Tahoe

Civic Center, Downtown Los Angeles, California is an artist’s playground. Art Deco buildings in vibrant colors and angular, geometric structures are picturesque in the eyes of photographer, Tyonnie Harris. She loves Downtown Los Angeles and its art history and relishes the days when she can start her lunch break early to stroll and snap pictures. Eye-catching, innovative ideas for the magazine layout and two hundred shots in a single shoot completed by eleven thirty guarantees a thirty minute jump on lunch. Ready to walk out of the door, her phone extension rang.

“Hello,” She answered.

“Hi Ty,” A soft voice replied.

“Maya,Hey! What’s going on?”

“…Just callin’ to say hello.”

“What’s going on with you?”

“Nothin’ much,” She mumbled.

“You sound a little down.”

“Umph,”

“What’s the mantra?”

Maya sighed. “Be a happy face.”

“Right! So let me hear it!”

“Later Ty…look, I need a huge favor but I can’t tell you about it right now. Can I call you later?”

“Yeah…at home…”

“All right…talk to you then.”

“Bye…” Tyonnie said into the phone but Maya was already gone.

Finally among the sights of the streets, she hoisted the camera that hung around her neck into her palms when someone yelled at her. “Tyonnie!” It was her co-worker, Ed. “I thought you finished the shoot!”

“Never!” She brought the camera to her face and took a picture overhead where the edges of roof tops framed white clouds against a blue canvas. “I always see inspiration somewhere!” She snapped a few shots of some nearby buildings and felt the need to scan her surroundings. She looked over her shoulder to find another co-worker leaving the building for lunch.

Shelley Long donned the expression that conveyed to onlookers that she bore the world on her shoulders.

Tyonnie screamed for her attention. “Hey girl!” Shelley looked in her direction. “What’s the mantra, girl?” Slight dimples in her cheeks highlighted her bright smile – curls bounced around her face.

“Be a happy face!” Shelley yelled.

Tyonnie stomped her foot. “That’s right, so let me see it!”

Her co-worker continued on, showing her teeth from ear to ear.

II.

     Brian O’Connor sauntered up the graveled knoll where the open, wooden shed was perched. He stepped inside with two cans of beer and shrieked in a high-pitched, country accent. “Ew-wee, it’s funkier than a fart in a stuffy room in here!”

Wesley McAdams drove the point of the knife hook into the belly of the fish. Lean muscle shined in the streak of sunlight that cut between vertical plywood panels. He was a symbol of fitness.

Brian shrieked again. “Whew, you’da been a good field nigger!” He stood there and chuckled to himself as Wesley shook the hook at him.

“Naw buddy, ‘cause I don’t take too kindly to captivity.” He slammed the hook down and into another fish on that note. Brian swallowed hard. “Now would you stop actin’ like a racist hick and toss me some of that plastic wrap?”

Brian pulled the paper from a shallow, wooden drawer and tossed it to him. He stood there in a red checked shirt over stone-washed blue jeans and some Timberlines – a bit of sun highlighted his Irish, reddish brown hair. He popped open the can of beer and guzzled the frosty foam. He hadn’t made up his mind to leave Wesley alone. “And brutalizin’ that fish won’t get rid of your troubles either.” He pointed an index finger with the hand that held the can, and then took another gulp.

Wesley glared at him with his head lowered and pointed the hook in Brian’s direction again. “…And stop actin’ like my shrink.”

“Hey I’m just sayin’ if you don’t let go…”

“I am lettin’ go, Brian! Now please, just drop it, all right?”

“Okay – okay…” He nodded.

Wesley wiped his hands on a damp towel, took the second beer from the table, opened and finished it in a single setting.

“Gee,” Brian started again. “Somebody was thirsty.”

“Yeah, thanks…” Wesley looked around himself, quickly cleaned his mess and grabbed the bag of fish. “I’m done here…better shower and get ready to hit the road.”

Brian was nodding. “All right – we gotta hot lunch waitin’ too.”

“Cool,” Wesley started for the house down the same gravel path in the opposite direction.

Brian knew he hadn’t released his troubles, at least not completely. Even as kids, he remembered how Wesley held them in and released his frustrations on certain physical activities – for example, gutting the fish. Actually that was the reason for Wesley’s visits whenever he took vacations – to relax on the lake and fish, and then gut them aggressively in the quiet of the shed when awful memories came to mind. It was like killing the memories one by one, or at least beating them up badly whenever they arrived.

III.

     Wesley led the single-file line that he and Brian created, all the way down the concrete path, to his truck, a black F-150. After loading his bags, he turned to face Brian. “Until next time my friend?” He caught Brian’s hand in the arm wrestle position.

“Until next time…” Brian smiled. “…And bring your girl…”

He shook his head. “I don’t have a girl, Brian.”

He returned a blank stare. “That’s my point, Wes…”

Obviously again, trying to convince himself. “I don’t need a girl,” He shook his head. “My work keeps me too busy.”

“Sure it does…too busy for a hug, too busy for a kiss…a little nooky…” Wesley rolled his eyes. “Every man needs a lady, Wes.”

“I date.”

“I’m not talkin’ about a date – I’m talkin’ about somebody in your corner.”

“Ah yeah? Where’s yours?”

“New York…she’s comin’ home in a few months or so…takin’ care of family business.”

Wesley nodded. “Actin’ like my shrink again – I’ll check you later Dr. O’Connor.”

“You know it…” They pumped linked hands up and down again.

