One Look | Silk Hindus
My Juliana loved to tell people how we met. Sometimes we were at a bar, or a restaurant, a friend’s house or ours. Sometimes it was loud, muted, relaxed, cozy. Sometimes her auburn curls were pulled back and sometimes they were down and parted above her right eyebrow. She always told it with a beer in her hand, glass bottle with a skeleton sitting on top of a barrel, its contents leaving her mouth tasting like spices and apples. I’m a liquor woman, but I loved kissing her after she’d had a few sips. Her right foot would rest on top of her left knee, her left arm across the back of my chair (unless we were on stools, then her hand rested on my spine, the tips of her ring finger and pinky at the top of my ass.) She would slouch; we were almost the same height. “One look,” she’d say before taking a swig and smirking at me around the neck of the bottle, but the truth is, I couldn’t really stand her the first time we met.
It was my older brother Richard’s thirtieth birthday so he, his fiancé Elena, and my friend Ginger dragged me out to a club. Despite my absolute hatred for that scene, I went because I was the only person capable of drinking and being DD. Around eleven, my drink eye level, a few inches away from me, the bass of the DJ’s playlist leading the rhythm of my heartbeat. I was drowning in humidity; the club so packed that I tilted my chin up to breath. It was like swimming to the reserved booth in the back.
“I still can’t believe you got VIP,” Ginger told Elena as she sipped her cranberry vodka; the ice in my whiskey was numbing my hand.
“You paid for VIP?” I asked.
“It’s my baby’s thirtieth. It’s worth it,” she said before kissing Rich’s cheek. I nodded and sipped. “Do you see anything you like?” My drink burned my nose. “The reviews said it was a mixed crowd an—”
“Rita and I have been here a few times. It’s super nice though, right?” Ginger asked.
“You brought me here for a hookup?” I asked.
“We want you to have a good time,” Rich said. “We’re getting kinda worried about you.”
“I should tell mom you’re trying to get me to have a one-night stand.”
“It was actually her idea,” Elena added.
“I can’t believe this,” I said and downed the rest of my drink. “I need another one.”
“We have bottle service. You don’t have—”
The first time I saw Juliana, she was leaning against the bar. Even with poor posture, she was a head taller as I stood next to her waiting for the bartender to notice me. She was chewing on a short straw while nodding as her friend leaned into her ear.
“It was just shady,” her friend said. “I mean why wouldn’t he tell his friends about us? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Because you’re a booty call,” Juliana deadpanned. Her leather-clad arms were planted on the bar, her caramel hands loosely holding the sweating bottle sitting in a pool of condensation. The coolness from outside clung to her. She smelled like pepper and apples with a hint of coconut.
“You’re an askhole.”
“Someone who asks for advice then doesn’t take it,” Juliana told her friend. “I told you this guy wasn’t legit and you still went for it. Now it’s three months in and you’re wondering why you’ve only seen his place at night. You’re a booty call, sweetheart.”
“Well you know what you are? You’re an asshole,” her friend said before storming off.
She tilted her head and raised an eyebrow at me.
“She needed to hear it from a friend.”
“I’d hate to see how you treat your enemies.”
“Killer smile like this, I don’t have any.” She flashed straight white teeth with a dimple in her left cheek. Her eyes traveled over my face, then my body, then back up to my glass. “What you got there?” The bartender finally made her way over.
“Whiskey and tequila.” I answered her question and ordered my drink at the same time.
“Are you done pouting about…who is this?” Ginger asked me.
“Just an asshole.”
When the bartender handed me a new glass, I nodded toward Rich and Ginger. “Charge it to the table,” I said before walking off without giving Juliana a second glance. My second drink was my last. Being DD sucked when everyone else was wasted.
“She’s just needs a little love,” Rich said as he and Elena climbed into the backseat. The three of them smelled like liquor and sweat so I rolled down the windows to carry it out of the car.
“I can understand why she needs time,” Ginger said. “Stacy was a doozy.”
“Um, right here guys.” The group went silent, the sounds of the strip floated into the car. The lines weren’t any shorter than they were when we’d first got there even though it was after midnight. “No more talking about my love life.” The sidewalks were over flooded, some of the crowd spilled into the street.
