I have no book news, apart from this blogged reminder to vote for your favourite black author, and this link at the other blog to a delightful and insightful interview with Lawrence Scott, though you can feel free to check out my books and/or my reviews of books by others. But just so I’m not posting empty, I thought I’d share this story (which is just me getting some practice in and having a bit of fun outside of my usual sandbox), actually the fourth draft of a writing exercise which I have no plans to submit anywhere for publication. I’m linking it as my Sunday Post and my Post to the Sunday Salon.
Some of my books.
Any warnings? Hmmm a bit of language. Enjoy?
By Joanne C. Hillhouse
“Well, is she coming?”
“She said she would.”
Belle doesn’t respond but her lips purse into a moue that distorts her pretty face without making it unpretty. Kaykay wonders, not for the first time, if Belle practices her faces in the mirror.
What’s she thinking – she’s been knowing Belle since age 10 when they both joined the Divas; of course, she does.
The name, Divas, an ambitious name for a quartet of tweens, had proved self-fulfilling prophecy as they ascended into super-pop-stardom. Inevitably, they did what all groups do, of course, combust. Now at the ripe old middle age of 25, they are poised for a reunion performance, at the Grammys; heaven help them, Kaykay can’t help thinking as she watches Belle get more agitated.
Ever the peacemaker, “She said she would,” she repeats.
“We’ll see,” Belle sings. So much shade in a single note, and Kaykay is reminded that Belle and Divas’ lead singer Queen were always the nexus of the trouble. “Two pretty girls in an all-female group are a recipe for disaster,” one gossip blog had declared at the height of the trouble; and though not thrilled at being dismissed as ugly, Kaykay has to admit that the eye is naturally drawn to Belle and Queen, and that the rivalry between the two had been the group’s undoing.
Queen (who still goes by the entire Queen of Hearts moniker she’d given herself at 10, like she’s spitting rhymes instead of crooning treacly love-lines) will make them wait; it’s her way. And Belle will bitch. That’s her way.
Kaykay sighs and turns her attention to the fourth member of their group, Luce. Luce is over in the corner crooning to her baby, the baby’s nanny off to the side idling, and Kaykay suspects this is typical of their household. Luce had wasted no time getting to marriage and baby making once Divas had performed its farewell concert before a packed Apollo Theatre – finishing right where the four tweens had started. While Luce hadn’t entirely retreated from the spotlight, it was impossible when you were as famous as they’d become, she hadn’t sought it with some tacky reality show either. Kaykay envies her. She isn’t proud of her own short run on Love and Hip Hop, nor of the fact that her individual brand hadn’t been strong enough to carry a show of her own. But she still wants this. Luce has obviously found something else.
Just as melancholy starts to take her, Kaykay recognizes the song Luce is crooning to her baby. She smiles. This isn’t ‘rock-a-bye, baby’. It’s ‘better be a betta man’. Maybe Luce hasn’t entirely detached.
Kaykay dips her voice in, a shade below and behind Luce’s, instinctively creating the harmony that is as familiar to her as her own breath.
“Wash the dishes
Take out the trash
Be home at night
All night clubbing ain’t right
Do do do
Better be a betta man
Beetttter be a betta man”
Luce looks up and meets Kaykay’s soft eyes and sweet smile. The Alto is still Luce’s favourite of their drama-dom. She’s not quite the diva Queen or Belle or even Luce herself is when the mood hit her. Kaykay really just wants everyone to get along. Luce remembers how angsty she’d get with every blow-up, and how Luce would distract her as they lay, side by side, collapsed on the studio floor, waiting the storm out.
Luce was always certain that Rajesh would sort them out. Privately, she and Kaykay joked that he was the Diva-whisperer, which was good since he had also been the group’s manager. He had a knack for calming even the over inflated egos of Divas. Soon enough, he’d have Belle and Queen, Kaykay and her giggling like teens at a slumber party; battles over who sang lead, who’d stepped on whose lines, who got too much face time in the last video shelved for at least another five minutes.
Rajesh had been her first crush and she has to admit she’s sort of looking forward to seeing him again. That’s not why she’s doing this, but she can’t help thinking fondly of him as she rocks and lullabyes her Wonder Baby. Wonder Baby could’ve been his. But they’d all lost him when Queen had gone solo, taking him with her. Luce can’t even be mad at him…who wouldn’t follow the money?
At first, they’d all been bitter, especially Belle, though she’s had the most post-group success, apart from Queen who had gone super nova. Belle could at least claim a solo Billboard top ten and a Minaj collabo; there had even been whispers of a perfume line at one point. Not Queen-dom level success but not nothing. Poor Kaykay still just wants them to be like they were, even if the way they were is all made up in her head.
As for Luce, well, she has her little Wonder Baby. Daddy Wonder may not be the man of her dreams – he’s certainly no Rajesh with eyes as big as pools you want to swim in; eyes like her baby’s– but he is steady and she is comfortable. Sports management is lucrative in an era when high school graduates are being paid bonuses the size of the annual budgets of small countries to sign with NBA and NFL teams.
