Friday, July 31, 2015

Chapter 22


Alva wasn’t a big town, in fact before DV it only had about 2000 people living there.  But the outlying areas were spread out which meant a ride in a loaded wagon would take an hour on a maintained road and a little longer where the road turned to limerock.   

Nate was seething the whole way; no one broke the silence to draw his attention.   There had been several irritants involving his ex-wife and her family but the kicker had been that Arden had left in the water taxi with her mother and sister.  Some of it was legitimate; she had expected Nate back a few days earlier and had scheduled to begin her novitiate, but some of it was also a show of disapproval, both with Nate bringing home a “girl” and that he point blank refused to let Bastian and Darla go home with Gina “for a short visit.”  That meant that there was no chance to transition slowly and smoothly the way Nate had thought it would occur.  Dora had agreed to keep Darla another night or two which really helped but it didn’t do much to sooth Nate. 

Dora looked at Emi and said, “Kiko thinks you’ll clean up good.  He thought enough of you that he was going to hook you up with his little brother Tony.  Well Nate isn’t Tony and I’m reserving judgment … just remember …” 

“Yeah, yeah.  You’re Nate’s big sister.  Trust me, I don’t want to bring down more trouble.  I promised that to Nate as part of our deal even without him asking me to.  I got the feeling off him that family and loyalty is a priority.” 

“It is.  For all of us.  You remember that then we won’t have problems.” 

As a big sister lecture it could have been much worse so Emi refused to be offended by what was said.  Compared to some things she’d had said to her the last few years, Dora was being an angel no matter the daggers that Nate looked at his sister. 

Finally the heavily loaded wagon pulled out.  The wagon was actually an old school bus that had had the engine area and the top cut off and most of the rows of seats taken out.  There was a six-mule-team pulling the wagon and they were so strong there was very little jerking on the front axles.  That meant despite Emi still being in pain she wasn’t being further hurt by the wagon rattling all over. 

Nate and Emi sat in the first bench seat and Bastian sat directly behind them.  They followed Pearl Street almost until it ended and then turned towards the river.  Emi was sitting up but was struggling to not lean on Nate because she kept sliding that direction.  He finally realized that she was having a hard time of it and put his arm around her.  “Easy.  Or we’ll both wind up falling out.” 

“I’m fine.” 

“Yes you are.” 

Emi gave him a look such a comment deserved and said, “Even I know that is a very bad pick up line.” 

He sighed and said, “Give me some credit.  I was stating the obvious.  Now settle down.” 

Emi didn’t struggle but she was still stiff.  This was the part of the bargain she’d done her best not to think about very much.  Her experience of the male species over the last few years made her think more in terms of survival than companionship and intimacy. 

As they pulled off Pearl and down the old lime rock lane heading towards the river Emi saw rows upon rows of citrus trees.  It reminded her some of her grandparents’ property except these were not nearly as well cared for.   Many of the trees were dead and covered in vines.  The further down the lane however the better cared for the plants and trees became. 

Nat explained, “The trees up here technically don’t belong to me, they belong to the town when they were taken back by tax deed.  Ever since I took possession of the house and land they’ve been trying to get me to take care of that front bit for free but they still want the full value of the fruit to let me “use” the land.  I don’t know who they think they’re fooling.  Not going to happen their way in this lifetime.  Now that I’m here full time I can make even more improvements and that should push them closer to just taking a lump sum to take the property off their hands.  It costs more for them to harvest the fruit than they get benefit from it.” 

“Seems a shame.  They were nice, big trees.” 

“They are old and used up trees.  Before DV they were trying to sell the land to a developer but nothing ever came of it, or so I’ve heard.  All they need is a little push and the land could be mine.  I’d take out the dead trees and put in a large garden and then …”  He stopped.  “But for now I have enough to take care of.”  

Emi nodded.  “I recognize some of these.  There’s oranges, tangerines, and those look like they are either pommelos or grapefruit; I can’t tell for sure from here.  Are there tags or … or something so that I can see what each tree is?” 

“There are some old garden plaques on some trees and Benji’s father – Rob and his brother Don are the caretakers I told you about – knows what some of them are even without the ID plaques.  One of the things I want to do is go through the nursery’s old records and try and get a feel for what is where and when it is supposed to be ripe.” 

