Keisha cursed under her breath as the steering wheel fought her grip. An entire day of rain followed by an entire day of sunshine had turned Rainette Road into something treacherous, baked ruts like the swell of a riptide. It doesn’t help that it’s getting dark. Not a single street light out here.
“So you wanna drive any?” she asked her travel companion.
“Only if you don’t want to. It seems like you’re doing a fine job.” Grace wrinkled her nose. “But it has to be hard on the shoulder sockets.”
“Huh.” Keisha had to admit the woman was right. She didn’t think the slender woman would be able to handle much of it, in fact. “How much more of this before the big road, you know?”
“At the speed we’re going, only a couple of minutes.” Grace winced as her head banged the roof of the truck, even though she was wearing the seat belt. “That is if we aren’t swallowed up by a gigantic rut. Once we get onto Bayou Sale Road, it’s smooth as silk — real pavement.”
“Okay.” Keisha grunted and wrenched the wheel about, as the truck tried to slew sideways. “Enough talking, okay?” She needed to watch the road, not talk. But an hour later, the tires thrumming smoothly on graded asphalt, she was still driving and not talking. The other woman sat composed in the passenger seat, unfidgeting and unworried. Shit, Keisha was worried; “Don’t this bother you?” she demanded.
Grace looked up, her eyes wide. “Doesn’t what bother me?”
“We get sent to hellandgone for something maybe ain’t even there when we find the place. That Tee Pom, wasn’t even sure the name, damn. Your man supposed to be the boss, right?”
“Well, yes. But being the boss doesn’t mean he’s omniscient. He’s trusting us to be smart enough to figure it out.” She slants a sympathetic smile toward Keisha. “I’m sorry if it’s ticking you off, though.”
“Nah, it’s cool.”
“Of course, nobody is omniscient, unless they’re a badly-written character in a book or movie.” She tilts her head, pushing a long strand of wavy hair out of her face. “Or maybe a space alien from one of my son’s bedtime stories. But I do think that we’re smart enough to figure this out. May I see those directions? You’re already driving, after all.” She took the wad of folded paper that Keisha slid across the seat to her, unfolding and smoothing them out.
“Okay, we’re in luck. This is Hal’s handwriting; he must have been the one who took the call.” She squints at the makeshift map. “Okay, “PR57” is the Parish road we’re on now. “4pt” is… oh, that must be Four Point Road.” Her startled eyes fly up to Keisha’s face, and then she starts to smile. “I’ve been to Four Point Road before. There’s a whole bunch of houses out there, all in a row. Hal calls it the suburbs.” She points. “See where the road takes a right? Take a hard left there, where it says Parish Road 67.”
“Damn, that’s pretty good!” Keisha grinned widely. “You can be my navigator anytime. Hell, you’d even get paid if you worked for me.” She pauses. “I just want to know why you let him call all the shots like that. Like he’s god or something. Ain’t no man god, girlfriend.”
Grace’s laugh is loud and amused enough to startle Keisha a little. “No, he’s not a god. He doesn’t even think he is, which is rather enlightened of him.” Her voice drops lower as she settles. “But our relationship works for us. He leads and I follow.”
“All the time like that? What if you got something better than he got?”
“If I know something he doesn’t, I let him know. Usually, he just leaves me to do whatever it is, but sometimes he wants me to show him, and then he does it.” She shrugs. “It might be hard for a lot of people to understand, but I really just don’t need to be in charge. I’d rather leave it for the people who really want to lead.” Her eyes are frank. “Don’t Seung and Peach usually feel more comfortable when you lead and they follow?”
“Well Peach, she’s a cat.” Keisha says matter of factly. “She’s smart like a human, but she ain’t really human. She got to be taken care of. Seung, though, that boy… ” She stops consideringly. “I don’t know why he does that. He just always did wait on my word man, even when he had just gone and killed my partner right in front of me. One shot, boom– My buddy is dead, and then this man was asking me for orders, I swear… So, I got no problem with it, really. Got in the habit.”