“I’m hungry,” Ginger said.
“Me too,” Rich added. “Let’s go to Tammy’s.”
“That place is greasy,” I said.
“Exactly,” Elena replied.
“Ok, fine,” I said. “Someone else better pay for my food for chauffeuring your drunk asses.”
I had to slow down to a crawl because the parking lot was so jacked. I mean really how hard it is to repave? I was literally going one mile an hour, but Rich’s stomach couldn’t take the movement and he held his hand over his mouth.
“Don’t you even think about wasting my money, mister,” Elena said. Ginger laughed.
“He’s about to puke and she’s worried about the money,” I said. “Relationship goals.” I parked the car and walked to the back door to help Elena get Rich out the backseat. “You okay?”
He nodded. “I’m not gonna hurl,” he said. “I’m thirty.”
“What?” Ginger asked.
“Look at her.” I nodded toward the door. “How inconsiderate.”
“Here we go,” Rich said.
“Do you know how dangerous second hand smoke is?” I didn’t lower my voice, as we got closer to her.
“It’s worse than first hand smoke,” Ginger said.
“It can cause cancer,” Elena added. I rolled my eyes.
Low and behold, it was the asshole I’d met at the bar. Her shoulders were bowed, messy curls falling forward, breasts touching the top of her ribs, with legs for days. Black boots with a small heel, one against the side of the building, tight blue jeans and leather jacket with the collar popped, a cloud of smoke billowed around her. My skin was clammy from dried sweat. Ginger, Rich, and Elena walked inside, but I, for some reason, lingered. I considered apologizing for calling her an asshole, but instead the only thing that came to mind was, “It’s illegal to smoke this close to the entrance.”
“You gonna arrest me?”
“It’s just inconsiderate to smoke near other people.”
“Sweetheart, the only person I don’t smoke around is my mother,” she said exhaling a puff. It wasn’t exactly in my face, but damn close. She was sexy in a bad girl way, but bad girls weren’t my thing. I rolled my eyes and went inside to find my friends.
So how did she get me? What did she do that won me over? Food. After we became a couple, she told me she paid for all of our meals because she felt bad about blowing smoke in my face and her number was with our check. I waited the ceremonious forty-eight hours before calling and thanking her for the meal. She responded If you think Tammy’s has good food, wait until you’re in my kitchen. Cheesy and suggestive, but my stomach wouldn’t allow me to turn down a free meal, so I arrived on her doorstep five minutes before seven the next weekend.
The first time Juliana told me she loved me, she didn’t. We’d been dating for three months and were at the beach with Ginger and Rita. One of the perks of being in a relationship: double dates were actually fun. They were in the water while Juliana and I lay on her Star Wars towel, my head on her chest. I listened to the air moving through her lungs while the waves crashed into the shore. I was wearing a bubble gum pink bikini. She had on a white tank top and black board shorts that stopped at the middle of her thigh. I was dozing off until I smelled smoke. I looked up and, yep, she had a cigarette in her mouth.
“Really?” I said. “When I meet your mom she’ll help me convince you to quit.” The muscle under my head went from pillow to rock. “Unless I’m a booty call,” I said. “Well, I’ve met your friends and you take me out during the day so technically—”
“My mom doesn’t know.”
“That you smoke?”
“That I’m gay.”
She sat up. Ashed her cigarette in the sand. Shockwaves rolled through her back, each muscle tensed, vibrated, relaxed. She inhaled deep, her usually slouched shoulders rising, rolling backward. She turned her head, chin hovering over her right shoulder. “I always told myself I’d tell her if I fell in love.” She paused and the words danced above our heads as Ginger and Rita emerged from the water, holding hands. “I wasn’t sure it’d ever happen so I figured why say anything.” My heart expanded, shoved against the cage of ribs it sat in. “Then, I met you.” Her hands shook like the legal addict she was. “I guess what I’m trying to say is—”
“I love you too,” I bellowed, before tossing myself into her arms and kissing her. Tobacco settled in my nose, the taste of paper on my tongue.
