Not for publication. Unedited. Subject to change before publication.
My eyes shot to the ceiling, the hanging chandelier blinked a few times.
“This isn’t the first time that’s happened. Could be those heavy winds out there.” Viola snapped off a piece of asparagus with her teeth and chewed as she eyed the chandelier.
“Ut-oh…” Willy sat at the head of the table, looking up there, too. “I’ll take a look at it tonight. Young can help me.” He went back to his food.
“Kenny, baby, you want more veggies?” Viola asked as she pushed the serving platter of grilled asparagus over to Kennedi. “There’s more than those string beans and grilled chicken. I feel like we made three meals for tonight.”
Kennedi’s shaky eyes came up to me. She smiled shyly, tensely and cleared her throat. “No thank you. I’ve had enough. Plus, I’ve cut back on asparagus.” She chuckled nervously.
“When?” Willy asked with a mouthful. “That was one of your favorite vegetables.” He went back to stabbing more greens in his plate with his fork.
“For a while now.” Her eyes darted over to me then fell back into her plate.
“Yeah, Daddy,” Kennedi hummed, sounding a little annoyed, but she maintained a soft expression. “There’s lots that’s changed about me recently.”
Willy paused, his fork was mid-air as he thought about that. Then he hiked his brows and continued. “Yeah. I guess so.”
“Isaak,” Viola stood, gathering dishes, “can I offer you dessert?”
“Not right now, sweetie.” Willy’s tone was as gentle as I’d ever heard it for his wife. He even gave her a big ass fake smile. I wanted to shake my head. It was clear there was still some shit in the air between them, and probably because of his new baby. “I thought Young and I could have an evening tumbler.” He winked.
“The drink Kennedi brought by for us.”
Viola’s eyes flew to Kennedi, who frowned at no one in particular. “A drink?” Then she went back to Willy. “On a Sunday, just a few hours after morning worship?” She met Kennedi with hard eyes again. “Kennedi Tramelle?”
Kennedi’s eyebrows met and her closed mouth pouted, making a stank face as though she was thinking. “When I called to invite you over, you asked if you could bring anything like your turkey wings because Isaak would be coming, too. I told you it was cool because I was bringing him a bottle of Mauve. I never said it was for after dinner or for the both of you.”
I pulled in a deep breath, feeling uncomfortable. She didn’t have to bring me anything. A good home cooked meal was enough, but I forgot; Kennedi couldn’t cook. That was probably her contribution. Whatever the hell the reason, it felt good to know she’d thought of me.
“I thought you were bringing the family back,” Willy posed to Kennedi.
She stood and helped her mother with the dishes. “I am. Should have done it a long time ago.” Kennedi stacked plates and serving dishes along with her mother.
Willy huffed, pulling a glass of water to his mouth. “You should’ve never broke it apart.”
Kennedi froze. She looked winded.
“Willy.” Viola warned, her chin in the air like the mother hen she was when it came to her only child.
Willy lifted his hands in the air and rolled his eyes to the corner of the room. Kennedi started moving again. She filled her hands and arms with dishes and left.
“I can help,” I offered Viola.
“No, baby.” She pointed toward my chair with her forehead as she moved to leave the dining room, too. “You just relax. If you want a drink, Kenny’ll get you one. We just want you comfortable and feeling at home.”
She left out and my eyes went to Willy. He waved off the ladies behind their backs.
“They should’ve never shut us out,” he whispered. “It wouldn’t have gone down like that had I had my mess together.” He frowned, bringing his elbows on the table.
Willy looked every bit of eight years old like Martin when he got screamed at for picking with his damn sisters.
I chuckled quietly, more in my head.
Willy’s a wild dude, man…
“So, how’re you making out?”
“I’m good. Just putting one foot in front of the other.”
“No new news.” I exhaled, and pushed my elbows on the table, folding my arms over each other. “We still have our hopes high.”
