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Authors: Nikki Woods

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Phone calls to Scooby and his manager proved fruitless, so I powered on my laptop, and still amazed that my grandmother had ventured into the 20th century – logged on to the wireless internet connection. I plopped onto the floor and soon Toy was curled up against my leg, her butt propped up against my thigh. I rubbed her belly as I opened up my email account. As expected, it was full but at least I had something constructive to do that didn't require too much brain-power. Five emails from Jonetta were marked “URGENT” so I opened those first.

“Yes, please schedule all of my appointments for the following week.” I mouthed the words as I punched them out on the keyboard. “Yes, please let Mr. Mansini know that I had to
leave town for a family emergency and if he needs to contact me he can do so by email. Yes, it is important that I talk to Scooby. Have his manager email me with a good time to call later today.

No, I'm not sure when I will be back in the office so direct all urgent matters to Mr. Mansini.” I typed in my grandmother's phone number before clicking the send button. I quickly deleted all of the junk e-mails before sending messages to Essence and Keela just to let them know that I made it safely. I almost e-mailed a “Dear John” letter to Randy, but what would be the point? After a few more quick replies, I was done. I grabbed a pillow off the couch, lay down on the floor and smiling brown eyes danced into focus.

Damon: just one more thing to figure out. Too proud to get the scoop from Uncle Winston, I had to work things out on my own. But with nothing to go on, my imagination was running wild. With Damon in such close proximity, I was bound to bump into him. We might have to be in the same room, maybe even talk. Was I ready for that? A blinding flash of red burst through my brain at just the thought of our eyes meeting and I swore with frustration. Even with a lifetime of preparation, I wouldn't be ready for that. Not after what he did.

The phone rang and I jumped off the floor, dragging my laptop with me. The familiar voice sent a surge of warmth through me.

“Keela! How are you? I just sent you an e-mail.” I sat down at the small desk and cradled the mustard yellow phone with my shoulder.

“I know, I just got it. That's why I'm calling, silly. I had to send the kids out to recess before I could call you back.”

“You're calling from work?”

“Where else would I be calling from, Kingston?”

“I guess my point, Keela,” I said, “is that this is a pretty expensive call. Your principal might not appreciate your making it on their dime.” I wrapped the phone cord around my finger and opened up a game of solitaire on my laptop.

“If they figure out it's me, I'll just pay for it. No big deal.” Keela paused. “So how's everything?”

I clicked on the deck of cards and sighed. “Pretty much as I expected. There's not one person here to pay their respects and that blows my mind. I thought a few of the closer family members would show up. But then this is my family we're talking about. So it's quiet, I'm bored, and ready to get back to my life.”

“If you need me to come out there, I will. My thong's already packed. I'm sure the school can get a substitute for the substitute.” She giggled.

“You in a thong? I'll pass.” Chuckling, I dragged the ace of spades to the top of the screen. “Don't worry, I'll be back before you know it. One of my cousins is going to stay with me and kind of go through some of Mama Grace's things.” I looked at the small pictures that lined
the desk. One was of my mother in pigtails climbing a tree. Another of me, also in pigtails, at about the same age. It took my breath away how much I looked like her.

“What else is wrong, Kingston? I know you're sad because of your grandmother, but it seems like there is something else.” Her gentle prodding was all I needed. The barrier broke and I sobbed out the tale of Mama Grace's letter making me the executor of her will, the animosity from the family, and Randy's betrayal in one long breath. Keela listened, inserting comforting sounds at appropriate intervals.

“Poor baby,” she said when I was done. The tears had gradually dried up and I felt better, cleared. I appreciated Keela's friendship in times of crisis. Whereas Essence tended to approach situations like a volcano spewing lava, Keela was calming. But when she was sure I was properly subdued, she got mad.

“I can't believe that trifling jerk would do this to you. And with that white girl,” she spat with venom. “I always knew something wasn't right with him.”

I grabbed a tissue from the Kleenex box on the antique curio cabinet and blew loudly.

