Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Chapter 8


A shrill inhuman scream pierced Gypsy’s dreams. She jumped from her bed. Something was wrong with Jacob. Panic pumped through her body. Running full tilt, she grabbed a hold of the door and propelled herself around the corner and into the hall.

      The scream grew louder, almost deafening.

      She turned the knob and pushed the door to his room. Being latched from the inside, it would open no more than an inch. She threw herself hard against the door, pulling some of the screws slightly loose of their hold. She pressed her back against the wall and kicked the door with everything she had. She could hear more of the latch come loose. She kicked it again, sending shocks of pain up her foot, but the door swung free.

      Jacob’s silhouette shivered in a corner.

      Reaching out through the darkness to reassure him, she touched his shoulder.

      His hand clasped around her throat and he slammed her violently against the wall. She strained on the tips of her toes, fighting for breath, becoming aware of something cold pressed against her clavicle. She resisted the temptation to fight, gambling that if she managed to stall him for long enough, he would snap out of this, whatever it was.

      A struggle would agitate him.

      “Jacob,” she pleaded through her constricted windpipe. Sweat dripped from his nose and ran down her cheek. His heavy erratic breath terrified her. “Jacob?”

      He dropped the knife to the floor and released her throat, turning away. She gasped shallowly. Then her head snapped back. Jacob had her by the shoulders, shaking her.

      You shouldn’t be here.” His eyes were desperate. “I could have hurt you.”

      “What happened? Were you having some kind of nightmare or something,” she said, breaking free of him. She rubbed her sore throat. “I was worried about you.”

      “I could have hurt you. I lock that door for a reason.”

      She backed away from him, looking for an advantage to run if she had to.

      “Do you know what I see when I look at you?” He pounded the wall behind her head, causing her to jump. “I look at you and I think when I was your age, I was in a very bad place doing very bad things. Very bad things.” Spit sprayed from his lips. “I could have hurt you.” He stepped away from her, and she inched closer to the busted door. “You hang around here like you want something from me,” he screamed beating a fist against his chest. “Christ, I don’t have anything you want. I don’t even have what I want, and I can’t remember when I ever did. Do you know who I am? Do you? You don’t have any idea. How could you? If you knew you wouldn’t be here.” She braced to run, but he reached out and grabbed a hold of her. He clung to her in a grip so tight she couldn’t break free, buried his head in her breasts, like a boy in need of his mother’s forgiveness, and let loose a storm of tears.

      “I don’t care,” she whispered in his ear. She stroked the back of his head, as he fell to his knees.

      The first button of her shirt came free easily in his hand. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed. “I’m sorry. I don’t have what you’re looking for. I don’t have it.”

      “Yes, you do,” she reassured him.

      He plucked her shirt open, button by button, until her belly was naked and white like the full moon, and he pressed his face into it.

      Her thighs quivered. She wasn’t sure she could trust her legs to hold her. He’d nearly killed her, and now the moment had come. Her mind raced from one thought to another. She’d anticipated this a thousand times, and here it was. It was happening and it was all too potently raw. Her heart pounded with passion and fear, the line between the two obscured beyond oblivion. It was a victory that slowly disembowelled her…and nothing in the world could make her surrender it.

*

The morning came with a loud mechanical whine that vibrated through the house. Charlie opened her eyes. It took her a moment to get her bearings, but when she remembered a smile spread across her lips. She tucked her head into Jacob’s chest. His muscular arms held her protectively, like nothing would ever reach her again. She closed her eyes and savoured it. It was the safest place she was sure she’d ever known.

      The whine faded and the realization settled on her slowly, building like a wave working its way towards shore, and then, crash. It fell on her all at once. Stella’s Cub.

      “Jacob. Get up. Get up.” She pushed his limp body. “Get up, quick.”

      He groaned, as he came to life. “What. What is it?”

      “Get in the shower. Stella’s plane is landing on the airstrip. Right now,” she shouted, running from the room.

      Jacob sat up in bed. He looked around the room, then put his head in his hands. Stella would be expecting him to pick her up at the airstrip that cut through the back pasture. He needed to clear his head.

      Gypsy popped through the door. She was already dressed. “Get in the shower. I’ll take the truck and go pick her up.”

*

      Jacob had been dreaming of Stella for the better part of his life. Once, he’d nearly had her, too. Once, she’d nearly been all his. He had been so cocky and self-assured.

      “A man could get used to cookin like this.” He’d told her, winking, as he’d blatantly patted Stella’s curvaceous rear.

      “Well, don’t,” she told him, stepping away from him.

      Jake’s grin fell from his face.

      “I ain’t gonna spend the rest of my days servin’ some mangy old cowboy,” she teased, knocking his hat off.

      He pushed his chair back from the table, picked up his hat, put it back on his head, and scooped her over his shoulder like a sack of grain.

      “Jake Barnes! Put me down,” she demanded, pounding his back with her fists.

      “Not in your life.”

      He hauled her out behind a concession stand, before setting her feet back on the ground.

      “You’re courtin’ disaster, young man.”

      “I don’t care Stella. Let’s run away.”

      She picked at the peeling paint of the little shack, avoiding his earnest look.

