Word Sprints #3

(Parameters: Time: 15 minutes, Format: “Villain POV” Prompt: random dialogue generator)

“You did a bad thing for a good reason.” 

The words were almost lost to the roar of the flames. I barely heard them. The three of us stood above the fiery inferno on our cliff, watching the smoke puff thickly into the night sky. The stars were obscured, as was the dim light of the moon. This was good for us. We planned well.

“It wasn’t a good reason,” I said. “But it was necessary. They wouldn’t listen.”

“Same diff. Let’s go before the po po get here. Good or no, we’ll be blamed if we’re caught standing around and I don’t intend on going back to prison.”

Mal was our muscle. She’s the one that hauled the charges all the way into the forest and lashed them to the trees. She knew the forest best, having hid there for months before we found her as we fled for our lives. Trick gave a cover story for all of us, using his charm and silver tongue to dissuade any suspicion. He used to work for them, until I came. I was the one that hit the button. It was my plan after all, the mastermind. The victim.

They were hiding in there, the kidnappers. The Cannibals. We’d read the papers. We feared for our friends and neighbors. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. I had holes in my thighs shaped like teeth. One of them was from Trick but only because he had to. I forgave him because he got me out. And now, this was our retribution.

I took one step forward and then turned. I looked Trick in the eyes and he gave me a cocky grin.

“I’m sorry. Maybe I don’t forgive you.”

With a quick rush of adreneline to my arms, I shoved the thin boy off the cliff. He teetered and scrabbled and yelled for his life. My finger touched the edge of his hole as he went over the edge and his voice was lost to the fire. Too bad cannibals liked it raw. He wasn’t much of a meal anyway. Mal straightened when I looked at her, daring me.

“No beef,” I said and we walked into the shadows of the trees where three back packs waited for us. We took ours and left Trick’s. He’d be our fall guy. Haha, get it? Fall.

“No meat at all, thank you very much. I’m vegan after this. Sick fucks.”

“Indeed.”

Advertisements

The Green Knight ( Part #3)

(Part #1 HERE) (Part #2 HERE)

Rhys didn’t consider himself an especially brave man. –

He didn’t take unnecessary risks although he liked adventure. He didn’t eat strange foods or desire to travel to exotic lands, except maybe to see famous gardens. He didn’t interact with dangerous people or practice questionable occult rhetoric. He did, however, spend an entire day in a women’s hair Salon and he felt he deserved a place among the pantheon of “Bravest Men Alive.” Or at least a gold medal of some kind in spite of Flora’s “I told you so” smirk.

Women were exhausting and calculating creatures. When he insisted on staying in the Salon all day he’d said it for the sake of the plants, not thinking about the consequences of his actions. He didn’t realize that for eight hours he’d be harassed, questioned, lectured, photographed, flirted with and scolded (this last one mostly by elderly ladies assuming he was preying on innocent young women for nefarious reasons).

When these conversations came about, Flora’s laughter would ring out and she caught his eye in the mirror, her gap-toothed smile unrestrained from the cover of her hand. Occasionally she would swoop in and defend him when she was free of clients but mostly he was left to fend for himself.

She was right when she said he would come to know more than he ever thought he would. For instance, did he know that he was supposed to get his hair trimmed every six weeks to encourage faster growth? Or that dieting was all media-driven bull shit? (He did actually know that.) And that men who were more quiet and cold were more attractive to women because it made them want to dig under the surface?

Even he couldn’t miss that obvious call. It left a bad taste in his mouth.

Rhys left that day with dozens of pictures in his phone of the Salon, dozens more from women who simply got in the way, and a pocket full of phone numbers which he promptly threw in his fire place. When he flopped on his couch in the blessed quiet of his own home, his ears rang with the echoes of Flora’s laughter.

Over lunch she told him that he didn’t have to come back. That if he left her a watering schedule, she would try to follow it and not murder his generous donations.

“I meant what I said,” Rhys reiterated stubbornly, shoving a bite of the kale and lettuce salad he’d crafted from the salad bar at the chosen lunch destination. “I’ll come back and water them.”

Flora munched her deli sandwich, amused, wiping her now colorless lips with a napkin. “Fine then. Come in with me in the morning and do it before everyone gets there. In and out and no one is the wiser.”

“I can do that. Thank you.”

She smiled and they ate in peace, simply enjoying the moment.

She gave him an out several times during the day, insisting she would send him photos every hour on the hour. To this her co-workers jeered and teased, asking what kind of photos and if they were safe for work. She came back every time with something witty and humorous that made everyone feel at jovial and at ease.

He couldn’t stop watching her, trying to catch more glimpses of her colorful tattoos when he wasn’t staring at the floor trying to ignore people. She jangled and flashed and had a ready laugh. An exotic butterfly with wings that mesmerized him. Catching her eyes in the mirror started a fire in his belly, low and slow. It’s presence alarmed him.

Be careful.

Occasionally she would disappear when it was her turn to do the “Psychic” part of the business and it was those times her coworkers would swoop in on him, playing Twenty Questions and trying to get dirt on him.

“What are your plans miho? I see you making eyes at our Flora. She gotta marry a rich man!”

“You gonna be coming around here regular-like? We gonna put you to work then!”

“Hey what can chu do besides grow things? Do you have a job or what?”

“What’s with all the green stuff? It’s like a jungle in here now. Can I call you Tarzan and put a loin cloth on you?” (This from the high maintenance resident gay man.)

It was too much. He saw how Flora fit in with the gaggle of squawking geese but he didn’t understand why she put up with it.

Rhys groaned and threw an arm over his face. Why was he even doing this? Flora was not the kind of person he gravitated toward when he was looking for companionship. His types were more the tea drinking, book shopping, gardening variety. Quiet, like him, prone to philosophical discussions, and better when they each had their own spaces. People that didn’t trigger him.

Everything about her was a trigger for him, although not in the usual bad way. He found he didn’t mind the burn in his belly or her symphony of sounds and colors. She fascinated him. What was her story? Why did she choose to open a salon, of all things? Why here in his sleepy little town? Why all the tattoos? 

He was a little ashamed that he ran out on her at the end of the day, especially after he insisted on staying. She was in the back and one of her clients was preparing to alight his lap to take a selfie, all legs and perfume and heaving breasts. It had been his limit. Until then no one had touched him. He’d managed to dodge the pats and pets coming at him from every direction with a shift of a limb or twist of his torso.

He stood, careful to avoid the woman, and beat it to his jeep before anything else could happen. He peeled out from the curb into honking, angry traffic, controlling his breaths and clenching the wheel like he was going to break it. His vision was blurred and he blinked rapidly to clear it. Calm down. Calm down!

Too close. All of it. Too close. Stupid, stupid! He shouldn’t have tried to push himself.