“His loss. He doesn't deserve you.” It was the typical best friend answer, but I was glad she said it. I didn't realize that I needed to hear I wasn't to blame until she uttered the words.

“I know, I know.” I wiped my nose again. “It's just been a lot all at once, you know?”When tears threatened again to blur my vision, I attempted to lighten the conversation. “So,
what's going on at home? I know it's only been four hours since I left but I miss you guys already!”

Keela sucked in her breath and I could practically hear her hopping around in her seat. “ Girl, you missed it. Henry and Darryl had to throw this ghetto chick out of the salon while I was getting my hair highlighted. You didn't tell me they got down like that? I felt like I was on someJerry Springer type show.”

“All this time, Henry's been my neighbor and doing my hair, I've never even seen him raise his voice.”

“Well, he certainly did this morning. Apparently the girl thought Darryl had been looking at her boyfriend the wrong way when he dropped her off for her appointment. She was fussing about it the whole time until Henry called her out and then it was on. She got to hollering and cussing and calling Darryl all out of his name. All I heard was Darryl, HIV and young black men and that was all she wrote. If she thought Darryl was a soft, she doesn't think so now because he picked her up about fifteen feet off the ground and tossed her out the shop.

“You are lying!”

“Kingston, if I'm lying then may lightening strike me right now. I've never seen anything like it. And you know she called the police. But everyone vouched for Darryl so they took a complaint and left it at that.”

“Never a dull moment.”

“And, girl, Essence is tripping. She called from Ohio or wherever the hell she is and I could tell from her voice that she's up to something. She says she's on a buying trip for the salon, but do you really need to go out of town for scented oil and nail polish remover?”

“I haven't heard from her, but she's been particularly sneaky lately.”

“It's a man!” we said at the same time. “It's gotta be,” I added. “It's just like Essence to take the dick on a road trip. Any idea who it is?”

“Not a clue. She hasn't said a word about anyone new.”

“Well, she's going through quite a bit of trouble to keep this one undercover.” I could hear the faint ringing of a school bell.

“Uh oh. That's the five-minute warning bell. I don't have much time left so enough about her, what about you? Have you gotten your pipes oiled yet?”

“I'm not here for that, Keela,” I replied almost too quickly.”

“That don't mean you can't get some while you there. Girl, you in Jamaica. You betta find you a Dexter!”

“Keela, I've been here exactly four hours. You think men just walk around with their penises slung over their shoulders looking for women to service? Besides, I've had more than enough Dexters in my life; thank you very much!” I grinned. I knew what was coming next.

“You can never, and I mean never, have too many Dexters!”

I refocused my attention on the solitaire game, moving the queen of hearts to the king of clubs. “You are not going to worry me, Keela. You're starting to sound more like Essence everyday!”

“Well, Essence ain't sleeping alone every night either. And for the record, if I recall correctly, it's been almost one year since you last got you some good stuff and two years since you had your last orgasm! Randy has been hell on your sex life.” Keela continued through my protests. “Look, I'm your best friend. Who knows you better than me? I'm trying to help you out. You go without good sex for too long, not only will your stress level shoot way up, but your skin will break out! And a diva can't have bad skin.”

I glanced at the clock. “Girl, this is going to be the most expensive therapy session you've ever conducted. They're burying Mama Grace the day after tomorrow and I figure a few days after that, I'll be ready to come home.”

“Aiiiiight! Let a sistah know and she may come get you from the airport.”

“You got it.” Then, my voice dropped to a level just a notch above a whisper, even though I was alone in the house. “Keela?”

“Yeah, girl?”

“Damon's here. He helped take care of Mama Grace before she died.” I closed my eyes as Keela drew in a breath out of surprise. “What? Are you sure?”

“My uncle told me when he picked me up from the airport, but I didn't have the guts to ask him any questions.”

“You're such a chicken.” She paused and let the news sink in. “Well, I'll be damned.” She, too, lowered her voice to a whisper. “I got news, too, but it can wait.”

“You sure?” I asked but was already betting money in my head that this was just going to be another installment of “The Keela and Dwayne Saga – Ghetto Love”. “I have plenty of time.”

