Flashes of my mom’s smile spread throughout my dream. I was stumbling around the forest with a bag of snakes in my hand. The echo of my heartbeat rumbled in my throat. I couldn’t find my camera which what brought me to the woods in the first place. Faded image flickered between the trees. The confusion in the dream resonated in the stomach of my present body. A warm hand grabbed my shoulder, gently pulling me out of the dream.
I opened my eyes to find Lincoln’s face inches from mine. His eyes were a tense knotted line. “Can we talk outside?” Lincoln’s raspy voice was nothing but a rough whisper that causes uneasiness to course beside the blood in my veins.
Nerves danced on my skin. I was fully awake. “Is everything okay?” I sat up in the dark living room. I glanced at Molly, who was soundly sleeping with her arms around Matilda. Lincoln’s hand gently grazed my chin.
“Real quick,” he said now, his voice a little louder.
I narrowed my eyes as if that would somehow help me understand the situation better, but without much surprise, it didn’t. I nodded and stood up. My oversized gray t-shirt hung off my one shoulder. Lincoln’s eyeing my bare skin turned my knees to jelly. The soft glow from the streetlights seeped in through the bent blinds casting a dreamlike glow on everything.
Lincoln placed his hand on my back, slowly guiding me through the dark rooms. The door squeaking open disturbed the peaceful silence. Matilda popped her head up, eyes locked on our figures.
I held out a flat hand, singling her to stay. She laid her head back down but with open eyes. Lincoln’s leg rubbed against mine as we passed through the doorway. He closed the door and grabbed my head carefully as if he’d rehearsed it many times in his mind.
“What was this about?” My pulse quickened suddenly with the uncertainty of what we were doing. It wasn’t that I was frightened of Lincoln, I wasn’t, but I was becoming aware of how unpredictable he was—something that drew me in and warned me to be careful in equal measure.
“I just wanna explain a few things,” his dark eyes held so much at the surface. Lincoln gave off the impression that he was always thinking, one can’t have eyes so complex and be thoughtless. There walking beside him in the middle of the night I wished for nothing more than to be someone he felt like he could trust me enough to share them with.
We stepped through the aging doorway. Black paint peeled across the surface. My toes scraped the back of Lincoln’s slip-ons.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
He grabbed my waist and pulled me into him. The cold air made his touch warming.
“I don’t want to play games. I want us to be real with each other.” He bit his lower lip, seeming to question his choice of words.
“What’s the backstory to that comment?” My head was still foggy from the dream. The dark sky blended with the artificial light from the street posts. Shapes from other buildings cast shadows on Lincoln’s bruised face.
“Pete.” He looked away and cleared his throat. “I don’t want to get in the middle of something messy, but I really like you.” His dark eyes were on me then, holding me fiercely in their grasp. Lincoln ran his hand through his messy curls. I’m not sure if it was the shadows, or the fact that we were standing outside in the middle of the night, or even if it was the way his hair framed his large eyes, but I couldn’t help but see how sad he was. Not because I went for a walk with Pete but because of years of events I wasn’t yet privy to.
“He’s my family. He’s my best friend and the closest thing I have to everything.” I stopped, unsure of where I was taking that. My mind flashed back to our walk, how even though things were weird and different, we were still Pete and El.
Before I could continue with rambling, Lincoln said, “Do you have feelings for him?”
Without much thought beforehand, or any real knowledgement of the ripple effect my words would have, I mumbled, “I don’t know, but I do know I have feelings for you.”
Lincoln’s mouth was on mine, his hands in my hair. I guessed that my answer was enough of what he needed. Somewhere inside of me a twinge of guilt developed, threatening to take over.
Lincoln pulled away, his mouth barely touching mine. “About what you saw,” he started, pulled in a deep breath then continued. “I stole a lot of money from some bad guys, they chose to get me to work it off, but then family shit happened, and I took off. Now they want the money in full. I’ve got a buddy down the shore, and he’s got some ways to help me get the money, but it’s gonna take longer than Monday. I’m hoping to get us all in on it, and then take off. I can come back once I have the money.”