Inside his truck, Wesley broke the seal on a bottle of orange juice, guzzled half and sat it in the cup holder. Lake Tahoe in Tahoe City, California was a fantasy land with the vibrant colors of summer encircled by blue water. He hated leaving for the one hundredth time. He released a pensive sigh as the curvy path led him away from the gabled cabin homes that lined small country–like roads. It was a blue and green dream land that he reluctantly left behind at the end of every vacation. “Bring your girl next time,” Brian had said. “Not just a date but someone in your corner.” Little did Brian know, Wesley’s attempts were not just dates but failed relationships – three failed relationships to be exact. They never worked out somehow. The women always left him. Love as he heard it described was equivalent to the dreamland he was leaving – there was always the time of leaving, like the relationships. He had become sick of the pretty faces that wanted nothing to do with his company – one woman even had the nerve to complain that he was too affectionate. Although he possessed strong desires to settle down, Wesley McAdams was borderline giving up on trying.

IV.

     Sharon Taylor was a good little church girl in her past life whose family had family prayer every Sunday morning. Formal worship was left to each individual Monday through Saturday and supplications for safety and blessings left to chance. Her mother had told Sharon that she could just see her as the perfect little church secretary. But Sharon superceded that vision with the career choice of Executive Secretary for Attorney at law, Wesley McAdams at Brent and Company Legal Services, LLC.

She retrieved drafts of the Richardson and Clark wills and placed them on his desk. She sat an iced bottle of orange juice onto a small stack of napkins on the desk. The suit and tie made a sharp turn at the corner of a long stretch of carpet and strolled down the hallway.

“Good morning, Sharon,” He greeted, arriving at her desk. “What’s on the agenda today?”

“Hi Wesley, your files are on the desk,” She hooked a thumb over her shoulder. “…And you have a lunch meeting at IHOP with the Witherspoons at noon.”

“Thank you…” He proceeded beyond her station into his office. He dropped into his chair and worked his mouth as if peanut butter was stuck to the roof. He frowned at the dryness he felt and reached for the juice.

***

The Witherspoons were late. A ledger and a pen off to one side, Wesley sipped iced tea and finished an appetizer of cheesy potatoes with sour cream and chives. He relaxed in his own world with thoughts of Lake Tahoe until dragged back to reality by a woman’s distress. Across from him, she and a young boy occupied a booth one table beyond his.

“Oh my God, we can’t eat here!” Wesley watched her drop her face into her palms.

Why can’t they eat here? He wondered. A hand went to his breast pocket for his wallet. No…she won’t accept any money from me.

The waiter approached their table just as she was gathering their things. “I came to take your order…is anything wrong?”

Wesley watched her intently – the look of disgust in her eyes on top of the cutest dimples surrounded by bouncy curls.

She was shaking her head. “We can’t eat here…I forgot his insulin!”

Wesley swallowed a little harder than usual. Oh…

Memories of his childhood struggle to care for his little brother flashed before his mind’s eye. And then his brother’s funeral popped into his head, and his mom’s occasional glares on him from afar off. He dragged a hand over his face and looked over his shoulder after the woman, but she was gone.

The work day was not a difficult one but just the same, Wesley couldn’t wait to get home and rush hour traffic was not helping. He reached for the unopened bottle of juice in the cup holder then quickly grabbed the steering wheel and jerked the car out of the path of an impatient driver – Wesley had no idea where the driver thought he was going, traveling the shoulder of the road in bumper to bumper traffic. He sighed, imagining how his evening would go. He’d abandon his briefcase on the bedroom floor, tear out of his work clothes and get into a comfortable T-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes. He’d slide a brace onto his right knee in support of the patella tendon that frequently became irritated by excessive physical activity or cold weather. Osgood’s – Shlatter’s Disease is what the orthopedic specialist called it when he was a kid. A growing disease, huh? So why hasn’t episodes of pain stopped yet? Wesley is twenty-nine years old. He would grab his gym bag and some extra drinks from the kitchen and head to the nearest twenty-four hour fitness for a few games of squash.

He reached for the orange juice again when a sudden attack of painful eyes seized him – like something got in them. He wiped at his eyes, blinking. He inched closer to the rear view mirror, pulling down the bottom eyelids. There was nothing in his eyes that he could see. He’d read an article in some medical magazine on how, in some cases, sore eyes are associated with love sickness but he attributed it to fatigue. Gluing one’s eyes to paperwork and the computer all day would make anyone’s eyes sore. But getting back to medical conditions, his psychiatrist explained that it might be a symptom of the (PTSD) post traumatic stress disorder that he’s overcoming. On the other hand, he hadn’t been in love with a woman and could very much, use a woman’s touch.

Just as he sat back in his seat, banging on his window startled him. He frowned through the glass at the distraught woman and rolled the window down.

She spoke like she was hysterical. “I’m sorry, Sir,”

     Did she just call me sir? Wesley thought.

“…But do you have a piece of candy or something?”

Wesley shook his head. “Candy? No.”

“Oh, okay…” She looked beyond his car, surveying the others, trying to decide which one to bang on next.

“Hey, weren’t you in IHOP some hours ago?”

“Yeah,”

“You couldn’t eat there because you forgot the little guy’s insulin, right? Where is he?”

“In the car…and his sugar’s dropping…”

“Oh, orange juice is what you need!” He reached for it for the last time, grabbed it this time and gave it to her. “I’m glad I didn’t drink it.”

“Oh thank you, thank you so much!”

“No problem, hurry and get that to him!”

“Yes, thanks again!”

Wesley watched her jog and stop at the second car ahead of his, a yellow Volkswagen. He hoped she could get enough of the juice into him before the traffic started moving. When she finally disappeared into the car and traffic remained at a standstill, he was stricken with a curious itch to check on her and the child. Wesley turned the car off and removed the keys from the ignition as he leaned out of the car. He strolled briskly toward the small car and repaid her by startling her with a few taps on her window. She grabbed her chest, squinting at him as he waved and she rolled the window down.

