Saturday, December 13

Chapter 14: New Year

It was New Year’s Eve. We all had to work of course: me, Zach, Kate and the usual staff we went to the clubs with. Luckily, we close at 9:30, so we were out the door, all side work completed, by 9:45. Kate and I drove home, took turns in the shower, and then god dressed. I put on a pair of skinny, dark denim jeans, a white cami with a shimmery silver overlay, and a pair of low cut black boots. I blew my hair dry, curled it, put on makeup, a rarity for me, and waited. Jacob was picking me up.

Five minutes later the doorbell rang, I was at the door before it had finished it’s ding. He stood there in a pair of fitted black jeans, a white muscle tee with an Ed Harley graphic under his black leather jacket, and his broken-in motorcycle boots. As I let him in, his eyes grew wider and his nostrils flared a little bit. “You look amazing. You sure we can’t just stay here?”

I laughed, and said, “No way.” As I worked my way into his arms and pulled his head down to kiss me.

Kate has just come down the short hallway and into the living room. She was also wearing dark denim, but she had on a glittery gold tank and gold ballet flats. “Wow,” she said. “Did you guys call each other to coordinate your outfits? You match perfectly.”

“Synchronicity.” Jacob replied .  “You want to ride with us?”

“No,” said Kate. “Phil is coming to pick me up.” Phil used to work at the brewery with us, but he quit a couple of weeks ago, having gotten his dream job as an accountant in a local law firm. He and Kate had dated on and off again. And it looked like it was back on.

“When did that start up again?” I asked.

“He called me last week and asked for a clean start. The last time I saw him was the night you paid a visit to the emergency room, and we sort of toyed with the idea that night.”

“Oh,” I said, “Well here’s hoping.”

“And if nothing else, I’ve got someone to kiss at midnight.” Kate said with a laugh.

Phil was a nice guy, steady and true. But Kate, for all of her commitment to our friendship, was skittish about serious relationships with the opposite sex. Her parents had been through a very nasty divorce, and she never really got over it.  Phil was smart though, he knew better than to push Kate and who knew, maybe one of these times, she would actually stick it out with him for more than a few weeks.

Milo, Steve, Sarah, and Michelle were meeting us at Club Lulu. Jacob was handed me his jacket to wear for the ride over. I about swooned when I saw the way his arm and chest muscles pulled at the t-shirt fabric. I don’t think I had ever seen him in anything but long sleeves before. He caught me staring at his bicep, and I blushed. “Guess you like what you see?”

I blushed harder. “I knew you were ripped, but I had no idea you were that ripped.”

Jacob laughed, “It’s in the genes.” He said. Which make me look at his thighs.

“Yes, it is.” I said.

He laughed again. “Not those jeans.”

“Oh.” I laughed out loud and he held out his hand for me to take.

Just as we were heading out the door, Phil pulled into the driveway and got out of the car. “Hey Rowan.”

“Tell him not to come up, I’ll be right there.” Kate, who was right behind me, said.

“Hey Phil.” I said. “Kate’s right here, she’ll be right down.”

The three of us bounded down the stairs, and I introduced Jacob and Phil. We got in our respective car and truck, and drove over to Club Lulu. It was Steve’s pick. They were having a Tiki themed party, with  plenty of Mai Tais and assorted other drinks on special. I didn’t care where we went, I was just happy I was with Jacob. It was the first time we were going clubbing together. I was looking forward to lots of physical contact on the dance floor.

Jacob was in the lead, and he found two spots in the back of the parking lot right next to each other. He slid the truck into the left one, and Phil parked alongside him on the right. I took off the jacket he had lent me, and handed it back to Jacob. He tossed it in the rear of the cab. I could feel the goosebumps on my skin and rubbed my hands up and down my arms while we half walked, half ran to the club entrance. Since it was already after ten, there was no line at the door, so we were able to pay the cover charges and go right in. Kate and I scanned the crowd until we  saw Zach’s tall physique and his spiky blond hair. He saw us and waved us over. Kate led the way, with me right behind, followed by Jacob and Phil. As we sauntered over to the small table they were standing around, I saw Milo’s eyes widen and Steve’s chin drop. Sarah and Michelle both immediately stood straighter, thrust out their chests, and pouted their lips. They were all looking at Jacob as he came into full view.

Zach had noticed too, he turned to Jacob and said, “You sure know how to make an impact.”

“Hey everyone, this is Jacob,” I said. The color high in my cheeks, I could feel the heat of it.

Steve reached over with his hand and shook Jacob’s. “How do you know our Rowan?” He asked.

“Oh, we kept running into each other around town.” He said. “And I finally decided to say hi.”

“Wow,” said Sarah, “I wish that would happen to me.”

Milo just smiled and shook Jacob’s hand, “Nice to officially meet you.” Then he turned to Phil and patted him on the back, “Good to see you, man.”

Phil smiled back, “Same here, bro, same here.”

Michelle said, “What’s everyone drinking? Here comes one of the servers.”

Jacob came up behind me, and put an arm around my waist. He bend his head down to my ear, and asked, “What are you drinking, baby?”

I turned around to face him, as he circled his other arm about me, and held me. “I really want to get you out on to the dance floor, first.” I said.

“Whatever you want, boss.” He replied, released me, grabbed  my hand and said out to Michelle, “I think we’ll pass for now.”  He began leading me out onto the dance floor.

I head Zach say, “Well, there goes my dance partner.”

And someone else said, “Who the hell is that guy?” But I wasn’t sure if it was Milo, Steve, or Phil.

Jacob reached the floor, pushed his wait through several bodies until we found the middle of it, and swung me into his arms. I laced my hands around his neck and met his hips with mine. He leaned his face in and I reached mine up, until our lips met, and we kissed, as we swayed to the rhythm of the music. I felt completely filled up, and ready to explode, as heat rushed through every part of my body. I closed my eyes and just felt the bass beating into me, while I held on to Jacob and our bodies moved in unison. He slowly wound the kiss the down and released my lips and tongue. I leaned my head against his chest, and said a silent prayer of thanks for a song that could be fast or slow.

By the second song, Kate and Phil had made their way to us, and by the third the rest of our little  crowd had followed.  When the forth song, and one of our favorites came on, Zach asked Jacob, “Hey, can I still my old dance partner for this one?”

“Sure.” Jacob said. “I’ll go order us some beers.”  I grabbed Zach’s hand, and said, “Don’t be jealous.” And gave him a teasing smile.

“Ugh, Rowan, I’m just not looking forward to finding another dance partner who doesn’t think they can straighten me out with enough gyrations.”

I laughed heartily on that one, “Oh baby, they would be a fool to think they could.” And I threw my arms around his neck and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I know your heart is true to your one true love. If things with Kate and Phil don’t work out, she could be in the running.”

Zach smiled and said. “Looks like you found yourself a good one.”  We danced to a couple of  songs, along with Steve, Milo, and Sarah.  Phil, Kate, and Michelle had gone back to the table to grab a drink or two.

Steve asked Zach if he could cut in, and Zach handed me over. I put my hand on Steve’s shoulder and he put one on my waist. Zach, Milo, and Sarah left the floor for a drink, and Steve pivoted me around with his hand, pushing me further up the dance floor. We finished the dance and before the next one came on, he leaned down to me ear and said, “I need to tell you something.”

“Okay,” I said, not having any idea what he would want to tell me.

He grabbed my hand and led me off the dance floor and down the narrow hallway toward the bathrooms, and near the back exit door.

“Where are we going?” I asked him.

