It’s been a long time in the making, but it’s finally done.
Some stories deserve a second take.
Here’s a taste of what you have to look forward to.
© Adan Ramie
Once the tears were dried, the cookies put away, and the kitchen was cleaned, Mandy and Bee stood in the upstairs hallway, bags in hand, and stared at Mandy’s childhood bedroom door. As if under a spell, neither of them could bring herself to open the door.
“I could sleep in the guest room,” Bee announced.
“Don’t be a dip.” Mandy tried to laugh at the old insult, but it came out wet and soft, so she let it die. “Maybe we should do a sleepover.”
Bee stepped forward. “Just like old times,” she said, then took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
Inside, nothing had changed from the day Mandy moved out at 18; and, in fact, not much had changed in the several years before, because it was all almost exactly the same as the last time Bee had been in the room. The walls were decorated with posters of bands long forgotten, memorabilia from performances, and snapshots from summers both women would always remember.
She stepped inside and dropped her travel bag in its old familiar spot by Mandy’s bedside table. “This is bizarre.” She slid a finger along the table top and pulled it up clean. She held it up to Mandy. “It’s not even dusty.”
Mandy stepped inside and tossed her bag at the beanbag chair she refused to give up, even once its beans spilled lazily from every seam. Bee noticed the weepy seams had all been sealed since she last plopped down in it.
“She always hoped I would move back in, you know.”
Bee walked to the bed, turned around, and flopped herself down there instead of the beanbag chair; she didn’t have the heart to mess it up. Mandy followed suit, and the two stared up at the poster on the ceiling. Bee was the first to laugh.
“What?” Mandy asked.
“The conversations we used to have lying right here,” she said.
Mandy snickered. “Yeah. We could just sit here all night, staring at them and talking about what we were going to do with our lives.”
“Back when we thought we had a choice,” Bee said. She crossed her arms behind her head. “Before Mom left and everything went to shit.”
Mandy turned on her side and crooked one arm under her head. “Do you think that’s when everything changed?”
Bee shrugged. She avoided Mandy’s gaze and tried to keep the tears that pooled in her eyes from their inevitable drop down her cheeks. She cleared her throat. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
“For me, things started changing when Mom got sick. I think that was probably the first time I realized that she could die. That any of our parents could die. That we were going to die one day. It was sobering.”
Bee managed a weak smile and turned toward her. “Yeah, you went around wearing funeral clothes for six months. You wrote epitaphs and eulogies. You warned little kids against riding bicycles without helmets and going outside with their hair wet.”
Mandy grinned, and a tear slipped down her cheek. “And then Mom got better.”
“And you went back to being peppy.”
“Blech. You know I hate that word.”
Bee chuckled. “How else can you describe someone who’s always happy?”
“I’m not always happy. I just try to look for the bright side, and stay optimistic.”
The two fell quiet, each in her own thoughts of loss and grief. Bee’s thoughts started with Chanae, but soon, she was thinking about her own mother and how she had lost the long fight to her own destructive illness not a year after Chanae went into remission. Minutes stretched out lazily as the rain fell on the roof and thudded gently on the window panes.
Before either knew it, they were asleep.
A light flipped on overhead woke Bee later. She yawned, stretched, and sat up; her legs, still asleep, dangled over the side of the bed and refused to heed her commands. Mandy stood at the door, scrubbed clean, her hair still in her bath towel. She wore a dress that reminded Bee of the kind of thing she used to wear as a teenager, and it brought a smile to Bee’s face.
“What time is it?” Bee rasped. She tried to clear her throat, but it was too dry, and she only managed a weak cough.
“Almost eight o’clock,” Mandy said. “Get up, take a shower, and come downstairs. My parents will be here about 8:30.”
Mandy turned on her heel to walk away, and Bee had a genuine sensation of déjà vu.
Twenty years had passed since that day, but the emotion was as raw as if it had happened the day before. They were ten, and Mandy’s mother had only just made the first appointment with the man who would be her long-term oncologist. To the girls, she was just “under the weather,” and Mandy had taken it upon herself to baby her mother all weekend. Bee had readily agreed to help, and had spent the night before in anticipation of making an early morning breakfast in bed for her soon-to-be surrogate parent.
It was the day Bee realized she was in love with Mandy. Not the sisterly love bred of friendship and loyalty she knew Mandy felt, nor the conflicted, loyal love she felt for her parents and brothers. Deep down, she had known all along, but as Mandy had swung her long, sun-kissed mane, Bee had watched the tresses dance through the air and it hit her like an anvil from one of the cartoons she had found herself too old to watch anymore.
Now it was almost the same: crushing, suffocating, and terrifying.
