Archive for category lying
He looked at his watch.
“Why not? It didn’t happen on the plane.”
“There was extreme turbulence. And, I didn’t think it would happen on the plane.”
“I just want to be alone for a minute,” she said, taking his hand.
She led him through the crowd, ignoring the noisy announcements and bright ads blaring from the large screens overhead. She would have to decide what was going to happen in this restroom. It was the most private area she could think of in this overpopulated airport. She wanted to tell him what she read in the letter and hear his response.
They stopped short once Ala saw the line of women stretched down the hallway. Danno checked his watch again.
“Ala, maybe we should get you to the gate.”
“No,” she said. She could not board the plane feeling how she did. Something had to shift in order for her to have peace of mind. “Go see if the men’s room is empty.”
He scoffed and ran his hand through his hair.
“What? Why? What are we doing? This is crazy.”
“I was crazy to have dinner with you. Go look.”
He walked in as she surveyed for security. She didn’t notice anyone wearing a uniform. Danno leaned hallway out of the entrance and waved her inside. The restroom was surprisingly clean with white tiled walls. Ala opened the first stall and he followed her in. She made sure the lock worked and hung her bag on the hook.
They heard footsteps come through and Danno clamped his hand over her mouth, which prompted her to start laughing. They listened to the stream of urine. If Ala confronted him in this stall, her life could be in danger. He was a lot stronger than she was. He could snap her neck and leave her in this stall. She wouldn’t be found until long after his flight took off. Everyone in her life would never know why she died in an airport in South Korea. The man turned on the faucet to wash his hands.
But really, what was in it for Danno this whole time? Of course there was the money, which is why they met in the first place. There was no arguing that. And he may have been surprised that he found her to be so attractive. And she did make herself easily available very early on.
However, he could’ve killed her the first night. It couldn’t be that difficult for him to find women to spend time with. He was powerful and charismatic. He had taken care of her when she found her way back home. They had so much beyond what was supposed to have happened that summer. She had everything with him.
The harsh overhead lights made her skin look grayish green and the dried sweat on her dress was now being reconstituted as she figured out what to do next. Before she could peak through the hinges to see if the man had left, Danno had lifted her against the stall door and kissed her. She kissed back, violently and hungrily. The adrenaline from surviving the flight kicked in for both of them, followed by the idea that they would be spending half a day apart.
He pushed her against the opposite wall and unbuckled his pants. She hopped up and wrapped her legs around him. The sound of her breathing filled her ears; it was all she could hear. Reaching up her dress, he tore off her panties and shoved them into his pocket.
She was terrified of getting caught. She had no idea what the laws were in this part of the world. This fed into her urgency and she pulled him closer to her, knocking her sandals off. She yanked his hair and, once again, his hand covered her mouth as he carefully lowered her to the ground. He held her close to him. She wanted to live in this restroom with him and never speak to anyone again.
“Do you want to change clothes?” He asked.
“I’ll wait outside.” He stepped out of the stall and used the sink. Ala opened her suitcase and found fresh panties and a long dress. She stepped out of her sundress and wadded it into a ball. She gathered her purse and stepped out, throwing the dress in the trashcan. She rinsed her face and the back of her neck.
He held out her ticket.
“Are you ready to take off?”
She nodded and let him take the suitcase.
“I have to tell you,” he said, guiding her to the terminal.” He was going to confess the whole story in the middle of the airport. He probably assumed she wouldn’t be able to react in front of so many witnesses. She braced herself.
“You’ve become my best friend.”
“Oh,” she looked down and kept walking. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she tired to wipe them away without him noticing.
“This is it,” he said, double checking the sign. “They’re probably already boarding your group.”
“Alright,” Ala said, taking the suitcase from him. He took it back from her and set it down on the ground. He hugged her with his whole body.
“I’ll be right behind you,” he whispered. She wiped her eyes against his shoulder.
He squeezed tighter before letting go. She got into the boarding line. She saw him watching her in the corner of her eye. She read the ticket and quickly looked behind her. He was gone.
She slammed the pages down on the table. Both hands shook uncontrollably and she feared she might lose control of her body. She picked the letter back up and skimmed for keywords, tried looking it over to find where she misread. The words stayed the same. Danno knew Bruno before he ever knew her. He knew Emmanuel. He knew where he lived. He never would have come to her town if it weren’t to try to get Emmanuel’s money.
