Elu’s Story – Pt VIII

The telephone rang several times. Elu had to sit down in the kitchen and hold tightly to her warm cup of tea. She was losing her nerve.

Finally the phone was answered and a woman with and older, almost cultured voice answered.

“Yes, hello, who is this?”

Elu could almost picture the old, silver haired battle-axe as Sebastian so often called her. This voice was soft, she almost sounded nice.

“Ah, yes, hello, Mrs. Van Houten. This is Elu Miller and I am…”

The woman stopped her. “I know who you are.” The voice sounded colder, more distant.

“I hate to call you this late, but…I… need…help.” She could not go on.

There was a silence on the other end of the phone. “Are you pregnant?” the older woman asked.

“Yes…yes…I think so.”

“Is the baby Sebastian’s?”

Elu stared at the phone. What? “Ah, yes ma’am it is. I mean, it is his.”

“You are sure?”

“Positive.”

Another pause. “Well, I suppose there are always tests….” The voice trailed off. “I suppose you need money for an abortion?”

Elu stared at the phone again. Where was this woman was coming from?

“No…No ma’am no abortion. I want to have the baby.”

The voice on the other end of the line seemed to lighten. “Well, in that guess. You have insurance, a doctor?”

“No…no ma’am. I don’t have any of those things.”

“Well, of course not,” the woman replied and Elu could hear Sebastian’s voice in his mother’s tone.

“Well then, what do you need?”

Elu went on to tell the older woman that she wanted to clean up, get to a regular doctor and have a healthy baby. The woman listened quietly without interrupting.

“Alright, Elu, is it? I can get thing arranged here. Not in Scottsdale of course, too many…oh, never mind. Another place, a little less expensive. You don’t want to go home to your people?”

“No…no,” Elu thought of her mother’s face. She couldn’t bear it. “No…somewhere else.”

Mrs. Van Houten took down her phone number. “I am sorry, I’ll have to get proof from a doctor’s office of the pregnancy, okay? And, sorry about this, but I may have to have them do a test to confirm Sebastian is actually the father. Any objections to that?”

“No, no. That would be okay. No problem.” Just get me out of this hellhole and out of New York. Clean up and have this baby and I’ll do whatever lady. At this point, I don’t give a shit.

“Fine, I will get in touch with you as soon as all of that is done.” There was a click and Mrs. Van Houten hung up.

Seems to run in the family, Elu thought to herself.

                        #

A week later, Elu had been to a clinic doctor, got the pregnancy report and had them fax a copy to the about to-be-grandmother. Once Mrs. Van Houten got the report, she got busy on the phone. Elu received a plane ticket to Tucson, AZ in a few days.

She packed up what would fit in several bags, explained the situation to Jan who seemed actually relieved. That night she got on a plane to Arizona. Sebastian kept sending her messages. Elu told Jan to get the locks changed right away and the roommate confirmed she would, immediately.

“I’ll take care of the super, don’t worry about him. I’ll just tell him that Sebastian is a psycho weightlifter who won’t take his meds. That should do it.” She smiled at Elu. “Just take care of yourself, okay, Hun? And that baby.”

Elu grabbed her friend, held her close and left. She had already gotten the gold locket back from the pawnbroker and exchanged it for a long sliver necklace with a little Kokopelli dancing at the bottom.

                        #

Elu checked into the clinic. They knew about the pregnancy already and she had to meet with the doctor the first day after she checked in. The doctor, to her surprise, was a woman.

They went through all the usual exams and then sat at a big desk. The doctor on one side, Elu on the other.

“The baby seems healthy and you seem relatively healthy. Nothing some sunshine, vitamins and good food can’t cure. When is the last time you had a drink or a drug? Please be truthful. I can’t help you otherwise.

Elu told her.

“Okay, we will give you a mild sedative…” Elu started.

“It won’t hurt the baby at all, you are not far along enough yet. It will keep your heart rate down, prevent any possible convulsions and stop any pre-mature labor. You don’t want to lose the child do you?’

Elu shook her head.

“Okay, will you will have a rough few days, but I think you’ll get through it fine.”

The days were rough but Elu did get through it. She stayed at the rehab for the next nine months and gave birth to a healthy 7.5 pound little girl. When they put baby Sally in her arms, she cried. The nurse cried, the doctor almost cried and Mrs. Van Houten in the waiting room, certainly cried.

The new grandmother found Elu and Sally a small apartment in town, and paid for everything. She gave Elu a small allowance so she could pay for a babysitter. Elu planned to go back to back as a grocery cashier, something she had done before and knew. The grandmother didn’t argue but just held the baby as if she were precious glass.

Elu got a job in a local discount store and had good hours. She could get to AA meetings on a regular basis, and still be home in time for the baby. One week end, Mrs. V H, as Elu now called her, was holding the baby and playing with a little rattle. The thing she dreaded came out.

Elu had allowed the tech to take a swab from little Sally for a paternity test. Mrs. V H still had things of Sebastian at home to compare it too, and as Elu predicted, the test was a match. He was the father. Elu breathed a sigh of relief. At least that was over. Plus, the baby was fair and looked a lot like him.

“Ah…Elu…I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

At her tone of voice, Elu stopped wiping the counter and looked up. Mrs. VH avoided her eyes. She jiggled the baby over to the window and looked out. The girl knew what was coming.

“I’ve heard from Sebastian….He knows about the baby…he wants to see her.”

Elu started wiping the counter again and said nothing.

“I mean, well…” the older woman paused, “he is the father.”

“And and a no good. You said it yourself. He was a rotten son, so bad you cut him out of your will. Remember that part?” Elu was starting to get angry.

“I know, I know. All those things are true. But what if he has changed?” She stared at Elu pleading in her eyes.

Elu knew instinctively the woman wanted so much for that to be true. To not only have a grandchild but have her son back. The prodigal. Back whole and wonderful like the kid and teen he used to be. Young, handsome, popular, tanned from playing tennis and soccer. A hit with the girls and the guys too. She wanted that Sebastian back. Elu did too but in her heart of heart she wasn’t sure she believed it.

Mrs. V H got her way and sent tickets to Sebastian. The plan was that he was to stay at his mother’s ranch and just drive down to see Elu and the baby. They did have their reunion and the old heartstrings were pulled by her old love. Unfortunately, the fire had not died.

Eventually, Sebastian got a job with an insurance broker in Phoenix so he could “make money and be closer” to Elu and the baby. He tried to get her to sleep with him many times, but she held her ground and refused, as difficult as it was. She suspected that he had given up and gotten himself another squeeze when he stopped trying so hard.

It was at one of their monthly lunches at Olive Garden that Elu got some surprising news from the woman she now called, at least in her mind, her mother-in-law. Mrs. VH wanted to be called Catherine, her first name. But, Elu was still too intimidated. The older woman accepted the Mrs. VH handle without further complaint.

“Elu, I wanted to tell you about something I have done. Something for the baby.” The baby was now over a year old and looked to be holding onto her father’s blue eyes, maybe just a touch darker, and dark blonde hair. The woman beamed at her granddaughter who was actually eating with a little spoon.

The woman cleared her throat. “I have put money aside for Sally. For when she is older and wants to go to college.”

Elu paused with her sandwich. “Why, Mrs. VH, that is so nice of you. Thanks very much. How much will it be?” She resumed eating and then sipped her coke.

There was a pause. “It’s a lot.”

Elu paused again. “Well, again, thank you. But what about Sebastian? I know he told me a while back you cut him off…”

“Yes, I did. For his own good. The drinking, drugging and wild parties….I can’t begin to tell you.” She stopped and frowned. “Well, maybe I can.” Her mouth puckered a little and she sipped her ice tea.

“Catherine,” Elu used the name for the first time, “I’m pretty sure he’s not using drugs anymore. Trust me, I would know. Please don’t ask me how. And, well, he’s just drinking alcohol now, nothing else.”

Catherine harrumphed. “Just alcohol is not saying much. That’s how all the sh–, stuff started anyway.” Her mouth was in a hard, thin line. “If his father ever knew…Oh, it’s too much. I can’t expect you to understand.”

Elu stared at her mother-in-law and decided to not get her feelings hurt.

“I do understand, I have a family too.”

Catherine picked up a napkin, held it over her face, and leaned over a moment. Then she put the napkin down, seemed to gather herself up and said. “Well, if he can prove to me long enough that he is gainfully employed and has his shit together, I will put him back in the will.”

“Oh, thank you,” Elu gushed. That would be so much better!” She smiled happily, Sally started to use the spoon to beat on her metal table to get attention and both women laughed.

As they were walking to the car, Elu held Sally’s hand because the little girl insisted on ‘walking myself!” and they paused by Catherine’s car.

As Catherine was getting ready to put the key in the door lock, she turned. “I should probably tell you how much the trust is. Just in case you get the paperwork and are surprised or think it’s a mistake or something.”

Elu calmly waited. She was thinking a few thousand dollars.

“One million.”

“What’s one million?” Elu asked.

