HO SPRINGS
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71. DWAYNE, DaSHAWN, LaTONYA: Let Us Pray

DWAYNE

e raised his hands to the congregation.

For the brothers and sisters in need of divine intervention, let us pray!

Amen.

For those, who have lost their way in the sight of the Lord, let us pray!

Amen.

For the thieves, for the flesh peddlers, for those who have turned away from their families, let us pray.

And let us pray, oh Lord, for our own souls, for who among us is without sin, or without earthly hopes and heavenly dreams? Give us your aid, sweet Jesus, in achieving our goals, in purifying our intentions, and in casting out the devils who walk among us and live within.

DaSHAWN

Suitcase in hand, pockets empty, he stood before her door for a long moment, head bowed.

He never thought he would be reduced to this, not since he was 17 and left home for the last time. His fortunes had been on the rise ever since. At least until recently.

After a long moment, he lifted his hand and range the bell. He could hear her footsteps in the apartment, see her eye on the other side of the peephole. At last, she opened the door.

“Mama,” he choked out. “I want to come home.”

She didn’t move from the doorway.

“Ma, please. I have nowhere else to go.”

At this he nearly coughed out a tear, it was so close to being true. I have nowhere decent to go, was a hard fact. I have not enough money to do anything impressive and no one who loves me, including maybe you.
(more…)

64. TARYN: Candy

ou could tell without thinking who was at the festival.

Car gone. Lights thriftily turned off. Dog tied up.

Everybody piled into the vehicle and went together, and nobody locked their door. Or if they did lock it, they left the key under the mat or above the doorjam.

She didn’t even try sneaking, just made DaShawn sit scrunched down, as a black man would be the one thing that would arouse suspicion out here, with the engine idling, then walked right into the house and took what she wanted.

Not the jewelry. None of these dowdy farm wives had anything worth stealing.

Not the money. Money here had already been converted into combines, or livestock, or soybeans.

It was the guns she wanted.

Some kept them displayed in the living room, in a shiny walnut and glass case. If the case was locked, she had no problem grabbing a pot from the kitchen and smashing the case, grabbing all the guns and walking out the door.

If they weren’t in the living room, they were in the basement: red tile floor, pool table, makeshift bar, a couple of stools with black leatherette seats. Her stepfather had set up a bar in their basement like this, spent all his time down there.

That was one thing she’d loved about the houseboat: no basement.

This was the first house she’d been in where she hadn’t found at least one gun proudly displayed in the living room or perched on a rack in the basement.

She might have just walked out but now it was a challenge. There was nothing obvious about this farmhouse that made it any different than any other farmhouse. So where else might they be keeping the guns?

She checked the pantry and the coat closet but didn’t find anything there, which left the second floor. Wooden stairs creaking as she climbed, she stood in the second floor hallway and took in the layout.

Master bedroom, sun streaming in the windows, girly pink and white coverlet neatly on the bed. Sewing room with daybed pushed against one wall. Dinky little bathroom. And room with its door shut tight.
(more…)

63. CORA: Love Is All Around

edhi wanted to see more of Ho Springs, so Cora decided to take him to the festival. Like most residents of the town, she hated the jamboree, which drew denizens from the hills and the surrounding towns, invited mayhem along with its pleasanter pursuits. But she knew Medhi would be amused by the American-ness of it all. And now that the crisis with Juliette was past, she wanted to get out of the house and do something fun.

Indeed, there were throngs of people everywhere they went, ringing every musical act, queuing up for every fairway ride, clamoring for hotdogs and cotton candy and especially beer.

Medhi bought himself a towering cone of cotton candy, blue and high as Marge Simpson’s hair, and then walked along grinning at it, tickled by the way it looked.

“Aren’t you going to eat it?” Cora asked him.

He made a face and shook his head. “Never.”

“Can I have a bite?”

“You’ll get fat.”

“Do you think I’m fat?”

With his free hand, he hugged her to him. “I think you’re delicious.”

Despite his reassurances, that was enough to set off the old paranoia, the too-familiar alarm bells. After she hit 40, as her body accommodated the inevitable ripples and sags, was when Medhi’s eye started to wander. More than his eye. The younger women, the thinner women: They were everywhere, all the time.

“I wish I could believe that,” she muttered.

He stopped walking, handed the cotton candy to a stunned teenager who happened to be passing, and took her in his arms. “You’re the love of my life,” he said. “You know that.”