Trying to understand why he hadn’t done that already Emi asked, “How long have you had your place?” 

“Just about a year.  I had been in negotiations for another property on the other side of the river but … Gina … the seller was a friend of her family.  Then this one came up.  Dora called it providential and she was happy to have me and the kids closer.  Arden … well that’s another story and not one I want to get into right now.  When we turn this corner you see …” 

Santa Madre de Dios! Lo que he me he metido?   

“It isn’t that bad,” said Bastian defensively.  “We’ve done lots of work to it.” 

“Nino, I … your … your father must be …”  Emi turned around and frogged Nate’s arm. 

“Ow!  What was that for?!” 

“Are you some kind of Don or something?!” 

“Some kind of what?” 

“Don’t play stupid Gringo.” 

Acknowledging that he did know what she meant he shook his head and explained, “Look, I wanted the land and thought the house would just have to be torn down and another rebuilt in its place.  The thing was in pretty rough shape.  There’d been a fire in the kitchen, most of the inside was trashed, windows busted.  Just after we spent a couple of weeks cleaning it out, it wound up not being as bad as we thought … except for the kitchen.  But that room needed to be gutted anyway.  Some parts of Ft. Myers are getting electricity back but it will be a long time until we get it back out here; they’re talking years because of all the infrastructure damage.   I needed to make it user friendly.  If the business pans out I might be able to eventually afford a generator but for now, things are the way they are.” 

“How did Arden cook?” 

“Not well,” Nate said trying to be honest and polite at the same time. 

Bastian didn’t have such reservations and said, “Maybe you don’t burn water but Aunt Arden does.” 

Emi saw the shoulders of the boy named Benji shaking in silent laughter where he sat on the driver’s seat so assumed it must be true or close to it. 

Bastian continued, “Mr. Don would cook sometimes, and when Dad is here he cooks, but mostly we had to eat whatever Aunt Arden fixed.  It was great when Aunt Dora would come for a couple of days but she hasn’t done that for a while.  She’s making another baby and she said this one better be a girl or Uncle Kiko can go live in the barn.” 

Nate yelped, “Bastian!” 

“But that’s what she said Dad.” 

“You shouldn’t listen to adult conversations so much.” 

Emi said, “Maybe adults should watch what falls out of their mouths.”   

Emi winked at Bastian but he shook his head.  “Don’t tell them that or they’ll stop talking and I’ll never know what is going on.” 

Emi grinned remembering she’d felt much the same way when she’d been younger.  Then a sadness hit her and her smile faded and she looked away and over to the house.  The closer they got the more Emi could see some of the work that Nate had ahead of him. 

The house was a three story monstrosity, made of bricks and thick stucco.   It looked like someone with more money than sense back in the 1940s had built something that was a mish mash of Cuban, Italian, and Victorian architectural styles. But instead of the traditional muted brown color schemes you normally saw along the river it was a combination of clashing and faded greens.  It wasn’t too bad as it did help the house blend into the surrounding landscape and greenery but that was about the only thing appealing to it.  There was dirt and algae almost all the way up the wall on the first and second floors, especially near the windows, and the walls were gouged and pock-marked from what was obviously damage from being shot at.  Weedy vines climbed as high as the small third floor in a couple of places. 

The roof was terracotta tiles that had been painted bright white at some point but where now black with mold and other filth.  Parts of the roof were flat with some crenellations around the outer edge so that it looked like it was usable patio space.   New, thick, wooden shutters had recently been added to all of the windows and Emi was to learn that the only thing beneath them were frames fitted with netting to keep the bugs out. 

The yard wasn’t bad at all though it was likely nothing compared to what it must have been before DV struck.  The hedges and shrubs were neatly trimmed and the palms were manicured so that no dead fronds hung down.  The grass was being controlled by a small herd of goats, much the same way that her cousins had controlled the little bit of grass that had grown around their small home.  Chickens also roamed freely, though it being the middle of the day and warm most of them were resting in the shade. 

As soon as the jangle of the wagon could be heard from the house a small pack of beagles started calling out.   Then a chocolate lab bounded around the corner and in its haste created a puppy pile up.  That made Bastian laugh and Nate say, “Oh good Lord, I didn’t think it was going to get that big that fast.” 

