For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Note 1: Some parts of this chapter may be a bit disturbing.
Note 2: Please don't send me corrections. They will be caught when my wonderful beta, Linda, gets to this piece.
Willow blinked a few times, staring dumbstruck at the woman who was now walking toward her, a cautious smile upon the singer's face.
"Hello, Mrs. Bowman," Christine said quietly.
"Miss Gray, oh to hell with it," she turned to the realtor who looked most surprised by her outburst. "Mac, we need a few moments."
"Oh, uh," Mackenzie looked from one to the other, then back to Willow. "Certainly." He made himself busy in the living room. Willow grabbed Christine's hand and drug her to the privacy of the kitchen. Whirling on her, hands on hips.
"What are you doing?" the blonde demanded. Christine leaned against the counter, arms casually crossed over her chest.
"Seems I'm buying a ranch."
"But why? How could you!" It angered Willow more than she could bear, knowing that she was losing her home, her sanctuary, to a friend!
"Because I'm not about to let you lose your home!" Christine fired back. Willow's mouth was open to spit something back, but the words got caught in her throat.
"What?" She would have stumbled back if she hadn't been already leaning against the island. Recovering, "Christine, you can't buy me."
Stung, the singer's shoulders slumped. "I would never do that, Willow," she said quietly. "I never have."
Looking as regretful as she felt, Willow nodded. "I'm sorry."
"Think of it this way," Christine said, pushing herself past the hurtful comment, and brightening the room with her smile. "think of it as a gift for the baby, the ultimate crib." She grinned, eyes twinkling. Willow caught the spark and grinned back. "All repayable, of course. Ten dollars, paid in full, check made out to me, please."
"Christine, I can't-"
"Too high, huh? Hmm," she made a show of rubbing her chin. "I know of a lender I can direct you to, fair fees and interest."
Willow looked up at her, smile fading into genuine curiosity. "Why are you doing this?" Christine's own smile faded into a look of affection.
"Because I can't stand to think of you losing something that I know means so much to you." She said gently.
"How did you know?"
"I came by here a couple weeks ago, planning to visit when I saw the for sale sign. I did some investigating and found out what was happening, so," she shrugged. "here we are."
Overwhelmed by emotion and gratitude, Willow threw herself at the singer, finding herself engulfed in strong arms.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"You're welcome." Christine whispered back, eyes closing at the relief of the days events. "I'm so sorry, Willow."
"No, I'm sorry." Pulling back a bit, misted green eyes looked up into concerned blue. "I was cruel, I'm so sorry-"
"No," Christine held up a hand. "My actions were completely inappropriate, and I'm forever sorry."
Smiling through her tears, "Let's just agree that it was not a good thing all around and move on, okay?"
The singer smiled, nodding. "Agreed." One final hug, and she pulled totally away. "Come on, let's go finish this deal."
The paperwork was signed, and a most confused, but happy, Mackenzie Deaton left the two ladies alone.
"I'm sorry I couldn't get here before you sold the other horses," Christine said quietly, leaning against the rail fence next to the blonde, who watched her Star frolicking.
Turning to the left, then to the right, dark eyes never leaving the large, round handheld mirror in manicured hands.
"I have to tell you, Joel, you are a master artist." He grinned at the good-looking doctor who stood back, Armani'd arms crossed over a well developed chest.
"It looks fabulous, Bob," the plastic surgeon said, his slight Brazilian accent smoothing his words. "Better than before."
"Hmm," Knowles toned absently, still checking out the new look and new nose.
"When am I going to get my scalpel on the gorgeous Christine Gray?" the doctor asked, wiggling dark brows.
Bob chuckled, re-slicking a piece of hair that had flopped over his forehead. "You're a married man, Joel."
"Eh, just a simple procedure, Bob."
"Well, I wouldn't count on that, my friend," he tugged on his suit jacket, adjusting the lapels in the same small handheld, now laying on the counter in the examination room. "You don't have the right equipment to get her on your operating table."
"So the rumor are true, eh?"
"Well, you know what they say, there's a kernel of truth in all rumors."
"Really?" intrigued, Joel Rae leaned forward on the stool he was perched upon. "Perhaps something could be worked out ...?" an elegant brow rose in question.
Again, that bitter chuckle. "To my knowledge, Mizz Gray hasn't been with a man since ... well," feigning protective silence, "that's not for me to tell."
