“Beautiful. Y’all have the prettiest nails in town.”
“And we’re watchin’ a movie,” Presley says, scooting closer toward Sofia. “The Lion King.”
“The Lion King, huh? Don’t think I’ve seen that one yet.”
I climb on the bed as a montage begins on the screen—two lions having a date in the jungle.
“How’d it go?” Sofia asks quietly, passing me a bowl of popcorn.
My eyes tell her everything I can’t say. “It went.”
Presley leans her head against my chest and I settle in, kissing the top of her head—enjoying having her close. I glance over at Sofia as she places a piece of popcorn on her tongue, licking butter from her pretty pink fingertip. And there’s something about the whole thing—her, here in my bed, with my sister, my daughter—that feels warm and right, and makes her look even more beautiful that I’ve always thought she was.
“I want a Simba of my own one day,” my sister sighs. “Some strong, hairy man who’ll roll around on the jungle floor with me.”
I frown at Mary. “I don’t even know how in the hell I’m supposed to respond to that.”
“Not me,” Presley says disgustedly. “All the boys I know are short. And ugly.”
I pat her head. “That’s right—all boys are short and ugly. Like trolls.”
Sofia laughs at my troll face.
Presley nods. “I do like this song, though.”
Sofia practically squeals when she hears that. “Oh my God, Elton John—best singer ever! If your daddy says it’s okay, I’ll download all of his greatest songs for you.”
My daughter’s big blue eyes look to me for affirmation.
“Daddy says it’s okay.”
And I get a hug in return.
With my arm across the pillows at our backs, my hand rests just beside Sofia’s head—close enough to touch her. So I do—massaging her scalp, running my fingers through the soft, dark strands of her hair, relishing the feel of them sliding over my palm.
She leans her head into my touch with a contented sigh. And together, we all watch the rest of the movie.
About ten o’clock the next night, we pull into to my brother’s trailer lot, among a sea of pickup trucks. It’s like spring break in the country—teenage kids everywhere. Mary and Marshall disappear into the throng of red-plastic-cup-holding, walking, talking hormones. Sofia pauses to look around as we walk up the path to the door—twinkling lights sparkle in the trees, a full moon hangs in the sky, Led Zeppelin floats out from somewhere in the back.
“It’s nice here,” she says. “Peaceful.”
While she’s checking out the compound, I check her out—again. She looks drop-dead gorgeous in tight, dark blue jeans, knee-high heeled black boots, and a V-neck sleeveless white top that clings in all the right places. Her hair is thick and bouncy, curled at the ends, and a long string of pearls hangs around her neck. My grandmother used to wear pearls—but she never wore them as well as Sofia Santos.
Before I can open the door to the trailer, it’s jerked open for us, and one of my brother’s blond hippie followers—Sadie or Sal—stumbles out. She spots us with happy, glassy eyes.
“Heeey!” She hugs us, smelling like marijuana. “Welcome to the jungle! We’re gonna turn on the Slip ’N Slide down the hill, y’all comin’?”
Sofia smiles indulgently. “Maybe later.”
After hippie girl staggers away, Sofia says, “It’s like college all over again.”
I snort. “Columbia wasn’t anything like this, and I lived in a goddamn fraternity house.”
Just then a guy who looks more my age goes streaking past us—butt-ass naked. I cover Sofia’s eyes. “All right, it is like college all over again.”
We head inside, pushing apart the strings of turquoise beads hanging down in the doorway. A stick of incense burns on a shelf, filling the room with a pungent odor. Carter smiles broadly when he sees us through the crowd of bodies that fills the room to capacity. He hugs me, bare chested except for a tan leather vest and prayer beads. “Welcome. Glad you could make it.” Then he hugs Sofia—for a while. “Let’s get you something to drink.”
Carter gives Sofia a tour of the tricked-out trailer and I’m relieved to see adolescents aren’t the only guests at the party. It’s actually a lot like a high school reunion. Everyone in my graduating class who hasn’t left town—which is pretty much all of them—is here. We catch up, and I proudly introduce them to Sofia. About an hour later, she says in my ear, “I’m going to go outside—get some air.”