That almost made Emi smile again as she remembered her mother saying almost the exact same thing only in regard to a baby turtle her brothers had brought home they had found nearly getting squished on the road.  Before her parents finally convinced her brothers to release it, it had gone from barely nickel-sized to the size of a formal dinner platter and had developed the bad habit of popping out from places unexpectedly and snapping at people’s ankles. 

“Nate!” a couple of men called.  Emi hadn’t seen where they came from and realized she was starting to zone in and out. 

In fact she started having time lapses because suddenly she wasn’t sitting in the wagon but was standing beside it and hearing someone ask, “She on drugs?” 

Then she was being bounced as she was carried in Nate’s arms.  Next thing she remembers is waking up in the dark feeling like she had crossed the Sonoran without a water bottle.  She also realized that she was nude again. 

“This has got to stop,” she croaked in a whisper. 

An exhausted voice in the dark said, “I agree.  No more messing around until that arm heals up more and definitely no more passing out.  How are we going to do this deal if you keep keeling over?” 

Emi called him something rude but the words had no heat to them.  Nate held a cup to her lips and she drank it dry without him even having to encourage her a little. 

“More?” 

“Yeah … in a minute.  Better let this settle first.”  She was silent for a moment then said, “Sorry.  Did … did I scare your kid?” 

“At first.  The arm scared him worse when he watched me change the bandage and clean it out.  I just told him it was better that you were out for that part.” 

“Is it … bad?” 

“Infected?  Surprisingly no.  I think Dora is right and you just need some rest and to be fed.” 

“Water.  Water is all I need.” 

“Yeah right.  We’ll argue about that later.  In the morning … look, I know this is … awkward.  Maybe I didn’t think it through.” 

“You want me gone.  I get it.  The way things have turned out I’d want me gone too.  Just …” 

“Listen hard head.  I think we’ve already been through this so let me use your own words … it isn’t the deal, that’s fine, it’s everything else that is crazy.  Got it?  Arden … I was hoping she’d be around long enough that … that you’d see I wasn’t such a bad guy.  To take some of the heat off with the kids too.” 

“Wait.  You mean … you mean the deal is still on?  You still want it?” 

“You really are a hard head,” he said, but it was almost a caress which was confusing to Emi and started a headache.  “Yeah, I still want it.  And with Arden gone I … I need the help.  Bastian is a good kid, a little too serious but a good kid.  But no way is he old enough to run around on his own.  Like you said, not too many younger kids have survived both DV and the chaos it has left in its wake.  We don’t need to discuss the obvious, we just need to find a way to deal with the results.  And then there’s … sleeping arrangements.” 

“Is that what you’re calling it?” 

“Dammit Emi, you’re eighteen and I’m not some cradle robbing …” 

Emi put her hand on the on that Nate was using to hold the drinking cup.  “Gringo, I’m not stupido.  Just say it.” 

Nate looked at her hand and she tried to pull it back but instead Nate placed his other hand over hers.  “I want a real marriage Emi.  I had thought … look I knew almost immediately that going to Seminary had been the wrong thing for me.  I struggled to … er … find myself during and right after college.  Nothing felt right so I thought it was because I was avoiding what my parents had always wanted.  But when I did give in and attend … Seminary didn’t feel right ether.  It just took me a while to … to get up the courage to tell everyone else that.  I floundered a little after Seminary and then met Gina … which did feel right but in the end wound up feeling the opposite.   But I’m not going to sit around blaming myself and suffering because my first marriage failed when I know it wasn’t for lack of my own attempts to make it work.” 

“No one is asking you to.” 

“Sure they are.  Or let me rephrase that, Gina and her family expect it.  Dora thought I would be a basket case for longer than I was.” 

“Eh … family.  Their primary purpose in life seems to make you constantly wonder if it’s you or them that’s crazy.” 

Nate snorted a surprised laugh.  “Yep.  Pretty much,” he agreed.  “Look.  I’m not going to jump you but … but I need some idea … 

“You mean sex?” 

“Yeah.  I mean sex,” he said irritably. 

“Well …”  Emi stopped.  Then she shook her head and just said it.  “I didn’t go looking for it but … but it found me.  Once.  I learned to fight after that and I learned that you couldn’t trust anyone.  I ain’t blaming every guy on the planet for what happened but … but …”  She shook her head and sighed, sick to her stomach at the memories.  “Not nice things happen.  It leaves … heridas … behind.  You … you don’t hit or nothing like that then … then I’ll …” 

“Aw hell, this is …”  Nate bit off a curse. 

