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mmmmmmmmmmm.”

Taryn closed her eyes, let the feel of LaTonya’s strong hands on her back consume her.  There was nothing better than this.  Some drugs, maybe, but then you had to deal with the aftermath.  The feel of George inside her, loving her the way no one else, truly, ever had. Well, maybe sex felt this good every third or fourth time.

“That feels soooooo good, LaTonya.  You are a fucking genius.”

“That’s nice,” said LaTonya, pressing her elbow into the base of Taryn’s spine and running it all the way up to her neck.

Now that she had a chance to think about it, Taryn realized that her relationship with LaTonya was the longest-running and most consistent one of her entire life.  One of the very first things she did after running away from her sorry backwoods home to Hot Springs was treat herself to a massage at the Barstow, the whirlpool and steam bath and LaTonya’s warm strong hands seeming like magic to dispel everything bad that had ever happened to her.

Whether she was using or not using, dancing or not dancing, with George or with a hundred other guys, her visits to the Barstow and her dates with LaTonya were the one constant.  This was where she came back to herself.

“I love you, LaTonya, you know that?” Taryn said, opening her eyes and lifting her head a little and trying to look around at the older woman, but not quite managing to see her face.

Come to think of it, she’d be hard-pressed to describe LaTonya to anyone, or to literally pick her out in a lineup.  LaTonya was always wearing her white uniform when Taryn saw her, was never wearing any jewelry or any other identifying items.  LaTonya had skin the medium brown of a Hersey bar, she was medium height, her hair was natural but groomed, she was extraordinarily strong but it wasn’t like she had giant biceps straining against the sleeves of her uniform or anything. Not like you could see the super-human strength in the otherwise completely ordinary-looking middle-aged black woman.

“That’s nice,” said LaTonya again.

“How’s your son?” Taryn asked.

“Darrell?”

“I didn’t know you had a son named Darrell.  I was talking about DaShawn.”

Taryn had thought about stopping by the GoGo, but no, she wasn’t going to do that, didn’t want to go there, literally or figuratively.  She’d taken all the pills from George’s safe, thrown them in the river so she wouldn’t be tempted ever again.  She wanted to be back with George now, with her daughter.

That’s why she’d taken this detour after having her hair done to visit LaTonya, to get that newborn feeling back again.  When she got back home today, hair cut off, skin pink and perfumed, everything down to the cuticles of littlest toenails pristine, she would come clean with George.  Tell him everything so the two of them could start fresh too.

“Oh, DaShawn’s all right, I guess,” LaTonya said.  “You know they shut the GoGo down.”

“No!  Because of…..what happened to Tiffany?”

Taryn did not want to talk about that.  She did not want to think about that, not here, not now.  She wished she hadn’t said anything to LaTonya.  She’d just been trying to be nice.  But this massage cost a lot of money, and she had a right to pleasantness, and silence.

“Mmm-hmm,” LaTonya said.

LaTonya continued to massage Taryn’s back, but her touch felt lighter.  Distracted.

Shit.  Now the whole experience was practically ruined.  “Is something wrong?” Taryn asked reluctantly.

“Wrong?” LaTonya said.  Her hands were on Taryn’s shoulders, but her brain wasn’t connected to them: Taryn could feel that.  She’d had enough experience with strangers’ hands all over her to know when the person’s soul was connected to their body and when it was not.  And now, with LaTonya, it was not.

“Because if something’s wrong,” Taryn said, “if you’re not up for this, I could come back another time. Or maybe finish the massage with someone else.”

“No, m’am,” LaTonya said, her hands gathering strength, her focus seeming to return.  “Nothing’s wrong.  How’s everything with you?  How’s that sweet husband of yours and your little girl?”

Taryn said they were fine and closed her eyes again as LaTonya’s touch grew firmer, more purposeful.  It must have been the thought of the murder that had thrown LaTonya off, that was throwing everybody off.  But Taryn was going to pretend that had never happened.  She was going to pretend there was no Tiffany, no LaTonya, no world outside this small warm dimly-lit room.  She was going to let her mind drift like the pills in the river, like the river itself.

Read Taryn’s side of the story.

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