THG 3- Ch 8 – White Buffalo

Talk about draft – I caught myself in the middle of a bunch of tell not show placeholders here. Any thoughts on what’s superfluous will be openly considered. 

Punting on the River Cam Back College / Sunday February 11, 1979

“Fuck off.” Cat’s glare wasn’t anything to ignore. But the asshole who’d rammed their punt was well drunk and shirtless, in February. His three friends were at least as drunk but opted for rugby striped polos and beanies.

“Fuck off yourself.” He shifted his gaze and leer to Deanna. “You’re the new one at Newnham. From the States. Everyone’s on about you. A looker and a brain.” He adopted a sculptural poetic muse, one arm across his chest, the other hand under his chin, face tilted up. “So fair her skin rivals the Queen’s China…Her hair…a tousled frame for eyes and lips that call my name —”

“She said fuck off. So just do it, asshole. Fuck. Off.” Deanna was too tired to get fiery, but totally able to be really, really pissed. Her wet, muddy punting pole hit just behind his knees, from the back by way of the side, and he crumpled onto his friends.

“Bitch…” The laughter from the boat subsided. “It was a fucking joke…” The loud bumper-car punter stayed splayed on his friends, in spite of their shoving, briskly rubbed the back of his leg. “What the fuck…” the laughter kicked back in when he stood, “You hate men or what?”

“Since you asked, yes. We’re lesbians. Very lesbian.” She tried to channel Amanda and Alix. “And very devoted.”

Cat’s face went blank, but without giveaway. Deanna had stepped down into the punt to swat the guy and it was yawing back and forth, her feet spread did no good to steady it.

“Todger dodgers!” the guy yelled, holding his punt staff between his legs. “All for naught no matter what you’ve got!” He had found a cheering section from the other punts, from the bank and a nearby bridge. “Drown like the cats you are!” He bumped Deanna and Cat’s punt again, hard, and Deanna went in the River Cam face first, lengthways, to explosions of laughter from the gallery. When she pulled herself up the punt’s side Cat kissed her, quickly, resisted the urge to spit and helped her back in the punt before she gave the shirtless punter the two fingered salute.

“Here.” Cat pulled her coat and wrapped it around Deanna. “Pull everything under topside”

“I can’t move around in here enough to —”

“Take it off. We’ll not have a pneumonia patient to deal with on top of all the other shit you bring on when you’re healthy.”

“But —”

Off.”

Deanna shed the coat, pulled her sweater, shirt, undershirt and bra over her head in a single, wet mass. The cheers went up again, followed by boos as she wriggled her way back into Cat’s coat. Cat, in stone silence, poled them back to the hire where her punt-by-the month resided.

The roller crew dragged Cat’s boat up, she signed form that disappeared with the roller crew. “I usually go for a drink, after.” She looked at Deanna’s shivering legs flip water from her jeans like a wet spaniel, put a finger on her lips. “The trousers could go as well.” The finger tilted toward Deanna. “The coat’s twice long enough.”

“Jesus, Cat. Maybe for y’all’s Twiggy, Fifteen years ago. So no way. Dealing with that, that, complete drunk shitspeck and all of that American Girl junk like I’m some kind of exotic prize, some magical white fucking buffalo, and the cold river, and I’m cold, so no. Just no. I thought I got rid of all that a long time ago.”

“Could I have my coat back, then?” Cat chuckled to herself, watched Deanna walk away.

“Godammit…” Deanna’s breath fogged while she talked over her shoulder, hands jabbed deep in the borrowed coat’s pockets. “Wasn’t flashing half of Cambridge and making us lesbians enough for one day?”

A thin smile crossed Cat’s face. “I suppose.” Under her breath she mumbled. “All we need is Merriam up to her mischief with Uncle Johnson when we arrive and it more than will be.”

***

Turning gay, even superficially, was the blessing Deanna had sought for breathing room from the gender game distractions under a crushing academic load. She could study and do her work. Be a lifeless, academic automaton. There were still the study advisors, study supervisors, study groups. Study. Day in and day out. Too busy to notice she was lonely. And beside the gay punting on the Cam day it seemed like it was going to rain, off and on, forever.

In rare moments of inactivity she’d feel the cold drafts of loneliness, colder even that the one by the kitchen sink. She knew she’d beaten the guy bullshit in high school with Jackson. He had been so perfect, she’d been so googly eye brain dead nutso for him since the A&W lunch and never quite got around to telling him that. Most of it, yeah, but not the googly eyed nutso. Now he was gone. Not outside or downstairs in his apartment gone, or playing in some awful restaurant or bar somewhere, or on his way home from a class or a practice room, or even in a fine arts studio with his neighbor the scarf wrapped dance major whore Audrey. He was gone. Unfindable gone. Along with the heart no one said she had without him. Well, that wasn’t true, exactly. Her heart was there, it was just, well…What would he think if he really knew she had sold him a lie…

Well, maybe she had made a giant head in her ass episode when she left him out of her decision, pushed him out of her life. Because her last college marathon, the one getting to Cambridge, was nothing compared to Cambridge kicking her “academic marathon stratagy” into the Olympics realm. She could use a warm leg to put her feet on, a leg attached to someone who could read her mind, listen, take her out of it for a Sunday afternoon and make it stop for awhile.

She’d tried it in a study group on the guy from Australia who was too young for the crinkles around his puppy dog eyes, but a week later two girls in their group had Syph. He claimed he got from the cosmetic counter girl at Boots, so he was out for good. Spending half an hour washing her feet didn’t help. Fucking creep. One of the girls had a boyfriend, off on a geology mountain scraping trip. What would he think? No wonder Jax thought her vacation escapades were “jive on the order of politics.”

***

On two consecutive sleep deprived mornings she wrote Jackson letters. One asking him to wait for her. To wait and let her explain everything, polite and apologetic. The other demanded he wait. It was full of sexy innuendo, for her, and hopefully seductive. Both mailed on the same day. The Post Office could find him. Her dad had said nobody could hide from the IRS or the Post Office.

Amanda was gone, too. That lady, God…She’d been more like her mother sometimes than her own. She was strong. Smart. Decisive. Beautiful and fearless and a real lesbian but who cares and major sailor mouth. Everything Deanna wished she was, except a lesbian, and she had and now might never be. Well, potty mouth she had in the bag, but the rest?

They’d walked or shown her the door just because she couldn’t let them know who she was? They knew, they had to. She just wanted to be better. The best, because that would erase it all, wouldn’t it? Didn’t they understand?
They were always pushing her to open up and she didn’t want to, ever, about all that. The only person she’d talked to about it, who understood, was dead. So what was their real problem? So she didn’t tell anybody about some things. She was just going to school, they could get over it. So they canceled a few things. So what? And no heart? Hot girl flunky? They were so full of it. Everything would be fine when she got home. They’d see.

The rain came again and stayed. Even the raindrops and rivulets that ran down the old windows like on her first almost date with Jax had company. Three years started to look like a long time…A loooooong time.

***

West Central New Mexico / Monday February 12, 1979

Jackson worked with Tony two days shy of a month. The evening he took off Tony gave him a heavy woven coat that was too small but fit Jackson like his pajama tux, a pair of fur-lined moccasins his aunt had given him that might have fit Tony when he was twelve but fit Jackson fine, and a hundred dollars folded around what looked like an over-sized business card.

Jackson pulled the card out of the bills, held it up.

“Found it in your pocket when I picked you up. It’s an English-ized Navajo prayer. You must have talked to one of the old Navajo women who makes them or the nun who gives them to walking casualties like you were.” He paused, looked at his recovering friend. “Before you were done for conversation and flat on your face breathing sand. You think you’re past seeing white buffalo?”

“Yeah.” Jackson chased that with a sardonic smile, stuffed the bills and the prayer card in his used-to-be-madras-covered wallet with the only other things in it, his one picture of Deanna and an about to expire driver’s license.

“Tell me again where you end up, star gazer?”

“Where the interstate hits the ocean by fall. I’m accepted probationary at USC until I get the rest of my transcripts in. Those places like test scores, they don’t care who I am.”