He turned on the country music station to soothe his ruffled feathers and drove the scenic route home, using the road and the trees and the wind to calm him. Mile by mile, his shoulders relaxed and he eased off the accelerator. He was breathing normally by the time he neared his neighborhood and his heart rate slowed. It had been too close to the line he didn’t cross. All the bodies, the perfume, the coquettish women…

He would apologize later. Maybe with some lilies or some hydrangea that were in bloom, though it would pain him to cut them. He’d been a crappy guest. Right now he couldn’t think about that though. He needed to prune and water, transplant and check on seedlings. Yes. He needed his hands in the dirt, grasping living unfeeling things to calm his thoughts and then he would make a watering schedule for Flora’s plants. But he wouldn’t give it to her. He would go back. He had to. He had to see more.

He began by transplanting some Amaryllis into a decorative pot and giving them a generous soaking. As he emptied the can, he couldn’t help noticing the color was the exact same shade red as Flora’s tattoo.

__________________________________________

Flora had her own routine for calming down at her place. She picked appropriately obnoxious music, cranked the volume to the max and sat in a ball on her couch, ignoring the world. She let the vibrations of the music sink into her tight muscles and the little knots of anger in her brain loosen. She’d stopped caring about the bangs and shouting from her neighbors a long time ago when this happened.

She didn’t blame Rhys. Not one bit. And she should have tried harder to make him go. She saw how tightly he was wound after lunch. It was her fault for keeping him there, enjoying the fact that people connected her to him. It was selfish and it hurt him in the end.

When she’d come out of the back with her client and found him missing with a cluster of desperate housewives bad mouthing him, it didn’t take much to connect the dots. Flora strode over to the women, scalding them with a blistering tongue lashing and held the door open for them. They cussed her out and swore to put her bad customer service all over social media.

Oh no. Not social media!” Flora sneered at the girls. “Run along now, and yap elsewhere.”

“Crazy gringa bitch. We gonna shut you down!”

Flora flipped them the bird with a green tipped nail. “I’ll beat your chubby cellulite asses with my curling irons if you come back here again.”

After making sure the women were truly gone and not going to throw a brick through her window she turned and smiled at her remaining clients, who refused to look her in the eye. Some moved to grab their purses and she held out her hands, her bangles jangling.

“I’m sorry y’all. I had a crazy white girl moment. Today, all fees for hair cuts and alternative services are waived.”

A cheer went up and there was an excited buzz inside the Salon. Many of the women went for their phones to spread the good news and invite their relatives to come. Flora met Eta’s eye and the older woman held up her hands in surrender.

“You’re crazy miha,” she whispered when Flora came near, prepping her station for a grueling day at work. She felt the eyes of the other hair dressers burning holes in her back as well and heard puta aimed at her several times. Family, right? Love them and hate them.

“I’ll take the brunt of it Eta,” she said firmly. “You can take the fees out of my paycheck. It’ll cover the over time for the other guys.”

“Idiosa. As if I would do that. Their lazy asses can work hard for once. It won’t kill them, si?”

Her hands stopped Flora’s hurried movements and forced her to look up. Flora’s eye rested at her chin, a sign of shame, not looking directly into her eyes.

“You realize what you did, right?”

She didn’t actually. She had zero control over herself when she heard the cougars talking about Rhys. Like a red flag in a bull’s face, she just charged.

“I’m sorry Eta,” the smaller woman whispered, blowing out a frustrated breath.

“Who is he to you that you would kick out customers in our Salon miha? You’ve known him all of five minutes.”

Flora reclaimed her hands and reordered her utensils, trying to come up with an understandable answer. Who was he, besides some stranger she had a feeling about? How could she explain that to an outsider?

“He’s someone from my past,” she said carefully. “Someone I’ve known about for a long time.” She gave Eta a pointed look, gray eyes hard on her face.

Flora hadn’t divulged a lot of her past with the older woman because ignorance meant Eta didn’t disappear mysteriously. But for the sake of their business partnership, she felt it was fair to mention she had unsavory relatives, dangerous kinds, and that there were things she couldn’t say that Eta would have to be satisfied with not knowing. Explaining the importance of Rhys in her life was one of those things. Flora herself didn’t know exactly what Rhys meant to her but nipping the subject in the bud for now was the best she could do.

“Let’s just get through it, okay? Go and buy a round of Tequila Sunrises for everyone afterward at El Vita.”

Eta looked like she wanted to push for more details but Flora kept her eyes sharp so she let it go and made a show of her response to cast off suspicion from the others.

“Mio dios miha now you speaking my language! Drinks on the white gringa!”

There was a round of cheers and a new bounce to the employees the last hours at the salon. 

She and the others had worked well past closing time, giving away free dye jobs, tarot sessions, chakra cleansings, dream interpretations, hair extensions, waxings and magic spells. As busy as she was, the anger didn’t leave Flora despite being completely drained of everything else. She stayed quiet the rest of the day, preferring her own thoughts to conversation, and only staying at El Vita’s for one round of drinks before she cut out and drove home.

There’s something about him, Flora thought, glaring from her couch at her thrift store box TV. The more I’m around him the more possessive I get. I have no right.

Her eyes traveled up the cracked wall to a large cross hanging there, hand-made with copper wire and a rainbow of gem stone beads. It reminded her of her aunties, who were always surrounded by colorful scarves and jewelry. She recalled their chubby faces and their words floated up from the depths her memory.

Your instincts are never wrong Florinda. Your heart can be fickle and your mind will play tricks but your instincts never lie. You must learn to listen to them and you will never be in trouble.”

Instincts. Was it instinct that drew her to him? He wasn’t anything special when she first saw him at the Garden Center. Just a sort of handsome guy with a ton of nearly dead plants. Interesting story there but not someone who would garner a female’s attention immediately, especially after how cold he’d been. And yet she gave him her card. Her awful cheesy business card for her embarrassing job. Why in the hell did she give this guy her BUSINESS address? Normally it was her name and cell on a piece of stationary she kept in her car.

And yet he’d come. Admitted he washed the card on accident but then instead of calling or e-mailing her (it was on the website) he’d come in person to a place that obviously made him want to run screaming for the hills. And he claimed he wanted to keep coming back. That was something. It couldn’t just be her feeling the connection.

She wanted to know what he felt, what he thought about her. Was it only her who felt it? She wanted to ask but she knew he would never be forth coming about something so personal and unreal. The need to find out pressed on the back of her skull like a sensitive bruise ever since she’d met him. He could be one of the most important people she’d every met; a catalyst she needed to prepare for. Or he could be no one. 

If left up to him, she would never know. She could check though. She had the means and he would never be the wiser for it.

Another conversation, a less kind one, came bouncing into Flora’s head and she sat up, flushing with a latent anger, her fingers curling on the cushions like claws.

“She’s afraid of fire.”

Flora sat on the floor, her freckled face scrunched in concentration, staring hard at the dark-haired girl in front of her who was crying silent tears.

“Too easy! You need to go beyond the surface!”

There was a sharp rap to the back of her head and Flora jerked forward, not understanding what was needed of her. Mother spoke in riddles a lot and became irritated if she didn’t catch on right away. The other girl, a cousin, “volunteered” for her experimenting and sat in front of her. She looked terrified, brown eyes wide at the truths Flora had already uncovered about her; truths no one but her should ever know. Flora squeezed her trembling hands. trying to give comfort when there was none to give. She knew she was a monster.

Having a connection to someone, seeing their wants and fears on the surface won’t get us what we need from them. You need to sink into them, to become them and look through every memory.

