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I added more diet food to my cart, and then at the last minute, I took a trip to the beauty aisle and chose three different kinds of facemasks and a vegan lip gloss. I’d forgotten to take care of myself. That’s what happened when you were sad. All it took was one person to really see you and suddenly you could spring to life. When I got home, I hummed “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, as I packed my groceries away. Then I went online and ordered a treadmill and Lululemon pants. I texted Darius that night to thank him for being so kind to me and to ask for Jolene’s number. He texted back right away, sending me her information and letting me know that dinner would be served at 5:30 on Friday.

We have to eat early because of Mercy, he texted back. Hope you don’t mind.

Hey no problem, I texted back. Can I bring anything?

Wine if you like.

Wine, well look at that. I didn’t know anything about wine. I’d once had a glass of Moscato and liked that quite a bit. I’d take that! I was excited about all of it—choosing the wine, choosing an outfit, and I had rare plans for Friday night. Yup, my life was finally on the upward swing.

Darius made meatloaf. When he took it out of the oven, Jolene made a face about it. “Are you kidding? I’m still traumatized by the meatloaf of my childhood,” she said.

But, I took one bite and my eyes rolled back in ecstasy. Just the right amount of … everything. I was flooded with memories of my childhood home in England before we moved stateside. My mother’s meatloaf, and my father’s adverse reaction to it.

“It tastes like my mother’s,” I said, and Darius’s eyes lit up. He was a man and that meant he needed affirmation. I was just thinking how happy I was to provide it when Jolene ruined the moment and snorted. She was always attacking everything he did, making it seem like it wasn’t good enough. But, this meatloaf, it was good. Very good.

“It’s my mother’s recipe, actually.”

He launched into a story about his childhood that made his mother sound like Maria from the Sound of Music. A good childhood like the one he was describing turned out a good man. Jolene rolled her eyes as she pushed the meatloaf around her plate, her chin cradled in her hand.

“Lord, have mercy,” she said, looking at me. “Don’t believe a word he’s saying. His mother’s soul was murdered by his father’s chauvinism.”

Darius didn’t even flinch. He seemed to find it funny when she had a go at his family. Earlier, she called his sister the nun of judgment and he’d laughed and smacked her butt, all the while I wondered when my Lululemon pants would arrive. And then, Mercy, sweet Mercy—ate all of her meatloaf while looking at her daddy with worshipful eyes. I’d handed them the bottle of Moscato as soon as I walked in, but Darius had only poured me a glass, searching out a red from their wine rack for him and Jolene. Red wine drinkers, right. I made a mental note. I asked for a taste of the red, and he poured some into one of their stemless wine glasses. I made a sound in the back of my throat as I swallowed it. Darius took if for pleasure and poured me more. I was gagging, actually—it tasted like perfume.

“Do you have any family in the area, Fig?” Jolene asked. “Besides the obvious.”

She asked a lot of questions, I noticed. As soon as I answered one she was firing off another. Wasn’t he supposed to be the therapist?

“No,” I said. “My mom is in Chicago, and my dad is … well, he’s everywhere. They got divorced when I was little. I have a sister, but we don’t really talk unless she needs something.”

Jolene made a face like she knew what I meant.

Darius set dessert on the table, right in front of me. It was one of Jolene’s cakes. “Just a small slice,” I told him. “I’m trying to watch what I eat.” He cut me a huge slice and I set to work on it. She really was an ass for making it seem like she couldn’t bake. It reminded me of those skinny girls who always called themselves fat. Halfway through my cake, Mercy climbed into my lap and I wanted to cry from the joy of it.

“It takes her a while, but boy, when she warms up…” Jolene said. She winked at Mercy, and the little girl giggled. I didn’t like that. Don’t steal my moment, you know?

I wanted to tell her that Mercy and I didn’t need a warm up. We’d known each other for a very long time, maybe even a couple lifetimes. Did it work that way? People were gifted the same souls over and over? In which case, why did Mercy go to Jolene? Maybe we were tied together in some way, I thought, looking at her. Wasn’t that an interesting thought? I felt very close to her all of a sudden. I squeezed Mercy in a little hug as she dug into her cake.

“I was born in England,” I told them. “My parents met over there while my dad was on contract for work. They moved to the States when I was seven.”

“Ah,” said Jolene, “you say very British things sometimes. That makes sense.”

I smiled. I liked that she noticed that. People who noticed details weren’t assholes; they were seeing you. Which actually took some effort, to look outside of yourself and see others. A rare thing nowadays.

“My mother has a heavy accent,” I told them. “I guess I just picked up the pronunciation from her.”

Darius asked if I’d like tea instead of coffee since I was a Brit, and I said yes, actually I would. He brought milk and a bowl of sugar cubes over, and I was impressed he knew the way we drank it.

“How are you liking the hood?” he asked.

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