“Hardly anyone does these days. L.A. huh? Stay put a minute.” Tony disappeared into the hogan and came out with an address written on the back of a gas receipt, passed it through Jackson’s passenger window. “My daughter. Name’s Opie. She’s with her mother out there around L.A. Someplace called Ontario, but not Canada. If you see her, tell her that her dad worries about her.”

“I’ll try, man. And I mean it, about the money.”

“If you mean it, I’ll see it. If you don’t, that’s our story. Between the stripes, little brother.” He looked off down the rutted dirt road with a small snort. “Best stay in the ruts till you get to where they are.”

Jackson bent down to look out the passenger window. “You saved my life, Tony. Thanks. For real.”

“Don’t make me regret it.” Tony popped the top of Jackson’s car with his open hand and watched him roll away, kicking up a little dust in the New Mexico twilight.

Tony hadn’t had a beer since he’d put Jackson in his truck up in Taos. It was strange he hadn’t wanted one since. Almost every night, on horseback and bundled up against the cold, he and the kid would ride out under the big New Mexico sky. Tony would tell him the Navajo stories his grandfather had made him learn, and Jackson would tell him what woman of the wind had shown him in the desert outside of Taos. Tony looked up, thought about counting Jackson’s stars, but it was still early. They had wondered together on the cloudless nights what the Angels might all be watching on television that lit up their living rooms. He lifted his blanket and saddle off the porch, whistled for a horse. He was going to miss the kid. Spacey little fucker.

***

Deanna’s flat  / Valentine’s Day, 1979

Deanna walked in out of the rain and before her coat was off her flat mates indicated she’d gotten a delivery, it was in her room. More sweaters from mom? No, mom was still maximum pissed. Another Miami Dolphins jersey from her loser brother who couldn’t have gone to help out the Niners? She opened the door to a single red rose in a small, delicate light blue floral Victorian-ish vase, listing to the right on top of her dresser. A transcribed message in a clean, longhand script on the standard florist’s card from FTD was tied around the neck of the vase with a thin, red ribbon.

D,
Rose is for Valentine’s one. Missed CA enrollment deadline. I’m a New Mexican mess. New Messican? Florist cards too small. Next year has to be better. Hope you’re OK. – J

Deanna held the card for a long time before she took it to the kitchen to pin to the wall she and her flat mates used for a bulletin board. She hadn’t been there long enough to clutter it with new memories. The rose was unexpected, but he’d said they had five Valentine’s, let him know by then or before, and now in just over a month the first one was gone. She’d called her mom collect last week. Mom said Jax’s mom didn’t know where he was, didn’t know if he had a forwarding order on the apartment. All anyone knew was he’d called his mother from a pay phone in the desert somewhere a couple of weeks ago. A New Messican. Come on, Jax…

She stared at the nearly empty wall. The card was small but it would help. When she felt the pin push into the plaster she realized that in the midst of all her anger and defiance and justifications she’d missed the fact that her left-behind world wasn’t going to stay orderly, stashed like old pictures in a box that she could open when she returned to show them all what she’d done without them.

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THG 3 – Ch 7 – Outside the Lines

Deanna’s flat, Cambridge U.K. / Saturday morning January 13, 1979

After a nasty cup of Merriam’s black tea and a warm toilet seat over water putting off ripe refrigerated air and no air freshener to be found, Deanna, on her first morning in Cambridge, eyed her shoulder high dresser with marked contempt. Like the house, it had to be over a hundred years old. It smelled like disinfectant, dirty underwear and mold, and was bolted to the floor just enough off level so that anything round rolled off the top. Her bed frame was bolted to the floor as well, not close enough to the wall to keep her from getting wedged between it and the bed, and not far enough to walk behind. The mattress, on slats with no box spring, was slightly smaller than a twin, in width, not length. Cat said it had been new when she’d brought it down with her and it “hadn’t seen even the shadow of a shag,” so Deanna was free to break it in as soon, and often, as she pleased. So long as she kept her volume down and told them all about every one of them.

There were two sets of cream colored sheets that fit the bed, a tiny lumpy pillow and a maroon, satin-look nylon comforter. Her own pillows, too-big sheets and the double comforter Jackson had given her as a gift her freshman year were in one of the boxes already in her room. She knew half of her clothes would never get worn, her sheets would never fit, or fit in the dresser or the wardrobe. At least the comforter could be folded double for warmth. She repacked a ship-home box from her excess, a process that would result, eventually, in another joyous conversation with mom about head in the clouds lack of preparation that ended in an expense.

She unpacked her few kitchen items from box number 2, found where things like them were stored and emptied most of her cosmetic case on the dresser and the also attached to the floor night stand. Her final touch was a two-year old picture of Jackson on top of her dresser with what was left of the perfume he’d bought her back when he surprised her with girly gifts. Back before she started building her wall. She pulled the picture down, ran her thumbs down the side of the frame.

He was happy, smiling. They were happy. The picture a souvenir from a road trip to the Texas State Fair their freshman year. Just to prove they could disappear for a weekend. Not ask anyone and just go somewhere, spend the night in a LaQuinta, “bone like bunny rabbits” and give their parents the finger. Their romantic teenage getaway went downhill when they’d both barfed out the window of his car after eating greasy yuk fair food all day in the heat and chased it drinking trunk-of-the-car temperature liquor store beer they’d bought on the way in. Beer twice as potent as the watery Okie beer they were used to. By the time they got to the motel they both had the trots and he’d had to make a toilet paper run at midnight because they were too embarrassed to call the front desk. In the bag with the ten pack of toilet paper was a can of Lysol air freshener. Jax didn’t say anything, but used half the can. The next morning they were over it, took a long, soapy shower together and made love until checkout time.

As they pulled out of the motel parking lot he’d said, “You know, before last night, I backed off laying cable until you were out of my apartment. Like you weren’t supposed to know I took a dump or something. Well, that’s over and now we know more than we ever wanted to about each other. We catch the flu together and we can tell everybody we’ve been to for real live-together boot camp, huh?”

This morning, though desperately needed, there was no air freshener. No Jackson, no hot soapy shower. Definitely no sex. She’d made it to Cambridge, the hard part was over. She could relax, be herself again. She set the picture back, wanted to cry, and scream, and kick the dresser. Goddammit he should be here. She should have told him, should have…

“Shit.” She looked around the gloomy room. “Shit, shit, shit.”

Merriam popped her head in the door. “All’s right, love?”

“Yeah…No, it’s not, really.” She held her hands out, fingers spread, interlocked them. “Is there ever a time,” she moved her locked hands in and away, slowly, “when it all comes together and just fucking works and makes sense?”

“I’m chemistry. That sounds like physics. Or theology. I know a few of both lot, if you’d fancy a go at them. Eggs are up as well.”

“In a minute.” Deanna touched the glass on the picture again, said, under her breath. “Just wait. I’ll be back.”

She had no idea when she’d boarded her plane yesterday that “wait” was the last thing on Jackson’s mind as he wandered the northern New Mexico desert outside of Taos, his brain somewhere out on the rings of Saturn, the rest of him on the way to dying of exposure. Nor did she have any idea that the promise of her, the future of her, the hope of her, everything she’d been since she was seventeen had been canceled, boxed, sealed and archived before she even left the country.

***

Central New Mexico / Saturday January 13, 1979

Tony Nakata walked away from the drug dealing “jewelry” girls, their vocal and gestured profanity in his wake, fired up his truck, filled it with a “pay you when I get paid” tank of gas and took the two-lane 503 out of Santa Fe. He picked up the narrow ridge of 76 to Taos at Chimayo. Just in case the kid had gone mission wandering, looking for God. You never knew what someone might go looking for on peyote. Late afternoon he rolled up on Taos, cruised in diminishing circles from the outer perimeter of town for an hour. He turned right on the north edge of old downtown as the sun was going down and spotted his target in an unpaved alley, leaned up against a run down, empty clapboard house not far from Kit Carson’s.

Jackson was incoherent but mumble quality responsive. And filthy. Covered in dried vomit caked with dust. No telling what he’d taken voluntarily, or what the psycho dope girls had done just to fuck with him after they’d emptied his pockets. Pushing into three days was a touch long for him to still be gone from a peyote party. The kid’s body temperature was down from exposure, he was gray from dehydration and shock-ish. Tony grabbed a rolled up blanket out of the rotting plywood-lined bed of his truck, wrapped it around Jackson tight as a body cast, belted him into the passenger side. He tried to get some luke-warm coffee down Jackson’s throat but he started to choke and drool, the coffee running down inside the blanket adding another layer of funk to his barf crust.

