Our Aunt Maria is eccentric. She lives north of the city, in Alpharetta, on a large estate and doesn’t go out much. You remember the old lady in the story, Great Expectations? Well, that’s my Aunt Maria, except for the part where she hates men. And she’s not as old—only in her mid-fifties, I’d say. She’s never told us and we never dared to ask. There are some things you don’t even tiptoe around.
She’s got a streak of white running through her otherwise dark, wavy hair but we don’t see it much because she dresses like she’s an African queen, complete with headdress. Whereas Mom loved oldies music, Aunt Maria is one with the classic cinema. Black and white movies, musicals, even the silent movies were fair game. You can just imagine how well we fit in at school—when everyone talked about The Breakfast Club or Holiday by Madonna, we talked about West Side Story and Mama Said by the Shirelles.
But Aunt Maria is an original and I wouldn’t have her any other way. She took care of us after Mom died, being a parent to Gina and a shoulder to cry on for us both. I was still in college and couldn’t have taken care of Gina myself. At that point, I was barely hanging on to my own sanity.
I can hear her voice carrying from the phone’s headset, but I can’t make out what she’s saying. Gina’s replies are a chorus of “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am.” I almost feel bad for her. I mean, she’s twenty-five, not twelve, but Aunt Maria won’t ever change. She juxtaposes her cinema world with the current world—her misbegotten idea of society’s dangers clashing with reality—and she becomes overprotective of those she loves. I suppose that’s bound to happen to any of us as we get older.
Gina hangs up, glaring at me. “Thanks a lot.”
“She would have worried herself to death if we hadn’t called her.”
“I know.” Her features soften. “Do you mind if I go to bed now? I’m tired.”
“Go ahead.” The call of my own pillow is getting tough to ignore. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
She nods to me and we part ways. Exhaustion claims me soon after. Thank God the bar’s closed tomorrow—today—and I can sleep in.
The phone ringing wakes me and I squint in the glaring sunlight. I was so tired the night before I forgot to close the blackout curtains. Damn. I bury my head under my pillow and try to ignore the phone. Finally, the answering machine picks it up and I doze off again.
Until the ringtone on my cell starts.
“Fine. I’m up,” I grumble. The Shiny Happy People need to stop. I’m not in the mood for fun, dance-around songs right now.
My eyes aren’t adjusted enough to open them fully, so I just hit the talk button without checking the Caller ID.
“Luce, where are you?”
“Gina? I’m in my bed. Where the hell are you?” It might have been a dream, but I’m pretty sure she was asleep on the couch on the other end of the apartment last night.
“I’m downstairs at the bagel shop. Do you want anything?”
I flop back to my pillow, my hand over my eyes, wondering what time it is and how I slept through her leaving.
“Okay. I’ll be back up soon.”
I hang up and hug my pillow one more time while I gather the resolve to get out of bed and into the shower. The promise of warm water and a day off finally propel my feet to the area rug protecting my hardwood floors from the bed frame.
By the time I step out of the bathroom with a thick steamy cloud in my wake, Gina is sitting at the breakfast bar.
“I brought you a bagel anyway.”
“Thanks.” I almost feel human again. I grab my watch off the nightstand.
“Two thirty?” I haven’t slept for eight hours in a long time.
“Yup,” Gina says around a mouthful of blueberry bagel. “I reset your clocks, too. How can you live with them blinking all the time?”
“I don’t know.” I shrug and look at the stove and microwave and solid green numbers greet me. “I just don’t think about it.”
“Too busy with the bar.” It’s a statement, not a question.
“Probably.” The coffee is still hot and I sip it slowly so I don’t burn my mouth. Gina keeps quiet as she finishes her bagel. I reach over to the brown paper bag she slides in my direction and take a peek. Everything bagel, toasted, with veggie cream cheese. And it smells great. My mouth waters and my stomach growls. Giving in to my hunger, I take a big bite, savoring the warm, crispy-creamy consistency. The garlic and onion mix with the vegetables in the cream cheese and my taste buds dance. I don’t often indulge in something like this—my breakfasts are mostly coffee and, if I think about it, a hard-boiled egg or some fruit.
“Are you working today?” she asks when I’ve woken from the garlic-enhanced pleasure coma.
“No. The bar is closed on Sunday.”
“You could make more money if you opened, since no one can buy alcohol.” The law in Georgia is for retailers, but most cities can still serve it in a bar or restaurant.
“Yeah, I know. But then I’d never get a day off.”
She nods, with a wry grin on her face. “So, do you want to go to the movies?” she asks, as my ringtone sounds again.
“Sure.” I look at the Caller ID. It’s the girl I just hired—Ashley—and I stare at the phone trying to decide if I can handle her peppiness right now.