Page 32 of Pride

“Madrina!” I call out, and my voice echoes. I need to talk to Madrina about this boy. That kiss. Those photos. And this thing I can’t quite describe that’s swimming deep inside me.

I search the kitchen, the bathroom, and finally I hear a faint voice coming from behind the closed door of her bedroom. I knock first. Then I open the door to find Madrina lying in her bed.

“Madrina, what’s wrong?” I ask. I rarely come into her bedroom because never, ever have I seen her laid up in bed in the middle of the afternoon.

The lump beneath the blankets shifts, and she mumbles something.

“Madrina?” I take slow steps toward her bed.

She pulls back her covers, and for the very first time in my whole entire life, I’m seeing my madrina without any makeup. She’s a little darker and her face looks smaller. The wrinkles on her forehead are like ocean waves, her eyes are deeper and piercing, and her thin lips stretch into a weak smile when she sees me.

“Zuri? Cómo ’tás?” she says. Her voice is still deep and booming, but it comes from a shallow place now.

“Why are you in bed?”

“Because I’m resting,” she says, and turns over to her side to face me.

“No riddles, Madrina. Tell me straight up. What’s going on?” I crouch down beside her bed so that we’re eye to eye.

“You’re so bossy, you know. The bossiest of all your sisters,” she says, smiling.

“I get it from you, Madrina. Where’s Colin?” I take her hand and squeeze it. It’s cool, smooth, and dry.

She squeezes my hand back. “Zuri. You’re also hardheaded. You have all these walls around you that it’s like your heart is locked up in some room.”

I pull away from her. “You want me to get you some water? Did you have something to eat yet?” I’m too worried about Madrina to even tell her about what happened with Darius on the drive from D.C.

She starts to get up from beneath the covers. She’s wearing a flowery nightgown, and for the first time, I suddenly see how thin she’s gotten. She’s still a little chunky and soft, but it’s different. For the first time ever, she looks frail. She opens a drawer in her nightstand, pulls out a fifty-dollar bill, and slides it over to me.

“Keep the change,” she says, and gets up from her bed.

I take the fifty dollars from her with no questions asked. And no answers, either. I watch her for a long minute as she struggles to pour the boiling water from an electric kettle on her nightstand into a mug. Her hand is shaking like I’ve never seen it before. I quickly get up to help her, but she shoos me away.

“I had this nice soup called el bisqué at that new farm restaurant. Go get me that el bisqué, Zuri! It was so delicious,” she says.

Slowly I walk out of her apartment, feeling as if I should still be in there with her. And hoping that when I come back, she’ll be all dressed, with her head wrapped and beads and makeup and deep, joyous laughter.

“I kept trying to get her to order something else, but she kept asking for more bowls of the bisque,” Charlise says as she goes through a stack of paper menus. “And I kept saying, ‘Madrina, it’s bisque, not el bisqué. The E is silent.’ She spent like two hundred dollars all by herself.”

The menus are printed on thick, textured paper with fancy gold lettering. I keep staring at the name of this place, Bushwick Farm. It’s not on any sign outside the building. The people who need to know that this is a farm-to-table restaurant already know it’s a farm-to-table restaurant. Charlise says that farm-to-table means that the chicken is supposed to still be clucking when it’s on your plate and the vegetables taste like wet soil. The food is that fresh. The people who come here to eat mostly are white, mostly are rich, and mostly ignore us as if we’re ghosts.

That’s how they treat Charlise as they come into the restaurant. She’s supposed to check to see if they have a reservation, seat them, and hand them their menus. But most of them just walk past her as if she’s not even there. Good. She won’t get in trouble for talking to her friend while she’s supposed to be working.

“She was here by herself? Not even with Colin. Why?” I ask her.

“Madrina said she’s souping it all up before the gringos take over,” Charlise says. “And speaking of soup, which one did she want? The fire-roasted tomato or the lobster one?”

“She didn’t ask for soup, she asked for el bisqué. I mean, bisque.”

“Bisque is soup, DAH-ling!” Charlise raises an eyebrow and holds her pinky up, and I laugh. “You better learn to say them fancy words. You’re gonna be out in the world soon, college girl. And besides, rich boy from across the street knows how to say it.”

A chill runs up my spine. I quickly look away from her so that she doesn’t see my face. She would probably know everything just by looking into my eyes. A few customers walk in, distracting Charlise. She grabs a couple of menus and walks them outside, where they ask to be seated.

In the evenings, they block off a section of the sidewalk and put out wooden folding chairs, tables covered with white cloth, fancy plates, and wineglasses. That whole setup always looks strange to me, because this place used to be an auto-repair shop when I was little. It was closed for a couple of years, and then out of nowhere, it seemed, it became a fancy restaurant. I bet these people don’t even know that car exhaust and engine oil once filled this place. I force myself to think about all these things so Charlise can’t tell that somewhere in the back of my mind is the thought of Darius and our drive from D.C. together.

“So. When was rich boy in here?” I ask.

“About a week ago, with his whole family. At the same time as Madrina, in fact. She was eyeing them the whole time. Then rich boy came over and said hi. Introduced himself and everything.”

“Really? Wait. Which rich boy?” I ask.

“The fine one!” She tries to hold in a laugh.

I give her a look. Then she bursts out laughing, and the bartender looks over at us. He just smiles and shakes his head.

“Okay, it was Ainsley. And they were all nice to me. Too bad Janae is not going out with him anymore. How’s Warren, by the way?”

I shrug. “We’re done.”

“Wait. What?”

“It’s complicated” is all I can manage to say. I want to keep Darius’s secret. And Georgia’s.

“Well, I have some news.” She tries to hide her smile.

“What is it, Charlise?”

She grins wide, revealing all her teeth, as if what she’s about to tell me will shock me.

“Or, who is it?” I grab my phone to check if I missed a photo on Charlise’s instagram.

“Wait, Zuri,” she says. “He’s about to come in.”

I look out the opened glass door to the restaurant and count down. Ten, nine, eight . . . and in walks Colin, with that fake limp of his, and that cheesy grin as if he thinks he’s God’s gift to girls. As soon as he’s close enough to where I’m sitting, I say, “Hey, Colin. Madrina already sent me here for her el bisqué.”

“Oh, that’s cool. You should try some of that bisque too, Z. It’s dope.”

And right before my eyes, he reaches over the podium in front of Charlise and kisses her on the lips. I throw my hands up. “Oh, hell no!”

“See? I told you she’d get all in her feelings,” Colin says.

I take a deep breath and stare at the two lovebirds for a minute. I want to be a supportive friend. I don’t want to seem like a hater. “You know what, Colin? I’m happy for you two. Really.”

Charlise’s face lights up and she smiles bright. “Thank you, Zuri!” Then she turns to Colin. “See? I told you she’d be all right with this.”

Colin wraps his arm around Charlise’s neck, pulls her in, and plants a big fat kiss on her forehead, just as a well-dressed couple walks in. I step aside and watch Charlise shoo Colin away, then attend to the guests. It’s a long minute before I realize that the couple is none other than the Darcy boys’ parents, and I want to run out of there. But Charlise points to me, and they both turn. Darcy dad smiles. Darcy mom doesn’t. Then she smiles a fake smile.

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