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.

5 comments:

  1. Appreciate you're taking the time Kathy.

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  2. Thanks for sharing Kathy, love this story.
    Wayne

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  3. Thanks for sharing Kathy, love this story.
    Wayne

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  4. loving the story! Thanks so much!

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