Emi stiffened her spine and found her pride.  “It ain’t your problem Gringo.  I was just telling you so you’d know I can’t wear no white dress if that’s what you wanted or maybe what you’re worried about.  Forget it, I have.” 

Nate watched Emi try to build her walls thicker but she was losing strength.  Her eyes lashes fluttered down lower and lower and he knew he needed to say something before she was completely asleep again.  “Emi, I’ll … I’ll move slow.  We’ll get to know each other.” 

Emi turned her head and looked at Nate and he once again wanted to hide from eyes that seemed to be able to see right through him.  She told him, “Stop feeling bad about something that you can’t change and isn’t your fault.  Life just sucks that way.  But … but if you …”  She shuddered and her gaze fell.  “This part of the bargain about giving each other time?” 

“Yeah,” Nate said softly taking her hand where it lay above the covers.  “For now you just focus on getting some rest.  I got a hammock over here I’m gonna sleep in.  You just rest.”

Friday, July 24, 2015

Chapter 21


“Nathaniel!” 

“Ssss … sorry Arden but …”  It took Nate several more moments to get his own laughter under control.  Finally he stopped and asked, “Yeah, where is Darla?  She better not be with …” 

“Daaaaaddeeeeeeeeee!” 

It was Kiko walking with a woman who could have easily been Nate’s twin except that Emi had already heard that she was older than Nate … older enough that she thought of him as her “baby brother” which probably meant that she was closer to Kiko’s age and he was in his late 30s if she had to guess.  The look on the woman’s face didn’t bode well for Emi but Emi had spent a lifetime of people giving her quelling and disapproving looks.  When Uncle Roger had called her “wild” he hadn’t been far off the mark, though willful would have described her better.  Emi was one of those girls that though she could look girly she was all tomboy underneath.  There had only been a handful of people that she ever minded completely and that had been her parents and both sets of grandparents and her oldest brother.  Since none of them were left walking the earth Emi was unconcerned with anyone else … except that she had made promises to Nate.  So thinking she tried to reign in her mouth and not bring any trouble on him. 

The little girl wiggled like a monkey until Nate took her and then she latched onto his neck so hard he looked like he was having a hard time breathing. Nate finally got her to turn loose enough that he could talk.  “Emi, this is Darla.  Darla … er …” 

Emi was much less sure how to deal with little girls but she decided she might as well start as she meant to go on even though the little girl was only two.  “Hi Darla, I’m Emi.  You’re dad brought me on so your Aunt Arden can go to her calling.  Bastian already asked so I guess I should tell you too … I don’t burn water.  He didn’t ask me about cleaning yet but I can do that and laundry too.  But here’s the thing, I don’t know that much about playing with little girls so you’ll have to teach me.  OK?” 

Darla looked at the stranger in front of her and after a momentary fright wasn’t quite sure what to make of her.  She definitely wasn’t like her Aunt Arden or her Aunt Dora or the woman called Mommy.  She didn’t know whether she liked this one but since Emi didn’t ask to hold her or force her to do anything she didn’t make a fuss. 

Emi hadn’t expected any more than what she got so she turned to Kiko and said, “Muchas gracias. No es como yo no tiene ya un montón de problemas para mirarme. ¿Tuvo que hacer peor por contar historias que me hacen parecer como una loca? 

“Then don’t be a crazy woman and I won’t tell stories on you Chica,” Kiko said with a grin.  “So I heard there was trouble.  DV infected gators?  That must have been something.” 

Instead of answering him Emi deferred to Nate and tried to step out of the conversation and return to stacking their gear so it wouldn’t fall out of the wagon while it was pulled.  Bastian came over to help while the other adults spoke. 

“Don’t get your feelings hurt.  Darla mostly only likes Dad.” 

“My feelings aren’t hurt.  She’s a bebe and of course she only wants her dad.  I’m grown and if my dad was here I’d be hanging all over him.  It’s what girls do.  Besides, he’s been away for a while.  I’m surprised at her age she even goes to him with him being gone so much.” 

“Aunt Arden makes sure she kisses his picture every night after prayers.” 

