Teeth

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Chapter 21 - The Narrow Path

Chuck and I arrived at the apartment exhausted from the day, for different reasons. Chuck complained about his body aching from climbing and holding me onto the cliff. I was silent as I fixed dinner, Hamburger Helper with ground turkey instead of hamburger. I was worn out from trying to cover-up everything that happened in the last year. I was tired of feeling guilty twenty-four hours a day. And I was really sick of Hawaii.

“I want to go home,” I said to Chuck as we were eating.

“What?”

“I want to go home to .”

“So do I, but I can’t”

“But I can.”

“No you can’t,” Chuck raised his voice loud enough that it echoed in the room.

“I need to go, Chuck.”

“Why?”

“I can’t live in this house anymore.”

“Why?”

“I just can’t,” I say as I looked down at my still-full plate.

“I want to know why,” Chuck said.

This was a reasonable question. The most reasonable question I had ever heard. Of course he wanted to know why I couldn’t sleep. Why, when I do sleep, it was on the couch. He wanted to know why I jumped when he walked up behind me. Chuck wanted to know why I make him wear a condom when we make love. He wanted to know all these things that I won’t tell him. I can’t tell him. It would only hurt Chuck if I told him.

I put my fork down and looked at Chuck with dry eyes and told him, “I can’t live with you anymore. This isn’t working.”

“Yes it is.”

“You know it isn’t.”

“Yes it is.”

“We can’t go a day without fighting.”

“Everybody fights.”

“I don’t want Andrea to grow up in a house that is never happy.”

“We’re happy.”

“Are you happy?” I asked Chuck.

“Yes.” Chuck defied reason and my argument.

“I’m not.”

I saw Chuck’s eyes start to tear. Mine were still dry.

“I can’t live like this anymore,” I said.

“Like what?”

“I’m angry all the time, and sad, and I can’t cry anymore.”

“What does crying have to do with it?”

“I can’t cry.”

“That’s good. You’re strong.”

“No, I’m not. I can’t cry because I don’t care anymore.”

“Cryin’ can’t get you anywhere.”

“Please listen.”

“I’m listening. You’re the one not listening.”

“I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what?”

Frustrated at his lack of understanding, I tried to explain again why I needed to leave. Chuck was as stubborn as I was.

“We don’t have the money for you to fly back home just because you don’t like Hawaii.”

“I don’t want to fly home because I don’t like . I can’t be here anymore.”

“Still. We don’t have the money.”

“Mom said she would buy my ticket home.”

Chuck stopped speaking, looked at my face for the first time since we came home today, and comprehended.

“You’ve already bought the ticket,” Chuck said.

“Yes.”

“How could you leave me?”

“I can’t live here.”

“I’m the one who should be leavin’!” Chuck finally yelled the last into my face.

Silence.

“You’re right,” I said. “You are the one who should be leavin’, but like you said, you can’t.”

“Damn right. I should be leavin’ your cheatin’ ass.”

“You’re right.”

“Don’t think I don’t know what you been up to. I know exactly what you been doin’, but I’m still willin’ to stay with you, for Andrea’s sake.”

“I know. You are a good man.”

“You’ve got no right to act like you’re the one leavin’.”

“You’re right.”

“You’re the one who went off and fucked everythin’ walkin’ while I was gone.”

My dry eyes started to mist a bit, but now was not the time for tears. “How did you know?”

“Richard told me you fucked some guy named Sarge.”

“What else did he tell you?”

“You hit on Richard, and he was drunk and followed you home.”

“Did Richard confess to raping me?”

“He didn’t rape you. That’s just something you made up to cover yourself.”

“Is that what Richard said?”

“That’s what I say.”

I was… speechless. My eyes did start leaking. There was nothing left to say.

“I need to go. I’m not a good wife. You deserve better.”

“Is Andrea mine?” Chuck asked.

“Yes.”

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

Chuck nearly laughed, “Yeah right.”

“Andrea is yours, but it’s fine if you don’t believe it.”

“What do you mean ‘it’s fine?’ ”

“We don’t need anything from you.”

“I sure as hell hope not, because if you take her off this island, you’ll never see a dime of child support!”

“I don’t want a nickel.”

“How’re you gonna support her? You’re too lazy to work.”

“I’m not lazy.”

“Oh? Where do you work?”

“I’m not lazy, and I am goin’ back to with Andrea.”

“All right then, you’re gettin’ out right now.”

Chuck knocked the breath out of me as pushed the table into my chest when he stood and walked to our bedroom. He started throwing my clothes into the living room in a pile. I grabbed a plastic bag from under the kitchen counter. I put a can of powdered formula, two full bottles from the fridge, a pacifier, and stack of diapers in it. I picked a pair of my jean shorts from the bottom of the growing pile and two tank tops and shoved them in the bag. I snuck past the flying clothes to get Andrea out of her crib. She woke a little as I picked her up, but she closed her eyes and nuzzled against me. I grabbed her baby bag, some white Onesies, her stuffed bear, and I headed for the front door.