“Is everything all right? Did the O.J. help?”

“Oh yeah,” She smiled. “…Like a charm…thanks again.”

“Not a problem…I’m Wesley,” He extended his right hand.

“Good to meet you, Wesley, I’m Tyonnie.” She took his hand into her own.

He bent at the waist peering into the back seat. “Hey little man,” The small, round face only looked at him from the car seat. Tyonnie caught a scent of Wesley’s cologne. He continued. “Did you like the juice?” The little head nodded. “Cool, juice is my favorite too.” Smile lines curled his fluffy, round cheeks. “All right then,” He tapped the car door. “You two take care.” He glanced up ahead and noticed that the cars began to move. “I better get back to my car!”

Tyonnie nodded and watched Wesley leave from her side, rear view mirror.

Behind the wheel of his car again, His sights were glued on her car. Cute kid – He thought how glad he was that he hadn’t opened the juice. But what if he had? Would she have accepted it with the broken seal, passing on the potential germs of a stranger to a kid to save his life? Or would she have politely refused and ran to the next car? Wow, that was one to go down in the books! The way she had the nerve to run from car to car, begging for a sugar booster, while cars were at a stand-still on the freeway is a scene strictly for the movies. But she had to save the kid…we do what we have to…He swiped a hand across his face wishing he could have done better for his brother. He probably would have been alive today.The image of Tyonnie’s face flashed in front of all those bad memories. She really was pretty too…with those bouncy curls…looking like a mad woman for a split second, beating on his window.

Tyonnie threw an occasional glance over her shoulder as the precocious little guy completed the assessment of his blood sugar. She was amazed at how he pricked his finger and drew blood without a flinch or a cringe and how he precisely applied the droplet to the tip of the test strip.

“Eighty-five, Aunt-T,” His small voice sang out.

“Oh good, it’s rising! Good job, Sweetie!”

Tyonnie thought of the juice that elevated the blood sugar and the good looking man that provided it. She remembered her view of him at her window and in her side, rear view mirror. He really looked nice in his suit and smelled so good. She wondered what he did for a living. But it’s evening – he’s probably on his way home like the rest of us.

With her new house guest, Tyonnie spent her early evenings soaking up all the information she could on Type I Diabetes in children. She read a chapter or two each evening, from the book her sister had sent with Danny, Diabetes Mellitus and read a few articles in medical journals. Although Danny preferred administering his own injections, Tyonnie practiced administering them after her reading. Just as her sister had shown her, she’d roll a towel into a cylinder, pinched a portion of it and injected the syringe into it. In conjunction with her new line of education, she also tried grappling with her nerves and forgetfulness, and limited supplies that accompanied Danny.

This was truly a damper on her already planned evenings of strolling the Mall or the Santa Monica Pier – ever sharpening her artistic eye. Sometimes she took pictures on her sight-seeing jaunts and other times, she didn’t. But she did most times because the pictures of Downtown Los Angeles and others from various hang-out spots made extra nice collages when she put them together. And on many occasions, she had dinner while she was out, sight-seeing. However now, she thought it best to provide more home cooked meals for Danny – and they had to be well balanced meals with the correct amount of carbohydrates ensuring a lesser chance of his blood sugar rising or dropping.

All things considered with this new challenge, Tyonnie realized that she had not been living up to her own mantra.

V.

     It was about a week later when custody attorney, Phyllis Ealey of Brent and Company Legal Services made a desperate attempt to stay awake and rose from the seat behind her desk to take a walk. However, she dared not to take a step through the doorway without taking the case file that had been staring her down for the last thirty minutes, along with her. She found a little pep to put in her step and thought it’d be eye-opening to flaunt her flirty flip skirt down the hall and around the corner at the transactions department.

Arriving at the entrance, she poked her head in. “Hey Sharon,”

She looked up from her computer. “Oh, hi Phyllis…”

“Does he have a client in there?”

“No, go on in.”

“Thanks,” she passed Sharon’s desk and tapped Wesley’s door.

“Come in!”

She opened the door to find Wesley rubbing his eyes. “You’re not supposed to do that!”

“Oh hey,”

“You’ll make them red!”

“They hurt.”

“Yeah well you don’t want them red too, it’ll look like you’ve been drinking on the job.” She began flipping through the file in hand, leaning against the door jamb.

“…Or like I have allergies…”

“Whatever…”

“Sharon!” Wesley frowned a bit. “We have any more juice or water?”

“All out, Mr. McAdams!” She yelled back. Wesley slapped a hand to his face and massaged.

“Ahh, I gotta hot one!” Phyllis exclaimed, staring at the written contents of the file. “Mom’s a crack head, I bet!”

“Congrats,” Wesley mumbled, rising from his chair and moving toward the door. Phyllis stepped in front of him, shifting her legs.

“Hey, you wanna come over tonight?” She traced his side burns and mustache with a finger before he took her hand away from his face.

“No thanks, I don’t feel well. Excuse me.” He brushed past her. “Sharon, I’m going out for beverages, you want anything?”

“A Vitamin Water would be good, thanks.”

The voluptuous Phyllis Ealey was tempting. He could definitely use some pleasure but after three failed relationships, his desperate need for change in a woman ate at him like a cancer. Each woman left him for some reason or other and they all started out like Phyllis – physical interests took precedence.

