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"...nine, ten, eleven...and twelve." Madison DuPree took one last look around the restaurant, then smiled triumphantly. "Twelve gay men, but that's not including the one who doesn't know what the hell he is. Check him out," she said before nodding toward the bar. As usual, Leonard's was crowded, but it seemed even more so for a Thursday evening.
Squished in between a nightclub and a strip joint, the restaurant was the first thing people noticed because of its shocking purple brick front and cotton-candy-pink trimming. It was in downtown Atlanta within walking distance of Centennial Olympic Park, an arm's length away from the CNN Center, and a quick jog from the Georgia Dome.
But it wasn't too packed to figure out who Madison was talking about. Honey-hued and with the black man's requisite bald head, he was flitting between men and women as though he was at an all-you-can-eat buffet and he wanted to sample each one.
"He could be bi," Lauren Hopson offered in a dry tone, then rolled her eyes and took a sip of her apple martini.
Madison turned around in her seat and scrutinized him. After a minute, she concluded, "You're right, he's bi."
Blair Ricci turned wide green eyes on her friends. "Do you think he knows...that he's bi?" Even though she was white and a housewife from the suburbs, in all the years that they'd known one another, she'd never been uncomfortable with asking them questions. In some ways the three of them were closer than her own sisters.
Madison gave a loud snort. "Hell yeah, the dude knows he's bi. After all, this is Atlanta, where the dicks play double duty."
Blair swiped a handful of red hair out of her face before glancing at the man. He had moved on to a woman and was whispering something in her ear that caused her to blush. "I don't know...now he looks totally straight," she said, bewildered. This whole bi-gay thing was confusing.
"Oh Lord," LaShawn Greene groaned and fingered the Bible in her lap. Their level of conversation had sunk to a new low.
Madison shot her a look but continued. "That's all part of their plan...to fit in and play both teams without anyone finding out. I bet Leonard would know."
"I bet he would," Blair answered as she gazed around the restaurant. The owner of the club was easy to spot. He was the only two-hundred-pound, six-foot-four black man dressed in a gold sequined dress and Jimmy Choo shoes. "Oh, he's busy," she said, disappointed, spying him at the front door greeting customers.
"Thank God," LaShawn muttered, relieved as she relaxed against the leather cushions of the spacious booth. Not even the half-eaten birthday cake, gifts, and wrapping paper that littered the table could make it feel cluttered.
It was Thursday, and like every first Thursday for the last five years, it was their official Screw Men Night and Blair's birthday.
On Screw Men Night families were forgotten, worries were nonexistent, and fun reigned. They were teenagers again. Mortgage-paying, suburb-living, pedicure-loving, thirty-something-year-old teenagers. In a town where beautiful women were as common as succulent peaches, they held their own.
But it was Laura's, Madison's, Blair's, and LaShawn's beautiful coloring -- slick brown, luscious red, luminescent pink, and vibrant yellow -- that made one think of M&M's. In the crowd of chalk-colored blondes, ashy brunettes, and muddied-down grays, they stood out like splashes of sunshine against a black canvas.
They had met five years ago at a yoga class. In the middle of twisting their bodies into shapes that made them look like human pretzels and stretching their limbs to what felt like the ends of the earth, they had become fast friends.
"Why do you insist on doing this every time we go out?" Lauren hissed at Madison.
"You guys weren't talking about anything interesting," Madison answered in a defensive tone. "Besides, all this gay stuff reminds me of my same-sex experience," she boasted and a loud groan went up. They all had heard the story hundreds of times.
Lauren shook her head and sipped her drink. "Are you talking about the time you got shitfaced at Mardi Gras and tongued that blond chick?" she asked, but didn't wait for a reply. "I wouldn't call that a same-sex experience...it's just another slutty moment in the life of Madison DuPree," she finished and everybody laughed, even Madison. "Speaking of Madison's slutty moments, isn't that Keith?" Lauren asked, and then nodded toward the bar. He had sauntered in, carved his way through the crowd, and made a spot for himself at the bar.
"What? Where?" Madison asked. She dared a look over her shoulder and groaned. In a city where people tried on relationships as easily as sweaters, Madison had worn more than her fair share.
"Shit!" she muttered, then eased down in her seat. Not that that would've made her less noticeable; at five-ten, a hundred and thirty-five pounds, skin the color of spiced cinnamon, and the face of a model, Madison was noticeable. Less than ten yards away was the man she had dated four months ago. She wouldn't even call it a relationship. Three dates: First was dinner, second was movie, then came playing finding the booty.
