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Bad Mommy wrapped her arms around his waist and reached up on her tiptoes to kiss the underside of his chin. Darius, whose hands were filled with plastic bags of takeout, leaned down for a proper kiss.

“Fig,” he said, picking me out of the group. “You came. What do you think about this group? They’re complete nutcases.”

I felt heat crawl up my neck at being called out in front of everyone. It wasn’t a bad feeling, just one I was unused to. When last had a man who looked like Darius Avery ever taken the time to tease me?

“They’re getting me drunk,” I said. “I’ve never been drunk.” Everyone turned to look at me. It was like I had just announced that I’d never had an orgasm.

“What? Fig, are you serious?” Casey, the bragging mom started pouring me another shot.

Darius set the bags on the counter, and then took the shot that was being offered to me. Tilting his head back, he poured it down his throat while all of the women looked on. I felt warm all over that he’d wanted something that had been meant for me. When he set his glass down he looked at Bad Mommy and asked, “Where’s my moon?”

“Asleep. Fig put her down. Isn’t that amazing?”

I wouldn’t exactly call putting a child to bed amazing, but I glowed under the attention.

“What did you do?” he asked, wide-eyed. “Care to share your secrets?”

“Mercy hates sleeping,” Bad Mommy explained. “It’s a fight every single night to get her down. Everyone in this room has tried and failed.” The group started nodding all at once. I wondered why she hadn’t told me this in the first place? Maybe she was testing me, or maybe she had a sense of my bond with Mercy.

“Oh,” was all I could think of to say. I was soaring inside. “I didn’t do anything. She just went right down.” What I wanted to say was that Mercy and I shared a connection, and if anyone could get her to sleep it was me. I’d been robbed, after all. It should be me who was putting her to bed every night. That was probably why they had such a hard time with it. But, you couldn’t just tell people that outright, not yet anyway.

I made myself a plate of the tiny, colorful rolls of fish everyone was oohing and ahhing over, and went to sit at the table. The only available seat was next to Amanda, who seemed to scoot away when I slid in next to her.

“So, Fig,” she said. “What brings you to our neighborhood?”

“I needed a change of scenery,” I said, pushing the sushi around my plate with the chopsticks someone had handed me. “Life felt really stale, you know? I was really depressed, so I decided to do something about it.”

Everyone around the table who heard me nodded in unison, like they’d all been there before.

A little crease appeared between Amanda’s brows. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said. Then she raised her martini glass, and I quickly lifted mine to match, and she said, “Cheers to new beginnings.”

We clinked glasses and I sort of liked her more after that. Cheers to new beginnings. Maybe I was too hard on women. Society trained us to believe they have ulterior motives. George had always thought people had ulterior motives for liking me. Once there’d been a lady from the salon I hit it off with while both of our heads were under the dryer. We’d talked about our love of eighties music, late night cereal, and the babies we’d been waiting on for ten plus years. When I was getting ready to leave, she’d handed me a slip of paper with her name and phone number on it, and told me to text her so we could have coffee. Vivi, it said above her number. I’d gone home excited and told George, who was parked in front of the television with a beer. I didn’t have any girlfriends, and this seemed like an answer to a hope I’d been holding on to since moving to Washington. Vivi and Fig shopping, Vivi and Fig eating lunch at an outside cafe with their sunglasses on, Vivi and Fig exchanging Christmas cards and throwing each other baby showers when the time came.

“She just gave you her phone number?” George asked without looking up from the game. “She’s probably a lesbian and wants you to lick her cooch.”

I’d not saved her number. I’d laid it gently in the trash with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I was a loner, I told myself. I had George—we had each other—and that was enough. Plus, George was probably right: she had just gotten a pixie cut. If that didn’t scream lesbo then I didn’t know what did.

But, here I was, surrounded by a table of women who cheered and raised their glasses when I put Mercy to sleep. Maybe having girlfriends was exactly what I needed. The tribe I’d been looking for. I would stop judging them, stop looking for ulterior motives when they were kind to me. Bad Mommy included. She didn’t know about this thing with Mercy after all, and how could she? We were both victims in this thing called life. I looked over to where she was chatting with Gail, the friendly one, and felt immense gratitude toward her. She was a kind person, and she was doing the best she could with Mercy. I’d found my sweet girl after all this time, and she had been the one to keep her safe for me.

Jolene looked up from her conversation and smiled at me, and I smiled back. Everything was becoming so clear to me now, like a wrinkled shirt being ironed out. It looked one way before, and now it looked another. I ate my first piece of sushi and I liked it. Amazing what new perspective could do. At some point during the night, it became apparent to me that everyone was drunker than I was. I wandered outside for some air to find Darius already there, sitting on a garden chair sipping his drink. He was disheveled, the top buttons of his shirt undone and his hair standing on end.


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