She’d been so sure she wanted to leave him. But it had been so much harder than she’d anticipated, moving here, being a parent to Juliette on her own, being alone. She wanted to believe they could be together again, the way she always wanted it to be, the way it had been, for a little while, anyway. Yet she couldn’t help but note the caginess of his statement.
(more…)

61. JULIETTE: Let’s Play Kidnapper

abysitting was not how she wanted to spend her day. Hugo, who was at this very moment snoring on the couch across the room, was sure to be leaving very soon, and Juliette might never see him again. And after all their efforts to be together last night were foiled — well, she felt she had to spend every single available second with him.

And if not with him, at least with her dear Papa. And if not with Papa, at least in bed, unconscious, trying to sleep away what had happened to her in the woods.

And now here was this spooky little girl, dumped just about literally in her lap, staring up at her with eyes big and blue as robin’s eggs behind those weird thick glasses.

“Wanna play horsies?” the girl, Beth, asked, holding up one of her mangy plastic horses.

“Ummmmmmm…..no,” Juliette said.

The kid blinked.

“How about CandyLand?” she asked, her voice so soft it was almost a whisper.

Juliette examined the child. She might have been cute, if somebody had taken the time to fix her hair and get her some chic little clothes. Plus she definitely needed cooler glasses.

“How about kidnapper?” Juliette asked.

“How do you play that?” Beth asked shyly.

“I hide behind the couch, and you walk by, and then I jump out and kidnap you.”

They both looked over at the couch, where Hugo snorted and flipped over so he was facing away from them.

“I don’t know,” Beth said, sticking her thumb in her mouth.

“Come on,” Juliette said. “It’ll be fun.”

She stood up and, taking Beth’s hand, walked her over near the couch and positioned her in front of it. Maybe Hugo would hear them. Maybe he would wake up and join in the game. Maybe he would see how great Juliette was with Beth and want to marry her for real and have babies with her.

“Okay,” Juliette said. “Just walk like this, like you’re little Red Riding Hood on your way to grandmother’s house.”

“Are you the grandmother?” Beth asked.

The grandmother? This kid really was funky. “No! Can’t you see I’m young and pretty?” Juliette said.

Beth nodded, but then asked, “Are you the wolf?”

Juliette clucked impatiently. “I’m the kidnapper,” she said. “Now walk, back and forth, in front of the couch.”
(more…)

57. LaTONYA: Insult to Heaven

o,” George said. “I’ll see you tomorrow night? Usual time and place?”

They were standing on the street — George with his little girl in his arms, LaTonya and Darrell — in front of her building. It took her a minute to figure out what she was talking about. Then she realized: The tutoring. The medical school exams. Which were now just a few days away.

“No,” she told him. “I’m not going to be able to pursue that this time.”

She hadn’t been to class in a while either. Not since all the trouble started with Darrell. If she was going to try to get into medical school, it was going to have to be sometime far, far in the future.

“But you’ve worked so hard,” George said. “I really think you’re ready, maybe if we did one refresher session….”

She put up her hand to stop him. “I appreciate all you’ve done for me, George. But I can’t go ahead with medical school now. Please don’t make me feel worse about it.”

She could tell George was about to say something else, but he bit back his words, shook his head, and said goodnight.

But then, on the way up the stairs to the apartment, Darrell said, “Why did you tell him that?”

“Tell him what?”

“That you weren’t going to take the test? That you weren’t going to go ahead with medical school? Are you even going to graduate?”

“It’s not practical, sweetheart. Between my job and taking care of you, I’ve got all I can do. More than I can do.”

She just wanted to sink in her bed, knowing her son was home safe with her now. Wanting more than that, ever, had been an insult to heaven.

“But I don’t need taking care of,” Darrell said. “Not like that, anyway. You got almost all the way through college, you did all that studying for the test, and I was a lot younger than I am now. You can’t just quit.”

“Would you like some ice cream?” she asked him. “Maybe a hot cocoa?”

“Mom, since when did you make me hot cocoa at bedtime? I want to know why you’re not taking that test.”
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54. DaSHAWN: Unwritten Agreement

his is it?”

Taryn looked skeptically around DaShawn’s apartment.

“You actually live here?” she asked.

He wasn’t sure exactly what she meant by that, but he had the feeling it wasn’t anything good.

“I was gonna straighten up,” he said. “But you didn’t give me a chance.”

She laughed. “I hate that defensive fucking bullshit,” she said, kicking off her heels and flopping down on the low leather beanbag chair. “Why do men do that? Why don’t you just say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m a pig, fuck you if you don’t like it.’”

“I’m sorry, I’m a pig, fuck you if you don’t like it,” DaShawn said.