That man only married her because she’d been a Diva, that’s what Belle has to remind herself any time she feels even a little bit envious of Luce’s life. Even a fourth in the line-up is worth having courtside with you when she is fourth in a group as big as Divas had been. With every picture of her ballooning frame in the blogs and the tabs, it was obvious to Belle that Luce was just bling, like the gaudy diamond ring she wears. Too tacky by Belle’s standards but then money can’t buy taste. Or sense: “can’t see that that wanna be sports Svengali is just using her”.
The brat is sleeping now and Luce hands her off to the nanny, a white woman of sturdy build. Belle cuts her eyes at the cliché-ness of it all, as if hiring white help is the way to prove you’ve arrived. She just hopes Luce has banked some of that Diva money for the inevitable divorce.
Kaykay jumps up.
“Should we warm up?”
Belle turns toward the mirror, dabs at invisible lipstick at the corner of her lips. “Just the three of us, what would be the point of that?” she snaps.
“We’d be warmed up,” Luce says, matter-of-factly. She is standing over her shoulder, looking at her in the mirror, and Belle finds herself laughing out loud.
“Girl, you got fat!”
The sharp hiss is Kaykay sucking in an air of shock.
Luce isn’t shocked or embarrassed. They haven’t been apart that long that she doesn’t remember the sharpness of Belle’s sting. She smiles benignly. “Carrying around a watermelon for nine months will do that to you,” she replies.
Unembarrassed by her own bitchiness, Belle continues, “but can’t the doctors suction everything back together right away…or is that too expensive?”
Kaykay with another suck of shock.
“Don’t choke, baby,” Belle teases.
Luce smiles, harder this time. “I feel healthy and the weight will drop in time, or it won’t; squeezing in to spanx is no longer my number one priority.”
Belle meets Luce’s steely eyes, and is reminded that she may be fourth-in-the-line-up but Luce is still a Diva.
She doesn’t feel any shame in being the first to lower her eyes. Luce isn’t her competition. She doesn’t want what Luce has.
Just then the door crashes open and the Queen herself strides in trailing fur, sycophants, and, oh yeah, the Traitor, Rajesh.
Belle almost laughs out loud at the ridiculousness of it all; that Saturday Night Live spoof of Queen – in which Maya Rudolph always has someone following her around with a mirror and whispering, “you’re so beautiful, my Queen, the prettiest Diva of all” isn’t far off.
Rajesh claps his hands together like old times.
“Okay, Divas, shall we warm up?”
On stage, it is like old times, the way they fall in to place, and in to step with each other, voices harmonizing easily. Rajesh had even dangled the possibility of a Reunion album, like a post-Grammy carrot when he’d put this performance together.
As they shimmy, turn, shimmy, turn, and slide, Kaykay, buoyed by happiness, dares hope that it will be.
Luce worries that Baby Wonder is up for her next feeding. She’d pumped earlier, but she likes breast feeding, finds the soothing act makes her feel even closer, if that’s possible, to the baby she carried in her for the better part of a year.
Belle jostles with Queen as the other steps in to her frame, and she knows it has to be deliberate because they’ve done these routines enough times over the years to know them in their sleep, even with not performing together for over a year. The audience probably doesn’t notice a thing. Neither misses a step, and the side eye they give each other is softened by the pageant grins they wear, also with practice.
Queen has to admit it feels good to be out here with her girls again; a bit constricting, yes, but it gives her a giddy feeling like a high. The smile she throws Belle’s way is real.
Belle catches it, smiles back. It feels so good. She feels like she hasn’t hit a stage since the Divas parted. She’s hit many stages, she is still in the biz after all, but she’s missed this, this, exactly this. Maybe she’s up for the whole reunion drama. Drama can be fun, and God knows she needs the money. Keeping up appearances is expensive.
The roar of the crowd is thunderous. Others sing about blowing a roof off a muthafucka, Divas do that shit! The ovation is earned, not like those dime a dozen ovations that have become industry standard.
They smile at each other, distance melting. And is that tears in Queen’s eyes? “I knew it,” Kaykay’s heart sings, “she misses us as much as we miss her.” They are sisters first after all.
Family is family, and these girls are the only family any of them has; the only family that matters. Through their 15 years in the trenches of the entertainment industry, they might have fought with each other, but they are also the only ones who understand each other. They have been there through it all – first period, first heartbreak, first pregnancy scare. They are family and they are back together, and that’s what matters. Kaykay is sure this is just the beginning of their new beginning.
But the press of hugs and air kisses later, Queen is already heading for the exit, entourage in full train, Rajesh promising, “Call you.”
Luce, who has pointedly ignored him this whole time, is already holding her baby and Belle is ripping off her false lashes with such force Kaykay’s eyes are stinging.
Belle meets her wet eyes through the barrier of the mirror, annoyed.
“What the fuck did you expect, Kaykay? Once a diva, always a diva.”
That’s all she wrote. As for what she’s reading, my most active reads of the past week were the journals Interviewing the Caribbean 2016 edition and BIM Volume 8, and, in books, All the Joy You can Stand by Debrena Jackson and Black Rose by Tananarive Due. Still reading.
p.s. the story shared in this post is all mine; do not copy or use in any way without my permission.