1. Return

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Reagan didn’t know what to expect when she crossed the threshold of her childhood home. The walls had been repainted, the furniture was replaced but she still recognized it as home. Her grandmother’s wall of plants were still thriving, perfectly placed in front of the bay window. “Gigi? Mah? You guys here?” Reagan said, dropping her backpack on the couch. She walked down the hall towards the kitchen, hoping her grandmother was cooking a welcome home feast of all her favorite high-calorie foods. She found the kitchen spotless and empty.

Reagan made her way throughout the rest of the house until she found her old bedroom, still decorated with her Word Up! Posters of boy bands long gone. The collage of photos hung over her desk, full of pictures of friends and postcards of destinations she’d planned to take. The bed was freshly made, dressed with new yellow linens to match the yellow throw rug at the foot of the bed. As she slipped deeper into her nostalgia, she heard the heavy front door open and close. She galloped down the stairs to see her mother, kicking off a pair of 5 inch heels.

“Hey Mah,” Reagan said, coming down the rest of the stairs.
“Reagan? My baby!” Ray said, throwing her arms around her daughter. “I didn’t know you were coming in today! I would’ve taken the day off!”
“It’s fine, I just got here. Where’s Gigi?”
“It’s Wednesday. She’s got her card game with the biddies down the street. Come in, let me look at you!” Ray said, spinning her daughter around. They sat on the couch and Ray threw her arms around her daughter again.
“I have missed you SO much!”
“I missed you too, Mah.”
“Tell me everything. What happened with you and what’s his name? Jetson?”
“Hudson. And nothing really. He proposed, I said no, then bought a plane ticket,” Reagan said, shrugging her shoulders.
Ray patted her daughter on the thigh. “Good for you, baby. Don’t let these nappy-head niggas tie you down. You have so much more going for you than being a wife,” Ray said before standing again.
“We need to celebrate! Let’s go out tonight!” Ray said, pulling her daughter from the couch. Reagan had forgotten how much natural energy her mother had. “I don’t know, Mah, I kinda just want dinner and a hot bath.”
“Oh, don’t start that old lady shit with me! I get enough of that from Mah!”

As if on cue, the front door opened once more and Alma Mae entered the house and took in the scene. “Reagan! Baby!” Alma said, pulling her granddaughter into a tight embrace.
“Hi Gigi!” Reagan said, embracing her grandmother. Alma even smelled the same to Reagan, like warm shortbread cookies.
“What are you doing here? I thought you didn’t come in for another few days.”
“I was…really anxious about getting here,” Reagan said, partially fibbing.
“Anxious to get away from that Jetson boy,” Ray said, sauntering into the kitchen.
“Hudson and no, I was not,” Reagan yelled after her mother.
“Why, what happened boo?”
“He just…proposed a little.”
“OH MY LORD JESUS! Let me see the ring!” Alma said, clapping her hands together.
Before Reagan could offer an explanation, Alma had pulled her left hand up to inspect the ring that wasn’t there.
“He didn’t have a ring?” She asked, her top lip turned slightly in disgust.
“I didn’t accept it.”
“Oh, honey, you can always go pick out a new one. That’s what gift receipts are for,” Alma said as she headed to the kitchen behind her daughter. Reagan sighed before following them.
“I didn’t accept his proposal,” Reagan said, sitting down at the table.
Alma, who had begun pulling leftovers from the fridge, froze. “Well, why not?” she said, dropping the Tupperware on the table with a little too much gusto. Ray snorted into the glass of lemonade she’d poured.
“Maybe she doesn’t want to be tied down to some ain’t shit man for the rest of her life.”
“Oh, shut up Ray,” Alma said, swatting at her daughter.
“I don’t know. I just wasn’t…excited. I always thought when I met the one, I’d feel it. Sparks or something,” Reagan said, shrugging her shoulders.
“You don’t have to settle. There are plenty of men who will set your whole person ablaze,” Ray said, setting another glass in front of her daughter.
“Sparks are overrated. I felt sparks the first time I met your grandfather. Sparks lead to fire,” Alma said, sipping from the glass her daughter left unattended.

The woman straightened her dress after she pressed the doorbell. She’d seen the address on Theodore’s driver’s license so many times, she had it memorized: 341 Tireman Rd. The woman, his wife, opened the door and dried her hands on the towel she’d draped on her shoulder. It was the day before the holiday, July 3rd and she had plenty of food to prep before the family arrived.
“Yes?” Alma asked the mystery woman. She was empty-handed so Alma immediately knew she wasn’t a saleswoman.
“Alma Dobson?”
“Yes?” Alma repeated, finding herself annoyed.
“Who is it, Mommy?” A little girl appeared behind her mother, the spitting image of Theodore, with pigtails.
“Mind your business, Almathea.”
“Hi, little lady. What’s your name?” the woman asked the small child, kneeling slightly. Alma stepped in front of her child and placed her hand on her hip.
“Can I help you?”
“I just wanted to know if Theodore was coming home,” the woman said, straightening suddenly and staring Alma square in the eye.
“It’s the holiday. Theodore is already home.”
The woman chuckled and licked her lips, prepared to spill the secret she’d been keeping for weeks.
“Everyone knows he’s just playing house over here, until he gets up the courage. He might be afraid of you, but I’m not. I just wanted to let you know that—“
“Know what? You need to talk a little faster,” Alma said.
“Your husband has been sleeping with me. For weeks now. I just wanted to be a woman and let you know that we plan on getting married.”

