Of all the men Ray brought home, Trenton was the worst. Outside of the often visible and audible PDA they engaged in, he never seemed to leave. Reagan, now 15, usually ignored her mother’s company, since they never stuck around long anyway.
Reagan stood in the bathroom, snapping pictures of herself in the new striped shirt she’d purchased with her first paycheck. She’d felt him creep past a few times, but ignored him. If he was hovering for the bathroom, he could wait; this was HER house.
The last time he walked by, he lingered in the doorway. Even though he was obviously homeless, his clothes and shoes were always brand new. “Don’t you think those shorts are too short?” he said. Reagan turned to see his eyes snap back upward to her face.
“What?” she said. Normally, she’d answer respectfully, since he was an adult, but she didn’t take kindly to her mother’s company talking to her. At all.
“You got…a lot going on. I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea about you,” he said. By now, he was obviously looking at her body with more than concern. Reagan reached the handle and slammed the door in his face.
She remained there for the rest of the afternoon. Alma marched up the stairs and banged on the door with all the strength her palm could muster. “Reagan Mae Dobson, you better get the hell out my bathroom before I tear this door off the frame!”
Reagan opened the door, now clad in her grandmother’s robe. “I thought you had somewhere to be. Why are you in my robe?” Reagan tried to open her mouth and tell her grandmother what happened but she closed it. The only thing she felt was shame and couldn’t handle whatever her grandmother would say. She crossed the hall into her bedroom and shut the door.
Alma was on her heels, joining her in the room before the latch could catch in the doorframe. “Reagan, talk to me,” Alma said. She knew something was wrong with her granddaughter and she feared the worst.
“Trenton told me my shorts were too short.”
“Well, who the hell is he? If I bought them, they’re okay.”
“No. It’s not that,” Reagan said, folding her arms across her chest. She couldn’t shake the disgust that snaked up her spine. Alma sat on the bed next to her granddaughter, patient as she waited for her reply.
“It was the way he…looked at me. Like he does when he follows Mah into another room.”
“Lust,” Alma sighed. Beneath the surface of her smooth cocoa skin, she was fuming.
“Talking about he didn’t ‘want anyone to get the wrong idea about me’,” Reagan said. She roughly wiped away the tears that had begun to fall, annoyed she’d become this emotional again. Alma pulled the girl into her chest and held her. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Reagan. You’re a good girl, you always have been and I promise that it will never happen again, as long as you are under this roof and there is breath in my body.”
Reagan heard the door open and shut downstairs. She glanced over at the Apple Watch charging on the nightstand: 4:42AM. She slipped out of bed and down the stairs just to catch a glimpse of her mother kissing a stranger. Ray giggled and bid the man farewell before turning and spotting her daughter in the dark.
“Shit, Reagan! You scared me!”
“Who was that?”
“My friend, Davis,” Ray said as she started up the stairs. She kissed her daughter on the cheek and kept walking.
“What happened to Hammer?” Reagan said, chasing her mother to her bedroom.
“Ugh. He got into a fight at the bar and got tossed. I wasn’t ready to leave so he left,” Ray said, sitting at her vanity.
Reagan scoffed and shook her head. “What?” Ray said, annoyed at her daughter.
“Don’t you ever get tired?”
Ray turned around and squared her eyes at her daughter.
“Tired of what?”
“THIS. Pretending you’re still this carefree teenager, chasing man after man…”
“Please, Almathea Ray Dobson chases NO man,” Ray said, turning back around.
“Almathea Ray doesn’t know how to say NO to a man,” Reagan said, turning around to go to her room.
“Little girl, you must have lost your mind back in Boston,” Ray said, storming from the vanity and after her daughter.
“I’m sorry, Mah. But aren’t you tired? Doesn’t it get boring? Being the party girl?”
“Excuse the fuck out of me for wanting to have a little fun in my life!”
“I don’t wanna fight, Mah. I’m sorry, goodnight,” Reagan said, attempting to end the altercation.
“Oh, no you wanted to talk about the shit, LET’S TALK ABOUT THE SHIT,” Ray said, her voice bellowing through the halls.
“Who the hell is out here yelling like they’ve lost their minds?” Alma said, emerging from her own bedroom.
“Gigi, I’m sorry, just go back to bed,” Reagan said.
“See, that’s your problem, Reagan. You think you know everything damn thing. Just like your damn daddy, you skipped town as soon as you had the $48 for a bus ticket. You don’t know me, you don’t know anything about me.”
“Almathea,” Alma said to her daughter.
Ray had been deep in her cups and knew to stop talking before she said more things she would come to regret.
“I’m sorry Reagan, I wasn’t the perfect mother. I’m sorry I like drinking and having sex and that embarrasses you for some reason. I’m sorry,” Ray said, before going back into her room and slamming the door.
The next morning was silent. Alma whipped pots and pans on the stove as Ray and Reagan sat at the table, ignoring one another. In a flash, Alma had three plates of eggs, sausage, pancakes, and fruit on the table, complemented by coffee and orange juice. She took her husband’s seat at the head of the table; the cushion worn flat to the wood.
“Ok ladies, it’s over and done with,” she said, setting her fork down.
“I already apologized, Gigi,” Reagan said, scrolling through Twitter aimlessly.
“And did you, Almathea?”
“What do I have to apologize for?” Ray said, dropping her sausage back onto the plate.
“Your daughter hasn’t even been home for a day and you two are already at each other’s throats! I would like to at least have a happy breakfast on day one!”