Emi’s respect for Arden went up a notch.  “My mom used to do the same thing when my dad would go on TDY, that means the military used to send him places we couldn’t go.  Then he retired and became a courier so sometimes he was gone for that but we got to tell him goodnight by phone.” 

“Oh.  Uh … did … did Dad tell you about me?” 

“He said you were seven, almost eight and he told me your name but that’s about it.” 

“He … that’s all?” 

“Yeah so maybe you should tell me stuff.  Like … hmmm … do they have school here?  Do you go?  And do you have a pet?  Oh and maybe something about the comida … uh … foods you like to eat.” 

Apparently Emi had guessed right and the subject of paternity was a little touchy for Bastian.  Some of the kids in the village where her cousins lived had been like that too.  Legitimacy was a pretty big deal in Hispanic culture; and even though Bastian obviously wasn’t Spanish that didn’t mean that he didn’t have the same esteem issues as other kids.  Slowly the boy relaxed and asked once again, “He really didn’t say anything else?” 

“Just called you his son named Sebastian and your age.  So like I said, maybe you can fill me in a little.” 

“OK.  There’s school sometimes but not right now.  The man that was teaching got kicked out of the community when some of the adults found out he was doing things he wasn’t supposed to.” 

“What kind of things?” 

Bastian shrugged.  “Don’t know, nobody tells us kids anything and this time they ain’t saying it where we can hear them talking about it so it must be really bad.” 

There was a break in the adult conversation and Arden called, “Sebastian?” 

Bastian sighed.  “Yes Aunt Arden.” 

“The water taxi is here.” 

Bastian’s face became pale.  “Is … is she here?” 

“Yes, your mother heard …” 

Then a strident and imperious sounding woman ordered, “Sebastian Bale.  Get away from that … that …” 

Arden said, “Now mother …” 

Emi looked over at Nate who’s temper was beginning to rise and asked, “Not gonna have to deal with them much huh?”  Nate glanced in surprised and realized she wasn’t angry, in fact she looked like she was holding back another fit of the giggles. 

From Emi’s perspective it was like falling into the twilight zone because while she guessed at the identity of the blonde woman that looked like she was suffering a hangover she definitely knew the older woman who all but called her a dock whore. 

“Well, this is definitely something unexpected although with the way my luck has been running I shouldn’t be surprised.  But I am.  I thought you had died during quarantine.  They carried you out on those stretchers used to move people to the death ward.  Or were the rumors true and you got word to your husband and he bribed you out?  Or, let me guess, Uncle Roger facilitated your escape leaving the rest of us to die off one by one from illness and neglect.  I was one of only a dozen people that lived.  There were hundreds to start with.” 

The woman’s mouth was open and shutting like a tilapia pulled out of the water. 

“Who … who are you?” 

“It doesn’t matter.  The only thing you ever did was scream at the lot of us when we failed to take State.  We tried to tell you that the music you chose stunk but you were determined we were to play that boring old polka stuff.” 

Nate grimaced, “Are you telling me …?” 

This time Emi laughed out loud and asked, “Rethinking the ..” 

“No!  And I don’t want to hear that said again.  Understand?” 

Emi nodded.  “Fine.  So long as you’re sure.” 

She walked closer and Nate got a look at what she was doing her best to hide.  Anger, painful memories, and a desire to be anywhere else but in the presence of Mrs. Patricia Rivera, wife of Dr. Paul Rivera, and the reigning terror of her middle school that sucked as much joy out of music as her Poppy had tried to instill in her.  And now she found she would be taking care of the woman’s grandchildren who she’d no doubt poison against her.  She couldn’t seem to win for losing.  And she’d liked Bastian even on such short acquaintance. 

“Emi?” 

Emi jumped when she felt Nate’s hand on uninjured shoulder.  She shook off the feelings threatening to swamp her.  “Point me in the direction of some work Gringo.  You’ll never get to your home at the rate things are moving right now.  And I see Miguel wants to leave with Barb.  We keep drawing crowds of the curious and … and …” 

“Screw ‘em all.  They can wait,” he said so that only she could hear.  “Are you ok with the deal?” 

“I keep my word.” 

“That’s not what I asked.  I asked if …” 

Emi sighed.  “The deal is fine.  It’s all this other stuff that keeps happening that me hace pica.  There’s been no quiet.  Let us go … take your kids … find some quiet.  My head wants to explode.” 

