Part One, by Shelton Keys Dunning
Taminy Rhodes was mortified.
She was scheduled to cater tables at her own high school reunion, the very reunion she had planned on ignoring. Reading and rereading the posted staff assignments did nothing to change the black and white truth before her. Cringing at the idea of the gorgeous Shriners’ ballroom festooned in rusty brown and mustard streamers, she realized there was no escape. She couldn’t afford to take another sick day with rent looming on the horizon. God hates me.
“Girl, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Devon snapped fingers before her face to get her attention.
“Yes, it’s the ghost of high school past rearing its fugly head to emphasize to all those cheer squad assholes that yes, I’m still a loser.” Tears welled up, blurring the spinning room in a watery bubble and turning the world into a snow-globe. Greetings from Passattucets, Home of the Glenn High Rangers, Class of Has-it-already-been-ten-years. She slid down the wall, defeated, and sat on the industrial linoleum floor. “Why does this pathetic shit always happen to me?”
“Oh that’s right. You went to John Glenn, didn’t you?” He sat next to her, his expression infused with a daydreamer’s gaze. “I remember the boys on the Glenn lacrosse team. Eye-candy in a sweaty testosterone package. How bad can it be?”
“Worse than bad. Horrific.” She played with the hem of her tunic blouse and sniffed. “Any moment I’ll wake up and find I truly am naked in class without my homework.”
They sat silent in the sterile hallway for a while. Taminy tried to block the stream of memories that came to surface to no avail. The bottom locker fiasco when the butt-crack seam of her gym uniform ripped to expose her white granny panties to the entire school. The random hormone-addled boys accidentally bumping into her in the hallway so they could accidentally grope her already fully-developed chest. The braces, the freckles, the frumpy generic clothes, the illegal and borderline scandalous mental stalking of the smokin’ hot Chemistry teacher Mr. Randall Black… she wasn’t just awkward; she was the outcast’s social pariah. “Go Rangers,” she mocked with a raised fist.
“It could’ve been worse you know. You could’ve been outted by a linebacker your junior year.”
Devon looked amused at his own comment. “Try explaining that to your homophobic parents.”
“Oh God, you liar! Your parents are on the opposite spectrum of homophobic. They so supported you!” Taminy swat at his shoulder while he hid behind his arms.
“I forgot I told you that I was never in the closet to begin with.” His giggle shook his body and ended in a series of short-lived snorts.
A few co-workers rounded the corner of the hallway and waved, giving the schedule a passing glance. They obviously didn’t know they were walking by a dead girl. “I’m so screwed, Devon.”
Taminy ran her fingers through her hair, feeling a trickle of cold sweat slide down the back of her neck.
“It’s just one night. It’ll be over before you know it.” He shot a look at her over his nose.
“You said once how lucky you were, that nobody cared about, uhm, you know.”
“Come on Girl, you can say the word. Gay. And yes, I realize I’m probably the only gay man in the world that was never persecuted.”
Her fingers stretched another path through her hair, pushing tangles to her split ends. “It was different for me. I was preyed upon by those vultures, daily, and I still don’t understand why.”
“My momma always said you don’t fix mean, you can only survive it.” He gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze and her temple a quick kiss. “I’ll tell you what, we’ll cut and dye your hair, whip those eyebrows into shape, swap badges with someone who has a boring, biblical name like Sarah, and I guarantee no one will notice you. They never look at the wait-staff and I’ll be there to help run interference. What could possibly go wrong?”
She hoped he didn’t just jinx it. No one spits in the face of fate like that and survives, at least when it involved her life. The stars had never aligned for her. “You’re bloody perfect. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m not your type, I’d totally marry you.”
He leapt off the floor with the energy of a schoolboy, offering a hand up. “Come on, Girlfriend, wallowing in misery gives you unsightly wrinkles.”
“So does smiling excessively.”
The outdoors revived her lungs and Devon’s promised makeover lifted her spirits. Her heart fluttered with hope.
Part Two, by Kir Piccini
Taminy pushed her new fringed bangs out of her eyes and tried to stop touching her face. Devon had performed a bloody miracle. She was now blonde, highlighted and her face was made up like she was going to grace the cover of InStyle. Her hair that normally just hung to the middle of her back in brunette tangles now brushed her shoulders and the layers made her want to keep flipping it around, to catch the platinum in the light. It also pissed her off, since she’d never wanted to flip anything before this, other than her middle finger.