"Hmm," disbelieving. "How about a drink between old friends, eh?" Dr. Rae questioned.
"Sounds wonderful. I know of a great place on the strip."
"Lead the way."
Trista Metzger ran as fast as her short legs would allow, long dark hair trailing behind her. She nearly twisted an ankle as she turned the sharp corner, her boot sliding on the burbur carpeting, hand hitting the plastered wall with a solid smack to steady herself, then sprinted down the final hall, headed for the jarred door at the end.
Bursting through the heavy oaken door, she slapped the magazine down on the large desk, holding up a finger as she tried to catch her breath, lungs burning from the exertion. She really did need to stop smoking.
"Where's the fire, Trista?" Christine asked, a half smile on her face as she recognized the look of horror on her assistant's face. Gazing down at the copy of the Enquirer that had almost slid into her lap, her own eyes widened with horror. "No," she breathed.
"Mary brought that in to me just now," Trista managed, plopping down in one of the leather chairs in front of the singer's desk. Christine liked to keep an office downtown so business didn't have to be done at her house or rented conference room.
"What have they done?" she read the headline: ROCKER CHICK BY THE HOUR? There was a fuzzy, and obviously doctored, picture of a much younger Christine Gray standing on a street corner in a tiny dress, hand on hip, leaning slightly forward as she talked to someone in a car.
Frantically opening the shit rag, she saw the article right away, filled with various pictures of her in concert, press release photos, as well as candid shots that had been taken of her over the years. Some she didn't recognize, and wondered if the Enquirer had been keeping them for later use.
"They've really gone too far this time, Chris. You should sue their asses," Trista was saying, her words only a murmur in a mind filled with fear and disgust.
Christine read a Œfirst-hand account' from some woman named Molly Tamale who remembered the singer as a young girl working the streets, going with Johns when she was as young as seven.
"Jesus," she moaned. "Who wrote this piece of shit?" she flipped to the first page of the article, seeing Kenneth Brine's by-line. "Get me this bastard on the phone," she growled, tossing the magazine back across her desk, turning in her chair to look out the window. She felt sick, the bile rising with each panicked thought.
"You got it, boss."
Once alone again, Christine stood, running her hands through her hair, shaking out the long strands. "Fuck, fuck, fuck." This could ruin her. The story was crap, and most probably wouldn't believe it, but fuck! It was very, very close to the truth. Who could have found out about this? Where did it come from?
"Chris?" the tinny voice in her intercom said.
"Yeah, Trista?" She had to force her voice to be calm.
"Myron Reyes on line one. He's the editor in chief. They won't let me talk to Brine."
"Fine. Patch the line." Christine sat heavily back in her chair, face turning to stone.
"Miss Gray, what an honest to god pleasure," a deep voice intoned. The singer ignored his pleasantries. She'd had smut published about her before, hell, who hasn't in this business? But this was an outrage.
"What is this shit in your magazine, Mr. Reyes? A term I use lightly."
"I stand by the article, Miss Gray." His voice and demeanor had changed in the blink of an eye- all business and hard and as unmovable as stone. "We have reliable and reputable sources, I assure you."
"What, like Molly Tamale!" Christine stood, the rage seeping up through her pores. "And that I was allegedly on the streets at seven!? Mr. Reyes, I was living in an apartment with my goddamn parents at seven. And as for this Tamale character, I have never even met this woman, let alone her knowing a damn thing about where I was in grammar school!"
Myron Reyes was silent, a sliver of panic shooting through his veins before he recovered.
"We stand by every word that Mr. Brine wrote. He did his research and found the dirt. I'm sorry if it was dirt you'd hoped would not be uncovered. Guess our tactics are better than yours, eh?" he chuckled softly, only infuriating the singer more.
"Who sent you on this wild goose chase?" Christine growled, picking up the receiver so she'd have something to wrap her fingers around and squeeze.
"Goose chase, Miss Gr-"
"Who?!" She was finished with his fucking games. She had a cold feeling in her gut that the Enquirer had been set up.
"We protect our sources, Miss Gray."