“Hurry up! I’m ready for breakfast,” Mandy called, thumping lightly down the stairs. Bee pushed herself out of Mandy’s childhood bed, grabbed a towel tied up with purple ribbon from the basket behind the door, and headed to the shower.
Half an hour later, she emerged from Mandy’s bedroom with hair still damp and wild from a cursory towel-dry. She ran hands through it, though it wouldn’t do any good, and tossed her towel into the hamper from the hallway.
She would know that voice anywhere. Bee turned to face Chanae Marston with a grin on her face. The woman had her arms flung wide for a hug that Bee eagerly accepted. “So, have you made it to the WNBA yet?”
Bee chuckled as the two separated. “You know I haven’t. Too short.” She stuffed her hands in her pockets, suddenly aware of how she looked, how she lived her life, and what this conservative woman might think of how she actually spent her days. “I’m actually in film production.”
Chanae grinned back, dropped a hand on Bee’s shoulder, and led her toward the staircase. “I know that. I have seen some of your work in the past couple of years, and I’ve been fascinated at how much your directing has improved.” Bee’s face flushed, and as the two stepped off the stairs, Chanae grabbed her hand. “I’m proud of you, Bee. You made something of yourself, and you live your truth. That’s all I ever wanted for you. For either of you.”
Bee let Chanae lead her into the kitchen, then the dining room, where Mandy and her father waited. Platters piled with every kind of breakfast fare took over the center of the modest oval table. Empty plates waited at four places.
“Mandy, I thought you were going to let me help,” Bee said, giving her friend a pointed look.
Mandy gestured to Bee to go to her chair. “You know I get impatient indigestion. I came down to get a cup of tea, and it just kind of happened.” She sat, grabbed a full platter, and handed it over the table to her father. “Besides, you’re a guest.”
Bee snorted out a laugh. “Since when have I been a guest here?” She grabbed a platter of bacon and pulled off a few slices before passing it along.
“Since we didn’t see you for fifteen years,” Mandy said. Her lips were pursed and one dark, slender eyebrow perched higher than the other. They all knew and feared that look. It was the look that said not all was well in Mandy Land, and everyone had better sit up and pay attention.
Bee dropped her eyes back to the platters in front of her. She loaded up on eggs, toast, and sliced fruit, then poured herself a glass of what she assumed was fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. When she finally looked back up, both Chanae and Mandy had their eyes on her.
When neither answered, Mandy’s father, Leonard, grunted and dropped the platter of eggs a little too hard on the table. He didn’t look at her, as usual, but kept his eyes down on his food. “They want to talk to you about what they found out when they were stalking you on the computer.” He grabbed his fork and started to eat.
Bee looked from one woman to the other. Mandy looked vaguely amused, but her mother nearly bubbled over with glee. “Well, what do you want to know?” she asked, then picked up her juice and took a generous gulp.
“The movies!” Mandy said.
At the same time, Chanae blurted out, “Your wife?”
Bee sighed, put down her glass, and looked at her eggs. Suddenly, despite how appetizing everything looked and smelled, she found she didn’t have much of an appetite. This is what she had always been afraid of. Once she started living publicly, she knew it would eventually come back to the people she grew up with, but she had hoped to avoid it for a little while longer.
She had been fearing this conversation for almost twenty years.
Chanae reached across the table and grabbed Bee’s hand. “No one’s judging you. We love you.”
And that was all it took. Bee’s mouth opened and everything started pouring out. “The movies started out as music videos. You know I was in a band. Well, we had a demo, and one of the girls had a video camera. We just started filming ourselves playing. Some of our videos ended up on public broadcast, and we had a little success with a couple of records.”
Bee looked from Chanae, to Leonard, and then to Mandy. None of their expressions held judgment or malice. Leonard, in fact, was so immersed in his breakfast that she assumed he couldn’t even hear them. She picked up her fork and tentatively took a bite of eggs, and that bite turned into five more.
“But you don’t do music anymore?” Mandy asked finally.
Bee shook her head. “Not with a band. I started another band once I moved, but it wasn’t long after that we realized we had creative differences. We were never meant to be anything but a group of friends playing music. But, by the time the band broke up, I had figured out that I was better with a camera than I was with a keyboard, and I started helping friends with scripts to make short films. That’s how I met Myka.”
Mandy and Chanae waited, their breakfasts forgotten, while Bee chewed through two slices of toast. By the time she picked up a piece of bacon, Mandy had leaned forward almost into her plate.
“And you fell madly in love? And you got married right away?” she asked.
