paint september (a jazz tale) pt 1

Warning: Contains Profanity

Disclaimer: Longer than typical short story

Strange things happened to me at the tender age of ten. I was just another little country girl in the neighborhood of Ella Bella, attending Ella Elementary. My mother, Hope, was the adult mirror image of myself. She was beautiful and she was married to a struggling musician, with a great obsession for all things involving the saxophone. She wore make up all day, even if she was not leaving the house. Her waist was always tightly squeezed into some tight dress with a low neckline. My mother grew up in a small town not too far away from Ella Bella on a farm.
She met my father, Joseph Smith, at a small “juke joint” back in their heydays. He swooned her with his smooth saxophone playing and Ray Charles renditions. She watched his lips tighten around the reed of the sax and her spine tingled like it had been pricked by some wonderful thorn. She stood up and clapped her hands and caught eyes with the musician, she told me later in my teenage years, and lifted her eye brows. Then, she told me with a laugh and a twinkle in her blazing dark eyes, he looked at the ground like a little boy. My father denies the allegation. He grabs his saxophone every time he tells his side of the story, which isn’t far from my mothers, he claims that he walked over and kissed her hand making her giggle, friends looking on enviously.
My mother was tender and flighty. She often dreamed of going off to the city just to breathe in different air. She claimed the country had a tight hold of her and she was beginning not to be able to breath. She continued to line her closets with dresses that were uniquely different from her southern women friends. No one envied my mother, however, she had plenty of friends in the neighborhood who thought high of themselves and it showed. Over the years, the neighborhood went from long rural roads into an inhabitant of up and coming middle class black folk that wanted a new “home”. More and more houses begin to line up until Ella Bella became a place that people could pin point on the map.
There was a time, however, when there was no houses lined up. My family lived in this house long before my birth and the walls had stories. It could speak of my parents slow dancing to jazz records in house shoes. My mother being with child, first with my brother David, and then with me, Grace. But before we were there, the house was given to my father from his uncle. It was in his will that Joseph was to receive his home. My mother knew then that he was marriage material, and the day he received the home was the day that in fact she agreed to get married.
When I was ten, my mother finally got her wish and decided to go visit distant relatives up in New York City for the summer. She decided to take my brother instead of me since he was three years older. I watched her powder her face with my lips in a tight angry line, arms folded.
“Oh baby” she cooed, attempting to hide her excitement. “I will take you one day, baby. I promise. You be a good girl. I‘ll be back before you start school, okay?.” Her eyelashes dark, long, and curly made her eyes shine like pearls and her soft brown skin gleamed against the lamp sitting by her side.
“But what are me and daddy gonna do without you?” I asked holding back tears.
“Oh you’ll find something to do.”
“But what if we don’t?”
“Grace, stop. Don’t be sad, you acting like I‘m going away forever and a day.” She excitedly applied a deep red to her lips and rubbed them together. “Want some?” I nodded trying to hide a smile. She softly brushed the tip of the lipstick onto my lips. “Now, rub them together.” I obediently did so, then my father emerged in the doorway. He looked upset as well. It was not until those 3 months she was gone that I realized how he could not do without her. That was also the first time that I met Morris.

Joseph, my father, woke me up everyday with the blast of his saxophone. I lay across the soft sky blue and yellow blankets of my bed sleepily and listened for a while. He would play with much more passion than he would when my mother was home. I guessed because when my mother was home she would hush him and tell him not to wake up the kids.
The saxophone would play loud, bouncing off of the walls and flowing through the small home and into my room. I would smile slightly. I could tell he was hoping the notes would stretch all the way to New York and enter my mother’s ears as it did the first day that they laid eyes on each other.
Finally, when my father grew tired of his own obsession he would make his way into my room and ask me if I was getting up anytime soon. There were soft crinkles around his eyes. Why bother? I would ask and turn over. He jumped on the bed and tickled me and made me happy and angry at the same time.
“Why didn’t you make her stay? I asked once. He just looked down without an answer. We were acting as though we had been orphaned, but the love for the mother of a household is stronger than the wrath of a rural tornado. My father framed my face with his hands and told me we had to do something with ourselves before we went crazy. What? He had a gig tonight at a local jazz club with his other band members. You’re in a band? Yeah, something like that love.
My mother would have jumped on a plane that very day if she knew that I was being invited into one of the clubs he performed in. She’s a child! My mother would have lashed out at him. But nothing she could say or do would change these arrangements. My father and I now had a pact, and it grew into a connection that could have only been made possible with my mother’s absence.
I sat on my parents large bed against the pillows watching my father adjust the buttons on his shirt. He had on a shiny black hat low over his eyes. I smiled at his appearance, proud that this was my father.
“You have such intense stares,” He commented. “Like your mother.” He cleared his throat. I jumped up and stood next to his side, staring into the mirror. I looked into my own eyes for a few moments.
“Well, are you ready to ride?” he asked.
“Yes!” Truly, we were latch key kids that night, my father and I. My mother was not here and her rules were ruled out. Small price to pay for leaving us behind!
The memory of the location of the gig is vague in my memory. I do remember being locked up in a dressing room with my father and his friends. There was smoke everywhere and people coming in and out.
“Hey!” Joseph shouted. “My kid is in here, have some respect.”
“She ain’t supposed to be here no how, Jo,” A lady spoke, standing long and lean inside of the doorway. She had on a long red dress and red fur around her long protruding neck. Her eyes were dark, and so were the circles surrounding them. Her long hands moved slowly upwards and she took a puff of her cigarette. She eyed me carefully.
“She’s got every right to be here, and she ain’t going no damn where, alright Monique? Cut out that sass talk,” Joseph answered. The only other person I had ever heard call my father Jo, was my mother when she wasn’t in an angry mood. I didn’t know what was going on, but I did not like it.
“Yeah,” Monique smiled licking her front teeth with her tongue. She reminded me of snake, a red one. Her hair was long, unlike my mother, that kept hers in tight curls framing her small face. Monique tossed her dark hair back and walked to the mirror. Her skin was dark, almost black as coals, and shinned like diamonds. Her white teeth were long and formed a pleasant, sneaky smile.
“What is your name, love?” She asked.
“G-Grace,” I managed, backing away.
“Oh come on, you aren’t scared of me, are ya?” She put the cigarette back up to her lips. “I’m a singer. You ever heard of singers being bad people?”
“No, ma’am,” I answered.
“I ain’t no ma’am!” Monique said firmly, then allowing a smile to form from her dark lined lips.
“Leave her alone,” The trumpet player said walking away.
“Oh shut up!” Monique lashed throwing her arms up. “Where is your mommy?” She continued.
“New York,” I answered. Her words were tender but I still felt a small fear inside. This lady seemed to slither around, and her eyes moved like darts from place to place. Then she would turn to the mirror constantly to make sure she still looked the same as she did a few seconds before.
“Want to see Jo in action?” She beckoned, holding out her long bony hand. I hesitated but before I knew it, I was following behind her down a narrow hall, then there I was behind a curtain peeking through. There was my father, eyes closed, leaning backwards belting out that great jazz music that he loved so much. I could feel my lips stretch between my ears in a smile of sheer amazement.
“He sounds good, doesn’t he?” Monique whispered behind me.
“He does!” I whispered back, no longer afraid of her presence.
“His music is beautiful. It touches everybody. He writes his own music…your father. He writes and he writes…it’s a surprise his damn fingers are still in tact.” She paused for a moment, sending smoke from her nostrils then continued. “He’s gonna make it one day, little baby. Your father, he’s gonna make it. Mark my words, and I will be right there by his side singing my heart out.”
My father was arching his body forward and the hat on his head fell to the stage but he continued with shiny beads of sweat falling from his forehead onto the keys of the saxophone, glistening boldly in the light. The audience swayed and snapped in unison.
“The birds couldn’t sing a better tune,” Monique begin again and the music stopped. The audience clapped, and Monique and I, the backstage audience joined in. I turned back and looked at her. We caught eyes and then I grabbed her hand.
“You can make it big too,” I said. I’m not sure why, to this day, why I said it. I suppose I was just excited from my father’s performance. She stared at me with her mouth slightly open as though she had never took the thought into consideration.
“Come on baby!” Joseph emerged from the curtain and sweeped me off of my feet. I could smell the sweat on the brim of his collar.
“You were so good!” I yelled. “You were the greatest!” He carried me off and I looked behind me watching Monique stunned in the same spot looking into the distance of nothing.
Joseph grabbed all of his things from the dressing room, making slick comments about the other players performance. They clapped hands making leisurely jokes as I stood there, eyes beginning to droop. I was still excited about the performance but I knew I would not be able to share it with anyone. I wouldn’t even be able to tell my mother, which I was told very firmly not to. There’s no telling what she might say or do, that mother of yours, my father had said.
After that night I had never seen my father the same again. I admired him and his art. I saw his soul pour into that saxophone and I wondered if he had sold his soul to it when I grew older. He treated the saxophone as if it were the air in his lungs, the beat in his heart. His hands would fall off if they could not hold that sweet saxophone. The three months of my mothers absence he played vigorously. He was becoming anxious and losing sleep. The saxophone should have been heard throughout the neighborhood because he put every inch of air in his lungs into that thing. His anger would blow into it as though he wanted to inflict pain upon it. I covered my ears occasionally and prayed silently that my mother would come home and end this madness.

