Why am I here? Maria thought to herself. Surveying the room, she was surrounded by many people she could have been content never to see again for the rest of her days.

Fifty years. Their class wasn’t very large, and their reunions kept getting smaller and smaller through attrition and abandonment. Eventually several of the classes consolidated their reunions so the attendance was enough to justify holding the event.

It didn’t help that everyone seemed to be on Facebook and Instagram, so people could connect in ways they never could in the past, and some of them didn’t see the need to get together every five or ten years.

Maria wasn’t Facebook friends with many of her classmates. She wasn’t real life friends with any of them, either.

Not after what had happened.

Even five decades later, she still got a lot of side eye. But Maria didn’t care. Many of these people were only at the reunion because they had never moved away from Jefferson County. Her family was old money and she was expected to be there, even though she didn’t get home very often. And she had lived a very successful life on her own.

Fuck them all, she put on her best southern belle smile and walked into the main ballroom at the Stone Ridge Garden Club, her head held high.

She wore a bright red jacket and matching long skirt that was perfectly tailored around her lithe form. Her chestnut hair was woven into an elegant French braid updo. She wore her mother’s diamond jewelry, which she saved for only the best occasions.

In the local social politics, Maria was establishing herself at the top of the hierarchy. She was unescorted, but commanded attention, respect and deference simply by virtue of her family’s name. It also helped that her Mercedes sedan cost more than most everyone’s houses.

They came to greet her in ones and twos. She made small talk with everyone, asking about their children and grandchildren. They gave condolences on her father’s recent passing. Some of them wanted to talk shop, and a few of the men who wouldn’t have given her the time of day when they were eighteen came by to flirt.

The party was informal, but yet formal. It was full of local nuance and subtext.

Maria was aware of it all. She checked her watch for the millionth time, waiting for the socially-acceptable window that she could leave. The former class president gave a short speech. He was twice-divorced, twice-bankrupted, and his third wife was half his age, yet no one looked down at him the way they did her.

She sat at a table by herself, a half-empty glass of wine warming in front of her. She jumped when she heard the chair next to her slide out.

“Do you know how hard it is to sneak in here with you watching the door all night?”

Maria looked over, both startled and relieved.

He was dressed in an elegant—and expensive—dark blue double-breasted suit. His red tie perfectly matched her dress. His hair, which was once jet black, was highlighted with silver.

Those big, brown eyes bored into her. Just as they had all those years ago. Their almond shapes haunted her dreams. She had feared she would never see them again.

And there he was, fifty years later.

She slowly stood to greet him, her hands shaking. For the first time that night, her composure cracked.

“Quan Liu,” she breathed softly.

They stood there, staring at one another. Time seemed to stand still.

In the back of her mind, she knew everyone was looking at them. All of the other conversations in the room came to an abrupt halt.

This was the moment she both relished and feared at the same time.

“Maria Bradford,” he bowed his head slightly.

He reached out. For a brief second, she was unable to move, but she willed herself into action. Stepping into his arms, Maria gave him a warm, but chaste embrace.

She sensed the hunger in his touch, even all these years later. But that was not publically acceptable for her. Even if she wanted to tell everyone in the room to mind their own goddam business.

Quan pulled back, and each gave the other the once-over.

“You look amazing,” he breathed. They stood there for a moment, staring at one another awkwardly. Quan motioned to the chair, and held it as she sat down before taking a seat himself.

“You haven’t changed a bit,” she replied.

He snorted. “I’m old and fat now, with grey hair and high blood pressure.”

Maria smiled to herself. Quan would never be fat. When he was younger, he was thin and strong. Wiry. The muscles in his arms and legs and chest were toned through hard work, and now he was still in great shape, even for a man in his late 60s. If not for the color of his skin, he would have been a catch for any of the stuck-up debutante bitches in Jefferson County.

