With a low sigh, she crushed out her cigarette and tossed it into the darkness behind her. “Coming, Mama.” She waved a hand before her. “After you, Ms. Jackson.”
That night, sleep came easily. So did the dreams of decay and death and the rapid drumming of her heart, heavy and full in her chest. Dez woke to stare wide-eyed at the ceiling. The clock winked a soothing electronic blue. It was barely midnight. The party ended hours ago but the feelings that had trailed her in its last hours remained. She pushed the light covers away and sat up. A thought carried itself from her dreams, made her call Claudia’s number and croak out a plea. She left her house a half an hour later to meet her mother.
e rode into the front entrance of the Coconut Grove Cemetery in first gear, coasting over the smooth pavement that wove like gray thread through acres of manicured grass and marble tombstones. The night was already damp and sweet from the drooping jasmine and honeysuckle. Dez looked over the wide expanse of green and found her mother. Claudia was right where she said she would be, on the steps of Aunt Paul’s tomb with its twin columns and blue marble vases still bright with fresh flowers. She looked tired. Her jaw split in a yawn even as Dez brought the bike to a stop and turned off its engine.
“You going to make it, Mama?”
“I assume that you have a good reason for getting me out of bed at this ungodly hour.” She yawned again.
“Yes.” Dez held up a paper bag. “Snacks.”
Claudia rolled her eyes in a most unmotherly way and huddled deeper in the blankets tucked around her. Dez twitched with guilt.
“It’s not that cold, is it?”
“For me it is, love. So could you please get to the point.” Dez sat down next to her mother and unfolded the contents of her paper sack—a thermos with fresh mint tea, small corned-beef sandwiches that she knew Claudia loved, and oatmeal raisin cookies. “Here.” She poured a cup of tea, then leaned back against a column as Claudia smiled her thanks before bringing the steaming brew to her lips.
“No, I’m . . . thank you for coming.”
Claudia watched her daughter with alert eyes. “I guess you’re not okay, then?”
Dez forced a smile. “No, I’m not.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. Just tell me what’s wrong.” Claudia cradled the tea in her lap.
“I’m worried about you and I’m angry.” She bit into a cookie and chewed slowly, forcing herself to swallow although it felt like dust in her mouth.
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
Dez looked up at that noncommittal response. She didn’t know what else to say. Her family was never big on sensitive chats. Things just
. She came out as a lesbian by bringing a girl home when she was thirteen. There was no discussion, just acceptance—a grudging one on her father’s part—of the way things would be from that point on. Her aunt was the only person she’d been able to really talk to.
“Don’t go home with a woman you just met,” Aunt Paul had told her over ice cream and cake, her face perfectly serious. “Unless you’re with someone else who can take care of themselves and you.”
Paul was never fond of giving advice, but she did so then because Claudia, unsettled by her daughter’s lesbian revelation, had asked her to. Dez could never forget that day. It was the first day that her aunt took her out on the back of the motorcycle for more than a cruise around their small Coconut Grove neighborhood. They rode around for over an hour before finally stopping at a little dessert shop in Fort Lauderdale. Only now did Dez realize that her aunt had been buying herself time to find something appropriate to say to her sister’s child. At the café, Paul was charming and relaxed. She flirted with the cute waitress who promptly hopped over to take their order, making it seem like she was just taking Dez to a casual dykes’ day out.
In Dez’s eyes, Paul had been the perfect gentlewoman in every aspect of her life, especially that day when she’d gotten the waitress’s number, eased her niece’s fears about being abandoned by the rest of the family, and treated them both to a towering strawberry shortcake and ice cream concoction.
Dez spread her fingers wide over the stone steps leading up to Aunt Paul’s tomb and refocused on the reason she and Claudia was at the cemetery so late at night.
“You told Derrick about the cancer.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes.” Claudia’s eyes flickered away and she briefly looked ashamed. “He was here and I thought he could handle it better.”
“Since he’s a lawyer and everything?” She didn’t bother to hide her sarcasm.
Dez took a breath. “It’s hard not to. Not when you kept something so important from me and I had to find out by stupid accident.”
“I guess that means that you were destined to find out.”
“Otherwise known as ‘you shouldn’t keep important things like that from your children, no matter how incompetent you think they are.’ ” Tears burned, but she bent and poured some tea for herself, making the preparation of it slow so that by the time she looked up, the threat of tears was gone. “How could you trust Derrick over me? I’m not reliable enough? What would have happened if you had died when I was on the road?”
“I was preparing myself to tell you.”
“And after all this preparation, when would you have finally let me know?”
Again, Claudia looked away.
Dez shook her head. This was so fucking hard. “Every night I dream about you dying.”
“I thought I was doing the right thing, letting you be free without having to worry about me. I thought that you would only come back to Miami if you knew.”
“And I did. I’m here for you.”
“You’ve always been, darling. I just don’t want you to be here because of some misguided notion of filial loyalty. I don’t want you to give up your life for me.”
“I’m not, Mama. There’s nothing—”
A beam of light cut through their darkness. “What are you two doing here?”
The official-sounding voice made Dez glance up sharply. “Take the light out of our faces and I might tell you.” She put up a hand to block the light.
Across from her, Claudia quietly put her teacup down on the marble steps of the tomb and squinted up at the officers. “Is it against the law to visit loved ones in the cemetery?” she asked quietly. The light on her face moved away.
“Do you have ID?”
“Keep your hands where I can see them, sir.”
“Desiree, please don’t antagonize these people.” Her mother’s voice was low with warning.