Tony took a hit of the coffee, tossed the remains from the thermos cap out his window. “You’re not much good for conversation,” he scoped the mumbly mess of head and hair poked out of the blanket next to him, “but you know your coffee.”

Tony drove back to Santa Fe with the heater cranked and a bandanna over his nose against Jackson’s stink. He pulled up at a pay phone in front of the grocery store where the kid’s car was parked, dropped a quarter, punched in all the numbers Sheffield had given him and pressed the freezing handset to his ear. It rang half of once.

“Nakata, Shef. Got your kid.”

“Breathing or bagged?”

“Breathing. Some chicks dealing on the square got ahold of him. He’s one fucked up filthy-assed pup.”

“Sure it’s him?”

“Yeah. Keys in his pocket fit the car. Found ID in the trunk in what’s left of a wallet. It’s him. Next?”

“Move his car before they tow it, put him in a cheap motel, stay with him till he comes back. If it takes more than a couple of days, drop him at a hospital, call me.”

Tony stared at the receiver for a few, hung it up. No way. He was broke until the money for finding this stinky little fucker showed up. A couple of days worth of babysitting a trashed by choice long haired white kid in a Motel 6 wasn’t Tony Nakata’s idea of a good time, even at Sheffield’s day rate that was more than he’d see in two months doing as little as possible on the rez.

He called his brother to come get the kid’s ride, re-wrapped Jackson’s blanket and drove out to his hogan. He threw Jackson over his shoulder, carried him inside, put him on a cot in one of the two rooms. Tony forced two bottles of water into him then sat down in a worn-out leather chair covered in heirloom quality Navajo blankets to keep the springs out of his butt. His feet went up on a red plastic milk crate, he wiggled the coat hanger attached to a small black and white tv on another milk crate next to his knee, and waited. The night man at the Motel 6 in Albuquerque would comp him a voucher for a week so he could claim the expense for Jackson’s recovery or hospital drop. Then he could buy some beer and maybe a steak that somebody else cooked. Six month’s easy money and dinner on the town for a week’s work.

***

Central-West New Mexico / Sunday evening January 14th, 1979

Jackson came back, mostly, in just under twenty-four hours, and proceeded to eat everything edible in Tony’s cabin. When he started on some six-month-old frozen tamales like they were Popsicles Tony made him stop, threw him in a lukewarm shower, bundled him up and took him to his aunt’s where she fed him a hot, spicy stew full of unknown things, fresh tamales and coffee that would jump start the heart of a dead buffalo.

Tony’s brother-in-law had driven Jackson’s car over from Santa Fe while they were gone, left a note that said it was running fine, minus a tape player and radio.

Jackson, wrapped in his rescue blanket because his jacket still reeked of vomit, stood under the night sky on Tony’s rough, dusty, warped plank porch,and stared at his car for maybe ten silent minutes. Tony put his hand on Jackson’s shoulder.

“There’s a month of work, more or less, needs doing around here. I’ll blow it off, waste time, won’t get around to it without help. Some of it, like the roof and the stock tank, I won’t ever do by myself, even if they both give out.” He stared off at something in the mountains for a couple of heartbeats, kicked a tumbleweed off the porch. “Might be a good idea to make sure you’re hitting on all cylinders before you take off. Whatever’s waiting will keep. The shape you’re in?” His gaze returned to the black against midnight blue mountains. “The only thing waiting for you out there right now is Coyote.”

Jackson knew he was wobbly, had maybe enough gas to get to the Exxon station on I-40. The forty dollars he kept under the insole of his boot didn’t look as big as it used to without the four hundred he used to have in front of it. He wasn’t interested in meeting or being eaten by a coyote, in spirit or flesh, and was in no shape to talk to anyone in admissions at USC. Something he was already two days late for. He was screwed, and baked, and knew it.

“It’s cool? If I hang?”

Tony’s big, gloved hand that had landed on his shoulder earlier gave him a healthy squeeze. “You don’t mind doing a little work, we’re cool.”

Tony Nakata and the new kid, both wrapped in blankets, sat on the dusty porch, stared at the starry sky and talked for hours.

After four days, just to total out that week he was going to bill for the Motel 6, Tony drove to the gas station pay phone in Crownpoint, started talking when he heard the half ring stop.

“Your kid’s back.”

“He still there?”

“Yeah. He’s hanging, helping me out till his shit’s stirred straight.”

“How is he?”

“Little fucker works his ass off and kicks mine is how he is. For my aunt’s tamales.”

“Client needs a little more than he’s industrious and how he feels about your aunt’s tamales, Nakata.”

“Make something up ’cause there’s not much else to it. We work too hard, talk a little, tell some jokes. At night he stares at the sky. Told me he’s never seen so many stars, makes me look at them with him, and tells me the angels must love my place because they can see their way home from here. Says the wind can talk. I can’t tell yet if he’s all there and outside the lines sometimes is who he is, or if he lost a few steps in Taos.”

“The client says he’s that way. She won’t say he’s spaced out, but she says things like sweet, kind, intuitive. Just took a heartbreak hit earlier than expected. He’s not a pussy, can play himself some rock n roll and he’s got the stones to get up in a full grown, powerful, rich woman’s shit. Aside from the space cadet bullshit he makes sense the rest of the time, handles tools okay?”

“Yeah, like a pro. He laid the roof out in the dirt three times before we bought anything, saved me a hundred and twenty bucks. Said he learned it from an All American center. He’s not a pussy. ‘Sweet and kind’ I don’t know. He gets too sweet or kind or intuitively orders me flowers I’ll run his ass off.”

THG 3 – Ch 6 – No Wellies

While a pissed off, poorly organized Jackson headed out of Oklahoma at 105 miles an hour for an unexpected meeting in the New Mexico high desert with Destiny, let’s not forget THG herself’s equally, yet differently, mis-envisioned adventure that set this all in motion is also underway.

Deanna lifted the tall, clear, cheap glass with air bubbles pasta jar, another Pier One college apartment accessory that sat on Jackson’s kitchen counter for two years collecting change, and felt another cold shot of alone waft through her as she noted the jar’s lack of heft. Nearly full before Halloween, it was now down to a couple of inches of change. She’d never explained when Jax had asked how metal coins evaporated. She’d shoveled most of it into a pay phone in front of the 7-11 in the townie part of their college town, hoping she wouldn’t be seen calling the future “flatmates” she’d chosen from lists provided by Newnham College and a Cambridge student housing clearing house. She’d made three calls to the pair of Scottish girls, couldn’t reverse the charges or put them on anyone’s phone without getting busted. Funding the calls had fallen to Jax’s pasta jar. And he’d left the jar in the lettuce box full of her stuff. Goddammit. He knew. Some of it, if not all of it. That was why when she’d just spewed it out on him he hadn’t seemed surprised at all, gave her a time line ultimatum and walked. He was probably burning one with his artsy-fartsy friends, laughing about her “charade of secrecy,” his big joke on Deanna “empty” apartment like he was really gone.

She’d chosen the flat mates because the rent was all she could afford with the money she’d stashed from her living expenses. Mom would have to pay the rest later from the college fund and the money Gramma had left for her that her parents were in charge of and Mom….God. Based on how Jackson and Amanda had pretty much hung icicles on “See ya,” dealing with Mom boiling over was really, really going to suck. A lot. Money this and expensive that and why did she always have to go off the deep end, why wasn’t she reasonable, why was her head always off in the clouds. Which was way better than where her brother and probably Jackson behind her back said that it was most of the time. Well, fuck them and the whole head up her ass parent money thing. They hadn’t used any of her college fund except for her apartment and books, and they shouldn’t complain when they found out about England, really, because Doug’s college had been free. Well, except the lawyers. And the agent. But they’d get that back, mostly. At least the agent. Doug was off to the NFL and most of those guys bought their parents new houses and German cars and stuff so what if Cambridge was expensive?