“You don’t have to talk to me like that.”

They stared at each other, hate zinging back and forth, and then they both burst out laughing.

“I’m dead,” Taryn said, putting her hands behind her head, stretching out. “Do you have anything to drink?”

“Beer,” he said, guessing. “Vodka.”

“Vodka tonic,” she said. “But only if you have diet tonic. If not, just give me some vodka on ice.”

And then she leaned back,  looked around, waited.

This is not the way it was supposed to go. DaShawn had not had too many women over to his place, preferring to do his business elsewhere, but Taryn had invited herself. Told him — not asked, but told – that she was going to be staying there till they took possession of the farm. And now seemed to expect him to wait on her hand and foot.

He had to lay down the law right this fucking minute.

“Glasses in the sink,” he said. “You’re gonna have to wash them. In fact, better clean up everything in there while you’re at it.”

He sank down on the sofa opposite her and stretched out his own damn legs. Closed his eyes for good measure.

She was quiet for so long he thought maybe she’d just very quietly gotten up and started cleaning. But finally she spoke.

(more…)

40. JULIETTE: Into the Woods

he woods were so much darker than she’d expected.

She stopped, enormous black trees looming overhead, mysterious sounds — bears? wolves? — emanating from the endless forest that surrounded them.

“Maybe this was a mistake,” she told Darrell.

He was already twenty steps ahead of her and it took a moment for his footsteps to stop their crunch-crunch-crunching through the deep dry carpet of dead leaves. Finally, he turned to face her.

“Well, of course it was a mistake,” he said. “We never should have left town. We shouldn’t have left the church in the first place.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, raising her arms and letting them flap back down at her sides. She wasn’t accustomed to second-guessing herself, or apologizing. “I guess we should just go back.”

“Go back? We can’t just go back! There’s no way we’ll find our way out of here at night.”

She sank down onto the leaves, let herself flop onto her back and stare up at the starless, moonless sky. The ancient running shoes she’d found in the charity bin, so comfortable when she first put them on her feet, were now rubbing and chafing, worse than nothing. The old man pants kept falling down, and the shirt smelled like her grandfather, before her mother and Jimmie Sue gave him a bath. She wished she could call her mother to come get her right this very minute. But while her phone still had juice, they were too far from anywhere to get a signal.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Darrell said.

“I can’t go on. I’ve got to get some sleep.”

“Are you crazy? You can’t sleep out here in the woods. You’ll get eaten by something.”

“I don’t care,” she said. “Anything would be better than just walking walking walking till our feet fall off. We’re probably going to get eaten by something anyway.”

(more…)

32. TARYN: The Swimmer

t was nearly dark when Taryn got back to the houseboat, breathless, a six-pack of George’s favorite pale ale on the front seat beside her to make up for being so late. George hadn’t answered her last couple of texts so he was undoubtedly pissed. It had just felt so good, to not only have a day to herself, but to have a day when she was sober, and awake, and able to enjoy those simple things that other people claimed to enjoy: Having her hair washed, getting a massage, shopping for new white underwear, even buying George the beer that made him feel like a man of sophisticated taste and experience.

When people talked about how much they liked doing things like this, she’d always thought, Yeah, right. I so believe the natural high you get from gardening is as good as a hit of meth.

But today, she had felt that.

Driving home, taking the curves in the mountain road a little too fast, playing her favorite Duffy CD a little too loud, she was so lost in singing along to Warwick Avenue that she thought at first that she’d missed the right turnoff.

Listen to Taryn’s favorite song

She doubled back around twice until she fully understood that no, this was the right parking area, this was the right dock.  What was different was that the houseboat was not there.

Heart hammering, she paced frantically back and forth, trying to think of what might have happened.  The ropes were lying there, not cut, just loose.  It was windy, had been all day, the water choppy in the glow of the setting sun.

Flipping open her phone, she tried again to reach George, and again got no answer.  This wasn’t like him.  If only for the sake of his damn horses, he never let his phone go dead, never let himself be out of reach.

Could George and Beth have gone somewhere and the boat gotten loose while they were away?  Could someone have untied it, for fun or out of malice?  There were people who had it in for George, for not giving them drugs or for just being an all-around goody two shoes.  And there were more people, a lot more people, Taryn realized with a sinking heart, who had it in for her.

An image of Tiffany, poor Tiffany, her body hacked to pieces and thrown in that alley, flashed across Taryn’s mind.  She’d been trying to keep it at bay all day, had been so proud of herself for managing to resist drugs in the face of what had happened to her friend.

