I think both of us were exhausted from all the emotional shit we’d just dug up, dusted off, or peeled away, and I wasn’t sure whether she was being polite or backing away when she suddenly decided to give me a tour of her home. I hadn’t realized that it sat not a block away from the beach, or that it was so large. There was even a pool, a gazebo, and an outside sitting area as big as most of the houses I’d lived in.
Back inside, this woman who until a few hours ago was nothing more than a distant memory and a name written on a letter, smiled at me as she stopped, turned around, and then led me to a wing I hadn’t seen. “This is your home now Julianna, just as it is my sons. And yes, you have a cousin. Brian will be thrilled to meet you when he comes to visit, just as his father will,” she said, pointing to a suite of rooms.
I think I stood there for a good five minutes, staring at it all until I finally had the courage to say what I needed her to know. “Thank you so much for telling me things I never knew about, and for filling in so many empty pages, but I don’t belong in this world. I would never fit in here, but I would love to come back again and visit you.”
Her laugh was full of warmth as she shook her head. “As my son would say, now that’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard. You’re my sister’s little girl and even though we don’t know each other well, I want you here with me. Stay a month, a year, or stay forever.”
“I’ve already paid for my room and I really need to think about it. You may not like the person I am…the real me. I can be a rude bitch, and my language is sometimes downright nasty, even when there are people I don’t know listening. More than likely I’ll embarrass you…I mean really embarrass you within the first week.”
She smiled at me with something so foreign, it made me stop and stare. It seemed almost like she really cared, no matter who I was inside.”
I left a few minutes later, positive she didn’t understand why I felt I had to go. All those blank pages and bad memories had been stirred together until they just boiled over and I needed desperately to find a way to run from them. Once again, I made some wrong turns, got totally lost twice, and ended up back in that shitty room just as the sun set. After twisting some receipts with my fingers while telling my fucked-up brain to shut up at least a dozen times, I finally walked across the street, knowing that if I didn’t eat something I would never sleep.
My body almost sighed as I devoured that first slice of pizza. It was so damn good that I immediately started on the second one and wasn’t watching where I was walking.
“Well, hello there sweetheart…I like girls that just put it out there. You askin’, or are you gonna play coy? I’ll take it either way.”
I knew that I’d brushed past him and had somehow made contact with his shoulder. I also knew what the asshole was talking about. Instead of responding, I kept walking toward the edge of the sidewalk. When his hand touched my rear, I saw red. Dropping the last slice, I turned and screamed, “You put your hands on me again and all that booze you’ve had will come bubbling up through your mouth because your balls will be gone.” He reeked of liquor just like my father had so many times, that the stench was embedded in my brain.”
The baldheaded bastard’s mouth opened, making his double chin even larger. Instead of saying another word, I crossed the street, walked through the small parking lot, slammed the door to my room, locked it, and then took a hot shower.
That night I had too many dreams; ones that woke me from a sound sleep, made me angry as hell, made me feel as if the whole world was tilting, and even made me cry…something I hated to do. Even worse, I could hardly remember what they were. When the last one woke me, just before dawn, I realized that I wanted nothing more than to leave. I certainly didn’t belong here. In fact, I didn’t belong anywhere.
I couldn’t concentrate on the old-fashioned atlas I’d bought, and my phone was dead because I hadn’t bothered to plug it in, so I sat on the bed waiting for it to charge, while hoping that Google Maps would give me an idea of where to go and where I’d end up.
I even considered heading back to where I’d started. At least two of the places I’d worked would hire me again, and I liked both of those jobs. After a few years, I said to myself, maybe you could move to Florida and work in one of the bars that sat on a beach. Funny but although I didn’t like the smell that came with it, I enjoyed mixing drinks…even after living with a drunk, and the tips were usually great too.
In the meantime, the maid came in, cleaned a little here and there and then reminded me that checkout was at eleven. The fact that I’d have to leave soon, finally forced me to think about my aunt and what she’d think. Forty-five minutes later, I’d packed my suitcase, turned in my key and was ready to gas up and head east, knowing I’d see miles and miles of fucking cornfields once again.