“The trust, Elu, the trust. It’s for one million and starts to pay out when the baby turns eighteen. It will be administered by my lawyer’s office and an insurance company. It will come to her in chunks, as she gets older.

Elu stood there, mouth open, too stunned to speak.

“Come on girl,” the old lady said, ‘how did you think Sebastian could afford all those expensive toys of his?”

“I…I…”

“Don’t worry. The money won’t come around for a long time. She’s just a toddler now. She’ll have plenty of time to figure out how to spend it, and maybe you too. Oh, well, I’ll probably be gone by then so what do I care?”

Elu did something she never did. She hugged Catherine and cried, all at the same time.

Every six months, regular as clockwork, Sebastian proposed marriage to Elu. And, every six months, just as regular, she told him no. He had gotten to the point where he didn’t even put on the puppy eyes looks when she told him, rather, seemed to accept her refusals philosophically. Elu never told him about the trust as his mother advised her not to do so. She confirmed that Mrs. VH, also, would tell the new father nothing about the money. Elu knew that just as he kept after her for marriage, he kept after his mother to get back into her will. As far as she knew, the old lady was still holding out.

Sally was potty trained now and could go to a little pre-school around the corner. Elu had her mornings free and loved nothing better than to hit the trails and get in a short hike before she had to go to work. She loved seeing the giant saguaro, the other giant cactus on the trials. Weekends, she would take little Sally in a backpack and they would go. Her daughter loved it too. They saw wild boar from time to time; little yellow and white butterflies, cottonwood, ground squirrels and lots of other hikers.

The days were sunny and warm. Always the nosy one, Sebastian would talk on the phone to Elu and ask her what she was doing with her time. She gushed about the out of doors, the hikes, the places here where the Native Americans used to live. In the old days, before the reservations. She loved it. He told her he had started hiking too, around Phoenix ‘to get into shape’.

That was exactly how the two of them managed to be out on the tram trial on a fully moon lit night. One where the frogs croaked and the night birds cried and the water rushed down from the frosty mountain and was cold to the touch. Elu loved the paths and she loved this path. The canyon felt so old to her, comforting a familiar place. A native place for thousands of years before the white people came.

“Come on,” he told her, “You’ll love it. The neighbor will watch Sally. You need to get out and do stuff for yourself. Not work all the time.” So, she had agreed and the two of them were out together at night on this trail, usually so full of people, quite deserted this time of night. And, there she had been on the bridge. The cold, wet bridge with water rushing over the side. Close to the edge, somehow, somehow losing her footing and falling in the cold water, hitting her head.

When she was in the hospital, she slept a great deal. At first, she didn’t have any dreams and then they started. In one dream, she was sure she could hear a voice. A man’s voice, soft and low. Was that Sebastian’s voice? Maybe.

The voice came to her when she was in the water, it said in very low tones “You thought I didn’t know about the trust fund, didn’t you. You and she both, that old bitch, both thinking that pretty Sebastian was too stupid to figure it out. Well, I did figure it out and all by myself. Fuck both of you.” There was another push and the voice went away.

                                   

Continued

Elu’s Story – Pt VII

“Go to hell,” she shouted and banged out of the apartment building. Calling a cab, they drove straight to the hospital. Daniel was there by their grandfather’s bed. The old man was hooked up to every kind of machine imaginable. His eyes were closed. She got a chair and pulled it over to Daniel’s.

“He’s…?”

“Still alive,” Daniel replied, “but it doesn’t look good.”

The next day, Elena flew into New York with Elu’s younger sister, Sally. Daniel got them to grandpa’s apartment.Later, the four of them sat around the old man’s bed until he died.

Elena had a hard time looking at Elu. It was her sister Sally who ripped into her out in the hallway. “What the hell are you doing, Elu? What are you going with your life?” she whispered tersely.

Elu raised her hands but couldn’t think of much to say. She needed a drink.

“You broke grandpa’s heart and now you’re breaking mom’s. You are a disgrace!” Sally hissed. 

Elu looked away and said nothing.

“Jesus,” Sally slung her bag over a shoulder. “I’m going to go get coffee. You want some?”

“I’ll get my own,” Elu replied. There was a vending machine on the floor. Sally left and Elu

went to get a black from the machine. She fumbled around in her purse for change and found to little airplane bottle of Jack Daniels she had at the bottom of her purse, just in case. She got the coffee, went on the other side of the machine and poured the Jack into the cup. She sipped the mixture gratefully and went back into the hospital room.

The next night, Elu tried to do her shift at the club. She came in early as usual. She was about to go back to the dressing room when Fred, the fat manager, called her over.

“Yes, Fred,” she looked at him. He was on his bar stool as usual. He looked at her hard.

“Girl, I don’t know what you been doing to yourself but you look like crap.” He took a sip from his coffee cup.

“Well, I haven’t been sleeping that well…”

“Sleeping…cut the crap. You been doing horse?” he grabbed her arm and looked at it.

“Horse?”

“Heroin, you idiot.” He let her arm go.

“I’m trying my best, Fred…”

“Yeah, and your dancing has sucked for weeks. Actually, you don’t really look like crap…”

Elu began to feel a little hopeful.

“Naw, more like dog shit on a stick, twice baked.”

“Fred…”

Fred turned back to the racing form he always seemed to be working on. Then, he looked                       up from his half glasses at her one more time.

“Da customers don’t want to pay money to see some half-alive, junkie stick up there on stage. You gotta go get yourself clean or whateva and don’t come back until you do. Lottas girls want jobs in here.”

Fred got up and started to amble his heavy girth toward the back of the club. “Rocky,” he called loudly to one of the bouncers. “Help the lady out.” He threw his thumb over his shoulder toward Elu.

Her mouth fell open in shock.

Rocky walked toward Elu who was still standing there, stunned. Carefully, he put a big thick arm around her skinny shoulders and said softly, “Come on doll face. Don’t let that old bastard see you cry.” He walked her outside and she started to sniffle. He handed her a Kleenex. “You need anything, doll, money?”

Elu shook her head and sobbed into the tissue. The big man handed her another.                                                 “You get yourself cleaned up, and Fred, that old bastard, will let you back in. He’s a liar. You’re a good dancer and the guys love your act.”

She nodded and looked up at him with red eyes.

“Or maybe,” Rocky was thoughtful, “you might ever want to try for some completely different life.” He waved a huge paw around the city. “It’s a big world out there my friend and you’re young, and smart.”

“Oh, thanks Rocky. I love you,” Elu threw her arms around the massive bulk and squeezed hard.

He laughed. “Us girls got to stick together.”

She laughed and he hugged her again. He yelled for a taxi and one came crashing to the curb. Elu got in and waved to him. She wasn’t sure if they would ever see each other again.

 

                                                            #

 

Four days later, Francis Xavier Costello was laid to rest in the local Catholic Church.

Elu thought she was die before the service was over. Finally, it was and they all got taxis back to grandpa’s apartment. Daniel was still living there and was completing his degree in astral-physics at the state school. He was working an internship at the planetarium.

The church ladies all showed up with food. Elu had a little plate and picked at it. Daniel moseyed up to her and popped some kabobs pieces into his mouth. With one cheek full like a chipmunk he talked to her quietly. “Elu, you look like shit.”

“Thank you, Daniel. Always the gentleman.”

“I mean it. I’ve never seen you like this. You’re so thin and those circles, Jesus. What have you been up too?

She didn’t answer but picked more at her food. “You know, just working a lot, late hours, that kind of thing.”

“Oh yeah, the dancing thing. That what you call it?”

She nodded.

“Funny, most people I know call that place where you work a strip-club.” He wasn’t looking at her. His attention seemed to be on the crowd of people in the apartment.

Elu flushed and felt like throwing up. She put her plate down before she gagged. She wiped her mouth with a napkin and smoothed down her dress.

“Can I ask you just one favor, Daniel? As my brother?”

“Sure, sis. What would that be?” He finally turned and looked at her.

“Don’t tell mom, she doesn’t know.”

He shrugged.

“Please,” she begged. 

He put his plate down too, and also wiped his mouth. “Sure, this one time. But, I am telling you girl, you had better get your shit together. You’re a mess.”

With that, he turned and went to talk to the other guests.

Elu could feel herself start to cry. She escaped to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. The tears started to flow. She dabbed at them with toilet tissue.

“Hey, can I get in there?” She heard a voice call outside. She quickly got up and looked at herself in the mirror. There were dark circles under her eyes, she was thinner than ever. A bruise was starting to show on her arm where Sebastian had grabbed her last time. In her hurry to get dressed, she had forgotten to put makeup on that one. She stood still for a moment; she did in fact look like crap.

“Hey, you going to take all day in there. I really go to go.”

She flushed to toilet like she had been using it and pulled open the door. A fat old man was outside practically holding himself and dashed into the doorway slamming the door behind himself.

Elu floated to the bar and was about to pick up a glass of wine. She stopped and got a coffee instead. She looked over where her mother was sitting and floated over toward her and settled on the sofa next to her.

“Ma, I got to go.”

Her mother whipped her head around. “But, all these people are still here.” She frowned.