“Do you two need a little privacy?” Rita asked. Her mocha skin turned red under her eyes.
“She doesn’t know that I smoke either,” Juliana said.
We were good, awesome, amazing. After being together a year she moved into my place. It was bigger than hers, located between the hospital and the firm she worked at. She’s an architect and a morning person. I’m a nurse and a night owl.
I accidently told Elena first about the engagement. She sat across from me reading over the menu in the Japanese restaurant. The walls were painted red. There weren’t many people there, which worried me on a Saturday afternoon.
“What is calamari again?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” I replied. “I don’t eat anything I can’t spell.”
“Must be a limiting diet.”
“That’s mean.” I smiled. “You see how she treats her sister-in-law?” I asked the waiter.
“We’re not supposed to like each other.” She stuck out her tongue.
“Mature,” I said. “What’s this sauce here called?” I pointed to the dish with my left hand.
“OH MY GOD!” Elena screamed, startling the waiter and I.
“What?” I asked.
“Your hand!” she said. “Your finger!”
“I’ll come back,” the waiter said before disappearing.
My cheeks went warm and I tucked a hair behind my ear. Juliana and I hadn’t really thought about how we were going to tell everyone. I just liked putting it on in the morning and had forgotten I was still wearing it. “I’m engaged,” I said.
“You have to tell me everything,” she said. “Who proposed to who?”
“She proposed,” I answered. “It was so adorable.”
Since I work nights in the hospital, I’m pretty grumpy early mornings. After six months of living together, I was confused and slightly irritated when she woke me while it was still dark outside with breakfast in bed. The dogs yawned and whined, their heavy tails thumping against our hardwood floor. After growling and widening my eyes, we began to feed each other, her legs stretched out on either side of me, mine bent with my feet resting next to her hips. I put my forehead on her shoulder and begged her to let me go back to sleep. She refused, made me get dressed.
We piled the dogs in the car and drove toward the sunrise. The darkness was receding and their heads were hanging out the window, tongues on the side of their mouths, drool flying into the wind. Her hand was on my thigh; her palm wrinkled and stuck to me. When we parked, she didn’t bother putting Duke on a leash. He was the best-behaved dog I’d ever seen, but she had to help me calm down Rory enough to get on the harness. We walked until the sun peeked over the horizon. She didn’t get on one knee, she didn’t have a speech prepared; she merely pulled the box out of her jacket pocket and opened it with a sly smile.
“That’s the sweetest thing I ever heard,” Elena said, her eyes glistening.
“Says the woman who got engaged under the Eiffel Tower.”
“It was totally what I wanted, but the way Juliana did it was so you guys,” she said. “I’m so happy for you.”
I was kinda disappointed when we broke the news to my parents because they already knew. “She asked for our blessing,” my mother said as she took a bite of homemade mashed potatoes. “This is amazing, Juliana,” she added after taking a sip of red wine. “And this is just divine.”
“You asked?” I asked her.
“Of course,” she said and laughed from the kitchen. She and my father walked in with a mug of beer each. Her hair was curly and pinned back.
“What’s this called again?”
“Rogue Ale, the Shakespeare,” she told him. “It was founded in Oregon and there are brewpubs all over. There’s one actually down on Union Street.”
“I’d love to check it out.”
Juliana was already the chef of our abode, but she’d gone all out. She spent three days preparing the three-course meal, complete with stuffed mushrooms and apple cobbler. We spent an hour in Avedano’s just picking out the steaks. I mean we went there all the time to get our meat, but Juliana had to get just the right cut and thinness. It’s easier to digest she told me. It’ll taste better with the wine too. Granted, her experimental cooking was better than my regular cooking even on a great day, but spending hours in a grocery store wasn’t my idea of fun.
After dinner, my mother and I washed the dishes while Juliana showed my dad her plans for the renovated Cellspace on Bryant Street.
“We love her,” my mother said as I dried a mason jar.
“That’s all that matters.” I laughed as I put it in the cabinet. “Glad that’s out of the way.”
“Besides, if you don’t keep her, you’ll end up starving.”