The jar in her hand had become a gazing ball, full of everything Cambridge swirling around. One of the future flat mates, Merriam, was her age. The other, Catorina, a year older. They’d said the flat was a two bedroom, but a gift from Catorina’s fiancé had made another bedroom available, but didn’t explain. Her room would be between Merriam’s corner room and the recently remodeled up-size “loo” in the other corner. It wasn’t “posh,” wasn’t a dorm or an expensive, modernized concrete and glass box stacked on top of another, but it was close in. There was a combination newsagents’, grocer and post office shop around the corner, along with a Chinese take away, walk up fish and chips and a small, decent pizza and Italian restaurant the girls said were all mixed in with the row houses. A community green grocer’s co-op had opened a few blocks up, a Boots cosmetics, pharmacy and lass’s necessaries a decent walk or short bike away, and a homey pub full of “average” locals an easy drunk’s walk. If she fancied the high life she could drop over three blocks and trod up the River Cam to where the “Crests and plaids lot” hung about. They’d described the flat as old-ish, and new-ish, and reasonably clean and had half a sidewalk, unlike the street over where the doors opened on the curb to the street.

Merriam was headed for graduate work in Chemical Engineering with her eye on America after, Cat was in her early days of a Masters of Finance, and had a job waiting back home in Aberdeen with a Danish owned international trading and brokering house. Merriam called Cat a boring, judgmental, hard-drinking might as well be married cow. Cat described Merriam as a queerish bit of overfed perverse fetishist. They both had an easy laugh and told her never mind the age of the building, a Yank lass would ruin the neighborhood anyway, come along, bugger it all up and be quick about it.

She had no frame of reference for what they described, but in her head it was everything Blake’s “green and pleasant land,” everything every period piece movie she’d ever seen, all spinning around in a cheap pasta jar with the last of Jackson’s change she’d use to call, tell them when to expect her. It all sounded so perfect and different and scary and not at all like the postcards and the romantic, pastoral paintings of England she’d been looking at since she was little or the visions that danced in Jackson’s soon to be empty pasta jar. But it was real. And really about to be hers.

***

Friday morning Deanna’s furious and frightened mother pulled up to the curb at international departures and popped the rear hatch of her station wagon. She’d already laid out the Cambridge was expensive, no scholarship assistance and it cost a small fortune to fly and she would see her daughter when she came home, if she made it home, to Deanna. Repeatedly. Mom Collings, for the first time in a long time, took her daughter’s hand, rubbed it lightly between her own, and looked her in the eye.

“My baby…” Deanna could see the tears held in check behind her mother’s eyes. “I do hope you make it out alive.” She let that breathe. “You…You’re not who you think are, alone, and you never will be. If you ever realize you’re not a one woman show, come home. If not,” she sighed, studied their entwined hands before bringing her eyes back to her daughter’s. “Then set the world on fire, sweetheart. Because if you don’t and we lose you? If you, and everything wonderful you are and could be ends in nothing? It will kill me, too.”

“Mom…” Deanna had been in England in her head for a year. None of them got it. She threw her left arm around her mother’s neck, whispered “I’ll be okay, mom, really.” She squeezed the arm, kissed her mom’s temple, said “Love you” and was on the sidewalk with the big black man who’d pulled her suitcase out of the back of Mom’s station wagon, handing him her itinerary and two dollars.

Jackson had told her back in high school, before they were ever them, “Always over tip and don’t be a dick to waitresses or bellhops or valet, even if they don’t do anything but hand off your food or your suitcase or your keys.” She remembered asking, with a touch of snotty, “Why?” “Because once they’re out of sight they have more ways to fuck with you and your food and your shit than you’ll ever know.” She’d rolled her eyes, gone along with it when he was around, on the cheap side. Seeing the pile of everything she needed to hit England at stride trundled off on a cart with an unsmiling stranger eyeballing the pair of ones in his hand like they were dirty before he stuffed them in his uniform shirt pocket she wished, just once, she’d really listened.

***

Deanna stood in the cold evening rain across the narrow street from what was about to be her new flat. It was a far cry from Blake’s “Green and pleasant land.” Six small student flats in a hundred and ten year old, three story brownish gray brick building covered in dead ivy vines. Six bicycles scattered in front, all with baskets. Rain dripped from the plastic flowers wrapped around one of them. How six apartments could be in there seemed impossible. But there were two on each floor, they’d told her. The ground floor, the greenish door on the left was hers, the window box full of plastic flowers a token to homey-ness. The middle door was the stairwell to the upper floors. The door to the right of that a mirror image of hers.

“Mid-Victorian” Cat had told her. That was why the black pipes for sewer venting were bolted to the outside next to the gutter downspouts. Deanna had hoped it would be one of the little houses with a big window, a stone wall out front with a gate and small, crazy garden for a front yard. Instead there were narrow, barely there sidewalks on either side of a narrow street full of old row houses painted startling colors. The street itself was lined with parked cars all pointed one direction, a few small motorcycles and a million bikes. Streets barely as wide as a car. How did people drive here?

She crossed the street, her big, bright red American Tourister suitcase and make-up case in tow. She’d had to put her leather purse on her shoulder under her red London Fog. Her hair was wet and stringy and it was cold enough to make her nose red. She dropped the knocker twice.

The girl who answered had dark auburn hair, some freckles under a light dusting of face powder and didn’t miss many meals.

“You’ll be Deanna.” The girl took in the bright red coat and suitcases, shook her head. “Bloody landing beacon, you are. Come on, don’t stand about in the rain. Cat? Our lass from the colonies is arrived.”

Another girl appeared in the dark, back corner of the room. Deanna’s height, trim, blondish, angular and severe, dishtowel in hand. “Bloody hell…She’ll not be run down on Merton in that.” Dishtowel girl gave Deanna the once over, frowned at her wet, low heeled dress shoes. “No Wellies? You weren’t told it rains here?” It took Deanna a few seconds to process that from “Nwellies? Ya wernatole eh rines ere?”

“Yes. No. No wellies. Those are rain boots? Rubbers, my dad says, and mom says galoshes. Do I need them? I sort of threw all this together in a big hurry.”

“Will you have a listen to her, Cat? Sounds a bit off, but she’s a fine eyeful of lass.” Merriam had taken Deanna’s coat and hung it on a coat rack that stood in the middle of a drip pan. “Scotch, love? We’ve a beer as well.”

“Seven-Up?”

“Fizzy drinks are in a cold case in a shop ‘round the corner.” She pointed at a small, square box under the sink. “Fridge space is premium. Food and beer win the day over fizzy. Have a sit. Cat?”

Catorina explained the flat layout, without moving anything but the dishtowel at the end of her arm. “Down the side, our Merriam, you, our new lass, and the loo in the corner, just there. Across the back the table for study and fine dining, and kitchen, as it is. Not much in the way of cupboard, we share all that’s there, the odd cups and plates. Choose what you like, we’re not much for standing on Her Majesty’s ceremony here.” Cat’s dishtowel gesturing hand folded back in and she waited for comment from Deanna.

The kitchen, as it was, contained a recent, small, four burner gas stove top-oven combo with what Deanna would discover was the ubiquitous teapot on top. Next up an old, deep, wide, chipped ceramic sink with eighteen inches of counter space on either side over cabinets left, right and under, more cabinets above, all with mismatched patterned curtains for doors. A window by the table and a window over the sink, both looked into the alley behind, all of it open to the main room. A short, narrow door opened under the stairs to the upper floors, another door just to the left into the alley. A fireplace on the wall opposite the bedrooms was surrounded by built-in bookshelves, mostly devoid of books. The largest, newest fixture in the flat was a chocolate brown sleeper sofa two thirds the width of the room, that sat on a plush dark blue rug. Folded out it became Cat’s “bedroom.”

“Wow. Cool. Kinda small, really, but cool. And, not that I’m a bitch or anything, but it’s Dee – anna, not Deena.”

Cat’s eyes left Deanna for Merriam and they sputter laughed. “A Colonist, but not a bitch, studying English and having a go at our speech, eh Cat? Deanna it was and is, love.” It still sounded like Deena.

“Um…” Maybe it was a nickname thing. “Okay.” Deanna took in the entire flat again. “I guess that’s all, huh? Except for the rolled up blue foam thing by the fireplace?”