She grinned at the memory, but when she sneaked a second look, her heart nearly stopped. Next to him was Robert, whom she'd dated right before Keith. "Dammit, this city is getting too fucking small," she groaned and scooted farther down in her seat.
Lauren smirked at her friend's distress. She was wiggling faster than a fish caught in a net. "Weren't you dating Keith the same time you were dating Robert and Carlton? You and Keith were getting hot and heavy there for a minute. Wow, girl, what happened between you two? You never did tell us. Did you give him one of your breakup speeches?" She fired the questions rapidly at her friend. Madison's breakup speeches were a running joke with the group. Madison cocked her head and gave her a blank look. "You know what? Maybe I should call him over and ask him. I'm sure Keith will spill the beans," Lauren teased, then motioned as if she was getting up.
"No!" Madison and LaShawn shouted at the same time. LaShawn glared at her friends. "Why can't we go out and have a good time? It's the same thing every time we go out, bicker, bicker, bicker. You guys fight worse than four-year-olds," she scolded. "You've always been like that. Remember that first yoga class?" Madison rolled her eyes in response. "Y'all fought over the yoga mats."
"It was my mat, I had just bought it. I had set it down for a second, then when I went to pick it up, Miss Sticky Fingers had taken it."
"It was my mat!" Lauren insisted.
"Stop it, you two!"
"I'm sorry. I guess we get carried away," Lauren said. "We'll be good," she promised, then reached into her purse and pulled out a white medicine bottle. Without glancing right or left, she flipped off the lid and popped two quarter-size pills in her mouth, which she quickly followed with a swallow of her martini.
Madison's love life was forgotten as LaShawn, Madison, and Blair shot furtive glances at one another. Madison raised her eyebrows at LaShawn, who jutted her chin at Blair. "What's wrong, sweetie? You sick or something?" Blair asked.
Lauren shook her head. "Not really, I've had this headache for a couple of weeks now and it won't go away," she answered, then glanced over at Madison, who had by now inched her way up in her seat, but was still occasionally glancing over her shoulder toward the bar.
"Oh Lord," LaShawn groaned, as she discreetly glanced down at her watch. It was getting late and she needed to call her fiancé for their nightly prayer session. "We all hope you feel better. Let's pray," she announced and bowed her head, thus missing the annoyed looks from her friends. "Heavenly Father," LaShawn began, "please free Lauren from her pain. Please take away her affliction so that she can walk through life with a clear and unencumbered mind and spirit. Fill her soul with peace and happiness. And please, Lord, bless everyone here tonight, especially Blair on her birthday. In Jesus' name we pray, amen," she finished.
Madison turned to LaShawn. "So how's Calvin doing? Did you finally decide to give him some?" she asked.
"Madison!" Lauren and Blair shrieked. LaShawn's decision to be celibate wasn't something they talked about. It was like crazy relatives. The whole family knew they existed, but they were never mentioned.
"What?" Madison asked, feigning innocence. "As if you guys weren't thinking it. Come on...do you really think she's gonna wait until the wedding night?" Blair and Lauren couldn't meet her eyes. Madison turned her attention back to LaShawn. "So?" she pressed.
LaShawn swallowed a retort. Three years ago when she walked in on her then fiancé, Troy, screwing his secretary on his office couch as though they were two rabbits on crack, she had dumped him. After that, she decided to wait until marriage before any man even got a glimpse of her goodies. There was only one force strong enough to make her keep her resolve: God.
"Calvin is fine, and my celibacy is fine," LaShawn answered prissily, but she breathed a little bit easier. She'd known Madison would get around to asking her about her sex life some time that evening, and at least now it was done and over with. Now they could move on to another topic.
Lauren shook her head at Madison before she looked across the table at LaShawn. "Hey, girl, how're the wedding plans? Is there anything we can help you with?"
LaShawn smiled brightly at the question. "Naw, everything is fine. My sister is a big help. I can't believe that in another six months I'll be Mrs. Calvin Worthy," she whispered dreamily.
Madison snickered and Lauren toed her, the pointy tip of her shoe digging into Madison's shin, Madison inhaled a short yelp. "Did you all get fitted for your dresses?" LaShawn asked nonchalantly, but she stared pointedly at Madison. Something told her Madison hadn't even tried on her bridesmaid dress. Lauren and Blair nodded and Madison mumbled under her breath. "What did you say, Maddy?"