Grace nods, as if she understands. “Some people are just more comfortable with that. I can teach a class, lead an expedition, give a presentation, but I’m more comfortable if I’m ordered to do it, especially if it’s something that I’m not comfortable doing.” She peers out the windshield. “Okay, it says to go past this little cluster of houses, another mile down the road. It is dark as the pits of Hell down here.”
“So you just wait for someone to come along and order you around?”
“Oh, no, not at all. I have to find someone worth listening to, first. If I’m a stronger person than my partner, things don’t work out the way they should. But Hal, he’s strong, and he’s smart, and he has a plan. So I’ve chosen to follow him.”
“I hear you. I gotta be stronger than my boy, all the time. He always testing me. But… you know he could take me down if he really wanted to, and I swear it seems like he really don’t know. Sometimes I wonder about that. Gets a little crazy sometime, like having a tiger for a pet, could take my head off if it wanted to. hell, I bet Peach could. Why they don’t, I don’t know.”
Grace smooths the map down, stares at it again. “I wasn’t there, but it seems to me that Seung offered to follow you. You didn’t have to allow it.” She looks up again, and smiles. “But you did.”
“Huh.” Keisha cocks her head at the thought. “Guess I grabbed it with both my fists, dawg– what the fuck?” Her arm comes across Grace’s chest as the truck skids to a stop. There is no more road. Ahead of them lies a short strip of seagrass and marsh, dimly lit by the crescent moon.
“Well,” Grace says drily. “No more road, just water.”
“Tell me about it. What’s the directions say now?”
“Ummm, we’re looking for a blue house on the north side of… oh.” She points out across the water, to a small hummock. A house is perched precariously atop the speck of land, a floodlight on a pole standing above it. The house is blue. “I think that’s it.”
The women step out of the truck, and Grace notices how very easily Keisha takes the front position as they walk down the dark path, how wary and poised she is.
“Hal give you any directions here, babe?” Keisha hisses over her shoulder.
“Yes, he said something about a boat.”
Just then, Keisha stubs her toe on the prow of a small aluminum rowboat hidden in grasses, and the watercraft makes a loud bong that makes Keisha wince.
Grace says softly, “Let me get in first, please. I can’t swim, and I don’t like water much.” Grace shudders, but she waits for Keisha to gesture toward the boat before approaching it.
“Guess this the one, huh?” Keisha reaches out to hand Grace into the little craft. “Got yourself settled?”
“Yup.” She’s quick enough, although her tension shows in the way she grips the sides of the little craft.
Grace can feel the sand scrape under the keel for a moment and hear Keisha’s panting breath as she runs it into the water. it’s a short row to the island; the woman is all sea-captain, and Grace makes a note that Keisha really misses the open water. Her white teeth shine in the half-light with her open smile.
She ties it up neatly, too, and hops out to hand Grace out onto the short dock. All is quiet, except for the buzzing of the floodlight and the soft chugging of a generator somewhere nearby. Not a sound, even though a lot of boats are tied up under the floodlight, enough for a whole damn party are tocking against each other, all sizes. “What the fuck, man– anyone supposed to be here?”
“Hey! We’re here!” Grace shouts at the top of her lungs, and finally allows her pent-up laughter to spill over as Keisha whirls around to stare at her in shock. And then she whirls around again, as the lights come on in the house and the door opens, spilling light and laughter and sound and people onto the jetty. “Happy birthday, Keisha!” Grace snorts, just before she doubles up with laughter and nearly falls into that water she doesn’t like too well.
“Aaww man…shit, that’s.. okay.” Keisha shakes her head, but Grace is learning her expressions and can see her pleasure. “Damn.” She draws a breath and starts into the crowd. “Hey, Grace– thanks.”
Grace just smiles, as if bringing someone pleasure is the best thing she could ever hope to do. “You’re welcome, Keisha.”
“Stop that,” Keisha says grinning. “You know what I mean. You know a lot about that shit, glad I got a chance to hear some of it. You mind if we talk some more, another day?”
Grace doesn’t bother to answer, because Keisha is striding up to the door, hollering for her boy.