All of a sudden, all of the drinking hits me at once. My head is spinning as I sag into the couch. Tricia moving? My best friend? Sure, since she and Rita got married, I've been the third wheel, but I somehow thought we'd always live in close proximity to each other. I couldn't bring myself to picture it otherwise.
Tricia moves to sling her arm around Rita, nudging her into dancing. "You do understand that I can't dance to the music that's only in your head, right?" Rita laughs, squirming away. I smile, but it dies on my lips and Rita notices immediately.
"Yahya, you okay?"
"I'm great," I lie. "I'm totally thrilled for you. I just think...no wait, I know I drank way too much tonight."
Tricia cocks her head. "You went out without me? Bitch, you told me you were working."
"I know," I moan, leaning forward and cradling my head in my hands. "I was working. I broke my rule about not drinking on the job." I laugh ruefully. "I'm breaking a lot of my own rules lately."
"You don't break rules." Tricia shakes her head. "Sorry, that doesn't compute."
I laugh, then cringe as it makes the throbbing in my head worse. "Yeah, apparently I do."
"Bullshit. I bet you like, forgot to pay a meter or something."
I look up at her through my fingers. "Try, 'I slept with my client's brother.'"
Tricia's mouth is a perfect 'O' of shock. "The white guy? The rich guy? Romeo and freaking Juliet guy?"
"Yes," I moan softly.
"This is huge." She plops herself right next to me, pressing in close. "Babe go get me more bourbon, I need it." Rita grabs the bottle and mutely pours us two more shots. I watch her warily, expecting her to start hollering at me any moment. In fact, I would relish it. Then I would know I deserved to feel as shitty as I do. Tricia leans back on the couch, pursing her lips, her eyes unreadable as she stares off into the distance.
Then I wait some more.
"Tricia, if you don't say something, I'm going to self-combust."
She turns to me, slowly. "Okay then. I have one question for you."
I swallow hard. "What?"
"How was he?"
"In bed? Was he any good?"
“Why do you care?” I said, laughing.
“I’m just curious!”
I slump back, suddenly boneless at the memory. "Best I've ever had," I half moan, half sigh. "And then in the morning he offered to make me poached eggs...right before I had a mental breakdown and ran out of there."
Tricia is speechless for possibly the first time in her life. But I suddenly can't stop the words from coming.
"Tricia, oh my god. I like him. I do. He's got this weird duality to him, where one moment he's all formal and holding open doors for me and the next moment he's tearing off my clothes." I ignore Tricia's shocked sound and plow on, the words coming in a stream of conscious ramble that I couldn't contain if I tried. "But it's just...bad fucking timing. Like, literally the worst. Nothing is going according to my plan, not the business stuff, not the family shit, none of it, and when I got the Camilla Easton wedding I thought, holy shit this is it, I finally have made my break! I wanted everything to go flawlessly from start to finish so that I could use this as a launching point, get Felicia to fucking call me back and then I'd be able to focus on fixing my personal life afterwards. I don't have time for a man to complicate my life! I mean, I planned on taking some time off once the licensing process was over, maybe I can wait until that...."
Tricia speechlessness is finally broken when she practically explodes off the couch. "Yahya, this isn't the kind of shit you can plan, girl! You know what your problem is? I'll tell you, because I see you doing it to yourself over and over again. You want the world to follow your rules when the world is just doing its own thing with you in it. You're not in control, and that's a fucking beautiful thing, don't you see? You gotta roll with it and when gorgeous guys who make your parts tingle tell you they want to make you breakfast, you fucking stay for breakfast. I'm a fucking lesbian and if he's half as sexy as you make him sound I would have eaten his eggs from here until next week.
Rita chucks a throw pillow at her. Tricia puts up a soothing hand and grins lasciviously. "Baby don't be jealous, you know I only eat your eggs."
"Gross," Rita laughs and I am filled with another flood of sadness. I love these two more than is sensible, how am I going to be able to handle it when they move? The sadness spreads through me, a level of grief that doesn't make sense with my happy surroundings. I don't understand where it is coming from...until the text message alert goes off on my phone. I look down, already knowing what I am going to see.
"Yahya?" Tricia sees me staring at my phone in mute sorrow.
"It's my mom," I explain. "Otis is in the hospital."
Shock is supposed to sober you up, isn't it? That's what I have always heard. But I'm stumbling through the hospital entrance, still reeling like a drunken sailor. Tricia and Rita insisted on coming with me, with Rita somehow sober enough to drive. Tricia is clutching me right now. I know she is trying to hug me, support me, but she is leaning so hard I fear we both might fall over.
And when I see my mother's exhausted face, I know I'm going to crumple to the ground.
She unfolds herself from the chair and sobriety finally finds me. "Mom," I say, rushing to her.
"Baby girl," she sighs, folding me into her arms. The instant she has me, we are both crying.
"What happened?" I sniffle through my sobs. My mother's grief is infecting me. I'm taking it on in addition to my own.
She pulls back and squares her shoulders. It's such an unconscious gesture, so much like her normal self that the tears are flowing again. My mother always centers herself before she speaks. She always chooses her words carefully, for maximum effect, making sure to hit you with the full force of her emotional one, two punches. But there is no power in her stance now. She is just trying to hold herself together.
"They're saying it was a stroke," she says, like the doctors can't be trusted. "He was walking to the bathroom, Yahya, and he just..." her chest hitches slightly," went...down."
"I was right there, honey. I haven't left his side, not once." The tired lines etched into her face are proof of that. "So I was right there to catch him as he fell, but that man just got so fat. I kept telling him he needed to lay off the sweets, that it was going to be the death of him. He was too damn heavy for me to hold up and we both went down." For the first time I see the splint around her wrist. "He landed on me, and the doctors say that's the only thing that kept him from splitting his damn head open." She shakes her head at the irony. "I got stuck though. Had to pull myself out from under him to get to the phone...and...."
I am openly weeping now. Tricia is patting me everywhere, but I barely feel it. I watch my mom as the full force of what she just went through hits her. All the color drains from her cheeks, her beautiful cocoa skin an ashen gray with deep purple bags under her eyes. "They say it might have been too long," she finally whispers. "They don't know how much of him is left in there."
Tricia grabs me, steering me towards the chairs before my knees buckle. I land, hard. "When will we know?" I croak. This isn't right. Not Otis. He has dignity, poise. He is always dressed up, his pocket square ironed crisply in his Sunday best suit. He always walked with such a straight back that I teased him about the literal stick up his ass...
My mother glances up at the huge clock that dominates the wall above us. "I have no idea, Yahya. We just have to wait. And pray." Her shoulders hitch. "That man doesn't deserve this," she half moans, half wails.
She collapses against my shoulder and I cradle her face, letting her tears soak my hand as I try to soothe her with words I don't believe. "It's going to be okay, Mom. Otis is strong, you know that. Remember when Monique stayed with you two, and he was so intent on being the best granpappy ever that he nearly broke himself i
n two? You yelled at him to stop tossing the twins around like they were ragdolls? And he just looked at you like you were talking Chinese to him and went on throwing those seventy pound kids around like they weighed nothing at all."
My mom sniffles. "He was hurtin' for days after that, I know he was. But he wasn't about to let me say I told you so. Caught him sneaking Tylenol in the bathroom and I just had to laugh at him."
"See, he's strong and stubborn, mama. He's not about to go down without a fight."
I expect her to agree, because it is true. But instead my mother is quiet and still. I feel a flutter of fear in my stomach. "Mama?"