Wesley loved the Farmer’s Market on Wilshire. The moment he stepped inside, he grabbed a couple of bags because even though he needed something to drink, he knew he couldn’t leave without a bag of produce. He also enjoyed sampling. He accepted a tasty treat of asparagus topped with something white and clumpy like cottage cheese and something that looked like nuts in a brown gravy. A few more strides and he found the beverage aisle. He grabbed a bottle of water, broke the seal and consumed it in seconds as if he hadn’t had any in days. He dropped three bottles into his bag and located the orange juice. He finished a bottle of juice and also dropped three of those into his bag along with Sharon’s request. He found the pizza stand and bought a slice: freshly oven roasted pizza topped with large spinach leaves and slices of tomato. With two comforting bites, Wesley advanced to the produce section beginning to slowly fill his second bag until he was distracted by a woman’s voice on the other side of the aisle.

“I’m sorry, what was his blood sugar? Four hundred thir…” Tyonnie’s voice trailed off as her eyes rolled toward the ceiling. Wesley smiled widely in her direction, dabbing his mouth and began moving toward her. “…I don’t know…um…” She looked at her watch.

“Tell ‘em to give him a unit of fast-acting insulin and have him to sip cups of water until it comes down.”

Surprised by his presence and now, his assistance – again – Tyonnie spoke his exact instructions into the phone. How did she know he knew what he was talking about? She didn’t, although she thought he did sparkle with some knowledge of the condition and she was desperate – wondering if she’d have to pick up Danny from school. Ending the call, she allowed her arms to drop to her sides, as she stared at him.

“Thank you…hi…”

Wesley chuckled. “Hello again,” He nodded once, chewing the last of his pizza. “You do remember me, right? Wesley?”

“Yeah,” Tyonnie was rather awe struck, unable to pull her eyes off of him.

“So where’s the little guy, in the nurse’s office?”

“Yeah, it’s so frustrating…this isn’t me!” She hunched her shoulders as Wesley just stood there, letting her vent. “I’m usually smiling and snapping pictures all over the place! I’m totally neglecting my mantra.”

“And what would that be?”

“Be a happy face,”

Wesley laughed again.

“Don’t do that, Wes!” He suddenly froze – nostalgia covered his face.

“I simply believe in taking each day as it comes and livin’ it up because life’s too short to be unhappy…”

Wesley nodded in silence.

“What?” she asked.

“No one in L.A. has ever called me by that nick name – only my buddy in Tahoe.”

“Oh, well that seems like a good thing…” She sang out. “The fact that I used it…”

“Oh yeah, very good,” His mouth seemed to water a bit with his eyes fixed on hers and scenes of Tahoe flashed before his eyes. He swallowed.

“What was that?” She pointed at the napkin balled in his fist.

Wesley gasped. “Oh…would you…” He raised his eyebrows. “…like to get a slice?”

“Yeah,”

He accompanied her to the pizza stand and ordered another slice after she placed her order. They found a small table and sat.

“Quite funny, our second meeting like this…” Tyonnie said.

“This is the third for me.” Wesley shared.

Tyonnie frowned, her mouth full of her first bite.

“Mm-hmm…I saw you in IHOP – y’all couldn’t eat there ‘cause you forgot Lil’ man’s medicine.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Oh, yeah, you did mention that before.”

“Mm-Hmm,” He moaned again. “So what kind of fish do you like? You’re gonna have to let me cook for you some time.”

“Oh yeah?  I like salmon.”

Wesley enjoyed watching the cute dimples appear every time she smiled and he was the most good looking man she’d run into and his knowledge of diabetes was impressive.

There, they shared a lunch moment, almost forgetting that they had to return to work. And this unexpected lunch date began a chain of lunch meetings at the Farmer’s Market.

VI.

The South Central area of Greater Los Angeles donned the graffiti tags of ownership of the prevalent gangs in the area as if existing property deeds were non-existent or void. And all that colored the neighborhood was the dull hue of concrete and tattered, splintering paint on buildings. An enormously large man as black as coal, with sunset red eyes filled the doorway of one of the shacks. He was expressionless to say the least. To say the most, she would have felt the point of a blade had his eyes been daggers.

“You get those papers to dis house…” He told the woman at the front gate. “You hear me? You get dos papers here.” She nodded quickly and left.

***

     Rescued from one of her many tasks of instant motherhood, Tyonnie enjoyed an evening of dining out with Wesley and Danny. She felt as though she hadn’t been out in months. Wesley shared his occupation and the name of the legal firm he works for as Tyonnie assisted Danny with his plate. She heard that he was an attorney but was unsure of her ability to repeat the name of the firm. It didn’t matter anyway. She only cared about his charming smile and how his eyes seemed to sparkle whenever he looked in her direction. She shared her love of photography and sightseeing and he told her about the blue-green scenes of Lake Tahoe and how she’d love it there as much as he does. Their dinner was coming to an end.

“Why don’t you move there?” She finally asked.

“Well,” Wesley paused. “I’ve thought about it…” He nodded. “…But now…I don’t think I want to anymore.” He planted his sights on her, unwavering. Tyonnie smiled at him just when she remembered a certain telephone message.

I want my son back.

Call me.

Tyonnie sighed, leaning back in her seat. She glanced at Danny who was just clearing his plate.

Wesley didn’t know what to make of her expression. Perhaps his growing affection for her was too much. “So! Who’s ready for dessert?” He broke the awkward silence.

“Oh, none for me, thanks. And he can’t have sweets, right?” Tyonnie pointed to Danny.

“I’m sure they have a no sugar added ice cream or something…”

“Please Aunt T…” Danny pleaded.

Tyonnie leaned forward, her hands flat on the table. “Wes, I really enjoyed dinner with you but I have to go take care of something.”

Wesley folded his hands on top the table. He wanted to tell her that he didn’t want the night to end, but he squashed the idea. Perhaps he was coming on too strong. “I understand.”