“I want you to be able to hear me.” He said.

I wasn’t sure going through the exit door was a good idea, so I stopped walking. He tugged on my hand, but I refused to budge. He swung around behind me and shoved me against the bar on the door, causing it to open. The next thing I knew I was outside in the freezing cold, and the door was shut behind me. I had my little silver purse slung across my body and was mentally scolding myself for not buying a mini bear spray can that would have fit in it. My big can was snuggly at home, dangling from a clip on my backpack. I looked around. We were in the back alley, with a few dumpsters every hundred feet and not much else. I looked down at my boots and wondered if I could outrun Steve to the front of the building. But I knew my boots were slick and I had a better chance of skidding and falling and doing some serious injury to myself than of actually making it there safely.

“Look Rowan, you don’t need to be afraid of me. I just really need to talk to you and I need you to hear me.”

“Okay, Steve,” I said, not believing him for one minute. He still had my hand in his and wasn’t letting go. He swung around and took my hand as well.

“What are you doing with that guy, Rowan? Who is he? Don’t you know, you’re supposed to be with me?”

“You’ve never said anything to me, Steve.” I said. Hoping logic might work, but not really thinking it would. “How was I supposed to know you were interested in me?”

“Who do you think sent you the roses? And the card on your car? I’ve been following you, watching you. You’re beautiful Rowan, and you belong to me.”

“What?” I said. “You’ve been stalking me? What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Not stalking, Rowan, just following, just keeping tabs on you.”

“I hate to break it to you, Steve. But that’s pretty much the definition of a stalker.”

“No, Rowan, it’s not. I’m an admirer, not a stalker.”

As we were talking, he had been slowly pushing me backward and now I could feel the brick of the building, hard and cold against my back.

“ The other day, you told Gary, you know Gary, the customer at work, that you were in love. I thought you were in love with me. With your secret admirer. Wasn’t it romantic enough for you? I was going to tell you weeks ago, but I needed you relaxed, so I spiked your drink with valium, but I put too much in, and well, now I’m out of time. Tell me you’ll get rid of him. Get rid of that guy Jacob. He doesn’t know you. He doesn’t own you. You’ve only known him a little while. I’ve known you for a whole year. Doesn’t that count for something?”

“Sorry Steve, but no. I’m with Jacob now.”

Then he yelled in face, “No! Take it back! You’re not with him. He’s not good enough for you. You belong to me.” And he shoved me hard against the wall and I heard my head crack against it. I slipped down the wall and held my head in my hands.

“Stop it, Steve. This isn’t helping your case.”

He grabbed me and stood me up again. He moved in close and fast, pinning my legs between his and holding my wrists against the wall. He moved his mouth in close to mine and put the moved his hands from my wrists to my throat and started squeezing. My hands went up to grab his arms, but I couldn’t get his hands off of my neck. I knew I was going to black out, I couldn’t speak
Steve said, “You’re mine or you’re no one’s.”

That’s when I heard the door burst open, I saw a streak of black and white, and the next thing I knew, Steve was on the ground with blood gushing out of his nose, and mouth. Jacob was standing over him. He picked him up, held him over his head, and threw him against the dumpster. Steve’s head lulled back and his body slipped down to the ground.

“God Jacob, stop, you’re going to kill him.” I yelled.

He stood up and turned slowly toward me. Then he was suddenly there, right next to me, my face cupped gently between his two large brown hands. “Are you okay, Rowan?”

“I’m okay, I’m okay. “ I said. “Just totally freaked out.”

We both heard a scraping against the pavement and heard a grown. Jacob walked back over to Steve and leaned down in his face. “If you ever touch her again, if you even look in her direction, I will kill you, do you understand? You are quiting the job at the brewery, leaving this great state of Tacoma, and never coming back. If I ever see you anywhere near here again, I will hunt you down and kill you. Then I will dismantle your body and make sure it is never ever found. Do you understand me?”

Steve nodded his head. I could see a stain spread in the crotch of his pants. And I knew he would follow the directions Jacob had just given him.  I stood there, shaking against the wall. I had never seen this side of Jacob before and I didn’t know what to think. I never wanted to see that side turned against me. The weird thing was, he was totally calm, the whole time, he seemed relaxed. He wasn’t red in the face, or sweating profusely, nothing. I stared at the back of Jacob. I didn’t know what to think.  I mean, Steve was strangling me, and could have killed me, and Jacob could have killed him.

Jacob picked him up off the ground. “You have 24 hours to get out of town. That’s it.”

Steve, who I was amazed could actually stand on two feet, skittered away to the parking lot.

I slid down the wall and started to cry.  “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.”

Jacob crouched down next to me. “Rowan, Rowan?” He said. “I’m sorry you had to see that. I’m sorry, I was afraid he was going to kill you. I’m not going to hurt you. I swear.”

“You were so fast and so fierce.” I said. “I don’t understand it. It’s like you are trained fighter.”

“I have to take you to Forks, Rowan. I can explain it there. I promise. Not here, not now. You just need to know that I will never ever hurt you. Can you trust me?”

I looked up at him, looked through my overflowing eyes and saw the intensity of his promise in his dark chocolate eyes.

“I can trust you.” I said.

He reached out and scooped me up into his arms I clung to him. I was a shaky mess and tears were still streaking down my cheeks. He felt warm and safe.

“I want to go home.” I said.

“I’ll text Kate and let her know we’re leaving when we get to the truck.”

He walked with me in his arms to the truck, placed me in the passenger seat and locked and closed the door. He got out his phone, texted Kate to say that Steve took off, and he and I were going home. He opened the driver’s door, grabbed his jacket out of the back of the cab, and handed it to me. “Please put this on.”

I took it, and slowly, shakily put my arms through the sleeves. He climbed in the driver’s seat, started the engine and turned on the heat. “We’re stopping for a cola for you on the way back. You should probably eat something, too.”

“I think I might be sick if I eat.” I said.

“We’ll do fast food Chinese. Wonton soup. Trust me.”

“I trust you Jacob. You probably just saved my life.” And I burst into tears again. “God, I need to stop this.”

“You’re in shock, Rowan, you’ve just had someone try to strangle you to death, and then you watched your boyfriend beat the shit out of someone. It’s been a pretty traumatic night.”

Through the tears I started laughing, as Jacob backed out of the parking spot, and headed out to the street. I closed my eyes and rested my head against his shoulder, while he navigated the roads, went through the drive-thru of the Chinese takeout chain, and finally ended up in the driveway of my apartment. He parked the car and turned the car off. “Can you walk, or do you need me to carry you?”

“I think I can walk.” I said.

He got out of the truck, came around my side, opened the door, unbuckled my seatbelt, and helped me out. I stood on shaky legs, but I could do it. He grabbed the Chinese food bag with one hand, and grabbed me under the armpit with the other, shut the door and walked me up to my apartment. When we got inside, he sat me at the kitchen table, turned on all the lights, and began to set out the food. “Give me your foot.”

I swung my left foot out to him. He unzipped my boot and took it off, then I swung my right foot out to him, and he unzipped my other boot, and placed them both against the wall. He washed his hands, grabbed some silverware and napkins and sat next to me, coaxing me to drink some cola and eat some bites of food. The more I ate and drank, the better I felt. I could feel my body and mind start to relax and the shaking begane to subside.

“So much for a happy new year.” Jacob said.

“Well,” I said. “We might have missed the midnight kiss, but I’m alive, and you’re alive, and we’re here together.”

“Yes, we are.” He replied.