“Let me deal with Gina and her mother.  And find out if Arden set this up and what everyone expects …” 

“Nate no whore is going to raise my kids.  They are coming home with me!  Now!” 

Nate looked over at her and said, “Mrs. Rivera, control Gina before the situation escalate and … things … get revealed that you might not want publicly spoken about.” 

Emi wiped the sweat off of her upper lip on her sleeve and tried to get control of herself.  “Nate, point me to the work.” 

“No.  I’ve got men that can play mule and haul stuff around.  Take the kids and … and go …” 

“Hey Chica.  Looks like you’ve got unexpected connections,” Kiko said striding forward and plucking Darla off of Nate and handing her to Dora.  “Come up here and help me put some distance between mi esposa and Gina.  They don’t like each other too much these days.” 

Emi looked and could see the truth as the two women stared daggers at each other.  Emi looked over at Bastian who was rooted to the spot and not looking too happy about his mother and grandmother showing up but feeling guilty because he felt that way. 

“Bastian?” Emi said getting the boy’s attention.  “Grab your father’s log books please and come help me to help Kiko will you?” 

He seemed to jump at the chance to have a job that took him away from the drama unfolding. 

It took some of the last of Emi’s energy to climb the stairs from the dock up to the old parking lot.  Once up there she looked for a post free of seagull and pelican crap to lean against but couldn’t find one.  Even Bastian noticed the change in her.  He said, “Come sit on the bench.  You look like maybe dad should make you go to the doctor even if you don’t want to.  Maybe if you do go Dr. Rob will give you a piece of candy.  He gave me one when I fell and they thought I had broken my arm.  Only I didn’t it was just a bad bruise.  It would have been cool to have a cast.  Maybe your arm needs a cast.” 

Emi shook her head.  “Casts are not cool.  They get nasty and dirty and start stinking after a while and you itch where the cast covers your skin and there’s almost no way to scratch it.  It drives you crazy.  Not to mention then you don’t get to do all the stuff you want to do because the cast gets in the way as much as the broken bone did.” 

“How do you know?” 

“Because when I was about your age I got angry because my brothers and their friends said I couldn’t climb up to their tree house.  They said I was a girl and too little so I decided to prove them wrong.  Only all I did was prove them right when I fell from half way up and broke a couple of bones in my foot, cracked my ankle and wrenched my knee.  It was a very, very long time before my father would let me alone about it.  They put a watcher on me every minute of the day.” 

“Why?” 

“Different reasons but mostly because I had scared him.  I came real close to getting bad hurt, and it wasn’t the first time I’d given my guardian angel a work out.  Wasn’t the last time either for that matter.  But I learned that there are limits to proving something and sometimes there are things you just can’t do.  Learning that … well, I … that lesson has helped me to pick my battles better.” 

Kiko had been listening and snorted like he didn’t believe it.  Emi was just too tired to fight about it and let his disbelief go.  “The boy’s right Chica.  You don’t look so good.” 

“El camino ha sido largo.  None of us has had it easy.  But you look better.  Except for the limp … and the baston de Viejo … the cane.” 

“Dora didn’t like the work that Ernie did.  Good thing she decided to check it, there was dirt in there and a real infection starting.  Even though she worked me over good it feels better than it did.  If you …” 

“No Kiko.  I mean it.  I’m not making work for anyone.  It would be a waste.  I’ll clean it good when Nate … when Nate …” 

“Dad!” 

It was taking everything Emi had left not to pass out.  Nate ran up the ramp and there was some minutes of fussing with Emi trying to tell him to knock it off.  She also heard a few snide remarks in the background that angered him but she was championed from an unexpected corner when Dora snapped, “Honestly Nate use some sense and get her away from those two nasty tempered crows.  She’s exhausted from blood loss, malnourished too from the look of her, and dealing with their ugliness better than I would.  I’d say bring her to our place but Angelique has her hands full watching our bunch and Tony is there hiding out from that girl he got for himself down in Miami … now there is a hot mess for you.” 

“Kiko, yell to Benji to get the wagon as close as he can and I’ll carry ...,” Nate said as he tried to scoop Emi up into his arms. 

“Oh no you won’t.  I’m not helpless.” 

“You’re about as helpless as those DV gators were but at least this once I am going to have my way.” 