“I know but I got to go. I feel really sick.”

Her mother stopped and stared at her daughter then sighed. “Okay, if you have to, you have to.”

Elu got up “Say my goodbyes.” Her mother did not turn around.

The girl escaped from the front door. She couldn’t talk to Sally again. She didn’t have it in her. Besides, she really did feel sick. She still had the cup of coffee in her hand. It was warm and the warmth felt good. It was still chilly here in New York, even in May. She hadn’t gone 10 feet away from the apartment building when she had to stop and vomit into the bushes. Some passerby’s stared at her in disgust and she pulled a Kleenex out of her purse and wiped her mouth. She threw the rest of the coffee over the bushes hoping some of it would wash the vomit away.

She decided she needed to walk a little and get some fresh air. There was a neighborhood pharmacy on the way back and she went in to get her usual large bottle of Tylenol. As she walked through the aisle, she paused before ‘feminine products’. There was a packaged pregnancy kit. On whim, she picked it up and took it to the counter to pay. She got some water, tore open the Tylenol package, and downed four pills.

Back in her apartment, the place was mercifully empty. Jan was still gone to her mother’s and Sebastian had finally left. Thank God, she thought to herself. She was going to have to pay to get a new lock. Couldn’t do anything about the key pad at the front door without making a big deal with the super. That would not be easy.  She needed a nap. However, an odd sense of urgency overcame her and she decided to undo the test kit instead. In the bathroom, she closed the door and sat on the toilet. For some reason, she wanted privacy even though no one was there.

Ripping the package open, she read the instructions and peed on the strip. Putting the stick strip down on the sink, she pulled up her pants. Breathlessly, she waited.  The pale strip slowly turned blue. Elu stared down at the stick in disbelief. Stuffing the whole thing back in the plastic sack she pushed into the cupboard.

I need another test kit. Maybe this one was wrong, defective.

She hurried out of the apartment and down the street to the corner store. She got some ginger ale for her stomach and another pregnancy test. She hurried back to the apartment, and dropped everything on the kitchen table. She popped open a can of the ginger ale and poured it into a glass then added a shot of vodka to steady her nerves. She didn’t bother with ice. Holding the glass and the new package test, she went back to the bathroom and repeated the process all over again. Her hands started to sweat and she almost dropped the test stick in the toilet.

Again, the test strip was placed carefully on the sink counter while she wiped                     and pulled up her pants. One more time, slowly the strip turned first to a light blue and then, to an incriminating dark blue. She pulled out the other strip, compared the two. Saw it was two completely different brands of product and stuffed the whole mess back under the sink. Like not seeing it would somehow make it all go away.

She took the glass of ginger ale back to the kitchen, poured more soda into the glass and topped it off with vodka. She went to her room, lay down on the bed, set the glass on the side table and was asleep before she could take another sip.

Hours later, she woke up and lay there a long while. Finally she got up, went to wash her face. Picking up the glass of soda and vodka, she poured it down the sink. It the kitchen, she put on water to boil for tea. Grubbing around in the cupboards, she found an old, stale box of tea bags. These would do. She made the tea, found honey, and poured a large gob into the tea. Then she went to the bookshelf and started tearing through the books. Finally, she found what she was looking for. An old address book Sebastian had left here and one of his many prolonged visits. She turned to the ‘V’s’ and carefully pulled her finger down through the numbers.

There was one Van Houten listed as ‘Mom’. She knew this was probably the number.

She glanced at the clock. 6pm New York time, probably 9 pm Arizona time? It was late but this couldn’t wait. She had to do it while she still could.

Continued

Elu’s Story – Part VI

The door to Jan’s bedroom was closed. For whatever reason, Elu seemed to be seeing less and less of her roommate these days. She shook her head and checked her purse. There was some money in there. She grabbed her coat and purse. The corner store would have cereal and milk. She couldn’t face much else right now. She closed the front door behind her.

It was cold outside and Elu had to be careful to pick her way through the snow and ice on the sidewalk. The ice could be lethal she knew and didn’t want to slip. She got to her apartment building and put in the key code to get in. She was walking up the stairs to the apartment when she heard the yelling. Who was that? She stopped in front of their door and was about to put the key in the lock when she realized the door wasn’t closed. The sound of her roommate Jan filled the apartment.

“I know you took it, you slimy bastard!” she screamed. “Now where is it?”

Elu came around the corner holding her bag. Sabastian was sitting casually at the kitchen table twirling a DosEquis beer bottle and looking down at it. Jan was dangerously close to him, leaning over. The veins in the side of her neck were bulging and her face was red.

“Hey, it’s not big deal. I just borrowed it for a little. You’ll get it back, don’t  over-react.” His tone was casual and bland.

“Over-react, over-react! I don’t want it someday. I want it back now! Give me that slip,” Jan demanded and stuck her hand in the young man’s face.

With a slight movement of his wrist, Sebastian pulled out a slip of white paper from a jacket pocket and handed it over. Jan snatched it out of his hand and turned, seeing Elu for the first time.

“And tell your Godamn boyfriend to stay out of my room in the future!” she raged. Jan was still in her outer coat and her purse swung back and forth over her shoulder. She pushed past Elu still with the angry look and stuffed the paper in her purse. She slammed out the front door.

Elu came into the kitchen and put the bags on the table. She slowly lowered herself to a chair.

“What…” was all she could get out.

“Oh, hell,” Sebastian took a drag on his bottle. “It’s no big deal. I just borrowed that red stone ring of hers for a little while. She’ll get it back.” He smirked and added, “You make lots of money,” and took another sip.

“Like you borrowed my gold necklace?” she asked him.

“Baby…” he scooted the chair closed to her. “I’m just having a little down time right now. I’m a lover not a fighter. I’ll be back in no time. We still love each other, right?” he gazed into her eyes.

Elu felt hypnotized. “Yes,” she said softly.

“Good, good.” He smiled again. “Got to go, know when I’m not welcome. Got you a little gift.” He pushed a tiny paper packet her way. “Enjoy. Love you.” He kissed her on the forehead. “Got to go before Bitchzilla comes back and ruins the evening. See you later.”

He picked up his beer and headed for the door then turned. “Don’t worry about your dumb necklace. It’s just for a little while. I got some great leads coming in. You’ll see.” He went out the door and closed it behind him.

Elu sat and stared at the packet. She knew what was in it. She wanted it and didn’t want it. Blow, Sebastian called it. She picked up the little package and put it into a teapot on a shelf. Not now, maybe later.

Sebastian was a few years older than Elu and had come to New York to be a stocks and bonds trader. He had ¾ of a college degree in marketing and dropped out of school to ‘make the big bucks’ he had told her. From Scottsdale and from a well-to-do family, the young man was used to the good life and did indeed make the big bucks for a while. But the early wake up hours and the pressure got to be too much for him and he dropped out of that line of work.

He had done sales of all sorts and with his good looks and charm always managed to do well and make money. Somehow, something always seemed to get in the way and he ended up out of work, looking for another job. Right now, he was trying his hand at hedge fund trading and was convinced this was really the ticket this time. In the meantime, all the money Elu was used to making every week seemed to be dissolving into thin air and she couldn’t figure it out.

When the month came that she didn’t have enough for rent, Jan gave her a long, cold stare.

“I will cover you this time, girlfriend, but no more. Get that lazy boyfriend of yours to cough up some cash or you’re both out.”

The lease was in Jan’s name so the girl knew her friend could make good on her word. The next time Sebastian asked her for a little to get by, she told him no.

“We need it for the rent.”

He looked calm as ever and went over to the fridge to get a beer. He got the last one and sat down staring at her. He unscrewed the top and took a big sip.

“And, another thing, you need to bring in money for groceries.” She was standing up close to the sink. Suddenly, he was behind her and pushed her up against the kitchen wall, hard. He had lifted her off her feet with his big hand around her neck.

His blue eyes were red and blood shot. He breathed heavily into her face and smelled of beer and old cigarettes. She tried to turn away but couldn’t, he had too firm a grip on her neck.

“Don’t you ever talk to me like that again, you little bitch. I know who you are and what you are. You got it?” He was talking through clinched teeth. She was terrified.

She gave a slight nod and he let her down. Then, for whatever weird reason, he started to brush her off like she had crumbs on her shirt. She started to tremble.

“I’m going now…but, we’ll talk later.” He gave her breast a tight squeeze until she winced with pain.

He backed off, grabbed the beer and stormed out of the apartment. Elu slid down the wall and just stared into space. She started to cry, little tears at first and then big, gushy ones. Her mind was a cloud of confusion and she couldn’t think. She stumbled up and went to the bathroom to take a hot bath.

The next few months, things seemed to settle down a bit. Elu continued to dance at the club. Sebastian stayed away from the apartment more and spent more time in his grubby, singles walk up working on hedge fund deals. He kept talking about big money that was just about to come in.

Elu sighed when she heard this. They were out for dinner and she paid. It usually wasn’t at the really great restaurant they had been to before, more like pizza and beer but it was food and it was hot.