Tyonnie read through his tough exterior. “I do want to stay but I have to do this.” She touched his folded hands.

He sighed. “When you get home, would you at least c…” He cut himself off and shook his head. “Never mind,” He said, remembering past relationships.

“What?”

“No, never mind,”

“Please,” She gripped his hands tighter. Leaning her head to one side, she continued prodding. “What were you going to ask me?”

Her warmth felt good to him. “I was going to ask if…when you get home, would you call me to…let me know you got in safely. But that’s too overbearing…” Tyonnie was shaking her head. “…Or clingy, right?”

“No,” She forced through her lips in an effort to dispel negative thoughts he was having. “Not at all – I think it’s sweet of you and I will call…okay? And if I don’t call by ten, you call me.”

Wesley smiled and released his hands to hold hers. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

“Thank you.”

***

     Thirty minutes into the moonlit evening, Tyonnie and Danny ascended the steps that led to her first floor apartment on Moore Street in Culver City. Flickering lights danced around them, even to the point that she thought one may have twinkled from inside her front window but was immediately convinced that it, like the others were the headlights of various cars flying by. She turned the key in the lock and they entered, finally sheltered from whatever lurked on the outside. Upon locking the door behind them, she remembered Wesley.

“Danny-Dan ma main man!” Tyonnie’s heart jumped at the sound of the man’s voice.

He flipped the light switch on to discover Tyonnie’s bulging eyes on him.

“Daddy!” Danny squealed and ran full force. The suited gent of six feet, six inches scooped Danny into his arms and squeezed. “How’s my boy?”

“Fine,”

“How’d you get in here?” Tyonnie demanded.

“I have my ways…”

“I see…”

“Well you didn’t call me back.”

“We went to dinner.”

“Well that’s why I came.”

“It’s time for me to get ready for bed, Daddy, will you read to me?”

“Sure I will.”

“You’re not taking him?”

“No, not yet,” Daniel removed a folded document from his breast pocket and handed it to her. “Show me where you sleep, Danny!”

Tyonnie eyed the document as Danny pulled his father down the hall and she followed.

“You’re suing for custody?”

“Yeah,” He glanced at her over his shoulder.

“Does Maya know?”

Daniel shot another glance in her direction. “We’ll talk alone.” He nodded, and then returned his attention to Danny who was dressing for bed.

Tyonnie left them to their father, son moment and continued to look over the document in the direction of the living room. She read the company name at the top of the page and felt like it should be familiar to her but she couldn’t place it. She took a seat and kicked off her shoes. Her arm propped on an arm rest, she held the document by the top, left corner. She allowed it to dangle before her face, before dropping it into her lap and leaned her head back to rest her eyes.

Twenty minutes later, a gentle tap on the arm pulled her from the onset of deep REM sleep and she opened her eyes to Daniel kneeling beside her.

“Oh, you guys are done? Did you check his blood sugar? It’s been fluctuating like crazy – one minute it’s high, and the next, it’s…”

“Yeah, he’s fine.” He interrupted. “Listen, I don’t know where Maya is and I don’t care…” Tyonnie frowned. “It’s always been my number one priority to get my son to live with me.” Her face softened. “I’m sorry for letting myself in and scaring you.” He held her complete attention. “I found your information in her apartment – it’s in a shambles, Ty…you might wanna check in on your sister – did she tell you anything?”

Tyonnie shook her head. “No, a while back she only asked me to do her a huge favor and taking care of Danny for a while was it – I even met her on the street to get him and haven’t heard from her since.”

Daniel nodded, “Come lock your door,” and nudged her arm.

At ten o’clock that evening, Tyonnie was sprawled on the couch, dead to the world when the phone rang ten times.

VII.

     The next morning, Tyonnie awoke with a fuzzy, dreamlike memory of Daniel’s visit. She knew he had been there but it felt like a dream. And did he say he didn’t care about her sister? She breathed deeply on her back, yawning. She finally sat up, and stretched. She remembered the workload of multiple photo shoots and rose to prepare for the work day.

Wesley dragged one leg off the bed at a time and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. He hung his head in wonderment, rubbing his painful eyes. He thought he had something with Tyonnie. Why hadn’t she called? He threw a pillow across the room,  dragged himself off the bed and turned on the cold water to drink some – he looked as though he tried to drain the faucet. When he finished, he stepped into a cold shower and kept his face under the down pour for about ten minutes before switching to warm.

Tyonnie was an automaton at work. She conducted her photo shoots with precision but lacked the bubbly personality that made people around her smile. They asked her for the mantra. Her only reply was half a smile and that she didn’t feel well. It was the beginning of a hectic week – she had quite a few evening shoots lined up. She took a break around three, thinking that she should fill up on some kind of nourishment before her next appointment. She headed for her new favorite spot, the Farmer’s Market.

Even before she made it inside, specials on certain fruits were advertised on the sidewalk, outside the entrance. Rummaging through the selection, a familiar voice surprised her.

“What are you doing here so late in the afternoon?”

Tyonnie swung around. “Wes, hi!”

“Hello…guess I am too clingy, huh?”

“No, why do you say that?”

With his hands in his pockets, his body swiveled slightly from right to left like a child in thought. “You didn’t call me…”

“Oh…” Tyonnie crooned.

“…And when I called at ten, there was no answer.”

Her entire disposition seemed to fall. She placed a hand over his heart. “Wes, I’m so sorry.” Her touch was so warm – it seemed to pierce right through him, stimulating every nerve.

He laid his own hand over hers. “It’s okay…forget about it…” Apart of him wanted to remove her hand but she was persistent and seemingly sincere.