A black Audi SUV sat next to my little car and I ignored it, thinking that someone was getting it on with someone that they shouldn’t be. I opened the driver’s side door and looked up only to see my aunt smiling back at me.
“I had a funny feeling that you’d run so Brian and I put on our ‘detective hats’, made some calls, pulled in some favors, and found you. I will not, under any circumstances, allow you to leave without spending at least a week with me Julianna.”
To be honest, I laughed so hard that my aunt started laughing too. It was either that or cry.
“You’re going to learn that I’m not easily fooled and can be as much of a bitch as you claim to be,” she added.
I stood, staring at her maybe a little too long, understanding that I’d give in, and realizing that I wanted to know her, really know my roots – or at least part of them.
“I want you to meet my son. When I told him what his father and I were doing early this morning, he insisted on driving. I suspect he thinks the freeways are too much for me to handle. I guess I’m what he considers an aggressive driver because I honk my horn, tail people that are driving too slow, and have been known to flick people off who pass me. When I was younger I even told a cop to go to hell. He had to have been going ninety so I just decided if he could…well then so could I.”
“I’m the same way,” I said, smiling back at her. “You won’t believe how many people I dogged driving out here just because they refused to use the slow lane.”
Just then the window on the driver’s side of the Audi opened and as the two of us turned, the keys in my hand dropped to the ground…only because that same hand had suddenly disappeared. The owner of the Lab on the beach smiled this lopsided smile, shook his head just a bit and said, “Well hello again.”
Immediately after, my aunt laughed once again. “Yes, I’m a sly old fox aren’t I. Security cameras are useful, especially when you can download pictures of the people who knock on your door. Brian did quite the double take an hour or so ago. And I’m finding that this life just might be stranger than fiction.”
Once again, my eyes seemed to be stuck on this man. A few minutes later I forced myself to look away. You are a perverted ass, staring at your own damn cousin like some bitch in heat, I said to myself. If there had been a rock nearby I would have crawled under it, because he sure as hell noticed me ogling him. I could tell by the way he watched me with that little grin as if he was trying desperately not to laugh.
I finally turned toward my aunt, praying she didn’t see what had transpired over the past few minutes…or maybe only seconds. “I have to get some gas. I think my GPS will remember not to make all the wrong turns it made yesterday, and I should be there not long after you get home.”
“No, no, Brian will drive your car and you can ride with me.”
“I…I’ve never let anyone drive this car. The fact is, it terrifies me to think about it. I guess it’s because it’s all I have…all I own.” The last sentence caused her to look at me so sadly that I lashed out like I always do.
“This is who I am. I told you that you wouldn’t like the fucked-up person standing in front of you. I’m not a waif not matter what the hell you think. I can take care of me…ok?”
“Oh yes, I’m sure you can. I just thought we could ride together – that’s all.”
“Crap, I’m sorry. If you want to change your mind, I’ll understand. It’s just…”
“Are you two going stand out there and chat all day? Maddie’s waiting on us and you know how she gets mom.”
“Brian, would you mind riding with Julianna? She needs gas and Sal’s station is only a few miles out of the way.”
This was worse than letting him drive my car…a hell of a lot worse, but I wasn’t going to give her anymore shit. I’d already allowed my stupid temper to rear its ugly head and once again I was doubting that this visit would even last a week.
My aunt leaned in then, whispering so that no one else could hear. “Just remember, I can take anything you can dish out. You don’t know me but believe it or not, I get where you’re coming from. Until I met my husband I was a lost woman who lived in a shithole room with a filthy bathroom down the hall that I had to share with two men. I’ll tell you that story later.”
She winked, and the minute she did, I knew he was behind me. It was his scent…something musky with a hint of lime.
“Take a left at the next light,” he said not ten minutes later. Sal’s is just a block up…on the right.”
I hadn’t even turned off the engine when he jumped out and began filling the tank. In the meantime, I grabbed my purse and went to pay whatever the total was.
“No money from you. Mr. Brian, he knows that. His family good people. They pay me monthly like my other fine customers.”
“Well, that might be so but…” I never had a chance to finish my sentence.