Chuck was throwing my things out of the bathroom now. My contacts and solutions hit the living room wall. My extra glasses landed on the clothes. I stooped to pick up my glasses and then my toothbrush as it lands on the pile in the living room. I opened the front door and closed it as quietly as it would allow.

Grunt’s wife glared at me from her doorway.

“Finally kicked you out?” she asked knowing the answer. “It’s about time.”

“I hope you choke on your wooden cross.”

“You give military wives a bad name,” she said as she turned to go inside.

“Maybe. But you give women a bad name,” I yelled the last to the turning of the lock on her door.

I carried Andrea to the bus stop. I wanted to get on before Chuck began to care that I was gone. I didn’t know if he would, but just in case, I wanted to be gone. I sat on the bench and combined the contents of the plastic bag into the baby bag. Then I looked down at my bundle. Andrea was awake now. She looked at me looking at her. I was sure our blue eyes noticed different things about each other. She tried to reach my glasses. I stroked her soft cheek. I gave her my finger to hold instead of my glasses.

Andrea jumped slightly and whimpered as the bus engaged its breaks as it pulled up to the stop. I quickly gathered her to my left shoulder and patted her back after I picked up her baby bag. I showed the driver my pass that I dug out of Andrea’s bag and made my way to the back of the bus.

As I tried to put my pass back in the bag, a hand reaches out for my wrist. I panic, “He’ll find out about us and kick you out.” I put my hand over Andrea’s head and turn to face the man attached to the hand.

“How are you?” Mai Tai asks.

I look into his green eyes and collapse inside them.

“What are you doing here?”

“I was on my way to for a drink.”

“How are you?”

“I’m doing okay. I have this recurring dream about a mermaid and a shark.”

I smiled as I sat down across from Mai Tai and asked, “How does it go?”

“Well this mermaid is running from this shark, but she finally turns around and punches him in the nose. The shark swims away, and the little mermaid lives happily ever after.”

“That’s a good story,” I said. “But there’s no handsome prince for her to marry and live happily ever after.”

Mai Tai looked in my eyes, “She doesn’t need one. She can take care of herself.”

“What about the baby mermaid?”

“She grows up to be as strong as her mother,” Mai Tai said as he reached across the aisle and touched Andrea’s cheek with his finger.

“Thanks,” I said trying to incorporate all of my emotions into that one word.

“Are you two off to the clubs for a night on the town?” Mai Tai asked.

“Yeah. I think we’re gonna start with a bottle of Enfamil and then go straight to the grape juice.”

“Whoa kid, you better slow down. You’re gonna be hooked on the hard stuff before long.”

Mai Tai smiled at the sweet face on my shoulder, “What’s baby mermaid’s name?”

“Andrea Gail Wickham.”

“That’s an interesting name,” Mai Tai said, “How did that one come about? Is it her grandmother’s name?”

“No. She’s named after a boat.”

“A boat?”

“Yes. A fishing boat.”

“Why a boat?”

“I heard that a fishing boat by that name sank in a storm. I liked it, so I used it.”

“A boat that sank?”

“I know. I know. It’s sounds like a really bad omen.”

“A little.”

“I figure it this way. It took a really big storm to sink that fishing boat. I hope it takes a bigger one to sink my Andrea Gail.”

Mai Tai looked at Andrea again, “That’s a good way to figure it. Where are you headed?”

“I’m goin’ to find a hotel in .”

Mai Tai’s eyes raked across my body and then back to my eyes, “Not with Andrea?” he asked with a frown.

“Not like that,” I rolled my eyes at him, but I was more afraid that he thought I would pick up someone and sleep with him with Andrea beside me. “I have to find a hotel because I just left my husband, or he kicked me out, whichever way it happened,” I explained.

“Are you okay? He didn’t hurt you did he?”

“No. He just started throwing my stuff in a pile in the living room. I grabbed what I needed as he threw it, and got on the bus. I’ll be fine once I get back to .”

“Are you going back to , then?”

“Soon as my plane leaves, day after tomorrow.”

“Where are you going to stay in ?”

“I don’t know. I have to call my mom and see if she’ll loan me some money for a hotel. I’m sure she will.”

“You could stay with me.”

“Are you my Prince Charming coming to save me?”

“Well, no. But I want you and Andrea to have a safe place to stay.”

“Thank you.” I couldn’t help wishing that Mai Tai was my Prince Charming. We could ride off into the sunset in his Thing and live happily ever after. “Where’s your car?” I asked.

“Ah, I am currently Thing-less. The Thing is in the shop. Apparently, it is in dismal need of a new engine.”

“Too bad,” I sympathized.

“It’s all right. That just allows me to get drunk and take a taxi home without having to return for my car.”

“How are you going to get drunk tonight? Don’t you have school tomorrow?” I asked.

“Day off. Hey, can I buy you two some dinner?”

“Andrea has hers, and I’m not really all that hungry right now.”

Mai Tai looked disappointed and glanced down at his fingers on the back of the seat in front of him.

“We might drink a cup of coffee with you,” I said.

Mai Tai looked up again, “Great! Where do you want to go?”

“First I need to find a phone and get a room.”

“Oh, sure.”

