“We’re going,” Shadow said.
“She has school,” Rose spat.
“We are leaving after she gets out of school on Friday and will be gone until Sunday night.”
“You have work.”
“I took off. Asked for the entire weekend and Business gave me the time off without complaint,” Shadow said. “I swear that woman would give me a kidney if I asked her just right and swept the floor perfect before going to the hospital.”
“How will it look if you go and I don’t?” Rose said. “It is my cousin’s anniversary.”
“How about we all go?” Shadow said but he knew it would not happen. Uncle and Aunt Trick were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary and they had invited everyone. They had even invited me and when the wild idea bit me, Bekah went with it. We were headed up to Milwaukee.
Our family had never gone to anyone’s party. We had been invited to weddings. Funerals. Birthday parties. We had been asked to come to family reunions and every other thing, and each time my parents laughed it off. For a while I assumed it was because we didn’t have the money, and that was part of it for many years. But when they had pulled their way out of debt, the facts had not changed. They did not celebrate other people. It did not happen. Not weddings, births, or deaths. They stopped celebrating long ago.
So, when the invitations came, Rose threw hers in the trash immediately. I had kept mine.
“Where is all this money coming from for you to travel all the time?” Rose said.
“I am paying for it. She is getting the gas and I am doing the rest.”
“So, you have just cases and crates of money to burn,” Rose snapped.
“I have enough money to take my fiancée to see the city I am from. I can take her to meet my family. I can show her my life.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that a Lynch girl will feel safe in the slums of Milwaukee.”
Guardian stepped out and nodded. “With me, she will.”
I made sandwiches for the road. Put them in a cooler. Had a few drinks, mostly Dr. Pepper. She loved the stuff too, and I had been obsessed with that soda for years. We stopped at the grocery store to get some cookies and I snatched up a pomegranate.
“What is that?” Bekah asked.
“It’s a pomegranate.”
“Never heard of them.”
“Well, if you are going to live in my house some day you are going to have to learn all about them,” Guardian said.
“I already live in your house.” She smiled and wrapped an arm around his middle.
He kissed her head and whispered. “Yes, you do.”
In the end, we had to stop by Rose’s house to get directions because I had no idea how to get to Milwaukee. I hadn’t gone by myself before. Had never been without my parents. Well, one time to go face Char but I had taken the bus. This was a new adventure.
We hit the road and I was driving. She liked to let me drive back then. She pulled out the pomegranate and she looked at it with skepticism. “Do I just bite into it?”
“God no. You peel it.”
“It has a very, very tough peel. It will take some doing to get it started. Dig your nail in hard and pull up a tab.” Dark highway, and I am listening to her grunt with the effort of getting it open.
I saw her eat one for Christmas the other day, and she is a pro now. She had the thing devoured in twenty minutes. But this was her first time, so it took her about five to get the peel torn up enough to get a pinch on it.
“Now, pull it back. There will be tiny red seeds, blood red and kinda translucent. Can you see them?”
“They come in bunches. You have to pull those out and away from each other without popping them. The juice will spit if you mess it up,” I said.
She pulled a few free and I reached over and stopped her. “Hades kidnapped Persephone and took her to the Underworld. She refused to eat anything but after starving herself for days she finally ate three pomegranate seeds. When Zeus made Hades set her free, Hades said that she had eaten three seeds of his Underworld food, so, she was his.
“Persephone’s mother, also a goddess, demanded her back, so Zeus said that she would go back to Hades to live with him for one month for every seed she had eaten. Those are the three months of winter,” I said.
“Well, if you eat more than twelve of those seeds then you have to stay with me all year round.”
“Hey, these are not my rules. Take it up with Zeus.”
She popped a handful into her mouth and chewed. “That was at least thirteen,” she said.
“Now you’re mine,” I said to her.
She pulled free a few seeds and placed them in my open mouth. “Have been for a while.”
The drive was so fun. Laughing and talking and eating and laughing some more. She pulled out a book and read to me while I drove, and the miles raced by. It was nearly five in the morning when we got to Uncle Trick’s. They showed us the house, told us where everything was, and showed us two bedrooms. One with a twin bed, one with a queen. They didn’t tell us where to sleep. They just told us goodnight and left it at that.
We dropped into bed and the lights went off.
What follows was told to me by Bekah.