I can’t do that Mama!” Flora argued, flinching in reaction to the quick hand movement toward her face. This time, a sharp faceted ring caught in her hair after the blow and yanked out a few strands of honey brown.

Find me something useful Florinda or you won’t get any food for an entire day. Maybe a clear head and stomach will make you focus better.”

But I don’t control the visions. They come to me–”

What do you think we are learning here child? Control! You saw the man in your dream because he will be important in your life one day. You made a connection to him in the astral plane. If you can develop that ability with anybody, you’ll be able to look for secrets. We need those secrets.”

But why?” she whispered, eyes tearing up from the pain and frustration.

Because as gypsies, we deal in secrets. The rest is just for show.”

Secrets. Flora knew lots of secrets that she tried to forget and she wasn’t in the market to learn anymore. She was furious with herself for even thinking of using it on Rhys, even for a flash of a second. She rose and flipped off the stereo, turning down the volume nob so she wasn’t deafened when she turned it back on again then she went into her room. She start divesting herself of jewelry and clothing. What she needed was a soothing and cleansing bath.

She was standing naked in her bathroom, waiting for the water to get hot, deciding which bath bomb she wanted to use when her phone started to ring. She looked at it, then at the clock on her headboard. Who was calling her at 11 at night? She swiped open the screen to reveal an unfamiliar number. She hesitated for a second and then answered it.

Hello?”

There was no answer.

Hello? Anyone there?”

There were a few moments of breathing. Just breathing. There WAS someone on the other line. But they weren’t saying anything. They were listening. The hairs on her arm pricked and she ended the call, throwing the phone on her bed like it was poisonous. Her heart beat out a furious rhythm against her rib cage and it was hard to catch a full breath. Who was it? Was it Rhys? Or a wrong number? Or someone else?

Icy fear cracked an egg on top of her head and oozed liquid nitrogen down her neck and shoulders. She slumped bare-assed on her toilet, her legs twitching with the need to move, to run, as they always had when strange things started happening to her. She didn’t stay alive this long by staying put and ignoring her gut. This at least, her aunties taught her well.

She had money stashed. Eta would trade her cars in a heart beat, had always ogled the shiny Pink VW Bug over her old rusty Cadillac. Flora had a no real plan except to travel east into the big cities where she could get lost and her family’s influence had a tenuous grip. She’d cut her hair again, bleach it down and become someone else. Rent a station at another salon under her other identity, the one she bought before running away. Start over again and disappear into the shadows.

Hold on now,” Flora said aloud, her voice a soft counter point to the water still thundering in the bath tub. “It could have been a mis-dial. A co-worker drunk dialing me to freak me out because they’re assholes.”

Or it could have been Rhys, she thought wistfully. But no. He’d washed her card and she didn’t think to give her cell out to him again. Three dots make a line. I’ll start packing when I see dot number two. I’m just wound tight from the day and jumping at shadows.

Flora reached over and chose a colorful bath ball at random from the stack in a basket by the tub. It was deep red and white like the Dianthus bunch tattooed on her ribs. She let out a deep steadying breath and plugged the tub, tossing the ball in. She stood there watching it froth and flow in the ripples.

Instincts.

She detoured to her bedroom for a moment and got down on both knees to lift the blankets off the floor on the side of her bed. She groped around in the dark for a minute and finally hooked a finger around the handle of a duffel bag. She tugged it a little and it came toward her reluctantly, wedged tightly under the box spring slats, bulging with necessities. She fought with it until it was at the edge of her bed and then abandoned it. She sighed and tucked the strap back under the bed.

Just in case.”

Our First Dump: what we grew out of the manure

“My gawd our first house was a dump,” I said from the floor as Mikhail passed by on his way out back.

He paused and knelt to look over my shoulder, fingertips caressing my neck and slipping under my neckline to brush over the swell of my breast. Cheeky monkey.

“Good memories there for sure,” he agreed, his tone playful.

I smirked up at him, a flash of passion igniting between us. Wrinkles and all, we still had it.

“Indeed. If those walls could talk. Or the floor. Or the counter tops…”

My fingers gripped the shiny pages of one of the photo albums I was searching through  and a picture had caught my attention. It was an unflattering shot of a dingy beige one bedroom house with falling apart rain gutters, cobb-webby, over grown hedges, a broken up walk way and a dirt driveway half laid with brick. One window had been broken, probably by some stupid kids on a dare, and there was a sizable hole in the roof right in the living room.

It was dirt cheap, a bank foreclosure on the market for years and marked down to practically nothing. There was so much wrong with it that the work needed to make it livable would have cost about as much as buying a newer home. It was in the middle of a spread out cul du sac, the ugly pimple of a house on a street of roughly polished jewels. The neighborhood had probably come up around that little shack of a house it looked so old and outdated.

I wanted it immediately, much to the chagrin of my husband.

“You’re crazy Jen! We can’t live there. Not even the Munsters would live there.”

It was everything we weren’t looking for. Small, one bedroom, next to people on the city outskirts and a massive fixer-upper. We couldn’t even move into it immediately because it needed to be re-roofed and fumigated first. What sold me though was that it was on an acre of land. Uncultivated weed and rock strewn potential with a chain link fence property line. I stood there and my mind soared with possibilities. Bonus was that it was near to the university Mik wanted to work at.

When I went into the realtor and placed my bid on the decrepit property, I could see the surprise and the relief on the agent’s face. One less ugly duckling to try to foist off on people. As soon as I’d gotten the call that the house was ours, I drove myself over to the bank and had gotten a line of credit to start making improvements immediately. And then my life was consumed with Auto Cad, tape measures, floor plans, building materials, phone calls and negotiations with contractors while trying to decide what to unpack at the rental, living out of boxes and settling my husband into his new job and learning a new town.

I flipped through the detailed photographs of the interior, the before and after photos and I paused to admire our handy work. Mik and I, we were good together. We had similar taste profiles when it came to decorating and color schemes. We loved the idea of trying to bring the outdoors in so we had a lot of natural tones inside with pops of bright color to break up the monotony. Forest green with orange, butter yellow with lily pink, celestial purple and chocolate bronzy brown.

“Remember this Mik? This was our first argument ever I think.” I pointed to a painting that took pride of place above our couch.

“The Pesky Flower Painting. I remember that day. Belligerent red-head.”

I’d bid on it an an auction that we happened upon one day while furniture shopping. We barely had any walls up at the time so shopping for decor was pointless but I liked to look anyway to get inspiration and ideas. The piece had been done in oil paints and it was two feet tall by three feet wide. It was impressionistic in style with florals but had deep bold colors and large round flowers. It was so very unlike the Monet copy cats I’d seen everywhere with their chinzy sweet pea vines and pastel lotus blossoms floating on blue-green ponds.

It was still generic, I admit. Something even I could have painted with a little effort and time. And it didn’t really suit our breezy au natural decor. But, like the house, I had to have it. It had been done by a local artist who apparently had a fan base in town. I got into a bidding war with another woman over it. Mik had attempted to reason with me about it, trying to focus my attention back to the task at hand and let it go. The amount of money this stupid painting was getting from me was ridiculous and something my budget really couldn’t afford.

