“What do you love?” I asked her.
She was African-American, pretty, a bit thick in the right places, with a beautiful sundress and immaculate hair. She was tall, and barefoot, with an angry face and a bag over her shoulder. She was having a bad day, I could tell by her body language, and she would save my life that afternoon.
“What did you say to me, boy?” she snapped. Her face curled like a fist. Her eyes flashed hot rage.
“What do you love?” I asked again. A flinch and a sigh and Shadow was there. He looked at her and she took a step back.
“Get away from me, white boy.” She saw what I had seen moments before in the mirror of my apartment. A pale haunted face, eyes dark and sunken, lips chapped and red. Eyes raw from crying and trembling lip. “What are you on, boy?”
“Pain,” was all he could manage before he broke down crying. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see through blurred tears, and he turned to go.
“What kind of pain?” Her voice softened, took on a warm tone that touched the sore cord running through his body.
“He hurt me,” he said. “Been fighting it ever since.”
“Who hurt you?”
Shift and a sigh, and Guardian came out. “Father.”
A warm arm wrapped around my shoulders and pulled me in for an embrace. She was warm on this hot day, and her body felt good against mine. Her upper chest pressed against my cheek and she patted my head.
“I’m going to kill myself tonight,” I whispered.
She paused, did not tense, did not pull away. She kissed the top of my head and pulled me toward the back of the apartments to a gazebo. She set her bag down and pulled out a water bottle. She handed it to me and smoothed my hair back.
“How can I help?” she asked.
“What do you love?” I asked.
“I want to hear about love before I die,” I said. I needed one beautiful thing, one pristine idea to carry me away. She closed her eyes and I realized how unfair I was being to her. I had placed my death in her hands, had burdened her with all that I was. She extended her hand and smiled at me.
“Guardian. But you can call me Jesse.”
“My dad’s car,” she said with a smile.
“I love my dad’s car.” She smacked her knee and laughed. She threw her head back and howled. “Woo hoo, that car is tight. It’s a Tempest. Short little thing. Good lines. Painted it black because, I’m sorry white blood, everything beautiful is black.” She laughed.
“I’m starting to see that,” I said.
She stomped her feet in a little run. “He let me drive it one night a few years ago for prom. My guy didn’t have a car and Pops liked that, said that my boy needed to get used to me being in charge anyway. That little bitch is long gone, but that night everything was perfect. Picked him up in that car, didn’t even get out. I just put her in neutral and gunned it. That car is real throaty, and I told that boy, ‘Get your ass out here, bitch. The bad girl is here to get ya.’ He walked out just a little broken. He liked to hit me, finally couldn’t put up with it anymore and I hit him back. With a bat. Was in county for a few weeks for it, but never saw that sorry fool again, so it was worth it. Anyway, after the dance, we went and parked that car and climbed in the back seat.”
She put her hands in the air before her and started rocking her hips and smiling. “Mm hmm hmm. Got that car rockin’. Yes we did.”
In that moment, I loved her. She was all I wanted. I wanted to kiss her, to hold her. She was sexy in a way I had never seen before, powerful and right. I grinned at her and she smiled back.
“Got that car up to hundred and ten on the way home. I think dad knew what I had done in the back of his car, but he didn’t say anything. The car had that stank it gets when good lovin’ is in the air.
“I will always love that car. I’m done with the bitch, but never the car. Pops is going to give it to me when he dies. But that won’t be for a while. He’s real strong, my dad.”
She took my hand and squeezed it. “Sugar, listen. I want you to think about this. Your dad hurt you real bad. I can see it in your eyes. But no matter how bad it is, there is someone you want to be in the back of a Tempest with, isn’t there?”
And there was. I knew there was. She was coming over that night to watch a movie with me. I had planned on her being the one that found me. A cruelty she would never have recovered from.
“Ahh, see, there it is. What’s her name?”
“Snap. I bet she’s cute, too, ain’t she? With a face like yours, she has to be a cutie.”
“Oh yes. She got an ass?” Volacha said.
“Oh man,” I said. I couldn’t remember right then why I had wanted to walk away from the world.
“She a black girl?”
“That’s too bad. But still, as long as she got an ass, you will be fine. See, all the best ones are thick in the ass. You need to grab her tonight and tell her what you think. You need to tell her you want her and find a dark corner and pretend you have a Tempest. Gun that engine, white boy.”
She stood and took my head in her hands. She kissed my forehead and smiled at me.
“You’re gonna be fine.” She turned and, just as fast as she entered my life, she was gone.
I never got to thank her for saving my life that day. Never got to tell her that I loved her in a way I have never loved anyone. Not as a sister, or a mother or a friend. Just as a savior.
I hope she is still out there. I hope she is happy. I hope she thinks about the life she saved and the light she shined on a man in the dark.