A moving truck was down the street, Rita Calloway my best friend, informed me. She stood outside of the door screen in a brown dress with small pink flowers scattered all over it.
“How do you know?”
“My mom told me. You coming out?” I opened the door to let her in and we walked into the kitchen where my father stood, looking out of the window.
“Dad, can I go outside with Rita?” We both smiled in unison.
“What’s outside besides bugs that bite and grass that irritates the skin?” Joseph asked. Our young minds twisted in confusion and we exchanged glances.
“Bugs don’t bite all the time,” Rita offered.
“Grass doesn’t irritate either,” I added. “Not unless you roll around in it and let the bugs in the grass get a hold of ya.” My father’s eyes squinted in confusion at this retaliation and threw his hand towards the door. Rita and I quickly made our escape.
“Your dad is weird,” Rita said, as we made our way down the street. Sure enough, there was a moving truck and it was not the first one I had seen here in Ella Bella.
“My mom said the neighborhood is getting too crowded. She says a place can’t be perfect but for so long,” Rita offered.
“What does that mean?”
“Oh you know! She said the youth is already getting mixed messages on tv and stuff. Say it’s going to start happening here in Ella…hey, when is your mom coming back? My mom was wondering.” I shrugged, not because I didn’t know, but to show indifference of the situation. I hated how Rita repeated her mother all the time. Rita hardly knew what those big words meant half the time. In my opinion, her mother talks too much and has too much of an opinion.
Before we realized it, we were standing next to the truck and watching the new family as though they were a science project.
“Hi,” Said a petite brown lady, looking at us from behind a small brown box she was carrying. That was the beginning. That was when Rita, Morris, and I stood staring at each other. Morris was shorter than the both of us and had not grown into his ears yet. He looked at the ground and tugged at his shirt.
“Do you want to go to the park with us?” Rita asked. I nudged her. I didn’t want him coming with us. He was a boy, he couldn’t be too much fun.
“He sure does,” Ruth, his mother, answered for him. “Go on, Morris. Be home in time for your dinner.”
“Yes ma’am,” He answered. We walked ahead of him a while as he reluctantly followed behind us.
“I’m Rita,” Rita said, then pointed to me. “That’s my best friend, Grace.”
“I’m Morris, and I don’t hang out with girls. You guys are weird.” He ran off. That was our first encounter. Now that I think of his statement I wonder if I should have took that hint early on. But that would be unfair, it is normal for young kids to only want to hang with those of the same sex.
So we watched him run off without stopping him or saying a word. We watched him until he disappeared behind rows of plum trees in the distance.
“Hope he makes it home in time for dinner,” I mumbled.
“Me too.” One person did make it home that evening, just in time for dinner, and that was my mother. My parents clung onto each other for so long I thought they would never let go. They kissed they hugged. They rubbed noses and whispered to each other. I thought of Morris as the colors of the setting sun caressed their loving faces.

