I drive up the Spanish moss–canopied dirt lane toward the big house of LeMay Plantation, mouth agape, but I don’t care. The A/C of my late-model Volvo is on full blast even though it is not yet noon in Beaufort, SC, and perspiration breaks at my temple.
But I suppose that has to do more with nerves than anything else.
I park beside an even older-model gold Acura and grin. My clothes stick to her skin as soon as I get out of my car, and my polarized shades seem to make the Old-South scene even grander without them. I walk by more automobiles, not the least bit surprised at the Buick crossover or the Porsche SUV, and start to twirl a soft coil of her hair as I approach the vast porch and front door. I’m far too old to fidget the way I am, but I don’t much care, and I ring the doorbell.
A small, yet regal woman opens the door and tears immediately spring into my eyes; and they only come faster when another woman, with gray hair now streaking her head, stands beside the first. I hide my face in my hands, but they pulled them away, and the younger one wraps me in her arms. The elder rubs my back.
Savannah J. Frierson (SJF): Oh, my goodness, I’m so sorry, I didn’t…I hadn’t…
Coralee Simmons Drummond (CSD): Mama’s crying.
Jada Channing McKensie: (JCM): Can you blame her? We’re basically her kids!
CSD: All grown up.
JCM: Yes, we are! You’re proud of us, aren’t you?
SJF: *Nods* I have no words, none at all. I just want to thank you so much—
CSD: Ma, I don’t know why you’re thanking us!
JCM: Seriously! Without you, we wouldn’t even be here!
CSD: And that’s just a tragedy to even think about!
JCM: But in the meantime, come on in! It’s hot as Hades outside and Miss Coralee made some sweet tea!
CDS: And Jada made those sweet rolls…I don’t know why you made her make these delicious sweet rolls—don’t know whether to cuss you or praise you!
They loop one of their arms through each of mine and usher me inside, Jada pausing to close the door behind her. The space is modern, updated, and gorgeous, with plush furniture, carpeting, and rich hardwood floors. It takes everything I have not to whip out my PDA to look up the type of wood that had been used.
They lead me to the screen-in porch overlooking the marsh where two men were watching something on their pad PDA. They suddenly shout and the elder one does an awkward jig that makes me snort. Both men look up, and the dancing man immediately smiles and all but runs toward me.
Benjamin Drummond (BD): *hugs me tightly* Savannah J. Frierson, as I live and breathe!
CDS: And snore—be glad it’s not naptime!
BD: *pouts* You’re not funny, Ceelee.
JCM: I’ll have to disagree with that; I think she’s hilarious!
BD: Freda’s still a bad influence—
Aaron McKensie (AM): I see your bad influence and raise you Deshae Green.
BD: *grins* I bet Deshae learned at Freda’s knee.
JCM: *laughs* You just like her because she flirts with you all the time!
CDS: Deshae flirts with everyone all the time.
BD: She has good taste, darlin’; what’s it the kids used to say—don’t hate!
Everyone groans except Jada, who giggles into my shoulder.
BD: *scowls* You should be nicer to your elders, Miss Jada.
Jada rolls her eyes but kisses Benjamin’s cheek, and he beams. I try to hover at the door, as if to make a break for it, but Coralee shakes her head and leads me to the couch. Aaron is there and wraps me in a far less exuberant but no less intimate hug, and I all but cling to him.
AM: Hello, love.
SJF: You shouldn’t call me that.
AM: I do a lot of things I shouldn’t…and all of them with your tacit permission!
JCM: Naw! Don’t even try to blame her for your ninja sperm! Knocking me up like you did!
AM: Did she, or did she not, allow me to be your husband?
CSD: Ooh…you hear how he said that, Benny? Never too old to take notes, baby!
BD: Notes! Ha! I lecture now—paid my dues and all those student loans already!
JCM: Let’s not discuss student loans.
AM: You know she still brings up the fact I paid hers?
JCM: I gotta keep our kids humble, Aaron McKensie! Some of us didn’t come out poopin’ Benjamins out our butts!
BD: Excuse me?
Aaron and Benjamin sigh heavily but sit next to their wives. Benny wraps an arm around Coralee shoulders while Aaron tangles his fingers with Jada’s. I search around for a place to sit, but Coralee pats the space between them.
CSD: You’re sitting right here right now.
I blanche. It’s not in me to refuse an elder, except, technically, I’m older, but old lessons are hard to unlearn. As soon as I sit two extremely handsome young men enter with trays full of food and pitchers of drink, and I have to blink. The McKensie boys are certainly not babies anymore!
Charles Augustus “Chaz” McKensie (CM): Ohh! Hey, I’m Chaz—but you already know that, and I love older women—but you already know that too. Yes, I will marry you—you probably didn’t know that, but you do now—
Joshua Alexander Channing McKensie (JAM): *kisses my cheek, effectively interrupting his brother* Did you know he’d be this silly when you wrote him?
SJF: *laughs* He was initially Ava, but then Chaz realized Iman was going to be born and decided jump in my head and skip line.
Jada glares at her husband.
JCM: Savannah, how many kids was I originally supposed to have?
SJF: *shifts uncomfortably* Two. A boy and a girl.
AM: Double your pleasure, double your fun!
The wide grin he gives leaves Jada unmoved and she rolls her eyes.
CSD: I’m appreciative of the one you gave me.