Her reaction hadn’t changed in the last 12hours since Devon, armed with magazines, boxes of Feria and some very sharp scissors, had shown up at her apartment. For more than 4 hours, he’d colored, clipped and catered to her face and hair. When he was done, he’s finally allowed her to walk to the hallway mirror and take it in. She simply couldn’t believe the girl looking back was her.
Once she’d stopped vacillating between laughing at her own reflection or staring open mouthed at the transformation, Devon had grabbed her backpack and pushed her out the door. Another 3 hours and $200 she’d need to repay him they left the mall with new underwear that wasn’t made of cotton, new silky blouses and pants that would keep her from eating, well nothing much of anything, until after the reunion.
“Holy Shit Dev!” she’d exclaimed, “What did you do to me?”
“I found you, under all those tunic blouses and that lifeless head of hair of yours.”
“But blonde? Did you have to make me blonde?”
“Blondes have more fun, Tam-Tam. You never have any fun lately, so you were due.”
“Hmmph!” She’d huffed but even she couldn’t stop herself from noticing how the color brought out the tint of the blush Dev had brushed high on the apple of her cheeks and the shadow he had stroked across her eyelids.
“I look like one of them.” She whispered.
“That’s the point, Tam. You’ll blend in now, instead of sticking out.”
“I don’t want to be one of them.” Putting the emphasis on every word hoping he was hearing her.
Devon softened, dropping his arm over her shoulders and squeezing, “You’ll never be one of them. First, your heart is too good and secondly you don’t have a natural tendency toward bullshit.” He stopped and looked at her, winking, “but for one night, you could pretend to be a blonde bitch.”
So now, here she was, adjusting her cummerbund in the bathroom at the Shriners’ ballroom, applying one more coat of lipstick to her painted mouth at the request of Devon, who had pressed a tube of Ruby Red into her palm and just looked at her.
Smacking her lips, she moved to leave and go back to passing around the trays of lukewarm appetizers, when she heard a voice from her past in the form of the sugary sweet lilt of Amanda Preston drifting from one of the stalls.
Stopping her cold in her tracks, she listened in on the conversation that Amanda wasn’t even trying to keep quiet.
“Where the fuck are you Blake?” Amanda hissed. “You promised me I wouldn’t have to come to this joke of a party alone, everyone is only interested in knowing where the star quarterback is anyway. I might as well be invisible.”
Taminy tried to stop the snort she felt welling up in her mouth, Amanda had been the homecoming queen, the student council president and the captain of the cheerleading team, she couldn’t be invisible then or now, if she tried. Marrying Blake Preston had just been a natural step in her plans to take over the world or at least their tiny, nothing-exciting-or-unexpected-goes-on-here town.
Again, she touched the door to make a hasty exit, when she heard Amanda mention her. “No, I haven’t seen Taminy.” Her voice dripped venom. “And don’t think I don’t know that you are still carrying a torch for that mess of a girl.”
Taminy blushed and stumbled backwards bumping into the heavy porcelain sinks.
Amanda kept talking, “And believe me I’d know if she were here because she’d be standing next to that gay best friend of hers, who incidentally is chatting up Roy Bivens. Can you even imagine, the star running back coming out after marrying Suzy Davis and making such cute kids? Guess you don’t really know anyone.”
Before she could move, Amanda breezed out of the stall and just looked at her. Taminy stood frozen in front of the girl that had made every day of high school a living nightmare of humiliation waiting for the onslaught of insults to rain down on her.
Instead, Amanda spoke into the phone, “Just get your ass down here after you’re finished with your flavor of the month. Your fan club is waiting.” She pressed the button to end the call, dropped the phone in her clutch and looked at Taminy’s name badge.
“Sarah, is it?”
Taminy just nodded her mouth unable to form words.
“I love your highlights honey!”
Part Three, By Troy of As Long As I’m Singing
“Self-serving bitch” Taminy growled as the door – which failed to do her bidding by smacking Amanda in the ass on the way out – softly closed.
She slinked up to the mirror one more time, almost afraid to see the new face that she already knew would be there. Had Amanda really not recognized her, or was she just that self-involved? And what was all that about Blake? How could a boy, who did everything but dunk her hair in an inkwell, have ever have had a thing for her? She wasn’t surprised that she didn’t realize it then – as now, she was terrible at recognizing people’s true feelings – but why had he never told her? Hell, how many movies had to be made about the quarterback prince coming to save the nerdy girl before someone would catch on and actually make it a reality?
