“Meg, when are you going to settle down?” Grandma asked me.
In my periphery, I saw Drake perk up. “Just haven’t met the right guy, I guess.”
“Well, have you looked?”
“Did you go looking for any of your husbands?” I hated how Grandma always implied that it was my fault I was still single. I didn’t have time to look for love when I was flying to New York or Los Angeles three times a week, and visiting her in my time between. How could I even trust a man to be loyal when I was never home? I was inviting him to cheat. I could hear his complaints now: You never have time for me. Your job is more important than me. I haven’t been happy for a long time. I have needs too . . .
“Completely different generation,” Grandma said. “The men today need a little more persuasion.” Which was a nicer way of saying men were fickle. They promised to make you their one and only, but the minute a Kim Kardashian sashayed by with her perfectly round—and most likely surgically enhanced—ass, they ditched you for one last thrill. What man wanted a steady relationship when there were so many beautiful options, when the bachelor’s lifestyle was so much more enticing?
I was better off dating one of Grandma’s dead husbands . . . or Drake. We were already married in his mind anyway.
“Ever think about dating one of the pilots?” Grandma suggested.
“Most of them are already married. Plus, we’re not allowed to date.” I didn’t mention Kyle, the co-pilot on many of my flights. He was in his mid-thirties, with salt and pepper hair. Our first flight together, I was loading up the cart with drinks for the passengers when he exited the cockpit, on his way to the restroom, and whispered in my ear, “You look beautiful.” I was wearing the same uniform as the other stewardesses on board, but he only noticed me. As a natural reflex, I glanced down at his hand. He wasn’t wearing a ring, nor did he have a tan line indicating he might have taken one off. As far as I knew, he was single.
Single, older, white-collar men. I had a weakness for them. Maybe it was their corporate CEO charisma that attracted me. I liked a man in charge, a man who didn’t wait for me to make the first move. Most of the men my age were too passive, but Kyle was different. Even the co-pilot took control of the plane when necessary.
On our last flight to LA, he invited me out for drinks. Under the assumption that the whole crew would be joining, I said yes. But it was only the two of us, and we had a blast. Even better was that he didn’t expect an invitation back to my room afterward. He was the perfect gentleman.
“A traveling man with a wife at home definitely knows how to bend the rules,” Grandma said.
“Are you trying to say you want me to be someone’s mistress? Me, your only granddaughter?” Sure, Kyle and I were bending the rules a little, and maybe thirty-five was a bit old never to have been married, but I was confident he didn’t have a wife. Even if he did, a couple of beers at an LA nightclub was hardly serious.
“First class hooker,” Frank mumbled.
“Frank, I will throw you out of that chair!” Grandma threatened. She rolled up the sleeves on her sweater and flexed her biceps. “I’m stronger than I look.”
“Yeeeeeaaaah!” Marcos said. Frank glowered at him, an admonishing look a parent might give a child, but Marcos didn’t flinch, his smile as big as ever. Kill ’em with kindness, I thought.
Grandma turned to me. “Honey, I just want you to find someone for your own before . . . what do they say . . . all the good ones get taken?”
“And when you do, make sure he ain’t your cousin,” Jerry interjected. “All these men Millie done married. Ain’t no telling how many you got.”
“I’ll have you know I only had one child with one husband, thank you very much,” Grandma said. “And it ain’t so bad to marry your cousin. I know plenty of girls who married their cousins, and none of those babies were born with pigs’ tails neither.”
“That you know of,” Thomas said.
I suspected Grandma was leading us into her next husband, so I cut right to the chase. “Did you ever marry your cousin?”
“As a matter of fact, Kennedy was my grandmother’s cousin’s son’s nephew.” Grandma titled her head back and squinted at the ceiling. “I guess that would make him my . . . third cousin? Is that right?”
“Incest!” Frank spat, dribble hanging from his bottom lip.
“It’s not like I knew that when I married him! Back then, we were told before we married anyone to ask who their grandparents were to make sure we didn’t have the same ones. But great-great-grandparents? When you’re that far removed, who even cares?” Grandma said.