Sunday, December 7

Chapter 13: More than Meets the Eye

Kate and I were hanging out on the sofa watching reruns on TV when my phone rang. I looked at who was calling, saw it was Zach, and picked up.

“Hey, what’s up sexy?” I said to him.

“Hey gorgeous girl, turn on channel 4.”

“Why, what’s going on?”

“Just do it.”

Kate had the remote, so I said to her, “It’s Zach. He wants us to turn on channel 4.”

“The news?” said Kate. “Why does he want us to watch the news?”

As Kate was asking the question, she was also flipping to channel 4. Live action reporting was coming straight to us, in some tree filled land. It looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Then I recognized where it was.

“Zach, it’s about three blocks from the brewery, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is.”

Kate I sat and watched the news, while Zach sat patiently on the phone. And then I saw it, the camera cut in to a black bag in the field, with what could only be a body inside of it.

“A body bag?” said Kate.

Zach explained in my ear and I relayed it to Kate. “They found a body, a lot like the girl in the girl in the woods, looks mauled. Can’t be sure it was a bear, can’t be sure it was a human. They have no idea was it was. But this time it was a guy. Right in our home turf.”

Kate said, “From now on, no one leaves work and goes to their car alone. We all walk out together.”

“Zach, did you hear that?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” said Zach. “And I totally agree. This is getting kind of scary, too close to home turf.”

“Don’t I know it,” I said, thinking that this was the second murder too close to where I had been only recently.

Zach hung up and five seconds later the phone rang again. It was my mother. I really didn’t want to answer.

“Come home now.” My mother barked at me through the phone.

“Mom, I can’t and besides, I’m not invited for the holidays, remember?”

“Rowan, you don’t need to throw that in my face. You know how I get. You didn’t need to start an argument with me then or now. I still want you here, where I know you will be safe.”

“Mom, there are more murders in New Jersey per year than there are in Washington.”

“Well there not always so close to where you live, are they? Why can’t you live in a nice suburbs, instead of the city. You know the city is always more dangerous.”

I inhaled and exhaled slowly.

“Don’t you sigh at me, miss. Here is your father.”

Rowan, you need to come home. Enough of this.” My father blasted through the phone.

“Dad, my life is here, I’m not leaving. Murder is everywhere. I’m not in any more danger here than I would be there.”

“Well, I think you should get a gun. And go to a shooting range and practice with it every day for a week. Do they have permits there to carry concealed? You should get one of those. You know your mother and I have sleep with a gun under the pillow for years.”

“Yeah, dad, I know. But no, I’m not getting a gun. I’m more likely to shoot the wrong person with it than the right one.”

“I really think you should consider it. You and Kate should both get guns. Then you can practice shooting together.”

“Dad, I’m not really sure I could pull the trigger if it came down to it. But, I’ll tell you what, Kate and I will go the store and get some bear spray, okay? Would that satisfy you?”

“Well, bear spray is better than nothing. Don’t be afraid to spray it right in his eyes, Rowan. You want to incapacitate him. And keep it on your person at all times, get a little belt hook and wear it right on your waist, so you can grab it right away.”

“Okay, Dad. Kate and I will go get some bear spray and wear it on our waists, okay, and we don’t spray the wrong person with it.” I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. I looked at Kate. She rolled her eyes right back at me.

“Dad, I have to go. I have to go make dinner.”

“Go get the bear spray tonight, Rowan, right now. And then I want you to send me a phone pic of it. So I know you have it.”

“Gads, Dad. Okay, okay. I love you, I’ll talk to you later.”

“Love you, too. Now go do it.” And he disconnected the phone call.

Kate was already getting on her shoes, “Come on Rowan. We better go do it. You know how he can be. I don’t want to get on his bad side.”

***
An hour later we were back at home, with two small canisters of bear spray. The clerk had been a really nice guy, who showed up how to hold the canister and spray it, with a dummy can they kept on hand for demonstrations. He explained that you wanted to make sure the wind was blowing away from you and not toward you, or you would wind up with a face full of the hot pepper spray yourself.

I took the two canisters, set them on the table, had Kate pose behind them, so he would know that they were authentically ours, took a pic and forwarded it to my dad. We each took one canister and put them in our respective purses. Then I went into the kitchen to make spagetti and meatballs for dinner. As the little round balls of beef were cooking in the electric frying pan, the doorbell rang. Kate went to answer it. It was Jacob. She brought him into the kitchen.

“Just in time for dinner!” I said. “Could you smell the meatballs from your place?”

Jacob laughed, came around behind me and gave me a hug and a kiss along the side of my neck, as I used the tongs to turn the balls so they could cook evenly.

“Yum,” he said.

“Which, my neck or dinner?”

“Both.”

Kate applauded, “Good answer, Jacob. You win the jackpot.”

We all laughed together. The water for the pasta was boiling, so I threw the noodles in and tuned down the burner.   Then I unscrewed the lids off the jars of pasta sauce and poured them into a sauce pan, which already had mushrooms and onions simmering away.

“Not homemade,” I said, “but doctored up canned stuff. You are staying for dinner, right?”

“Only if there’s enough.”

Kate bubbled, “When Rowan cooks, there’s always enough, usually for two or three days.”

“Hey,” I said, swatting her with my spatula, “It saves on cooking time, we can just use the microwave.”

“Okay,” said Jacob, “I’ll stay.”

He began to help Kate set the table for three.

“Hey, did you see the news?” Kate asked him.

“The murder? Yeah, I saw that.” There was an edge to his voice I didn’t recognize.

“It was right by work.” Kate said and Jacob’s eyes grew dark and severe. “Well, not right by work, more like three blocks away.”

“I don’t like it.” He said. “You guys need to be really careful. Can you take a few days off of work?”

“Why would he show up at the same place?” I asked, “Unless he was a bear, and he decided that was his territory…”

Jacob interjected, “Trust me Rowan, it’s not a bear.”

“How can you know?” Kate asked him.

“Look, I know what I’m talking about. Those aren’t bear markings. But they aren’t exactly human either.” And then he turned a little red, and glanced away.

“Must be the lions or the wolves then.” Kate said. “Do wolves do that?”

“Wolves don’t eat people, Kate.” Jacob replied.

“Must be some kind of lion, then.”

“Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!” I said. “But seriously, wouldn’t the police let us know if they thought a person was doing this. I mean, this is body number two. If it was a person, it would seem they had a serial killer on their hands and would need to do something about it, like let the general public be aware of it, so we could protect ourselves.”

“Look it’s probably a hungry, hurt mountain lion. They can be really really dangerous and are less afraid of people than we are of them. And less afraid of us than most black bears are. So you girls really need to be careful. Don’t go anywhere alone for awhile. Until this thing is caught. Okay? Promise me.” He looked from me to Kate and back to me again. He held my gaze for a few extra seconds. “I’m serious.”

We moved all the food to serving dishes, took it to the table and began to serve ourselves as Kate said, “Oh don’t worry Jacob, Rowan’s dad already had us buy pepper spray, since Rowan didn’t want to go buy a gun.”

“A gun?” Jacob said and laughed.

I got a little defensive. “I can shoot. My dad taught me how.”

Jacob stopped laughing, “No, no, it’s not that. It’s just that…never mind. I just don’t know that a gun will do the trick. I think the pepper spray might be a better bet. But I’m not even sure about that.”

“What do you know, that you’re not saying?” I asked him. Did he know something more about this than he was letting on? It seemed like maybe he did, but I couldn’t imagine what.

