- March 8th, 20:07
"Hey sweetheart?" said my mom as I grabbed my bag for school. "Just a heads, I've got a friend coming for dinner tonight. Her name is Hermes." She said it like "Her-meese."
I frowned. "Mom, it's Her-mez, like the French scarves."
She laughed. "Mel, she's my friend, I've known her for years. I hope I would know how to pronounce her name. Hermes. Trust me."
"Okay…" I said, shaking my head. "You do you. I've got rehearsal after school, then I'll be home." Mom crossed the kitchen and pressed a kiss to my hair as I turned the doorknob. I knew I should hate it, was probably too old for kisses, but I hugged her anyway, breathed in that coffee and bed smell, and ruffled her hair. "Make good choices!" she called out to me as I jumped down the stairs to our apartment porch. Just like always.
The heat hit me as soon as I came out on the porch. Key West in May was slithery with heat, not the crushing fetid ache of July or August, but still plenty warm. Luckily, school was year round and frosty with air conditioning. I biked there most mornings, and basked in the cool gym showers. It was my secret treat to myself; sometimes I'd even help myself to a pump or two of my mom's special shampoo, the kind that smelled like orchids.
School that day was school - people mispronounced my name, I got stared at because my hair's doing weird things these days (guess it's finally figuring out that I'm half Black), and I nearly walked into Tallulah Price's locker. In my defense, I had my nose buried in "Sandman", but luckily I swerved at the last minute and lost my place, which seemed like a raw deal to me. If a black eye meant a few more panels of Neil Gaiman's genius in my head, that would be worth it.
After class, I turned up at theater restaurant, which was pretty much the only thing keeping me from dropping out at this point. We were doing The Cherry Orchard and I was playing Anya, which surprised no one. We did blocking and lighting since the play was having its opening night in a week. I loved acting like students in my grade loved going to the gym or playing video games. People said stuff to me like, "Hey Mel, when's that next album dropping?" or "Have your agent call me!" Not to brag. But the Mighty Fighting Conchs had nothing on the fame I was going to bring our school as soon as I could leave this pebble of a place.
I biked home in the golden light that happens just before sunset. My favorite time of day, hands down. The world gets… not really quieter, but more manageable. Dinners happen. Talking happens. And frankly, I was damn curious about this lady who was supposed to be gracing our table tonight.
I pulled up and noticed a white BMW parked next to my mom's Range Rover. Well, la-ti-dah, aren't we fancy. You know she had to ask for that since it was a rental. Couldn't be satisfied with economy, even though everyone knows it's a waste of booze money to have a car here. I shouldn't judge, I told myself. Maybe she drove down from Miami for the night, people did that. Not my kind of people, but some people.
I hauled myself up the stairs and opened the door. Music was playing and the lights were low, the bossa nova kind of stuff that my mom liked. I didn't exactly mind it, but it wasn't like it had lyrics to sing along to. "Mel!" Mom said, leaning over the kitchen island with a glass of wine in one hand and a spatula in the other. "Sweetie, this is Hermes."
Hermes had draped herself across the sectional, the long spot that I liked best. Already that was a mark against her. She lifted a glass of wine of her own at me, honey brown eyes darting to my face. "Melpomene," she said, extending a muscled forearm to grasp at my hand. She was long and sinewy, like a ballet dancer, and I felt weirdly afraid for a minute. She reminded me of a panther. But then her eyes crinkled up in a smile, and I found myself smiling back. "Grace," she said to my mom, "she can have a glass, can't she? She's old enough."
...Okay, maybe she could stay. "Mom said you guys were old friends," I said. "You in town for long?" I accepted the very small glass of wine Mom poured me and tried not to pucker at the tartness of it.
"As long as it takes," she said smoothly.
"As long as what takes?" I asked. Plates were starting to hit the table - Mom's goat cheese and orange salad, spaghetti with conch and white sauce. Familiar dishes, good ones. Company stuff. I was wondering if she'd bring out the key lime pie for dessert, when -
"You mean your mom hasn't told you?" Hermes said. "You're a muse, sweetheart."
"Sorry," I choked. "I'm a what?"