“That’s a sad story, man. I’ve been praying for him. I swear.” His face turned hard. “You know we don’t all make it out?”
I nodded. “This is true.”
“He’s holding it down. Ain’t got no choice, really.” I tried to chuckle.
Smiff had been in solitary for over two months. He got into a fight and was thrown in there. I’d been trying to find out for how long, but they kept those prison walls tight administration-wise.
Willy scratched his mustache. “I read that article you did in Time. They talked about your incarcerated mentor? I didn’t know you had one, man. And then he had that heart attack around the same time Guap was shot.” I nodded, eyes to the centerpiece of the table. Fresh flowers I brought with me today. Viola found a vase and made them a focal point. “How’s he?”
“He’s alive. Got ‘im on meds, but…” I waved my hand in the air. “I don’t know how good they are. Not confident he’s getting quality care in there.”
“Yeah. He’s got sight issues happening because of his bad kidneys.”
They transferred him to a minimum level security prison in Colorado. A smaller joint where they were supposed to give him the special care he needed. Touchie was hoping to finally see him next month.
“You just stay encouraged, man. I know the timing of everything last year was messed up—including my issues. They had my hands tied behind my back. You know if I didn’t already have Viola on my back, this separation thing would have never gone down.”
“But we’re back together now,” Kennedi butted in, carrying a tray into the dining room. She gave us both small glasses and unscrewed a bottle of limited edition Mauve.
“Limited edition?” Willy read the bottle, too. “The regular one is the good stuff, but the tightwads on the dentistry board drink this after hours in the piano rooms.” He clapped his hands together, excited as hell.
Shit. The first time I had the limited edition kind was in Connecticut at the party Jordan Johnson invited me to. Apparently, the Jacobs dude owned the company. The shit tasted different.
Kennedi setting up four glasses instead of two snatched my attention. Viola stepped in, carrying a tray with a red velvet cake and peach pie. She set it next to the platter where the Mauve was and sat down.
“Kenny,” she called out, recognizing the glass finally. “You know I don’t do this hard stuff.” She laughed.
Kennedi hummed as she poured a thumb in her father’s glass. “You’ll thank me later.”
Willy laughed, his eyes going to his wife. “Watch out now!”
Kennedi moved closer to me, but her smiling eyes were on her mother. Kenny was plotting.
“This is limited edition Mauve!” Willy repeated after swallowing his first sip. “Wow! That’s…that’s good!” He nodded, lips poked.
“What’s the difference between limited edition and the regular?” Viola asked while watching Kennedi pour hers.
“Apparently, it was distilled during World War I,” Kennedi answered.
“How do you know, young lady?”
“I looked it up after I got the bottle.” She moved to pour her own finally.
I took a swig of mine and remembered how good and potent it was on sight. Mauve had a combination of flavors in it. I could taste lime, grapefruit, walnuts, and some type of spices I couldn’t name.
“Where did you buy this from?” Viola asked, smelling it first.
“I didn’t.” Kennedi laughed. “I can’t afford this stuff. The cheapest bottle can cost more than a pair of designer shoes. This one is a mortgage payment!” Kenny’s eyes widened and she pulled the glass to her mouth.
As if she knew I was looking at her, her eyes narrowed and she winked as she took her sip. I caught myself. It almost happened. Again. She almost had me caught up and seduced. I couldn’t think of Kennedi that way anymore. Sex with Kennedi Armstrong was off the table. It would probably fuck me up, and I didn’t need that in my world anymore.
Willy made an act of whistling after taking a sip. “Where’d you get this one from then?”
“Mom, slip slow.” Kennedi laughed. I fought my own, watching Viola take a long draw from her small glass. “Mauve has been known to sneak up on you.”
She swallowed. “Really?” Viola’s eyes grew big. “It does taste alcoholly, but it’s rich in taste. I can detect thyme and grapefruit.”
“Oak, too,” Willy chimed in and winked at his wife.
Viola giggled, going in for more.