She paid her rent on time and Jan accepted it without comment. Jan had gone to the pawnshop herself and got back her mother’s ruby and garnet ring. She didn’t tell Elu how much it cost her but Elu noticed that Jan’s bedroom was always locked now when she left the apartment.

It was the weekend of Mother’s Day and Jan told Elu she would be going upstate to see her mother.

“And, I know I don’t have to tell you to keep that slug out of my bedroom, right?” she arched an eyebrow at Elu.

“You’re door is always locked. How could he get in there?”

“Knowing that little creep, he could figure something out.” Her tone softened a bit. “Elu, you know I like you. Always have. But, really, if much else happens with that little bastard, I am going to have to ask you to leave. Comprende?”

Elu couldn’t do anything else but put her head down and nod. It reminded her of the way her mother used to speak to her and she felt ashamed.

Jan grabbed her trolley suitcase, locked the door on her room, and slung her purse over her shoulder. As she was about to leave, she stopped and looked at the forlorn visage of her friend. She came over and gave her a hug. “I just wish…I wish…” she seemed to be out of words for what to say. Then, turned and went out the door.

Elu sank down on a kitchen chair and stared into space. There was a little ‘ping’ on her cell phone. She opened up her message box. Daniel had sent her a message. “Grandpa in hospital, call me”. A sense of terror swept over the girl. She grabbed the phone and had a short, terse conversation with her brother. Grandpa was in the hospital because of his heart. She was scheduled to work that night but promised to come over as soon as she could.

Her shift went by in a blur and Elu found herself repeatedly looking at the clock. 1 am couldn’t come fast enough. She got off. Rocky, her favorite bouncer, found her a cab. She told him about her grandfather.

“I’m sorry babe. That sucks. Want me to beat up that lousy boyfriend of yours? Do it for free. Might make you feel better.”

In spite of herself, Elu laughed and smiled. Rocky was the biggest, buffest gay guy she had ever met. Hell, she didn’t even know what gay meant until she had moved here. She got into the taxi and told him to rush. Her body was tingling from raw nerves.

She let herself into the apartment, her outfit still on under her heavy jacket. To her surprise, Sebastian was sitting on the sofa in the living room. There was some strange man with him. A big, fat, sweaty guy. The fat guy was in his forties with thinning hair. He kept wiping his brow with a handkerchief.

“Babe, you’re home!” Sebastian was expansive. “Hey, meet my new, good client, Samuel from Milwaukee. Samuel, Elu, the Indian.”

Samuel got up to shake her hand. He was nervous. There were wet patches in the armpits of his shirt. He reached to shake her hand. “I saw your performance at the club, Miss Elu. Stunning, just stunning. You dance so well and you’re so…” he paused to find the works, “you’re so beautiful.” He stared at her transfixed.

Elu yanked her hand out of his grip and looked over at Sebastian. “I got to go change.”

“Sure thing,” he waved at her. “We’ll be here. Samuel brought you some of your favorite stuff.” He waved at the coffee table. Lines of coke were already set up on a mirror in the middle.

Elu’s mouth got dry. She pulled away and went into the bedroom. She stripped off her costume, pulled on a t-shirt, jeans and boots. A heavy sweater went over the top and a jacket with a hood. Sebastian sauntered into the room.

“Where’re you going babe? You’re going to miss the party!” He sipped his beer casually and looked over at her dressing.

Elu yanked the jacket on and spun toward him. “What is that guy doing here?” she hissed at him.

“Calm down, calm down, girlfriend,” he put his hands out in front of him as if he was surrendering. “He just came to see you. He likes you.”

Elu stared hard into Sebastian’s eyes. She was shocked to see the clear blue were darker down and seemed to have no depth anymore. In a flash of understanding, she completely got exactly why Samuel was here, this night, when Jan was gone. She pushed past her boyfriend. He tried to grab her arm but she wiggled away, grabbed her  purse and was out the door. She didn’t even bother to close it.

“Babe,” Sabastian yelled after her, “what am I going to tell Samuel?”

“Go to hell,” she shouted and banged out of the apartment building. Calling a cab, they drove straight to the hospital. Daniel was there by their grandfather’s bed. The old man was hooked up to every kind of machine imaginable. His eyes were closed. She got a chair and pulled it over to Daniel’s.

Continued

Elu’s Story – Pt V

Elu soon found out what kind of place the club really was. She learned very fast that she had to walk quickly and be very careful leaning over so she didn’t get a hand up her skirt and practically up her ass. She was really relieved when Suzy said she was ready to dance, because that way she was up on stage and several feet away from the men. They would still reach and grab but she could avoid them better. Getting out of the dressing room after work and out the door into a waiting taxi proved to be a task but Fred had two big bouncers who would work the back doors so the girls could at least find a taxi and get into it without problem. But the telephone calls and the messages! Elu had never heard such language before. Great Mother of God!

But the money was rolling in, that made her very happy and she began to find that a quick drink before she went to work helped her get over the jitters. Then a shot or two at work were easy to get from the bartender and the whole evening passed in a flash and they were on their way back to the apartment again to crash and burn until the next day.

Life went on like this for many months. Elu tried to send some money home to her mother once. But, Mama got so upset with the gift and asked so many questions that Elu decided she would bank the money and wait until she was home again to give another gift. Life got into a pattern, that is until she met Him. Andrew Sebastian Van Houten, III at a party.

Elu saw Andrew Sebastian and her heart stopped for just a moment. The room went grey and all she could see was him. About 6’1” with beach blond hair, a tan in a white polo shirt and khaki slacks. Leather loafers and an expensive watch. She could have just watched him for hours and never even said anything. And then when he came over and started talking to them…

“Hey, Jan, how’s it going?”

“Hey, Sebastian. How’s tricks,” Jan was very casual too. “This is my new roommate, Elu.”

“Elu, that’s different,” Sebastian replied. “What is that, Chinese or something?”

Elu shook herself. “It’s Indian.”

“Oh, you’re from India. Jan didn’t tell me.”

“No, not India. I’m Indian from America. American Indian.”

“Oh, okay. American Indian. So, what, me White Man, you squaw?” Something like that?”

Elu felt herself blush. “Something like that.” She gripped her drink tighter.

“Actually, hearing myself even say that sounds pretty stupid, I have to admit. I  didn’t offend you or anything, did I?” Sebastian looked down at Elu.

She had never seen such blue eyes in her life. She stared for a moment before she could speak. “Ah, no. I’m fine.”

“Well good,” Sebastian replied good-naturedly. “Let me get you another drink and you can tell me all about…being an Indian, American Indian that is.” He took her glass out of her hand. “White wine?” She nodded, too stunned to speak. He turned and went back to the bar.

Jan was grinning like the proverbial cat. “Oh, my God. Elu, he is so into you. I can’t believe it. Sebastian Van Houten, the third. Un-fucking believable. You have any idea of how much money that guy’s got?”

“What?” Elu replied dimly. She was still watching Sebastian’s retreating figure. She was having a hard time focusing on what Jan was saying. “What?” she turned back to her friend.

“I said…” Jan drew the words out longer, “that…he…is…rich. You bimbo!”

“Rich…oh,” Elu replied softly. “That’s nice.”

“Shush, don’t say a thing about what I just told you. Just be yourself and all that stuff. I’m gonna make myself scare.”

Sebastian came back with a fresh drink, handed it to Elu and steered her over to a sofa in the corner where they could talk. Once settled in, he asked her question after question about herself. She had never had someone shower her with so much attention before. It was amazing that he had any interest in her at all. She barely touched her drink.

When it was getting late and she looked at her watch in surprise. Sebastian offered to take her home and she agreed. Before she knew what she was doing, they were in her bedroom and he was ripping her clothes off and throwing her on the bed. The sex was incredible and took Elu to heights she had never known before. While she had had sex before a few times at the back of the drive-in, that was clumsy and fast and didn’t amount to much. This, him! Her head was spinning around backwards.

Sebastian left early in the morning before Jan got out of bed and before Elu usually got up.

“I’ll call you,” he said, leaving.

She really didn’t think he would. So, when she got a text message from him later that morning she was surprised. He wanted her to go to dinner with him. Golly!

Dinner turned into breakfast and then lunch. Elu was in love and knew it. She was on cloud nine. She had never been so happy. The man of her dreams, a swell job with lots of money in a great city. What a life!

She was schedule to go to grandpa’s every Sunday. She went and burbled on and on about her new life. Daniel said little and mostly studied his plate of lasagna. Grandpa listened and sipped his wine. He didn’t say much. Finally, she ran out of steam and started eating.

Grandpa put down his wine. “What about your school?” His bright blue eyes looked into her brown ones without blinking.

Elu looked up and got uncomfortable. “School will still be there, Grandpa. It’s not going anywhere. I can always go back. I’m young. I got time.”

She looked down at her plate but not before she saw him slowly shake his head. “What are you doing Daniel?” She worked hard to steer the conversation away from herself. Daniel was finishing up his classes at the community college. He was in the process of applying to the state college and looking for scholarships. They talked about him and then about mom and the kids back home.