She stepped close to him. “No, it’s not okay. When we got home last night, my brother in law, Danny’s father had helped himself inside my apartment – scared the hell out of me when I got inside.”

“So you weren’t safe…”

“Yes I was, he’s a nice guy but he told me some disturbing things about my sister and that he’s suing for custody.”

“Oh, I’m sorry…”

She sucked her teeth. “Yeah so…when he left, I was so sleepy, I crashed on the couch.”

Wesley was nodding.

“I am sorry I didn’t call – I wanted to – I was looking forward to us talking for another hour or so.”

“Don’t worry about it…I just missed you.”

She smiled at him.

Wesley removed his hand from hers to look at his watch and she moved her hand from his chest to finger his lapels then allowed her hand to drop to her side.

“Well I better get back to Brent and finish out the work day.”

“Brent – that’s where you work!”

“Yeah – I told you that.”

Tyonnie took the legal document Daniel had given her, out of her purse. “This is your firm?” She handed it to him.

Wesley looked it over briefly and returned it. “Yeah,”

He suddenly saw a side of her he’d never seen before. “How could you do this to my sister? Her baby’s gonna be taken!”

“Calm down, Ty – I don’t have anything to do with that!” He shook his head.

“What do you mean? You work for ‘em!”

“Yes, but I’m a transactional attorney – I don’t handle custody cases…”

She gave him a puzzled look.

“…But I know who does and I’ll look into it for you.”

She nodded and he hugged her as they were suddenly bombarded by raindrops.

Wesley did not waste time once he arrived at Brent and Company. He marched directly down the hall to the custody department and knocked on Phyllis’s office door.

***

     Tyonnie snapped multiple shots in one setting – twisting and turning for various angles. She looked away from the camera to try something different when she noticed Wesley in the doorway.

“Take ten you guys.” She told the models.

Meeting Wesley at the door, he took her gently by the arms as he spoke. “I visited Phyllis, one of our custody attorneys at Brent. She’s working on the case and she says that it looks like neglect on the mother’s part…” The rain poured on the rooftop. “…That’s why the father’s suing.”

“I guess that’s why Maya asked me to take him for a while…’cause she’s having hard times.”

Standing there, close to each other, they held each other’s gaze.

VIII.

     Early spring showers appeared to target Downtown Los Angeles in a torrent while the southland only displayed a strange, yellow-green hue in the sky. It was so dark that it seemed to blot out the sun’s shine.

Maya stumbled over a pile of clothes and staggered toward the telephone. She reached for the strip of paper containing her sister’s address and phone number. She called, left a message, and then burned the paper to ashes on the stove.

***

     Sheets of rain would not let up for a second in Downtown L.A. What sounded like a deep lion’s roar rumbling over roof tops was mistaken for thunder. And yet, it was learned later that it definitely was not, when a lightning bolt struck the city and a loud thunder clap followed. Having picked up Danny from school early, due to frequent low blood sugars, she had him seated to one of the small tables, sipping orange juice. She felt the unusual weather patterns for Los Angeles and couldn’t wait to hurry and leave. Watching the storm from inside, Tyonnie gasped at the sight of a tree flying by. Outdoor seating, table umbrellas and awnings took flight. Along with others around them, Tyonnie’s jaw dropped. Without even thinking about Danny, she jumped up from the table and took a few steps toward the entrance when her Volkswagen was lifted from the ground and thrown. She released a small cry, she wanted to go out and inched closer to the door, but allowed fear and the fact that Danny was still at the table to keep her inside.

“It’s a twister!” Somebody yelled. People began to scatter inside the store.

Her mouth still hanging, Tyonnie didn’t know what to do. She kept looking from the entrance to Danny and back again. People scattered on the sidewalks – some pushed, pulled and others levitated by no will of their own. Then a familiar figure seemed to drag himself into the store – grabbing portions of wall and railings.

“It’s a tornado!” He yelled. “It looks like it’s turning back this way! Ty!”

Wesley ran right into her, grabbing her arm. His eyes fell on Danny and he scooped him up, into his bosom. He led them as far away from windows as he could until he spotted an unoccupied emergency exit. He led them toward it and fit them into the door frame. He placed Tyonnie and Danny in the middle and instructed her to hold onto him. She gently clutched his arm.

“Aunt – T?” Tyonnie looked down at him.

“It’s all right Lil’ man – we have to wait here a little while.”

Wesley straddled the doorway stretching his limbs from door jamb to door jamb, forming an “x”. He dropped his forehead onto Tyonnie’s shoulder.

It seemed as though it would never stop – the violent shaking, the rattling, the loud thunder claps overhead and ferocious lightning bolts. One final roar BOOMED overhead and Tyonnie jumped. Wesley slipped an arm around her waist and hugged her for a few mintes before returning his hand to the door jamb. Just when they thought it might be over, the roof of the store flew into the air. The three of them dropped to the floor and spent the remaining forty minutes there. They didn’t rise until they heard someone yell that the tornado had gone further south. Wesley stood, extended his hand to Tyonnie who immediately accepted the gesture. He thought he felt her shaking a little.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah, just shaken up,”

He picked up Danny and placed an arm around Tyonnie’s shoulders. It was the oddest thing to see a perimeter of wall with nothing but the sky for a ceiling. The tops of the walls were nothing but broken plywood, drywall and plaster like a giant monster of some sort took a bite out of each one. As they approached the entrance, most of the crowd had already ventured out.

Upon exiting the store, the damage only confirmed what they’d witnessed in the store. Wesley, Tyonnie and Danny looked up and all around themselves though rain continued to fall.