***Present
Being 22 I have come face to face with an unfulfilling future. Rita, my childhood friend, invited me to come live with her in her well put together 2 bedroom apartment up north. Her boyfriend, Rick, used to stay here but after months of nothing but lonely nights Rita put him out. He still comes around, which oddly enough Rita allows. They smoke weed together and he writes songs for her. I refuse to be hooked up with any of his friends.
Tonight is just an ordinary night for me. I’m sitting up listening to the radio and thinking of everything. What am I going to do with my life? What career should I go after? I guess my problem is I’ve never been as ambitious as I would have liked to be. Why was I not like other people in this world that dreamed of being a doctor, lawyer, or even a school teacher. I never knew what I wanted to be. I’ve never watched detective movies and yearned to be a part of the team.
My mother calls every now and then, along with my brother, asking me what I’m up to. My brother, David, just began working as a paramedic. He says its exciting work, at the same time it can be stressful. He told me I would like that kind of work too. I doubted it. I would not be able to handle having to load a person into an ambulance that had been stabbed numerous times. I would throw up, I would scream, I would cry.
“Hi,” Rita slowly walked through the front door interrupting my thoughts. Rita had been working as an assistant for a lawyer. She got the job because it was a guy that she used to date before Rick, Wesley. Her ends were meeting quite well unlike her roommate. I have been working for endless amount of retail stores that hardly want to pay me anything. David constantly says, “You just need a skill. Just one skill and you will make the money you need.”
Rita flopped down on the couch and grabbed her stomach. “I think I had too much to drink. I feel like hell.”
“Did you drive home?” She nodded. I shook my head.
“Did Rick call?”
“No.” Rita grew quiet. “Is he supposed to be coming over?”
“I don’t know. Why are you sitting in the dark?”
“Just thinking about everything.” We sat in silence for a while.
“You fled the scene, of my dreams. With your lips still tainting my never-seen. In the night, stars allured the loneliness. Made me reminisce of earlier moments of bliss. Your hands grace my shoulder blades. On that hot summer day, behind the curtains…stained Champagne and Indigo…..”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Something I’ve been writing,” Her smile was soft and her eyes were still closed. “Writing….Anthony showed me that writing can heal your deepest pain.” Anthony was the boy Rita loved in high school. The poetic soul that changed her life in more ways than one..and in more ways than I liked.
“I’ve never really been into that. I don’t think I can.”
“Everybody needs something that can take their mind off their pain. Think of Morris. He paints. He heals.” The sound of his name awakened me. I had not told Rita about Morris. I was unsure if he wanted her to know, but at this point I doubt he would care…it was only Rita.
“Drifting in the sea of lustful energy, we are so lost,” Rita continued, beginning to slur her words.
“Maybe you should go to bed.”
“Do you still think about him? I’ve never really asked you.”
“Who?”
“Come on Grace, you know who I’m talking about. Morris.” I looked down, avoiding her eyes.
“I do.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t understand you two. After all of this time, why aren’t you two together? Why did he let you come here?”
“It wasn’t his decision if I came here or not!” I snapped defensively. Rita’s eyes widened as though she meant to say it inside of her head.
“Morris and I are not together because of other circumstances that you don’t know shit about. Rita, you’ve never asked before so why are you so curious now? All you’ve ever cared about was Rick. Rick this and Rick that.”
“That’s a lie! Don’t get all offensive with me because Morris ain’t your man. I don’t have shit to do with that. I told you to come live with me as a damn friend. If you don’t like the way I handle mine then you can always go back to good ol Ella Bella. It’s not about Rick,” Rita stood up pointing a drunken finger in my direction. “It’s about me being happy. I just want to be happy. You don’t know how it feels to have real love. You’ve been too busy having a stupid puppy love with Morris…but when you get real love you will act just the same way. Grow up, Grace! Grow the fuck up!” I stood up and we glared at each other.
“Don’t tell me to grow up. You haven’t done anything miraculous in your life that I should be envious of. Wow, you were screwing a lawyer and became his assistant. So what! Anybody can pull that off. Does Rick know about that? I bet if he did you wouldn’t be so lovely high all the time.”
“I was not having sex with him, we were dating. So that’s what you think of me? Grace get out of my house. I want you out!”
“He’s gay, Rita.”
“Who’s gay?”
“Morris! He’s gay! That’s why he doesn’t want me. Are you happy now? That’s why I have never really been loved because the one person who I thought loved me is gay. Gay!” Rita slowly sat down and begin to bite her fingernails.
“I didn’t know,” She spoke softly. I walked away into the bedroom and pulled my two suitcases out of the closet. With trembling hands I begin to grab clothes out of the closets and drawers and stuffed them into their proper places. My eyes were hot with tears when Rita emerged in the doorway.
“All these years?” Her lips trembled.
“Yes,” I sobbed. “After all these years. After all the nights we laid together. After all the times we’ve hugged and kissed. After sharing everything…it has been one big lie. It has been a friendship and nothing more. I was his practice toy. I was showing him how to love another man.” Rita gulped. I was wondering if she would remember any of this in the morning but it seemed she was sobering up quickly.
“I didn’t know,” She repeated.
“I’ll be out of your way tomorrow. I’m sure Rick has been waiting to get his room back.”
“He’s not moving back in. Rick and I will never get back together, Grace. Save your breath.” I sat slowly on the bed with my back facing Rita. “He only loves me when I’m not around. That’s the worst kind of love, you know? Because that ain’t love at all.” Five long silent minutes crept by.
“Remember when we were in high school and you started dating Anthony. God, Morris and I used to think you were never going to snap out of it. You started dressing like a hippie, you twisted your hair, you were always high.”
“Anthony was something’ else.”
“What did your mom have to say about him?”
“All kinds of things.” Rita sat next to me. “I’ve been smoking a long time. I do it moderately. Do not criticize me. I am a good person. I pay my bills, I work, and I love my friends and family.” I laughed.
“You sound like you’re in a rehab explaining yourself.”
“Grace, I like to get high. Weed is not like crack or heroin. You don’t get addicted, you don’t steal vcr’s and televisions to get more. You don’t fiend for it. You don’t get skinny or start looking like a zombie from it.” I laughed again. “Anthony had me in another world. It was a wonderful, warm world. I miss it.”
“You’re drunk.”
“Kind of.”
“I wasn’t asking I was telling.”
“So you and Morris never?”
“No, you know that.”
“So why were you so in love?”
“Because it’s not about that, Rita.”
“I know I know.” Rita got up and made her way to the room, softly closing my door. I looked at my suitcases and sighed.
My hand gripped the phone and I finally dialed Morris’ number after months of avoiding his existence.
“Hello?” His sleepy voice made me glance at the clock that read 2 am.
“I’m sorry it’s so late,” My own voice surprised me. It was mellow and rugged.
“Grace?”
“Yes, it’s me.”
“Where have you been? Your parents told me but I just…I thought you would called sooner. What the hell, Grace?”
“I’ve been dealing with things, Morris. My life isn’t coming together like I need it to. I feel like I’m all over the place but not getting anywhere. Rita and I got into an argument and well…she’s drunk so I forgive her. I said some bad things to her too. We just…I don’t know.”
“How is Rita Pita?” He offered a small laugh.
“Drunk.”
“That’s what I need right about now. A good hard drink. Something to burn my insides.”
“How is life treating you?”
“Grace…I don’t know anymore. I thought you would be there for me. You left without a word. It hurt me. The one girl I know and trust no longer wants to be a part of my life.”
“It isn’t that,” My eyes grew hot, and I closed them together tightly as the tears made their way through and into the holes of the phone. “Morris, I do care about you. You are my best friend. I don’t want you to ever think otherwise. I just can’t deal with this.”
“With what?”
“With your decisions.”
“What decisions?”
“I know I told you I understand, but honestly my heart will not let me understand.”
“What are you saying, Grace?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you trying to say that you can’t be there for me? I kind of figured that once you left.”
“That’s the thing,” I was whispering, trying not to awaken Rita. “I want to be there for you. But who is going to be there for me?”
“Sounds a little selfish to me. What do you need somebody to be there for you for? What are you going through that I’m not?”
“No, I mean emotionally. I mean, when you told me, it hurt me. Not because I think its wrong that you are what you are but because…” I could not finish the sentence. I could not say because I love you. Morris did not need that kind of burden on him at this point. What would he say? How would he feel?
“Because of what then?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re not making sense tonight. Maybe you should call me tomorrow, it is a little late to be trying to have deep conversations.”
“Have you found anyone?” I interrupted.
“What?”
“I mean, I remember a year ago is when you told me. You were afraid then. You were afraid to go out and find someone to love. You were confused then, but that was a long time ago. Are things the same?” I was afraid of the answer but I sat in an unbearable silence waiting.
“Things are not the same as they were. No, I have not told my family yet but they will know soon. I want you to be there. As far as having someone, not really. I mean, I met someone that I could see myself with but I’m not rushing into anything.”
“What’s he like?”
“Just laid back, a lot like me. Not flamboyant because I’m not into that. He likes art and spoken word. Tall.” I gulped.
“Have you…”
“What?”
“Have you gotten over your fear of intimacy?” I scrunched my whole face up in fear.
“Damn, Grace you are killing me with these questions. Well, I wouldn’t call it a fear but what I can say is I haven’t gotten to that point. I’m trying to take things slow. I just met the guy.”
“Well, I didn’t mean him, I meant in general.”
“No Grace, I have not been with another man yet. That’s none of your business though. Trust me, you’re not going to receive a phone call when it’s all said and done.”
“You just don’t know how I feel at this exact moment.”
“Why? Because I am answering your questions, truthfully?”
“I’m happy you are. I just. You have to understand that this is a whole new you now. The you I knew for the past 20 something years is a whole new person. I feel like you are somewhat of a stranger that I have to get to know all over again.”
“Why? The only change is what kind of person that I love.”
“You’re right. I may be coming home soon.”
“I’ll grab you and never let you go.”