More and more, Elu found excused to miss Sunday dinners. She couldn’t put it into words. Just, she was strangely uncomfortable when she left and it didn’t feel good. There was one excuse after another.

Finally, she was on the phone with the old man. “Whatever, Elu, you got to do what you got to do. Don’t call to say you can’t make it, you know when we eat. Just show up, okay?”

“Sure, thanks, Grandpa. You’re so understanding.”

“Yep.” He hung up the phone. Elu stared at the phone in her hand. Had he just hung up on her? That had never happened before. Maybe he was getting batty; he was in his 80’s. She shrugged and went to get herself a beer from the fridge. They were going to a great new restaurant tonight. She needed to figure out what to wear.

The restaurant was high end and glitzy. The lights were low, the benches were padded, the people were glamourous and dressed in the latest. She was wearing a new black sheath dress with soft black sequins and thin spaghetti straps. Elu couldn’t believe someone like her could be sitting in a place like this.

The waiter came up in a neat, crisp dinner suit and Bastian picked out a wine from the list. The waiter came back and showed the bottle to Bastian who nodded. Taking out a corkscrew, the man undid the cork and pour a little into each glass.

“Madam would like to try it?” He bent over the glass and presented it to her.

Elu almost blushed with embarrassment. No one had ever called her that before. She took the glass and sipped the wine. It was delicious. She nodded and the man poured her half a glass and then her date’s.

Bastian looked at her over the little lit candles on the table. “Pretty cool, huh?”

Elu nodded. She was staring at the menu and had no idea what to order. There was so much on here that she had never heard of it; it was confusing.

“You know what you want?” He was glancing at the menu.

She sighed and closed the multi-page glossy brochure. “Can I just have a cheese burger? Fries?”

Bastian suppressed a little laugh and smiled instead. “Sure, no problem.” He looked around and snapped his fingers.

A waiter rushed over and Bastian ordered a steak for himself and the burger and fries for her. She sat and just absorbed the ambiance. This place was so cool. What Elu could not admit was how completed overwhelmed and out of place she really felt.

Bastian twirled the wine glass in his fingers. Then he lifted the long silver chain from around his neck. She had admired it many times. It was a little dancing figure playing a flute. The figure was done in turquoise, silver and coral. It was small but very beautiful.

He stood up, leaned over to Elu, and dropped the necklace around her neck.

“Oh, no! Sebastian, you can’t give me this. It’s yours! Elu fingered the necklace.

“No,” he said, “it’s yours now,” and he sat back down with a smile on his face.

“What is it again?” she asked him.

“It’s Kokopellie; the Hopi go of music and dance.”

“But, I’m not Hopi, Bastian,” she told him, “I’m Mojave.”

“I know,” he told her. “But, still I think it fits you more than me.” He drank his wine. “But, I’m not sure it goes with that old, tacky necklace you wear all the time.” He looked away.

Elu fingered the other necklace around her neck. It was old. An old, gold filigree fine linked necklace given to her years ago by her grandfather. It held a locket with picture of her two favorite people in the world; Daniel and her sister Sally. Her hand went to the necklace and her mouth puckered. Really? she felt insecure and tugged at it. Her mouth puckered. She grabbed her glass of wine and drank a big gulp. She would think about it later.

A few days later, she left the gold necklace on the top of her dresser and felt better about it. The two strands kept getting tangled up with each other. Besides, she needed to get to work and make some more of that easy money. It was a few days later that she looked at the dresser and saw a little slip of paper. She picked up the paper and read 22nd St Pawn Shop. What the hell was this? She read it again and and saw with a shock the words ‘gold necklace’. The shock traveled all through her system. Frantically she started to paw through everything on the dresser. Her necklace from grandpa was gone.

Elu dropped down to the bed with the paper clutched in her hand. The tears started to flow and fall down her face. Finally, exhausted she fell backwards on the bed and sleep stole over her. Hours later, she woke up and she realized it was early evening.

She staggered up and went to wash her face. The slip was still in her hand and she stuffed it into her jeans pocket. In the bathroom, she bent over, splashed cold water on her face, and stared at herself. There were dark circles under her eyes and she looked thinner. Elu had never been on the heavy side, always leaning to the slim. But, now…the bones along her collarbone seemed to stick out more than ever. She pulled the makeup bag over to herself and put concealer on the circles. Not that she was going anywhere, it was her day off. More because she didn’t want to see the circles in the mirror. She brushed her teeth and went to she what they had to eat in the kitchen. Opening the fridge door it looked almost empty. When had she gone shopping last?

The door to Jan’s bedroom was closed. For whatever reason she seemed to be seeing less and less of her roommate these days. She shook her head and checked her purse. There was some money in there. She grabbed her coat and purse. The corner store would have cereal and milk. She couldn’t face much else right now. She closed the front door behind her.

Continued Part VI

Elu’s Story – Part IV

New York was something else entirely. Neither Daniel nor Elu could stop gawking from the moment they got off the train until they got to their grandfathers apartment in the Bronx. Never had they ever seen such tall building, so much traffic, so many people! It was utterly amazing. They got to grandad’s apartment, dropped their stuff, and demanded to be taken on the tour. So, tour they did.

This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen, Elu said to herself. I love it. I just love it!!! Daniel and Elu both learned to love the early morning coffee shops, Italian pizza places and popcorn. Elu could eat the different kinds of popcorn until she burst.

Grandpa insisted they get enrolled in their classes and start school promptly. Daniel was like a duck in water and took to advanced education like a natural. It wasn’t so easy for Elu. She had always been much more social than Daniel and soon made a whole new cadre of friends. They began to invite her here and there. They started to stop into bars for a beer. Elu had had beer at the res a few times. Most of the grownups drank some kind of beer. Usually the cheap stuff. But when she discovered the $2 pitcher specials at happy hour, followed by shooters; wow! She was in heaven. Where had this been all her life.

Naturally, her grades started to slip. Not a lot at first, but over time, school just didn’t seem all that important anymore. Then one of the girls, Jan, needed a roommate. Over many objections from both her grandfather and Daniel, Elu moved out and moved in with Jan.

Jan had a glamourous and exotic life as a dancer. Elu really didn’t believe all the stories Jan would tell until on Saturday nights she would come home with a purse stuffed cash. Then on Sunday morning, when she finally rolled out of bed, Jan would sit at the kitchen table and count out all her tips. Put them in stacks, label them and then put them in envelopes to take to the bank on Monday. The money was eye popping and definitely catching Elu’s attention.

“You made all this dancing? Just dancing?” Elu was astounded.

“Yep.” Jan was casual.

“How…how did you get started?”

“Easy actually. I took dance lessons in school and then they teach you more moves at the club. It’s easy. Even you could learn.”

Elu reached out a finger and touched one of the stacks of money. She had never seen so much of it at one time and in one place.


The next weekend Jan took her into the club and introduced her to the manager, Fred. Fred was a big fat guy with a cigar stuck in his mouth. He was sitting on a stool at the club while the maintenance crew cleaned up. He was reading a racing form.

“Ya ever dance before?” he asked Elu through cigar smoke.

He looked her up and down.

“You in pretty good shape. You look like you are.”

She nodded in agreement.

“You mind taking off some clothing?”

Elu  had no idea what he was talking about. Maybe it was a sweater or something. She decided it didn’t matter. She wanted to make some of that money so she said “No.”

“Okay, you got the job. Suzy will teach you some moves and we will give you a trial. See how well you work.  If you’re good, you’re a keeper; if not, well….” He jerked his thumb at the day. “Ya understand?”

Elu nodded furiously up and down.

“Okay, youse come back at 4pm when dey got the place cleaned up and Suzy will start ‘wit cha. Got it?”

Elu nodded again.

“She don’t talk much, do she?” he asked Jan.

“Yeah,” Jan replied, “but then again, a lot less arguments.”

“Well, there’s that.” Fred rolled his big frame off the stool and started walking to the back. “Youse two beat it fer now. Dey’s gotta clean.”

Jan grabbed Elu’s arm and hustled her out of the club.

“You got the job, you got the job!” They both jumped up and down with joy and hurried back to their apartment so Jan could help Elu find something to wear for her first night.

That night after the training with Suzy, Jan got the girl back into the wardrobe changing room to do her makeup. The first night she was just going to work the club and sell cigarettes and cigars to the patrons.

“We’re going to make you so glamorous, you won’t know yourself.”

Jan set to work with foundation, rouge, lipstick, eyeliner and false eyelashes. When she got done with that, she redid Elu’s hair into a French twist with some curls in front. She sprayed the whole thing with Freeze hairspray. Jan stood back to admire her work. She was very pleased. She swung the barber chair around so Elu could see herself for the first time.

Elu was shocked. She didn’t even recognize the face looking back at her. She had to lift up one hand and touch her face to be sure it was her. She was actually speechless.

“It’s really something, isn’t it?” Jan crowed.

“Yes, it really is.” Elu replied. “Really something.”