“You’ll have Merriam show you what she gets up to with that when you’ve set your kit and joined us proper. Wouldn’t do, you running down Newnham in tears your first night in.”

THG 3 – Ch 5 – Sidetracked

New Mexico and surrounding cosmos / January 8 – 12, 1979

As Amanda had predicted, Jackson took a box with his stereo, two small TVs, bathroom and kitchen junk and dropped it in the middle of his dad’s side of his parents’ garage without a note. He pulled the door down and burned rubber all the way to the corner, glad he’d stalled on signing the spring semester lease on his apartment under the guise of ‘saving our parents some money and actually living together,’ trying to force Deanna’s hand.

Well, that didn’t work out, but at least she’d dropped England on him before he was out of options. Jackson hit the Oklahoma-Texas Panhandle line at 105 miles an hour and was almost in New Mexico by the time Deanna was taking the lettuce box and plastic bag up the stairs to her own boxed up apartment, thinking he’d be home later because he had to be, and she could talk her way around the mess she’d made of them.

His plan was to make it to Los Angeles, finish his application for USC, sleeping in his car for a week if he had to, and get in under the wire. That had been his plan all along, only a semester further down the road and without the sense of urgency. He would have gone somewhere else if she’d bothered to talk to him about what she was really upset about, what she wanted. The two of them, getting the educations they wanted, together somewhere. She never offered, wouldn’t talk to him and he let it slide until he didn’t want to stop whatever she’d set in motion. It was hers, she didn’t want him in it, she could have it.

He’d said Valentine’s ‘83. He could do the dance and slide on serious romance for that long, just to see what it was like without a hot girl’s bullshit. She didn’t show by noon that Valentine’s day? Screw her. There had to be thousands of hot girls in L.A. And four years was long enough to put eyes on the one Deanna didn’t want to be.

He dropped to the speed in limit in New Mexico. It was beautiful, and cold, in that thin mountain air way, with a million stars in a clear, light-and-air pollution free sky. He spent his first night gone in the parking lot of the Tewa Lodge in Albuquerque. Four days later he smoked some peyote he copped off a trio of hippie jewelry girls in Santa Fe, took off to Taos in their van with them, and disappeared.

***

Tony Nakata, a reasonably fit, forty-ish, tall for a full blood Navajo, got word through family that his niece at the Crownpoint Police Station had a message for him. He sobered up, drove to Crownpoint, found out his old military operations officer Sheffield was looking for him. He called collect from the pay phone in the cop shop lobby, told Shef yeah, he’d look around New Mexico for a missing kid.
Tony was looking for real work anyway. Sometimes. Sometimes he was just drinking beer in his grandfather’s cabin in the tumbleweeds between Grants and Crownpoint, wondering what happened to his life after Nam and Laos and Cambodia. His white, reservation schoolteacher wife took off with their daughter after he’d had another night of a few beers too many in a long string of nights exactly like it.

On his second day out he spotted Jackson’s car in a grocery store parking lot not far from the square in Santa Fe. It was unlocked, wires hanging where the stereo should have been, glove box open and empty. A few clothes scattered in the back seat, no sign of any keys. Kids, probably twelve or thirteen, had stolen the tapes and stereo. Pros would have taken the car or at least popped the trunk. Car like that had more valuable parts than a tape deck. Sheffield had said the kid liked girls and Nakata knew just where to find some a long haired kid might like.

The square was lined with jewelry makers, mostly Native American, a couple of old white women, and the three girls who pretended to sell jewelry as a front for the weed, hash, and peyote they sold to tourists into that sort of thing.

He squatted down in front of them and their blankets full of cheap, Indian looking Taiwanese jewelry. “Where is he?” He held out the teletype picture of Jackson. “He had to be here.” He tilted his chin slightly in the direction of the lot. “I found his car right over there.”

The smallish girl in the back with nervous fingers pretending to bead some fishing line didn’t bother to look up. “Why us? We’re not runaway lost and found.” That elicited light humor snorts from the other two.

Tony palmed his thigh with a loud pop, and they all three jumped into paying attention.“Because you three, and this kid?” He shoved the picture under their noses, looked up at the sky and slowly waved his other arm. “I see a rainbow. Hear a big choir singing like God’s fabric softener commercial.”

“We don’t know him or what you’re talking about. We’ve never seen him, okay? So beat it and take your mystical medicine man laundry moment with you.”

“How about I dump your purses on the sidewalk, one at a time, before I ask again?”

The nervous girl in the back reached for her over-sized saddle blanket purse and locked her small black eyes on him. “You can’t do that. We know our rights.”

“All this ‘we know’ talk. I’m no cop, ladies. I can dump your purses just because I’m a big Indian asshole.” He picked the leader of the pack. Pretty, in a rough sort of way. Dressed the part of a hippie jewelry maker. Too much make up and a touch too old for anyone paying attention. He could see how a young guy could get hooked right into her. He snatched her purse away from her.

“HEY HEYYY, Big Chief asshole! DON’T!”

Tony held the purse out of reach in a hand that would have made six of hers. Her eyes bounced between his eyes and the purse. “He bought some peyote…and some other shit, right? And we drove around and partied and then he got out of the van to puke. In Taos.” She turned to her friends for support. “Like almost three days ago, right? We couldn’t find him when we were leaving, so he’s still there.”

“No, you got him fucked up and ripped him off before you dumped him. You hope he’s still there.” Tony dumped the purse in disgust with what the Square had become and watched the girls scramble after the pharmacy that rolled out all over the sidewalk. There were never cops around when you needed them.

***

“Jackson, have you ever wondered what a life is worth?”

He felt her presence, knew she was there without seeing her. All he could see was an out of focus pile of clothes that might be him, lying in the dust next to a dilapidated, unpainted house on the edge of old downtown Taos. “Not really. I guess I never thought much about it…”

“Not many do. You paid five dollars and made a promise if it would go the way you asked. Have you tired so soon of your five dollar life?”

“I guess five wasn’t enough. Not the way it’s gone since then. I got close, but never close enough.”

“Self pity is a pair of lead boots. You are responsible for where you are. Now you’ll throw the gift of your life away, possibly hers as well, because you don’t understand it, can’t see beyond your own instant gratification? Can’t accept the journey that is yours?”

“There’s not much left of where I was going, is there? There I am, right down there. I tried, you know?”

“No, you played your own game of emotional dodge ball, just as you accused your five dollar young woman of doing, and put up a good front. Disguising anger and frustration as caring and supportive, using them to force volatile confrontations to get the emotional feedback you wanted from her. That was as unfair as her not sharing herself with you. Now it’s come down to a pharmacological potpourri and a pile of dirty laundry. In Taos?”

“I only took what I could handle. Whatever they gave me in the Gatorade I didn’t ask for.”

“That isn’t exactly true. You wanted to continue joyfully and irresponsibly fornicating your way through life and drank what they told you would give you the strength, and them the willingness, to let you have them all. They knew what you wanted. Those women have dealt with banes like you their entire lives. Yet you trusted them to find you irresistible when in truth they found you an expendable nuisance with four hundred dollars in your front pocket, and there you are.”

He felt his eyes drawn to to the pile of clothes.

“Robbed, humiliated, out of your mind and near death. Instead of irresistible you have discovered yourself to be a horny, lost, heartbroken, insignificant almost dead sucker in a pile of dirty laundry. A self-realization that needs not be accompanied by pity, self or otherwise. ‘Is’ just is, if you follow me.”

Jackson could feel the desert breeze blowing through him, holding him in position, a low flying kite and realized that he, and the woman’s voice, her ethereal touch and the wind were all one essence, floating together.

“So now what? I don’t know how I know, but when it gets dark and cold again, I’m toast. I can’t do another night out. I’ll die, if I’m not dead already, self pity and all. Ripped out of my mind with a mouth full of sand. And nobody gives a damn.”

“That is far from the truth as well. It is all much bigger than you. Don’t think, don’t surmise you understand even a pinhead of valuable truth, or run your mouth. For a moment, simply Feel.” He floated, the wind warmed him.

