Room 22A. Lila inhaled deeply; glanced at her program guide and Rolex. Three pm. Her slot. No use putting it off.
Go on, Lila. It’s just a practice run, for God’s sake.
The voice in her head was her father’s. Her cheeks reddened. His “encouraging” words always belittled. She heard another voice from inside the practice room— a warm voice.
Lila turned the cool brass knob and pushed. At the podium stood a tall, athletic, young black woman with large penetrating eyes and shiny dreadlocks. She immediately smiled a large radiant grin at Lila.
“Hi! Come on in. I just finished. I’m Keisha. It’s my first professional talk as well. Don’t worry. I’ve warmed up the audience.”
Lila glanced around at the empty chairs. “Audience? Ah.” She laughed. “Joke. I get it. I’m Lila. Nice to meet you. How did you…?”
Keisha laughed warmly. “Hey, we’re both forensics experts for the FBI, right? You’re young. And, frankly, you look a little — terrified.”
Lila strode up to the podium, unslung her backpack and retrieved her laptop. Her eyes swept the baseboard for the nearest outlet.
Keisha spoke again, now imitating a Carnival Barker. “Come on up, young Lady! This podium’s got all the power cables, internet connections, and Karma you’ll ever need.”
Lila laughed and held up her hand like a surgeon, “Power Cord!”
Keisha immediately cottoned on to the game and held it out for her, repeating “Power Cord!” Lila felt Keisha’s fingers lingering. So what?! This time, it was her own voice, strong & defiant.
Once Lila’s computer was connected; she relaxed and asked, “What’s your talk about, Keisha?”
Keisha said, “I thought you’d never ask. The title is Syntactic and Rhetorical Cues to Guilt.
Keisha smiled and laughed her maddeningly warm laugh. “You come to my talk tomorrow and learn more. What’s yours about?”
“I’ve been using statistical analysis of texts — rhetorical, syntactic, and lexicographical — to predict criminal patterns. It’s just a start — but — it’s really promising. I’m building on the work of Hart at UT Austin and Foster at Vassar. So far as I know, this is the first application to criminology.”
Lila studied Keisha’s face. What she read there was genuine admiration.
Keisha smiled. “Oh! You’re Lila Jordan! We’re in the same session tomorrow! You know, maybe we could work together. If we could combine our two approaches, that would be awesome!”
Lila blurted out: “I’d love to work with you!”
“Great! I’ll let you practice! See you tomorrow. Maybe we can grab a bite before the afternoon session. Here’s a tip. When you start your talk, look out at the audience and imagine them all buck naked! I’ll be in the front row and I’m already hooked. I’m hungry to learn more about you and your work.”
Keisha smiled again and strode down the aisle. Lila’s eyes lingered on Keisha.
The next morning, Lila decided to take Keisha’s advice. Although Lila’s eyes moved about the audience, she really focused her talk on her new friend. She enjoyed picturing her naked.
Keisha suggested they order room service since her room had a view of the harbor. She ordered entrees and desserts for them to share in celebration of their successful presentations. Lila objected that she needed to lose weight. Keisha smiled and said, “You are perfect as you are. But if you want to lose weight, I have just the ticket. A blindfold picnic.”
Lila’s breathing quickened. “What’s that?”
“Close your eyes, Lila. Just leave everything to me. No talking. You just let me feed you. Just follow my orders.”
They missed the afternoon session and the next morning’s as well. Infatuation grew to passion and eventually, passion grew to love. Over the next few months, their relationship deepened. It seemed, for a time, to be perfect.
Until the issue of marriage came up.
Which led to the issue of “coming out.”
Which led to the issue of “honesty.”
The very strength of their love made their disagreement that much more difficult to bear.
They said the same things repeatedly, with increasing heat but no more llight. Keisha found it impossible to understand Lila’s resistance to complete openness, explaining that it was the twenty-first century for God’s sake. Finally, even the Supreme Court recognized gay marriage. Keisha had known she was gay since she was twelve. Her parents had known and accepted her for who she was.
Lila came from a different world. “You don’t understand, Keisha! My big shot CEO father JJ won’taccept my being gay! He’s the only family I have left. If I lose him too.…”
The fifth time they argued, Keisha decided to take a different tack. “You’re right. I’m luckier than you. But just because my parents accepted me doesn’t mean everyone did. There’ll always be cruel people. We both know that. But the one who matters most to you is your dad. How about this? We get married. I go and meet JJ. I get to know him. We don’t start by telling him everything. Instead, we make it clear that we’re colleagues and friends. He’ll like me!”
Lila considered. “Okay. It’s worth a try. Say! Have you ever been fishing?”
“Fishing? Yeah, a few times. Uncle Stan showed me how to fly fish.”
Lila laughed. “No, not like that. I’m talking about Deep Sea Fishing. Every year, my father takes time off for an extended fishing trip.”
Keisha blinked. “Really? I thought you said you never wanted to go boating again. Does he…?”
Lila ground her teeth, “Father went back on the boat the next day! He even tried to get me to join him! Imagine! I’d just lost my mother and my brother. He said get aboard right away or I’d be afraid forever.” She sighed. “Maybe he’s right. Boats don’t bother him. Every year, he bugs me to join him and bring a colleague along — by which he means a potential husband so that I can leave the “Glorified Police Department” — his name for the FBI. Okay. Once we’re married, I’ll wait a few weeks and call father and tell him I’m bringing a colleague along on his next excursion. I will watch for the best moment to break the news. I’m still not convinced it will work, but maybe nothing will. He’s very set in his ways. Like with the boat. Even a tragic accident…”
Keisha tilted her head. “What’s wrong? You’re thinking back to that awful day?”
Lila nodded slowly. “Yeah. Kind of. I just — sometimes this horrible image flashes into my mind. I know it’s just my imagination. But still…”
Keisha took Lila’s hand. “Come here, love. I’m so sorry. Let’s just sit here side by side.” They sat and Keisha held her close in loving silence.
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