“Nothing, nothing. It’s just that your best bet is just not to be alone. Because hurt animals can be the most dangerous and you never know what they are capable of or how they are going to respond.”  But I wasn’t sure he was telling the whole truth. Maybe growing up in Forks, which was closer to the wilderness, exposed him to a lot wildlife than I thought. I was a suburban and now an urban kid, what I did I know?



Sunday, November 30

Chapter 12: Legends (A mini chapter: more to come next time)



That night I had a dream. I was walking on the trail, the one I met Jacob and Max on. It was nighttime, and I had no flashlight. I found my way only by the light of the three quarter moon. This time, instead of wearing hiking clothes I was dressed in a long gossamer dress and a long white veil that trailed behind me. I was barefooted, and walking slowly, looking for something. When I came to the place with all of the fallen trees, I could not hear voices, did not see Jacob or Max. Instead there was a very large gray wolf, half in and half out of the shadow of the trees, not quite on the trail. I slowly, cautiously approached him, each time I felt like I could reach out and touch him, he moved further away from me. I followed him, deeper and deeper into the woods, off of the trail. My veil snagged on some bushes almost immediately, and was torn from my hair, leaving my locks hanging long and disheveled around my shoulders. I walked through brambly bushes, which scratched my legs and made little rivulets of blood run down my calves, across my feet, and into the damp earth. My dress caught on the thorns of wild roses, running rampant through the forest, and ripped into shreds. At last, I stood in the middle of a small clearing, naked and ashamed, and wondering what I was going there. The wolf sat, leaned his head back and up and let out a long, low mournful howl. I heard lots of howls coming back to him, in different tones and scales. Until there was nothing but the rhythm and vibration of their song in my head, in my body.  I heard howling much closer now, right next to me.  No, it was coming from inside of me. The gray wolf stood beside me, on his four legs, while I stood on my two, howling in unison. I woke up to the sound of the refrigerator humming in the kitchen.

I yawned, stretched, and reached across the bed, for my laptop, which was sitting on the floor. I flipped the lid and put in the search, “The Legends of The People.”

I found their origin story, which claimed that they were descendants of wolves. That the first man sprang out of Mother Wolf’s womb, that she nursed him as one of her own pups, that he grew as strong, fast, and powerful as one of her own. He ran on two legs instead of four, but was able to keep up and pass the four-legged ungulates he hunted with his brothers and sisters. Instead of his jaws, he used his hands, to crush enemies, and bring down his prey. He could rip their throats out with one grip. He was big brother to his pup siblings, bringing them food, playing with them, teaching them the ways of the pack family, of hunting, of surviving, just like his real wolf brothers and sisters did. Until one day, when the sun god demanded that he go live with his own kind, the other two legged, hairless animals that walked the earth. And so he did. He joined the other humans, living in huts, building fires, hunting with bows and arrows, and later with guns, instead of his hands. Using horses, and later trucks, instead of his own two legs, so he could fit in with the rest of the two legged, hairless animals. While he did not use his wolf strength and skills all the time, he never forgot about them. They lay dormant until danger approached, and he could employ them at will, to enable him and his family to survive.


It seemed like a typical origin story to me. I had studied several of them in one of my lit classes, and nothing stuck me as unusual or odd about it. I wondered why Jacob thought it was so important for me to know it, and several other legends as well, apparently. Did he really believe it? Maybe he did. That was okay. I mean, I could understand it to a point, I mean, I could see the characteristics of the wolf that people admired: skillful hunters, members of a close knit family or pack, doting on the pups or children within that pack, sticking together, working together, surviving together. What was there not to admire? Was he worried I would think it was trivial or silly? I had no idea. I guess I would have to wait until I went to Forks to really understand what he was concerned about.

Saturday, November 29

Chapter 11: Thickening

I got to work, with Kate, who was working the same shift as me, feeling a little leary, and was immediately greeted by Zach.

“Hey, you’re back!” He said. “New Jersey was a bust?”

“Completely.”

“Hey, look who’s here,” said Steve, as he breezed by and went into the kitchen. “It’s nice to see your smiling face.”

“Awesome Rowan, you are the favorite you know,” said Milo, giving me a pat on the head as he carried water glasses to a waiting table.

I looked at Zach, as I put my backpack behind the counter, and tied on my apron. “Hey Zach, you didn’t by chance send me roses did you?” Kate watched him out of the corner of her eye.

“The red kind with a note from a secret admirer?” He said, eyeing me seriously. Kate’s eyes grew wide.

“Yeah!” I said, excited that it might be him, playing a joke on me.

“No.”

“How’d you know?”

“How’d I know you have a secret admirer? I was there when they arrived, remember?”

“Oh. I don’t mean that time, I mean, I got some yesterday afternoon.”

“What? Again? Can’t that guy grow some balls and just talk to you?”

“Apparently not. Anyway, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t playing a trick on me, or joking around or something.”

“On my life, Rowan, it wasn’t me.”

“Where there any customers that seemed unusually interested in when I would be back?”

“Not that I can think of.” Zach replied.

“This sucks,” said Kate. “For a minute there I was actually hoping it was you,” she said to Zach.

“Rowan, you’re up,” Milo called to me, which meant that I had just had some new customers sit in my section. I went out to the dining room, plastered a smile on my face, which wasn’t hard to do, all I did was think about Jacob and it just sort of broke out all over my face.

Then afternoon and evening breezed by. I was amazed at how busy we were for what should have been a lull between Christmas and New Year’s. I guess people had a lot of company in. I had some of my usual customers, who asked how I was and if I had a nice Christmas. I lied and told them I had. One of them, Gary, stuck in my head. He was an older man, probably in his fifties. He was a widower, his wife had died of cancer a couple of years ago. He came in every week, sometimes two or three times, and always alone. Even if he wasn’t in my section, he always motioned me to come over and say hello to him.  Tonight he was in Steve’s section. He beaconed me over, as Steve was pouring more coffee into his cup.
He told me I seemed to be glowing a bit more than usual tonight. I blushed, and he sighed and said, “Ah, it must be love.”

“It is,” I replied back. His eyes twinkled at me and he smiled.

“I remember those days,” he told me.

The night continued on with table after table, and I ended up working an extra hour, until the crowd died down a bit.

Zach asked me, “Hey dancing girl, are you going to come out and play with us tonight?”

“I don’t know.” I said. I hadn’t really thought about it. A part of me wanted to go home, put on some sweats, curl up on the sofa and watch a movie. A part of me wanted to call Jacob. Okay, a huge part of me wanted to call Jacob, but he said he would call me, and I didn’t want to jump the gun.

“Well, you’ll come out with us on New Year’s, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Because we have our traditions to uphold.” I had only been in Tacoma for a little over a year, so we only had last year to go on, but if memory serves me right, it had been epic.

“I’ll be there, but I might have some company.” I said.

“Things going well in that direction?”

My blush said it all. Zach laughed, “Good. You deserve it.”

I finished my side jobs, and was just about to remove my apron when something caught my eye by the door. I think I must be developing a sixth sense for this guy. There he was, in a thermal and flannel shirt again, looking intently for me. His eyes caught mine, and he smiled and made a beeline in my direction. When he reached me, he said. “Hey.”

“Hey,” I said back. I could feel the space between us, prickling with electricity. “Zach, this is Jacob, Jacob this is Zach.”

They both reached out and shook each other’s hands. Then Zach went on his way, back into the kitchen to rescue the food his customers were waiting for.

I folded up my apron with all my tip money inside of it, and put it in my backpack. Then I threw on my hoodie and stepped out from behind the counter, greeting Jacob with a big hug.