The apple don’t fall far from the damn tree at all.
“Ahhhhh!” Willy stretched his arms wide in his seat. “This is nice. Real nice. I was looking forward to sipping with you and jiving around about manly things, but having my girls with us ain’t so bad at all.”
Kennedi smiled and grabbed her glass again for more.
“It’s been a while,” Viola agreed. “I like having my girl home. And Isaak being here brings back fond memories. Real warm.” She smiled at me.
Things went quiet for a while. Maybe this wasn’t so bad. The Armstrongs were still like a family I never knew. They had their issues, but were together. Good people. It made me wonder what type of legacy I would leave for my own kids, knowing I didn’t see marriage in my future. I still believed we had a shot at a decent one as a family.
“So, what’s the occasion?” Willy asked. “What made you bring us all together?”
That reminded me that Willy still wasn’t back at home. Hopefully after this Mauve, he would be. I laughed inside.
“Kenny thought it would be nice to have everybody all together—minus my babies.” Viola’s lashes fluttered guiltily. She’d brought up the forbidden topic.
It was all good, though. My guard was down. Our bellies were full and now we were stunting with Mauve. Everything was breezy.
“We’re not going there.” Kennedi tossed soft eyes to her mother, but she had a sweet tone. “Yes. I thought it would be nice to get the gang back. It’s good for us to discuss our new dynamic.”
“What’s that?” Willy sipped again.
I followed suit.
“You and Mom need to decide what you’re going to do with this marriage,” Kennedi stated so calmly. Matter of factly, reminding me of how she was with my kids.
My face opened in shock. I wondered if I should even be here for this.
“And why do you think it concerns you?” Willy gave back to her just as stern…and smooth. “You’re an adult with your own life. You don’t even live here.” No matter how calm he looked to be, I could tell she’d ruffled his damn feathers.
“My point exactly. And I don’t plan to be moving back. It would be nice to sleep at night, not wondering if my mother is sad or crying because the man she decided to devote her life to doesn’t know if he fancies Viola or Violas.”
“Kenny,” Viola warned.
“Excuse me?’ Willy lowered his glass from his face.
“Willy!” Viola warned him.
Kennedi smiled. “I don’t mean any disrespect, Daddy. Quite honestly, I have my reservations about her taking you back, but as an adult, I understand I have no voice in the matter. This woman loves you and has demonstrated it for a quarter of a century.” Her eyes on him seemed so sincere, so honest. I’d never seen this side of her.
Viola dropped her face in her hands and cried. Willy sat frozen, eyeing his daughter, possibly deciding on how he’d respond.
“Why would you bring this up like this?” His face straight, mine hanging open. “And why in front of him?” his voice so low, so affected.
Yeah. “Maybe I should go,” I tried.
“No. You shouldn’t.” She shook her head softly, eyes falling below. Kennedi turned back to her Mauve and took a sip, not looking at me at all. “Because he’s going to be around for a while.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
Her head came up. “You didn’t let me finish. I want to start the road to honesty. This family’s had too many secrets.” She nodded over to me, her face still to him, but eyes scanning me. “I’m in love with Isaak.” The room got quiet and I lost control of my lungs for a minute. I could see as she swallowed. “I’ve been in love with him since we met at William Paterson. He left—to pursue his career, of course.” She swallowed again. “And his absence intensified it. When he came back, I was too afraid to explore it.”
Willy laughed, but I could tell it was laced with sarcasm. “You embarrass me in front of him to announce you’ve had a petty crush on him all these years?” Viola’s wet and red eyes shot up so fast, I caught it in my peripheral. “That ain’t being a grown woman, Kennedi. That’s being a chil—”
“Isaak and I were once lovers.” Kennedi’s eyes closed. “Passionate lovers.” My back fell into the chair. “So passionate we created a love child that I lost stupidly.” Her eyes squeezed.
Willy turned to me. His face was blank at first. Then it was like slow motion when he jumped from the table and lunged for me.