Wiping her hands on the cloth napkin, Bee tried to remember exactly how the relationship came to be. “You know, I really don’t know how it happened. One minute, I was working the camera on this goofy science fiction movie for a guy I knew. The next, I was in a relationship with his star.” Bee grinned. “Man, could she scream.” Chanae dropped her fork, and Bee let out a deep belly laugh. “I mean, she was the star of this monster movie. A scream queen, you know?”
It was Chanae’s turn to blush. Bee took another drink of juice and started on her fruit. She chewed thoughtfully on a sliver of mango before she started again. “We fell in love. We were together for almost seven years. Then, one day, she ended it.”
Leonard pushed back from the table, having scraped up the last of his second helping. “You girls want some coffee?”
They all nodded. He shook his head at his wife and daughter but smiled at Bee, then took his plate to the kitchen. Mandy took a bite of cold eggs and chewed thoughtfully. Chanae picked at the crust of a piece of soggy toast.
“She just broke up with you out of the blue? No warning?”
Bee shrugged, put her fork down, and pushed away her empty plate. “I guess she was over her experiment. She’s married now to the guy who did the props on our last movie together and, if social media can be believed, I think they’re on their second or third kid.”
The smell of coffee wafted into the dining room. Chanae stood, then listed to the side. Bee jumped up, grabbed her arm, and steadied her. Chanae patted her hand.
“I’m all right.”
“Are you sure?” Bee frowned. “Let me take this stuff for you.”
Chanae accepted with a graceful nod of her head, and walked out of the room. They watched her go, then Bee turned to Mandy.
“How bad is it?”
Mandy sucked in a wet breath, and Bee could see the glisten of tears on her dark lashes. “Most of the time she’s okay. But sometimes… Sometimes I wonder if she’s going to make it through the night.”
Bee grabbed her dishes and Chanae’s, then waited for Mandy to pick up her own.
Together, they cleaned up breakfast, and helped Leonard bring the coffee to the sitting room. Mandy slipped out as Bee stirred Chanae’s coffee, then handed over her cup.
“Where did she go?” Leonard adjusted himself in the stiff, high-backed chair that he hadn’t yet worn in.
Chanae sighed. “I’m sure she’s doing something else she doesn’t need to do to make me comfortable.” She patted Bee on the knee. “I really am fine. I don’t need anything more than my family around me.” She paused, one hand at her throat and a quiver in her voice. “I really am glad to have you home, Bee.”
Bee gave Chanae’s hand a squeeze and smiled back. “I’m glad to be here. I don’t know why I waited so long to come back.” She pushed away the thoughts that invaded her mind, and stood up. “Let me go see what Mandy’s gotten herself into.”
She backed out and searched around until she found Mandy standing at the kitchen sink, her eyes glued outside the window on the garden. Weeds had started to choke out the cherished plot, a testament to just how sick Chanae was. Mandy’s shoulders shook in a silent sob.
“Hey,” Bee said, and put a hand on Mandy’s shoulder. Before she knew what had happened, Mandy had turned and wrapped herself around Bee. Her face was splotchy, pink almost up to her hairline, and tiny, hiccuping squeaks were the only sounds she let strangle out of her clogged throat.
“How do you do it?” Mandy asked. She looked up at Bee with eyes awash in tears. “How do you live without a mother?”
Bee made to respond, then closed her mouth tight. She knew nothing she could say would help. Her own grief had died down to a dull ache after years of self-medication and therapy. But Mandy was much closer with Chanae than Bee ever had been with Dolores, and this situation was drastically different.
She pulled Mandy closer, and brushed her lips against the smooth top of her hair. “I’m sorry.”
A shuffled step in the hallway sent Mandy to the sink to wash her face in cold water. Bee leaned against the counter top and tried at nonchalance. Leonard walked in, and the shuffle was gone. He was back to his nearly military straight posture, and his feet fell hard.
“Your mother and I need to go out. Arrangements need to be made, and she has the appointments for today already lined up.” His face was steely, but Bee saw under the facade. Inside, the man wept.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Bee asked.
Leonard’s eyes fell on Mandy’s back as she dried her face with a towel. “Keep an eye on the house for us, will you?”
“I might grab a moving van later if the weather cooperates. We need to start getting some of this stuff into storage. Once… Well, we have too much furniture, anyhow.”
Bee nodded. “Yes, sir. Let me know when you need me.”
“Always have been able to count on you.” He grinned. “Like the son I never had.”
“Dad!” Mandy turned, and her face had almost returned to normal coloring, but the puffiness remained.
Leonard chuckled and ignored her swollen eyes. “What? She knows it as well as I do.”
Bee grinned back at him. He shook her hand, and his grip wasn’t what it used to be, or maybe hers was stronger than it once was; she couldn’t be sure which.
“Be careful on the road out there. That storm is still threatening.”
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