"I will take everything you've got for this, Reyes. Bet your ass on it," her voice was like a razor. The echo of the ringing from the slamming of the receiver, filled the space. Blue eyes were electrified with rage and hurt. Who could have done this to her? So few knew her past. Yes, it was true the Enquirer could have found out, but it was so deeply buried, no one knew-
Her line of thought stopped short, almost screeching in her mind. Besides her, two people, who were still alive, knew of her past. One was Adam, and he would never betray her like that. The second was-
"You can't go in there!" Kat hurried after the tall whirlwind that had just pushed past her desk. "He's in a meeting," the young secretaries cries were cut short as the frosted glass office door was slammed open, the crack from the force filling the office like a clap of thunder.
"It's alright, Katrina. I'll take it from here," Bob Knowles said, phone still held in his hands. His dark eyes never left the beast before him, murmuring his goodbyes, then gently laying the receiver in its cradle.
Katrina was nearly trembling in the stilettos Robert loved so much, as she returned to her desk.
Bob got up, again eyes never leaving Christine Gray as he made his way around her, closing the ruined door for some sort of privacy. He had never seen her like this, and in truth, he was frightened of the oozing hatred pouring from her.
"How could you," she growled as he made his way behind his desk again, feeling better with something strong and sturdy between them. His biggest client stood before him, eyes sexy as hell in all their rage, hands splayed out as she leaned over his desk, taking some of that safe space away from him.
He swallowed, though did so as quietly and with as little show as possible. He didn't want her to know how frightened he really was.
"What are you talking about?" he said, quite impressed with how calm his voice was.
"Do not attempt to lie to me, Bob. I know you did it. I want to know why."
He stared back at her, dark eyes cool and calm, though Christine knew he was a coward at heart and he was quaking in his perfectly shined Gucci's. He said nothing, and she knew he'd never admit to it. In this case, his silence said everything.
"You'll not get away with this," she hissed, standing up straight again. "Mark my words, Bob." She was slowly backing out of the office. "The ruin you've just visited upon me is one in the same for yourself. You're fired." With that, she turned and stalked down the hall.
Her world was almost quiet as the empty road spread out before her, trees whipping by the open window, the only sound to interrupt almost perfect silence of isolation. The sky was getting darker and darker, prematurely, clouds heavy and pregnant.
She brought a hand up, swiping at a new strain of tears, the ultimate betrayal ripping at her insides. She felt lost, everyone who had been safe yesterday was now an angry, greedy monster at her door, seeking more, more, more. Her music, her face and body, her voice, her name had not been enough. Now they wanted her soul. There seemed only one safe place in this dark night, and the turn was coming up.
The rain was coming down in earnest now. Willow was just thrilled that she'd taken care of Star earlier, and the mare was tucked safely and dryly in her stable.
She headed back toward the stairs, retying her doo-rag to keep paint from getting in her hair. Hand on the banister, she heard something, and glanced out the beveled glass that lined either side of the front door, locked tight. Headlights shone across her face for a moment as a car pulled into the circular drive.
Turning away from the stairs, Willow peered out of the window, images in prism of someone opening a car door, slamming it shut, then the figure walking toward the porch stairs.
Willow unlocked and opened the door, light spilling out into the storm-dark night. The tall figure stepped into the hall lit porch.
"Oh, sweetie," the blonde whispered, pushing open the wooden screen door. There stood Christine, hair plastered to her head, clothing like a second skin, just from her walk to the porch from her rental. The look on the singer's face is what did her in, though. Absolute anguish, and Willow knew why.
A sob ripped through the night, and Christine found herself engulfed in those safe arms, resting her head on a sturdy shoulder.
"Come inside," Willow said into her ear. "Come inside, Christine."
She'd been driving straight through for a day and a half, and was sleeping soundlessly in the guestroom. Willow checked on her often, wishing so badly that there was something, anything she could do. She thought about earlier that day:
"Wolf man eats his wife," Rachel smirks as she shoves the smut mag back into its rack at the register of the Safeway she and I are waiting in line at.
"Shouldn't it be wolf woman eats her husband?" I say, we both chuckle. I'm fingering a tin bubble gum container, the little pieces of gum inside are shaped like dolphins. I'm intrigued, just like a child.
"Oh, no," Rachel says, her voice filled with foreboding.
"What?" I ask, checking the calorie count on the little fishy gum.
"Look, Wills," Rachel shoves the magazine in front of my face, and my eyes immediately settle on what looks to be a very young Christine Gray: ROCKER CHICK BY THE HOUR? I feel my blood go cold.
