Letting Life Lead
Note: I have been having a real hard time finishing my novella, but I did
manage to write something today. Progress at least!
Troy stared at Inez incredulous with mouth agape as his elderly grandmother exchanged rapid, surprised formal pleasantries with Inez followed by a string of praises that Inez appropriately declined with a humble retort. His mother, too, excitedly threw her attentions to Inez and offered only a few acknowledging phrases to her son. Troy’s sister, Michelle, laughed at his expense and linked her arm with Inez to draw her to the living room to sit on the pristine white couch.
“You could have told me you spoke Japanese!”
“I wasn’t really thinking about it. It’s been a long time. I told you I’ve traveled. “ Inez tilted her head and lifted her shoulders dismissively. “You pick up things here and there.”
Michelle teased her hazel eyes full of laughter, “My brother knows next to nothing.”
“I know enough. And you realize she’ll probably never speak to you in English again.”
“Grandpa used to get so mad when she talked so fast he couldn’t understand her.”
“She likes to pretend she doesn’t understand English sometimes. She’s been here seventy years, so don’t let her fool you.”
Inez felt Troy take her hand and press his leg close to hers. At first, the jolt of adrenaline startled her and she almost pulled her hand away, but she forced herself to relax. Wasn’t this the reason for deciding to stay? Wasn’t she tired of drifting? She heard the older women muttering in the kitchen discussing her the way Alice and Gary once had thinking that she wasn’t listening or watching.
She remembered that they had been sitting at the kitchen table discussing how to explain her appearance to the locals unaware how stealthy she could move about the house. As a girl, she considered it an exciting challenge since she couldn’t rely on her hearing to spy, but had to have a clear visual to eavesdrop on their nearly silent conversations. In those early days she couldn’t understand Alice’s language, but Gary usually spoke aloud.
“We’ll need to call her something. I asked her what her name was and she broke apart!”
Alice had replied succinctly, but Gary had hesitated. “Are you sure? Yes, I know it’s more convincing to use a family name.”
Gary had explained later that it had been their daughter’s middle name and the name of Alice’s great-grandmother. Alice had distant family up north and war orphans weren’t unusual. At the time, it wasn’t unexpected to have to take care of foundlings and waifs or the children of relatives. “Alright then. Better to say she’s twelve; close enough to it I think. Folks’ll be kinder.” Alice signed more, but Inez never knew what had been said. Gary had been unusually quiet and tears and glistened in both their eyes.
Troy squeezed her hand and thoughts of the past dissipated, but her mood remained pensive the rest of the evening though she remembered to smile and engage with her hosts. Inez knew that she risked too much in this endeavor, but she couldn’t help herself.
Paul, Reuban, and Reuben’s wife joined them for dinner and Inez felt acutely her status as an outsider though the women took great pains to include her and even going so far as to ask considerably personal questions — especially the grandmother who had amassed to many years to have much of a filter left. When Inez found a gap in their attentions, she slipped out to the deck and stepped down into the small, well-manicured yard. The lush grass smelled freshly trimmed, the air carried hints of early autumn, and some of the trees were beginning to turn colors at their edges. She breathed deeply and let the tension melt from her shoulders. Feeling full after the meal and drowsy, Inez closed her eyes and focused on the scurried shufflings of a chipmunk. She must have slipped a second into a micro-sleep because the next thing she knew Paul had come up behind her and put his hand on her ass, and now she held his thumb and wrist in a joint lock that had him doubled over (practically kissing his knees), swearing, and gasping in pain. The reflexive movement might have ended in a serious injury had she not caught herself at the last second.
“Touch me again and I’ll break your arm,” she hissed twisting ever so slightly more on Paul’s limb which bent into unnatural angle behind his back with his elbow pointing to the sky.
“It was a joke! Fuuu–ck!”
“Women don’t find that shit funny.” She sniffed at him and found his scent sweaty and juvenile, but not a particular threat. A boy in a man’s body. “Do you play these ‘jokes’ on Michelle?” She nudged the thumb.
“No! I swear!” Spittle flew from his mouth in his haste to answer and his face turned a deep crimson.
“I suggest you think about your actions. I do. For example, I want to break your wrist just on principle, but that would be rude and not leave a good impression.”
She could have forced and apology, but instead she let him go. Paul stumbled to one side and held his limp arm at the elbow. The red color drained away from his face. Sweat glistened on the short hairs all over his head. He took a step away from her warily and didn’t waver his gaze until Troy exited the house and trotted down to join them on the lawn.
“What happened to you?”
“I fell. Hurt my arm.”
“No, he didn’t. I put him in a joint lock.”
“—No! I — “
“He grabbed my ass and I nearly broke his arm.”
“The fuck, Paul!”
“It was a joke!”
“I’m not laughing.”
“Wait…you put him in a joint lock!?”
“He’s lucky he’s not in an ambulance.”
Silence hung between them. Paul’s shame, Inez’s cool disgust, and Troy’s revelation.
“Damn, that’s sexy,” Troy breathed at last.
She left them then knowing their brotherly relationship would survive the infraction through Troy’s scolding, berating, and a few shoves to drive home his point. Paul had the decency to look contrite, but didn’t pursue her to apologize right away. Inez didn’t concern herself further with the whole incident. Her preoccupation lay with the fact that he’d gotten close enough to accomplish putting his hands on her in the first place. She must have blacked out for a few seconds, or perhaps even minutes. The aches in her bones she could dismiss as strain, but together with this incident it distressed. Perhaps the decision to put down roots for at time couldn’t have been more fortuitous — or foolish. Suppose she blacked out in the middle of a hunt? At least, for now, she could stay close to home and gain time to figure out what was happening.
(40 years in the making)
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