“You have come to me at this crossroads for a discussion of the Big Two. Forgiveness, and Participation. You need to grasp both. That you may use them to find a way to make a difference with every opportunity you are shown. Right now there is a man in a rusty old truck coming this way who needs to meet you as badly as you need to meet him, or he will also end up a pile of dirty, drunk, dead laundry in New Mexico. He will turn left or right. Left, and after dark, he will find a pile of laundry that was you. Right, and before the sun sets he will find you. You may choose to meet him and return to your five dollar life, or not. Left or right. Your call.”

“What happens after, either way?”

“That is not for me to say. But if it will help you with your decision I can tell you that we have a surplus of piano players right now. Really good piano players.”

THG 3 – Ch 4 – Gone

Monday morning January 8, 1979 – Con’t

Amanda dialed Jackson’s number before Deanna was on the elevator. It was disconnected. Without a goddam word. The little shit. She punched her phone, waited.

Bonjour,  Developments of Morisé, Alix —”

“Alix, did Jackson tell you what he would do if Deanna leaving was more than a theory?”

Le petit bijou, she has flown with the coop, oui?”

“Yes. Five months early. Jackson?”

“Ahhh. Le Université de musique du sud de la Californie he found most to his liking, my love. Yu-Ess-See?”

“I speak French, Alix.”

“Not often enough, I think, and never in la chambre. Jackson also flies in the coop, no?”

“I’m not sure. Come home, we’ll talk. I’ll practice my French.” She hung up, punched her phone again.

“Stacey? I know you’re not reception, this is personal. Get Sheffield on the phone, get him up here.”

“Sheffield himself, not just someone from security?”

“Sheffield. Get him up here.”

***

Forty-five minutes after leaving Amanda’s office Deanna was in Jackson’s apartment, looked around at a furnished, semester lease college apartment that was now completely empty and new tenant ready except for a lettuce box with “Deanna” written in marker on the couch where she used to sit. He’d cleaned up all the posters, the hippie tapestries, the pictures after the last Valentine’s day she forgot. She’d told him it looked almost barren. He’d said barren was symbolic. She thought it was one of his artsy moments at the time, but now with even his cobbled together, tweaky musician’s stereo she was almost forbidden to touch, two little TVs and the pile of warm quilts missing, all of him was gone.

The lettuce box was loosely packed with all of her leftover things. Some earrings, a bracelet, too many loose pictures of the two of them, her toothbrush and hairbrush. Even the blow dryer of hers that he liked. The plastic trash bag beside it had some clothes, bathrobe, her knee socks and favorite jeans. They were his jeans, really, and too big on her, but she loved to wear them. His favorite sweater on her, so he said, and even the small tube of KY in a zip lock bag. Jackson bought it for her a couple of months ago after he’d told her she either wasn’t interested, or didn’t like him anymore. They’d only used it twice. Only made love three times in two months. She’d said ‘Lover, it’s nothing. I think it’s the pills.’ That wasn’t a lie, or too much of one. She’d stopped her birth control pills she’d been on under doctor’s orders since she was fourteen, and it had wasted her female chemistry. She didn’t want to mess with strange doctors and all of that in England. And Jackson used condoms most of the time anyway. They’d laughed about doubling up for safety, back when she’d been able to laugh. She was afraid he’d thought there’d been more than his business involved in some of her stunts and didn’t trust her.

He’d finally told her that if she needed an oil change before having sex with him she should just go home. He’d hold her some nights, but usually he said nothing and opened the door for her. Like “making love to the couch” he’d said. He told Amanda he knew. His apartment had said he’d known all along. If he had asked her, directly, what would she have told him? Would her brain have been just as dry as the rest of her? Would the transparent lies have come?

When it came to Jackson the words she wanted were never there. Last week she’d dreamed she and all of her words for him were locked in a jail, surrounded by bars and jailers without faces. She couldn’t talk, couldn’t ask for him, but he had to know she was there with her words, waiting for him. But he wouldn’t come and the jailers circling her cell slowly turned into demons with red eyes and long black robes. She woke up alone, drenched and shaking again. She knew she’d screamed in her sleep because her throat burned all morning.

***

Amanda had set up Morisé Private Security after Blackbeard’s burned down, for the sole purpose of keeping Sheffield available. Whatever business Sheffield got up to running private, high level secret service style security for politicians, heads of state and media darlings to the dark side of free lance intelligence and ‘assignments’ she left up to him. As a mercenary bouncer he’d cleared out two city blocks worth of pimps, dealers, low-lifes, junkies, every sort of bad guy who could prey on women around Blackbeard’s. In that job he and two Nam vets in a band had saved her life when a nutcase went off on an armed rant over an ex-girlfriend in ‘Beards.

It took Sheffield two hours to get to Seventeen Hundred after Stacey’s call. Amanda saw him step off the elevator and met him in front of her desk.

“Thanks for coming, Shef. I hope I didn’t interrupt —”

“You said emergency, I’m covered. I might have used every favor I had banked with the Troopers in two states who waved and didn’t stop me on the way.” He checked his watch. “Three hours and fifteen, legally. In two hours and three, even.” He crossed his arms at the wrists, low, gave Amanda a loose smile, waited.

Sheffield made her comfortable, something rare in men. He was okay with who he was, got dangerous jobs done without a load of macho bravado. Like Jackson, he could carry on a conversation with a wall. Unlike Jackson, Sheffield was carrying two handguns and knew at least eleven ways to kill a man with his bare hands while he was standing up.

“I need you to find Jackson.” Her arms were crossed as well, and she was patting one bare foot. Sheffield knew if she still smoked, she would be.

“The kid? The old band kid, boyfriend of the prize? Where’d he go?”

“Gone. I don’t mean down the street gone. He took off, I’m sure of that. Probably west.”

“Interstate gone, huh? He still have the same car?”

“Yes.” She shook her head, walked back around her desk. “Maybe it’ll blow up again and make this easy.”

“Prep and a plan make easy. Starting to sound like he pulled a shit and git.”

“That’s exactly what he did. I understand he’s been purging things for the last year, like he had a plan, but whatever plan he had just blew up in his face. He’s disconnected and gone.”

“Talked to his mother?”

“Not yet. He won’t go home. He might drive by and dump any leftover shit he didn’t want to take with him, but that’s it.”

“Details?”

Amanda pulled Jackson’s card out of her Rolodex, handed it to him.
He studied it, briefly. “When we find him?”

“Tell me where he is, how he is. Don’t be obvious or intervene unless he puts a dangerous spin on headstrong stupid.”

“Time frame?”

“Until he’s settled. If he lands somewhere, check on him from a distance. If he moves I want to know.”

“Not a daily?”

“No. Just where and how he is, a couple of times a week.”

Sheffield popped the Rolodex card with his finger. “We don’t have trackers on payroll, and this is an inside job. Contract the right help if he’s out of range?”

“You run security, not me. Hire whoever needs to do what needs to be done. Just find him.”

Sheffield switched on a radio in his sport coat pocket and started reading Jackson’s personal and car information to the air, waited for confirmation. When the radio squawked quietly he handed the card back.

“Thank you. Again. I know it doesn’t seem important, but…”

“Yeah, I know. Shame to lose his Cary Grant.” Shef’s smile was small and short. “Should we check with the girl?”

“She’s the reason he’s gone, Shef, and she hasn’t got a clue.” She locked her face like it hurt. “God, I hate to say this about any woman, but without him, Shef? She may never.”

***

Amanda waited for Sheffield to square up with the elevator, punched her phone for Amber again, who arrived in exactly two minutes, clutching an empty folder.

“Amber, dear. Why are you carrying an empty folder?”

“It started when we were interns, with Bev. She was in finance and always had one, and you were always talking to her. Stace and I thought she was your fave and we started carrying them everywhere, so it looked like we were doing something important.”

“My father said there were two kinds of employees on a job site. the guys who were working, and the guys who carried a shovel and walked fast all day. I’ve seen you and Stacey do real work.”

“Yeah, well…And then Stacey got an office and I became a lawyer way back in the corner, in a place full of lawyers. No biggie, I’ll address my insecurity issues when I get a minute.”

“Do not ride through this building naked, on a white horse, covered in nothing but all that hair you have bundled up to resolve them. Understood?”

“That was college. You know that can be.”