“Don’t argue with this guy. It will only get to the point that he just walks away. And Sal, the car needs a tune-up badly.”
“We pick up car Thursday. Give her beauty bath and new tires?”
“Sounds good. If no one’s home the keys will be on the floorboard…driver’s side.”
“Wait,” I said, glaring at the two men standing in front of me. “Those tires are only five years old and still have some tread left. And I changed the oil before I hit the road.”
“No. You listen to Mr. Brian. Other fluids need help to make car run smooth. Beauty bath includes all things to make car sing. And tires must grip roads through mountains, in sandy beach, and must be aligned.”
“And how much is this going to cost?” I asked, thinking about what I’d have left when I leave.
“No money. All free.” He winked, but even if he hadn’t, I knew he was lying.
“Whatever,” I stated, knowing that I’d just leave the money somewhere when I left with a note explaining why.
“Well, which way now?” I asked my newly found cousin a few minutes later.
“Just head west at the next light. The freeway entrance is only a few blocks down. Follow it until you see 23 and then stay west bound.”
Damn it felt strange sitting next to this guy and I really didn’t have a clue as to what to say to him, so I finally asked about his dog. “You should be home with what’s his name…Scotch instead of bothering with me. He’s so cute, and the way he plays with you, I can tell he’s loved. Or maybe you should be working. People do work in California, don’t they?”
“They do and I do, but since I own the place and don’t have anything scheduled this week, I’m pretty much free to do my own thing. As for the mutt, he’s fine. Someone will take him out as often as he wants.”
He was either being rude or laughing at me and the way I was trying to start a conversation, so I just shut my mouth and followed the freeway, looking for route 23.
“Julianna…mom said you pretty much go by Jules. Where’d that come from?” he finally asked.
“To be honest, my mother made it up. My father insisted on calling me ‘junk’ or ‘the joke’ when I was little. She would always tell me that I didn’t hear him correctly and then would say he loved to call me Jules. I guess it stuck, and besides, Julianna is a big word for a little kid.”
“Sounds like a total asshole…but that’s my opinion.”
“So, I guess your mother didn’t fill you in…but asshole fits perfectly.”
“All she said was that her sister had passed and you’d come to visit. She also said that you were kind of shy and unsure because you hadn’t seen each other since you were a little girl.”
I laughed then, because I had to. “I’m not shy. I just don’t like to intrude in other people’s lives. Oh, by the way, my old man killed my mother when I was eight. He died in prison…heart failure I think. But that was a long time ago.”
“What?” he said a moment later, “Then where the hell have you been all this time?”
“Oh, living the best of lives, while going from foster home to foster home, and shelter to shelter. I’m the brat who turned into a full-fledged bitch…yep best life ever.”
“Damn, I’m sorry but Susan didn’t tell me.”
“Don’t you fucking pity me. I hate people who do that because it’s fake as shit.”
“Hey,” he said, as he touched my shoulder, “I don’t pity you. If Susan had said something, I wouldn’t have mentioned any of it.”
“Can we just drop it? And why the hell do you call your own mother Susan? I should never have agreed to this,” I finally said, while wondering if I shouldn’t just pull over, kick him out, and then disappear. At the same time, I could still smell that scent he wore, which bothered the hell out of me.
“Susan is my stepmother. I was nine when she married my father. My real mom died in a car accident. She stepped in two years later and loved me. I haven’t thought of her as anything other than my mother for years, but I still call her Susan once in a while, probably because it just fits her. As a kid she would sometimes say, ’You know Brian the mom in me says you shouldn’t do that but the Susan I am says give the kid a chance to explore, so let’s talk it out okay?’ It was as if we were friends but the ‘mom’ in her was always there, making sure I didn’t step too far over the line.”
I concentrated on the road for a few minutes, unsure as to how all of this would play out. I had a cousin who wasn’t really a cousin and I could still remember seeing him on the beach. Damn it, I had to just stay away from him because for some fucked up reason, I wanted to…I wanted to…just shut the hell up, I finally told myself, while hoping that he was only helping today and didn’t come around very often. A week…I’d give my aunt and myself a week and that was it.
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