"Oh god," I gasp, taking the mag from my friend's hand. "God, I hope she hasn't seen this."
"Who could do such a thing?" Willow whispered, gently brushing locks of dark hair from a pale forehead, feather light touches, not wanting to wake the troubled woman. With a sad sigh, she stood, heading downstairs where Rachel was making coffee for them.
"God, how can you drink this stuff?" the redhead asked, handing Willow a steaming mug. Green eyes rolled.
"It doesn't taste any different, you pain in the ass."
"Yeah, but where do you get your little extra oomph from?" the women sat at the breakfast nook, Rachel's painted nails clicking lightly against the ceramic mug.
"Oomph? You're kidding, right? Shoot, my energy is being sucked down into my gut," she grinned.
"How is she?" Rachel asked, sobering. Willow sighed and shrugged.
"She's still asleep. God, Rachel, you should have seen her." Willow shook her head, looking out at the muddy morning. "Drenched to the bone, but I swear it was like the sky was crying for her. She was devastated."
"The sky was crying for her, huh?" Rachel grinned. "Me thinks you've been hanging out with the songstress a little too much."
"Oh, hush," the blonde playfully smacked the giggling redhead. "I know that was corny, but it's true. I just wanted to protect her from the world, you know?"
"That's probably why she came here, Wills. I'm sure she feels safe here, with you."
"I hope so. If I can keep her out of the public eye for even just a few days, you know?" Willow stirred in a bag of Splenda.
"Yeah. What is she going to do?"
"I have no idea. She crashed within twenty minutes of showing up. All I knew was that she'd driven here from L.A." Willow stood, and walked to the fridge, pulling out a couple containers of yogurt.
"Thanks," Rachel opened the container put before her, then grabbed the spoon set next to it. "You still craving this stuff?" she chuckled, stirring the fruit up to the top.
Willow rolled her eyes. "God, it's been weird. At least I know I won't be having any yeast infections."
"Monostat 7, ladies. Works wonders."
Both nurses turned to see Christine grinning from the doorway. Willow thought she looked adorable, hair disheveled in every which way, t-shirt slightly askew, and one leg of her shorts longer than the other from moving in her sleep.
"Hey, you." Willow smiled, standing. "Are you hungry? Thirsty? Can I get you anything?" She was stopped with a hand to her arm and a gentle smile.
"I can get it. Take a load off, kay?" Christine squeezed the blonde's arm affectionately until she got a nod.
"Help yourself to anything, okay?" Willow said quietly, getting her own nod.
Rachel was surprised to find a sting of jealousy rushing quickly through her veins, then dissipating just as quickly. Watching the interaction between her friend and the singer was most interesting to watch. There was an easy trust between them, a comfort level that quite surprising considering first off, how they met, and secondly, Christine Gray was one of the topmost female recording artists in the world.
Willow took her seat across from her old friend again, hearing the rustle and clinking in the kitchen of pans being pulled, fridge being opened, items removed and arranged on the counter.
"You ladies like omelets?" Christine asked, glancing at the two nurses.
"You any good at making them?" Rachel teased. "I'm pretty damn picky when it comes to my eggs."
"Well, lucky you; so am I." The singer winked, then began to crack some shells.
An hour and eight eggs later, the three sat scattered in the living room, each nursing a cup of hot decaf.
"I need you both to understand that now this story has broke, they'll stop at nothing to find more, which will ultimately lead here," she pointed down, "to your hospital, and to the events that happened last February."
"We won't say anything," Rachel said, indicating her and the blonde.
"Say what you will, Rachel. That's what these bastards to for a living- find the dirt. Mark my words," she sipped her brew. "the hospital is going to be bombarded by questions." She sighed, that sadness clouding her features again. "I'm really sorry to put you guys through this," she almost whispered.
Willow and Rachel shared a quick look, then the blonde went to her, sitting next to the singer.
"Please don't apologize, Christine," she said quietly, taking the large, calloused hand in her own. "You don't deserve this. I really hope you don't think that you do."
Christine raised sad eyes to meet those of the beautiful nurse. "I did all this, Willow. What they're accusing me of, I did."
"I know that. But look what you've done with your life since? Look how many people you've touched out there all over the world. With your music and your talent you've reached inside millions and made them smile, made them forget their problems for just a short while." She smiled. "I speak from personal experience here, okay?"