Concealing a blush, Taminy removed herself from the restroom and rejoined the wait staff, being careful not to get too close to Devon. As usual, the bacon-wrapped scallops were a huge hit. And as usual, that was not the tray that they gave her. This forced her to spend much more time in the front lines, schlepping the drooped and overly complicated vegetable creations that rested at her breast. At each stop, she dreaded opening her mouth, in fear of being placed. Initially, she affected a bit of a southern drawl to help her stay hidden, but realized quickly that she had hardly the stamina to keep it up all night. “Keep it up all night,” she softly giggled to herself, remembering how that had been the rather juvenile punch line to one of Blake’s stupid sex jokes. Of course back then, they were all sex jokes, and not surprisingly, a large portion of them were stupid.
“You know, it’s funny you would say that. I seem to remember some stupid joke where the punch line was similar” said a voice from behind her.
Taminy froze, only just saving the tray from being spilled across the floor. “I’m sawry?” she said, the southern accent resurfacing in fear.
“Oh, I was just reminiscing is all. I seem to recall what you just said as being part of a joke at some point in time.”
Turning nervously to meet the face behind the voice, Taminy spurted “Reid!” involuntarily while almost dropping her platter for a second time.
Reid helped her to steady it before answering “Umm, yes. Do we know each other?” Taminy recovered, saying “Oh, no, no, no. I’m sorry. I just saw your name badge, and it, well, it reminded me of a very dear friend.”
“I see. Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll grab a couple of those vegetable Frankensteins from you. Not because I’ll enjoy them, but to ease your burden a touch, OK?”
“Certainly! I’m sorry again. Please, take some. And here, have a napkin as well. No charge.” Taminy affected a slight bow and a mischievous grin before walking away from Reid a little too quickly. Oh God. How did she not realize that he would be here? Her one true defender throughout the entire bullshit high school experience. The only person in all the earth who was allowed to call her “Tam”. He should have technically graduated a year before her, but he’d been held back for some reason or another. During the years of her sexual awakening, she had often fantasized that it was God himself who held Reid back a year. Held him back solely to defend her. To love her. To make love to her. Of the three, only the first ever happened, and of the three, only the first happened quite often.
As she walked away, she was unable to see Reid following her with his eyes. Eyes that never forgot a pretty face, no matter how much make-up was slathered on to hide it.
Devon, brushing up against Taminy, whispered, “Girlfriend, are you avoiding me? I mean, I’m not the jealous type darling, but it seems like you’ve been doing your best to stay as far away from me as possible! Is it the cologne? Is it my beauty? Your jealous of my beauty, right?”
Taminy chuckled despite the dangerous position she found herself in by conjoining with him. “No dear, it’s just that I know Amanda is on the lookout for me, and I also know that she’s expecting to find me right here, next to you.”
“Oh, gotcha. Well then, I’ll just head over there then – but if you need me, you just come running, OK? And please, if Amanda starts anything, throw up your Devon signal but quick! That bitch has been deserving a slap of the same name from me for far too long!” With that, Devon sauntered off to the other end of the hall, a scallop-laden tray held high above his head.
Taminy, impressed, watched him weave through the crowd. Damn! If she could only walk like that she thought, then NOBODY would ever fuck with her again. She was making a mental note to ask Devon to give her lessons at some point when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Honey,” said the voice. This time the voice was a woman’s, and this time it was a voice Taminy recognized.
“Why don’t you take a quick breather, dear? You look as pale as a ghost, and your tray is shaking worse than a crack addict on his last dose.”
“Thanks Lisa. Just five minutes would be nice.”
“I figured. Just long enough to smoke one more nail into your coffin, right?”
“Right.” Taminy said while handing her tray to Lisa and starting off.
“And Taminy,” Lisa said a bit too loudly, “please remember to pop a mint before you come back, OK?”
Leaving the hall, Taminy found the darkest corner possible, fuming over the fact that Lisa had blurted out her name. Madder still that she had never even given thought to the possibility of it occurring at some point during the evening. Fortunately, none of the attendees had been close enough to hear Lisa. Either that, or none of them actually cared enough about the “staff” to listen. Stupid insufferable pricks. Every last one of them! Well, all but one, at any rate. Taminy slowly closed her eyes, enjoying the gradual loss of vision and the blissful black that resulted, as she dragged diligently upon her slightly crumpled Lucky Strike. She knew they were the worst possible cigarette available, and as such, felt a certain kinship with this particular brand. Feeling the dark heavy smoke fill her lungs, she was finally able to find a small island of solitude amongst all the cacophony – both mental and real – that was surrounding her this evening.