Elu soon found out what kind of place the club really was. She learned very fast that she had to walk quickly and be very careful leaning over so she didn’t get a hand up her skirt and practically up her ass. She was really relieved when Suzy said she was ready to dance, because that way she was up on stage and several feet away from the men. They would still reach and grab but she could avoid them better. Getting out of the dressing room after work and out the door into a waiting taxi proved to be a task but Fred had two big bouncers who would work the back doors so the girls could at least find a taxi and get into it without problem. But the telephone calls and the messages! Elu had never heard such language before. Great Mother of God!

Continued Part V

Elu’s Story – Pt III

Elu’s mother finally had enough of their drunken dad and told him to move out. There was a big scene, lots of screaming and yelling, but finally, he went. Elu breathed a sigh of relief. However, just for meanness, her father, a construction worker who made good money, would dole out money to her mother like a miser. She had to beg for every dollar. Eventually, her mom got a job working in the store on the res as a cashier. Elu quit school to work there as well, stocking shelves and doing home deliveries to the old people who couldn’t get out.

She still got out to the river but more on weekends now. She missed the sounds of the bullfrogs and crickets at night and watching the skiers on the river. They always looked like they had no problems at all and more importantly…lots of money. Elu had no money but she certainly knew what it was. Getting money started to consume her thoughts.

What could she do to earn money, lots of money? Since she had dropped out of school, there was no high school diploma. What could a girl like her do for money? Elu still had the long hair and she had grown up tall and straight. She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. Pretty? Not really. She started to experiment with makeup when her mother wasn’t looking. If she used mascara and some lipstick, it did make a difference. People at the grocery store started to compliment her on her looks. Especially the men.

One day her mother yanked her into the storeroom.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Elena spoke in a low voice, tersely to her daughter.

“What?”

“I saw you was flirting with that man,” was her mother’s response.

“I wasn’t…”

“You were,” her mother’s face was close to hers. “You save that stuff for marriage, you got it?”

“Yes, mama,” Elu’s face dropped and flamed up.

“Okay. I don’t want to see you doing that again. You be a good girl.”

Elu started to cry.

“Don’t cry, girl,” her mother scolded and gave her a hug, “it’ll run your mascara.”

Elu jerked her head up. Her mom smiled and winked at her and went back into the store.

The girl went to the bathroom in the back. The cheap mascara was running. Damn it. She grabbed a little tub of Vaseline off a shelf and dabbed it under her eyes. Then, carefully, with a square of toilet tissue, she wiped away the black and patted the skin. From the back of her jeans, she pulled out the mascara wand and put more on. Finished, she smiled at herself and went back to work.

Elu was almost eighteen and wanted to get off the res in the worst way. Elena’s grandfather still lived in New York and she wanted to go see him. After nagging, begging and pleading for almost six months; she got her wish and the old man agreed to let her come to visit.

“You can go if Daniel goes with you,” her mother was stern.

Elu started with “Ah, Ma…”

“Never mind that,” Elena snapped, “he had been talking about going to school forever. He got accepted to the junior college there. You both go, stick together. Maybe you can go for that nursing we was talking about.”

Elu sulking reluctantly sent in her application for the pre-nursing school. It was the same junior college as Daniel’s. To her surprise, she got accepted. She kind of wanted to be a nurse, sort of. She had been taking care of people her whole life. It was what she knew. Still… she sighed, planned to accept her fate and go with it. Anything to get off the res and out of here!!

Eli and Daniel packed their belonging in one suitcase and boarded the train. Mama had packed them a bag with jerky, cokes, sandwiches, peanuts and apples.

“Don’t talk to no strange men,” Elena warned her daughter. She turned to her son “And you tell me if she does.”

Daniel grimaced, shrugged, and hauled the bulging suitcase into the rail car. Elena gave Elu a big hug. “Be good and write.”

“I will, Mama. I promise.” Elu caste her eyes down and let herself be hugged. She smiled and turned to pull the enormous bag of food bag into the car. The two sat together. Elu waved to her mother as they pulled from the station. Daniel already had his head buried in a new/old book he had gotten at the library sale of old books. Slowly the train pulled from the station.

                                                          #

New York was something else entirely. Neither Daniel nor Elu could stop gawking from the moment they got off the train until they got to their grandfathers apartment in the Bronx. Never had they ever seen such tall building, so much traffic, so many people! It was utterly amazing. They got to grandad’s apartment, dropped their stuff, and demanded to be taken on the tour. So, tour they did.

Continued Pt IV

Elu’s Story – Part II

There was a harsh cry in the woods, like a startled crow. Xochi jerked her head to the side. Suddenly, she felt like she was losing her balance; at the edge of the bridge. Oh my God! I’m falling. She didn’t even have time to scream before she hit the rocks; her head hitting a large boulder with a loud snap! The light dimmed, she could feel the cold water rushing over her, covering her entire body. Her mouth was in the water, it lapped up close to her nose. End Part I

Her eyes were nearly closed; she was groggy and couldn’t move. There was a sound of climbing, climbing down the bridge, over the rocks toward her. Thank God, she thought, I’m saved. There was a dark figure leaning over her, she tried to speak but nothing came out. Then a very large foot, the bottom of a hiking boot descended over her. The boot was placed carefully on the center of her chest. Slowly, slowly, the boot pushed down. Her nose went under the water and then the rest of her head. She could feel little air bubbles trailing up and lightly bouncing off her nose. Everything went black.

The rushing river water did its water work and gradually the body lifted with the current and began to float downstream. Slowly at first and then gaining speed as it gained the center of the little river, it floated down, down, down the mountain. At a curve in the river, the body washed into a side eddy and came to rest; face up in more shallow water against smaller rocks. There it stayed. Consciousness still lived in the body; it dreamed.

“Xochi, Xochi” the little boy cried out, “come on, let’s play. You said you would.” The little boy laughed and waved at her and ran across the field. He was chasing fireflies. The girl sighed and put down the basket of darning she was doing.

             
              “All work….” She mumbled to herself and chased after the boy. Her other brothers and sisters were out there in the twilight chasing bugs too. They all chased the bugs together and then began chasing each other. The grass felt good under her bare feet. She loved the night and loved the fields. She could stay out here forever. It would be okay if she never went home. 

Finally, winded, Xochi collapsed on the grass breathing hard. The little boy came up to her, both hands cupped together. “Look, look at what I got.” He beamed and the girl peaked between his two grubby hands. A small insect buzzed inside with the glowing tail.

She smiled at him. “Hector, you know you got to let him go, right?” The kid shook his head. “No, you know you do. Otherways, he’ll die. You know that, fireflies can’t live inside. They got to be free.”

The boy looked at her for a moment with big, serious brown eyes. “You sure?”

“Absolutely.”

With a last little shake of his head, he suddenly flung his little arms apart wide and the bug escaped.

“Fly free little firefly!” Hector announced loudly.

“Good work,” Xochi got up from the grass and patted him on the head. “We got to go home now, Hector. Mama will be waiting with dinner.”

“I don’t want to go home, “Hector said stubbornly, “I don’t ever want to go home.”

“Don’t be like that,” the girl soothed. “I think we got pork and beans tonight, your favorite.”

The kid’s face lit up, “Yum, let’s go!”

“Race ya!”

The two took off running for the house. The girl slowed as they got closer. Her dad’s truck was in the gravel drive. She could hear him inside talking in a loud voice at their mother. At twelve years of age, Xochi knew her father, his moods and when to steer clear of him. Especially if he had been drinking. She would know as soon as she got inside the door which of his various moods he’d be in. It was her job to keep the little kids quiet so he didn’t erupt and ruin dinner. She clinched her hands into fists, straightened her back and walked in.

Xochi was Indian on her mother’s side and European on her father’s side. They lived on the reservation with her mother’s people. She loved to hear the old ones talk about the past on the reservation. The stories, the language, the traditions, the ceremonies. She would sit and listen; big brown eyes open wide, fine brown hair, long and down to her butt. They would sit on their old chairs, in front of the campfire, the moon overhead; the crickets chirping softly in the background. The old men and old women would weave ancient tales and tell of times when they would fish in the great river and the deer could still be seen as well as the golden mountain lions and brown bears. They would weave tails that seemed to mingle with the smoke from the fire and dance together in the night air, then escape up into the sky. She could lean back against a log and stare up into the sky. When mother moon was out, the stars weren’t as bright. When she was more dim, the stars seemed to glow with their own majesty and fill up the entire, huge sky. Daniel, the brother next in age to her, would lean back and talk about the stars. He had an old astronomy book and he was teaching himself about the constellations.

Constellations – she could hardly say the word.

“There it is, see it?” he pointed up to the sky.

She followed his finger and squinted. “Aw, no…oh, yeah, I can see it now. The Big Dipper!” Elu was excited to be able to see anything. Daniel could make her feel so dumb with all those astrological signs up there he kept seeing.

“Right, and that bright star at the tip, that one points to the Little Dipper. You see it?” He moved his finger over.

Elu strained to look and squinted some more. “Ah….” She still couldn’t see anything.

“Hump, it’s there. You just have to keep looking. It’s not going anywhere.”