      “I’m as good or better than any of them other rough stock riders out there. With the money I got paid today, and the money I’ve been saving, in another couple of weeks I’ll have enough to get us a used car. After a bit on the circuit, who knows Stella? We could get a truck and trailer, get you a barrel horse. What d’ya think?” He wrapped his arms around her waist and nuzzled into the nape of her neck.

      She closed her eyes for a moment and tilted her head back, allowing him to kiss her.

      “I love you Stella.”

      She opened her eyes and pressed her tanned hands against his shoulders, pushing him backward. “You don’t mean that Jake.”

      “I do Stella. I love you!” he hollered.

      “Shhh, Jake. Beau will be back any moment.”

      “So, let him come back. I love you. What’s he going to do about it?”

      Stella flattened the front of her gingham dress, where she had embroidered small flowers to hold the holes and threadbare places together. Jake was still grinning at her like an idiot, but she had no sympathy. She was sick of this life. She wanted a new dress. Was some rodeo cowboy going to buy her a new dress?

      Jake dropped on both of his knees and removed his hat. “Stella, I do. I love you. I know I can’t give you everything a woman like you deserves, but I can give you my heart.” He reached into his pocket.

      “Where’s that damn woman!” a voice called. She stood erect with panic. “I need my shirt ironed for this afternoon. Where’d you get to? I need it done now! You hear me?”

      She turned away, toward the direction of the impatient voice. “I’ve got to go, Jake.”

      She felt Jacob reach out for her, the hem of her skirt slipping through his fingers, as she took off in search of Beauregard.

*

If Charlie didn’t move, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad. She took shallow breaths through her nose, nearly paralyzed with confusion. The only movement she could manage. So she’d just been another Cherry Hills. Stella’s voice reminded her of it, even where she’d locked herself in the bathroom. That syrupy voice filled every corner of the house, slowly suffocating her, choking her out. She sucked in a deep breath and put her hand under the faucet. She had to get the smell off— Jacob’s smell that crawled into her pores, and lingered under her skin. She dug a sharp fingernail into her arm and dragged it up to the elbow. If she could just peel it off— the skin, the smell. Bathing in kerosene couldn’t take it away.

      Her body was something strange, like it belonged to somebody else. She wondered if Stella had noticed. If she had, she hadn’t said a word about it. Then again, she probably wouldn’t have cared anyway. She didn’t give a shit about Jacob. Not really. She just liked to own him.

      Stepping into the tub, she flipped the handle and a spray of water splashed against her back. The smell of Jacob’s Stetson began migrating down the drain. She closed her eyes and let her mind drift to that place when she was Cody’s girlfriend and she still believed her dreams would come true.

      A cold shock brought her back. The water was beginning to run cold. She was alive. She could feel the sting of the cold. Yeah. She was still alive.

      Begrudgingly, she closed the taps. That voice. It just wouldn’t shut the hell up. Gypsy cupped her ears, her jaw clenched tight. She was going to die of the suffocation, if she had to listen to one more contrived laugh. I can’t take this shit. She pulled on some fresh Wranglers and a shirt that didn’t belong to Jacob, and escaped the only way she knew how to at 0900. She went for a ride.


      To her relief, Jacob’s truck was gone when she returned home.

      The house seemed different than when she had left it. A coffee cup on the table rimmed with bright red lipstick whispered a reminder that this was not her home. That it never had been. Passing Jacob’s room, the bare mattress reached out and stabbed her between the ribs. He’d stripped the sheets already. Soon it would be like she never existed.

      The wind assaulted the boards of the house, causing them to creak and sway. She lay on her bed and closed her eyes, wanting to sleep, to forget, but the wind, the constant wind, the never stopping wind unnerved her and made her anxious like an animal of prey overcome with the instinct to disperse its scent and never stop moving. It whistled beneath the window panes, rattling a nervous rhythm. A feeling of helplessness washed over her. The wind was waiting to suck her from the room and carry her like dust to be scattered.

      Tragedies competed in her mind— flash storms of regret. What if she hadn’t made that ride? Would she still be Cody’s girl? She probably wouldn’t have ended up like this, at any rate. But it wasn’t just Cody, was it? She rolled over and buried her head against her knees. The redheaded Cowboy. She pushed her fingernails into the palms of her hands, and sat upright. Looking in the mirror on the back of her door, she tried to find someone who might have resembled the girl she was before. Before all of this. Before she became too damaged to ever find a comfortable place in this world.

      “Fuck it,” she said. Distraction. Distraction is what she needed. Noise. People. A drink. She grabbed the keys to the farm truck and headed for the door.


Outside, it was difficult to catch a breath in the wind. A gust snatched the blue door from her hands and whipped it back against the frame. Straining against the force she slammed the door shut, popped a cigarette in her mouth and turned the engine over. Waylon Jennings rumbled from the cassette player. She pushed the cigarette lighter in, and spun out of the driveway and onto the gravel road. The truck skidded along a washboard, fish tailing from right to left. She removed her boot from the gas, steering into it, until she felt the tires catch again. Pushing the pedal back down, she spit angry rocks out from under the back tires. The lighter popped out and she held it to the end of her smoke. It ignited and she took a big long inhalation.

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