“I do.” Amanda pulled up to her desk, started a list on a legal pad. “I need you to shut down the D.C. Collings Project. All of it. Anything we’re signed up for, part of, related to…Shut it off.  Check with Stace and Bev, see if there is anything else open with liability attached. Have Stacey file all of the research, and put it in the library for now. Park the publishing company. Don’t kill it because we own the name and some material was published under that umbrella. Give all that to Stacey as well. Tell Bev to keep paying the bills, you keep signing documents, whatever is involved at the life support minimum, but park it. Stop the textbook conversations. Politely. You and Stacey will know how. And tell Bev to watch for any outstanding payables on the Collings project, particularly any personal expenses from Miss Collings, and bring them to me.” She started to put her list in a fresh folder when Amber offered hers. Amanda shook her head, took the folder, loaded it and handed it back.

***

Deanna left a huge mess of unfinished business in her wake. C.A. Morisé forfeited the three paid, professional D.C. Collings presentations, and Amanda was furious. Not about the money, but about their credibility hit. The Collings Project. Stacey packed away the unfinished textbook research and publishing materials along with Amanda’s dream of publishing an accurate historical representation of women’s history textbook and Alix’s topical reference on rape, abuse and the law in the Twentieth Century. All of it shut down in Amanda’s uncharacteristic reactionary response to one confused girl’s behavior.

Seventeen Hundred Oilman’s Bank Tower was on its way to becoming the tomb of women’s dreams left by Deanna Collings, and her alter ego, D.C. Collings. She might as well have taken their purpose in her wake when the glass door shhhhhed closed behind her.

THG 3 – Ch 2 – Organ Grinder’s Monkey

Deanna Collings’ apartment / Monday January 8, 1979

“Jackson…” Deanna held on to the door of her apartment, backed it open. “I know how you feel about my apartment. I don’t know why you can’t understand that I don’t need a separate life, I never have. Mom just needs me to have this. Will you sit? Somewhere? Please?”

What he’d come to expect from her apartment, the couch as clean clothes holding zone was covered in boxes. Both chairs the same, the kitchen chairs pushed against the wall, the kitchen covered in new, unused pots and pans and gadgets her mother had loaded her up with two and half years ago. The pink bean bag chair that had spit little white balls since Deanna was in junior high wasn’t inviting.

“You’ve always kept your life separate, Deanna, and I’ve been sitting.”

“I need to…” She paused and let it all out in a rush. “I’m leaving for Cambridge, the one in England, on Friday. I can finish my degree and maybe get a double masters in three years on their system because of no minors and different timing…” The look on his face…“I’ll even get specialized individual study between sessions. I need to do this. I need to know I can do it. By myself.”

“You’ve known this since October 28th? The day your post-grad adjunct friends had their Halloween party?”

“How do you know? About the twenty-eighth?”

“That’s when I started making love to the couch.”

“What?”

“That’s when the last of you disappeared. I didn’t know you were cutting it this close on cluing everybody before you skated.”

He was too aloof, too —

“Thanks for trusting me, Deanna. I need to go.” He reached for the door that had never quite closed. “Good luck in England. Take a coat. I worked with a guy from there who said it’s colder and wetter than the postcards and paintings.”

“I knew you’d leave me. I knew it. That’s why I couldn’t tell you.”

“You knew? You fucking knew? Sometimes smart girls don’t know shit, D. Here’s what I fucking know. I should have told you and Amanda to shove all your ‘we’re too perfect’ ‘They’re the perfect team’ ‘Jackson’s our boy’ game up your asses. I should never have listened to any of you, or ever gotten roped into this farce. You can do whatever you want, wherever you want, with whoever you want. I told you that the last time you came home with a line of shit a mile —”

“And I told you I didn’t want it that way.” She swallowed, hard. “You promised to love me forever, Jax, no matter what.”

“You, of all people, Miz rising star of feminism, should know that just some guy like me would say almost anything to get in your pants. All of your ‘I’m a virgin, promise me,’ crap. Fuck that. You were the first non-bar maid piece of ass I’d gotten since September. I’d have promised you a gold plated, life-sized statue of yourself to get out of that room smiling.”

“You can’t say that! It was true! You didn’t believe me? Ever? You just did that with me, made me feel like that and didn’t believe me?”

“Come on. You went all ice maiden on me about something that afternoon. All of your ‘I don’t do that, take me home’ stories. All your ‘Love is one of the big words, Jackson. But thank you’ bullshit. I’ve always been a convenience. That’s why you have your own separate life. You need it to keep me out of whatever your real life is.” He raised his chin, rotated it around her apartment. “This is yours, even if you’re never here you know you have it. Your mom riding your ass not to live with me never had anything to do with it.”

“That’s not true and you know it. I don’t care how mad you are or how mean you are, you’re it, Jackson. Only you. Ever.”

He looked at her, he thought for maybe the last time. “Yeah? Then why has it been impossible for you to talk to ‘only me’ about this until the door is hitting me in the ass? Why does who we are always feel like a dodgeball game, huh? Why am I always getting the shadow of where you were instead of you? Good luck, Deanna. I hope you can find what you’re looking for.”

She yanked his arm back from the door. “Okay, maybe I’m sick of it, too. You and Amanda with your little secret nobody knows, and all your godammit, Deanna, listen to yourself, Deanna, what the fuck was that, Deanna? Why don’t you care, Deanna? Dammit dammit dammit, Deanna. Well fuck you all. You and Amanda and fucking too sexy and smart Alix and Stacey and her BAM words and all that, all of you telling me the stuff I need to read and understand for myself. Maybe I hated being the organ grinder’s monkey…” She smacked him hard in the chest with both palms.

“As much as I hate grinding my organ for the monkey?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“Good advice is always late.” He rubbed his chest. “I get my shot now?”

“Jax, goddammit don’t. I’ll be back. You can’t hate me. You can’t.”

“I can’t hate you, Deanna, but ‘us’ being ‘it’? I just found out how much of ‘us’ I’m not. Did you think you could drop ‘Oops, I’m leaving for three years’ like ‘Oh yeah, forget to tell you there’s a dead mouse under the sink?’ I was supposed to figure all this out by ESP because two months ago you turned me off cold like a shitty cry baby song on the radio?”

“Well…No. But…”

“Great. Deanna’s special universe where nobody gets it but her.” He picked up her Day-Timer, flipped to the back where they put all the calendars for ten years out. He circled Valentine’s Day, 1983, ripped it from the binder. “You want three years? Lucky fucking you.”

He pulled open the neck of her sweater, wadded up the day timer page and stuffed it down the front. “There’s four years, five weeks and two days. Five Valentine’s days. If you think there’s anything left of this, of us, if you aren’t married or pregnant or in a coma, rich or famous or a euro jet-setter? If you come home and need somebody to do your laundry, keep your car running? Look me up. I shouldn’t be hard to find.”

She’d never seen his eyes as cold as they were, and could feel hers getting warm again when she looked down at the lump in her sweater, tried get a grip on what was happening. Her orchestration of excuses and justifications, his failure to acquiesce like he was supposed to, all of it falling apart.

“You have to understand how much I’ll miss you, how much this means. You promised me, Jax.”

“I promised because I was young and stupid. I hoped some day you’d play me your whole song instead of beating the chorus until you faded out.” He grabbed a handful of loose sweater and the crumpled Day-Timer page. “I ‘understand’ you’re running away again, and your Aunt’s in Wichita isn’t far enough and your parents’ vacations aren’t long enough. I ‘understand’ you could have told me who you really are, what you really wanted, what the hell was going on, but didn’t. I ‘understand’ this could have gone on, maybe gotten a lot better, or ended another way.”

She felt the pull every one of the 3,000 miles she’d been putting between them for a year. He wouldn’t be downstairs, waiting in the parking lot or in the bedroom. He wasn’t stashed somewhere and saved for later when she needed him, where she could tell him a little of how she felt if she got around to it. He wouldn’t be where he could help her, focus her, love her until he got too close.

“Jax, it’s not over. It’s just…different. And I’ll be back, and it’ll be better then, really. Jax?”

He held his left hand above his shoulder, open wide, as he went through the door.