****

I had to be to work the next afternoon. Once I had on my casual attire with my hair pulled back into a descent looking ponytail, I made my way there. I work at a family clothing store called Hipewars. Similar to a JC Penny but not quite as nice. My manager, Peggy, is a nice woman. She is short and stubby with long puffy blonde hair and dark roots. Her smile is sincere and her flowery dresses can get a bit over the top but all in all she’s great. She was on the schedule to work with me today so I knew I had to do everything that was expected of me because she never took her eye off her employees.
I was greeting the customers, offering assistance, ringing disgruntled customers up that were upset that they had to bring back their medium size shirts that didn’t quite fit. Finally, we slowed down and Peggy came behind the register and sat on a stool. Small beads of sweat were resting on her brow, she wiped it away.
“Didn’t know we were going to be so busy today. Is it some special occasion?” She asked.
“I don’t know. Must be.”
“That’s good. We need all the business we can get. See if you can sell those new shirts we just got in. Their supposed to be popular with the new surfer look these young guys like to portray all the time.”
“Okay.”
“You seem so tired. You’re eyes look so dull today, something wrong sugar?”
“Oh no, maybe I’m just a little tired. Couldn’t sleep that well last night,” I replied innocently.
“Something bothering you?”
“No.”
“Oh okay.” She walked off to help an old lady shuffling around in the hat section. I looked around the store and got lost in my thoughts for a while. I thought of Rita she probably didn’t have to go to work today since she was drinking last night. She probably got up this morning and glanced in my room, wondering if our argument was only a dream. There was no way I could have just up and left this morning to go back home. That would infringe on my good reference with Peggy. I was going to need her in the future so I most definitely had to stay on her good side. I wanted to show her that I was a good worker. I do not mix my personal problems with work. So no, I was not going to be like the other people that work here that go on and on about what’s going on in their lives while their at work. Besides, I doubt any advice would be helpful to my situation.
The thought of Morris and I conversation last night was a constant repeat inside of my head. He had grown so confident of himself over this past year. I could not believe that I had not bothered to keep in contact and attempt to help him through. Selfishly, I left so that I could pretend the ordeal never happened. I was determined now, more than ever, to get over it and help him through it. He hadn’t even told his family yet. I had to be there when he did. Would he tell them over dinner? I would be there for him. I owed him that much. Maybe Rita was right, I needed to grow up. Everyone gets disappointed by someone that they think they love. Maybe I didn’t love him that way, maybe it was just a strong friendship that just felt like something else. Something stronger.
“Grace could you bring out more Lou Baby shirts. They’re sellin’ like hotcakes!”
“Okay!”
I didn’t blame Rita for telling me to grow up. All this time that I’ve been foolishly in love with Morris is crazy, at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself, just not in those words. Maybe I should apologize to her for saying that thing about the lawyer. Hell, I never dated a lawyer. But she was drunk so there is a good chance that she may not remember. I could see her face from last night, fresh in my mind. Her eyes produced flames, her tongue striked like a cobra, her finger shook drunkenly. I smiled. That may have been the first time we ever got in a real argument and it was over absolutely nothing. I would say sorry first thing when I got home. Poor Rita, she had been going through her own emotional problems with Rick also. No wonder she smokes all the time. Must be nice to be high and unaware. Why didn’t I ever jump on the band wagon in my younger days when being reckless was just a way of life?
“Thanks Grace. You are such a sweet girl,” Peggy called from the distance. She made her way back up the front. “You know all my life, I’ve been working hard. Every since I was little girl, I’ve been working hard. Worked on my Daddy’s farm, and tended to all my siblings. I came up here determined to do the same and it’s all coming together. You work hard too and it will do the same for you, young lady. You just might own a store of your own one day girly. Never give up!” I smiled sweetly. I wouldn’t want to own a store like this if I had to. Peggy waddled away on her tree stomp legs smiling at unnoticing customers and straightened up more clothes that were already straightened.
Yes, it was time for me to go home for a while, just to catch up on things. I wanted to see my daddy. He didn’t call as much as my mom and David. I thought of him and that saxophone and it made me smile. I would show up to one of his late night performances and surprise him. I would go lend a shoulder to Morris and I would tell David I’m glad he found some stability. Yes, it was time to get home for just a little while.

“What do you want to go to Ella Bella for?” Rita scrunched up her face when I told her.
“I just want to visit. Nothing permanent. Besides, I miss seeing my family. I talked to Morris last night, after our little argument, and well he needs me.”
“For what?” Rita smiled.
“That isn’t funny. For emotional support. It’s hard to come out to your family, especially to his family.”
“They don’t know yet?”
“Nope.”
“Maybe I should come too. My mom has been talking a lot of junk lately about how I never come home.”
“You should, Rita. It’ll be like old times, we can all go out.” Rita nodded smiling.