“I’m sorry about your dad.” That was a lie. A lot of people in the world had wished for the death of Sterling Charles Bradford IV, and perhaps none more than Quan.

Except maybe Maria.

“Cancer is an awful disease,” she replied automatically, and they both let the matter drop.

“I see all the usual suspects are here,” he observed.

“Yes, all of the ones who never got away. Or those who just want to see and be seen.”

Quan and Maria sitting together was already causing quite a stir, although everyone there was too polite to say anything. Maybe later when the alcohol was flowing more freely and inhibitions were gone would the true feelings be said out loud.

“You need to dance with me,” Quan reached out to take her hand. Instinctively, she started to pull away but she forced herself to wrap her fingers around his.

They stood.

She felt a jolt run through her body at his touch. Her pulse raced.

“He can’t stop you anymore,” Quan said softly, sensing the reason for her apprehension. “He can’t stop us.”

They made their way to the dance floor, their heads held high, ignoring the whisperings of their classmates. Maria glared at anyone who dared make eye contact with her, her disdain evident for all to see.

The dance floor was mostly empty anyway, so they had it to themselves.

“How have you been?” Quan took the lead. She followed his steps easily.

“What brought you to this reunion?” Maria cut through the small talk. “You haven’t been back to town since graduation.”

“I’ve come home to visit my folks,” he replied. “I just never came to these things. Why would I want to spend my time with a bunch of racist rednecks who never liked me to begin with?”

“Why are you here tonight, then?”

“Because your father is dead and he can’t do anything to either of us now.” Quan’s eyes got dark. “The world is a different place.”

“Jefferson County hasn’t changed much,” Maria frowned.

“Sure it has. You own half of it now,” he snorted. That wasn’t literally true, but since Maria was an only child and her father had never re-married after her mother’s death, his petty fiefdom was now hers. If she wanted it. “This room is full of cunts who want nothing more than for you to sell everything off and leave for good.”

“I have left for good.”

“Yes, I know,” he smiled. “You’re world famous.”

Maria rolled her eyes. “I didn’t want Daddy to be able to hold anything over my head. I’m surprised he didn’t cut me out of his will.”

“He didn’t have any choice. After that big lecture about your family’s name, who else was he going to leave that gigantic mansion and all his money to?”

“I thought about telling him I was a lesbian just so he’d disown me.”

“If he didn’t disown you over me, then he wouldn’t disown you over that. Besides, I know for a fact that you’re not a lesbian. Or at least you weren’t when we were eighteen.”

For the first time that night, Maria smiled. It was a wide, exuberant smile.

She was flooded with memories. Memories she had long since buried. The memories themselves were full of joy and happiness, but they led to anger and suffering. And hate.

Maria pulled Quan close to her. His embrace was strong and comforting.

“I’ve missed you,” she whispered in his ear.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about you.”

“Even when you’re sharing a bed with your wife?”

Quan frowned bitterly. “She died two years ago.”

“I’m so sorry,” Maria stammered her apology quickly. “I didn’t know.”

“It’s okay,” he replied gently. “Nobody around here would know. Since Mother and Father died, I haven’t had many reasons to come back for the last few years.”

“So what have you done with yourself? At one point, weren’t you in the Navy?”

“For a few years. My wife got tired of moving around, so I got out and flew for Eastern and Delta for twenty more years.”

“What do you do now? Retired?”

“Not really.” Quan paused for a moment. Maria took a quick look around the room. Most of the eyes in the room were still on them. Some were jealous. Some curious. A couple were actually angry that a proper southern belle had dared debase herself by dancing with someone whose skin was darker than theirs.

Just to tweak them a little more, she pressed her cheek against his. “Can we continue this conversation some place more private?”

“How about over breakfast?”

“I’d like that.”

Seeming to know what she was thinking, Quan gave her a quick peck on the cheek for everyone to see before stepping back. Her hand slipped into the crook of his arm, and they made their way back to their table.

They didn’t bother to sit down.