Rather than make more of a scene Emi let it go.  She just wanted away from all of it.  When she had dreamed of coming home it was coming home to die and escape the life she’d been living, not coming home to relive some of the worst parts of it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Chapter 20


“I do not need to see a doctor,” Emi growled. 

“Maybe I need to explain how this marriage thing works,” Nate growled back.  “I’m the husband.  I take care of you.  I say you need to see a doc for that arm so that’s the way it is going to happen.” 

“That’s so not what I agreed to Gringo.  I agreed to help you with your house and kids, not to have you run my life like I have no sense.” 

“Don’t even get me started Emi because …” 

“Dad!” 

A slight, tow-headed boy was weaving his way quickly through the crowd on the dock heading straight for Nate as fast as he could.  Unfortunately he was being forced to travel around many of the adults milling about.  Just then someone stepped backwards knocking him off balance.  Nate and Emi shot forward and grabbed him at the same time before he could actually fall into the water between the boats that were moored there.  Nate grabbed him up and Emi took further action by putting her boot into the butt of the woman that had done it and snapped, “Watch where you’re going!” 

The woman turned around in shock but took several steps back after getting a look at Emi.  Blood splattered and definitely showing her mother’s heritage she was absolutely no one to mess with at that moment. 

“Watch your big caboose!  You nearly knocked that kid into the water.  And in case you ain’t got your quota of gossip yet the boat crew took those gator skins only around the bend so there is a good chance there are still DV infected gators swimming around.” 

“DV Gators?!” 

It wasn’t exactly a stampede but the dock did clear out considerably and at a rate of speed not even the town’s security patrol had been able to achieve.  Emi nodded in satisfaction then turned to find Nate and the boy both staring at her with their mouths open. 

“What?” 

“Uh … that … that was the mayor’s sister.” 

“So?” 

“You just kicked her in the butt.” 

“And I’ll do it again if need be, and to anyone else who knocks your kid over like that.  People need to watch where they’re going. And use more sense.  There aren’t that many little kids in the world they can just toss them around like they ain’t worth nuthin’.” 

The boy being held in Nate’s arms leaned over and whispered, “Who is she?” 

Nate’s face blanked and Emi answered for him.  “He got me so that your Aunt Arden can fulfill her calling and not have to worry that she is leaving with no one to look after you.” 

A woman’s voice behind her said, “That is certainly one way to look at it.” 

Emi turned and a thin, horse-faced, woman was giving her the same look she remembered getting from the teachers at the school her parents had sent her to.  She almost laughed thinking that this woman was just as unlikely to be able to tame her as those women had been.  

“Hello.  I’m Arden Rivera.” 

Emi nodded and replied, “And seeking to be Sister Arden as I understand it.” 

“Yes.  And you must be …?” 

“I’ll leave Nate to explain it.”  Turning to Nate who was quickly developing an extremely outraged look when he realized she was going to leave him to explain by himself she told him, “I’ll grab the gear and bring it off the boat.”  To the boy she asked, “Do you prefer Sebastian or Bastian.” 

“Bastian,” he said quickly. 

“OK, Bastian.  Let’s go get your father’s things while he answers your aunt’s questions.” 

“You aren’t getting out of it that easy Emi,” Nate complained as she walked away with his son. 

“I’m just trying to help Gringo,” Emi said with a wicked grin. 

What Nate would have said to that was interrupted by Arden stepping up, crossing her arms, and giving him a disapproving look.   

Bastian said, “Aunt Arden is worried she isn’t going to be able to be a nun.” 

“Why not?” 

“She thinks she is going to have to stay and look after things.” 

“Well if she’s worried that I can’t take care of things then she needs to stop worrying about it.” 

“Can you cook?” 

“Eh … I don’t burn water if that’s what you’re thinking.” 

Bastian gave her a strange look, or maybe it was just that he thought her strange.  “Have you really killed people?” 

Without thinking Emi answered, “Yeah and I’ll do it again as necessary if someone tries to hurt you or your sister or your dad.” 

“Aunt Arden says you have to be some kind of loose woman.  That it is the only kind that would have agreed to go with Uncle Kiko.  What’s a loose woman?” 

That did give Emi pause.  “Maybe that’s a question you should ask your dad when you get a little older.  For now you don’t need to worry about it ‘cause that’s not what I am.” 

“You sure because Aunt Dora said the same thing.” 