Reagan and Ray exchanged apologetic looks and grasped each other’s hands across the table. “I’m sorry, baby. I guess I am stuck in my ways,” Ray said, grabbing her mother’s hand. Just as they had fallen apart, they’d always come back together.
With her grandmother and mother gone, Reagan got to spend the day stocking the garage with all her belongings that wouldn’t fit in the house. She opened the garage to find her grandfather’s black 1978 Impala still inside, covered by the black tarp he used to “keep it out of the sun”. It had been his most prized possession. Reagan could remember the summer days she would help him wash it and the night drives they would take after dinner. After he’d passed, her grandmother couldn’t bear to part with it, even though she never drove it herself. “Theo would kill me,” she would often say.
Reagan found herself running her fingers along the car every time she passed by it, trying to pull memory after memory through her sense of touch. She’d been working so hard, she hadn’t noticed that handful of her boxes had torn and deposited her belongings all over the driveway. “Damn it!” she yelled, when she picked up the ragged cardboard. In the midst of her dilemma, she’d had an idea that sent her running back into the house.
The Impala started up beautifully, roaring and rumbling beneath her as it once had the last time she’d taken a ride. Her grandmother left his keys in the same place: on the key ring next to the stove. Reagan’s heart thudded in her chest as she pulled the car out of the driveway and onto the street. It was easy to shoot up to 80MPH when she finally reached the backroad, the car revving and lifting as it pushed down the recently repaved street. The wind whipped across Reagan’s face as she raced down to the stop sign and skirted to a halt.
The car whipped past the dark police car, startling the officer inside with its thunderous engine. Reagan looked in the rearview mirror to see the dark car flip on its siren and lights behind her. “Damn it,” she said, before pulling the beast over to the shoulder. She had no idea if her grandmother had kept the paperwork current on the car, so she began thinking of the least ridiculous lie she could summon. She took a deep breath as the officer exited his car and sauntered towards her.
“Officer, I am so sorry, I didn’t realize how fast I was going.”
“Man, I haven’t seen this car in ages. I thought I was chasing a ghost,” the familiar gruff voice said, prompting Reagan to stick her head out the window.
It felt as if her heart would leap from her chest as she looked over his badge and dark sheriff’s uniform, complete with police-standard utility belt. Malik Franklin had finally filled out his 6’2 frame with more than skin and bones. “Malik?” she said, before opening the car door.
“Reagan Dobson,” he said as they pulled into a hug. Reagan couldn’t help how much larger he’d gotten, his solid muscles flexing against her as they embraced. She could feel her stomach erupt in butterflies as his hands slipped from around her waist, his fingertips grazing her slightly exposed back. He stepped back and looked her over, his thumbs tucked into his belt.
“Damn, how long has it been?” she said, suddenly self-conscious about the sweatpants and sweaty tank top she was wearing.
“You skipped town a little more than 9 years ago,” he said, flashing a brilliant smile. The last time she’d seen him, he had a mouthful of brackets.
“Damn, you look good,” she said, unashamed. She was her mother’s child after all.
“I can say the same for you. You finally got some hips!”
Reagan whacked his arm lovingly, the same way she had every time he cracked a joke about her. “Sorry about the racing. I was just feeling nostalgic,” she said, jamming her hands into her pockets. She was happy to see Malik, but still unsure if she was in any trouble.
“It’s ok. I’m not going to arrest you. How long you in town for?”
“Um…I’m not sure. Things got a bit hairy in Boston so I came home.”
“Wow, with your mom and grandma?”
“Yep, I’m back on Tireman,” she said, sounding more pathetic than she wanted.
“I’m still a few blocks over. My parents retired and wanted a change in pace so I bought the house from them.”
“I never thought you would get Reverend Franklin out of that house.”
“I could’ve used a crowbar, honestly,” he said, sharing a chuckle with Reagan. His heart was beating a mile a minute as they stood there, every intimate thought he’d ever had about her bubbling to the surface.
“Come by the house tonight. I’m sure Mom and Gigi would love to see you,” Reagan said.
“Oh yes, Malik Franklin has definitely grown up,” Ray said. She was elated her daughter was already moving along with her life and he would be the perfect candidate. Reagan sat the last of the grocery bags on the counter as her mother unloaded food into the pantry. “I’m not going out with him, Mah. I just invited him over,” Reagan said, almost reading her mother’s one-track mind.
“It won’t hurt, boo. A little entertainment is the perfect way to get over Carlson—“
“Hudson and…I’m not trying to get over him. I just need space,” Reagan said, unconvinced.
“Three states worth of space,” Ray said to herself. Even though she denied it regularly, Ray knew her daughter better than anyone. She needed excitement and adventure just as much as her mother, whether she admitted it or not.
“Anyway, we have everything you need for a romantic dinner, you know, just in case,” Ray winked before putting a bottle of wine away.
Reagan chuckled as she left to find her grandmother, who had been tending to her plants in the front room. “Gigi, can we set one more place for dinner? I invited someone over.”
“Sure, baby, who?”
“Oh, your little friend from school? He’s the sheriff now, you know?”
“Yeah, we had a little run-in earlier this afternoon.”
“He had the biggest crush on you. Wasn’t a time he came over where he wasn’t harder than Chinese jade,” Alma laughed.
“Gigi!” Reagan exclaimed before turning beet-red.
“Why do you think I made yall play with the door open? I was born AT night, not last night.”
“Lord help me!” Reagan exclaimed before retreating upstairs.