miracle they didn’t break anything, bones included.
LaToya finally caught Jasmine by the entrance to the porch and wrapped her thick arms around the thin girl’s midsection. Almost instantly, Jasmine began to kick out and demand to be let go.
“Desmond, help me out here,” LaToya said.
By then, I’d wanted no part of this but I knew I had no choice. How would it look if I’d refused? Reluctantly, I took hold of Jasmine’s feet, taking a few glancing blows to the forearm before I got her under control. LaToya held onto the top half of her sister and I the bottom and together we hauled her up a flight of carpeted stairs to her room.
“Well, what now?” Jasmine asked after we’d heaved her onto the bed. “Y’all gonna sit on me with your fat ass?”
“You hush!” LaToya snapped.
She was showing anger I’d never thought she had. Every day she dealt with pushy customers who wanted to complain about their utility bills and a boss who was on her like peanut butter on jelly if she was ever behind on her paperwork. She would talk about this with something resembling fatigue, but never rage. The rage was supposed to be reserved for me on the days I had to explain additional charges to some asshole who wanted to pretend he didn’t scratch up the rental he was returning.
“What, you gonna make me, 'Toya?” Jasmine taunted. “Fat girl. Fat girl and her fake-ass boyfriend!”
Sensing they were about to come to blows, I placed myself between the two sisters. I somehow let old Des back in for a second, let him size up Jasmine the way she sized me up the day we first met. I kept Des’ gaze on her til she blinked.
“Enough now,” I said, my voice mean and hard. “You stop if you know what’s good fo you.”
Jasmine nodded and slowly calmed herself. LaToya looked at me with the same kind of surprised stare I’d given her just a second ago. Nobody was what they seemed that night.
“Well?” Jasmine asked. “What you all waiting for? I can do it myself.”
“I don’t trust you,” LaToya said.
“But what’s he got to be here for?!”
“Why not?” LaToya asked with a cruel shrug. “He already knows.”
Jasmine looked ready to bolt again, but LaToya held her back down.
“Hand me one of those diapers,” she said, turning to me. “They’re in the closet.”
“Uh…” I said, unsure of what to say or do next. I did not want to be there, but I felt as if I was too involved to simply back out. The whole night had turned into a damned mess.
“Desmond,” LaToya prodded.
Reluctantly, I opened the doors to Jasmine’s closet. Beneath rows of colorful T-shirts and neatly hung skirts, I found an open plastic package on the closet floor. Curious, I picked it up and looked it over. The package was pink with white lettering. Instead of Huggies or Pampers, I saw the word ‘Goodnites’ printed across the front. The product inside looked like a mutant cross between a baby diaper and a young girl’s panties. It was white with a pink and purple design splashed across the front. I tried again to picture sassy, sour Jasmine wearing one, only this time I couldn’t bring myself to laugh.
“Desmond!” LaToya repeated.
I quit thinking about the diaper and brought it to my girlfriend, who snatched it eagerly from my hand. I wondered if she diapered her sister every night or was doing this now to prove a point. I wondered how long Jasmine had been wetting the bed. I wondered if the young woman I had been dating for months was a closet sadist. At some point, I stopped wondering and started walking away.
My relationship with LaToya survived that night, but it took an odd turn afterwards. There would be times when a question bubbled to the forefront of my brain and LaToya would stop whatever she was doing and wait for me to ask it. But I never asked. I’d always think of something else to say and we’d talk and laugh and forget there was anything wrong.
Jasmine too seemed to have gotten past that night and resumed antagonizing me as if nothing had happened. The Fosters and my parents had become fast friends and I didn’t recoil the way I used to when my mom mentioned marriage.
One day, I stopped by the Foster home looking for LaToya and found Jasmine instead.
“She won’t be home til later,” the girl explained.
“Then I guess I’ll stop by later,” I said.
“Stick around,” she beckoned. “I gots something to show you.”
“What? You scared?”
“No,” I replied.
“Then come on,” she said, leading the way to her room.
My mind flashed back to the night of her diapering and I winced slightly. I winced even more when she opened her underwear drawer. But instead of panties or a diaper, she pulled out a cell phone. LaToya’s cell phone.
“She thinks she lost it,” Jasmine said.
“You stole it,” I said. “Why?”
“Come see for yourself,” she said, passing it to me.
The phone was open to LaToya’s received text messages and as I read them, I felt a powerful sickness take hold of me. There were more than a dozen messages from ‘Court.’ They spoke of a steamy untold relationship. After reading ‘wen am i gonna c ur sxy body again’ and ‘are u free 2 nite baby’ I could read no more.
Through the pain of betrayal, the gears of my mind began to turn. The only ‘Court’ I’d ever heard LaToya mention was Courtney Rivers, a city councilman. He was young – only 33 or so – but married. But even if he was 23 and unwed, it wouldn’t have made a difference. She was my girl! How could she…they…do this to me?!
I thought briefly of running straight into city hall and denouncing LaToya for the whore that she was. I thought about walking over to Rivers Real Estate and punching the bossman right in his face. Des might have done those things, but Des was pretty good and buried. What I, Desmond, did instead was to drop the phone and storm out of that house. I didn’t bother to see if Jasmine was smiling in my wake.
It ended not with a scene, but with a phone call. After recovering her phone and presumably having it out with her sister, LaToya gave me a call to try to explain.
“He would always come in and compliment me on my work,” she said. “He…he made me feel special. I swear to God, Desmond, I never meant to hurt you.”
“Uh-huh,” I said and proceeded to let loose a string of very ugly accusations. I called her a sadist for forcing her sister to wear diapers and a pig for not losing some weight (even though I’d always liked her figure). I called her a slut and a bitch and a few other unkind things. By the time I was done, she was crying and I was out of breath, but damn if I didn’t feel good.
Of course, later on I came to regret much, if not all, of what I’d said. But by that point, it was too late. She stopped taking my calls and told the security guard at city hall to watch out for me when I came around. In desperation, I actually stopped by the Foster house once more, only to find her father blocking the door.
“Don’t come around here no more,” he said with stern menace.
Weeks after LaToya and I broke up, I spotted Jasmine riding her bike down my street. She stopped when she saw me sitting on the front stairs, face propped up by my hands as I stared idly into the street, and wheeled her bike over to me.
“Ain’t you supposed to be at work?” she asked.
“Ain’t you supposed to be in school?” I replied. It was a very Jasmine-ish answer.
“It’s summer,” she said.
“I’m sick,” I said.
“You been sick a lot lately, huh?”
I nodded. No further explanation was given or asked for.
“Look, Des,” she said. “It ain’t your fault, OK? You all right.”
“Am I?” I asked. Her opinion mattered more now than all those times she was ridiculing me about my skin or my dress or my name. “Am I all right?”
“Yeah,” Jasmine said, patting my head. “Yeah.”
She may have been the one in diapers at night, but there was no question who was the child and who was the adult between us.