“I went by your place, but you weren’t there. So I figured you were probably working later than you thought.”

“You did?” I asked, smiling at the idea of him going to my apartment on the spur of the moment.

“Yeah, I just can’t really stay away from you.”

“Oh, were you trying to?”

“Not really, but I was only planning on calling you.” He grabbed my hand and walked me out the door. I waved goodbye to my coworkers. I head someone ask, “Who the hell is that guy?” But I couldn’t be sure who said it.

“But then I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I figured I would be there when you got back from work.” We were outside by now. I reached around and hugged him tight. And gave him a kiss.

“I don’t mind at all.”

“So, is it okay with you if we pick up some Chinese food and hang out at my place? I mean, I’m not going to try anything…you know…” he said, turning red. “I mean, I’d like to be able to hang out with you for awhile and not worry about taking up space in someone’s restaurant.”

“That sounds great,” I said, as he opened the door for me and I slid into his truck.

***

We sat on his beat up, second hand, brown leather sofa, with cartons of Mongolian beef, sweet and sour chicken, and pork fried rice on the pine coffee table in front of us. He turned on U2: The Best of 1980-1990 as a backdrop to our conversation.

“So tell me every.” He said to me.

“Everything?” I said.

“Everything you didn’t tell me the other night, at Pot and Kettle.”

“What do you want to know?” I asked him.

“Well, what’s your favorite color, music, book? What are your favorite flowers, candy, food to eat? Where have you traveled? Where do you want to go in the future? What was it like growing up in New Jersey? What do you dream about? What do you think about living in Tacoma?”

I laughed, “Well for starters, I don’t actually have a favorite color, but pink makes me happy, so does brown, and all the colors of the earth, my favorite music is Indie Rock, and my favorite book series is Harry Potter. My favorite flowers are red roses, or at least they were, now I’m not so sure, candy is anything chocolate and nutty. I love to eat Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Italian…well I love to eat a lot of different kinds of food, so I don’t have a favorite. I’ve been up and down the East Coast, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, and now Washington. I want to go to Ireland, Alaska, Hawaii, Australia, and California. And Oregon would be okay, too……”

I continued to talk to him, explaining the extreme feelings of love and fear of my father that riddled my childhood, explained my closeness with my brother, while we were young, and how we had changed and grown apart as adolescence hit. I shared my memories of catching of frogs in the grass, spending all day at the beach, and soaking in tea baths when we got home to ease the burned skin. I dreamed about riding horses bareback across the prairie, whales and dolphins in the ocean, and elephants in Africa and India. I dreamed about swimming in clear, cool pools of water between cracks of rock, and riding the rapids in a raft. And when I was stressed, I dreamed that my car was going backwards and I couldn’t stop it, and my teeth all broke and fell out of my mouth. I liked living in Tacoma, I liked the pace of the city and felt it wasn’t as dirty, smelly, or crowded as cities back east were.

“What is your greatest desire?”

“That question again?” I said to him. “I’m still not ready to share that with you.”

“When?”

“When what?”

“When will you be ready to share that with me?” He asked.

“I don’t know.” I replied honestly. “And anyway, it’s your turn.”

“My turn?”

“Yes. Tell me everything.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I need to take you to Forks first.”

“Why?”

“Rowan, I have secrets and heavy baggage I need to share with you, but I need you to hear the legends of my people, so it’s all in context. Do you know any of the legends of my tribe?”

“Not really, well, just the one, that you are descended from wolves.”

“Yeah, that one’s pretty important. Do you believe it?” Jacob asked.

“Well I think it’s probably more likely that we are descended from apes, but maybe we have some characteristics of the wolves and that’s why the legends say you descended from them.” I replied.

“That’s an interesting thought.” Jacob replied.

“Um, so when are you going to take me?”

“To Forks?”

“Yeah, to Forks.”

“How about the weekend after New Year’s?”

“That sounds good.”

“And then you can decide if you want to continue in this thing with me or not.”

“Why would I change my mind?”

“Some things are hard to take and I don’t want you to feel you have to stay with me if things are too strange or weird or whatever.”

“Jacob, as long as you’re not a serial killer, I think we should be okay.”

“We’ll see,” he said. And he looked very serious, and a little worried.

I wanted him to take me to Forks tomorrow, so I could learn what his secrets were and assure him that I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t sure what he could possibly tell me that would make me change my mind.

We finished eating, while he told me stories from his childhood, of running wild and free in the woods with his cousins and sisters, of family powwows, and boating in the sea. He talked about his father with reverence, and explained he taught him more than any teacher Jacob ever had could.

I listened, enthralled, finding parallels and huge differences in our upbringings.

Finally, I asked him, “What is your greatest desire?”

He looked at me for a minute, then he took my face and his hands and pulled me in closer, until I started to feel like I was floating in his eyes. “My greatest desire is to make you happy.” He said and reached out and kissed me, softly, longingly, lovingly. I was drowning and lost at sea in his mouth. At last our lips parted. And he pulled me against him. I rested my head on his chest. We sat there for a long time, just holding on to each other, listening to the music replay itself over and over again. Finally, he said, “Well, I should probably take you home.”

I really didn’t want to leave him. I wanted to stay there, wrapped in his arms on his sofa forever. But I unwound myself from him, feeling cold where we no longer in contact, and got up to help clean up the food. 

He drove me back to my apartment, my hand on his thigh again, his hand on mine. We kissed goodnight, not as long as last night, he walked me to the door, and blissed out on the time we spent together, I fell into my bed and went to sleep.

Friday, November 28

Chapter 10: Unexpected



The plane landed and I waited impatiently to get off. The flight attendant unsealed the door and everyone began to move at once. Unfortunately, being in crowds makes me feel claustrophobic, and I always feel like screaming and clawing my way out of the mass. I held my breath as the passengers sitting ahead of me slowly, laboriously, gathered their bags from the overhead compartments, and from underneath their seats and began to ease through the aisle and out the door. At last I got through, and walked down the expandable tunnel that led into the airport, excited about stepping back on Washington soil, seeing Kate, and giving her a blow by blow account of my cluster fuck of a Christmas trip. I pulled my backpack a little higher on my shoulder and walked down through the terminal, took the escalator down to where people could wait for the arriving passengers, and began scanning the crowd.

That’s when I saw a mass of black hair and tan skin, and then Jacob was there, lifting me up, while I laughed and cried simultaneously. My arms naturally grabbed him around the neck and I reached up with one hand and pulled his head to mine. I looked deeply into his eyes, shimmering pools of  dark chocolate, overflowing with tears, and felt the ground fall away. There was nothing but us in the entire universe. I reached up with my mouth to meet his mouth. Our teeth collided.  He laughed, and we tried it again, this time lips and tongue, meeting heat with heat, devouring each other as if we were starving. And I was starving, for him. And by the feel of it, he was in the same state. Sparkling lights played against the blackness of my closed eyes, and I felt like a pillar of fire was moving from my feet right through the top of my head. I felt like I would be nothing but a pile of ash by the time the kiss ended. At last our mouths parted, in search of air. Jacob leaned his head against mine, breathing heavily, tears gone now. I could feel him trembling slightly, underneath my hands, which had moved to his arms.

“Wow,” he said, as he released me just a little bit, still holding me lightly around the waist.

I smiled and felt the flush of heat in my cheeks, “So much for going slowly.”