“Look at that truck on top that building, Aunt-T!” Danny pointed. Tyonnie and Wesley followed his gaze and not only did they see the pick-up truck he was pointing at but also an eighteen wheeler on top another. They saw large, uprooted trees, as well as other roof tops and entire sides of buildings strewn about the city. Windows were scattered through the streets. Although some cars and trucks were lifted, others were not. Some were simply leaning on their sides while others were just crooked.

“There’s my truck…” Wesley said. “The F-150 up ahead…”

Tyonnie breathed a sigh of relief – a way out of this chaos.

The truck looked as if someone had parked it with the front end up on the sidewalk, purposefully. Wesley unlocked it and opened the door for Tyonnie – he took her by the arm to help her up, into it. He secured Danny in the back seat and got in behind the wheel. Tyonnie was dragging her hands over her face.

“You sure you’re all right?” She nodded. “Okay, let’s see if we can get out of here.”

Wesley drove westbound, crunching some debris under his tires. Tyonnie surveyed the destruction and searched the sky as if trying to see if the tornado was still up there. Wesley couldn’t help glancing at her a couple of times, out of concern.

“Are you calm, Ty?”

“Yeah,” She answered in a low tone, still staring out of the window.

“You have Danny’s medicine, right?”

There was no answer.

“Ty?” Wesley prodded, but still no answer.

“Aunt –T, you have my medicine in your purse?”

“Hm?” She pulled herself away from the window. “Oh, yeah,” She unzipped it to double check herself. “Yeah, I have it,” She glanced at  Wesley, then into the back seat at Danny. “I’m sorry, I don’t exactly…think straight in uncomfortable situations.

Wesley nodded at her sincerity. “That’s understandable. Do you have everything that you need at  home…considering that you don’t have your car? I saw the twister take it – that’s how I knew you were in the store.”

Distress slowly crept over her face as she spoke lowly – eyes darting over the dashboard. “Oh my god, my car…I won’t be able to get around with Danny! I…I don’t know if I have what I need at home…” She faced Wesley. “Sometimes, we go out to the store in the evenings…Oh no!” She slapped a hand to her forehead.

“What?” Wesley asked, glancing at her.

“My cameras were in the car!”

“All right, calm down.” He touched her shoulder. We’ll figure all this out, later…is it okay if we…” He hesitated. “…Go to my place for the evening? You can rest for a few hours…you and Danny can eat…and I can take you home later.” He glanced at her again, hoping that her expression didn’t indicate that he suggested anything too forward.

Leaning in her seat with her eyes fixed on him, she answered calmly. “That sounds nice. Thank you.”

Wesley smiled and kept his eyes on the road as he drove toward the Baldwin Hills area.

IX.

     Maya locked the apartment door behind her but swung around instantly at the sound of footsteps behind her. The large man with blood-red eyes blocked the bit of light that tried to trickle through the small window.

“You got ma money?” He mumbled.

Maya shook her head maintaining a frozen look of shock.

“Ma papers?”

Maya shook her head.

“You think dat pretty face gonna pay fo’ yo’ crack habit?”

Maya shook her head.

“Now dat’s where you wrong…” He took a few strides and pounced, flinging her across the room by the arm. She released a shrieking yelp at the sharp pain in her arm socket until her back slammed into the wall, knocking the wind out of her. She gritted her teeth in response to other pain.

“You betta get dat county money to me…”

Maya shook her head again. “He’s not comin’ here.” She moaned.

He charged her, bloodying her face with whipping strikes. He yanked her off of the wall by a fistful of hair and shoved her into the glass table on the floor. She smacked the glass with a thud and rolled onto the floor. A single blood stained hand laid extended from her body.

“Betta bring me ma money, nasty ho.”

The fiery eyes left the apartment, slamming the door behind him.

The winds, a little heavier than usual throughout the southland calmed, the tornado ascended around Slauson Avenue and the hovering yellow-green that once tainted the sun’s luminosity quickly faded.

***

     Cartoons watched Danny as he snored lightly into a pillow, curled on the couch in the living room. The cozy room was comfortably lit by the stream of kitchen light where Wesley and Tyonnie sat. Although a part of her felt like returning to the recliner chair, where she rested as Wesley cooked dinner, the other part of her needed to stay with him at the table. And they talked over empty plates which once held grilled salmon, creamed potatoes, broccoli and garlic bread. Tyonnie yawned for the third time.

“All right, it’s time to get y’all home.” He chuckled.

“Mm…I’m sorry – but it has been wonderful, thank you.”

“No problem,”

She gave him a smile. “I’ll wake Danny.”

“And I’ll clear the table right quick.”

Tyonnie stretched out of the chair and walked to the couch singing out his name. “Dan – eee – wake up, Sweetie, it’s time to go.” She touched his back. He’d stretched out, flat on his tummy – his breathing quieted. “Danny, c’mon babe, it’s time to go.” She shook him. “C’mon, Dan!” She shook him a little harder, but still there wasn’t the slightest bit of movement. “Danny!”

Wesley turned quickly from the dishes in the sink when the distress in her voice was evident. Without a second thought, he moved with swiftness.

“Watch out, Ty.” He nudged her aside. “Get his meter.” Wesley felt his forehead, cheeks and arms. “He’s clammy.” He gently pulled an eyelid, examining. Tyonnie returned to his side, fumbling with the meter. “Give it here.” Wesley took it from her and within seconds, he had the test strip positioned at the head of the meter and Danny’s finger pricked. The meter read 15.

“He’s gone under,” He said, shoving the tools back into her hands.

Tyonnie cried in a whisper, “Danny…”

Wesley ran to a kitchen cabinet, retrieved a red case and opened it on the table. He removed the syringe, plunged the liquid into a vile containing white powder, shook it until it mixed then drew it back into the syringe. Wesley walked back to Danny, pinched the back of his arm and stuck him with the needle. It was the longest seven minutes Tyonnie ever felt. Danny revived with vomit shooting from his mouth. Tyonnie flanked his side, caressing him and cleaning his face.

