Lena and Rita Mae crossed each other all the time. First as children: hopscotch, double-dutch, candy shops, jinks. One ate their pizza front to back, the other back to front. When they shared a slice they met at the middle and kissed the cheese from each other’s lips.
Lena envied nothing, Rita Mae only Lena’s large bottom lip. Summers the girls would meet to discuss men: Rita Mae started while Lena sucked that bottom lip and Rita Mae pretended not to care.
Rita Mae found a man with large eyes, a small nose and a barrel chest. She introduced the man to Lena. Rita Mae saw him eye Lena’s cheeks: cherry blossom youth and double-dutch legs. Rita Mae kissed her man on the lips, tried not to think of cheese.
When Rita Mae married, Lena’s wrapped arms around Rita Mae’s waist made the cake in her stomach shift. Rita Mae could only pinch the fabric of Lena’s dress, a small pinch.
Lena’s baby came in the winter: Coco. Lena called for Rita Mae, named her godmother, and Lena held her baby to breast. Coco’s skin struck Rita Mae: swirls of tan patches but Lena never noticed.
Coco and Lena estranged outsiders: Lena so white against her skin-swirled baby. Rita Mae turned to her husband, “Somebody ought to tell her.” He would look up from cutting potatoes or rest his barrel chest to shovel or puff the pipe, “She knows all she needs.”
When Rita Mae and Lena ate pizza they no longer shared slices. Rita Mae forked a salad while Lena licked cheese from her fingers, peeled pepperonis for Coco. Rita Mae watched Lena stack the slabs of meat, “Ever notice the baby’s skin, Lena darling?” Lena looked up, pepperonis in grease-buttered hand, and blankly stared.
Rita Mae went home cold. All her sweaters didn’t warm her, but Lena wrapped her cashmere sweater around her baby, traced the swirls in Coco’s skin.
The next time Rita Mae saw Lena she noticed Lena’s lower lip had chapped. Rita Mae went to the beauty shop and asked for lip balms. One made from almond oil, another with peppermint scent, beeswax and honey. But insistent, Rita Mae said “I want cocoa butter.”
In Lena’s hand the container was a dewdrop, Rita Mae’s head drooped. Then Lena dipped her finger in the brown balm and slid it across her lips. She kissed Rita Mae.
Rita Mae licked the cocoa from her lips. When she told her husband, he kissed the cocoa from her lips too. She went to the kitchen.
When Lena came for Rita Mae she found the counter doused with cinnamon. Coco’s name spelled into cinnamon swirls.
Rita Mae knew Lena had seen. But once Lena stacked Coco’s pepperonis and licked the cheese from her fingers, she asked if Rita Mae would like to split the next slice.
Rita Mae ate from the front, Lena from the crust. They got to the middle and Lena plopped down her piece to clutch Rita Mae’s cheeks, smack a kiss on Rita Mae’s thin lips. Rita Mae squirmed. Lena sighed satisfied.
“And so that is how Coco got her swirls, Rita Mae.”
That night, Rita Mae did not wash her face before bed. Her husband complained of her grease-stench skin, but she sucked her thin bottom lip.