Christine studied those eyes, seeing nothing but truth. Rachel nodded in agreement, though the singer never saw it. Finally she conceded.
Rachel waited a heartbeat, not wanting to interrupt the silent conversation happening across the coffee table on the sofa, but then she downed the rest of her coffee, gently setting the mug on the end table next to the loveseat where she sat.
Standing, two sets of eyes alighted on her. "I have to get going, girls. Connor's waiting."
Shaking herself out of her almost trance-like state, Willow stood and walked over to her friend. "Thanks for coming," she said quietly, taking the redhead in a tight hug.
"Anytime, sweetie." Rachel turned to look at Christine, surprised to see the singer had made her way over to them. Squeaking quietly as she found herself engulfed in warm arms, she grinned up at the taller woman. "You've got a hell of a hug machine there, Christine."
The singer grinned. "Why thank you. Never had any complaints before."
"Hmm, bet not," Rachel muttered, then headed out.
Taking the brush between her teeth, Christine readjusted the doo-rag covering her dark hair, then took the handle between nimble fingers and began to work the delicate blue paint into the wall.
"This is all going to be so cute," the singer gushed, unable to keep the grin from her face, which her painting partner shared.
"Thank you. I'm glad you like it."
"I'm surprised you're starting this so soon," Christine glanced down at Willow, working around the floorboards while she took around the ceiling, not wanting the blonde to climb the ladder.
"Well," Willow shrugged. "I figure I might as well just get this stuff started now, the stuff I won't really be able to do later, you know?" Glancing up, she saw Christine's nod. "And now that Kevin won't be helping me," she shrugged again. "It's all me," this last part was more muttered to herself than meant to add to the conversation at hand.
"Not if I have anything to do about it," Willow met her gaze again, brows drawn in question.
"That's right," she said with determination, dipping the small brush into the plastic pan balanced on to flat at the top of the ladder, filled with paint. "I'm going to make sure you get all the help you need, my friend. Don't you worry about a thing."
"Oh, well thank you very much," Willow wiggled her brows at the singer, making her chuckle.
They worked in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Willow wanted to get to the heart of her thoughts, but wasn't sure if she should broach the painful subject.
As if reading her thoughts, Christine asked quietly, "What are you thinking about down there?'
Willow sighed, brushing a stray lock behind her ear with her pinky, one of the last fingers still paintless. "Who did this to you?" For a moment Willow wasn't sure the singer understood the question, her silence stretching on, but finally she spoke.
"That son of a-"
"I know," Christine smiled at the vehemence in the blonde's voice.
"Why would he do that to you?" Willow stood, stretching out her aching back, tossing her brush into the pan not far from where she'd just finished up.
"Because he's a bastard who was angry that I laid him out," Christine said, leaning in close as she painted a tight spot, making sure she didn't paint the ceiling, which, like the woodwork, would stay white. "He was unfortunate enough to be born with little to no tact and made a very stupid and thoughtless comment."
"So was he," Christine gave the blonde a shit-eating grin, then turned back to her task at hand.
"So what are you going to do?"
"That is the question, isn't it?" dip, dip "I don't really know. Disappear off the face of the earth, maybe? Pretend it never happened? Lie? I don't know."
"Why not call him on his own methods?"
"What do you mean?" She stopped painting, leaning on the ladder, brush-holding hand dangling off the second rung from the top.
"Well," Willow drawled, crossing her arms over her growing chest. "Play his game, Christine. You have tons of high powered friends out there. Make them work for you. Tell your story. The true story." She stared up at her, letting her words sink in. "The truth shall set you free." She grinned, green eyes twinkling in the streaming sunlight.
"He is as smug as a bug in a rug, Chris," Trista said, flopping herself down in one of the chairs in front of the singer's desk.
"Hmm," Christine hummed, staring down at the bustling city below. "I'm not surprised. Is everything arranged?"
"Yeah. Oh my god, yeah! Her people were nearly peeing in their pants with excitement to get such an exclusive." She rolled her eyes, "You should hear what Katrina says about him. The guy's going way over the top with this. That son of a bitch is talking to anyone who's willing to listen to his garbage." She crossed a bare knee over the other, lazily swinging her high-heeled foot.
