Dez endured her stomach’s sickening plunge and the way the temperature of her hands suddenly dropped ten degrees. Fantastic. She gripped her shopping cart and swung it around, away from them. Her face felt tight and cold, but she forced herself not to run. Moving in a fog, Dez took her time picking a bag of black beans from its pyramid display, then after she was sure that it was the one she wanted, she put it in her cart and walked away.
He followed her from inside the store. Not with his body, but with everything else. Otherwise, how could she explain the smell of him pressing close, the sound of his voice, the phantom feel of his hair between her fingers? It took her three tries to open the door. Dez loaded her groceries into the truck with shaking fingers, again measuring each movement. No one, not even Ruben, was going to make her rush. Even though she needed to be alone with the sudden memories of him, of them together. She left the shopping cart where she’d unpacked it and backed the truck out of the parking space. A pedestrian yelped behind her and barely jumped out of the way in time to avoid being hit. Damn Ruben.
Long before she’d been to college, Dez had made her choice. It was going to be girls. Or at least that was what she thought. And then she’d seen the hot boy at orientation that first year at the University of Miami. He was all pretty mouth and round, tight ass—two things she normally only liked in girls. She’d been ashamed. And it took her three years to actually approach him, three years of watching him fool around with boys and sneer at the infatuated coeds. Shit, they were even in the queer students alliance together. But she still wanted him. She’d denied herself, sleeping with more women during those three years of confused longing than she had before or since.
Then, it happened. One night at an impromptu, post-study-session boogie-run to one of the hottest new gay clubs in Miami, Dez got her boy. She and seven of her classmates had stumbled into the place, badly needing a distraction from school and the midterms only a few days away. Samantha Morris, one of the more adventurous girls in Dez’s lit class, passed out tabs of X to each of her stressed study-buddies; then they were off. Ten minutes into her high, Dez found herself staring at the club full of gyrating bodies, her own skin itching with the need to dance.
“Come on.” Ruben rushed at her from behind and pulled her into the fray.
His palm against hers felt electric and slick. They pushed into the crowd and she couldn’t help but prolong it, that delicious slide against foreign skin, the pumping push-pull of the crowd dancing to the infectious rhythm of Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” Never one to hold back on the dance floor when she was sober, Dez threw herself even more into the high energy music, writhing up against the glowing rainbow boy that Ruben had become. Sweat dripped from both their bodies. She and Ruben passed a giant bottle of water back and forth until it was empty, until she wanted something else to put her mouth on.
Dez licked his face, and he licked back, passing a hot wet tongue over her cheek and eyelashes. She quivered and rubbed her breasts and belly against him. Ruben was the angel of sex, slippery and hot, rocketing her temperature through the roof, sending her skin shuddering in tiny orgasms just with his touch. The other dancers disappeared and it was just the two of them, sweetly trembling, together. Somehow they ended up away from everyone else, pressed belly to belly in a narrow hallway that smelled of latex and fresh sex. She drew his shirt off, then hers, too. She undid her pants, then his. Ruben’s dick was hard. He fumbled with the condoms he’d brought along to use with someone else and managed to cover himself without coming. Dez grabbed his ass and pulled him into her. Everything was on the surface, her lust, her sweat, her need. One thrust. Two. Dez’s body exploded deep inside, clenching him and pulling him into her, into the shimmering, pulsating light overtaking her. His breath huffed against her neck. And his voice, rough and soft at once, wailed around them. She clung to him, laughing.
They spent the rest of the night together, wringing the rest of their X trip for all the fun that it was worth. Neither of them advertised their lust-affair, but they didn’t hide it either. One day they were passing acquaintances and the next day they were fucking each other like nymphos on speed. With Ruben she’d felt renewed. Her period of self-denial was over and she reveled in her obsession and love for him. They made after-graduation plans, then left. Together.
Now, two plus years later, she was alone. Dez blinked away the sting of old memories and forced herself to focus on the road ahead.
ez was good at pushing aside her emotions. By the time Claudia knocked at her door a few nights later, the unexpected reunion with Ruben and Caitlyn was barely a ripple in her calm sea. Dez was able to smile her thanks for the bottle of wine and even laugh at her mother’s Alaskan wilderness gear of goose-down jacket and gloves in the sixty-degree chill.
“Come in.” She waved Claudia inside and closed the door on the cool night air. The house was warm and fragrant with the scent of cinnamon and apples, the steaming hot toddy Dez had prepared for her mother to ward off any lingering cold from her short drive. She took Claudia’s outer layers and led her to the kitchen.
“I don’t want to mess this up like I’ve done everything else.” Dez stood with her back to the counter, her hands moving restlessly over the cool marble behind her. “I haven’t made dinner yet because I wanted us to cook together. Make it like it was before Aunt Paul died.”
Claudia sat on the bar stool with her toddy clasped between her palms. “You don’t have to reach into the past for me, Dez. I’m right here. Sometimes things are just a little different now, that’s all.”
“They’re not a
different, Mama. Even I can tell that. I feel like I’ve lost you already.”
