Celeste shifts uncomfortably on the wicker loveseat. She wishes she had worn a sundress or at least a skirt. Her shorts are tight and pinch across the width of her thighs in this seated position. Fortunately, the loveseat has a cushion but equally unfortunate, the cushion is plastic or some sort of waxed fabric and Celeste is aware that the backs of her thighs are slick with perspiration. She peels one thigh from the cushion and spills some of her lemonade. Celeste jumps to her feet.
“Celeste! What seems to be the problem, Honey?”
“Ms. Mason! I just…”
“Clarice, Honey. Call me Clarice.”
Clarice Mason breezes back onto the porch, having fetched two linen cocktail napkins from the butler’s pantry. She hands a napkin to Celeste, who towers over her. In her flat sandals, Celeste stands five foot nine. The unflattering short haircut she received at the beginning of the summer is further compromised by the withering humidity and her dark curls are a frizzed mass. She has a wet streak of lemonade down the front of her white tank top and she is suddenly, appallingly aware that she has not shaved her legs for at least a week.
Clarice Mason on the other hand is the very picture of cool composure. Her smooth chestnut bob falls straight and gracefully just beneath her chin. She wears a pink pleated sundress which despite the muggy atmosphere remains remarkably unwrinkled. Her dainty feet are shod in Ferragamo flats and a delicate strand of pearls encircles her small neck.
Clarice neatly tucks herself into a rocking chair facing the loveseat.
“Sit down, Honey. I believe we have much to discuss.”
Celeste begins to hiccup, a wretched nervous trait she acquired in early childhood.
“Oh my, you are a hot mess, aren’t you?” Clarice flashes a treacly smile. “ Relax. I don’t bite. We’re just going to have a little conversation about you and my girl Tinsley. You two have had quite the time this summer, I believe.” Clarice smooths the pleats on the lap of her dress and looks up coyly through her fringe of dark lashes. “Sit down, Honey. It seems like you have been over here every day since coming home from your college.” She leans forward and pats Celeste’s hand. “Y’all are always playing something! Playing records, playing cards, all sorts of fun and games! Isn’t that right?” Clarice pauses, pursing her lips and cocking her head to the left.
Celeste feels sick. The screened porch tilts and she closes her eyes. Visions from last night before swim before her. She and Tinsley, slightly drunk on rum and Coke. Laughter, almost hysterical. Trey, Tinsley’s little brother, calling out the contorted positions for Twister. Reggae and dim lights, an overhead fan softly ruffling the steamy air. Tinsley, in impossibly short cutoffs, a faded Tipitina’s t-shirt, the neck gaping open. Celeste, struggling to steady her long legs in a triangle pose, also struggling to keep her eyes averted, trying so hard not to stare down the neck of Tinsley’s shirt. The other girl’s lithe body, golden, caressed by the summer sun. Tinsley is not wearing a bra. Trey calls the next move for Celeste and she is reaching her left hand, tremulously, through Tinsley’s thighs. The laughter. The heat from the girl’s body. Celeste shifting, her face so close to Tinsley’s breasts. The smell of baby powder and rum and some muskier, enticing scent, the girl’s own body, the essence of her skin, fully in Celeste’s nostrils as the two bodies strain to remain apart. And then the searing touch, the electric exchange as Tinsely, convulsing with laughter, leans into Celeste’s body, her mouth on Celeste’s bare neck. And as their bodies slide into each other’s, Trey laughing riotously, Celeste aware of her hands on Tinsley’s breasts, aware of her rosy nipples hardening beneath her palms, the shrill staccato of Clarice Mason’s voice piercing the fabric of the night, “Tinsley Mason! That is enough! This instant! Get up off that floor!” Celeste opens her eyes now.
“Sit down, Celeste.” Clarice commands, inclining her head toward the loveseat.
Celeste looks at Clarice. She has heard before what this woman will say. Ugly words. An eighth-grade moniker: Celester the Molester. Her friends suddenly suspicious and uneasy in the gym locker room, taking care not to change into their uniforms in front of her. Her precipitous fall from the pool party and sleepover guest lists. Her high school best friend’s mother tersely telling her to stop coming around. As if she had something catching. As she if would turn their gold to dust. Celeste hears the old taunts and rumors, feels the sting of all the other times a mother, a sister, a boyfriend threatened her, rebuked her, condemned her. Celeste looks down at pretty, polite Clarice Mason, poised like a viper.
Celeste frowns. This summer had been different. She had not tipped her hand toward to Tinsley. She had been so careful when Tinsley had asked her if she had a college boyfriend; Celeste had demurred and Tinsley, stretched out upon the lawn, a lithe feline in repose, dappled by sunlight underneath the fragrant mimosa, had coquettishly inquired if she had a girlfriend. Even then, as tempted as she had been, Celeste felt the fluttering uncertainty deep within her. “No, don’t be silly” Celeste had said.
There is a giggle from the butler’s pantry and Celeste snaps from her revery as someone, most likely Tinsley, shushes the laughter.
Clarice Mason smiles a small patient smile. She gathers her stature like pulling in a tether and thrusts her shoulder back.
“Sit.Down.Celeste.” Clarice practically whispers the words but manages to spit them in rapid fire.
Celeste, profusely sweating now, can smell the mimosa’s intoxicating scent from the lawn. She closes her eyes for a just a second.
“No Ma’am, I don’t think I will.”
A version of this story was first published in Sad Girls Club April 2021.