But I always got what I wanted, be it husband, house or painting.

“It’s for a good cause Mik,” I snapped, when he tried to tug my numbered paddle away playfully. “We’re supporting our community.”

“Seriously Jen. You don’t need it. Let it go.”

“Mikhail!”

My sparky green eyes met his stubborn brown and I resolutely held my paddle up for the next bid increment: $375. When his lips pursed and his thick brows came down, I knew I’d irked him. He walked out of the hall and I stayed to watch the artist sign the painting in front of me, not really hearing what she was saying. I glanced at the other woman bidder and she stuck her nose up in the air at me.

Well okay. No one was going to be happy with me that day apparently.

The painting had started a love of hand made art in us as a couple though, after Mik had gotten over the exorbitant amount I’d spent on it. Whenever we traveled I sought out pieces to add to our collection; pieces somewhat more interesting and unique than the “Pesky Flower Painting” as we’d come to call it.

It had started another tradition between us as well and I smiled as I turned to a page that had nothing on it but a single photograph, a dried pressed flower and a rectangle of white card stock with my loopy cursive written on it. The photograph showed nothing but a freshly churned acre of smelly manure filled dirt at the back of the house and a large white basket sitting on a broken chair with balloons tied to it.

I felt bad about the painting. I get crazy obsessed some times and there’s no stopping me. Mik tries to tame the beast sometimes and sometimes I even listen. I didn’t commit a grievous sin this time but I still wanted to make up for it. Plus the stress of juggling a new job, unpacking, contractors and family had us both fraying around the edges. We needed something for us, to reconnect.

So I spent more money.

But this was money I had set aside in the budget already that my dear patient husband didn’t know about. It was a surprise I had intended to spring on him when the house was more finished but after seeing how much he was taking on, I thought I’d move the time line up a bit. All I had to do was have him to be gone for a weekend and that didn’t take too much convincing on my part. He was very close-knit with his family.

I had to fit the newly hired contractors around the plumbers and the carpenters but lucky for me, chain link fences were easy to mow down and the workers didn’t really impede with each other all that much. I talked with a man in a polo shirt and jeans and showed him a few drawings I’d cobbled together from my conversations with Mik. For $30 an hour he gave me his professional opinion and a list of trustworthy resources that would give me good prices if I dropped his name. When I told him I needed it done in a weekend, he paused only for a moment and then immediately got on his cell.

“Hey, Paul, I got a client who needs a quick job done for the week-end…”

I ordered sub sandwiches and ice-cold lemonade for the workers and watched from my newly roofed house as my brand new fence was installed. I did some work on my lap top while dump trucks hauled off dirt and then brought more dirt in, along with a healthy pile of manure which had me seeking the relaxing environment of a coffee house near by for a good portion of one day. I spent another half a day scowling at google maps as it led me on wild goose chases through towns that didn’t even have a dot on the map and huge cities I got hopeless lost in.

I barely heard the navigator over my stream of cussing and horn honking.

But I did not come back home in vain. I did have my white basket and my balloons and it had been filled with colorful goodies and ugly dingy lumps in plastic bags and glossy packets fanned out artistically over tools with my cheesy note on top of it all. I set it on a broken chair that morning and watched as the last of my $1500 budget rolled away and the final piece of fence was put into place.

I took one picture and waited for Mik to come home, spending the time picking out a cute but sexy sun dress and arranging my hair back from my face. The better to kiss him with, my dear. I had a picnic lunch ready for us to eat on a makeshift table (home-made pizza, of course) and floor pillows in what was going to be our living room.

He knew something was up when he pulled into the drive way and I was waiting for him by the front door, all smiles and sexiness. Or it could have been the heavy manure smell. I didn’t let him question me. I can’t lie worth a damn. I stood on tip toe and pulled one of his tie around his eyes, blocking his view.

“Really Jen? There are workers all around still you know. I’m sure their noise would mask yours but–”

“Hey you pudd I’m not a horn dog ALL the time!”

He smiled and my heart pooled into a gooey puddle in my rib cage. That gap-toothed grin made me fall in love with him all over and over again. I slid my arm around his waist and led him carefully through the studs that were framing our walls, nudging tools away from his big feet.

“I smell pizza,” he said upon entering the living room.

“Really? THAT was the first thing you smelled?”

“Well no.” He swiveled and ducked his head down to breathe in the scent of my hair. “The first thing I smelled was my lovely wife and she has the best smell in the world after a long trip away from home.”

Guh. So much love for this man.

“Pizza is a close second though.”

“Don’t worry. I told Pizza you loved it and you’d come home soon. It didn’t miss you too badly.” I pulled him to stand in front of the sliding glass door leading to the back yard (soon to be replaced with a glass pane door) and I pressed myself against his back, relishing the feel of him in my arms.

I could have this all the time now. I didn’t have to wait months at a time to feel his warmth against me. I didn’t have to squeeze as much love and memories as I could into a weekend and then fly back to the reality of my life. Mik was mine now; my husband. My life mate. We were living together and only a few steps away from a cuddle or a kiss. Sometimes the thought was so overwhelming I cried.

“I love you Mikhail.”

His hands caressed my arms side to side, comforting and waiting for me to settle again.

“I love you too Jeniveve.”

I reluctantly let go and stood in front of him again, sliding my fingertips up his face and pulling his head down for a sweet soft kiss. Then I opened the doors, gagging on the shit smell, and carefully led him outside.

“Jen, what did you do?”

‘Welcome home, my beloved.”

I took the blind fold off and watched his face as he took it all in. The new fencing around the property, tall enough to keep prying eyes away. The mounds of fresh dirt, landscaped into pleasant rolling hills around the property, creating curve and depth and texture. The ground churned deeply and sown with fertilizer to accommodate whatever plants we were going to grown there.

“We can put our little tea gazebo there maybe,” I said, pointing to the far corner of the yard. “And a fountain there. Or there. Maybe a pond if you want. I have a little room for my herb garden here on the trellis by the kitchen window. See? Oh! And there’s a plot for the green house. I made it extra big for you.”

My husband wasn’t one given to exclamation point feelings. He didn’t burst out laughing or gasp with surprise as I did. He stood there, taking it all in and I could see the wheels turning in his head. I tried to be patient and let him absorb it all. I tired not to worry that I’d done it all wrong and it was terrible and nothing like how he wanted it. After all, my memory had a culmination of years of discussions regarding our first garden. Did I get it wrong? Had he changed his mind, seeing it all now?

“Jen–”

“Here!”

I gestured to the basket and he glanced down at it. The balloons said “Congrats!” and “Welcome Home!” on them. Inside were a two pairs of gloves, his and hers, a set of trowels, dozens of seed packets and bags of bulbs, some which I had hoarded that year from the Breck’s catalog, taking note of which flowers he’d been mooning over, and some found at nurseries all over the county. There were tulip bulbs his mother had given me from back at his home and a cutting of the very first Coleus I’d ever grown from seed. There were tiny seedling succulents native to California where I was from and in the middle of it all a fat purple dahlia plant, the exact type and shade as the one in the Pesky Flower Painting. On this was my note, which read “Let’s plant roots together. The first of many.”