****Past
I can almost replay the year that I was fourteen. I was not developing quickly enough like all the other girls around me, including Rita. Secretly, Rita was making me sick, prancing around in her tight shirts and jeans. We had the same style except I didn’t quite fill out my clothes that well. However, some guys still attempted to talk to me and that made me feel a little better about myself. We were freshman in high school finally, and all we wanted were the older boys and the athletes that didn’t even know we existed.
Morris, on the other hand, was just tall and lanky and the older girls thought he was cute but that was as far as that went. He didn’t know we noticed it, but we noticed he started wanting to work out all the time and be like the older guys. He was tired of looking like a young skinny boy. But Morris had always been cute and always had if not one then two girls looking his way. You have to understand that at this time, I truly believed that Morris was straight. Maybe he was, who really knows?
Trey Marshall was the apple of my eye. He was a junior and played quarterback for the Ella Bella High School football team. Never had I knew that a football game could be so exciting and so much of a fashion show. Everybody showed up wearing their favorite outfits trying to impress either somebody on the field, on the sidelines, or in the bleachers. Our community was obsessed with football. They lived and breathed it. Everybody was always happier, naturally, during the football season. It brought life to the community it seemed.
Trey Marshall was tall, physically beautiful, gray eyes, dark sparkly hair, and perfect lips. I was obsessed with everything Trey Marshall. You could always catch him in the newspaper in the air doing something great. His smile was unforgettable and I can still pretty much envision that smile if I think hard enough. When I walked past him in the school hallways my stomach would flip over and my knees would rattle. Boy, I would have loved to get a hold of Trey Marshall. However, my brother was a senior and was watching me like a hawk in the sky with every move I made, so I made sure not to give him any hint of who I wanted.
High school seemed like a dream come true as a freshman, there were boys everywhere, always some type of activity going on, and constant drama that was pure entertainment for the whole school. My brother was a basketball player and had a groupie list of his own, which I don’t know why since in my opinion he looks like he was born in a sewer. That’s my brother though and I love him, but honestly I don’t get it. I guess it could be because he never misses a three point shot.
“There goes TM,” Rita said nudging me. My eyes shot down to my lunch tray. Morris turned and looked around the cafeteria.
“Who’s TM?” Morris asked.
“No one,” I said quickly. Rita started giggling and a slow smile spread across his face.
“Ohh, Grace. Grace and Trey sittin’ in a tree!”
“Shut up Morris! I do not like him.”
“Liar. Come on, did you think you were going to say TM and I wasn’t going to figure it out. Who doesn’t know his initials? He has a girlfriend if you didn’t know.”
“He does?” I asked, heartbroken. “Who?”
“The hottest lady in this damn school,” Morris smiled, taking in handful of fries. “Kiana Thomas.”
“Kiana Thomas!” Rita and I gasped. We both shut up quickly as some of the students looked back at us.
“Kiana Thomas,” I whispered to myself. “She’s….”
“Fine as hell!” Morris said.
“Shut up,” Rita giggled. “It’s okay. It’s not like Trey notices any of us freshman girls anyway. You can keep on having a crush on him, it’s not like you’ll ever get him.” Her and Morris begin laughing uncontrollably. I looked up only to see Trey and his friends laughing and slapping hands. He was gorgeous. I sighed.
“This is disgusting to watch,” Morris commented. “Get yourself together before I throw up.”
“Hey I got an idea. Morris you take Kiana away from Trey and then Grace can have Trey!”
“Yeah right. What would she want with his skinny self?”
“I’m bigger than you.”
“Hey hey,” Rita put her hands up. “No need to argue.” We all kept eating in silence.
“I’ll get him,” I said. “Watch me.”
****

The band was in full force. The cheerleaders were chanting and throwing their bodies in the air. The crowd was screaming and clapping. One of the biggest games of the year. There Rita and I stood by the snack booth watching the half time show.
“Hey!” Kiana ran up to her friends and they all hugged each other.
“Your hair is so cute.”
“No, yours is cuter.”
“Girl, how do you get your highlights to shine so good?”
“How do you get your chest to sit up so good?” They all bursted into laughter.
“Ugh,” Rita said. “Upper classmen girls sure like to act dumb. I hope we never act like that.”
“She’s pretty,” I said.
“Huh? Oh, Kiana,” Rita waved her hand. “She’s okay.”
“No, she really is pretty. I hate her. Look at how her braids always look like she just got them done. Look at her shape.”
“Stop sounding like that,” Rita said. “You know a little confidence never hurt anybody. You need some confidence in your life.”
“How can I have confidence with nothing to be confident about?”
“Socks, baby.”
“What?”
“Put socks in your bra.”
“Hell no, what if they fall out?”
“Then you’re a dumbass for putting them in wrong. Look, if you put it under your boob it will push them up. If you want braids, I can get my cousin to braid your hair better than hers.” I thought about it.
“What about my chicken legs?”
“Wear another pair of pants underneath the ones you got on!”
“You’re alright!”
“Yeah, I know my shit.”
“Are you going to the party tonight?” Kiana asked one of her friends as they walked by. “It’s going to be bangin’!”
“I wouldn’t miss it!”
“Hey, why don’t your brother hook us up with some party invites anyway?” Rita asked.
“You think my brother will let us in any party that he’s going to be at? Please. Don’t worry, next year he’ll be out of sight and mind.”
“I can’t wait.”

******

“You’re boyfriend has got to be the best football player I’ve ever seen! Yo, did you see him last night? Man, wait until I start training!” Morris said excitedly. I was walking to class trying to think of other things.
“Look Morris, I got to get to class.”
“What’s your problem?”
“Nothing, okay!” I walked off. I didn’t want Morris to notice my drastic change. I had put on two pairs of pants under my jeans and now I could hardly breathe. I had also added a sock or two in my bra. As I approached my locker, Rita met me half way.
“You really went over the top this time, Grace.”
“I knew it! Does it look bad?”
“No. You look great. But it’s obvious.”
“Damn.”
“Did your brother see you?”
“No, not yet.”
“See ya.” I tossed my books into the locker and took a deep breath. The bell rung and it was only me in the hallway until Trey came walking through. I almost gasped but remained cool and begin to walk.
“Nice legs freshman.” I turned around and he was staring straight at me. Oh my God! It worked!
“Grace.”
“What?”
“My name is Grace.”
“Trey.”
“Who?” He laughed, then his smile faded.
“Trey Marshall. The quarterback.”
“Oh yeah.”
“You David’s little sister? You’re cute…Grace.” He walked off. My knees almost buckled. That was the last thing he had ever said to me.

