The historic Barstow Bath House is one of the oldest spas still operating along the main street in Hot Springs. With three-story-high stone columns and deep striped awnings, the Barstow is a temple of a century-old spa. Inside are the original deep porcelain tubs, elaborate nickel pipes and showers, and individual steam boxes ala I Love Lucy. The Barstow is staffed mostly with African-American women who are experts at administering the range of treatments offered at any modern spa.
LaTonya Jones, a massage therapist at the Barstow, dropped out of Hot Springs High when she had the first of her five children. Eventually learning massage therapy and building a lucrative career to support herself and her family, she earned her GED and bachelor’s degree on the side. Now, she wants to be a doctor, and George is tutoring her to take her medical boards. Though she and Cora went to high school together, they barely knew each other there – but now, as two fish out of water with deep ties to the community, are becoming friends. LaTonya’s two oldest sons, Dwayne and DaShawn, are high-profile men about town: Dwayne as the dynamic pastor of the ever-more-popular evangelical church, and DaShawn as the proprietor of the Exquisite A Go Go.
LaTonya’s youngest son, her only child still at home, is at Hot Springs High, where he meets Juliette, with whom he starts a tentative romance. Darrell is pulled between the two poles characterized by his brothers. He’s smart and wants to be successful in mainstream society, like his oldest brother Dwayne, but he just can’t jump on the Jesus bandwagon. He admires his two older sisters, one at Harvard, one working at a bank in New York, but he’s scared to leave Hot Springs. And he also wants excitement and great wads of cash like DaShawn, but he’s too much of a good boy to embrace the underworld.