When the lights dropped away and the house began to tick, she felt me spasm. My leg kicked a bit, my mouth made a clicking sound. Then a whimper. It was cold. A cold sound in a dark attic. A bit of a cry. A bit of weakness. She stilled and listened, assuming I was having some nightmare.
“No,” I muttered.
“What, honey?” she asked.
“Please what, baby?” She touched my shoulder.
I pulled away hissing as I whimpered again. “No please. Please don’t.”
The voice said other things, things she could not explain or repeat. When she touched me again, I cried out and my back arched as if in pain. “Please no, I’m sorry. Don’t, I’ll be good. Please, no!” Hushed urgent whispering, and more pulling away. “Don’t hurt me. I’m sorry.”
She grabbed my shoulder and shook me. “Baby, you’re having a nightmare.” When her hand touched my skin I howled in pain. She pulled back and stared in horror as I wept and begged.
She could do nothing but call out to me. Could do nothing but reach out for me, then pull away when her gentle touch obviously hurt me. She said the voice sounded frantic, sounded desperate. She said it seemed childish and filled with horror. This was a young voice. She had no name for what she was witnessing. No explanation for what I was doing or the things I was saying.
In her mind, she remembered the night I saw Smilin’ Jack in my apartment. She remembered the horror of the moment and she was feeling it again. She could do nothing but wait.
After an untold number of horror-filled moments, I fell silent. I sighed, there was a twitch and I rolled over to look at her.
“Are you asleep?” I said.
“No, God no, I’m not asleep.”
“Good, me either. I can’t sleep,” I said.
My voice was back. The horror gone as if it had never been there. I wrapped my arm around her and hugged her tight.
“What just happened?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“That dream you just had. What was it about?”
I had no recollection of it at all. She told me what I had said and how I had sounded. She said that every time she touched me, I pulled back in pain.
I had no idea what she was talking about. I told her that Milwaukee often had a bad effect on me. I told her that things had happened here. Really bad things. I might not handle it well.
“What did he do to you?” she asked.
Twitch, sigh, twist of the head. Out came a different voice. A different position on the bed. It was a different person, but she did not notice.
See, back then no one did. Everyone told themselves long ago that I was just crazy. That when I walked out of a room and came back into it a few minutes later confused about where I was and who they were, they all assumed it was just me being crazy. Everyone accepted that sometimes my voice sounded different. Sometimes things that were important to me were no longer important to me the next time they saw me. They didn’t mind. It didn’t bother anyone because I was insane.
They all knew that no sane mind could do what mine could. No sane person could think up the things I did. Everyone in my life accepted the differences in talk, walk, and appearance, as well as in morals, ideals, and temper. No one questioned it, because they already knew something was wrong.
When she asked me that night what Char had done to me, Guardian said Char had touched Less. He had been unable to stop him. Guardian told her it was his fault that had happened. That he let his guard down, and she had suffered.
Bekah soothed him and tried to talk him out of the guilt. Tried to make him feel better, but there was no reaching Guardian when he was like this. He fully accepted the blame for Char’s actions because he had been unable to stop them. He took the blame and he took Less’s hate. ’Cause she blamed him, too. And that was what he was focused on.
“Yeah baby, but what did he do to you?” Bekah asked.
Twitch, sigh, kick. Then I turned to her, put my finger to my lips and said, “Shh.” I rolled over and I went to bed.
I do not remember much of it. As I wrote it things began to come back a little but that is a scene that I just don’t have much of a handle on. But she will never forget it. Because that was when the question came to her.
What had Char done to me?
The next day, we went to the party and my cousins were there. They ran to embrace me then pulled back. They stared at her, then looked back at me.
Tigress, Tigress’s sister Lioness, my cousin Grace. As well as Trick’s daughters, all of them, stared at her in shock. See, I had never brought anyone home before. Never had I introduced anyone to the family. I had conversations with Lioness about girls before. And in this book somewhere you will meet her, and you will hear those conversations. But I had never mentioned Bekah, and they had not expected her.
My cousins talked to us. They laughed with us. They told hilarious and embarrassing stories about me, which of course they were supposed to. And they all stared at her. They were all protective of me back then. They could not keep their eyes off of her.
When YMCA was played by the DJ, Lioness, Tigress, and Grace grabbed Bekah and dragged her on stage. The four of them performed the song. By the end of that song, they loved her. I told them that we were getting married. I told them she was the one.