There is pulp in the lemonade. Celeste frowns; she does not like pulp. She places the cold drink on the wicker side table. It has a glass top and she notes with some consternation that the drink is perspiring, leaving a little pool of condensation puddling on the tabletop. She picks up the glass and passes her hand over the ring of water.
“Oh dear. I forgot coasters, didn’t I?”
Celeste startles as her hostess breezes onto the screened porch.
“Oh, that’s alright; I’ll just hold it in my lap,” Celeste offers.
“Nonsense, Honey. Let me fetch some cocktails napkins, at least. Sit tight; I’ll be right back.”
“Um, Ok. Sure.”
“What was that, dear?”
“I mean, yes ma’am. Thank you.”
“Of course, Honey. I’ll be back directly.”
Celeste shifts uncomfortably on the wicker loveseat. She wishes she had worn a sundress or at least a skirt. Her shorts are tight and pinch across the width of her thighs in this seated position. Fortunately, the loveseat has a cushion but equally unfortunate, the cushion is plastic or some sort of waxed fabric and Celeste is aware that the backs of her thighs are slick with perspiration. She peels one thigh from the cushion and spills some of her lemonade. Celeste jumps to her feet.
“Oh dear, what seems to be the problem?”
“Ms. Mason! I just…”
“Clarice, Honey. Call me Clarice.”
Celeste towers over Clarice Mason. In her flat sandals, she stands five foot nine. The unflattering short haircut she received at the beginning of the summer is further compromised by the withering humidity and her dark curls are a frizzed mass. She has a wet streak of lemonade down the front of her white tank top and she is suddenly, appallingly aware that she has not shaved her legs for at least a week.
Clarice Mason on the other hand is the very picture of cool composure. Her smooth chestnut bob falls straight and gracefully just beneath her chin. She wears a pink pleated sundress which despite the muggy atmosphere remains remarkably unwrinkled. Her dainty feet are shod in Ferragamo flats and a delicate strand of pearls encircles her small neck.
Clarice neatly tucks herself into a rocking chair facing the loveseat.
“Sit down, Honey. I believe we have much to discuss.”
Celeste begins to hiccup, a wretched trait she acquired in early childhood. When she is nervous or frightened, Celeste hiccups.
“Oh, my Honey, you are a hot mess, aren’t you? Relax. I don’t bite. We’re just going to have a little conversation about you and my girl Tinsley.”
Celeste feels sick. The screened porch tilts and she closes her eyes. Visions from the night before swim before her. She and Tinsley, slightly drunk on rum and Coke. Laughter, almost hysterical. Trey, Tinsley’s little brother, calling out the contorted positions for Twister. Reggae and dim lights, an overhead fan softly ruffling the steamy air. Tinsley, in impossibly short cutoffs, a faded Tipitina’s t-shirt, the neck gaping open. Celeste, struggling to steady her long legs in a triangle pose, also struggling to keep her eyes averted, trying so hard not to stare down the neck of Tinsley’s shirt. The other girl’s lithe body, golden, kissed by the summer sun. Tinsley is not wearing a bra. Trey calls the next move for Celeste and she is reaching her left hand, tremulously, through Tinsley’s thighs. The laughter. The heat from the girl’s body. Celeste shifting, her face so close to Tinsley’s breasts. The smell of baby powder and rum and some muskier, enticing scent, the girl’s own body, the essence of her skin, fully in Celeste’s nostrils as the two bodies strain to remain apart. And then the searing touch, the electric exchange as Tinsely, convulsing with laughter, leans into Celeste’s body, her mouth on Celeste’s bare neck. And as their bodies slide into each other’s, Trey laughing riotously, Celeste aware of her hands on Tinsley’s breasts, aware of her rosy nipples hardening beneath her palms, the shrill staccato of Clarice Mason’s voice piercing the fabric of the night. Celeste opens her eyes now.
“Sit down, Celeste.”
Celeste looks at Clarice. She has heard before what this woman will say. Ugly words. An eighth-grade moniker: Celester the Molester. Her friends suddenly suspicious and uneasy in the gym locker room, taking care not to change into their uniforms in front of her. Her precipitous fall from the pool party and sleepover guest lists. Her high school best friend’s mother tersely telling her to stop coming around. As if she had something catching. As she if would turn their gold to dust. Celeste hears the old taunts and rumors, feels the sting of all the other times a mother, a sister, a boyfriend threatened her, rebuked her, condemned her. Celeste looks down at pretty, polite Clarice Mason, poised like a viper.
“No Ma’am, I don’t think I will.”Fannie H. Gray lives in Montclair, NJ with her husband, two children, Mac the Boston Terrier, and Neo the Tuxedo. She is an active member of The Write Group. She is currently compiling short stories and completing her first novel. Her poem The Trick was included in Beltway Poetry Quarterly’s Langston Hughes Tribute Issue. She prefers coffee with chicory and bourbon neat.