Maria gathered her clutch and they headed for the door, arm in arm.

Some reunion activities were still planned, but she didn’t care.

Fuck them all, Maria thought, scanning the room one more time, her withering stare falling on everyone who had ever wronged her, as if daring them to speak and incur her wrath.

Both handed their tickets to the valet.

“Would you like to come over for a drink?” she asked formally. It was still early in the evening, and the reunion was scheduled to run for several more hours.

“I would be delighted.”

“Do you remember how to get to my father’s house?”

“Of course,” Quan’s brown eyes danced with delight at the game of social niceties.

Two cars pulled in to the circle. Quan held the door of Maria’s giant Mercedes sedan as she got in. It closed with a solid thunk! She rolled the window down.

“I’ll be right behind you,” he winked before getting into a sporty Lexus SUV of his own.

The drive to her house only took a few minutes. Jefferson County wasn’t that big. Over the years, the edge of town crept closer and closer to her father’s property. He still owned enough to be able to maintain some semblance of privacy away from nosy neighbours.

She kept checking her rear view mirror to make sure he was behind her.

The Bradford mansion was built with old southern money dating back before the Civil War on what had once been a tobacco plantation. Adorned with white columns, it was a testament to the power and prestige of her family.

Up until her father’s death, she hadn’t set foot on the grounds for ten years or so. And that was only for her mother’s funeral. They didn’t speak much, at least until he called one night and told her he had cancer. He was dead six weeks later.

The house was kept up through a series of contracts and arrangements that were paid through her father’s various accounts. Maria had maintained things as executor and sole inheritor until she decided what she was going to do with the estate, but still didn’t spend much time at the house, except when she was in town for business.

There were too many memories. Too much anger.

Too much pain.

She parked in the detached garage that had once been horse stables. Quan parked beside her.

Maria led him into the house.

He was carrying a small gift bag, and a bottle of wine.

The house had been renovated several times over the years. Even though the bones were almost two hundred years old, it had all the modern amenities in it, including the massive kitchen her mother had desired, but she was taken by a stroke before she ever got to use it for anything other than making tea.

Her father didn’t cook. One of the first things Maria had done upon taking ownership was evict her father’s live-in girlfriend who was thirty years his junior. After that, she returned the house to the way she remembered it as best she could.

“I have something for you,” Quan set the bottle of wine on the counter and pushed the gift bag towards her.

Under the tissue paper was a simple black wooden picture frame. Quan had his arms around a gorgeous, raven-haired woman with radiant, perfect dark complexion. The pair was flanked by a young man and woman who looked to be college age and were spitting images of their parents.

“Your family is beautiful,” Maria smiled not immediately thinking it strange he would give her a picture of his other woman and children who had no relationship to her. “Your wife and kids?”

“That’s not me,” Quan’s eyes locked on to hers. His next words made Maria’s blood run cold. “I found our son.”


They had known each other since they were in kindergarten. There were no private schools in Jefferson County in the 50s. The segregated public schools each had several hundred students, but weren’t large by any means.

Quan Liu wasn’t black, and since his family was skilled and relatively wealthy, he attended the school with the white students. His family was something of a novelty, and although he was subjected to some teasing, the outright racists mostly left him alone. They were too busy terrorizing the black families.

Dr. Liu fled China with his wife and son when the communists took over. The family ended up in Jefferson County after answering an ad in the regional paper that promised to pay for moving expenses when the county’s only doctor volunteered for the Army and was killed in Korea.

For several years, Quan’s father was the singular physician in the county, and the nearest hospital was over an hour away. He spoke fluent English and was competent at a time when his skills were needed most. The community essentially had no choice but to accept him.

Quan’s mother was the office’s only nurse and office manager. Most of the county’s rural residents were poor, and when they couldn’t pay, they bartered eggs or other goods for the doctor’s services. Because of the times, Dr. Liu basically had to maintain two offices which were right next to one another but in separate buildings: one for the white patients and one for the black patients.