We arrived in the ki’s about 30 minutes later, and Mai Tai held Andrea as I dialed my mom. She didn’t hesitate to loan me some money. Mom told me to call her from the hotel so she could give them her credit card number.

“Where do you want to stay?” Mai Tai asked.

“Anywhere that my husband won’t think to look for me.”

“Where’s that?”

I looked up and down the street. I saw the Outrigger where Chuck and I stayed when I first arrived in Hawaii. I choked after a laugh and moved down a few blocks on Kalakaua Avenue.

The Royal Hawaiian is one of those obnoxious hotels lining the beach at . It’s pink. I suppose the tourists love it. It definitely stands out from the rest of the hotels. “Do you think Chuck would look for you here?” Mai Tai asked as he pointed to the pink monstrosity.

“Probably not, but I don’t think I can stay here,” I said.

“Why not?”

“I hate pink.”

Mai Tai laughed and we moved a little farther down the street.

“This’ll do,” I said as I spotted the Sheraton. We walked inside to the desk and asked about the money and whether or not they had a single with a crib.

“Why won’t he look for you here?” Mai Tai asked.

“It’s two fifty a night. He knows I’m broke. Plus, if I’m lucky, he’ll think my plane has already left. I told mom to tell him I’m on the plane if he calls her.”

Mai Tai held Andrea as I talked to the hotel clerk and explained that my mother was paying for the room on her credit card. The clerk was very kind and allowed Mai Tai to sign for the room. Mia Tai handed Andrea back to me and signed the card—David Wright.

“Well, he won’t be able to find you by asking if your registered here.”

“Thanks, David Wright.”

“You’re welcome, Lilian.”

“Can I buy you that coffee now?”

“Yes. I think Andrea and I would enjoy that very much.”

We talked for an hour over coffee about books, movies, and life. When Andrea started fussing later that night, we moved the conversation back to my hotel room. David and I talked for hours. We didn’t sleep. When Andrea woke at 5:30 the next morning, we all went down to the beach and watched the Monday morning sun rise from the ocean. David left to get some sleep. Andrea and I dozed all day in the hotel.

At one point during the day, I felt the familiar panic. I thought I heard someone twisting the doorknob. I shot out of bed and ran to the door and slammed all my weight against it.

“Housekeeping?” a tiny feminine voice calls from the hallway.

I looked through the peephole.

Freeing my breath, I called out, “No thanks.” After I opened the door, I explained that I didn’t need anything, took the towels she offered, and slid the do not disturb sign on the doorknob. I leaned against the door and sunk to the floor.

I need to find out. I can’t live like this.

I pushed myself up and went to the telephone. I dialed the engraving shop at the base and Kelly answered. We talked for a little while about my life and hers. She was excited to hear about Andrea. Her husband was home now and she’s recently pregnant.

“Have you seen Sarge lately?” I asked.

“No, he told me in August he was leaving for Korea in September.”

“So he’s gone?”

“As far as I know. Did you need me to find out?”

“Yes, if you could.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Are you at home?”

“No. How long do you think it will take you to find out?”

“A half hour?”

“I’ll call back. Don’t tell anyone that I’m looking for him.”

I hung up and waited by the phone for a half hour. When I called back, Kelly told me he has shipped out with his company and wasn’t due back for six months.

“Thanks for your help, Kelly.”

“Sure. Do you want me to give him a message when he gets back?”

A message. What do I tell him?

“Yes. Tell him if he ever rapes another woman, I’ll press charges.”

“What? He raped you? I thought you liked him.”

“He raped me. He beat me and raped me.”

“Oh my god! Why don’t you go to the police?”

“So I can be raped again by the system? No thanks.”

“You can’t possibly believe your threat will keep him from hurting someone else?”

“It probably won’t.”

“Then why?”

“Because… now you know, and hopefully, you’ll warn any woman you see with him.”

“I will.”

“Good.”

“Will you give me your number in ?”

“No. I won’t. I’m sorry, but I don’t want anyone having it. Just in case Sarge noses around.”

“I understand. Well, good luck to you.”

After hanging up with Kelly, I take a deep breath and relax for the first time in months. He’s not on the island. He can’t hurt me.

At six, David returns to the hotel. “Can I buy you dinner?”

“Sure, but can we order in?” I asked.

We ordered pizza from Pizza Hut. David pulls off his shoes and socks. “I hate shoes,” he said, “They won’t let my toes wiggle, and they make my feet hot.”

“I used to run around all summer without shoes when I was a kid. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve burned my feet on asphalt, or cut them on glass or rough concrete,”

We laughed about our childhood adventures and talked all evening. Then David asks, “When does your plane leave tomorrow?”

“Two.”

“In the afternoon?”

“Yes.”

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” David said this and then looked away as if he was afraid of what he would see when he looked at me.

I touched his cheek, and he turned his green eyes back to mine, “I wish I would have met you sooner.”

“This time, will you leave me your phone number and address so I can contact you?”

I used the hotel pen and pad to write down my mother’s address and phone number for him. He put it in his wallet and wrote his down for me.

“Maybe you could come to Texas sometime when you’re off from school,” I suggested.

“I’ve never been to Texas. Does Texas have good high schools?”

“Yep, and mermaids.”

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