The first to arrive is Julia, I know her, she wears bright red lipstick and her hair is the color of the night sky. She looks like a porcelain doll, like the ones in the glass cabinets at my friend Beth's house. One that will never crack is what my mom says. Julia comes from what my mother calls hill billies. I don't know what those are but Julia sometimes talks real slow, and her words have a funny accent. One night after a couple of glasses of the bitter juice my mom always serves, she said, "I ahm a prohhhper Holly go Lightly, I left my sweet country husband for the bright lights of the big city, Ghabby."
My mom's name is Gabrielle, I learned this on my sixth birthday, before then she was only my mom, the woman the woman who sings me lullabies and braids my hair. Now at the ripe age of nine I am more mature, I have responsibilities, I feel proud as I refill Julia's glass of bitter juice.
The next to Arrive is my babysitter Lydia. My mom and Lydia have been friends since they were my age. They grew up across the street from one another on the Lower East Side. "Hola nina." She greets me with a kiss after I reach out a plastic cup of bitter juice to her. "I see you've broken out the fine china Gabriella." She says.
"Delilah insists on joining us tonight, so she has a job to do." My mother shouts from the kitchen as she puts the finishing touches on dinner.
"Delilah, you're a big girl now." Lydia says as she tosses her hair over her shoulder. I've always admired Lydia's big brown curls, ever since I was a little girl. I would lose my hands in it every time she would pick me up to cover my cheeks in kisses. Soft tendrils framed her face and her locks were soft and carried the fragrance of a tropical island, from the coconut oil she used as conditioner.
The final twist to my mother's princess cut clan, arrived as julia and Lydia were in the throes of their latest relationship news. I'm not sure how she heard the faint knock at the door, but when my mother opened it, she received our guest with a huge hug, shielding her face from my view. "I'm so glad you could make it." My mother releases her embrace, and I can see it is Briar. I've met her before, she's quiet, not like my mom's other friends, who speak as if the grown up world is full of intrigue. Briar is also the most ordinary of the quadruplicate. Her skin is pink and fleshy in my mother's africanish hand. Her hair is thin and sandy blonde, much more modest than Julia's onyx retro curls, and Lydia's dusky ringlets. "I was just about to put dinner on the table." My mother says. As she's led to the table Briar gives me a brief wave, I wave back and follow them towards the dining room table, but stop at the threshold. Both Julia and Lydia stand up for Briar and my mom, but really just for Briar. They dote on her and stroke her hair. I wonder what's happened to her. She doesn't visit as often as Julia, and I haven't spent time with her as I have Lydia, and my mother never mentioned some sort of disaster happening to one of her friends. "Come Delilah." My mother beckons from the dining room table. "Put the wine on the table and wash up for dinner." I step over to the table as my mother heads to the kitchen. She has baked chicken, and as she opens the oven door the warmth and scent is enveloping. Suddenly my mouth waters and I rush to the bathroom to wash my hands. When I return the salad bowl is being passed around the table and I take my seat beside Lydia. My mother sits beside Briar, and Julia politely protests being at the head. "I only sat here for the cocktails, I didn't know I'd be the head of the table."
"Enjoy it like a queen, and we're your loyal subjects." Says my mother.
This causes Julia to throw her head back with laughter. "Grape juice Delilah?" Lydia asks as I fill my plate with crispy lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.
"Yes please." I feel like one of the ladies as Lydia fills my glass. Julia raises her's, "Let's have a toast to good friends who love and Suhhpport one another." She drawls out.
"Who are always here for one another in a crisis." Lydia raises her glass, "You too Dee." She says to me and I raise my cup and toast with the big girls. "
What kind of crisis?" I ask after taking a sip.
"The kind that leaves you feeling all alone, but then you realize you have friends." Says my mother.
"The earthquake and tsunami type of disaster in the form of a man." Says Lydia.
"Tha kind where when you turn around, the village has your back." Says Julia.
"The kind where your boyfriend disappears." Briar concludes.
"Oh… I'm sorry…"
It must be one of those times where I ask a question that mother says isn't polite, because there is an uncomfortable silence, although it took some time to get there.
" I never told you, but Briar lost a loved on a while ago at this time." My mother tells me.
"A while ago? When?"
"You were just a toddler."
"When I was a toddler Briar's boyfriend disappeared?"
"Murdered, my boyfriend was murdered." Briar informs.
The room is silent, I don't know what I feel, it feels like sympathy, curiosity and surprise all rolled into one. But mostly surprise. "You never told me about that." I side eye my mom.
"Why would she tell you about that, you're just a baby you don't need to know about these harsh realities." Says Lydia.
"I'm not a little girl anymore."
The table chuckles.
"It was a very unfortunate event, one that's been hard for Briar to put behind her. We're sooo glad you could make it out tonight Briah." Grins Julia.
"It was rough on all of us actually, and I wanted to wait until you were older to tell you about it." My mother tip toes.
"The truth is it was a horrible relationship and the authorities first pointed the finger at me." Briar says.
"They pointed a finger at everyone at this table." Lydia says.
"But none of us lost a loved one." Says my mom.
"But it was a horrible relationship…" I ponder.
"That doesn't mean I didn't love him." Says Briar.
"Love is complicated." Says Julia.
"So complicated you could die?" I ask.
"Just turn on the news." Answers Lydia.
"Of course you have to be careful who you see." Says my mom.
"His name was Lane," Julia pauses, "is this ok?" She asks Briar.
"It's fine" She answers.
"And because of his actions we didn't approve of him, so the police questioned us."
"What were his actions?" I ask.
"Well," Julia continues to chime, "he couldn't keep his eyes from wandering or his hands to himself, and since I smacked him hard enough on the cheek to leave a mark, the police found me suspicious."
"Did you get arrested?"
"We weren't arrested, just questioned." Answers Lydia.
"Why were you questioned?"
"Because he was inappropriate to my baby niece at a family barbecue I invited Briar to and I fought with him."
"That doesn't sound like a reason to suspect you of murder."
"I told him I would murder him if he ever went near her again, very loudly, in a public park."
"And since my niece was only twelve at the time, they couldn't blame me if I flew into a rage and killed him, at least that's what my interrogator said.
"Yes, they said a lot of things." says my mom.
"Did you fly into a rage?"
"Yes but not in public."
"When you were a baby, Briar and I planned on embarking on a business venture together. Lane promised to invest our money and double it. Briar and I emptied our savings accounts and handed him the money. But his so called investments were bad, and we lost our savings."
"So you fought with him too."
"And since I was a single mother on a budget, that gave me motive."
"And you stayed with him? I ask Briar.
"I stayed with him through a lot of things. I had thought he would pay your mom and me back, but he never did. What he did do was hit me every time I asked him to try and repay us." Briar's eyes are sad as she tells me this.
"So… You all pulled throughout it together?"
"The same way his ass was pulled to his grave." Briar says.
The table goes silent again.
"Everyone ready for the main course?" Asks my mother.
The table hums in agreement, and she goes to the kitchen.
Today I am I big girl, today I have friends like my mother's and I've baked a chicken. I'm sipping my glass of bitter juice when the door bell rings. I've always liked dinner parties, ever since I was a little girl.