“Yeah, I think we can throw that idea out. This was the longest week of my life. I was about to buy a ticket and  show up on your parents’ doorstep,  when I got your text.” And then he blushed. “What would you have done anyway?”

“The same thing I did right now,” I said. “Cuz you know, I was expecting Kate, not you.”

“Oh, well I can go get her if you want. You know, if you prefer she pick you up?” He said and winked. “But do me a favor and text her to let her know you got in okay, because I plan on having you all to myself for awhile and I don’t want her to worry.”

I leaned into him, hugged him against me and reached for his head again, pulling him down into another kiss. When we came up for air, he said, “You are going to be the death of me.” The trembling in his arms had stopped. “Come on, let’s go get your luggage and get out of here.”

“Jacob?”

“Yeah?”

“I missed you, too.”

His whole face lit up and his body completely relaxed, and he replied, “I could kind of tell.”

He took my backpack off my shoulder, held in his left hand, grabbed my left hand with his right, and we walked off to baggage claim to get my duffle bag. We stood waiting for the bags to start appearing, when he reached out for my face with both his hands. We got lost in each other again. Usually, I wasn’t one for public displays of affection, besides handholding and a light kiss, but I couldn’t help myself. I hadn’t felt this burning need for someone else ever, not even in high school, when my hormones were raging. I really didn’t care who was watching, who was uncomfortable, any of it. All I cared about was passionately connecting with Jacob. When we finally unlocked ourselves from each other for the third time, I was surprised to find that most of the bags and their owners were gone. My hot pink duffle bag was the lone passenger on the carousel ride. Jacob released me, grabbed the bag  off the conveyor belt and tossed it onto his shoulder as if it held nothing more than packing peanuts, and we walked into the damp night air of Washington.

“You sure you won’t let me carry something?” I asked him.

He just laughed and continued to smile at me. “If you’re going to be with me, you’ll have to get used to me carrying your stuff for you.”

“Okay,” I said. “Just checking.”

We got to his dark blue Tacoma, he fished the keys out of his pocket, unlocked the passenger side door, and tossed my bags into the back of the extended cab. Before I took my seat, I reached up and tousled his hair, meeting his eyes with mine. He smiled even wider than he already was.

“God Rowan, your touch reaches into my soul.”

I felt his words reach into mine. I moved in for another kiss, but he stopped me. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go before we get locked in a another lip vice grip.”

I let my nose brush his cheek instead, “Okay, where to, boss?”

“No, no, you’re the boss. Remember?”

“I thought it was whoever was driving.”

“Baby, you’re driving this thing, even if I’m the one behind the wheel.”

I felt a self-satisfied smile sneak across my face. “Okay with me. So…I haven’t eaten since breakfast. You don’t even want to know what was available to eat on the plane. Take me to one of your favorite places to eat.”

“You like steak?” He asked me.

“Sure,” I said. I had never been a big meat eater, but I wanted to see what and where he liked to eat, so I didn’t want to say that. I sat in my seat, Jacob gently closed the door, and was in the driver’s seat and turning the ignition on in a flash. The heater came on, and the CD player, which was playing a Neil Young’s “ You and Me.” I reached over and placed my hand on his thigh. He took one hand off the wheel and put it over mine. I could see his eyes glistening in the light from the dashboard. I could feel the three words between us, and I think they almost passed between his lips, but then they disappeared into the air, like a ghost of a thought.

We ended up at Alex’s Beef and Beans. It’s in a little strip mall, off of Main Street, not too far from the university, but not hip enough to be on the restaurant/bar hop list of the coeds. The place had red cafĂ© curtains hanging in the front glass windows, and a little sign on the front door posting their hours and days, and a paper menu. Jacob opened the door and held it for me, while a tiny bell at the top of the door tinkled. There was a long bar along one side of the wall, in dark wood which a cash register sat on, nearest the door. On the other side where six booths, also in dark wood and upholstered in red vinyl. In between there were five tables that each seated four, laid with white tablecloths and red paper placemats. At the back was a small hallway that led to the kitchen and the restrooms. The place was full, except for one booth, patrons were in various stages of their meals.

A man in his forties with a ruddy complexion and black hair with a few shots of gray came out from behind the counter with the cash register to greet us, “Welcome Jacob, and friend.”

“Alex, this is Rowan.”

“Hi Rowan.”

“Alex? So are you the Alex this place is named for?”

“Actually, it’s named for my grandfather, who started it.  I am the third Alex.”

“Wow,” I said, “What a great way to keep it in the family.”

Alex laughed, “Yeah, my daughter, Alexandria, Alex the fourth, doesn’t necessarily agree with you.”

“Oh, Alexandria is a beautiful name.” I replied.

Alex sat us in a booth in the back. He laid out two red placements and two silverware sets, left, came back with two water glasses, left, came back with three wine glasses and a large bottle of house Merlot. He poured some into each of the wine glasses, and lifted one up, “A toast,” he began, “to Jacob, for having a dinner companion and not needing to eat at the bar.”

I glanced at Jacob who blushed and shrugged his shoulders. Jacob and I lifted our glasses up, the three of us clinked them together, and then we drank. Then Alex took his wine glass and headed back into the kitchen.

Jacob stretched his hand over to my side of the table. I reached out and held it. “I guess you come here a lot.” I said and smiled.

“Every week.” he replied. “Sometimes twice.”

“Always alone?” I asked.

“Rowan, I don’t date.”

“Oh” I said, wondering what that meant about us.

“Look, I mean. I don’t date casually. I’m either in it or I’m not in it. You know.”

“Well, I guess that means you’re in it now, right?”
“Deeper than I’ve ever been before.”

I squeezed his hand.  Alex appeared again, with two salads of mixed greens, with cherry tomatoes, shredded cucumber, and a balsamic vinegrette. Then he disappeared into the kitchen.

“No menus?” I asked.

“Well, they have menus, but I think Alex is taking it upon himself to create something special for us.”

I blushed and took another sip of my wine. “That is so sweet. He must really like you.”

“And you.” I blushed more.

“So, tell me about New Jersey.” Jacob said to me.

I looked at him for a minute, “Look, my family is crazy. I mean, like certifiable. I don’t want you to think I’m as crazy as them. Okay? They have their issues, and I used to be like them, but I escaped. But sometimes they still pull me in. Anyway, I don’t want you to leave because of them.”

“Rowan you are not your family. Just because they might be crazy doesn’t mean that you are.”

I breathed in and out, and then told him the whole story, from the beginning of the week to the end. In between, I ate bites of my salad.

“Wow,” Jacob said, when I was finished. “I’m really glad you got the hell out of there and came back to me….er….sooner.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Alex came back out, bearing gifts of bread and butter, plates of filet minion wrapped in bacon. One on my plate, cooked medium rare, with green beans and garlic mashed potatoes on the side. There were two filets on Jacobs plate, cooked rare, with the same green beans and garlic mashed potatoes.

After setting the plates down in front of us, whisking away the salad plates and returning with a basket of warm rolls and herbed butter, Alex said, “cut, taste.”

We did. The filet burst with flavor and filled my mouth. We both gave Alex our compliments. He laughed and said, “Enjoy.” He filled our water and wine glasses, then left us to continue our conversation.

“How was Forks?”

“It sucked.”

“Oh no, don’t tell me your family is a mess, too.”

“No, no, it’s not that. It’s just….well. Think about it, you’re surrounded by all these people who are so in love and so devoted to each other, and you’re sitting there, all by yourself, wishing…..well, you know….wishing for….So anyway, I only stayed overnight on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day, after all the food and present opening and stuff, I drove back up here.”