“Sure I’m sure.  Besides, even if I had been before I wouldn’t be now because I promised your dad in front of a priest that I wouldn’t be disloyal to him.  You don’t promise things in front of a priest if you mean to break them or you wind up with bad trouble.  I don’t want no bad trouble.” 

Ignoring most of what she’d said he asked, “So a loose woman is someone that isn’t loyal?” 

“Uh … that’s … that’s pretty much … hmmmm.  Look, a loose woman is … is … yeah, yeah I guess bottom line that is exactly what a loose woman is.  But like I said, I made promises to your dad in front of a priest so you don't have to worry about me being disloyal to your dad.  I keep my promises.” 

“You do?” 

“Yep.  See I’ve been on the other side of people breaking promises and it is chupa mal … do you know any Spanish?” 

“Uh uh.” 

Emi thought that might not be a bad thing if her mouth started running away before she could catch it.  “Well I do.  If I ever say something you don’t understand you ask me … don’t just repeat me.  OK?” 

“Why?” 

“Because … well because you might mispronounce something and say a word you shouldn’t.” 

“Oh.  I better tell Darla that.  She repeats everything.” 

“Er … she does?”.

“Aunt Arden says she is a parrot.” 

“Oh … er …” 

“She also bites.” 

“Well … hmmm … that’s not good.  She could put something dirty in her mouth and get sick.” 

“She could also bite your finger off so don’t use nothing but a spoon if you feed her.” 

“Thanks for the warning.” 

“You’re welcome.” 

Bastian was such a serious kid that Emi was having a hard time not smiling.  “Let’s load this stuff in that wagon down the gang plank rather than just trying to carry it around like a sack of salvage.  That way it is off the boat but not just piled higgledy piggledy all over the place for people to trip over.” 

“What’s higgledy piggledy?” 

“Something … something my father used to say when stuff would get messy and unorganized.  Dad liked things to be organized and put away where they belong.” 

“Oh.”  Bastian nodded like that was agreeable to him and they were bringing down the last of it when Arden let out a scandalized, “Eighteen?!!  Nathaniel what can you be thinking!” 

“Wow.  Aunt Arden sure is mad about something.” 

“Don’t worry about it.  You aren’t the one in trouble.  And it isn’t your dad’s fault that I’m 18 either.  Looks like I’m going to have to go rescue him again.” 

Emi started over and Bastian followed just in time for everyone around to hear him ask, “What do you mean rescue dad again?  Did Aunt Dora change her mind and catch up with him already?  She said she was going to get him tonight after everyone else had already said their piece and she’d chew up what was left.” 

Emi started coughing and had to look away.  Nate for his part looked outraged and said, “Hey now.  None of that.  No one is chewing me up.” 

“Aunt Arden is.” 

Emi for her part couldn’t stop laughing for some reason.  Nate’s gaze turned from quarrelsome to curious and then he shook his head and started smiling as well.  “Hah.  Keep that up and I will make you see the doc.  You’ve obviously got a fever if you find this that funny.” 

Emi snickered and had to lean against one of the dock posts because she was suddenly feeling weak but not the kind most people would have thought.  “I ain’t seeing a doc, it’s a waste of money.  You’ve done just fine and if people would stop hitting my arm it would stop bleeding.  And it’s funny because I don’t know why.  It just is.”  She turned to Arden and said, “Please don’t pick on him ‘cause of me.  He didn’t know how old I was until it came out with the priest.  I don’t mind.  He doesn’t mind … well, not much.  And it isn’t anyone else’s business.  It doesn’t really mean anything anyway.”  To prevent further discussion she asked, “Now I’ve met Bastian here and we are getting along just fine.  Where is the little girl?  Darla?” 

Arden stiffened up, “Until I approve …” 

Bastian interrupted and said, “It’s ok Aunt Arden.  She isn’t a loose woman like you and Aunt Dora thought.  She said she said promises to Dad in front of a priest and that she’s loyal to him and I think she is because she said she’d kill anyone that tried to hurt me and Darla and Dad and I believe her.  Check out all the blood on her clothes.  I bet that is where she shot all them crazies and those pirates just like Uncle Kiko told everyone about this morning.” 

Emi almost stopped breathing and the look on her face must have been something else because this time it was Nate who started laughing and couldn’t seem to stop.