Skin Deep, Iris 8

Iris and her cousin shared a maternal grandmother. A transported Passé Blanc from the south, their grandmother was fanatically diligent about maintaining the integrity (read light skin tone) of their family line. Iris' mother, Fleur, had gone against that by getting involved with a young man who was the opposite of everything that was acceptable to the old lady. She didn't hesitate to point out to anyone who would listen that her daughter's unplanned pregnancy and desertion by her unsuitable lover was fitting punishment for not being more discerning. It turned out he'd only wanted an opportunity to bed someone most people considered beyond his reach.

It wasn't his first time. 

When Iris was born, her grandmother took a fleeting glance through the glass at the infant girl, then turned and walked out of the hospital. She'd only needed to see the deep brown color of the baby's skin to consider her a curse against the family. That belief was magnified ten-fold when, days later, she saw the little girl's 'unfortunate' features. 

That was how the family referred to Iris growing up. By the time she was five, she recognized the difference in the way her grandmother treated her versus the way she treated her lighter-skinned cousins. It was a subtle dislike that her grandmother hid less and less as time passed. Finally one day she just told Iris the plain truth – that though she had tried, she could not stand the sight of her. Iris was both brown and ugly…and a stain on all that her grandmother had so carefully constructed.

The summer just before she entered the first grade, her father's eldest sister made contact with the family. The tall, stern-faced woman extended an offer for Iris to come meet the other side of her family. Iris' curiosity to know anything about her father made her excited to visit. She spent two weeks that summer and never went back home. Her father's family was as different as night and day from her mother's. They were raw and unfiltered and they showed Iris a kind of acceptance she had never known before. Oh, they didn't hesitate to comment on her looks, but somehow their observations didn't carry the same sting as her mother's people did. 'God help you, child.You twice as ugly as your daddy!' Now ain't that something!"

Iris didn't see her other family again until her grandmother died. She went to the funeral even though none of the family had bothered to alert her of the old lady's death. A young woman waved her over and made a spot for Iris on the pew. She introduced herself as 'Joy' and asked Iris how she knew her grandmother (the deceased). That short exchange began a bond between the two cousins that was still going strong.

"... coulda pressed charges but I handled the situation.  I got Craig fired and he going viral all over the Facebook as a dog fucker."

"Why," Joy asked calmly, "did you wait until now to tell me this?" There had been quite a bit of silence after Iris told her cousin Joy about all that happened four months earlier. "I visited you a couple of weeks ago." She stood abruptly. "Never mind. I know why you waited. You knew better than to tell me while I was close enough to Craig to do him bodily harm… And I would have, you know."

"Yeah. You little but you a scary muhfucka." Iris felt a swell of love for her cousin. Ten years younger than her and from the moment they met, Iris' fiercest defender. 

"You know this." 

Iris cackled. "Even the old lady was scared of you. You remember how mad she was when you told her you didn't want to be no weather girl? She was already telling everybody that you was gonna be the prettiest woman on tv every night." Joy was hardly five and a half feet tall but she looked like one of them Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, Iris thought. She worked out regular and she had perfect skin the color of milk with just a splash of coffee added. Joy was beautiful. And thanks to all them white private schools her daddy paid for, she was also educated and comfortable in any atmosphere. She woulda been right at home having dinner with the Kennedys. If they wasn't all gone. All they had left was that news lady with the square face and her cheating husband.

On top of everything, her little cousin was brilliant. She was a rocket scientist, Iris beamed. A real fucking rocket scientist. The old lady never appreciated how smart Joy was until she started getting all kinda magazine attention for being so smart at her job.

"Grandmother got over it. So..." Joy switched gears. "What about the skinny white boy?" She playfully surrounded the words with air quotes. "Your ex-husband. Have you talked with him lately?"

Iris shook her head. "It ain't like that."

Joy frowned. "Like what? You guys don't talk? You shared one hell of an experience."

"He ain't feeling me," Iris replied. "He called me a hoe. When he first woke up," she clarified. "He figured I had to be a hoe."

"I am sorry." Joy returned to her seat and reached for Iris' hand. "It's bad enough that Craig put you in this situation. But having to go through it with someone willing to make such uninformed assumptions about you?"

"That's okay," Iris shrugged. "I wasn't feeling him neither."

"Well, if you both disliked each other so much from the start, then how do you know anything happened between you? You said neither one of you remembers. Maybe you guys just woke up in the same bed."

Iris shook her head. "I been having some flashbacks of me and him. I'm pretty sure we fucked a couple of times." That was an understatement. If her growing memories were correct, then the number of times and variety of places within the suite they'd had sex was impressive - even to her. Hell, if she hadn't been so distracted by the situation she awakened to, Iris would have noticed the deep carpet burns on her knees that proved it. Or the angry red scratches on his back that did the same.

The two cousins sat in silence. "You've been tested, right?"

"Yeah, I went to the clinic right after. And I done blood work since then. He didn't leave me with no diseases."

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