I grabbed his hand and squeezed it.  “Well, I’m not allowed back to New Jersey for the holidays anymore, so…” And I wondered if I said too much. I could feel the butterflies in my stomach.

“You can come with me next year.” he said and laughed and smiled some more. “And we won’t have to argue about which family to visit.” And then he blushed.

We finished what was on our plates, which Alex took away as soon as they were bare. He brought out two small bowls of lime sorbet, which I was grateful for, since it wasn’t too heavy, and got the flavor of meat out of my mouth.  We donned our jackets and headed toward the front, where Alex was now standing again, but the cash register. Jacob fished his wallet out of his back pocket and opened it.

“It’s on the house.”

“Alex, I can’t let you…”

“Nonsense. Your cash is no good here tonight.” The look he gave him said he was serious, so Jacob folded his wallet and put it back in his pocket. “Rowan, it was truly a pleasure to meet you.”

“You, too, Alex. Thank you for a wonderful dinner.”

“You are very welcome.”

“Thank you,” Jacob said.

Alex walked us to the door, held it open for us, patting Jacob on the back as he went through.  We all said goodnight in unison.

***
“I’m not ready to take you home.” Jacob said, after we got back into the truck and he had started her up.

“I’m not ready to go home. But I should probably let Kate know I’m alive and well.”

When we got to my apartment, Jacob turned off the engine and the lights. I crawled over the console and straddled his lap, my back against the steering wheel. It was a tight fit. I laced my fingers through his hair and touched his nose with my nose. He inhaled deeply and exhaled in a shaky, husky breath. My lips brushed his, once, twice, three times, teasing him, as he reached out with his mouth to kiss me. Finally, I let him catch me. Our mouths melded together and we lost track of time, of where we were, of everything, except for the company of each other.

Eventually I got a cramp in my leg and had to pee. I slowly pulled myself away from him, glanced at the dashboard, and was surprised to see that an hour had gone by. I chuckled to myself.

“What?” he said.

“Time just kind of flies by with you,” I said.

“Yeah, it does.”

“Hey, I better go.”

“Come on then, I’ll get your bags.”

I unlocked myself from around him. He opened the door so I could crawl off his lap and the cold air rushed in, catching me by surprise. He climbed out of the cab, reached in the back and grabbed my bags and walked me to the door. The porch light was still on, like a beacon, turned on by thoughtful Kate.

I unlocked the door, and pushed it open, Kate was laying on the sofa, with the TV on low. “Hey, you guys,” she said, rubbing her eyes.

Jacob sat my duffle and backpack down just past the doorway. I looked at him, “Thank you for a really nice time.”

“You’re welcome.”

He kissed me, a little kiss, soft and gentle on the lips, “Goodnight. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“I work from 1 to 8. I picked up a few shifts this morning, since I was going to be back early,” I said.

“Okay.”

And he was out the door and down the stair and in his truck, I stood in the doorway, and watched him drive away, down the driveway and out onto the road.

“Shut the door,” said Kate. “You’re letting all the cold air in.”

“Sorry,” I said. I closed and locked the door, and half walked half skipped to the sofa. I gave Kate a big hug. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For having Jacob pick me up.”

Kate laughed, “That boy’s got it bad for you. I didn’t have a choice. As soon as he got your text he drove over here and asked for your flight info so he could get you. I gave him my number, so next time he can just call.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Nope. Oh, and by the way, a dozen roses showed up this afternoon, too. I was thinking maybe they were from him?”

My mouth fell open. “He didn’t say anything about them.”

“They are in the kitchen.”

I got up from the sofa and turned on the light in the kitchen. There they were, sitting big, bright, blood red, and beautiful. I took the card out of the plastic holder, and read it, “Welcome Home, Rowan. I missed you.”

I got my phone out of my pocket and called Jacob, “Hey,” he answered, “You want me to turn around and come back?”

I laughed, “Yeah, I do, but I don’t think I would get any sleep if you did. Did you send me roses?”

“No. Someone sent you roses?”

“Yeah. You’re not pulling my leg right? It really wasn’t you?”

“No Rowan, it really wasn’t me. I guess I’ve got some competion.” He laughed, a little unsure now.

“No, you don’t. If it’s not you, I really don’t know who it is.”

“A secret admirer? I really do have competition.”

“No, you really don’t. This is getting kind of creepy.”

“Why? What’s happened? Are you in danger?”

“I don’t think so, it’s just creepy that someone knows about me and I don’t know who they are. They knew I was in the hospital, because that’s when the first flowers showed up, and then that day I ran into you and Max on the trail, I found a note on my car. And now today, these roses. Someone who knew I was coming home early.”

“Well, who else knew?”

“I only told you and Kate.”

“Rowan, I swear, it wasn’t me. I wish it was me. That would make things easier.”

“Yeah, me too. Anyway, I will talk to you tomorrow. Goodnight.”

“’Night.”

I ended the call and walked back into the living room. “Kate, who else knew I was getting back early?”

“It wasn’t him?”

“Nope.”

“Well, everyone at work, the usual customers who were wondering where you were, all the staff, like pretty much everyone who was there tonight.”

“Fuck,” I said. “Now work is going to suck. Since it’s got to be someone from there.”

Kate got up and gave me a hug. “I’m sorry Rowan, I wish I had kept my mouth shut.”

“No, Kate, it’s okay. I mean, at least we’ve narrowed it down, it’s not just anyone in the whole wide world. It’s someone who works there or someone who eats there every week.”

We were both exhausted. “Let’s sleep on it and see if we can figure it out tomorrow.”

“Sounds good.” Kate walked to the door and double checked that it was locked and bolted, too. I grabbed my bags and headed to my room. “See you in the morning.”

“Good night, Rowan.”

Sunday, November 23

Chapter 9: It Gets Worse

I managed to squeak through the week without any major blowouts, just some minor barbs, and texted and talked to Jacob every day and Kate every few days. I didn’t have any friends here, since this wasn’t the town I grew up in, and most of my high school friends had moved on to other places anyway. So I pretty much hung around the house, reading, and listening to the constant droll of Christmas CDs my mother played on the stereo. No i-pod for them. I did manage to borrow the car and escape to the grocery store on occasion, and the local bookstore with my brother once. But that was about it.

Christmas day finally rolled around, and we packed up the car and headed up to Bayonne, to my grandmother’s house, where all of the aunts, uncles and cousins were converging from around the tri state area.  We would spend the majority of the day with my mother’s family, then head over in the evening to my father’s family in Jersey City. All went well, and I was able to chat with my cousins and compare the lack of progress in our lives toward our goals, and revel in the memories of when we were kids:  running wild and free in the streets and alleyways between the close quartered houses. We were all children of suburbia, so the city had always felt like a wild, fun, and sometimes dangerous place to us.

On the car ride home, my brother and I lounged in the back of the Suburban, where we were drugged out on the effects of too much apple, pumpkin, and mincemeat pie, while my father drove and my mother rode shotgun.

My mother broke into the sugar stupor with a snide comment about my aunt. “Did you see Aunt Marcie, all that woman does is sit on her ass, while the rest of us are helping out in the kitchen, cleaning up and putting away the dishes for Grandma. Grandma’s the one who needs the rest, after cooking such a big meal, not Aunt Marcie.” Aunt Marcie was my mother’s sister in-law who my mother has never been particularly fond of.

“Well, mom, I don’t think there was any more room in the kitchen.” I said.

“What?” My mother said back.

I had done it again. Found my way to an argument with her, when I was off guard.

