Deuce leaned in close, straining to hear over the din. Unless he was mistaken, Lloyd just said …
“Zora. She’s supposed to be here, too. I thought you’d know.”
Lifting his glass to his lips, Deuce took a long sip, giving him just enough time to compose himself.
“Nah,” he said, swallowing. “I didn’t know.”
Lloyd squinted. “For real? So you …”
“This is so cool, you guys!”
Before Lloyd could finish his thought, Summer had thrown her arms around them both, having to reach up a little because she was so short. Summer Harris, the official organizer of the alumni mixer, had reached out a bunch of folks from Penn State, primarily on Facebook and Twitter and suggested the get-together in a Midtown bar. She had only given a couple of weeks’ notice, and Deuce stopped in only because he it was close to his apartment and he was slightly curious to see who else was in the city.
The turnout was surprisingly good. So far there were about twenty people there, most of them familiar, though none of them people Deuce had been particularly tight with. New York was a post-graduation mecca for lots of people, but most Penn State alums wound up in Philly. So, he stopped in just to see who else from the Black Caucus might be around.He already knew that most of his crew were spread far and wide, including his best friend, Kaleem who was back out west in an MBA program and training for the Summer Olympics.
“I never thought so many people would make it!”Summer sounded like she had to have been drinking well before anyone else showed up, because the mixer had only been underway for about an hour.
Early in, early out, that had been Deuce’s plan.
“Especially just one year after graduation,”Lloyd said, peeling Summer’s arm from around his neck. “I guess the real world ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, and we’re just pining for the old days.”
“I know I am,” Summer said, raising her voice a little more than was necessary to be heard. “My gig at HarperCollins is not what I thought it would be. I’m like a glorified … file clerk.”
“Bet you don’t have them kinda problems, huh?” Lloyd said, nudging Deuce in the ribs. “Workin’ with your Dad and all.”
“I don’t work with my Dad,” Deuce said.
He was looking at the entrance to Le Bar now, scanning the clusters of folks who walked in. The moment Lloyd said her name, his heartbeat had sped up. Just at the sound of her fucking name.
“You don’t?” Lloyd looked confused. “But I thought you were at …”
“Yeah, but my father isn’t there anymore. I work for the new CEO.”
Lloyd shrugged, and looked like he didn’t understand the distinction. Most people didn’t. They tended to think that because his last name was Scaife, he could walk up in that joint and start running shit. Knocking back the remains of his vodka tonic, Deuce extricated himself from Summer as well.
“Lemme go get another one of these,” he said. “Anybody want anything while I’m over …”
“Thereshe is!” Summer shrieked. Shoving her way past Deuce and Lloyd, she plowed her way out of the reserved section and toward the front of the bar.
And yeah. There she was.
Zora looked a little disoriented when she first walked in, her eyes narrowing a little as they adjusted to the relative darkness of the bar. She stood still for a moment and pulled the strap of her purse higher on her shoulder, surveying the room before Summer accosted her with a hug.
Zora’s face lit up in a smile when she saw who it was and held Summer back at arms’ length to look her over. While she did, Deuce looked Zora over. She was wearing a canary-yellow blouse with long sleeves and a ruffled neck with skinny black pants. And her hair … damn, he’d always loved her hair … It was in neat, sleek, cornrows, and in her ears were medium-sized gold hoops. She wore vivid lipstick in a shade of purple that was like a bruise, but somehow made her lips look even fuller, even sexier. Sunglasses were pushed up atop her head, giving her an air of mature sophistication that was at odds with how Deuce was accustomed to seeing her.
He thought of Zora and the picture that came to mind was her in one of his sweatshirts, nothing underneath. Her hair messy as hell, her lips swollen from being kissed, curled in a smile her eyes sleepy,cloudy, and looking at him in the way only she did.
Deuce had not seen her in eight months, and they hadn’t spoken in six. And yet, he could already feel his body orienting itself in her direction, pulling him toward her.
She stood at the entrance for a few moments more,talking to Summer and Deuce stood watching her, not realizing he was staring until Lloyd spoke.
“So, I’m guessing y’all split up or somethin’, huh?”
Deuce looked at him.
“Yeah,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Anyway. I’ma grab this drink. You want …?”
Zora was looking over at him now, as Summer pointed him out. The expression on her face robbed him of every coherent thought. Her lips trembled, like someone trying not to smile, or not to cry. And her eyes …
The moment their eyes met, she touched Summer on the shoulder, wordlessly excusing herself from their conversation and coming toward him. Deuce felt Lloyd take his glass.
“I’ll get this one,” he said, from what sounded like far away.
Fighting the urge to meet her halfway, Deuce stood still until Zora reached him. And when she did, he bit into his lower lip and looked down at her. She looked up at him, her long neck curving. Her lips finally parted in a smile, and her shoulders lifted and fell in an inaudible sigh.
Out of nowhere there was a lump in the back of his throat, hard and immovable.
Zora’s shoulders sagged even further, and she shook her head.
“Deuce,” she said again.
And then she hugged him. Not like you hug a friend, putting your arms around their waist. But the way you hug a lover, her arms up and around his neck, pulling him down to her, so that her cheek was momentarily pressed against his.
Muscle-memory dictated that the next move was for him to turn his head and kiss her. Deuce fought it, and instead reached up and took her by the wrists, gently removing her arms from around his neck.
“Hey, Zee,” he said, keeping his voice level.
“Hey,” she said.
Though she had said relatively few words, her throaty, slightly husky voice just kept hitting him right in the center of his chest. He hadn’t heard it in so long, another muscle of his remembered and clenched. His heart.