"No, I'm not surprised in the least. He wants the spotlight- always has." With a sigh, Christine turned to her assistant, hands tucked into the pockets of her jeans. "When are we on?"
"Wednesday night, your place."
The singer nodded. "Good."
"I'm nervous," Willow gushed, laughing with nervous energy.
"I know. Me, too." Rachel patted her on the knee, then began to tuck into the freshly popped bag of Orville Redenbacher with extra butter.
The sitcom they'd been watching ended, and an advertisement came on for the Barbara Walters Special, an exclusive with Christine Gray.
The singer was surprised at how warm the legendary journalist was. She'd heard a whole variation on the same cry of diva, but she found no such thing.
Happily showing the older woman around her house in the hills overlooking L.A., the grounds perfectly kept, beautiful and elegant, the small camera crew constantly filming, though she knew from specials she had seen, much of it would be edited out, only a few scenes for visual effect during Barbara's narrative.
Sitting stiff and compliant in one of the extremely comfortable wingbacks brought to the music room from the formal living room, Christine waited for the makeup girl to finish, listening to the murmured orders and requests from the crew. They were slowly turning her sanctuary into a theatrical production, meant to look like a sanctuary, filled with intimate conversation.
"And in five," the producer, headset in place, counted backward to three, then fell silent, fingers counting down the rest of the way.
"There has been much said of late about your past, Christine," Barbara said, an almost motherly accusing tone to her voice, a soft smile on her lightly painted lips.
"Tell me about it!" Christine said, rolling her eyes, followed by a playful smile, earning a small chuckle from the journalist.
"Turn that up, please Raymond. Thank you." Robert adjusted his head against the padded rest, face gooey and stiff from the mud masque, eyes closed from the slices of cucumber resting upon his lids.
His masseuse did as bade, the television's sound and light filling the small, darkened room. He had heard from some of his friends, and even a couple clients, that Christine would be doing that well preserved journalist's special.
"Special, my ass," he murmured, hearing Raymond leaving him to Œsoak'. "You want special you should've come to me, Walters,"
"How did the story in the tabloid make you feel?" Barbara asked, hands resting peacefully on the yellow legal pad of notes on her skirted lap.
Christine sighed, thinking of the best way to answer that. "Truth of the matter is, Barbara, the story is true," the singer noted the slight widening of the journalist's eyes, but nothing more. "It was a very painful time for me, and certainly one I wanted to forget." She shrugged, a sad little smile tugging at her lips. "It wasn't to be so."
"Do you want to tell your story? Here and now? Your side of things?"
"Yes. What that tabloid printed was based on truth, yes, but it made a mockery of human pain. That pain was mine, so now I'm here to set it straight."
Alice held Adam's hand tightly in her own, her other hand strumming through the dark hair that rested in her lap.
"She's so brave," he said, mesmerized by the strongest woman he knew who dominated his twenty-seven inch screen.
"Yes, she is," Alice said quietly, leaning down to gently kiss his temple, slightly damp from sweat. "How are you feeling, my love?"
"I'm fine," Adam said absently, still waiting almost breathlessly for Christine to speak.
The front door opened, Rachel's finger automatically going to her lips, Connor looking at her like she'd lost her mind.
"Come sit," she whispered, patting the couch next to her. The man entered the room, glancing at the light from the tube, heart falling in disappointment.
"But Rach, the first game of the season is on," he whined,
"Then go watch it upstairs," she hissed, noting her friend's eyes were pinned to the screen.
"But this has the surround sound-"
"Then go to your own damn place to watch it!" she snapped, irritated that he wouldn't watch this with her, something that was very important. Far more so than stupid football.
Knowing a losing battle when he saw one, he clicked his tongue like a pouting child, and stomped upstairs.
"God, such little boys," Rachel muttered, shoveling anther handful of popcorn into her mouth. Willow didn't answer.
"So tell us, in your own words, what is the true story of Christine Gray."
"Oh, where to begin," Christine breathed, raising a hand to run through her hair before she remembered it was plastered with product and they'd have to shut down, allow time for her hair to be fixed, then start up again. She'd have to find a new nervous habit for this journey.
She began her tale, beginning with her parents and their abandonment, and her fortuitous meeting with Adam.
"I can't, Adam," I hissed, being pulled along by my wrist, the third flight of stairs before us.
"Come on, Christine. Don't worry."