****

“Grace!” I was standing on the porch talking to a disbelieving Morris and Rita when my mom kept calling me into the house.
“Yes?” She was sitting up on her bed, with David standing beside her arms crossed. They both looked at me seriously.
“Come here.”
“What?”
“I said come here!” I stepped closer. “David said you came to school today with your bra stuffed and with padding under your pants, is that true?” My eyes widened and I hit him on the arm.
“It’s true. You looked like a fool, luckily I’m the only one who noticed.”
“Grace, have you lost your mind? I didn’t raise you that way. David you may leave.” David smiled and left the room.
“Mom, why are you mad about this? All I did was stick a stupid sock in my bra.”
“Because you are already trying to put yourself out there and you just got to high school. Grace, you are fourteen, you are still a child, you are still my baby.” I crossed my arms. “I know you see those older girls and you want to look like them too, but give your body time. It will grow on its own. Don’t rush the process, because once you get there you’re going to get tired of men being in your face.”
“What if it doesn’t grow? Look at Rita!”
“Well, that’s Rita. First you need to stop comparing yourself to other girls. It’s not cute to be so insecure Grace so stop it.”
“You don’t understand, you have a shape.”
“I’m also a grown woman. Now you better be mindful of what I said. Don’t let it happen again and I won’t tell your daddy. Goodbye!” She was smiling but it was a tight don’t-play-with-me smile. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I made my way back to the porch where Rita and Morris sat talking and laughing. I sat down quietly.
“What happened?” Rita asked.
“Nothing.”
“So are you going to do it tomorrow? God, I would!”
“No.”
“Why?” They both said.
“Because if someone is going to like me I want it to be because they like what I look like, not what I want to look like.”
“Well said,” Morris said smiling. Rita’s mouth hung open.
“You’re joking right? Girl, please. You better slap them socks back in and make Trey yours!”
“Trey doesn’t want me. He said I was cute. He sees me as a little girl just like all the other upper classmen.”
“He said nice legs,” Rita snapped. “That means hey, I want to touch them and rub them. Who doesn’t want that from Trey?” She raised her hand laughing.
“Don’t listen to her,” Morris said. “He’s a dog looking for a bone. You can do better.”
“Like who? You?” Rita teased.
“Maybe,” Morris shrugged. “I’m cute.”
“That Kiana is a lucky girl,” I mumbled. “Well, I’m going to go inside.”
“Aw, she’s heartbroken,” Morris said.
“Maybe you should think it over. See ya later.” She pulled Morris and they begin walking down the road.
“That Rita sure is hot in the drawers,” David said as I walked into the house.
“No, she isn’t. Stop eavesdropping all the time. I can’t believe you told mom. All you had to do was say to me I looked like a fool and I wouldn’t have done it again.”
“Yeah right. You needed mom to set you right. If you do it again, I’m going to tell again. You’re my sister and you ain’t going to be looking like a little hoe.”
“Shut up! I wasn’t looking like a hoe and I wasn’t trying to be one.”
“And I’m going to tell Trey you have a crush on him, and I’m going to tell Kiana. I bet she’ll punch you right in your face. She’s pretty but she’s tough.”
“I don’t care nothing about her. I don’t want Trey anymore, either.”
“Good.”
“Just mind your own business.”
“It is my business.”
“That’s right,” my mom chimed in, coming from the hallway. “We are a family and everything we do is each other’s business. That’s called love.” By this time, I was sick to my stomach by everybody that I just walked to my room and shut the door.

It rained that night, long and hard. It sounded like hailstones were trying to break down the window. My daddy was gone tonight and I could hear my mom shuffling around the house talking to herself. I bet she wished he would stay home and play that saxophone, but he doesn’t. She says she’s tired of the smoky clubs and lusty women staring at her husband, she’d rather stay home.
The rain lashed at the window, then abruptly stopped. Moments later there was a soft tap at the window. I slowly rised up and looked at the shadow on my wall. Sure enough there was someone out there gently tapping.
“Grace!” Came a harsh whisper. I pulled the covers up over my head scared to scream but the voice continued, growing louder until it grew familiar.
“Grace!” I jumped out of bed and ran to the window where Morris stood looking in. Our eyes met and I jumped back, then quickly opened the window.
“What are you doing here?”
“Come outside!”
“No, my mom would break my neck.”
“Sh! Come on.” His eyes looked crazy and his energy made me mount up on the dresser and climb out of the window into his trembling wet arms. Then he took off with my hand in his and we ran off towards the distance.
“Where are we going?” I whispered loudly. “What if somebody sees us?” We were approaching the plum trees right in front of the woods and he stopped and pointed towards the sky.
“Look, see. Look at the night sky right after it rains. It only looks like this after it rains hard.” I slowly looked up to see glistening stars and beautiful hues of deep blue.
“I want to paint it but I don’t think the colors exist.”
“You pulled me out of my window for this,” I smiled. “It’s beautiful but I got to go.” He grabbed my arm then pulled me close and kissed me. I took a step back afterwards and we stared at each other.
“I don’t know why I did that,” He said.
“No, it’s okay.” My lips were tingling.
“You better go before it rains again.”
“You too.”
“Nah, I’m fine just where I’m at.”
“Okay. You artsy people are something.” Shyly I turned around and ran back to my house, with the cold rain pouring against my face and arms, cooling the hot unfamiliar fire that was trying to ignite inside of my young heart. He must have been eating from the plum trees before he kissed me because my lips were sweet like plum water.

***Present
“ If you could tell me where home is, I will love you forever. Is it one of my many childhood homes? I imagine them, but the small things, such as where the green vase goes is forgotten. So tell me then, where is my home? Is it tucked away in the warm arms of some past lover? Is it inside of my own soul, lacking blankets and televisions?
I’m riding around country towns looking for a familiar face, and the smiles are full of different meanings. They want to lock me away, they want me to make me their own, in their own good way. I am walking around a modern town, and the young people look away pointing in odd directions. I am on my own, in this world. My only connection to stability is over the telephone. I have nightmares of phone lines sizzling in the middle of the streets, burnt to the crisp. I fear my freedom being taken away, however, I fear too much freedom will cause instability. And instability is no friend of mine. So please, tell me where my home is. If one person could tell me, I will love them forever,” Rita spoke softly with her pencil jerking with every turn the car took.
“Was that about our trip home?”
“Not really,” she sighed taking out another piece of paper. “I haven’t been home in a long time. It feels funny.”
“It’ll be fine, trust me.”
“I wrote that about how I feel when it comes to coming home. I’m torn between my boredom with this town but at the same time it plays a big part in my past. Now, I’m just making a bunch of new memories in my little apartment. I miss it already.”
“I have nightmares of phone lines sizzling in the middle of the streets, burnt to the crisp,” I repeated. “What does that mean?”
“However you want to interpret it. That’s what writing is about sister. My poetry isn‘t meant to be understood.”
“I’m just not the poetic type I guess. It is interesting though.”
“So what about this guy you said Morris was talking about. Oh wait, when we get home should I wait until he tells me?”
“Yeah.”
“Okay, but anyway, the guy you were telling me he was seeing. Who is he? I mean, did we go to school with him or anything?”
“No. Morris stays about 30 minutes away from Ella Bella so I doubt it. Besides, he didn’t say he was actually seeing this man, he just said that he could see himself being with him Big difference.”
“So in other words in a matter of time they will be together. Wow, our little Morris. He never gave us the real benefits of having a gay friend. I mean, he never went shopping with us. He never said honey, let me do your hair! He did not give us the two snaps and the twist. What’s his problem?”
“Rita! You know Morris has never been like that and just because he’s gay doesn’t mean he has to act like that. His personality is not like that.”
“Then what fun can he really be? Ugh.”
“He’s just himself. Same serious Morris with enough sarcasm for everybody. I’m glad he doesn’t act that way. It’s a little too late for him to alter his personality. It’s such a stereotype.”
“No, it isn’t. If every man starts walking around here acting like Morris then how are we supposed to know who’s straight and who’s not? Sorry but I want to know, I don’t want to be caught up in them down-low situations that everybody is talking about.”
“You never will really know who is straight and who is not, Rita, regardless of how someone acts.”
“Makes me shudder. I mean what if the man I marry has had sex with another man. I’ll never know it! But people are always like what does it matter. Are you kidding? Only a heterosexual woman knows why it matters, honey!”
“That’s true.”
“Girl, don’t get me started.”
“You got any poetry about that?”
“No.” We both laughed.
“It’s hard to understand but at the same time it isn’t for me to understand, only to accept. I’d never do anything to hurt Morris and I would never let anyone else. I love him.”
“Love him, love him?”
“I don’t know about that kind of love anymore. With Morris, when I look back at our past that is the kind of love I see. But, I feel like someone has played this cruel joke on me or something. I know I have to move on. I know that seeing him come out to his family will force me to accept it, along with everyone else.”
“Just by seeing him come out to his family does not mean you will accept it Grace. I mean he came out to you first, and you still haven’t accepted it. He hasn’t even told me yet and I’ve accepted it.”
“Because he is your friend. To me, he was a lot more and for a long time at that.”