“Hey!” I said. “I’m not that bad of a cook.”
“Before Jules, you were eating cereal for dinner.”
“It’s delicious and nutritious.”
“My baby’s cereal is gourmet,” Juliana replied as she wrapped her arms around my waist and kissed my cheek. My dad put his arm over my mom’s shoulder and kissed her hair.
“Honesty, respect, and love,” he said while my mother’s arm gripped his side. “That’s why we’ve been married so long. If you don’t have that, you don’t have shit.”
We decided on a September outdoor, vineyard wedding. I was stumbling through the kitchen when she came in with the dogs. I was my typical morning mess. Blonde hair in a knotted leftover ponytail. My eyes felt like sand. The kitchen was clean, my “world’s greatest nurse” mug sitting next to a freshly brewed pot. The sun was squirming its way through the closed blinds on the window above the sink. The front door opened; Duke and Rory came running in and jumped up on me to wish me a good morning. I grumbled.
“Down,” Juliana said. “You know that Mommy isn’t awake yet.”
“Thank you,” I told her. She peeled the sweaty t-shirt off, mocha skin glistening where the intruding rays managed to get in. It made me forget I hated mornings. “Give me a kiss,” I said.
“No way,” she said. “I’m gross.”
“I don’t care,” I told her. “You kiss me when I have morning breath.”
“That’s different,” she said. I crossed my arms and pouted, so she rolled her eyes before leaning over to press a quick kiss to my lips. “So, I was thinking today.” I poured coffee into my mug. “What if I wore a dress?”
“When?” I asked while opening the fridge. “Dammit, I forgot to get creamer.”
“All the way in the back on the left.” I began moving Tupperware of leftovers and meal preps. “For the ceremony.”
She tapped my waist and moved me out of the way.
“But you hate dresses.”
She pulled out the container of creamer.
“I don’t hate them.”
She reached over and grabbed my mug. She poured a perfect wallop, making my drink the color of her skin. I always had to pour little by little until I could get it just right, but she had no problem perfectly measuring it out. She was always aware of what was going on around her. Perception was her greatest gift. She had the timing of a profession bull rider and the directional sense of a seaman. Tell her to close her eyes and open them in one hundred seconds and she could do it without counting. Give her directions to a place and she could always find her way home. “I just prefer pants,” she said. “They’re just more functional.”
“Except when…” I wiggled my eyebrows and she laughed.
“Seriously though,” she said. “Would you mind if I wore one?”
“Nope,” I said. “But it just has to be a different style than mine. I love you, but I refuse to be that lesbian couple.” She smiled and pecked me again. “By the way, the wedding planning timelines say that save the dates should be going out next week.”
“You’re asking when we’re telling my mom?”
“Not really, but kinda,” I said. “These need to go out to give people enough time to make travel plans.”
“I know.” She nodded. “How about next weekend?”
She wrung her hands together and shook her head. “The only thing I’m sure about is you,” she said. “I said I’d tell her once I fell in love and this is it. You’re my it.”
When she moved in, the first thing I noticed was how many pictures she had of her family. She had adopted twin brothers. Julius I met twice and Jorge was over all the time. Julius was an engineering major at Arizona State; Jorge was doing international business at Juliana’s alma mater, which was only thirty minutes away. I loved having him around because he was hilarious and he brought out Jules’ silly side. I often came home to them yelling at the screen while playing video games or having staring contests or arguing over the definition of third wave ska. I didn’t know what first and second wave ska was so I just sipped my whiskey as their conversations grew from calculated analysis to raised voices and crazy hand gestures. The first time I saw this I got nervous. I thought they were really arguing, but the smirks they wore as they attempted to out think each other was adorable. Having my brother Rich and her brother Jorge over at the same time was madness. I was totally outnumbered when it came to the underground music scene and science fiction references.
We decided to drive to her mother’s for dinner on Saturday because on Sundays she taught Sunday school, sat through two sermons, then visited everyone on the list of sick in the bulletin.