"Will she get mad?" I ask, looking around, waiting for my friend's mom to pop out of the walls somewhere.
"Why would she? She probably ain't even there. God, you worry all the time."
We continue on in silence. The picture of what I've heard about Toni "machete" Mischetti is not pleasant, and she scares me. Word on the street is she was with Derrick Zolna, a real tough guy, and he disappeared after they got into a fight, never to be seen again.
Our feet slamming onto the landing for the third floor of the old brick tenement, we headed down the hallway, carpet almost totally worn through in places.
Adam stops at his door, struggling with the knob that likes to stick, then finally kicks the door open, a million old shoe prints at the bottom of the stained, wood door.
The apartment is tiny, as was ours, stuffy, stale cigarette smoke and vomit lingers in the air.
Fighting the urge to hold my nose, I follow him inside, looking around. The furniture is old, holes eaten through to the stuffing, either by the huge mice problem in New York, or from some evil pet. My guess is the first one.
"Rosco, honey, that you?" a woman calls out from the one bedroom. My spine stiffens for just a moment, then I look at him.
"Shut it," he hisses. I stifle a giggle. The woman comes into the living area, which doubles as a kitchen. Flopping down on the couch, she runs heavily ringed fingers through a mane of wild black hair, brushing it back from her face. She's not what I'd call pretty, but I wouldn't call her butt ugly, either. She looks older than her twenty-four years, face lined from years of hard drinking and smoking. Her eyes are a dark gray, that would probably be pretty cool if they weren't so red-rimmed and bloodshot. Twin patches of acne riddle her temples. My mom would say it was from all that hair.
"Where you been, son? Who's this?" she asks, snagging a pack of Camels off the badly scarred blonde wood coffee table. Shaking one loose, she grabs it with dry, cracked lips, then quickly lit it with a red plastic lighter. A cloud of smelly smoke billows out around her head. She eyes us both through that haze. It always amazes me how relieved smokers look once they get that cigarette lit and between stained fingers.
"Ma, this is Christine, that girl I told you about." Adam says, standing next to me. His mom eyes me, inhaling another drag, squinting her eyes as she does.
"Nice to meet you, Christine," she exhales. "I got company tonight, Rosco. Be a good boy and you and your little friend go play, huh?"
"Yeah, okay. Can she stay with us for a little while?" he asks, young voice raising in hope.
"Adam," I hiss, he shoves me with his shoulder, eyes never leaving his mother.
Inhale, exhale. "Sure, why not. You two be quiet and use the backdoor. James will be here soon."
"Ah, mom, I can't stand James," Adam whines.
"You watch your mouth, son," Toni says, pointing at him with her cigarette fingers. "He been nothing but nice to you."
"Yeah, till he gets mad," he mutters, tugging me by the sleeve back out the door.
And so it went. Toni still scares me. She's a nice enough lady, but don't get her mad! Whoa, boy. Bad idea. I came to the apartment more than once to listen to a screaming match between Adam and his mom.
He never did tell me what was up with the Rosco bit. I think it has something to do with some dead relative.
My eleventh birthday is when things changed for me forever.
See, since I grow up to be about a million feet tall, I was tall for my age then. Me and Adam are sitting on the living room floor, fighting over who gets to play Nintendo next. They only had one controller. Very frustrating.
"You are so full of shit!" Adam yells, shoving me. I shove him back.
"Hey," Bernie, Toni's latest squeeze, smacks the boy upside the head. "What that hole of yours." We both look up at him, surprised. He's looking down at me, winks. I shiver in disgust.
Bernie has been watching me all week, and it's giving me the creeps. I'd say something, but see the problem is that Toni's been watching me, too. Two totally different kinds of watching. One is filled with that lust I saw in those movies Toni and James used to watch all the time. Toni, however, looks at me like I'm some damn rival or something!
Well, all hell breaks loose one day when Toni comes home to find me and Bernie in a most compromising position. I was sitting on the couch, minding my own damn business when the guy jumps on me! He starts kissing me, his big hand, greasy from a day working at the shop, covers my breast and squeezes. Hard.
"What the fuck!" Before I know what's happening, other than I want this idiot off me, I'm grabbed by my ear and yanked off the couch. I can't believe my ear isn't yanked off!