She stood, letting the papers fall to the floor. Everyone was still working on their computers or talking on their phones. Men were drinking beer with their suit jackets on the backs of their seats. There was no earthquake happening except inside of her. Everything inside was pushing her to go. Every thought she had was prefaced with “Go now. Take your bag and go.”
If she left, Danno would be worried. She knew he loved her, which was the worst part. She knew he didn’t care about the deal or the money. She knew he would die if anything happened to her. She knew their time together changed him, as it had changed her. It was the worst part because there was love.
She slumped back down in the chair.
“More tea, Miss?” a server asked meekly.
“No, thank you. Just the check.”
“It’s on the account Miss.”
“Yes, okay, thank you.”
He ran his world by signing his name. His name took care of everything. He lived differently than people who had to apply for credit or hope they could save enough money to retire. He risked a lot, but the reward was living a life that wasn’t confining day after day.
Her chest tightened as she folded the pages and shoved them back into the envelope. She knew Emmanuel was telling the truth, but felt better trying to find holes in his explanation, to prove him wrong. Why would he still pay her when he knew something, anything, had gone wrong?
She could confront Danno and ask him to tell her the truth. He o course would know that she already knew what the truth was to even ask in the first place. He would know she knew about all of it. What did he do to people who knew too much? Did he kill them or have someone else do it? He wouldn’t actually kill her if he loved her, she thought. The again, she had nearly forgotten that a man burned to death because of her. Self-defense or not, she had taken a life.
He could be the only kind of person with the only kind of life that she could actually build something with. They both did things the way other people didn’t do them. They both felt connected to one another. She wouldn’t be able to find anyone who made her feel that way he had. And he meant the most to her since she was left the country with him and didn’t tell anyone she knew that she was going.
She held her hands out and tried to steady them. When this didn’t work, she did her best to dry her eyes by waving them rapidly. People began to look at her. She was the most underdressed in her sundress, damp with sweat, sandals and sunglasses. She took another cigarette out and lit it. This time the smoked entered her lungs easier.
“Get up and go. Leave,” she whispered. She zipped up her bag and swung it over her shoulder.
“Hey, are you smoking?” He said, coming up behind her.
She jumped, sending ashes all over the armchair.
“Just one,” she said, stubbing it out next to the first cigarette she had smoked.
He sat on the coffee table in front of her and took her face into his hands.
“This flight is not going to be as long. Just have a nice dinner, read a little and I’ll be at the gate in no time.”
She nodded and let tears slide down her cheeks, into his hands. He hugged her.
“Come on. Everything is going to work out.”
He signed the check and took her hand, walking her out with his arm around her.
“I have to use the restroom,” she said.
“Sure. To the right. I’ll wait.
“Do you want to come in with me?” She asked, winking.
Ala awoke with Danno sleeping with his head on her shoulder. They had landed in Seoul safely. Her head was tender from the stress of the turbulence and the sleep she managed to get was not restful. She unbuckled her seat belt and gently climbed over Danno’s seat. Her legs nearly gave out when her feet hit the floor and she headed toward the restroom.
“Ms., please sit down,” the weary stewardess said slouched in the seat she was still strapped into. Her jacket was off and her eye makeup was smudged.
“I really need to stretch. How much longer until we’re off the plane?” Ala said.
“A few more minutes, when we get word from the captain.”
“We’re on the ground. I don’t understand the hold up,”
Danno woke up and immediately registered the exchange going on between them. He got up and took Ala’s hand.
“Let’s just sit down,” he whispered.
“Stop acting like I am crazy. I have every right to stand up after a whole day on this plane.”
“I know. We’re almost done. Let’s sit.”
She let him pull her back to their seats. He took her hand into his hands.
“We made it through the plane almost crashing. The last thing we need is for you to be detained in South Korea for mouthing off to a flight attendant.” He kissed her.
She took a compact out of her purse and ran her fingers through her hair, which looked better after she had slept on it. She turned on her phone, even though she knew the staff would take issue with this if they saw her. She had missed eleven phone calls during the flight and could see the most recent three were from Jase. Her face grew hot and she leaned forward, afraid she was going to be sick.
“Ala,” Danno rubbed her back. “We can get off now. Are you okay?”
She nodded and made sure she had all of her things. Their luggage was still in tact there a sense of relief among the passengers that the flight had come to an end without the use of an emergency slide Some of them even thanked the stewardesses while leaving the plane. Ala walk straight past them without making eye contact.