I stretched diagonally in the empty bed. Jules was already gone with the dogs. I actually cherished waking up alone. Nothing like those first quiet moments. When I covered my yawn, I noticed that my ring was not on my finger. It’s gotta be here somewhere, I told myself as I sat up and pulled back the sheet slowly. Nothing. I got out of bed, listening for a click or ding. Nothing. I checked all four pillowcases then placed the pillows on the floor. Nothing. My heart sank into my stomach, the acid burning as I began to freak out.
I finally yanked back the sheet not caring about the fact that if my ring was in the sheets, it’d go flying into the wall. Silence. I tried to remember the last time I had it. I ran into the bathroom. The ring stand was naked. I went back into our room and checked the jewelry box on the dresser. Only earrings, necklaces, and decorative rings. By the time Jules got back, I was on the couch with my knees pressed to my chest. The entire house was in shambles.
“Babe, what’s wrong?” Her voice was shaky and high pitched.
“Promise me you won’t be mad.”
“Just tell me.”
“Promise!” She looked blurry.
She extended her pinky. I twisted mine around hers, pressed our thumbs together, and kissed our hands.
“I-I-I can’t find my ring.”
She paused and blinked. Then she laughed. One of those hearty laughs that started in her stomach and rumbled up her chest and out of her mouth.
“I took it to get cleaned.”
“It’s at the jeweler.”
“Why’d you do that?”
“You said it needed it after that MVA you had last week.”
“I already took it in,” I told her. “Remember?”
“Oh.” She paused. “Right, damn. I’m sorry you freaked out,” she added. “I’m gonna take a shower.” She kissed my cheek. “I’m gross.”
The twenty-minute drive to her mother’s house was void of conversation. The radio a melody in the background to accompany the hum of the tire ridges on the pavement. Her jaw was tighter than the grip her right hand had on the steering wheel. That day was the first time I saw her wear a dress. It was a gray fit and flair; tight from her shoulders to waist, then the bottom flared out. She looked strange to me. We made a right at the Cine Arts theatre and she leaned to her left, switching her steering hand. Kids were running around, yelling and squealing as they played tag. The speed bumps slowed the car to an idle roll. We pulled up to a baby blue house with a statue of a little boy holding a fishing rod in the front yard. The grass was low and the driveway looked like it was shining.
A woman with white hair was sitting on the porch in a rocking chair and I could see her eyes smile as Juliana got out of the car. I pulled down the visor to check my lipstick. She was a tiny thing. When they hugged, she rested her head on Juliana’s forearm. She was wearing yellow capris, a blue button down, and wedge slippers. The woman said something and Juliana laughed her deep, rich laugh which tugged at the corners of my mouth. Her straight hair flung back as she grabbed her stomach. She shook her head and waggled her index finger at the woman. The woman grabbed Juliana’s arm and waddled side to side with a smile. Juliana smiled and grabbed her mother in another hug. She was content. I imagined little Juliana being comforted by her mother, her strength taken from the woman who had given her life. Juliana shrugged and waved me over. I opened the door, stuck out my heels and got out of the car. It was the longest fifteen feet I ever had to walk. I could see the woman drinking me in, swirling my image in her mind before the corners of her mouth lifted into a smile.
“Mommy,” Jules said. I smiled at that. “This is Charlotte.”
“Adriana,” the woman said and extended her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Juliana has told me so much about you.”
“I hope good things,” I said.
“For the most part,” Adriana said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you too.”
“So how did you two meet?” Adriana asked as we followed her inside.
“Mutual friends,” Juliana answered. “Mommy, I love the cut.”
Adriana smiled and smoothed the hair at the nape of her neck. She had gray eyes behind thin silver glasses. Her hair was cropped close to her head; at her temple it lay flat unlike her daughter’s. Her skin was pale as mine; she looked like a ghost next to her caramel child.
“Really?” she asked. “It was just getting to be too much.” She sounded like she was singing more than talking. Each syllable drawn out as if she had no reason to rush words. “Mira tu pelo,” she said touching straight ends. “Aye, I don’t know why you don’t keep it like this.”