“When did you eventually find out?” I asked.
“At his funeral.”
“HEH-HA!” Thomas nearly toppled over the rocking chair laughing so hard.
“Everyone was saying how much I looked like his aunt. So finally, someone pulled out a Bible with the family tree, and we connected the dots.”
“No one thought to check the tree before you got married?” I asked.
“Like I said, great-greats weren’t that important. And you gotta remember, going that far back for us, we’re entering slavery territory. It’s a miracle someone was even able to keep track of the family during that time, especially when you got brothers and sisters sold, mama’s separated from their babies. Then there’s the horny master always inserting himself where he don’t belong.” Grandma cut a sharp glance at Frank.
“I don’t want cha,” he said. He reopened his newspaper to the same section he’d been on for the last hour and held it up in front of his face. We all knew he wasn’t reading, though. His ego was bruised. It must have been hard—a former KKK member belittled constantly by a black woman. Yet he never excluded himself from our circle entirely. Maybe somewhere deep down inside, he did want Grandma. He wouldn’t have been the first.
“By the way, Meg,” Grandma said, “a fun fact about your family—all the daughters look like their aunts . . . or in my case, their husband’s aunts.”
I tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh. Only in Grandma’s world would that ever happen.
“If you’ve noticed, your mom looks nothing like me.”
“She doesn’t look like Pawpaw either, but neither of you have a sister,” I said.
“Jenny?” Drake suddenly cried.
“Goddammit!” Thomas threw up his hands. “Yes, yes! We get it! She looks like Jenny. Now will you can it?”
Grandma quickly shushed him, but Thomas was only saying what we all were thinking. Did I even look that much like Jenny? With my frizzy hair, my long neck like a gazelle, my flat nose? Not to mention, Jenny was obviously white, or so I thought. Maybe she was black, and he just didn’t know. I’d heard the stories of the tragic mulatto. The very light skin black woman who fell in love with a white man and tried to pass for white to be accepted. It was a common theme in movies and books. I had no doubt it happened in real life too, possibly with Jenny and Drake. However, I was hesitant to accept that assumption because of the stereotype that was sure to follow: all black people looked alike. No. We didn’t. And I didn’t look like Jenny, no matter how hard Drake tried to make me his deceased wife come back to life sixty years younger.
“Meg,” Grandma started, then caught herself. She pressed her lips together, as if reconsidering what she was about to say. “Your . . . grandfather . . . actually did have a sister.”
“Uh-oh, family secret time!” Jerry clapped his hands and rubbed them together.
“Why have I never heard of her?” I asked.
“Well . . . she and I kept in touch over the years before she died, and your mother’s met her once or twice, but . . .” Grandma trailed off.
“But what? Who was she?” I pressed.
“Family secrets are always complicated,” Jerry said. “Un-complicate them.”
“Will you be quiet!” Grandma sapped.
“You’re not going to tell me that this mysterious sister of Pawpaw’s is really my grandma, are you?” I’d heard those stories too—women who waited until they were on their deathbeds to reveal to their daughters that the ones they’d called big sister or aunt or close family friend all their lives were actually their biological mothers. Lies told for years to hide the family shame of a teenage pregnancy or birth out of wedlock.
“No, no.” Grandma shook her head. “I am definitely your grandmother . . . but you do, er, did have a great-aunt . . . on your . . . grandfather’s . . .side—“
The was the second time she mentioned Pawpaw’s name like a question. Like suddenly, she wasn’t sure what to call him. What else was she hiding?
“I only mention her because, like Kennedy’s aunt and me, your mother looks exactly like her . . . and so do you.”
I waited for her to continue, but she went silent, and Tammy quickly asked her a question off the subject. However, I suspected the revelation wasn’t done. I looked over to Drake. For the first time, his eyes weren’t on me, but focused directly on Grandma. His heavy frown seemed to suggest that he was just as curious to know what secrets Grandma was hiding.
© 2016 Nortina Simmons
A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths
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