“Can I see
identification?” Dez said, standing up and keeping her hands in plain sight. Despite her annoyance at whoever these two assholes were, she was no fool. The beam from the flashlight went south, down her body, following the stark lines outlined by her white T-shirt, black leather jacket, and black jeans; then it fell away.
“It’s not safe for two women to be out so late, especially in the cemetery.”
The smaller officer made a vague gesture with his flashlight. “You ladies might want to do your visiting in the daytime.” His gravelly Southern accent threatened to scrape her nerves raw. “Vandals and other undesirables have been known to come through here at night. We’re just looking out for your interests.”
His partner only nodded, looking grim in her dark uniform. Why would anyone need to wear sunglasses in the pitch black of night?
Everyone exchanged IDs and thanked one another. Then the officers escorted the women to their vehicles. Dez thanked them again with a meaningful look. The officers didn’t budge.
“I’ll be fine, love. Call me when you get home, okay?”
“Okay.” She waited until her mother pulled off in her little convertible before she got on her bike and cruised out of the cemetery, ignoring the twin stares at her back.
She didn’t call when she got back home. It was after three and she was exhausted. Tomorrow, she promised herself. But the day came and went. Dez called Derrick to check up on their mother, but he was his usual charming self and told her to call Claudia herself. But her mother beat her to the punch. Dez heard the message as she stepped out of the shower, dripping water all over the hardwoods.
“Hello, love. We didn’t get to finish our talk the other night. I’d like to. Call me or come over to the house.” The machine beeped as she hung up.
But she didn’t feel up to talking with Claudia just then, so she dried off and pressed the PLAY button again and again until it was time for her to leave the house.
ez walked through the automatic doors of the neon-lit supermarket. The cool air, unbelievably a few degrees below the chill air outside, washed over her face as she stepped past the threshold. She wanted to be able to invite her mother over to her house for dinner, to sit her down and have a civilized, grown-up conversation. She didn’t want to be sniveling and whiny and all the other ten million things that she despised about the way she’d acted in the past. But for that dinner, Dez needed food.
At ten past midnight, the market was nearly empty. The security guard and the bored cashiers glanced up and past her as she walked by. She nodded a greeting to the thickly muscled woman with her rent-a-cop gun strapped high on her waist, then took out her long grocery list. Dez didn’t have a clue what she would make when she invited Claudia over for dinner, only that it would be good and plentiful, a meal that would remind her mother of better times. She unhooked a shopping cart from the long string by the door and pushed it down the nearest aisle.
Years ago, when she and her brother were young, their lives seemed to revolve around food. Between grading papers and putting together lesson plans, Claudia always made time for food-gathering field trips. Most times, she took the twins to the farmer’s market on the outskirts of Miami. The scent of their childhood was of crisp apples, luscious red tomatoes, water-veined celery, and the sweet ripeness of mangoes, Jamaican June plums, and the thick almost-smell of egg-plants. Their days together were measured by the meals they prepared side by side—Claudia in the middle and Derrick and Dez like animated parentheses, laughing and tasting, creating meals that were invariably delicious, flavored as they were by their shared joy.
It was only when at thirteen Dez discovered girls that her interest in food and her mother waned. Then she and her brother started fighting—over girls, space, and anything else they could think of. Dez lingered over the barrel of jasmine rice, inhaling its faint popcornlike scent and the lingering flavor of her childhood memories. As she reached down for more rice, her cell phone rang.
“Yes?” She deftly emptied the metal scoop into the two-pound capacity plastic bag while balancing the phone between her ear and shoulder.
“Hi, there,” a low female voice purred in her ear. “Is this a bad time?”
Who is this?
“Not at all,” Dez flipped through her mental Rolodex for a name to match with the voice but came up empty. “I’m just doing a little shopping.”
“Good. You said whenever I felt like doing lunch, or any sort of meal, to give you a call, so . . .”
“Ah, you’re asking me out. I like that.” Something suddenly clicked in her brain.
And I definitely remember you, Miss Victoria of the tasty cleavage and a mouth I would love to come all over.
“Are you free next Friday night?”
“I think so.” Dez was actually sure of it. “What do you have in mind? Something kinky, I hope.”
Victoria laughed, a husky vibration that made Dez want to reach through the phone and start her meal right now.
“Not quite, at least not yet. Just dinner.” A pause. “How about my place? Eight o’clock?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Great. Dress casual. Here’s the address.”
She dug out a pen from her inside jacket pocket and scrawled Victoria’s name on her hand. “Go ahead.” Dez took the address down, then repeated it twice to be sure. She didn’t want to get lost on her way to
“See you then.”
Dez closed the phone and smiled. Now she had two dinner dates to look forward to. As she reached up to put the phone back in her pocket, someone jostled her from behind. Her phone fell, breaking neatly in two pieces.
“I’m sorry. Fuck, I didn’t see . . .”
Dez looked up from retrieving the pieces of her phone as the voice trailed off. It took a moment for the red hair and pierced lip to register. The woman—Caitlyn—cursed again and ran her tongue across the silver ring encircling the center of her full lower lip. Dez stood up.
“Cait, did you find those tomatoes I like?” Ruben appeared from the next aisle, pushing a cart already half-filled with groceries. He looked good. Dez stepped back as if that measly distance would lessen his effect on her. It didn’t. His body was as slim and hard as ever, gay boy muscles alive under his tight blue shirt. He had cut his hair, and now it lay in conservative, Anglo-looking waves against his head. The style only made his liquid eyes more noticeable. They became startled and soft when they noticed her and his dimples went back into hiding. He was still beautiful.