Born in 1950, Quan grew up as an outsider, never really fitting in with a community that was divided into black and white. His parents pushed him, and he was not only smart, but driven. His father’s status in the community protected him to some extent, and outright racial hostility was quashed early on in his life.

After Brown v. Board of Education, the schools were desegregated only when the National Guard showed up to enforce the court order. Racial tensions still ran high, and all the armed soldiers in the world couldn’t change the hearts of backwoods rednecks.

Jefferson County lagged several decades behind the Sixties, seemingly stuck in a time warp.

By the time they got to high school, Maria knew Quan as the one who was going to graduate at the top of the class. She also noticed that he was the most handsome young man at Stephen D. Lee High School. His exotic Asian looks stood out, but he was also fit and muscular. He played basketball and football, and it was rumoured that he was a karate master.

She never knew of him dating in high school; partly because none of the girls would have said yes, but his parents also wanted him to concentrate on school.

Maria was older by a few months. She was one of the popular girls, mostly due to her family’s money. She was smart, but not brilliant. Pretty, but not gorgeous.

Quan did some odd jobs to make some money, including work for her father around the estate. Mostly menial tasks and in retrospect; it seemed he was reminding the doctor’s son of his true station in life.

Colloquially, everyone called Maria’s father “Charlie Four”, but in their family, he was “Lee”. The family history of full of southern bigotry. They were antebellum slave owners who sent their sons off as officers to fight against the Yankees in the “War of Northern Aggression”.

After the war, they were in the Klu Klux Klan and old south Democrats who promoted and benefited from Jim Crow laws. In the 40s, most of the family joined with the rest of the Dixiecrats over the Civil Rights Movement.

Maria grew up in that environment; she didn’t consider herself a racist, but knew blacks only as subservient to whites. At the same time, she also looked down on poor whites, who were clearly below her station in life, too.

All that changed one day when she came home from school to Quan and a couple of the other boys from school doing work in her yard.

It may have been her hormones. It may have been the fact that all the other boys were slovenly and lazy.

Quan’s muscles were taut and firm. His exotic looks were particularly enticing. When he flashed a secret smile at her, Maria’s pulse raced. She looked away, both excited and ashamed to find herself attracted to someone she shouldn’t have feelings like that over.


“That’s why you were sent away, wasn’t it?” Quan’s eyes bored into her.

Maria steadied herself against the kitchen table to keep from falling over.

“He didn’t send you to ‘his sister’s’ to keep us apart.” It wasn’t a question. His voice was hard and angry. Even if they both knew his ire wasn’t directed at Maria. Five decades could not cover up the raw emotion they both felt. The hatred. “He didn’t want the shame of a bastard Chinese grandchild.”

The long-practised stoic veneer Maria had perfected cracked. She stifled back tears.

Quan’s strong arms enveloped her as the sobs wracked her body.


“Daddy needs you to help at the house today.” In the nuanced social protocols of their community, she could talk to him. But he could only address her if it was over schoolwork. Maria lay her southern drawl on extra thick and batted her eyes.

Quan didn’t stand a chance.

“Come over after school,” she winked. Maria turned and walked away, putting a little extra sway in her hips. She didn’t bother looking back.

She knew Quan hadn’t moved. He wouldn’t be able to keep his eyes off her until she turned the corner of the hallway.

Sure enough, he came over after school, setting his bike against the tree in front of the porch.

There actually was some work that needed to be done. Maria gave him some basic direction and left Quan alone.

When her mother returned, she and her driver saw Quan toiling out by the detached garage. Nothing untoward was implied or seen. But they didn’t notice Maria watching her handsome friend from her window.

After the chores were done, Maria’s mother paid him a couple of dollars and Quan departed. Lee Bradford may have been a hateful son-of-a-bitch, but his family paid the people they owed.