“Later's better. The kids are gonna' be traipsing in here any minute.” As if on cue, the piercing school bell rang. “See,” Keela griped. “You could lose your hearing working here. I better go. Watch yourself, Kingston.” The tenderness in her voice almost made the tears flow again.

“Don't worry about me.” I stood and tried to end the conversation with enthusiasm I didn't feel. “Be good.”

“And you be better,” she answered, then hung up. In the twelve years we'd known each other, she had never once said good-bye. She didn't believe in goodbyes—said they were bad luck.

Keela, Essence, and I met our freshman year at Howard University. Keela and I were roommates – occupying space on the third floor of Crandall Hall – the freshmen women's dorm. Essence lived above us on the fourth floor.

The first night, Essence was so loud that Keela and I stayed up half the night debating what to do. We were finally so upset from having no sleep that we marched upstairs in our pajamas intending to deal with the problem. We banged on the door and this girl, with enough weave to put at least ten horses to shame, opened the door butt-naked! I don't know whose mouth dropped to the floor quicker, Keela's or mine.

“Are you going to join in or just enjoy the view?” she asked, causing some guy—who we later found out was the quarterback for the football team—to laugh in the background.

Our faces turned even brighter red.

“I can handle all y'all,” he drawled in an accent straight from Mississippi. His real name was Bernard, but his nickname was Slick.

We didn't stick around to join in or watch, but took our new-to-the-big-city butts back downstairs.

“They don't know nothing about breakin' in a new place,” Essence said as she closed the door. When we returned to our room, the noise had resumed—it was her way of laughing at us.

And she was still laughing the next day in the cafeteria when she glided by us on the arm of yet another fine dude. She had shut us up and won our admiration at the same time. After that day, we became inseparable.

I sat quietly for a few minutes. It was getting late and I expected Bianca to be here by now. Even though the sun had set, the humidity still hung in the air. A moist film had covered my body for most of the day and was starting to wreak havoc on my hygiene. So I gathered the necessities for my nightly ceremony: herbal shampoo, conditioner, and body scrub, a loofah sponge, salt sea oil, almond body cream, and the vanilla-scented candle I always packed in case of an emergency. I slipped my neatly manicured toes into bright yellow flip-flops, hung a right at the kitchen and headed east in search of heaven—the outdoor shower.

Being a Cancer, I connect very deeply with water. At least that's what the psychic told me when I called. And for a hundred bucks, I had to believe she was right.

Mom told me that around 1962, Papa broke down and installed a shower inside. She said he just got so sick of Mama Grace bitchin' every time she had to haul one of the kids out back to scrub them down. Now I'm figuring around 1962, most of them kids should have been damn near grown so weren't they old enough to wash their own behinds?

Standing outside, gazing up at the sky, the sweet tang of hyacinth in the air with warm water running down your body could be a very spiritual thing. It also could be a very sexy thing under different circumstances, of course. I sighed as I felt a familiar stir in my belly, knowing if I squeezed my eyes tight and pretended really hard, I wouldn't be alone in that shower.

“Now is not the time, Miss Kingston.” I forced the knob until the water sputtered, then blasted full force from the showerhead. The temperature of the water was not as hot as I liked it, but the water caressed me as it cascaded down my body. Bending my head back under the stream of water, my scalp began to tingle. I massaged the silky lather into my skin, beginning at the base of my neck. By the time I reached my stomach, my legs were clenched together tightly. Keela was right. It had been too long since I had felt appreciated by a man. The kind of man whose appreciation keeps a smile on your face all day long and makes your soul jump in anticipation with the thought of seeing him. It had been way too long. I quickly washed my hair and rinsed off before wrapping myself in a fluffy brown towel.

There was a bit of bun and cheese in the fridge and that sufficed for dinner. I munched while pecking on my laptop—the two-finger tango—the faint noise of kids playing in the street mixed with horns honking and wheels screeching as neighbors rushed home from work. While I tried to drum up ideas for the proposal for Scooby's debut album, I also worked on losing my eighth straight game of Solitaire.

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