Alma’s face didn’t budge, not from surprise or distress; she’d already known about her husband’s extracurricular activities. “Is that all?”
“I’d just like to know when Theodore is coming home,” the woman repeated, gathering up what little dignity she had left. Alma grinned at her audacity.
“You enjoy your weekend,” Alma said, attempting to shut the door, when the woman stuck her foot in the doorframe.
“Excuse me, bitch, I wasn’t done,” the woman said, trying to push the door off her now-pinned foot.

What happened next would be talked about for months and would prevent any of Theodore’s women from darkening their doorway. Alma opened the door again and stepped onto the porch, forcing the woman to take a step back.
“Theodore Macrae Dobson lives at 341 Tireman Rd,” Alma said before backhanding the woman with her left hand. The strike stunned her and knocked her to the ground.
“There is but ONE bitch with paperwork on Theodore Dobson,” she said, before punching the woman full in the face. She tried to crawl down the steps before Alma grabbed her and shoved her into the banister three times, breaking several of the wooden planks on the side.
“That bitch’s name is Alma Mae Dobson and if you ever come over here again, thinking you run some shit, you better remember that you are on MY property and the police won’t think twice about me defending my home and my family,” Alma said, before kneeling to whisper in the woman’s ear. “With my pistol,” she said before throwing the woman out onto the street.

Theodore, tall and dark, bound out the house when he heard the commotion from the kitchen. He came out to see his wife walking back into the house while Whitney struggled to stand in the street, her face covered in blood. Stunned, he turned to Alma, who kissed him sweetly on the lips before asking “Are the ribs done, baby?”

“Gigi, when are you gonna get this porch fixed?” Reagan asked, as she began pulling her boxes from the car out front. Alma stopped and admired the broken posts. “They remind me of your granddaddy,” she said, smiling to herself.

Ray didn’t give her daughter a chance to unpack before she began demanding they go out. “Here, wear this,” she said, tossing her daughter a strappy navy-blue dress.
“Mah, really?” Reagan said, inspecting the dress. Knowing her mother, it would reveal way more than Reagan was comfortable, however, she knew her mother would pick out something much worse if she complained.
“Just put it on!”

Dressed, Reagan tiptoed into her mother’s room and watched her at her vanity. Even as a child, Reagan loved watching her mother get ready to leave out, because she made everything seem as though it were a special occasion. Even in her 40s, she was still exceptionally beautiful and she used that beauty to pass for a woman in her 30s. Everything about her appearance had to be perfect and in place. Ray had encouraged her daughter to be everything she could be: smart, funny, cultured, but her emphasis on beauty was paramount.
Alma walked by and spotted her daughter in her mirror before she whispered in Reagan’s ear. “Maybe you guys will be gone by Labor Day.”
“I heard that!” Ray said, never taking her eyes off the mirror as she drew a perfect line of eyeliner. “I am so excited that you are here, Reagan. I just started going to this new place called Clover and I just LOVE it! And the men,” Ray said, before giving a suggestive shiver.
“I thought it would just be us, Mah,” Reagan said, sitting as best as she could on the end of the bed in the bandage dress.
“What’s a party without men?” Ray said as she sprayed setting spray all over her face.

The party at Clover seemed to be just that: men of varying ages, shooting their shots at every available woman in the room. As soon as Ray and Reagan entered, they were swept up in a bevy of offers and compliments. Ray, a frequent flier, danced away, eager to entertain her new friends, leaving Reagan standing awkwardly near the exit. She migrated to the bar, where she planned on staying until her mother tired herself out.
“What can I get you?” the pretty blonde bartender asked.
“Jameson and coke,” Reagan said, before surveying the room. Out the corner of her eye, she spotted her mother climbing up onto a table and dancing to the Migos song that was playing.
“Actually, hold the coke,” Reagan said over her shouder to the bartender.

An hour had gone by before she saw her mother again, who had rushed to the bar on the arm of a stranger. “Reagan! Meet Hammer! Hammer, this is my daughter, Reagan,” Ray said, snuggling up to the large man.
Hammer?” Reagan said, giving her mother an incredulous look.
“Daughter? You guys could be sisters,” the man said, looking too hard at the two of them. Reagan could sense the gross thoughts that were crossing his mind as he stood in front of two beautiful women and she scoffed.
“Can I buy you another drink?” he asked.
“No, Hammer, I’m good,” Reagan said, before downing the remainder of her third drink and walking off.

Ray followed her daughter to the bathroom, where she was washing her hands. “Are you ready to leave?”
“Yeah, kinda. I don’t wanna stop the party between you and Hammer,” Reagan said sarcastically.
“I’m sorry, I just wanted to cheer you up.” Reagan sighed as she looked up in the mirror at her mother.
“No. I’m sorry. I have been a Debbie Downer today. I guess I’m just more tired than I thought. We don’t have to leave if you don’t want.”
“Or…you could take the car and I can ride with Hammer,” Ray said, smiling.
Reagan turned around, ready to tell her mother off. It annoyed Reagan that her mother was still up to her old tricks and had used her as an excuse. However, the whiskey was kicking in and she wanted nothing more to lay in her bed. Plus, she’d just be wasting her breath. Her mother would never change. “Sure, Mom. Have fun,” Reagan said, pulling her mother into a tight hug.