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72. CORA: The End

eady?” Cora asked Juliette.

The girl hoisted her suitcase and gave a wan smile.

Cora gave up. She would have guessed that Juliette would have been delighted to go back to France, but instead the girl had been sullen, even weepy, all week.

“Is there something wrong?” Cora asked. “Something you’re not telling me?”

Juliette shrugged and blinked harder against the tears that seemed always to be lingering in her eyes.

Cora sighed. She’d been so full of doubts leaving Paris and coming here, so wracked by misgivings through all the weeks of dealing with her brother and her father and George and the family business and especially with Juliette herself. But she never expected she’d feel just as conflicted — more conflicted — about going back.

“It’s time,” said Medhi.

Hugo took Juliette’s hand and led her toward the stairs.

“Did you say goodbye to your grandfather?” Cora asked.

Again, the only answer Cora got from her daughter was a shrug, though this time it was more understandable. Cora’s father, Juliette’s grandfather, sat dim-eyed on the sofa beside his girlfriend, Jimmie Sue.

“Goodbye, Pop,” Cora said, crossing the room to kiss her father’s grizzled cheek.

He looked up at her, confused. “Who are you?” he asked, sounding almost frightened.

Would this be the last time she’d see him? At least with Jimmie Sue here, she could be sure that he’d eat and not drink himself to death. But even without the bottle of bourbon each day, some light had gone out behind his eyes.

“Remember what I told you,” Jimmie Sue said.

Jimmie Sue had told Cora not to go. She’d laid out the cards the night before and advised against the trip, against Cora getting back together with Medhi, against taking Juliette across the ocean.

“Your destiny is here,” Jimmie Sue had said, talking about a man in Juliette’s future who could only be George.

But Cora couldn’t let herself make decisions as big as how to raise her daughter and whether to reunite with her husband of 20 years based on what some old cards said, could she? She might be impulsive, she might be ambivalent, but she wasn’t a complete fool.
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71. DWAYNE, DaSHAWN, LaTONYA: Let Us Pray

DWAYNE

e raised his hands to the congregation.

For the brothers and sisters in need of divine intervention, let us pray!

Amen.

For those, who have lost their way in the sight of the Lord, let us pray!

Amen.

For the thieves, for the flesh peddlers, for those who have turned away from their families, let us pray.

And let us pray, oh Lord, for our own souls, for who among us is without sin, or without earthly hopes and heavenly dreams? Give us your aid, sweet Jesus, in achieving our goals, in purifying our intentions, and in casting out the devils who walk among us and live within.

DaSHAWN

Suitcase in hand, pockets empty, he stood before her door for a long moment, head bowed.

He never thought he would be reduced to this, not since he was 17 and left home for the last time. His fortunes had been on the rise ever since. At least until recently.

After a long moment, he lifted his hand and range the bell. He could hear her footsteps in the apartment, see her eye on the other side of the peephole. At last, she opened the door.

“Mama,” he choked out. “I want to come home.”

She didn’t move from the doorway.

“Ma, please. I have nowhere else to go.”

At this he nearly coughed out a tear, it was so close to being true. I have nowhere decent to go, was a hard fact. I have not enough money to do anything impressive and no one who loves me, including maybe you.
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69. TARYN: Queen of the World

ou go on out to the field,” she told him.

“But….”

“You want me to send  you back to that sorry-ass farm where I found you?  Now get.”

She had his number, all of their numbers.  She knew how bone-numbing the work could be on a grim silent farm like the one where she plucked him from his bed, and how lost a boy like him would feel without any work to do.

She knew what it was like for the girls, too, the ones who’d been pawed and fingered from the time they were young enough to equate such attentions with love.  Love was what they wanted, what they’d work for above money.

And for the Mexicans, those who were here without papers, who couldn’t speak English beyond their big grinning bowing Thank yous.  They were out in the fields right now, working under the cover of darkness, building the massive tent that would be sheltered beneath the stand of trees between the fields. She understood them too, how marginalized they felt, how powerless, because that’s what life was like for an uneducated female of any race.

She didn’t need DaShawn.  She’d never needed him.  That was the old Taryn who’d gone to him, offering a partnership.  But he wasn’t capable of partnership, he just wanted to be boss.  And that’s what she wanted too.  What she was going to have.

“Mercy,” she called to one of the girls from the Go Go.  “Get me that pink polka dot dress, that one with the ruffle at the neck.  And that big ass white hat.”

This was her ladylike outfit, the one that, like magic, made people give her what she wanted.  That’s how she got the retired racehorses for practically nothing, taking a certain satisfaction in knowing George had plowed his sweat into caring for them.  How she’d gotten that shithead dentist, Wade, to fix her teeth.

But today she was after something more important than horses or teeth or anything else money could buy.
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68. JAMIE: New Man

t took him at least ten minutes lying there, listening to the silence, to believe that he really might be home alone.

No babbling in French. No female voices nagging him to clean something up. No Jimmie Sue woo woo or Senior dementia. Just…..silence.

He turned over which nudged Iggy awake. The iguana lazily opened its jaws and then snapped them down, more quickly than Jamie might have believed possible, on a beetle or maybe that was a cockroach scrabbling over his covers.

He’d been working hard to lure the bugs and the dust and the chaos back into his room, just to show his sister who was boss, if only of this 12 by 15 foot patch of ghetto. Let her scrub the cracks and align the corners of the rest of this dump; she wasn’t going to get the better of his room.

Jamie got up, brought Iggy into the shower with him, then let the animal perch on his shoulder while he gulped a cold cup of coffee left from the pot and ate the ends of all the food on the plates piled near the sink, ranging from peanut butter and jelly crusts to what tasted like a roquefort and leek omelet.

Where was everybody? What time was it? What should he do, now that he could do anything?

He flipped on the TV, but it seemed as if somebody had disconnected the premium cable: No more porn on demand. He considered jerking off anyway, but he’d done that already last night. Somebody had cleaned away all the magazines and newspapers. He had the feeling he’d been reading a book, and that he’d even liked it, but he couldn’t remember what it was or where it had gone.

There was nothing left to do but go out. At least there was nobody to stop him. He went downstairs, Iggy still on his shoulder, leaving the door open since he’d long ago lost track of any keys. His poor melted crotch was feeling a bit better, he noticed, though he still limped a bit taking the steps.

The streets seemed strangely empty. Now that he was outside, where was he going to go? His default destination, the Go Go, was shut down. There were other bars in town, but not ones where he knew anybody, and besides, he hadn’t had a drink in — he couldn’t even remember how long. Plus, he had no money. No girlfriend. No friends.

No friends except the miracle of Iggy, that is. He stopped in front of the MAL, giving his pet’s hide a proprietary pat, and that’s when he noticed it. The old place looked different. Cleaner. He pressed his forehead to the glass of the front window and peered inside. Damn if it didn’t look like somebody was fixing the place up.
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