Juliana’s hair cascaded down her back with shorter layers in the front. Throughout the day, it’d been falling into her face. It took two hours and over fifty dollars for Angelo to get it that way. The man with strong arms and tender hands was the only one in the entire salon who could handle her curls. She was self conscious about the amount of heat it took to make her hair submissive. Other customers had complained about all the steam caused by drying her hair so she began taking his last slot. She always saw him before presentations, events, and trips out of town.
I liked her hair better curly. Mostly because I wished mine wasn’t dead straight, but I fell in love a little more whenever she woke up in the morning with stray tendrils sticking up, yawned, threw the mass to the side with a half grin and a garbled “morning”. When it was curly, she didn’t care about the getting it wet or sweating it out. Whether pulled back or parted to the side, she was free.
The windows were open and multiple fans were on. There was a large A/C outside, but Adriana wasn’t using it. The living room was covered by crème-colored carpet with vacuum lines that looked like a fresh-cut yard. The impressions continued under the furniture, making me wonder how the small woman lifted the cream leather couch, love seat, and glass coffee table.
Juliana sat on the love seat and when I sat next to her. She rocked back and stretched her arms behind me before putting her hands in her lap. There were framed pictures on the wall of each family member: Adriana, her father, Jorge and Julius. But on the table next to the couch, facing the front door were individual pictures of Juliana. I got on my knees to get a better look. I almost felt bad for disturbing the perfect vacuum lines.
The carpet was stiff against my legs and bare feet. A white tablecloth was under the collection. Juliana suspected she was the favorite, because she was the only biological child of her father, and the shrine confirmed it.
There was a nametag with the emblem of the cinema on the corner where we made the right off the Main Street. There was a small plastic container of baby teeth and a pair of infant shoes with a quarter in the left one.
When I asked about the coin, Adriana replied that it was good luck.
“This is so adorable,” I said, picking up a baby picture in a gold frame. The baby looked like a fatter toothless Juliana. She was wearing only a diaper and her eyebrows were furrowed into the top of her nose exactly how she did when she chewed on the end of her pen at her draft table. “My baby pictures are horrible,” I said. “Puberty did me well.” All three of us laughed.
Adriana held her hands out to Juliana. “Let me see.”
The older woman waved her fingers. With a huff, Juliana put her fingertips on Adriana’s palms. “Oh, Juliana,” she said, the first syllable of her name sounding like an owl. “Work?”
Her nails were chewed down. It took her two months to grow them past her fingertips before she started the new project. Juliana nodded and looked past me. “That picture was her first set of shots,” Adriana said as she stood up and disappeared down the hall. “She was such a happy baby.” A hinge creaked, a cabinet door closed. “But ooo she was grumpy that day.” She emerged with a nail file and clear polish.
“Hush.” She waved her hand and looked back at me. “It was her first set of shots.” She began filing Juliana’s nails. “She couldn’t stand them, more attitude than the day she was born.”
“She doesn’t want to hear about my birthday.”
“If she minded, she’d tell me.”
“I don’t mind,” I said.
“Traitor,” Juliana grumbled as her mother began to apply the clear polish.
“Not a sound this one,” Adriana continued. “She wasn’t crying or nothing. And when the doctor flicked her foot.” Juliana mouthed the last sentence as her mother said it. “She made just enough noise to say ‘happy?’ to the doctor.”
“Not much has changed,” I said. “Sometimes I forget we live together.”
“The mission is so expensive. When I was your age, I had three roommates.” There was a chime in the kitchen. “Dinner’s ready. Charlotte… do you go by Charlotte?”
“Everyone calls me Charlie.”
“Charlie, do you mind helping me while her nails dry?”
“No, of course not.” My stomach growled and she smiled.
“I just hope my cooking lives up to your expectation,” she said. “Lena really knows her way around a kitchen. I’d love to take credit for it, but it was her father who was the chef.”
“I’m sorry,” I told her. “Juliana told me he passed.”
“Thank you.” She patted my arm.
“I’m sure your food is amazing.”