But now the reality of Tiffany’s murder, and Taryn’s own fears, came rushing back in.   Taryn knew all of the same people Tiffany did, had at least as much potential for pissing them off.  Whoever did that to Tiffany could do it to Taryn too.  To Taryn’s family.

Without thinking, she dove into the frigid spring water.  The lake was so shallow off the end of the dock she scraped her chin on a rock, felt the weeds around her arms as she swam.  She’d always refused to swim here, no matter how hot it was, for fear of the muddy bottom and the snakes and the snapping turtles, but now she felt none of that.  She thought she could see the houseboat, bobbing by itself out in the lake.  The more she swam, the more convinced she became that George and Beth were out there.

(more…)

17: JULIETTE: Two Lovers

lease,” Juliette said.

“Let me hear you say it in French,” said Jimmie Sue.

Juliette blushed. “S’il vous plait.” Though that didn’t really convey the begging quality, she’d learned via her Mom, you could get from a long, drawn-out American please.

“As you know, I do not have my cards, so I can’t guarantee that the reading will be 100 percent accurate.”

Juliette felt her face go even hotter. It was clear that Jimmie Sue was not going to tell her mother about her role in the fire. If Juliette did certain things, sometimes specific, sometimes vague, sometimes small, somethings big things that Jimmie Sue wanted.

“But you said there were other methods.”

“There’s the palm, that’s what we can do today. There’s staring into fire, but I have to be in the mood for that, and right about now fire’s kinda not sitting so well. But the cards are the best. Did you order those new cards for me like I told you?”

Yes, Juliette had. She’d gone online, as Jimmie Sue had instructed, and ordered a deck exactly like the old one, which should be here in a few days. She’d even paid for the cards with her own money.

“All right,” Jimmie Sue said, gesturing. “Let me see that pretty young hand.”

Jimmie Sue was sitting in Juliette’s grandfather’s bed, Senior snoring beside her although the lights were on overhead and the television blared in the background. Juliette and her mother had cleared and scrubbed the whole room, changed the sheets and the mattress pad and the blankets too. Cora had cleaned the kitchen, too, and cooked Juliette’s grandpa his favorite meal. They had gotten the whole house in pretty good shape, with the exception of her uncle’s room, which Cora just shut the door on and said she would not deal with.

The alligator in the bathtub turned out to be some giant sort of pet lizard of Jamie’s. Cora had put on oven mitts and kind of swept it, with Juliette’s extremely reluctant help, into a box sprinkled with cat food. It was difficult to tell whether the lizard was dead or alive.

They’d taped up the box and put it out in the cement garden for Jamie to take care of if he should ever show up.

“Ah,” said Jimmie Sue, raising her eyebrows. “That’s interesting.”

“What?”

“You have two lovers.”
(more…)

9. DARRELL: Bad Luck

arrell couldn’t believe his luck: A college girl. College girls definitely had sex all the time, with as little fuss as popping open a Diet Coke. They also all smoked pot pretty much constantly. At least that’s what his brother DaShawn had told him, and DaShawn had been up to Fayetteville studying business for almost a whole year.

But this girl, Julie something, only looked at him strangely when he asked whether she had a J. And even if sex was going to happen at some point, you couldn’t just make a grab for it as if she was one of the hos down at the Go Go. You couldn’t even make a grab for it with a ho, DaShawn told him. No matter what you were doing and with whom — DaShawn actually used words like that: whom — it was important to do it with style.

Remembering this advice was what gave Darrell the idea to take Julie to the Futureama. He’d tagged along behind DaShawn there late one night. DaShawn told him how the old fortune teller lady, Jimmie Sue, left the windows cracked no matter how cold or hot the weather, so the spirits could move around and shit. She left her money, wrapped in a nasty old silk snot rag, in the top drawer of her big old carved dresser, right beside her magic cards.

Do not touch those cards, DaShawn had warned Darrell, taking half the money from the silk cloth and putting the rest back. Those cards are evil. They will bring you harm.

DaShawn showed Darrell how to screw off the head of the big black buddha, where the pot was stored inside. The old fortune teller lady must grow her own, DaShawn said, and it was fine.

So every once in a while, when he was feeling brave, on nights when he just needed to get out of the house and wander, he’d come over here, let himself in, smoke a little dope, help himself to a bill or two, and slip out. Never with anybody else, though. Not until tonight.

“What are you doing?” the girl, Julie, asked, looking around, rubbing her arms, as he raised the back window of the Futureama, gently lowered his banjo inside and prepared to follow.

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