Elu felt disappointed in herself for not being able to see the Dipper. “Well, I’ll keep looking until I find it,” she told him. Daniel had already turned back to his book and was reading it with his flashlight. Elu yawned. “I guess we should be getting back.” She looked at her brother. He didn’t say anything. She got up off the log and looked at him. “Daniel…”

He didn’t look up from his book. She shrugged her shoulders and turned to go back to their cabin. Daniel wanted to be a scientist one day, that’s all he talked about. Who knew? She thought to herself, stranger things have happened.

Elu went back on the dirt trail, her feet were bare but the night was still warm and it didn’t matter. She might even be able to get into the bathroom tomorrow and take a bath, if everyone else was gone. Just as long as it wasn’t the cold shower outside. Brr! She got goosebumps even thinking about it. Bullfrogs croaked by the river, they seemed to be talking to each other in their own language. Maybe they were, she thought, maybe they were. A night bird cried as she turned down the path home.

The next day was Saturday. Her father was home sleeping. Elu and the other kids made a quick breakfast of cornflakes from the big economy box. The jug of milk was getting low. It was Elu’s job to mix up more powdered milk and pour it into the plastic jug. She carefully poured the fresh milk into the jug and shook it up and down. She plopped it on the big wood table.

“It’s not cold,” one of the little boys whined. She gave him a hard stare.

“Eat it and shut up.” She gobbled hers up with a big old spoon keeping an eye on her parent’s door. It was closed. This was a good sign. With luck, she could get everyone out before her dad woke up.

She got busy pulling shirts over the heads of the little ones and yanking up shorts.

“But I wanted to watch cartoons,” Sally, one of the younger girls moped.

“We’ll watch them later,” Elu commanded. She didn’t even bother to comb their hair. Screw it. Tomorrow was church and they could get their hair combed then. The girl actually liked church. Maybe not the sermon so much but after, all the people from the res would get together in the center hall and make breakfast. The thought of the cooking bacon almost made her mouth water. And the pancakes! With real syrup! The bomb. Sometimes they even got blueberries or strawberries, she couldn’t wait.

Elu led the kids to the river and they splashed around a little. The sun was getting higher in the sky and she knew they would dry off pretty fast. Down river, they could hear the sound of outboard motors revving up. She knew the boats would come tearing down the river any minute so she hustled the kids up to the rocks above where they could get dry in the sun and watch the speedboats.

They got a good perch on the rocks overlooking the Colorado River. The res was right by the river, by Lake Havasu, on the California side. Elu had a little tie bag with her.  She pulled it out and shook it up and down. Raw peanuts in shells clicked against each other. The kids gathered around and she started handing them out. They began cracking the shells, gathering the nuts and chewing noisily. She pulled out her own treasure, a battered copy of a comic book, Cinderella. She kept it away from the kids so they wouldn’t ruin it. But, if they begged, she would read it to them, again. The retelling and retelling of the story had lost count.

“…and the Fairy Godmother said…” There was a loud roar. A high-speed motor boat raced past on the water below; the custom colors of bright orange, yellow, white and black stripes wrapped around the boat. There was a flag flapping in the breeze at the rear. It reminded Elu of wrapped candies they sometimes saw at the store. A young white couple were in the boat. The guy was wearing a baseball cap and the woman, a blond, was reclining on a backbench, blond hair streaming in the wind. Elu could see her hot pink tube top and crisp white shorts from where she lay above them. It looked like these people didn’t have a care in the world. Not a care.

Someday I’m going to have shorts like that, Elu thought to herself. Very white, very clean. And, hey, maybe a tube top too. But not pink. Maybe orange, a dark orange. Yes, she nodded to herself, definitely orange. And sandals, just like that woman has. Real leather sandals, new. She nodded again  and put those items on her mental list.

Soon the river was busy with traffic and they could see boats racing up and down, some pulling skiers. The kids watched in awe, they never got tired of this show. Pretty glamorous all right. It wasn’t long before the boaters were popping open cans of beer they pulled from big coolers and drinking them down. People would shout at each other like they knew one another. One big happy club.

The sun rose higher in the sky. It was getting toward lunchtime and Elu was thinking about what they had to eat at home.

“Look at that idiot,” Daniel was next to her and pointed. There was a little inlet in the river below them and a lot of boulders that stuck out from the side of the hill.

“Oh, not again,” she said to him and watched.

“Yep, one more time.”

A young white guy and some friends were climbing up the rocks to the top. Elu and her people knew the dead spirits lived down there; down below the rocks. You never jumped in and disturbed them. They had seen people jump in before and sometimes, not come back up. It was unlucky. They watched the first guy climb to the top and wave at his friends just like he had really accomplished something. Elu could feel herself holding her breath.

The guy approached the edge and looked down. He seemed to hesitate. She willed him to go back down. But knew he couldn’t, not now, not when he had told all his friends he would jump. He walked away from the edge, turned around, seemed to gather his courage, ran forward, and jumped off in a big ball, yelling all the way down. There was a splash, a moment later, his head popped back up from the water. Elu let out her breath.

“Come on,” she waved at the others, “I think we still have some bologna at home.” Dutifully, they trouped after her back down the hill.

End of Part II continued

Elu’s Story – Part I

“Come on,” he said smiling.

He waved her toward him. The moonlight glinted off his white-blond hair. With his white polo shirt and tan shorts, he could have been an ad for the good life. A life with him.

She paused. Uncertain. The river water rushed and gurgled as it poured over the low bridge. The bridge they were standing on. An old bridge, built back in the 30’s with Federal money. The sides of the path leading to the bridge were fashioned with heavy, granite rocks. Held fast together with mortar. Old rocks, old mortar. Rocks were set up on edge at the sides of the bridge. Like teeth, they stood sentinel over the river, a warning to not go in, not get too close. The water jumped and raced over the old rocks, the old bridge, playful and laughing. Taunting the old soldiers to let down their guard, come out and play.

Just like Sebastian, bent over in the moonlight, arm extended toward her. A smile on his gorgeous lips, inviting her, again…He was tall, head and shoulders taller than Xochi and well built. He was older now, of course, than when they had first met but…muscles still bulged at the seams of his shirt. The short sleeves exposed those massive, tanned arms. She let out a little sigh.

“It’s cold,” she told him inching forward.

“Naw, it feels good. You’ll get used to it in a minute.” He smiled again and beckoned her with a little wave. His strong, white teeth glowed in his tanned face.

Xochi felt apprehensive, she didn’t know why. She had been up here on this hiking trail forever times. Why tonight? Well it was night, that was one thing. Sebastian, her ex, had invited her on a ‘moon-light stroll’ to help mend fences. They were trying to reconcile their differences and become better parents to their two-year-old daughter. Or, so she thought. Rather, that was what he had been telling her. She wanted to give him a chance, a chance to be a decent father for once. Besides, there was still a little part of her, still in love with the bastard.

She inched forward again. The moon was very full tonight and hung heavy in the Arizona sky. The cool, white moonlight illuminated the old hiking road as it snaked its way up the canyon. Old cottonwood trees dotted the landscape along with masses of rocky hillside that towered over them. The zigzag pattern on the rocks reminded her of pulled taffy like they used to make on the res from brown sugar. That would cook the sugar in huge pots, then lay it down on trays to get cool. So soon as they could, the children would break off pieces and stuff their faces, grinning. There was an occasional croak from a bullfrog. The air smelled damp, moist almost musty. The canyon was old and felt old. An old man, quietly keeping secrets.

She stepped forward and the cold mountain water rushed over her hi-top hiking shoes. She gasped with the cold, hunching her shoulders up, and grabbed his hand. A strong hand, a big hand, warm and inviting. He laughed at her.

“It feels good doesn’t it? Especially when you’ve been hiking awhile and your feet are sore.”

“Yeah, it does,” she laughed a little too. While Xochi loved to hike, she hadn’t been doing much for a while what with taking care of a two-year-old and working.

The two stood there in the night, with the rushing water splashing over their boots, tickling the bottoms of legs. She turned and looked around the canyon. It looked different at night, peaceful, calm. Without the chattering hikers that flooded the place during the day. She liked it like this. She thought she saw a ground squirrel come out and take a peek at the couple and scurry back to its hole.

She let out another sigh and realized that she had been holding her breath. The bridge was the width of one of the wide trams that drove up the hill. She walked over to the other side, holding lightly onto Sebastian’s fingertips. The moon could be seen reflected in the water, a broken orb, rippling in the water. This was so peaceful. It felt like…well…the old days when she first met her daughter’s father. Days when he made her feel safe, secure, loved, before…   He gently pulled her back to him until they were arm to arm, gazing at the water.

There was a harsh cry in the woods, like a startled crow. Xochi jerked her head to the side. Suddenly, she felt like she was losing her balance; at the edge of the bridge. Oh my God! I’m falling. She didn’t even have time to scream before she hit the rocks; her head hitting a large boulder with a loud snap! The light dimmed, she could feel the cold water rushing over her, covering her entire body. Her mouth was in the water, it lapped up close to her nose.