“No. No, you haven’t.” Claudia put aside her drink and reached for her daughter, grasped the cold hands in hers and squeezed. “Stop being dramatic. I’ll be here for you as long as I’m on this earth, no matter how things may seem or how far we are away from each other. I know I made a mistake by not telling you I was sick. I thought I was doing the right thing, but that was obviously wrong. Please don’t be angry.” When Dez didn’t say anything, Claudia stood up and tugged her toward the refrigerator. “Come, let’s go make dinner.”
They made Claudia’s favorite winter food—sage-spiced quiche with Italian sausage and red pepper flakes and a pot of pumpkin soup. Dez insisted on having bread with the meal and rummaged around for the bread maker. While her mother took out and measured the ingredients for the honey wheat bread, she turned on the oven and broke the eggs for the quiche.
“This is a nice bread maker, love. I didn’t know you liked to make your own.”
“I don’t. But I knew that you would come over one day.”
It was the best invitation for a closer relationship that Dez could offer. The last two years before she’d left for college, she and her mother had been distant, cooking together only on the requisite holidays, and even then the rapport had been different, off somehow. More dead space had inexplicably sprung up between them while Dez’s mind was on her aunt more and more, wondering if she could have done anything to keep Aunt Paul around for just a while longer and hating that her only confidante was gone. She took Claudia for granted, assuming that she would always be there yet would never understand her as well as her dyke aunt had. Their last conversation before Dez left was simple.
“I have to go,” she had said. Then left. No promises to write or call, no certainty of when she would return to Miami. Claudia seemed to accept it. Although a single look that spasmed across her face said
. Dez did not take the time to find out what. She had a ride to catch, but more importantly there was that history of silence between her and Claudia that was too hard to breach. Over the two years, her mother had written to her, scented letters filled with the minutiae of her days, delicate tendrils of connection that Dez hadn’t been able to return, but had cherished nonetheless.
Still, in this new kitchen, over the milk, eggs, and wheat and yeast, they managed to talk. Dez finally found out when her mother knew about the cancer—during a routine exam eight months ago—and how she was going about taking care of herself. Dez’s stomach turned over at her mother’s matter-of-fact description of her illness and her chances for survival.
“My chances are good. We caught it at stage one,” Claudia said as she poured the dough in the bread maker and set the timer. “Dr. Charles scooped out all she could during the last operation. She did some tests at my last visit so I have to go and see her in a few days to get the results.”
Scooped out? Dez’s insides quivered with the beginnings of nausea. But she wanted to know more. This wasn’t something that anyone should go through alone.
“Can I come with you?”
Dez settled the liquid ingredients of the quiche into its store-bought crust and ignored her mother’s look of surprise. “I won’t get in the way. Promise.”
“I know you won’t,” Claudia said. Her gaze was considering. “Okay, you can come.”
“Thank you.” Dez looked up. “What should I bring?”
“Okay.” A blast of heat flashed over her face when she opened the preheated oven and set the quiche inside. “I promise not to cry and act like a complete baby in front of your doctor.”
“She’s used to that kind of thing. Your father almost broke down when he found out.”
Her tentative smile disappeared. “Daddy knows?”
“Warrick was the first person I told.” Claudia’s smile was wistful. “He came in with me for the operation, although, obviously, he didn’t have to. Everything went fine and he was really great. It was almost like old times.”
“Then he went back home to his wife,” Dez sneered.
“Don’t be unkind, Desiree. He was my friend before we were ever lovers. Just because we didn’t work out doesn’t mean that our friendship is over.”
Words of protest crowded onto Dez’s tongue, incidents of Warrick being a complete asshole to everyone in the family, especially his wife. Then there was that whole abandonment thing. “I’m glad he was there for you, Mama.” Water gushed in the sink as she turned on the tap to wash her hands. “But what about Eden, or any of those other women you hang out with these days?”
“Your father was my choice, Desiree. He was the right one.”
Properly chastened, she backed off. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. Just accept the things that I need. And realize that I need you, too.” Claudia bumped her daughter’s hip with her own. “Although I have been a stupid old woman for not showing you that.”
Dez smiled. “Well, you may be stupid, but you’re certainly not old. Now Warrick, he’s got a face like—”
Claudia poked her in the belly. “I can see where this is going, so let’s just stop it right here.”
“I’m just kidding. The old lady can’t take a joke?” Claudia came after her with a bony elbow again. Still laughing, Dez easily dodged her and slipped past to the other side of the oversize kitchen. Their evening went by quickly. Dez forced herself to pay attention to every detail of their time together—her mother’s laughter, the new lines at the corner of her mouth, the sometimes fragile way she held herself, like a moth waiting to fly off for a new light source. She had not always been so delicate. Perhaps it was because Dez knew of the illness and was seeing things for the first time that had always been there. She could be oblivious at times.
They sat at the dinner table surrounded by soft music and candlelight, like old friends, sharing bits of their lives previously held separate. When Claudia revealed that Warrick had been her first lover, Dez held up her hands in surrender.
“That, my darling mother, might be too much information.”
Claudia laughed. “Stop being such a prude.”
“I’m sure you don’t want to know everything about
“Of course I do. It feels like it’s been years since you and I had a real conversation. I want to know everything you’ve done and been and seen and felt since you were fourteen.”
“Fourteen!” Dez laughed. “I’ll have you know I was sharing plenty with you after that.”
“Right. Your feelings about being treated like a child you mean—at high decibels.”