“I see you’re eating well,” she said and I guessed I looked shocked because her eyes immediately went wide and she covered her mouth. “Mija, it’s a compliment,” she said. “It means you’re doing well for yourself.” She opened the oven and pulled out the large pot. “Does your fiancé cook?” She nodded toward my left hand were my ring finger had a lighter line right above the knuckle. She pulled back the foil covering her dish. My stomach turned and I could feel my heartbeat in my throat and in my skull. Adriana wanted to hear about my fiancé, to gush over the proposal, but my tongue was heavy and my teeth locked. Juliana walked into the kitchen, her fingers spread apart.
“Don’t go too girly on me,” I said, causing Adriana to chuckle. “First the dress, now the nails. I just don’t know who you are anymore.” Juliana usually laughed at butch jokes but instead she looked irritated.
“She’s just kidding,” Adriana said. “Can you do me a favor and get out the nice place mats.”
“The gold ones?”
“Yep those.” Juliana disappeared into the back of the house. “So tell me,” she asked, leaning to the side to look down the hall. “How bad has the smoking been?” There was sand in my throat. “Oh please,” she said. “A mother knows. She’s been smoking since she was nineteen. That architecture program wore on her, especially after Julian.”
“Mah, I don’t see them!”
“Check my craft room!”
“She’s probably looking right at them.” She laughed. “Sometimes she refuses to see what’s in front of her face,” she said. “I know you aren’t my daughter’s friend,” Adriana said. “You’re her fiancé.” I didn’t deny it. I didn’t laugh it off.
Juliana came out the room with the place mats. “Here they— Charlie? You okay?” she asked me. “My mom said something crazy, huh?” She kissed Adriana’s hair.
“Uh, yea,” I replied.
“Smells great, Mommy,” Juliana said as she set the table. “You didn’t have to.”
“Nonsense,” she said. “I barely get to see you, so course I made your favorite.” Baked chicken, green beans, macaroni and cheese. She put a bit of everything on a plate and handed it to Juliana. “Eats like a man this one.” Juliana shrugged but I died inside when Adriana smirked at me, looking like an older version of her daughter. Adriana sat at the head of the table; Juliana and I sat across from one another on each side. She extended her hands to us and we took them. I closed my eyes, waiting for her mother to begin the prayer, but it was Juliana’s voice, which filled my ears. I wasn’t hearing the words as she gave thanks. It was a silky but deep prayer. Thanksgiving for more than the meal and it made goose bumps rise on my skin. In the two years we’d been dating, I’d never heard her say grace or pray. Adriana and I chimed amen after and I tried not to stare at my blushing bride to be.
“Charlie, Juliana said you’re a nurse,” Adriana said.
“Cardiac unit at San Francisco General.”
“How do you like it?”
“Love it,” I told her. “Juliana thinks I should get my master’s, but I’m not sure if I have the time. I’d probably have to take off for clinicals and I don’t want to put too much on her.”
“Things are going great at the firm,” Juliana chimed. “We can afford it.” Adriana smiled at me. Her eyes asked How could I not know?
The table was covered in a red, cotton cloth with crème-colored placemats with gold trim. A crystal centerpiece with reflective fruit sat in the middle. The plates and glasses were cobalt blue and matched the décor of the kitchen. It seemed safe to assume it was her favorite color. The meal finished with small talk about work, family, and hobbies. As I cleared the table, Adriana asked, “Tu quiere café?”
“Si,” Juliana and I replied. Adriana smiled and nodded.
“I grew up in Cali. Learning the basics makes me a better nurse.”
“Very smart of you,” Adriana said. “Keep this one around.” The coffee pot began to rumble its approach to completion. “You should visit more.”
“I know,” Juliana said as she poured the two mugs of coffee. She splashed the same amount of creamer in each before handing us the mugs. She made her cup and the three of us made our way to the porch. The back yard was shimmering in the bright moonlight while the crickets serenaded us. The air was dry and cool like the night we met. I rubbed my ring finger.
“Not that I’m complaining, but what brings you out here?”
Juliana looked at me when she answered, “Just wanted to visit.”
“There’s nothing you want to tell me?” Juliana looked at me again. “Ok, I won’t pry, but just know that I love and accept you.”