****
As I was hugging everyone in my family and putting my suitcase to the side, I was thinking about how I would react when I saw Morris. I had not seen him in so long, I knew that my heart would skip a beat just at his strong presence alone. I kissed my mom’s cheek, that seemed to be unusually soft, and hugged my dad.
“Glad you’ve finally decided to come see about your old man.”
“I’ve missed everybody a lot. I actually convinced Rita to come home, too.”
“Oh, I haven’t seen Rita in so long, she better make it her business to come see me,” Mom said with a laugh.
“She will.”
“Your brother is at work. That’s all he does now is work. I’m so glad he started that job, he’s really found something that he loves to do,” My mother begin. “You should do the same baby. Just find one thing you like to do and just stick with it. Your brother is saving up all that money too. He’s trying to start a life of his own finally, he is 25, I’ve been praying about it and the Lord has worked it out.”
“That’s the thing, I don’t know what I want to do.”
“What about Rita?” Mom inquired.
“I don’t know. She’s been working as an assistant to this lawyer. But I mean, I don’t know if she has a big dream or anything. You know Rita.”
“Well come sit down I made some dinner.”
“Oh, I’m not hungry right now. I was going to go see Morris and make sure everything is fine with him.”
“That Morris sure been looking fine. Don’t ever see him around here no more. His mama sick, too.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Don’t know,” Mom shrugged. “Morris ought to come around here a little more often. He know with age come problems, and his folks getting older.”
“I know that comment was directed towards me.”
“Oh, not really. Your brother is here so we just fine. Morris brothers gone off to other parts of the country, they can’t come around like he can.”
“Well I’ll see what’s going on with him whenever I go down there. Rita and I wanted to take him out one of these nights…make it like old times.”
“Well that sounds good.”
“Yeah.” I wasn’t in the mood to do much talking and I wasn’t hungry at all but I forced the food down to satisfy my parents that watched me closely.
“Have you been eating? Looks like you lost a little weight.”
“Yes mom.”
“You sure?”
“Yes.” I wanted to roll my eyes but I knew her intentions were well.
“Is Rita seeing anyone?”
“No, she’s going through a fresh break up…with a lawyer,” I said with a small snicker.
“Why is that funny?” My dad asked.
“I didn’t mean to laugh. And no, I’m not seeing anyone either before you ask.” They both chuckled. I smiled shaking my head.
“That’s what’s best for you right now. You still have a lot of things you need to get in order.” Oh God, please don’t lecture me about this. I think I’m the only one who knows what’s “best” for me right now. What’s best for me is to figure out why the hell did I decide to visit Ella Bella. I left for good reasoning. Something inside me told me that I was running away and running away from problems was just not the way to go about it. However, I knew deep inside I just wanted to figure out exactly what I was running from. There was no escaping reality or the truth. Morris’ truth not mine.