So cheesy, I know. But it’s us.

He wordlessly drew me into a hug and we stayed there for a long time, saying nothing. I don’t know if he cried. His face was pressed tightly against my head but his heart never faltered from its steady rhythm. The Pizza was stone cold by the time we’d roused ourselves. I almost missed when he whispered in my ear.

“Thank you for being my home Jeni.”

I smiled, a little teary, and replied, “Always. As long as we both shall live.”

See, the painting had been the start of one of MY dreams; to own my own home with my loving husband and fill it with our shared accomplishments. To have stories of our travels together and photo albums full of memories. To me the paintings represented the end of an era and the reward for our years of waiting and long distance traveling to see each other. We had things TOGETHER now. Granted we didn’t exactly buy the painting together but it was the first thing I hung in our first house and the first place we made love was on the couch underneath it.

But the garden for Mik was HIS dream realized. Other than me, of course. My dream was always on the inside. His was on the outside. He’d talked about planting gardens across America, leaving a legacy of greenery behind him. Not just him though. US. Planting seeds and sowing roots and watching patiently together as they grew. Getting our hands dirty in the soil side by side. Sharing the responsibility of watering and weeding and fertilizing. Watching as the flowers slowly bloomed, another reward for all the hard work and patience.

Gardening and Jeni, his two dreams coming together as one. A home with Mik, my dream realized at last. 15 years, 8 houses, 3 book shops, one tiny house trailer, and 10 different cities we’d lived together and we were still going strong.

I shut the photo album and lunged in to bite my husband’s neck, gently scraping my teeth over the sensitive skin.

“Hey there,” he murmured, settling next to me and sneaking his cool fingers underneath the hem of my shirt. The tips traced the edge of my pants and I gave a cheeky smile.

“Haven’t you sown enough seed for one day you ol’ Jack rabbit?”

“Never is enough with you. I don’t think the neighbors heard us the first time.”

“Damn. Gotta fix that then,” I said and invited him in for a deep kiss.

Fire Flight

It was strange to be burning hot and shaking with mind-numbing cold.

The fire raged above her, eating up her home like a ravenous beast. It was beautiful against the starlit sky but she hated it. Fire destroyed everything with callous disregard. Forests. Cities. Books. Homes. HER home. The deep snow engulfed her all around, spilling from the sides of her human shaped hole onto her front, soaking her flannel pajamas and making the burns on her skin sting. She remembered admiring the fat white flakes falling earlier that day from the attic window and she was grateful now that it hadn’t stopped. Her flight from the second story window could have been much worse than just bruises without the thick blanket of white coating the yard. The Professor might even be dead since he struck the ground face down. He still wasn’t moving from the spot where he’d fallen but he was breathing.

That was all that mattered. She could only deal with that much right now.
She stared up at the pockets of flame shooting from the windows of the first and second story windows. The orange and yellow interrupted the deep heavy blue of the night sky, creating smoke that obscured the stars. An oppressive hate blossomed in her chest that the night remained perfectly normal, clear and beautiful while her entire world burned to ash. She hissed when a chunk of snow hit her scorched face and melted. She let the tears come then. Tears of pain and hate and guilt mingled with the snow still falling gently. She’d been brave enough to save herself and the Professor but what about the maid? The cook? The taciturn butler? Did she condemn them to a death full of pain and agony? Could she have gotten to them if she hadn’t been so panicked and selfish, thrusting herself out of the window after the Professor?
The thought made her instantly sick and she was barely able to toss her head to the side so she didn’t vomit on her shirt. She gagged on the acid bile coating her mouth and gasped for air, trying to clear the obstruction in her throat. She shoved herself away from the orange mess and collapsed on a cushion of fresh snow. More of it cascaded down on her face and she opened her mouth, drank it in.
What now? she thought. The pain was worsening where the flames had licked her skin. She wondered if she’d be hideously scarred now, like Frankenstein’s monster. It would be one more reason to hide her away in the attic. Not just a freak now but a monster too.
There was a moan above her head. Her toes were starting to go numb. A vague part of her brain knew that was a bad sign. So tried to wiggle them but couldn’t tell if she was successful. Could she walk? Would her body let her? A crunch of snow made her crane her head around, eyes blurry with melted water and ash and tears.
“Professor?” she called, struggling to raise up onto her elbow so he could see her.

She swallowed to try and soothe her smoke ravaged throat, coughing with the effort. Her burnt skin resisted the movement and she gasped in pain, quickly lying flat again. She wiggled and dislodged more snow, cascading it onto her arms, swallowing the squeal of pain. Vaguely she remembered the best thing for burns was to keep them cool and the the Professor disliked when she showed weakness of any kind.
What an odd thing to recall when the world was coming down around her ears.
“Professor I’m here!” she croaked. “Are you alright?”
A dark figure stepped beside her and hot tears of relief leaked out of her eyes. He was okay. Thank God. Her relief was so great that the subtle wrongness of the silhouette against the flames was lost on her. The man was tall and thin where the Professor was short and portly.
“You poor child,” the voice murmured, sympathy curling through it like a caress.
A pair of arms slid underneath her, jostling her burns and scraping her frozen skin harshly. She cried out but did little to resist. She was half-frozen and crippled with too many emotions warring for dominance inside her small body. She wanted to be selfish and seek comfort in the Professor. She wanted to soak up his stingy affection like a half-starved child and let him take care of her. After all, he was the closest thing to a father figure she could remember having.

She was gently lifted into the air and cradled against a chest. The arms didn’t shake at all under her slight weight as they started to traverse through the thickly mounded snow. She was small, even for her age. A strong man like Professor wouldn’t have a problem with it. She closed her eyes against the orange inferno, saying good bye to her only home. Her heart ached but there was nothing they could do. She didn’t think about where they would go. She just silently cried into the warm chest as they moved away.
A call came out of the night made her head lift briefly.
“Nona? Girl! C’mon girl where are you? Girl!”
She didn’t call out but a little knot inside her released. At least one more was okay. She would keep praying for the other ones to emerge unscathed. Maybe the Professor would find them after. He probably had it all worked out. he knew what to do and where they were going. The Professor never moved without a plan. She didn’t need to do anything but lay in the supportive arms, fighting the heat and cold simultaneously.
“What now Professor?” she whispered, her thin voice harsh from the smoke and bile.
“We go home, child.”
She gave a tiny smile. HOME. Of course. The house with all it’s books and treasures was just a building. Home. It was a feeling, a person, a memory. She’d been taken in at her worst and the Professor patiently waited for her to become her best over the last months. They would rebuild if they had each other. The others would come too. They had to.

Nona slipped into nothingness, her feet swaying over the arms of a man who had done this hundreds of times before.

The Green Knight (Part #2)

(Part #1 HERE)

The interior of the lounge was thick with cigarette and cigar smoke when a tall skinny man walked in. Fresh air from the door opening moved the clouds around in a frenzy before they settled again. He ignored the sexy women sitting and standing around trying to catch his eye and the suspicious gaze of the men watching him make a path to the back. When he approached a gold painted door at the back, two large bouncers with guns blocked his bath with crossed arms and severe scowls.