Wesley left and returned with a cup of orange juice. “Here you go, Lil’ Man.” And he handed Tyonnie who looked up at him, a snack for Danny. “He’s all right, but we need to call 911.” He reached for the phone mounted on the kitchen wall when he placed the glucose kit on the table.

Tyonnie watched Danny finish the juice and took the glass. She placed the snack in his hands and told him to eat it. She saw Wesley hang the phone.

“Are you feeling a little better, Danny?”

“Yes Aunt-T,” He put a little more of the snack into his mouth.

“Good, you finish eating that and I’ll be right back, okay?” She joined Wesley in the kitchen, placing the glass on the table. “How did you?” She shook her head, frowning.

“I keep it on hand because I used to have diabetic episodes of hypoglycemia due to poor diet…you know I’m always drinking…I rarely ate…but…my mom worked nights when I was a kid.” He explained. “I looked after my diabetic, little brother…” Tyonnie glanced over her shoulder at Danny. Wesley continued. “He went under one night and I didn’t get to him in time ‘cause I fell asleep.” He looked away from her for a minute then faced her again. Tyonnie’s eyes grew misty. “My mom couldn’t give me one ounce of love after that night…she blamed me for Will’s death.” He held back the tear that Tyonnie could not.

“Well now I get to thank you for his life.” She glanced at Danny over her shoulder then tip toed to wrap her arms around Wesley’s neck and kissed him softly on his lips. “And I love you Wesley McAdams.” She whispered in his ear.

A bit stunned by the affectionate gesture, and by those three words he heard, he scanned her face for one hundred percent sincerity when she pulled back a little. The love of a woman had been dead to him for years. He refused to let her get too far away. Still, in a bit of shock, his arms crept around her back and pulled her into him for another kiss. He repositioned her into the bend of his arm with his free hand on her hip and released years of pent-up wanting into a warm, open-mouthed kiss which left them both panting for air when the paramedics banged on the door. He gave her another quick peck before releasing her.

The paramedics assessed Danny’s vitals, interrogated him for the information he knew about himself and the event he just endured. Tyonnie chimed in for the answers he did not know. Following that moment, they prepared him to leave. Tyonnie grabbed her purse to ride with him and Wesley assured her that he’d follow right behind.

X.

     Finally at home again, Tyonnie pressed the play button on the answering machine.

Thanks for taking care of Danny, Ty.

I love you.

     Love, a coaxed spirit and curiosity took the family into South Central Los Angeles. A sheet of paper flapping in the breeze on the door of apartment D on Avalon Boulevard, caught Tyonnie’s attention. Had it been a person, she would have been accused of violating personal space. It was an eviction notice addressed to Maya Harris-Jackson for nonpayment of rent. Tyonnie maintained her proximity, taking a step to her left and peered into the apartment, witnessing complete vacancy.

Daniel read a question mark on her face when she approached his car. “What’s up, Ty?”

“She’s not there…” She frowned. “There’s an eviction notice on the door dating back a few weeks ago and all her things are gone…” Daniel pushed his sunglasses further onto his face as he watched her from behind the wheel. “I mean…there’s absolutely no sign of her.” Tyonnie finished.

“Im sorry Ty…she has a habit so she probably went back to the streets…but don’t worry yourself…a person has to want to help themselves before they can receive any.”

“Yeah, I know.” She sighed.

“Well, you have our info,”

“Yeah, call me for birthday parties and stuff.” She blew a kiss to Danny in the back seat and waved to him.

“Of course, and thank you for caring for him,” Tyonnie nodded. “Well…it’s legal now…we’ll see you later.”

“Bye…” Tyonnie waved again and approached her own, new wagon.

***

Summer of 1983

     Pines perched on a precipice of rocks and boulders overlooked the cerulean spring of sailboats, canoes and jet skis. Boulders varying in color sat at portions of shoreline (some were revealed below the lucid teal), and the Sierra Nevadas served as the horizon.

The O’Connor Cabin bustled with energy. Tyonnie, in a black bikini top and shorts, skipped the graveled walk to the shed where Wesley prepared the gutting table for a good catch.

“Wes,” He looked away from his little task, following her voice. “Telephone…it’s your real estate agent.” She extended a hand and he left the table to embrace her. They walked back to the house arm in arm.

Five minutes on the phone left Wesley ending the call with, “Wonderful – wonderful – thank you.”

“What’s up, Wes?” Tyonnie drew him into her embrace. Tying themselves closer to one another with wrapping arms, they held each other as closely as they did, each time they made love. He leaned his forehead on hers, grazing her nose and lips with his as he spoke.

“We officially own the McAdams Cabin down the street and around the corner.”

“Our own vacation spot…” She left her mouth parted on those words, returning the light touches to his mouth, nose and chin.

“…Until we decide to move here anyway…” He tightened his hold on her and kissed her neck.

“…Or not…” She smiled.

“Whatever,” He cradled her head and pressed his lips against hers, nibbling.

“Hey-hey!” Brian looked inside with the straight, black haired Michelle at his side, smiling. “You Tahoe lovers gonna stop smoochin’ to take a sail?”

Wesley shook his head no, unrelenting.

“Get out here!” Brian insisted. “You can do your smoochin’ on the boat!”

They released each other, laughing and followed Brian and Michelle hand in hand.

Antoinette Clinton

Copyright 2013

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About Antoinette Clinton

Writer, Reading Specialist I like reading, writing, arts and crafts, racketball and alternative medicine.
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