Continued Part II

The Number Nine Bus

                                                      THE NUMBER NINE BUS

I rode my bike up to the bus stop and parked it neatly next to the trash bin and sat myself down on the blue metal bench. Checking my watch, I saw it was ten of six pm.

Okay then, by my calculations, the Number Nine should be here at 6:10 pm.  I have twenty minutes to wait. I can live with that. 

Then, I would mount my bike on the cow-catcher at the front of the bus and be mercifully whisked out of the heat and onto my shopping errand.

Home in time to watch the new Netflix movie and in bed at a decent hour.

I patted my pocket. There were several carefully placed dollar bills and quarters there in case any of the bills stuck in the bus changer. Patiently, I waited and pulled out my IPod and stuck in my ear buds for music.

Through my Raybans I saw them walking across the street, coming my way.

Oh, no. A guy and a girl? Yes, definitely a girl, she’s shorter. Little hard to tell with all the stuff they’re carrying.

Eventually they made it to the bus stop and I looked away into middle distance, not wanting to be part of their space. Sensing my discomfort, the girl sat down with her bag between us and the guy stood up. They were talking to each other but I couldn’t hear with the ear buds.

He said something to me and I had to pull the buds out.

“…bus?  The number nine bus?”

“Yes, yes. This is the number nine bus stop. It should be here any minute.” I said helpfully. I looked at my watch. As a matter of fact, it really should have already been here, it was 6:10pm.

“…you got your bracelet, from New Mexico?” The girl was speaking at me.

“No, not New Mexico,” I replied and kept staring off to the right, away from them.

“….mine it up in the hills there,” she was saying to me. I nodded my head, the buds back in place.

My natural nosiness took over and I looked at them. Both about twenty, they were a complete rag-tag band of assorted styles, genres, mixed clothing, backpacks, bags, hats, jewelry, tats and body piercing everywhere. He was kind of shaky and red in the face.

Is he kicking? Heroin? I thought to myself. Hard to say exactly.

I had to look carefully, there was a plastic baby doll leg pinned to the side of his pack. What was most noticeable was the big green ring he had in his nose. She had nose rings too, but smaller.

I am being kind of an ass, I thought, they’re just kids.

“The bus should be along any minute now. I think maybe it’s running late,” I volunteered.

“Oh, that always happens to us,” she told me and got up and gave the guy a long extended hug.

True love. I thought. Of course, poor and in love.

She came back and sat down again. I got up and stared down the street searching desperately for that bus.

“You guys looking for a shelter ’cause there’s a Salvation Army close by…”

“No, no, we have a place to go. We’re not really hobos…my husband and I just dress like this.”

She seemed very calm with their situation. Pretty face under all the hat, feather and jewelry. He was off staring for the bus too.

“I’m from Spokane,” she volunteered. “Did you know that Spokane and Fresno are the same size? Only Spokane has more people.” This girl seemed desperate to engage me in conversation for whatever reason.

“More rain too I’ll bet,” I ventured.

“Oh, lots more rain but crazy hot this time of year. You wouldn’t believe how hot and electrical storms, lots of electrical storms.”

“Fires?”

“Oh yeah, tons of fires, crazy.” She pulled and picked at her blond hair with bright orange polish fingernails. She wasn’t really looking at me but she didn’t seem bothered by me either.

“How are the buses in Spokane?”

“They are great! Every fifteen minutes and later every half hour,” she nodded her head with assurance.

“Well, the buses in Fresno suck,” I told her looking at my watch again. It was now almost 6:30pm.

 Where the hell it that bus? The mall is going to be closed. I have skin products to buy. Damn it! I need my Clinique.

“We’re going to his Dad’s and seeing about staying the night.” She didn’t seem sure about that.

“Where does he live?”

“Riverpark area,” the guy answered. He had put his backpack down. He suddenly jumped and started hitting the bag. Something flew out and landed. They both studied the ground.

“That’s the most beautiful beetle I ever saw,” she was staring at the little grey thing on the sidewalk.

Yeah, as long as it isn’t crawling around in your backpack.

“Don’t kill it,” she said to him. He was on the ground screwing with the bug, no doubt upset it had frightened him.

“I just don’t know about this bus,” I told them. “It should have been here by now. Don’t know if it’s Saturday schedule or what.” The guy looked concerned.

“Where you going again?” I directed my question to him.

“Riverpark down Blackstone. I remember ‘cause I lived there since I was two.”

I nodded and found the location on my IPod. “This it?” He bent over to look at the phone map but didn’t get too close.   

“Yeah, that’s the place.”

“That’s a beautiful ring!” she was looking at my white pearl and malachite pinkie ring. I knew she wanted to touch it but was careful to keep her hands to herself.

“His father is from Fresno?” I asked her.

“Yeah, Fresno.”

“Well, in that case, I would probably lose the nose rings for a few days.”

She got a disturbed look on her face, frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. It was then I noticed the healed cutting scars up and down her forearm. This girl clearly had some back story. And, probably not happy .

“You know,” she had put some thought in this, “Jesus Christ was persecuted and he wore clothes just like this. We dress like this so we will be persecuted too and still carry the message.”

“Ah,” I replied.

“I don’t change myself to please other people, only to please myself,” she concluded with some finality.

How about pleasing someone enough to get a place to sleep for the night? I didn’t say anything else, her mind seemed made up.  

“I don’t know about this bus,” I said again. It was ten of seven now.

The girl disappeared in to the car wash and came back.

“The Mexican guy says no more buses,” she told us.

Damn it to hell, the Mall is going to close and I’m never going to get my stuff! I almost stamped my feet in frustration.

I walked over to my bike. Maybe I could ride there and back before it got dark.

“Perhaps if you hitch a ride with a truck they can get you to Blackstone,” I ventured.

They weren’t really listening to me anymore.

“I’m thirsty,” she was telling him. He was practically gyrating in place trying to decide what to do.

Oh, well. Guess they’ll just have to take that whole 60’s Love Child, meets Fresno Red Neck and gets ink, rings, Jesus and hits the road becoming homeless on unknown drugs and figure it out.

I got back on my bike and rode toward the mall.

Chap 11 – The Wedding

Chapter Eleven – The Wedding

Here comes the bride…and the minister, and the caterers, the florist, the wedding planner, the makeup artist, the dressmaker, the hair stylist, the photographer and the lists and lists of family friends. Thirty days into this deal and you are both ready to jump on the love boat, sail to Tahiti and get married there. Wow…who knew?

Here’s the thing about your wedding…it is your wedding in name and you may even be paying some of the costs, but, your wedding and his wedding are the time in life when parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, everyone who ever had a hand in your upbringing and life get to celebrate their accomplishment – you. So, although everyone tells you this is ‘your day’ it is really their day, the payoff of all those years of, well, you know. So, let them enjoy your day that they (especially your mother) have helped to create.

The Cost

Wow! Again, who knew it could be so expensive to get married? Let’s go over average costs.

Lauren Schwahn

How much does a wedding cost? A lot, it turns out.

Money – Nerdwallet  6/22/19

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/06/22/how-much-does-wedding-cost/1517727001/

Having a wedding isn’t as simple as saying “I do” – and it’s a lot more expensive.

The national average cost of a wedding is $33,931, according to The Knot’s 2018 Real Weddings Study.

Here’s what you should know about wedding costs and how to realistically estimate what you’ll spend to take the plunge.

Add it all up

Don’t bow to pressure from relatives, friends, social media or spending reports. Your wedding spending should align with your income, regular expenses and other financial goals.

Once you’ve established a budget, decided the kind of wedding you want and begun to compare costs, plug in the numbers. 

What about a simple backyard wedding, reception? Can a lot of costs be reduced that way? Of course and during the time of Covid, more and more couples have been doing just that to minimize personal contact and maximize social distancing. So, before all the vendors start yapping at you, see how much, realistically everyone wants to pay for this day. Yes, it is a very important day, however, it is one day and life does go on after. So, let’s pause. Now is the time to have a talk with mom and dad, and/or the beloved, and to think.

Honeymoon and After

Best recommendation for honeymoon and after is to not spend too much time with mom, dad and family. They all mean well, they really do. But, try as they might, family simply cannot stop with giving advice. This is the birth of a new relationship, a marriage, and the two of you have to build that relationship. There will be fights and hard times. But, if every time there is a squabble over who takes out the trash, if you run home to mom, you are not building the steps to a strong relationship – with him. He needs to be your focus now, not your parents. Time to say good bye, (mom/dad/everyone) love you, and grow up. Growing up can be very difficult. However, you’ve had a good start, family and friends gathered around, lots of gifts, now it’s your turn. To use a corny over used phrase; ‘this is the first day of the rest of your life.’

Make it a good one.

Marriage and life ever after, well, material for another book!

Finis

Cew

          You can see more of Courtney’s work at Amazon/Kindle or Kindle Vella Library.

Read more of Courtney’s writing in:

https://sites.google.com/view/webbywritercom/page-5?authuser=0

Also: Amazon/Kindle