“What you crawling back here for, street rat?” the blond one in the tank top asked.

“He didn’t learn his lesson last time,” the other snickered, flexing his dark skinned muscles against his white t-shirt.

The shorter man didn’t say a word but held up his phone to their faces and waited, a smug expression in place. The ‘roided out bouncers squinted at the phone and then snatched it out of his hand. There was a silent communication between the two; the fear and hope that the one who came forward would bring good news. The blonde one knocked on the door (seeming to win/lose the bet) and a foreign reply was shouted through. He was gone for a minute and then another face appeared, much older, more wrinkled and infinitely more deadly.

Her eyes were as keen and cold as a snake’s.

“Such a clever and resourceful rat. Come. You have been graced with an audience.”

______________________________________________________

Rhys was waiting for Flora as she strolled up to her salon a few days later She was wearing a pair of paint splattered overalls, a sky blue midriff and a bright yellow bandanna in her hair, tied up like a head band. She had on large aviator sunglasses and she jangled, her multitudes of bracelets in place. Her earrings were laser cut sugar skulls and she carried a bulging spiked leather bag across her body.

“Hey stranger,” she greeted with a red-lipped smile as she neared. “You’re here early. You really are a glutton for punishment huh?”

He felt a bit of tension go out of him as he surveyed her easy smile and laid back greeting. Because of her curt exit the last time they’d parted he was concerned that he’d done something to upset her and it made him anxious for their next meeting. But all seemed to be well.

“I was checking up on your poor doomed plant. Figured I’d stop by.”

His eyes traveled down her ensemble, the neon hurting his eyes in the morning light and he focused instead on the pops of color on exposed skin where she proudly showed her tattoos. What he had originally thought was stained glass or abstract paintings were actually flowers. He recognized belladonna, peonies, lilies, roses, tulips, oleander, freesia and Dianthus among the bouquet and found it was hard to take his eyes away when she stopped in front of him. He wanted to examine them more closely and see if they were true to form.

“Your tattoos–” he started.

“Yeah I know,” she interrupted with a deep sigh. “Kind of obvious right? With my name  meaning flowers and all. But beautiful flowers are always noticed.” She elbowed him playfully. “And I like being noticed.”

He closed his mouth, the question dying on his lips. As if the pink hair and neon wardrobe wouldn’t do that already.

“So what ARE you doing here so early? I didn’t expect you for another week at least.” she asked, taking a wad of keys out of her bag and selecting one for the door. “And probably more toward the afternoon. It’s an ungodly hour to be awake.”

“Better with no customers around,” he said simply, shrugging when she looked at him with eye brows raised.

“That’s true. And you get to avoid my She-Wolf Pack. Smart man. Come on in.”

She held the door open for him and he walked past her, breathing in some of her floral perfume. Sweet and warm. She locked the door behind him and set her bag down on one of the couches up front, unzipping it and taking out some containers. He watched her and contemplated. What was that scent that tickled his nose? Jasmine? Rose. Definitely something rosy in it, but musky too. Sandalwood? He normally didn’t like perfume because it always smelled so fake and gawdy and it made him sneeze. This was subtle and natural. Was it oils then? He wanted to ask but she was already talking again.

“Sorry I ran out on you the other day. I had a trippy memory come back to me from my childhood. PTSD kicked in. It wasn’t anything you did.”

He was relieved that it wasn’t him that made her upset and that she’d cleared the air between them. It made his task that much more pleasant without the dark cloud of doubt hanging over him.

“It’s fine,” he said simply and shoved his hands into his pockets. His shoulders relaxed a smidge. “Thanks.”

She took off her sunglasses and threw them in her bag.

“Good. Have you eaten yet?”

“Uh—”

She laid out several tupperware containers and gestured for him to sit. When he didn’t she looked up at him pointedly with blue shadow streaked eyes. He sat on the edge of the couch to her left and watched her pop off lids with her newly painted rainbow nails.

“Here. Blueberry lemon bread, whole wheat banana chocolate chip bread, yogurt and granola parfait with fresh fruit, mushroom and bell pepper omelet and a selection of teas. We have hot water in the back.”

“You made all this today?”

Everything was still steaming as if it were fresh out of the oven.

She smiled at him and gave him a piece of banana bread on a napkin.

“I’m a morning person,” she said and reached for the omelet. She divided it with a fork and ate her half straight out of the container. He took a tentative bite out of his bread and chewed.

“I thought you said mornings were ungodly.”

“To most other people it is. Good right?” she asked.

He nodded and took a bigger bite. Satisfied, she rose and got hot water from the back in two chipped mugs.

“Do you always make this much food for breakfast?”

“I had some nervous energy to get out. I bake when that happens. Besides, I knew I had to be prepared for when you came back. Breakfast is easier to start people off on when they try new things. It’s light and non-committal, unlike lunch or –GASP–dinner.”

She winked at him when he gave a small smile and continue to eat. He enjoyed the solitude and the meal. The tea she gave was a green variation and he sipped it slowly to savor it. While they ate, Rhys looked around the shop and his eyes picked out potential roosts for the plants he had in the bed of his jeep. He’d brought a wide selection of varying sun/shade plants and flowers based on the lay out of the Salon he’d remembered. But he felt dismayed now seeing that there was little shelving or surface area to put them on.

“Are you allowed to put shelves up?” he asked, a tiny frown appearing between his brows.

Flora nodded and finished her bite.

“We have some. We just didn’t have anybody to hang them. Or the time.

“The owner won’t get mad if we put holes in the wall?”

She answered as she walked back for more hot water and dropped another bag ito his steaming cup.

“She’ll be fine with it.”

“Could you call and ask anyway? Just to be sure?”

She cocked an eyebrow at him.

“So demanding. I rather like this quality. Say something else, Mr. Demandy-pants.”

“It wasn’t a demand–”

She shushed him and dug out her phone, dialing a number. Rhys twitched when the Salon phone rang and Flora rose to answer it.

“Hey boss we got a guy here that’s worried about putting holes in the wall for shelves. Is it cool?”

She looked ridiculous with two phones against her ears and Rhys gave her a sarcastic look. Flora changed her voice slightly and crunched up her face to look like a sour-faced old lady.

“I don’t care. But if he scratches the paint he’s my eternal slave. It’s a discontinued color.”

“Cool! Thanks boss.”

She gave him a cheeky smile and put the receiver down again and clicked off her cell.

“Boss says it’s okay.”

Rhys tried to keep his face neutral but her thoughts had already guessed at his.

“Yes, the pink-haired hippie is a business owner, but only a third of it is mine. I was just the money backer to get it off the ground. The concept was entirely Eta’s idea. The other owner is a distinguished gentleman who took pity on us and got the business side of it all worked out. He travels a lot but we give him free hair cuts when he comes in and a tarot reading.”

“Tarot?”

“Yeah, like, divining your future with cards? Answering life’s mysteries, yada yada.”