“Well, all of us, including Aunt Marcie, helped clear the table and put away the leftovers. I mean, how many people can fit at the sink washing and drying the dishes?”

“Well she could have helped put them away.”

“I thought Uncle James did that, along with dad. Besides, Aunt Marcie was keeping Grandma company.”

“Well I could have used the rest, too. I mean, my fibromyalgia has been flaring up again and I need to be careful. And I always do for Marcie but she never does back in return. Remember when I gave her those red Chinese slippers.”

“I thought you gave her those because it was easier than returning them to the store.”

“That’s besides the point, Rowan.”

By now, my brother had sat up and taken notice and was shaking his head at me, to stop talking. But I couldn’t let it go. I was fed up with hearing about how everyone in the family was slacking except for her, and that no one was ever giving her her due. I had been hearing this mantra in one form or another for ten plus years and I was tired of listening to it.

“Well mom, if you could just stop being a martyr for once, maybe you’d realize that everyone else isn’t always thinking of things the same way you are.”

“You mother is not a martyr,” my father blasted front seat. “How dare you accuse her of such a thing, after everything she’s done for you, and everyone else in the family.”

“Is that what you think of me as, Rowan, a martyr? Because if you do, maybe it’s time I stop doing things for you. I’m tired of everyone always asking everything of me. Between you, your brother, and your father, and my mother, I’ve got more than I can take.”

“What have I asked you to do for me, mom?”

“Well where do you want to start? How about paying for and sending you to college, and paying for all your flights back home. How about me digging out your old high school yearbooks and sending them to you for a project for one of your classes.”

“That’s all normal parent stuff, mom.”

“How about sending you some money every few months just to help you slurge on yourself a little bit. And being ready to come to the hospital in case you needed me last month.”

“Mom I never asked you to send me money and I told you not to come to the hospital, that I was fine.”

“Well, fine then, Rowan. I won’t need to send you any more money. And you probably don’t really need the Christmas presents I lovingly and personally picked out for you. And you can be sure the next time you’re in the hospital I won’t be asking you if you need me to come visit.”

“That’s fine, Mom.” I was pissed off at this point and time and started to raise my voice. “I don’t need you to send me any money. I…”

“Rowan, shut up,” my brother said to me, his eyes widening in surprise.

“Rowan, stop yelling now,” my father boomed at me from the driver’s seat. “You have no right to yell at your mother, and if you keep at it, I don’t care how old you are; I’m going to slap your face when we get home.”

I lowered the volume on my voice. “I don’t need the Christmas presents and I don’t need you to come and visit me in the hospital,” I finished.

“Are you even my daughter anymore?” my mother asked me. “You come home, do nothing but mope around the house, and talk on the phone, and then yell at me on Christmas Day! I don’t deserve this. For all that I’ve put up with, with your father and his outbursts, I really don’t need this from you, too. You are too much like him.”

I think I just sat there with my mouth hanging open for a minute. What the hell had just happened? How was it that my mother started complaining about my Aunt Marcie for the hundred and tenth time and I became the bad guy, all in the span of about five minutes. “Great mom. I’m just like dad.”

“Well you are nothing like me. There’s so much anger and hate in you, Rowan. Where’s the love and giving?”

“What are you talking about? Because I’m tired of listening to you complain about Aunt Marcie, I’m the bad guy?”

“Well, it’s your job to listen to me now, Rowan. I listened to all your love life woes in high school and college. You can listen to me now. Is it really that hard?”

“Well, it would be nice if you could talk about more positive things.”

“Did you always talk about positive things to me Rowan?”

“No Mom, but I was a teenager full of angst. What did you expect?”

“Well now it’s payback time.”

By this time, my brother had given up trying to convince me to shut up and I realized as long as I had one foot in it, I might as well put both feet in and go for a swim.

“I thought payback was when I had my own kids.”

“Well at the rate you’re going, you won’t have any kids. So you have to get your paybacks from me.”

“Wow, Mom, just wow.”

My mother started crying at this point, probably out of frustration in her inability to convince me that she was a martyr, but I was never ever actually allowed to call her that, but needed to treat her like one anyone.  

My father interjected before the conversation could go on, “That’s it! That’s it! Rowan, when we get home you are calling the airline and seeing if you can get a flight out of here tomorrow. I think you’ve overstayed your welcome.”

“Fine.” I said. I wanted to get the hell out of crazy town anyway. I wasn't going to wait until I got home, I turned on my phone and started checking the airlines. 

“And I don’t think you should come back for the holidays anymore,” my mother added. “I can’t handle this kind of stress. I will probably have a flare up from all of this and will be in bed all day tomorrow. Thanks Rowan, what a horrible Christmas present to give to me.”

But this point I was ready to jump out the window, but I stayed belted into my seat and didn’t say a word. When we got back to the house, I went into the bedroom where I was staying, locked the door and called Kate.

“Hey Kate.”

“Hey Rowan, Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you, too. Hey, can I ask you a favor?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Can you pick me up from the airport tomorrow?”

“What happened?”

“You wouldn’t believe me, even if I told you.”

“Sure thing, honey, I’ll be there.”

“Thanks, I’ll forward you the reservation email.”

“Okay. See you tomorrow.”


Everyone else was still downstairs, for which I was very thankful. I went across the hall into the bathroom, took an extra long shower, until I heard my father yell to not use up all the hot water, then got out, dried off and put my sweats on again. I went downstairs and asked if Paul could borrow the car tomorrow to take me to the airport.

My mother asked me, “Are you really leaving tomorrow Rowan? You know you don’t have to.” My father just sat on the sofa with his fuck you face on. He looked like he was ready to pounce on me and punch me in the face. The same man who picked me up from the airport just shy of a week ago, and gave the biggest bear hug of my life. That pretty much summed him up in a nutshell. My family was full of love/hate contradictions.

“Yeah, Mom, I am.”

“Okay. Well, I am sorry to see you go. Yes, Paul can borrow the car.”

Paul piped in, “What time do you need to leave?”

“The flight leaves at noon, so we need to leave here by 8:30. Sorry brother, no sleeping in tomorrow for you.”

Paul half laughed, “That’s okay. I’ll take you up there.”

“Goodnight, everyone,” I said, then headed upstairs to pull everything out of the dresser to pack up and get ready to head back to Tacoma, back to my real home.

Right before I crawled into bed I texted Jacob.

“I’ll be home sooner than you think. Merry Christmas. Goodnight. xoxo.”

I pulled the covers up and tried to get to sleep, but I had a sick, sinking feeling in my stomach, that I was now alone in the universe. Not that the family I was stepping away from was healthy for me, but it was still my family. I didn’t know when or even if I would be back. I was tired of this tightrope dance. I wondered what moods my parents would be in when I woke up in the morning.

***

Morning came, faster than I expected. Everyone was on their best behavior. After breakfast and getting dressed, we all met in the entry way, instead of going through the garage door, like we had when my father first brought me here. There were hugs and kisses all around.

“Goodbye, Mom and Dad,” I said and I wondered what it really meant and for how long. I felt like my body was on the ground with them, but I was  up in the air looking down on the whole thing.

Paul and I got in the car, and we drove, uneventfully up to Newark. He got my bag out of the trunk and gave it to the porter. We quickly hugged and kissed goodbye.

“I’ll call you,” he said to me.

“I’ll answer,” I said back to him. And he laughed. We hugged again. And then I was gone, through the automatic doors heading back to people who really knew me. And he was gone, driving back down south, toward my parents’ home.