He didn’t slam it. He didn’t say “You got this one, D, see ya on the flip side,”  or “Do what you gotta do, I’ll be here,” like he did every time she left town. Not even a kiss goodbye. All the times she hadn’t wanted one for the last year, now, when she needed it to matter, it wasn’t there at all. And who was he kidding with his arrogant little timeline? School was school. She’d knock it out early like always.

THG 3 – CH 1 – Done Deal

I’m going to put these on auto pilot M-W-F (except today). The Hot Girl 3, draft mode.

Deanna Collings’ Apartment / Saturday afternoon, October 28th, 1978

Deanna crossed her fingers and opened the envelope carefully by sawing the top from under the flap with one of Jackson’s dull, white plastic handled Pier One steak knives she’d “borrowed” for the sole purpose of letter opener.

Ms Deanna C. Collings. Please be advised that your application to Newnham College, Cambridge, has been conditionally accepted…

She yelped and fell back into the bean bag chair in her apartment, stunned. It wasn’t a dream she couldn’t see, blinded and buried by her academic marathon. It was real. Really for fucking real. She folded the envelope, jumped up, wiped her sweaty palms on her thighs and smoothed her skirt. She had to get her shit together. In a few hours she needed to be at an early Halloween party with a circle of “couples” friends she’d grown through classes and academic societies, not the arts department weirdos Jackson hung around with. The crazy people he would be with tomorrow night playing the piano with a stupid egg beater for his old neighbor Audrey the dancing naked in a long wispy scarf whore’s dance recital that Deanna would noisily boycott. Whore bitch. Who did she think she was, wrapped in nothing but a huge scarf, rolling around on the floor in Jackson’s apartment. To loud booty rock! She didn’t care if they’d been neighbors since they were four. “Odd” was fucking nutso, no matter what anybody said and Jax went right down art nutso lemming road right behind her.

And that was thing, really, with Jackson. He could be so…Over the line with artsy stuff sometimes. Otherwise, Deanna was proud of the two of them as a couple. When they were out together, where she wanted them to be. He was comfortable with people, everyone liked him. He was cute, funny, different, smart. And knew exactly the right things to say to open up a conversation. He even taught her brother how to stay just on the right side of the flirty and potty mouth lines around “straights.” “Boyfriend theater,” he called it. “Like playing a tux gig.” Jax was really the guy he was without her. The guy she didn’t understand. All he wanted to talk about was how she couldn’t talk to him about anything that mattered except her starring role in ‘D.C. Collings, the New Voice of Feminism’ in Collegiate Debate presentations.

They didn’t get it. Him, Amanda, none of them. That stand and talk shit wasn’t cutting it anymore. She was tired of saying what they wanted her to say. She was by God going to Cambridge, going to get smarter, going get her own fucking voice and they could eat it.

She fidgeted by her breakfast nook table in the apartment directly over Jackson’s. She was out of place, never stayed here, only down there, and now…She fell into a palms down lean on the table. Jackson. Shit.

Jackson had tried to talk to her about USC and “cool” California, even Boston, and how that was what he really wanted to do. Instead of getting a degree that would send him to the unemployed lounge lizard waiting line for a band director’s gig in Podunk. Had tried to tell her he didn’t have to do the weekend pick up gigs she bitched about, and she didn’t need to kill herself studying. She’d said he just did it to hang out with his whore bartender friends and the whore blondie folksinger who was really a dentist and not really a whore…He’d said what did it matter, she studied twenty seven hours a day and what was he supposed to do, hold her books for her? Hold her head up?

She could do without that guy. But the other one? Mister funny conversation about nothing? Mister kiss her out of her shoes? And the only one ever who knew how to fix her presentations when they got away from her because he could hear things in her, find things in her, that she couldn’t. That Jackson was okay. She shouldn’t argue with him like the world would end when he was right. But goddammit, she was miserable and he couldn’t see it she and wasn’t going to roll over without making him miserable, too.

She rolled up, took a deep breath, put the letter in her big leather purse. Deanna and Jackson. In front of her friends, in public? They were an attractive, smart, fun couple that should make it out of college together. A couple that she was about to make no more. At least for a while. She flipped the purse flap over, covering the letter, physically sealing it in her private world. No matter how much Cambridge meant to her, it suddenly hurt more than she could ever have imagined to have to cut him off. She’d never been able to imagine him not being, well, Jax. And there. Tears she didn’t expect burned her eyes. She wiped them on the back of her hand, She had two months to steel herself. Wished she could go tomorrow. No. Now.

***

Amanda Morisé’s office / Wednesday afternoon, November 1st, 1978

Amanda stood behind her giant, clear desk, stretched across an equally giant unrolled blueprint, red marker in hand. She didn’t bother to look up when Jackson eased through her office door unannounced.

“Jailbait. There is some viable reason for you to be in my office during business hours without Deanna?”

“Yeah. Back in summer you asked what was going on with Deanna? She’s done, Amanda. It’s over. The last one was the last one, if you’re picking that up.”

“You are speaking in riddles and I’m busy. Be clear, dear. Or be gone.”

“She got an important letter of some kind on Saturday. I saw it in her mailbox, couldn’t see who it was from. By the time we went to a Halloween party Saturday night she was gone. All the way back to the cheerleader plastic smile gone. Where’s the D.C. Collings flunky release you told me about when all this started? I need to sign —”

Amanda held up her finger, punched the phone with butt end of the marker. “Amber? Got a sec? Yes, my office. Bring Mr. Jackson’s Collings Project file, please.” She studied him across the expanse of the clear Oz desk while they waited for Amber Free, Morisé’s legal and HR department. Amber floated in through the side door of Amanda’s office, replete with a ubiquitous Morisé manila folder that Amanda received without comment and turned to Jackson.

“Close, but no cigar, my shaggy young friend. Now, once more, all of it, for all of us. In English.” She had now would be good eyes working over her reading glasses.

“Okay, Saturday. She got a letter. Whatever was in it must have been what she’s been waiting for since the ‘big secret’ letters started a year ago. I think she wants to go to grad school someplace impressive and doesn’t want me to follow her.”

“Why would Deanna keep something as simple as graduate school a secret?”

“It’s just how she is. She needs to keep people and parts of her life at arm’s length, can’t find a way to tell anyone why.”

“Presume, for the moment, that you’re correct. Deanna will graduate a year early, go on to more prestigious aventures académiques —”
“Jesus, Amanda. You and Alix and the damn French.”

“Alix is French. For me French was a facet of my overpriced education and I have an aversion —”

“To wasting money. I’ve heard that one.”

She pushed a crystal vase to the edge of the blueprint, straightened from her palms on the blueprint posture. “As I was saying, before I was interrupted, presume Deanna does run off to graduate school. You will continue on your current academic path or…”

“We’re juniors. I’m a junior, anyway, and the loads she’s been carrying could have her out by summer. I figure she’ll hook it to wherever before the ink is dry on her diploma. While she’s graduating out during spring semester I’ll kick down and work part time, save the good shit for a music program somewhere I can live with when she’s gone. But we’re all done as D.C. Collings, and that’s a natural fact.”

“You’re basing that assumption on her academic overoad, a bad time at a party and a mysterious envelope?” She gave him the dead man stare for a few beats. “Convince me?”

“You know how her last presentation went a couple of weeks ago. She didn’t make it past the first round, didn’t call and boo-hoo, didn’t bitch about the judges. She sat in a hotel room for three days without telling anyone she’d cratered so she could eat high-rent room service breakfast, call for cabs and go sightseeing and do dinner with Ivy League McDreamys on your dime.”

“So she did.” Amanda pulled a form from the folder, gave it a cursory look. “And that, on top of the letter and her other behaviors over the last year is why you now want out of the D.C. Collings project?”

“I don’t want ‘out’, Amanda. What I’m saying, and you’re not hearing, is that I know y’all’s D.C. Collings show is history. And so is my Tonto flunky gig, and so am I. I can feel it folding. So I should sign whatever waiver of rights deal you set up now. If there’s a fuck up on the flip side of this thing I’m not the pile of legal horseshit that everyone else in the parade has to step in trying to get on down the road to next.”
“Jailbait, your poor mother.” She turned the form his direction with her fingertips. “You can be so considerate, and so disgusting at the same time.”

“It’s a gift. Pen?”