The waiting area was very hot. The smell of people who had been on planes and in airports for multiple days overwhelmed her. She and Danno held hands tightly and squeezed through the crowd.
“Are you hungry?” He asked.
“No, I’m fine.”
“Let’s go the lounge, so I can have a cigarette.”
She wondered how soon into their relationship she could mention that his smoking bothered her. It added to his sex appeal, but now she was concerned about both of them being alive and healthy for years to come.
Danno took out his membership card and showed it to the pretty hostess who was wearing a sea green kimono. They took two armchairs away from everyone else and ordered some tea. He lit a cigarette and, leaning back in his chair, winked at her.
“Do you think anyone else has had a crazier time than we have?”
What she had learned for sure this summer was that there were crazy people everywhere and that there was no reason to believe that she, or anyone else, was ever safe.
“I’m going to make a phone call,” she said, walking to the window that overlooked the tarmac. She didn’t know what time it was back home, but knew that Jase wouldn’t care when she called even if it was the middle of the night. The phone only rang once.
“Ala?” His voice was badly broken like he had been walking through a blizzard with bronchitis. She knew he had been up drinking.
“Hi. Did I wake you?”
“No, I’ve been up. Where are you?” He said with urgency in his voice.
She bit the side of her cheek. She always got really honest when she felt like he needed her help.
“Jase, what happened?”
“My mom died.”
She pushed the phone against her ear, picturing Abigail’s face.
“I’m so sorry.”
“She was alone. I don’t know how, but she was all alone when the hospital called. My idiot brother.”
“Oh Jase, I-” She felt her throat constricting, trying to hold back tears.
“Can you come home? Or here? I need you.”
She looked back at Danno who was also on a call. Panic flowed through her aching legs. They were not together anymore, but she knew this day would come and couldn’t imagine not being there.
“I can’t come right now. I’m sorry.”
“Tomorrow then? Please Ala, I’ll never ask you for anything again.”
“I don’t think so, Jase.”
“Where are you that’s so Goddamn important?” He yelled. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Look just please; let me get you a ticket. We can talk when you get here.”
She shook her head.
“I just can’t.”
“I’m always going to be waiting for you,” he said starting to cry. She hung up the phone.
She walked back to Danno, wiping both eyes with her fingers, as he was putting his phone away.
“I love you,” she said, sitting on his lap.
“Are you crying?”
“I just love you.”
“I love you,” he said, pulling her mouth to his mouth. “You’re going to have to board soon. Finish your tea. I’m going to use the restroom and then I’ll walk you to the gate.”
She took her seat and made herself take a sip of tea. It burned her mouth. She took a cigarette from the pack on the coffee table and lit it. She inhaled and the smoke seemed to make tiny hatch marks down the back of her throat. She coughed violently. Several people dressed in suits looked over at her. She took another puff and eased back into the chair.
It wasn’t possible to go back for Abigail’s funeral. There would be too much pain and too many people who had known her as someone else. She would be uncomfortable the entire time and Jase would lean on her for more support than she could give. Years later, she could imagine feeling like a heartless person, and if that happened, she would apologize then.
She opened her bag and put her phone away. Emmanuel’s letter was crumpled toward the bottom. She smoothed the pages out on her lap and a smaller slip of paper flittered to the ground. It was a check for ten thousand dollars. She folded it in half and shoved it into her wallet.
She stubbed out her cigarette and continued to read.
“…I am still out of the country and, while I have received disturbing news about my property being disrupted, I am a firm believer in assessing a claim before reacting. This only has to do with the current company you keep, specifically Danno. As someone who has known his character well for years, I feel it is my duty to warn you that you are in danger.”
Sweat spiked up on the back of her neck. She wanted to reread, but had to keep going.
“When I hired Bruno ten years ago, I thought he was a lowly gardener who hadn’t had much luck. Being from my native land, I trusted him without any idea that he was acting as Danno’s informant. I am not going to delve into the kind of business we do, since I have a feeling that in your current situation, time is precious. I can only say that my fortune is spoken of often in my industry’s circles and that the two of them have been working for quite some time to drain my assets.
Apparently Danno and Bruno’s relationship has gone south, and Bruno was not paid what was promised to him. This is where you came in. There aren’t any known people or things in this world that would affect Danno’s decisions, but you apparently have done so. This is not something to be proud of. I am only relieved that you had enough fight in you to stay alive.