I squeeze Coralee’s hand.
SJF: That’s all I saw; I’m sorry.
BD: *kisses his wife’s temple.* Simone is perfect. I don’t even mind that Powell boy she married.
CSD: Also known as your godson.
AM: Like that makes a difference!
JCM: It should! Acting like these boys are brand spanking new—
AM: Operative word is boy!
I shared a look with Coralee and Jada, and we all rolled our eyes. Joshua and Chaz had already made their getaways.
SJF: I’m not getting in the middle of it, other than to say, you know your girls could do much worse than the sons of family friends you love and trust.
JCM: They want to keep their daughters five years old; it doesn’t work that way.
BD: It should!
CSD: If it did, you wouldn’t have these daughters in the first place because you wouldn’t have us!
That makes the men pause for a split second, but then they both shake their heads.
BD: We’re different!
JCM: *snorts* Unicorns?
CSD: You’re too tall to be a leprechaun, dear.
AM: I don’t know the Italian equivalent.
JCM: How about an ass?
AM: *smirks* You like my ass.
Jada huffs but can’t control her grin when her husband starts necking her. I sigh with exasperation, thinking of how they’ve only gotten worse with the public displays of affection the longer I’ve known them. If they weren’t so adorable, my teeth would ache. Coralee and Benjamin, on the other hand, spent most of their time gently teasing each other, although it is mostly Benjamin doing the teasing and Coralee giggling. She still has her gorgeous smile and Benjamin still stares at her as if she were the most beautiful creation God has ever made.
BD: Felix sends his love, by the way. He’d be here but he’s at St. Simon’s with the missus.
CSD: And Felix has aged very well, I can assure you—
Benjamin clears his voice much more loudly than is required. My PDA dings and I notice a forward from Aaron. I open it and I see a thirty-page invoice attached.
AM: That’s Rodrigo’s therapy bill for making him have all girls.
JCM: Karma is such a beautiful thing!
My PDA dings again and this time it’s an e-mail from Veronica with a picture of her family attached.
JCM: We’re going to meet up around Christmas, I believe, babe?
AM: New Year’s. We’re going to India for our wedding anniversary.
JCM: Twenty-three years?
AM: That’s it?
They laugh as they kiss and Coralee winks at me.
CSD: Well, I’ve felt every single one of our fifty years.
BD: We cannot have been married for fifty years when you barely look a day over forty.
CSD: That’s actually really mean; My head wasn’t this gray when I was forty!
Benjamin kisses the top of her head and holds her close. Jada and Aaron look at them fondly.
JCM: I wanna be y’all when I grow up.
AM: I thought you wanted to be my parents.
JCM: I want to be anyone who makes it. I certainly don’t want to be my parents…
SJF: *squeezes her shoulder* Sorry about that.
JCM: I just love you left off all those revelations out the first book. Like the stuff about my dad and my brother.
Aaron looks everywhere but at them and I arch an eyebrow, popping a bite of a sweet roll in my mouth. He really hadn’t been on his best behavior during that period, and it’s only by my mercy I haven’t put him on blast yet for the public to see. But if he keeps on being such a hard-nose about Ava and her boo, that may have to change.
SJF: I didn’t know most of those revelations until the book was over, and that’s not my fault; out of all of my characters, you all talk the most and just keep telling me things all the time!
BD: We don’t bother you, Savannah…then again, that’s because Felix hogging the microphone.
SJF: Felix is a sweetie; always has been. He waited, what, two years before deciding to tell me his story. Bless his heart.
CSD: Say that again. I love Felix and I’m glad he’s finally getting his story told; although he would like an ETA of when it’ll be finished.
I take a long gulp of my sweet tea and blush at Coralee’s laugh.
CSD: I know you’ll finish it, sweetheart. You’ve got a lot of demands upon you.
AM: Excuse me? If I recall, Mr. Drummond, Savannah had been working on our story for months until something called “National Novel Writing Month” and “thesis angst” got her to start writing your story—
BD: Ours is better—
JCM: Oh, my goodness, I’m so sorry—
CSD: You didn’t just turn into a five year old before our eyes, did you?
BD: Everyone says so!
Aaron glowers at the coffee table and Jada rubs his back. I shake my head and shrug.
SJF: I cannot control audience response. Your stories resonate differently, but I love you both. Jada and Aaron’s story will always have a special place in my heart because they were first and they’ve been with me the longest; from them, I’ve spun off so many stories; but without you, Benny and Ceelee, I don’t have the universe I’ve somehow started to create. I’m so glad you chose me to tell your stories, and that’s all I’m going to say on that matter.
Jada and Coralee hug me and Aaron stands, stretching.
AM: I’m hungry. Are you hungry?
BD: *stands with help from his wife* I think I smell your son making more of those sweet rolls?
The men leave us alone and Jada and Coralee laugh, both leaning forward conspiratorially.
JCM: So…what’s this I hear about Joshie’s story being written?
CSM: And my grandbaby, Freelee, I hear tell there is some percolating going on with her story!
I laugh and eat more of the sweet roll and give a coy shrug.
SJF: Joshua’s story is already written and your granddaughter is like the wind—can’t really catch it for long. But if Freelee sits down long enough, her story will be told. I promise.
CSM: Good. Nothing like love to get you to slow down, huh, Jada Mae?
JCM: Nothing like it at all!