Flora sat back down and took a piece of lemon bread. He had to admit it was nice to be around a woman who could eat and not pick crumbs off a low-fat croissant then complain she’s full. Flora had a healthy appetite for food and life.

“Is that where the ‘Psychic’ come into your Psychic Salon?”

“Yep. Every new client that comes in gets a free reading. Our regulars pay a little extra to get a service of their choice. We got tarot, palmistry, aura reading, chakra healing–”

“I’m sorry but you’re speaking in tongues. I don’t understand any of that.”

“It’s okay. Stick around long enough and you’ll know a lot of things you never thought you would. Are you finished?”

He picked up another piece of banana bread and Flora packed everything away again.

“Alright my gentle knight, lets see what we can do today.”

___________________________________

Working along side Flora in the quiet of the morning wasn’t a bad way to pass the time. It wasn’t pruning and watering in his green house, but it was a nice change. She talked a lot and he listened, helping her wade through the back storage room to locate the shelves he needed and then dragging furniture out-of-the-way to hang them. She was handy with power tools. He liked that. He also liked that when he held the latter for her, he got a closer look at her tattoos. The shading and detail were intricate and vivid, just like any real flower. He wondered how long it had taken for all of them to be done.

“There,” she said, drilling in the last screw and handing the tool down to him. “Good enough?”

All together they’d hung six shelves and a couple random pictures to change out the decor a little bit. “To complement the new greenery.”

“I’ll get my plants.”

“Ohhh can I come see what you brought me?”

He set the drill on the counter and fumbled for words.

“Well, they’re not for you. I mean, yes they are but–”

She smirked at him and patted his pink cheek affectionately.

“You are a gentle knight after all. I should go easy on you. Lets go before the morning early birds come in.”

Flora unlocked the door and let him out and he led her to his jeep. A small forest greeted her when he opened the back and she made an excited “oh!”

“Is this Old Fashioned Swedish Ivy? It’s so mature and full! I’d love to hang that outside but in this neighborhood, it’d probably get stolen. Wait. Is that–”

Flora reached for a purple striped plant and held it up to the sun.

“Oh my gawd a Rhoeo! My aunties had a huge one in the window of the living room. I loved watching it grow as a child. Purple was my favorite color so they got it just for me.”

He reached past her to pull out a tray of potted plants. “Herbs are pretty hardy. Lavender, lemon balm, mint–”

She bent down and buried her nose in the fragrant purple buds.

“I hope you have more of that. Eta loovveeeessssss lavender. She has me make her hypoallergenic lavender lotion every month.”

Rhys smiled a little and made a mental note.

“I’ve also got spiral grass for texture and Hot pokers for some color. A ficus that’s been growing for a few years now. I transplanted it recently so I’ll have to keep an eye on it but it can go in the corner between the two chairs by the window for optimal sun and minimal damage. Most of the rest are succulents that do really well without regular watering. I brought a variety of colors and textures…”

Flora grinned up at him as he rambled on and on about his precious green babies. She didn’t mean to tune him out but she liked the way his lips moved and the warmth in his voice when he talked about a subject he liked. He also looked stunning in black and she was trying hard not to let her switched be flipped all the way on.

He came back. That’s what mattered right now.

She helped him carry pots and trays inside the salon and started to clean up their mess and prep stations while he got to work. Every now and then he whipped out a small notebook and penned a few words and muttered to himself. She kept the Rhoeo at her station, making room for it among the brushes and irons. She made him take a break right before opening and offered him a “get out of jail free” card by reluctantly saying he’d done enough and she appreciated it.

“I can’t leave yet.”

Flora’s heart skittered around her rib cage and she took a sip of her now cold tea to mask her surprise.

“Not that I’m eager to shoo you away or anything but why?”

“I have to take pictures of the light inside every hour.”

She gave him a blank look.

“Some plants might burn or wilt if they don’t get proper amounts of sun. I have a few questionable placings and some alternatives if they don’t do well but I have to make an accurate analysis.”

A whole day looking at eye candy? Her female clientele would be ecstatic, she chief among them. She just hoped no one came in needing anything too complicated because she would be a little distracted. Very easy to mix up the purple and blue hair dyes when tall, dark and hunky was sitting on a chez.

“Alllriigghhttttttt,” she sang and stepped down from the front desk to open the door for the few waiting customers outside. “But you’re buying lunch.”

He nodded.

“For everyone.”

He blanched. She squeezed his cool fingers and smiled brightly at him.

“Kidding.”

She unlocked the door and then looked back at him, her face warm and open.

“Thank you for coming back Rhys.”

 

Ipod S. S. S.– “Mind like a Diamond”

“Nobody’s Listening” Linkin park—— Anger, strength, truth, ignorance, pain, struggle, no fear (Musician, school activist, journalist, trans?)

“Diamonds” Rihanna——hope, love, life, energy, positivity, seeing true, rising up, being true, (Fan girl, stalker, sends him letters to fuel is fire,)

“Mississippi Bayou” Delta Bombers—— travel, shenanigans, purpose (Going to meet the idol?, girl needs her boyfriend to take her, )

“Firefly” Breaking Benjamin——- hope, reaching, go together, need/don’t want to need, kindred souls, (View of idol, inspired by diamond girl?, asked to meet her,)

“Misery Business” Paramore——- jealousy, possessiveness, bragging, cat fight, head games (diamond girl gets cat fished or is too late? or is she the victor and it’s her bragging? or is the guy a player? Does he want her as a writer for him?)

___________________________________________________

He’s brilliant. He channels my inner most thoughts and is not afraid to speak them. People LISTEN to him when he cries “Truth! Truth in the face of Lies!” Our shared truth. Because my letters reach him and we are the same. 

He’s calling for me. 

Her words echo through my mirror-lined head. Before it was a dizzying swirl of the same static thoughts. Her diamonds reflect in them now and bring me clarity. I’ve extended my hand to her. Will she come?

I’m going to go. Frank won’t understand but he doesn’t need to. He’s down for a road trip, always. BYOB and his truck will take you anywhere. Neither of us have ever been to New York. The ride was mainly country music and Frank re-telling his same old stories. I don’t dare tell him what’s on my mind. He’d never believe it but still. It felt too new and precious to say out loud. 

I’m here. Are you? How far away are you?

I’m coming.

We need one more fill up and then we’ll be in city limits. Led me through one last time. Let your Truth shine for me. I look down at the printed address on heavy card stock. It’s dirty, sweaty, folded and re-folded Should we ask someone? New York clamors like a hungry shark around bleeding fish. 

They’re gathering. All of them that just won’t do; that just aren’t you. Where are you? I’ll wait till the very last has gone, I swear.

I finally got the answer I needed. New Yorkers are hardly friendly. Frank grabbed one by the scruff of the neck and shook him like a naughty kitten until he pointed out the building to me. What a guy, right? I brush the dust off my skirt and adjust my fly away hair. I would dab on some perfume to mask the exhaust smell but I didn’t have any. 

I’m going up. Such a long and a short way. 

I’m getting antsy and this smile has been stuck to my face so long I’m afraid it’s frozen in place. These people don’t hear. They only see.

Oh.