It was a feeling short lived, however, as a newly familiar voice reached out to her and stopped her dead in her tracks, “I gotta say, the ‘fuck me’ make-up suits your friend Amanda a hell of a lot better than it does you, Tam.”
Part Four by Fay Moore
Taminy sucked in air. The jig was up. She pursed her lips, blowing her breath out in a long, slow exhale. After smashing the butt against the bottom of her shoe, Tam turned slowly toward Reid.
Who is he now? Did leaving here change him? Is he one of them?
“Taminy Rhodes. I’d know you anywhere,” he said softly.
Unmasked, and a bit embarrassed about the feigned accent thing, she was unsure of her next move. She smiled and searched Reid’s face for his intentions. She found a flat place, then patted the surface beside her. Reid sat. The two settled side by side, saying nothing. Eventually Reid broke the silence.
“How have you been? It’s been ten years.”
“I know. Can you believe it?” Tam made small talk to buy time. Her eyes searched for an escape route. Her brain ran scenarios.
I could faint. He’d call 911. An ambulance would take me away. No. The siren will attract attention. Everyone in the ballroom will pour out, stand over me, know the truth and cluck comments. Amanda Preston will spew venom. I will have to get up and hit her. There will be a fight with witnesses. I will go to jail. Nope. That won’t work.
“I wondered what happened to you. I lost track of you after graduation,” he said.
“I know. You went off to college. I stayed here. How was college?”
“It was okay. I studied English literature. I got a job in New York.”
“Really? Doing what?”
Before Reid answered, Lisa stepped out of a door behind them.
“Taminy, I need you in here now. Break’s over.”
Tam blushed. Lisa may as well have shouted, “Loser.” The gulf between herself and the rest of her classmates felt immense. She stood, wiping her hands over her uniform to straighten it. She squared her shoulders and straightened her spine.
“It was good to see you, Reid. Thanks for saying hi. I’ve gotta get back to work.”
He slid a hand into his pocket, fingering a folded envelope secreted there.
“After this is over, let’s go get coffee or something,” he said.
She glanced at him, incredulous. She answered, “Sure,” then disappeared inside the staff door after Lisa.
Once inside, she let out a soft moan.
He’s being polite. I can’t take polite. I want to grab his ears, pull his face to me, kiss him hard on the mouth and have the adult relationship I always fantasized about. Oh, well. It is what it is.
Taminy kept a low profile as long as possible. Then, Lisa ordered Taminy to clear the table where Amanda and Blake Preston sat. Devon overheard. He patted Taminy on the ass and whispered in her ear.
“It’s almost over.”
She shot Devon a we-did-it grin, then grabbed a tray.
Blake was at the bar for yet another girlie drink for Amanda, who was deep in conversation with the couple seated next to her. Taminy started picking up plates. She was counting on the truth of Devon’s words earlier.
No one looks at wait staff.
Taminy loaded her tray with the last empty glasses off the table. She turned to go and bumped into the returning Blake Preston, spilling the drink in his hand. It poured down the back of his wife. Amanda shrieked and jumped up. Drunk, she stumbled backwards into Taminy’s loaded tray, toppling it to the floor. The crash of the tray and Amanda’s screams drew the attention of the entire room.
Taminy stood frozen.
Blake bent to retrieve the tray. As he handed it toward Taminy, recognition flickered in his eyes.
“Taminy Rhodes? Is that you?”
As a smile spread across his lips, brutish fury flared in Amanda at the mention of Taminy’s name. She spun around. She looked past Taminy, looking right, then left, for the woman she hated. When no one else was there, only then did Amanda look at Taminy. As Amanda studied the uniformed figure before her, her eyebrows rose and eyes widened. Her mouth popped open. Amanda was weaving slightly back and forth, adjusting for her impaired balance.
“You?” Amanda’s eyes narrowed and drilled into Taminy.
Without thinking, Taminy raised the now empty tray and held it to herself like a shield between her torso and Amanda.
Amanda turned to Blake, spittle flying with her words.