***
Before getting in my car to visit Morris I gave Rita a call to see if she wanted to join me but she told me she was going to visit Anthony first. I didn’t ask any questions because I knew I had plenty of time for that so I made my way to Morris’. He knew I was coming and he sounded pretty excited that I was in town. He told me had some new art work he wanted to show me and he bought a few drinks.
I sat in the car for a while in the dark working up my courage to walk to the second floor and knock on Morris’ door. Dammit Rita why didn’t you come with me? I took a deep breath and softly closed the door. I just felt the need to try to be silent. I slowly made my way up and took another deep breath before knocking on the door.
Morris opened the door and a big smile crossed his face before he reached his large arms out and pulled me into his chest. We stared at each other and I looked down with a giggle.
“Can’t believe you ran away.”
“I didn’t.” I lied.
“How long are you staying?”
“I have three days off, then it’s back to work.”
“Where’s Rita Pita?”
“Visiting Anthony.” Morris’ face scrunched up immediately. “I know I did the same thing. I’m sure she’ll tell us all about it.” I finally sat across the couch and looked around as he disappeared into the kitchen. The place looked the same, with a few more art pieces hanging up. “Your art paying the bills yet?”
“Nah.” He came back with two cups and handed me one. “Taste it.”
“Good, what’s in it?”
“A little bit of this and that. It’s my own concoction but don’t drink too much or you’ll have to stay the night.”
“Well, I won’t have to worry about you taking advantage of me.” He laughed a little.
“Jokes?”
“Just a little.”
“So what’s been up with you? I’ve missed you…Rita too. Got a brother around here miserable.”
“I had to change my scene just a little.”
“How are you enjoying the city?”
“Well, I haven’t started enjoying it yet but it’s better than Ella Bella. I mean I would have moved here but it’s just not far enough. 30 minutes isn’t far enough at all.”
“I figured since my brothers are far enough I’d stick around. My mom has been sick. She had some test run a few days ago, no results yet.”
“Yeah my mom told me. I must visit her, is she that sick?”
“She’s up and running around. It’s only certain days when she’s not well. She stays in bed all day. I don’t like to see her like that so it’s hard for me to come around. I know it isn’t right but I’m going to man up and just start coming around a lot more often. My dad works a lot so he’s barely home as you already know.”
“Still good looking I’m sure.”
“How about Mr. Smith? Still killin’ em softly with that sax?”
“Yeah.” We both offered small laughs and sat in silence. Morris got up and grabbed my empty glass reappearing with another one. “This is what I’ve been needing.”
“Me too.”
“God, I can’t believe we’re grown now. I mean sometimes I don’t feel grown at all.”
“Yeah,” Morris agreed. “Did you see the new pieces I had up?”
“Yeah they’re beautiful.” More silence.
“Rita still writing her weird poetry?”
“I wouldn’t call it weird, it’s just hard to understand.”
“Just like her.”
“Yeah.” I was feeling slightly tipsy at this point but I still was in my right state. I could feel questions burning at the tip of my tongue barely hanging on. Morris got up and looked out the window then sat next to me on the couch putting his arms around me.
“Are you seeing someone?” He asked.
“No, why?”
“You asked me 21 questions last night and now I can’t ask just one?”
“Oh. Nah, I’m not seeing anyone at all. I’m quite dry actually.” He laughed. “Seriously, I am.”
“The drinks are good?”
“Yeah, I told you that already.”
“I’ve been drinking a lot lately. I think I’m starting to enjoy it too much.”
“Nothing wrong with drinking your thoughts away sometimes.”
“But it’s stupid. The thoughts come right back.”
“What thoughts Morris?”
“Every damn thought in my mind. A man can’t maintain.”
“You can always call me if something is bothering you. Alcohol doesn’t talk back,” I managed, smiling.
“Nobody ever tells one person everything. I mean everybody has problems that no one knows about. I just have a lot of decisions to make. Between my job now and my art. Shit, they want a brother to spray paint t-shirts for a living. I’m a damn artist. What’s wrong with that? Brothers can’t be artist? We gotta sketch in our notebooks and that’s where it ends?”
“Some of the greatest artist in the world are black.”
“God gave me a goddamn talent and the world wants it locked inside my apartment.”
“You should move.”
“What?”
“You should move. I mean go somewhere far where art is big. What do you expect from a small town? They just don’t get it around here.”
“Damn that. I’m staying right here. My family needs me here.”
“What will keep you sane?”
“Shit if I know.” I sat up and looked him in the eyes. It was a look I did not recognize and before I knew it he grabbed me and kissed me. He climbed on top of me and breathed hard all over my face, roughly rubbing his hands along the sides of my hips. My conscious spoke softly from a deep dark faraway corner of my mind, but the words were gulped down by the waves of my drunkenness. I kissed him back even harder. I put my hands behind is head and pulled him closer. We kissed for a while, and then he begin to unbutton my pants. I stopped him.
“Wait…wait,” my voice was hoarse and broken.
“What?”
“What are we doing?”
“I don’t know but don’t stop me, not right now.” I moved myself so that our bodies were no longer touching. Then I stood up only to sit back down because the room was spinning.
“Morris you’re gay.” I immediately put my hand over my mouth and avoided his eyes but once I found them his eyes were searching mine, and he fell silent.
“Is that all you can say? Is that all I am now?” He seemed hurt and he grabbed his cup and finished the last gulp.
“I didn’t mean…”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I’ll go.”
“Why?” His eyes searched mine again. “Why do things have to be different now? Why do I have to be a different person to you?”
“You’re still the world to me, just in a different way.”
“I don’t get it.”
“You don’t get it? I don’t get it! Why are you kissing me?”
“I don’t know, it just felt right.”
“No, it isn’t. You are gay. I’m trying to accept that and look what you do.”
“I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I’m sorry. Would you just sit down? Damn.”
“I’m sorry too. Goodnight.”

****
I woke up with my mother standing in the doorway in a long white nightgown. I jumped slightly then relaxed.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I heard you stumble in last night. Just seeing if you made it through the night okay.”
“I’m fine.” She hesitated then made her way to the edge of the bed and sat down.
“How’s Morris?”
“Fine.”
“He should visit sometime.”
“I’ll bring him by before I leave Sunday.”
“How are things for him these days?”
“Complicated.”
“Oh, why’s that?”
“Honestly, I don’t really want to talk about him right now. I’m trying to organize my thoughts, it was a rough night.”
“I had a rough night also.”
“Oh.”
“Joseph has been acting strange…something has been bothering him but he just won’t speak on it. He goes to the club and comes back and it’s like he doesn’t love it like he used to.”
“He’ll never stop loving his music mom,” I said wanting to end the conversation.
“I used to pray that he would, that’s the funny part.”
“Yeah, I never knew why you hated something he loved so much.”
“Oh, I never hated his music. I just hated how he floated on a pipe dream. I used to think he loves his music more than himself. He loves it more than me. He couldn’t breathe without it, but he could breathe without me,” My Mother looked away. The glow from the blinds rest softly on the smooth lines on her face. Lines that seemed to flow more longer than I was used to. I eyed them carefully as she talked.
“I know you’ve never been in love, Grace. But I’ll tell you something, the bible says love is long suffering. I read that when I was a little girl and never forgot it. It’s true. But love can never make a man suffer, not love period. It has to be a component of love.”
“I loved Thomas in high school.”
“Ha!” She rolled her eyes. “I’m talking about real love. Love that last years at a time. A man will never love you to his full potential if he can always wrap his arms around you and call you his.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know. When I first met your dad I was always running around. I was always chasing the breeze, going nowhere. A small town girl with big city dreams. He loved that about me. He loved how every time he had me in the palm of his hands I was gone like the winds between his fingers. He searched for me in his dreams. Oh, he loved me so hard back then.”
“Still does.”
“Of course he does. Those little games get old and so did we.”
“I remember the summer you left. He was miserable without you. All he had was his sax and even then he seemed mad at the world. He’s always loved you. Always.”
“All the times I’d leave, he would love me more. He loved and hated the sound of the door closing. Love can hurt good. Ever heard anyone say that?”
“I heard it in a song. I don’t really get it though. Nothing good should hurt you, that’s my view. I don’t want anyone to chase me. When I find love I’ll never leave it,” I said confidently.
“Never float through life looking for love because it come and goes. It’s strong one day and weak the next. There are more important things to think about.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I know how you feel about Morris.”
“What?”
“You’re my only daughter, I know you.”
“Mom please. If you knew what I did you wouldn’t be saying that.”
“What do you know?”
“Morris and I have been friends for years and that’s it.”
“So, I’m wrong? Just tell me and I’ll never say it again.”
“Yes, you’re wrong.”
“Well, good. Morris isn’t the one for you. He likes isolation and quietness. You need excitement.”
“Morris is exciting. He paints like nobody’s business, he’s funny, and he has big dreams. He likes me around.”
“I’m wrong again, huh?”
“Yes.”
“Stand by your man.”
“Mom, just stop.” She chuckled, yawned, and made her way out of the door, her nightgown shiny like a brand new saxophone in my daddy’s arms.

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