"I'll do it next week," she said. Madison hated the bridesmaid dress. It was lemon colored with yards of ruffles and made her look like a canary. "So are we all going to yoga this week?" A chorus of protests went up. "Come on, y'all, don't be so lazy. Besides, where else can you touch your nose with your toes?" Madison quipped, then turned to LaShawn. "I bet that's something Calvin will be thanking you for on your honeymoon."
Just then Leonard traipsed over to their table, his wife Thomaseena at his side. She preferred to be called Thomas and dressed in men clothes.
"How are the finest ladies in Atlanta doing tonight?" Leonard asked and smiled so brightly that it blanketed them all in its warmth.
"Hi, Miss Lenora!" they chorused together as they took in his appearance. His fingernails were polished a sultry red, his makeup rivaled any Essence magazine cover model, and he rocked his blond wig as though he had been born with it.
"I'm loving the shoes," Madison said as she admired the three-inch-heel, strappy stilettos.
"Thanks, gurl," Lenora gushed. "Outlet mall...let me know when y'all got time, we can roll up there. I'll show y'all where all the bargains are. But it all depends if Tommy lets me get away," he giggled and shot "Thomas" a coy look. She winked in response.
"Bet!" Madison smiled, but as soon as the couple was out of earshot, she turned to her friends. "I wonder who's the man in bed."
"Madison!" LaShawn reprimanded.
"I was kinda wondering that, too," Blair admitted, then turned to Madison since Lauren and LaShawn could care less. "Maybe they switch off."
"Maybe." Madison considered the idea. "Do you think that he dresses up in lingerie and stuff?"
Blair shrugged. "I bet he does...he's already in full drag." She glanced across the room at Leonard, who was greeting some customers. "Check out his makeup, it's fabulous."
"I know. Do you think Thomas uses a dil -- "
"Okay, enough of this!" LaShawn hissed. "Can't you find something more enlightening to talk about? Why does it always have to be about sex with you, Madison?"
"It's not always about sex," Madison snapped. "I was just curious. And I bet you all are, too," she said, only to be met with silence. "Well, I'll stop talking about it then." She was quiet for a moment, then drawled, "Soooo, Blair, what are you and Rich doing for your birthday? Some horizontal action?" she teased, then gyrated her pelvis as if she was making love.
Blair reddened, drawing attention to her freckles, which looked like flecks of brown paint. "We're going to Europe," she said airily. "We're going to tour Rome. I can't wait. We were supposed to go ages ago, on our honeymoon, but you know how things happen. He said if we had time, we'll hop over to Paris." She shrugged nonchalantly, then stuffed a piece of her birthday cake in her mouth.
"Go 'head, Rich!" Lauren said. "I'm so jealous. Cleve and I haven't been on a real vacation in years. Between his business and my job we don't have the time. I wish we could get away," she said wistfully. "You two have the perfect marriage, the perfect house, and the perfect kids. You got it all, girl." Lauren sighed, then reached over and clasped Blair's hand.
Blair smiled weakly. "Oh, thanks. But I think we all have it all," she said, glancing around the table and then raising her cup. "We should make a toast." Blair cocked her head and studied her friends. Her green eyes flicked over the ladies she loved like sisters. Like her momma used to say, they were tighter than a gaggle of geese. "To our perfect lives," she murmured.
There was a moment's hesitation before a round of cheers went up. The friends shot furtive glances at one another before gulping down their drinks.
Copyright © 2006 by Desiree Day
Posted December 9, 2008
In Atlanta, Blair Ricci, Madison DuPree, LaShawn Greene and Lauren Hopson are close friends who every Thursday celebrate ¿Screw Men Night¿. This time they decide to get away together on a Caribbean cruise. Each needs the time desperately to think how to fix their out of control life.----------- Suburbanite Blair is shocked to learn that her perfect spouse makes mistakes that can prove quite costly to their relationship. Single swinger Madison finds sex is no longer a turn on as her parade of one night stands seem lacking lately. Religious fanatic LaShawn¿s insistence on celibacy is driving her fiancé away. Finally Lauren is a super-spouse, super-mom, super-business mogul and definitely super-tired. CRUISING together these buddies seek some harmony in their respective lives after the ship docks.----------------- The four disheartened females are likable protagonists with different needs, desires and troubles that distinguish them from one another. The audience will understand and appreciate that the consistency of the personalities the foursome display throughout as each seeks solutions to their woes seem apropos to that person¿s basic behavior. Though much of the subplots are conventional, readers will enjoy how each responds to the issue of how to regain some harmony and balance in their respective lives.--------------- Harriet Klausner
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