Please do whatever you have to and get away from this man. Even if he doesn’t kill you himself, his line of work will. You will have no way of reaching me once I send this letter. I hope that for you and your parent’s sake, you leave this unsavory character’s side and find safety.
The frigidity stung her skin as she slapped handfuls of water against her face. Some of the water got into her eyes, which caused rapid blinking. What Arlene said couldn’t matter after everything that had happened. After all, she could’ve been planning to take the wallet herself, if Danno hadn’t first. Ala never had asked him how he got her wallet, most likely because she didn’t want the answer to be that he stole it. He should have told her about it, of course. And then she wouldn’t have had dinner with him. And she certainly wouldn’t have him now.
She blubbered loudly, realizing she hadn’t even filed the report with Arlene and now the little boy had no chance of escaping his rotten mother. It was all her fault, but she couldn’t face Arlene again. It made her insides shake to think of speaking to anyone right then.
Grabbing a brittle paper towel from the overstuffed dispenser forced it to tear out in pieces. She rubbed the paper against her skin until her nose and cheeks were inflamed, then stepped back from the mirror, smoothed down her hair and left the bathroom. She walked across the promenade toward the clubhouse, wondering if she had unplugged all of the gadgets in Emmanuel’s house and also if she’d turned off the lights. She had left most of her things at her parent’s house and would have to decide if she wanted to go get them and risk seeing them in the middle of another unnerving gathering.
The bar was empty, besides Glenny wiping down the bronze cash register. She spotted Danno sitting at a patio table on the terrace. The wind had picked up, forcing the petals of the gardenias in the arrangement on the table to flutter, along with his hair. She could see that he had ordered a drink, and was halfway through it as he watched the horses trot around the circle with his back to her. A chill invaded her, as she considered turning and leaving, without saying anything to him.
Her ankles felt heavy and the ceiling seemed to be lowering slowly to eventually press her into the ground. She wobbled to the closest booth and climbed into a fetal position to rest. Glenny either didn’t see her or didn’t care. She assumed he would have had to learn to mind his own business working at a bar in a racetrack. She tried to keep her eyes closed to invite the illusion that she was getting rest.
She could hear several pairs of footsteps coming over, then bodies shifting into the booth next to the one she was trying to nap in. There were a few male voices discussing money, women’s bodies, who was going to win Friday’s fight and other topics that seized Ala’s interest enough to keep her from sleeping.
Her phone began to ring and she heard the men pat their pockets to check if they were getting a phone call. She sat up and dug her phone out of her purse. Danno was calling her from the terrace outside. She ignored the call and climbed out of the booth.
“Hey,” a ruddy faced man wearing a pinkie ring said, “We didn’t know you were in there. We would’ve watched our mouths.”
“Oh, no, it’s fine, I must have fallen asleep,” she said, pulling her bag over her shoulder.
“Well, now that you’re awake,” the other man with hair plugs said, “come have a drink with us.” He motioned her over by cupping his hand and wiggling his fat fingers.
“No, that’s alright. Thanks though,” she was hoping Glenny was watching the interaction, but his head was down as she swept behind the counter.
“Come on, one drink won’t hurt. Let us get to know you. You seem like fun,” the first man said, wiping sweat from his forehead with a cocktail napkin.
“It’s the hair,” the second man said, “That’s a hot, wild look.”
Her face burned with detestation for them and she turned to walk away. She thought of the man throwing clumps of hair he hacked off as she trembled in her underwear.
“Guess we won’t find out if the curtains match the drapes,” one of them said, causing his friend to erupt with laughter and hit the table.
“Hey, don’t walk away when we’re talking to you. Mangy slut.”
Before her next breath, Ala was back at the table, and in what seemed like a second, had picked up a full glass, smashed it against the booth and was holding the serrated based near the ruddy man’s neck.
White light flashed in front of her as someone was pulling her away from behind. She turned to see that it was Glenny, whose frail frame was surprisingly strong. Danno must have rushed inside when hearing the commotion because he was now covering his eye with one hand and examining the bloodied knuckles on his other hand.
The scene was quiet except for the piggish man, now on his feet and screaming in Danno’s face, with dark blood running from his nose. His friend was on the phone, most likely with the police. Ala dropped the glass and let Glenny walk her away toward the bar.
“I would suggest leaving,” he said. She watched as the man wound up to punch Danno, who hit him in the stomach before he could, causing him to fall back into the booth.
