Everyone talked at once, sipping their drinks, and eating from the huge banquet of food laid out along the table’s center. It was almost too much—lobsters still in their hot, blushing shells piled high on a platter, some already missing a claw or two; summer fruits marinating in their own juices and shimmering red and orange and pink in a bowl; coconut and ginger-flavored rice; moist-looking Thai-style basil rolls; and even a large oven-roasted chicken. A bright arrangement of stir-fried vegetables and tofu sat in its platter, adding even more color to the eclectic mixture of edibles. Eden, Claudia’s friend, demurely ate one of the four basil rolls on her plate, her slender fingers raised to her lips to shield their movement as she listened intently to something Rémi was saying.
A year ago, Dez didn’t think that something like this would be possible—her friends, Claudia, Derrick, Victoria’s family and
friends, all gathered around the same table enjoying one another. Happiness settled like a warm fist inside her, curling gently around her vulnerable places and keeping them safe. At her right, Claudia scooped more tofu on her plate, laughing and almost unable to wield her spoon as Sage delivered the dirty punchline to her joke.
At the far end of the table, Derrick sat between Abena and Kavi, shamelessly lapping up the attention the two women lavished on him. Even Mick showed up to make nice along with everyone else. She and Nuria exchanged small talk as they swapped the bowl of rice and the smaller one filled with melted butter between them.
“So, when are you going to tell us why we’re all here?” Rémi asked.
Trust her friend to get to the point before everyone else. Dez caressed Victoria’s hand laying on the table next to hers and thought about what to say.
“Could it be because of that luscious thing by your side? Is she finally going to make an honest woman out of you?”
No one was surprised by the question, but still there was a reasonable amount of silence as one or two people waited for the answer.
“I have asked,” Victoria said into the relative quiet, “and she did say yes, so . . .” She held up Dez’s hand. The wide platinum band with its trinity of diamonds on her promise finger sparkled impressively in the light.
“Wow! How did I miss that?” Kavi leaned in closer to get a better view of the ring. She wasn’t the only one.
Dez felt her face warm as she self-consciously lowered her hand. Ever merciless, Victoria giggled.
Delia and Veronique watched all the action from their place at their daughter’s side. They had been privy to most of the couple’s soft-voiced conversation and knew how nervous Dez was. Just last month, Victoria had called her mothers in Canada and asked them to come down to Miami for a special dinner. They weren’t told what the dinner was for, but when Victoria and Dez picked them up from the airport with both their eyes filled with love for the other, it was obvious what the big announcement was going to be.
“Ah well,” Rémi said after all the excitement about the ring had died down. “I guess I’ll have to go back to handling all those hot Miami babes myself.”
Dez smiled, barely hiding her relief at the topic shift. “Something tells me that you’re more than up for the job.”
The two friends had talked the night before at a sort of “bachelors’ last night out.” Rémi had been in a pensive mood. “I like the girl,” she said. “She’s hot and she’s been good for you. But I’m still going to miss you and me.” Of course she meant that she’d miss their fuck runs. There was no question of Dez’s faithfulness to Victoria. On a sober night a million years ago they’d talked about finding and keeping permanent partners. In their deepest of hearts, they were both monogamous women. It was just that, until now, neither of The Good Time Twins had ever found the right One to fit into the slot.
“Thanks, Rémi,” Dez had murmured over their nearly empty glasses of twenty-year-old scotch. “If things work out with Victoria I’d want you to stand up with me. Is that all right?”
“You don’t even have to ask. I’ll be honored to be your best man. Or whatever they call it.” Then they shook hands.
The two women looked at each other across the table now and smiled.
“Congratulations,” Derrick said, breaking up their love-fest. He glanced first at Victoria then at Dez. “You’ve found a really good woman. The best.” He raised his glass of wine. “To quote a classic, ‘You break her heart and I’ll break your legs.’ ”
“Come on, Derrick,” Victoria muttered, giving her best friend a cutting glance even though his tone had been playful.
“I’ll drink to that,” Veronique said in her purring French-Canadian accent. “Although I’m sure there will be no need for that. So far Desiree seems absolutely like the kind of love Delia and I always wanted for our daughter.”
At Dez’s side, Victoria blushed and smiled. She squeezed Veronique’s hand. “Thank you, mamá. I think.”
“Another toast, then.” Sage rose gracefully to her feet despite the many drinks she’d already had. “To the happy couple. May you live long and prosper”—after the laughter and groans at the Star Trek reference died away, she raised her glass of scotch and the corners of her mouth—“together.”
Dez thanked her mischievous friend with an accurately tossed napkin. Sage laughed and brushed off her shirt front. A few months ago when she found out that Victoria was the woman Dez had been seeing on the sly, she almost pissed herself laughing. “Your brother’s hot-ass friend, yeah?” She laughed again. “Nice.”
From her seat in her girlfriend’s lap, Phil had smiled devilishly at Dez. “You never take the easy route, do you?”
Nuria was far less congratulatory, but seemed determined to play nice, perhaps in hopes of using Victoria to lure Derrick into bed. At the far end of the table, she now chatted easily with her neighbors, alternately charming and seductive in her eye-catching bustier-style blouse and tight jeans.
Dez looked away from her friend as Victoria stood up from the table and walked toward the kitchen. She waited a few seconds before following.
“I knew you’d come in here,” Victoria said, turning from the cupboards with a teasing smile.
“How can I resist? I haven’t had you to myself all night.”
“But you will later.”
“True enough, but you know me and instant gratification.” She dropped tiny kisses on the corners of Victoria’s mouth. Her lover’s hands settled on her hips, pulling her closer.
“I can’t believe it’s been almost a year,” Victoria said.
“And I still can’t get enough of you.”
“That I can believe. You have the stamina of a humming-bird on speed.” She squeezed Dez’s butt. “And I love it.”
“Don’t forget that you two have company,” Rémi called out from the patio. “Let’s not have a repeat of the birthday party incident.” A laughing voice, Delia’s, begged for a telling of that story.
Victoria blushed and tried to jump back from her lover. But Dez held her close with a low chuckle. “It wasn’t anything they hadn’t seen or done before,” she murmured, remembering the crème fraîche tasting that had quickly escalated into heated foreplay on the kitchen counter.
“Don’t be so sure.” Victoria buried her hot face in Dez’s neck. Only after her face cooled did she look up. “Let’s get back to the table.”
“What did you come in here for, anyway?” Dez asked.
A teasing smile fluttered across her mouth. “I already got it.”
“You know me that well, huh?”
“Not yet, but I plan on making it part of my life’s work.”
And it was when she said things like that that Dez turned to fudge, melting under the sure and constant heat of her love. She playfully swatted Victoria on the ass as her lover walked out of the patio doors ahead of her. Over Victoria’s head, Claudia’s eyes met hers, faintly amused.
“Don’t look so disappointed, darling. You’ll have time enough for that later.” She held out her hand. “Come, Rémi has a new dessert she wants us all to try.”
“Why didn’t you say so in the first place? I would have left that broad in the kitchen ages ago.” She let the door swing closed behind her and walked into the welcoming embrace of her family’s laughter.