Toni starts yelling at me, calling me little bitch and whore, meanwhile I'm yelling back, trying to explain that it was her buffoon of a boyfriend, not me. She's not listening, and finally screams,
"Get out! Get out of my fucking house right now!" She marches toward me, but I slink away, not letting her grab my damn ear again. My back hits the door, the many locks jamming into my shoulder. "I took you in, you little slut, and look how you repay me," she hisses, her breath reeking of the rum and grape juice she likes to much.
I fumble with the locks behind me, trying desperately to get away from those bloodshot eyes, veins popping out all over the place. Finally the door opens, and I literally fall out into the hall, that floor hurting my ass.
I scramble up, wiping myself off, trying to keep any dignity I had left, which isn't much. Storming down the hall, I run headlong into Adam, coming back with a paper bag filled with a few grocery staples in his arms.
"Whoa, fuck, Chris!" He yelled, picking his own ass off the floor.
"Sorry," I grumble, jumping back to my feet and run down the hall, bypassing the ancient elevator, and hitting the stairs.
"Hey! Wait!" I hear yelled after me. I keep going, not wanting him to see the tears that are falling freely now. "Damn it, wait up, Chris!" The door at the top of the stairs is banged open, footfalls echoing a flight and a half up.
I push through the door that leads to the main hall, using my long legs to my advantage. Adam is almost running after me now, finally catching up, out of breath, four doors down.
"What happened?" he gasps, hand on his knees, trying to catch his breath.
"She kicked me out," I say, bitterly swiping at the tears that still run down my cheeks.
"What?!" He stands straight again, looking at me with narrowed eyes. "Why?"
"That asshole boyfriend of hers fucking attacked me, and she took his side!"
"Way." I start walking again, wiping away the last of the tears. Fuck this shit. I can make it on my own just fine. I don't need her. Yeah. I don't need her.
Televisions across America watching rapped silence as one of the greatest musicians of her time told a story of innocence gone bad. Nielson would later show that as many people watched the special as did the previous Super Bowl.
A blonde in Oklahoma sat with her legs drawn up, arms wrapped around her shins, eyes wide, unrealized tears gently streaking the smooth skin of her cheeks.
A man sits on a padded table, face like wood with the masque completely dried, forgotten about, two pink circles around his eyes where two slices of cucumber had once been. He watched as old, faded snapshots were paraded across the screen, overlapping Christine's story of a childhood gone terribly wrong. He was transfixed.
A young couple cuddles on an olive green couch, a light breeze rolling in through the window that is open to their fire escape, or very own Œback door'. One gently combs her fingers through soft, thick hair while the other feels his stomach roil at what he knows is to come.
Christine sat in her chair, silent for a moment, all the memories attacking her at once.
"Do you need a break?" Barbara asked, reaching across the distance between them to gently cover a pale, trembling hand.
"No," she smiled weakly, then sipped the goblet of water that was placed on the small, oval table next to the chair. Taking several deep breaths, she continued.
Well, I got myself into this mess, I had to go through with it. If for no other reason than I didn't want Adam to think I was a dork or a loser.
"Come on, honey. I don't have all night," he calls from the main room. Closing my eyes, my fingers try and undo my top button again. Fingers are still trembling, damn it.
"Come on," I try and encourage myself. He seems like a nice enough guy. God he's old.
Finally the button is successfully pulled through the sliver of a hole, followed by the next. The white of my very first bra comes into view. It had belonged to Toni, but she says she outgrew it, so gave it to me. I think it might be a little big, but figure I'll grow into it.
The white satin makes my skin look darker, like I got a tan or something. My mind flashes to the guy in the other room, unable really to remember what he looks like. Does he have light hair or dark? I don't know. The only thing I remember seeing clearly was the massive gold belt buckle with a gaudy J written in rhinestones. Probably from out of town.
I jump at the knock on the other side of the door. "Look, honey, are we gonna do this or not?"
"Yes," I whisper, looking at my eyes, my face, trying to make it look more grown up, make me more grown up. Taking several deep breaths, clenching and unclenching my hands, I unbutton the rest of my shirt, letting the material slide from my shoulders, leaving it there, hoping it looked sexy. "Here we go,"
The interview ended, credits rolling, heart sinking.
"Fuck," Robert Knowles muttered.
For all of Kim Pritekel's works, go to www.coloradobardsplace.net <http://www.coloradobardsplace.net/> .