Rushing over, he took several hundred-dollar bills out of his wallet. Glenny shook his head in protest, but Danno shoved the money into his apron. He grabbed Ala’s hand and jerked her out of the bar.
“I just,” she stuttered.
“Don’t talk right now,” he said. Her whole body was quaking with adrenaline. She nearly slit the man’s throat or at least could have cut him severely. They ran through the parking lot to the car.
“Get in the back,” he yelled.
He grabbed her arm.
“Get in the backseat and lie down. You’re going to have a heart attack,” he said, opening the door and shoving her in. She folded herself onto the hot leather seat, like she had in the booth, and checked her arms for any blood. She was clean. Danno sped out of the lot, swearing under his breath. She heard the click of the automatic locks. He thought she was insane and was going to throw herself out the moving car. She felt like a caged animal and wanted to claw through the interior. “We’ve got to get cleaned up,” he said.
“Can’t we just go?”
“No, we’ll get too much attention. And I still have work to do. I wasn’t planning on running out of there.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“You’re not sorry. You’re not yourself. Just rest back there.”
She was herself. There was nothing wrong with what she had done. She tried to be polite, but those men had tried to rape her with their eyes and words. And she couldn’t let that happen. One by one, she bit all of her nails off and spit them onto the tattered car rug. The car stopped and she sat up to look out the window.
They were at The Daschund, a five star hotel Ala had been to only once for a luncheon during her mother’s charity work. The carport had an ornate gold fountain with stone cherubs that spouted water. Danno took one suitcase from the trunk, opened Ala’s door and handed the keys to the valet. He handed her a plastic key card.
“Go up to room 530. I have to make a phone call.”
“Don’t we have to check in?”
“No,” he said as he headed toward reception. The lobby housed a giant chandelier and lounge with plush ivory armchairs.
She found the elevator bank and went to the fifth floor. She walked slowly down the hallway, looking both ways, with the feeling that someone was going to kill her. She bolted the door behind her and got undressed. She didn’t even bother looking at the accommodations, which was always her favorite part of staying in a hotel.
The hot shower brought such instantaneous comfort that she let go and sobbed again, startled that she could feel so melancholy without any medication.
Heavy pounding on the door made her heart pulse swiftly, and she left the shower running and went to the door without a towel. It could be one of the men from the bar. It could be the man from the house she was locked up in. It could be Bruno. It could be Emmanuel. It could be Gene. It could be her parents. She crouched into a ball on the carpet.
“Ala, it’s me,” Danno said coolly. “You bolted it.” She used the knob to pull herself up and opened the door. He wrapped his arms around her. “Don’t answer the door without clothes on,” he said. “I made you an appointment downstairs.”
She walked back into the shower and finished washing the cold sweat away. She got dressed and helped Danno clean the cut around his eye with the corner of a damp washcloth. Remarkably there was no discoloration, only some swelling. She didn’t want to know how many times he had been hit.
“You don’t sell tapestries or whatever,” she said. He kissed her hand.
After he showered, they lay in bed under the sheets not talking until it was time for her appointment. Then he walked her down to the lobby.
“I’ll be right out here waiting,” he said, which made her smile.
The stylist, Raffi, was petite and talked with his hands, which interrupted the work her was doing on her hair, stretching out the appointment and her patience.
“So was this a dare?” He said.
“Did someone dare you to let someone cut your hair?”
“No,” she said.
“So, you’re in a band?”
He laughed and coiled pieces of her hair in between in fingers before letting them fall.
“So, what are we doing?” He asked, grinning.
She looked at her whole face in the mirror, turning her chin every way her neck would allow. She looked terrible, like she had been wrung out and beaten with a paddle. Her skin was sallow and her eyes were muted, like she was waiting to die.
“Do whatever you think will help,” she said.
“Girl please, you’ve got great features,” he said, squeezing her shoulder.
“Good. Then use them,” she said.
She kept her eyes closed during most of the appointment, but still answered all of Raffi’s questions, mostly with lies. She could tell her was coloring her hair when she felt the warm globs nearly run into her eyes. He talked about being from the West Coast, following a man here, being broken hearted when the man had a child with a woman, and now was ultimately grateful because it led him to his dream career.
The whole charade sounded exhausting and Ala sucked in breaths to keep from yawning. She supposed that her stories about the men in her life sounded the same way. The sleepless nights she had because of Jase’s behavior. The confusion and self-doubt she felt because of Gene. She couldn’t even think about her father’s contribution to her distrust at this point. And of course, to a traditional person, the relationship with Danno would sound preposterous and completely out of control.