“So that’s your Wonder Woman? Really? A damn waitress. She can’t even attend her own reunion as a class member. No. She’s here to wait on the rest of us.” At the top of her voice, she added, “What a loser! Look at the loser, everyone.” Amanda laughed viciously and spun to point out Taminy, but Amanda got tangled up in her own shoes and toppled to the floor.
A mixture of gasps and titters rose from the room. Blake was embarrassed by his wife’s behavior. As he bent to retrieve her from the floor, he growled in her ear.
“God, Amanda, you’re drunk. Shut up. We’re going home,” Blake ordered.
He turned and looked at Taminy, who was still holding her shield.
“I’m sorry.” The pained look on his face said a thousand apologies.
“No, I’m sorry,” Taminy said, not thinking about the spilled drink, but rather about the awful life the two of them had together. She imagined the hellish scene in the Prestons’ car and the unpleasant conversation when they got home. Time froze for a second before the next round of chaos began.
Devon jumped in to help Taminy clean up the mess on the floor. Lisa handed Blake a roll of paper towels to clean up his wife Amanda, who had just thrown-up into her designer handbag, since no other receptacle was handy for Blake to shove in front of her face. The din of muffled remarks swept after the crowd into the parking lot. The ballroom cleared out quickly.
“What a way to end a reunion. How about that bitch puking into her Louis Vuitton? Can’t wait till she sobers up and discovers that little prize,” giggled Devon.
“Hysterical,” said Taminy. She looked over at Devon, her friend, working side by side with her, cleaning up other people’s trash. She thought about how he stood by her, helped her face her demons and now helped her with the aftermath. They carried the trash bags outside to the dumpster together.
“Want to get a cup of coffee? My treat,” Taminy said to Devon.
Before Devon could answer, a voice spoke up from the direction of the parking lot. It was Reid. He stepped into the halo from the street lamp that lighted up the dumpster area.
“Hey. Gotta minute?”
He stuck his hand out to Devon to shake hands.
“The name’s Reid.” Devon accepted his hand. “I was hoping to get a few minutes to talk with Tam. Do the two of you mind if I join you for coffee?” There was a pause before he added, “My treat, of course.”
Taminy and Devon exchanged looks. She spoke.
“We’ll meet you at the coffee shop across the street in fifteen minutes. You go ahead and get us a table. We have to finish up here.”
“Done. See you soon. Nice meeting you, Devon.” Reid strode toward his car.
Devon watched Reid’s back disappear into the night.
“Friend or foe?”
“He used to be a very good friend. In high school, he had my back.” Taminy smiled at Devon. “Just like you.” She paused and looked in the direction Reid walked. “I wonder what he wants. He’s working in New York now. We can’t have much in common any more.”
Later, at the cafe, Reid quickly got to the point of his mission.
“Look, I don’t want to butt into your evening. I wanted to see Tam again and tell her a short story. You remember, Tam. You and I wrote lots of stories. We’d share them with each other. You were always the better writer.”
Devon’s head spun toward Tam.
“I never knew that about you. You write?”
She blushed and stared at her hands. She picked at a hang nail as she answered.
“I write a little.”
“She’s being modest. Anyway, one of the reasons I am here is to respond to a submission I received.”
Tam’s eyes snapped up to Reid’s face.
“I’m the guy who reads those submissions. I make recommendations to the editor. We’d like to publish your story.”
He reached into his pocket and retrieved the folded envelope, holding it out toward Taminy.
“There’s a contract in this envelope.”
Taminy’s mouth flew open almost as wide as her eyes. She looked back and forth between Devon and Reid.
To Reid, she said “For real?”
“Yes.” He pressed the envelope into her hand. “Here’s my card. Call me. Based on what I read, the magazine would like to see more work from you. We’ll discuss the details.”
Reid put his card into her hand, squeezing it overly long.
Oh my god. What was it I said about an adult relationship? Maybe it isn’t as far fetched to dream about after all.
“So will I hear from you?” Reid asked with a big grin, winking at her.
“Congratulations, Tam. You deserve this. You two enjoy your celebration.” Reid slipped a fifty dollar bill onto the table. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
When Reid was gone, the two friends jumped up and down, squealing until they couldn’t make another sound. Devon took Tam’s shoulders in his hands and pushed her out in front of him. He slowly and purposefully looked her up and down: new hair, new make-up, new career.
“Oooo, Miss Thing! You’re hot.” He grinned, hands on his hips. Leaning toward her, he whispered, “And you owe me two hundred dollars.”