We headed to the car soon after. “Don’t be a stranger.” Juliana started the engine and rolled down the window. “Drive safe, call me when you get in.”
She kissed her mother’s cheek then pulled out the driveway. Her left hand rested on her forehead, her thumb sitting on her left eyebrow, her forefinger against her right one and the other three fingers shielded her eyes from me.
When we got home, we got ready for bed in silence. I brushed my teeth while she showered and when she was done, we didn’t look at each other as she got out and wrapped the towel around herself. I closed the door, hard, behind her and undressed. Reaching my left hand over my shoulder and twisting my right one behind my back, I managed to unzip my dress. Juliana had zipped me up before we left, but you can’t ask your girlfriend for help when you’re mad at her. I tossed the green dress to the floor. Juliana had picked it out, suggesting that I wear something to bring out my eyes. I turned on the hot water, slid out of my underwear and stepped into the blazing stream. The bathroom quickly refilled with steam. My skin burned, it was red like I’d been lying in the sun. I tipped my head back and let the water run down, plastering my short blonde hair to my scalp. I quickly washed my hair and body. I climbed into bed where Juliana was laying on her side, straight hair where her bra strap would be, her back to me so I turned my back to her. I closed my eyes but sleep didn’t take me. It didn’t take long for Juliana’s snores to fill the room. The blinds were closed and the only light in the room was the blue numbers of our alarm clock.
I sat up and looked at her. She was lying on her stomach, her head facing me, the comforter sitting on her lower back. I reached out to touch the tiger tattoo on her shoulder. Her skin was warm, rippled where the ink was and soft where it wasn’t. I watched her get it, held her hand as she cursed the artist who put it there, then praised him after it was done. I cleaned it and applied Neosporin on a daily basis. I monitored its healing and relayed the progress to her. Her snoring rumbled like a muscle car, so I tilted her chin up to unblock her airway. The snores lessened. “Love you,” she grumbled as she flipped over.
The next morning she was still in bed, the dogs at the foot like they knew we needed a day to sleep in.
“I can’t believe you told my mom about us,” she said.
“She already knew,” I replied, turning onto my side to look at her. “She flat out said she knew I wasn’t just a friend.”
“I did mention being able to support us.”
“And she said I’m a keeper.” Juliana chuckled. “We wear rings all the time, she noticed our hands,” I added. “Why didn’t you wear yours?” I sat up, wrapping the covers around my chest.
“I don’t know.” She sighed and ran her hands down her face with a loud exhale.
“You weren’t going to tell her were you?” I asked. “That’s why you got my ring cleaned.”
“I was ready,” she said. “But when I woke up that morning to go for a run and I saw your ring it reminded me about all the things she said when I was a teenager. That being gay wasn’t a choice but the result of psychological issues.” She pressed her knuckles into her eyes. “I had the break up with my first love because I wasn’t ready to come out. I always saw it as this beautiful moment between us. That I would sit her down and finally come clean. I’ve only come out to my brothers, everyone else in my family just made assumptions. I didn’t get to come out on my terms.”
“I didn’t tell her, Jules.”
“But you didn’t deny it either.”
“What was I supposed to do?”
“It wasn’t your place.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t get it. She’s okay with you and us and is probably picking out dresses.”
“You don’t get it,” she said, shoving the covers back as she got out of bed. “It wasn’t your confession to make.”
She walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. After her shower, she dressed and went on her usual run, or at least that’s what I thought. Instead of returning in an hour, she was gone for the rest of the day and the one after that. Two days later after my shift, one of her drawers was empty and Duke was gone. There was a note letting me know that she needed some space. I picked up my ring from the jeweler but left it in the box on the top of the dresser. I went back to eating cereal for dinner and waking up in the afternoon to Rory’s whining. A week later, she called me and asked that we meet at Tammy’s to talk. When I walked up she was leaning against the side of the building, cigarette hanging from her lips. She looked at me. There was no smile in her eyes, but I couldn’t believe how right she’d been about getting me with one look. I just wasn’t sure if she’d keep me.
Silk Hindus was born in NY and completed a BS in Miami and an MFA in Tampa.