The difference was, that she was choosing every step with him. She couldn’t blame him for anything that she wasn’t happy about. Even if he wasn’t honest about everything, she didn’t feel like he was trying to manipulate her emotions. Her reactions were very real and didn’t require the drama usually injected into relationships to keep them exciting. She didn’t want to question everything about him. She didn’t want to think about the whole of her future. She was just happy to be with him.
“Open your eyes beauty queen!” Raffi squealed. She looked in the mirror and liked the black hair he had cut so close to her scalp. Anyone who had known her for years would be very alarmed, and might even think she was a mental patient. “Let me do your lips,” he said, applying a shade of red so bright that she looked like a ventriloquist dummy.
She waved Danno inside, who didn’t even look twice at the transformation. He paid Raffi, tipping him well over the cost of the makeover.
“Enjoy this one,” Raffi said, winking at Ala. She couldn’t tell if he had thought Danno was attractive, or if he was attracted to his money.
“I got the bags,” he said. “Let’s go.”
After Danno wrote the license plate number on a slip of paper, he folded it into her hand and opened the car door for her. Being hot in the patrol car agitated Ala. The windows in the back were broken and unable to roll down. She, however, didn’t feel comfortable sitting in the front seat with Cliff. She watched through the back window as Danno retrieved the folder from the car and locked it.
On the grove, there was a wedding party mingling while a photographer set up to take photographs. The bride was swathed in white chiffon with a floral headpiece. A plucky woman, most likely her mother, hurried and held a drumstick in front of the bride’s mouth, on which the bride nibbled carefully. The mother then blotted her lips with a napkin. A bridesmaid followed closely behind the bride, fluffing her gown. There was a trainer hooking up horse to a carriage that the groom was already sitting in the back of, smoking a cigar.
Ala pressed her head into the back seat and closed her eyes. She was nauseous from the excitement during the short day so far. There was the plane she would have to board, filled with stale air, which would also make her queasy. The car stopped.
“Well, here we are,” Cliff said, opening her door.
“Is this report even going to do any good?” Ala said.
“If the woman comes back here it will.”
The building smelled like heated tar and the hallways needed to be cleaned. Overhead lights buzzed and several flies floated along, seeming to bounce off the walls with no way out. A woman sat behind a counter, writing out a list and blowing her frizzed blonde curls away from her eyes. There were curly cues of smoke climbing up from a cigarette in ashtray on her desk. Since she was the only person that seemed to be around Ala decided to approach.
“I’m here to file a report,” she said.
The woman kept writing for an extra second, hoping Ala would see that she was busy and not disturb her. She turned her head slowly, revealing a scar underneath her eye.
“Oh yeah, Cliff called over. I’m Arlene.”
“Wow. Hi, I’ve been meaning to call you and thank you for finding my wallet,” Ala said.
Arlene’s eyes widened as she pushed the notepad aside.
“So, you got your wallet back?”
“Yes. It was dropped off.” She remembered the pang in her stomach she felt when she saw Danno step out of the car for the first time.
Arlene nodded rapidly, picking up her cigarette and inhaling a little too long.
“Sure. Yeah, of course. Sometimes people around here will just go ahead and return lost items, if there’s identification. Just to make it easier.” The last sentence sounded as if Arlene was trying to make herself believe it.
The tiny white hairs, Ala imagined to be on the back of her neck, sprung up. Her wallet was stolen from this office. Arlene had forgotten, or hoped Ala had picked it up when she was off duty. Either way, Arlene wasn’t sure the wallet was ever returned, which meant that Danno had taken it without permission.
“I think I left something in the car,” she said, backing away from the desk.
“Oh, let me call Cliff,” Arlene said, picking up the receiver.
Ala turned and left the office, and struggled for air down the hallway. She saw a restroom and threw her weight against the door. She turned on a creaking faucet, and made sure the water was cold, before splashing her face.
She pressed the phone against her temple and went to the window. Gene was standing on the lawn, shielding his eyes while looking up at the balcony. Danno must have been in the backyard working.
“Yes,” she said and hung up.
She ran to find her comb and forced it through her wet, tangled hair. There was no time to put on any makeup. She wanted to get Gene away from the house before Danno saw him. Gene was most likely still upset with her and she didn’t want his hostility to be taken the wrong way by Danno. She found flat sandals and put them on while dashing down the hallway and out the front door.