There’s a sea of women. An estrogen ocean. Frank whistled low and heads turned toward us, judging us, smirking and frowning and calculating. What have they made you do? I clutch my purse and try to cling to your words. Nobody’s Listening. You’re right, they only see stars and dollar signs. It’s not your looks that grabbed the spot light. We know that. I’m coming. 

I raise my arm and wait.

I hear a commotion outside while the others interview the 70th blonde haired, blue eyed girl. I stand up, heart and hope leaping wildly. They try to stop me from opening the door but I’m small and too quick. I dart out and on the fair end of the room, amid the colors, I see one black rectangle held in a deathly pale hand.

“Blind are you all. Vain are you. Naive are you, all of you as children die and politicians lie and eat your lives for dinner. They shut down and you cry. Stop feeding the drought. Get up. Rise up, you million against a few. GET UP! RISE UP! Shed blood not tears! Make them work with shame and blame and release yourself from fear.” 

My God I am so scared.

“You came.”

Yes, I did.

“It’s her,” he said to the bewildered cadre of people following behind him. He parted the feminine ocean like Moses through the Red Sea. “My Diamond in the rough. The one I was telling you about.”

I watched their eyes take in my jet black hair, ghost white skin, bright purple lip stick and triple eye brow piercing. At least I had on a skirt, even if it did make me look like Lydia Deets. 

“You want HER as back up singer?”

Our mouths dropped open in tandem and I broke out in a cold sweat. Singer? Me?

“No no. She’s my new song writer.”

He reached for my hand and I gave him the envelope. We waved it at them with a cocky grin. 

“The secret to my recent success. Hire her or you’re fired.”

Frank whistled. 

Vanilla with a Cherry on Top, Raw (#9)

It was code you see.

If the right people heard it, they would know and they would pass it on; like a stone dropped in a pond. Ripples would appear on the calm surface of the lives of every day people and just like that, it would begin again.

The whispers. The knowing eyes. The Hunt.

Easy.

Vanilla. Vanilla meant white. Chocolate meant brown. Dark Chocolate was black. Pretty self-explanatory. People can’t change the color of their skin very easily. And where I live, any color other than brown stood out pretty well. Brown hair, brown eyes, brown skin. Brown callouses and brown dirt under the nails from working in the fields. Brown houses and store fronts.

A white moth stands out much better against brown trees.

We embrace brown in every sense. We’re agricultural. We work the earth, dawn till dusk to produce food for ourselves and the markets. Our ancestors used mud to make our houses. Our Gods came from the earth and sky. Our heritage is strong and proud, but we do not flaunt it zealously. We are a humble people, hard-working and vigilant. We work for our families, we play with our children, we dance to our music and laugh freely. We are a community that looks after one another.

We are Vigilant– We Watch.

We accept most flavors of strangers but they don’t usually like to stay in our brown-washed community very long. It’s hard work to stay here and people don’t like hard work. We are a “visit only” locale that boasts hand-made crafts, home-grown vegetables and delicious restaurants with recipes hundreds of years old on the menus. We’ve been labeled a “small but delightfully rustic town.”

We like it that way. Tourists don’t suspect a smiling and helpful person to be anything except kind. Some will take advantage of that. Some will respond in kind. It’s like that way with strangers.

We of the earth know better. As much as we are smiling on the outside, our dirt colored eyes watch and observe. Nothing goes unnoticed by us. We are as sharp-eyed as falcons . That white man sitting too long at a children’s park. That black man buying way too much fuel. The Spaniard that threatens his girlfriend with a subtle back hand to her cheek. She cowers likes she expected the blow.

We see it and we drop the pebbles into the well of our community. The rest of us will hear them drop and observe the ripples. We protect our own.

Precautions are taken. We are friendly and subtle people. A cadre of mothers suddenly start showing up at the park with their broods and make lively conversation until the white man leaves. A mechanic will show up and offer to work on the black man’s car since he noticed so much fuel being purchased. Subtly of course so he doesn’t suspect. An old kind-hearted grandmother will take the cowering girlfriend aside for some tea while the Spaniard is at the bar.

We watch and we wait. Often times it’s nothing.

But when it’s not–

–we become a people of action.

No one suspects us. We’re too nice; too accommodating and there are lots of places to hide in our rustic and far spread town. We know every place though. And the Police–they’re one of us too on the inside. But while they took an oath to uphold the law, we took one to uphold life. OUR life.

When the first child went missing, we had to let it happen. The police had to launch their investigation first. It had to be legal and official. We still watched. Information was passed around. We could have helped the authorities. COULD have. We didn’t. We never did. You might think it’s immoral and unethical to withhold information this way. “Impeding an investigation”, in legal terms. But what would happen if the police caught him? Jail? Appeals? A 5 year sentence; a slap on the wrist?

People of action don’t give slaps on the wrists or appeals. Not when it comes to ours.

Three days. That’s our limit. That’s all the time we need to search and plan. Day four is execution.

More pebbles are thrown in the water and the ripples crisscross over each other, like a dozen conversations. “Vanilla…” “Raw.” “Sticks and stones…” “Red sauce.” It’s code, you see. Eventually our whispers merge into one definitive echoing agreement. Day four.

Vanilla with a Cherry on top, Raw. 

The white man didn’t come to the park day five. The mothers showed up as usual to laugh and gossip and let the little ones run off energy. They give their reports to the police and tell them to come by for some flan because they work too hard. The black man accepts the help with a smile and our eyes soften. The Spaniard breaks his hand in a bar fight. Oops. So the grandmothers come over to help the girlfriend move out and disappear while he’s at the hospital.

We are an involved people.

Day seven, the newspaper reads:

A body was found yesterday brutally murdered in an abandoned field off Arrow Head road. The police k-9 units led officers to the body late last night while scouring the area of the missing child. A perimeter has been set up for investigators and teams of forensics have been dispatched to the scene. Preliminary reports state that the identity of the body belonged to Darrell Ferguson, a known pedophile and child abductor in three Southern California counties. Officials state that Ferguson had fled the authorities and disappeared across the border months ago. The details of the murder are not being disclosed at this time.

In good news, the child in question has been found and returned to her family although the state of her health, mentally and physically, are yet to be determined. The family requests that the public keep their distance to let the incident pass into memory but they want to thank the police offers that found the child and the community who never stopped supporting them or searching.

“Thank you for Watching,” was a direct quote from a family member.”

We didn’t need the media telling us the details. Our whispers paint a picture better than any photograph of that bastard. His white skin was no longer white but a cracked and rusty-red, rivulets and spatters painting his corpse. His ribs had been cracked open with a rusty bolt cutter and the bones thrown far for the coyotes to chew on. The heart had been extracted and set upon his broken, wide open mouth like a prized glass egg on display. And then a large hole had been bored through it, just large enough to squeeze his castrated manhood inside like a bulbous and flaccid dagger.

Afterward the body had been surrounded by gasoline so the animals wouldn’t disturb it before the police discovered the kill. Be a pity to waste all that time and effort for no one to see the end result as intended.

Something the press would never divulge was that he had been alive when this happened. They wouldn’t, because some of them were there.

Just desserts.

We Watch. Welcome to our brown-washed town.