Gene’s mouth hung open as she rushed to him and taking his arm began leading him away from the house. Grass clippings clung to her moist toes and the itch was unbearable so she stopped and shook each foot.
“What happened to you?” Gene said with a slight quiver of worry in his voice.
“I got a haircut. I know, it’s extreme, but it’s been so hot and I just needed it chopped off.”
“Not just your hair.” He took a step back to take in her whole frame. “Have you been starving yourself?”
“Me, starve myself? Stop it Gene. I’ve just been running a lot.”
“You look like you haven’t been in the sun in weeks.”
“I went swimming just this morning. You’re making me self conscious.” She began to speed up, hoping he would catch her hint to come away from the house. He took her arm and pulled her back. “Ow, what are you doing?”
“I’m supposed to believe nothing’s going on with you, come on!”
“I’m fine, stop it.”
Danno came from around the yard holding a pair of shears.
Without missing a beat, she grabbed Gene’s hand and tugged him over to meet Danno in he middle.
“This is Gene, one of my best friends. Gene, this is Danno.”
Danno hesitated, then wiped his hand against his pant leg and stuck it out for Gene to shake.
“Good to meet you,” he said.
“You too,” Gene said.
Ala felt sweat pooling under both of her arms.
“Gene just came by to say hello, I haven’t seen him in weeks.”
“Is that right?” Danno said, squinting at Gene’s face and playing it off to be squinting at the sun in his eyes.
Ala could tell by Gene crossing his arms in front of him that he did not like Danno. And she really could care less, except that if Danni could tell, she would have a problem.
“Well, actually no. Ala looks very sick to me and,” he looked Gene straight in the eye, “I’m worried. I haven’t seen her like this ever.”
“Do you feel sick?” Danno said, petting the side of her face.
“No. Maybe I’ll lie down for awhile. Maybe I’m just tired,” she said, smiling.
“Well, I’m going to get back to work. It was nice to meet you, Gene.”
Gene nodded. Danno walked to the bushes in front of the house and began trimming them.
“We need to talk,” Gene said, in an irritable tone. “When we blew up at each other, it was stupid.”
“I think I really should rest. Do you mind if I give you a call later?” Ala said, for the first time in her life, lying to him.
He wanted to yell at her but refrained. Instead he took her into his arms and put his mouth against her ear. She was terrified that Danno would turn around and see and kept her eyes on him methodically snipping at a rose bush.
“I know you aren’t telling the truth. Are you afraid of him?”
“No,” she whispered.
“Well, I’m gonna keep coming back until you tell me what’s going on.” He kissed her cheek and walked away.
She went back inside of the house, ripped up the note she started to write Emmanuel and threw the pieces in the trash.
He didn’t flinch, but took her hands and nodded.
“I thought I wasn’t going to see you again,” he said.
“How long was I away?” She asked, and then stepped away. “Never mind, I don’t want to know.” Finding out the days she lost would make her angry and she had to focus. “Emmanuel could be coming back today for all I know. Let’s just get out of here.”
“Go get your stuff together. I’ll take care of everything else.”
Ala went from room to room, folding clothes she forgot she owned and stuffing them into her suitcase. She was so relieved to be leaving this house. Danno stacked all of the mail and left it on the kitchen counter. He then put on a shirt and started up the lawnmower, a cigarette dangling from his lips.
She left hot water steam the surfaces of the bathroom before getting in the shower. Even though someone had bathed her at Bruce’s house, she had not felt clean in what seemed like weeks. She coated herself in soap, scrubbed until her skin was red and lathered up for a second time. Her wet hair felt foreign in her hands, as it was a third of the length she was used to.
The lawnmower died down as she toweled off and dressed in clothes that hung on her svelte body. Her stomach gurgled and even though she wanted to go to the airport as soon as possible, she feared fainting in the security line. She also wondered if she should let Gertrude know her plan to leave.
She sat down at the dining room table to begin a note to leave for Emmanuel. She would have to say that someone in her family died and she was leaving town. But then he would inquire with her parents and they would all know she had lied. She needed another excuse.
Her phone rang in the bathroom and she answered without checking who was calling.
“Ala, it’s Gene,” he said quietly. It sounded like he was holding the phone away from his face.
“Oh,” she sat on the edge of the tub. “What is it?”
“I need to talk to you. Can you come outside?”
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