Thousands of questions circled my mind. I wanted to ask why he took the money but then decided it didn’t matter. He placed his hand on the side of my face. His touch was so warm, and exactly what I needed to feel. Lincoln gently pressed his lips on mine. “Knowing if I have you with me, will make everything okay.” His perfect and dangerous words vibrated on my mouth.
I leaned the weight of my entire body into him and said, “You have me with you,” into his chest. His grasp around me tightened cementing the delirious fact that I was all in. Few moments can be pointed to and named the event that changed everything, but there kissing Lincoln outside in the middle of the night was definitely something that altered the rest of my life, rendering me forever changed.
Sunday, thanks to the Blue Laws, was my first day off. I laid next to Matilda on the sofa staring at some spectacle of reality show Molly had put on. She was sitting crossed legged in her favorite chair rolling a blunt using honey and the outer layer of a cigar.
“Why the honey?” I turned my head taking in the full Molly package. Her hair now streaked with pink, something she did on a whim. She wasn’t wearing any pants, just a long blue t-shirt and white socks all the way to her knees.
Molly tapped her throat with two fingers, “It makes this all smooth and sweet.” She confidently nodded.
“I call jelly beans,” Malachi stumbled into the room. “It makes the whole thing burn like crap and gives off an unfortunate stench.” His mouth twisted up in a smirk. His braids now threaded with green and brown ribbon.
“Nonsense,” Molly rolled her eyes. Her extended fingertips broke up the weed into pieces.
“Where’s lover boy?” Malachi asked me. His smirk settled into a grin.
“Talking to a buddy about a place for us to stay.” I scratched Matilda’s head, then added, “and jobs for us.”
“Sounds ominous.” Malachi grabbed my feet, lifted them up, and slid onto the sofa underneath them. He left his hands on my ankles after he rested them on his legs. He had this parental warmth about him. I’ve always been under the belief that certain people naturally gravitated to different roles, every one of them needed. Malachi was a guardian. He was especially for Molly, which was good because she was in definite need of one. Even though I was enjoying the step-parent free, untouched by mom environment, I couldn’t help but hear the whispering in the corner. It was hard to feel like I somewhere I belonged. I wanted to give in, but I couldn’t completely. There was a sense that I was forgetting something, or missing something hanging out on the shelves in the room.
Perhaps that ignoring that very feeling led me to places I should have never gone in the first place, but I was determined to live, but I just wasn’t sure what that meant. My phone vibrated in my pocket, the reminder of the impending Christmas and no longer having a working phone close around me. Even though I knew I was searching for something, that fact that I didn’t know what it was that I was looking forward made feel lost and blinded.
It was from Pete: Thinking about you.
I sucked in a breath of too much meaning then typed: What about?
The screen lit up: Your butt
I typed back: Liar
Then he responded with a, Maybe, maybe not but I’m glad we are cool again.
My fingers typed in, Me too but more, then my thumb hit send.
He sent a GIF of a dancing turtle, and I laughed.
“So, missy, I woke up last night because your adorable dog snores like a bear, to find you and Lincoln nowhere in sight.” Molly studied the paper as she rolled it tight getting honey all over her fingers.
“We were talking outside.”
Molly turned to look at me her eyebrow arched like a hook, “Talking. Sure, and I’m Beyonce.”
I snorted, “Intense talking,” I added.
My phone vibrated it was Pete again. Can I come by and hang out tonight?
My mind went to standing in the streetlight illuminated dark telling him I was in. Lincoln has to be okay with Pete. They have to figure it out. I remembered Pete asking me to tell him if I was leaving town.
It was looking like we were going to, but a heavy part of me didn’t want Pete to come. Not because of the weirdness, or maybe feelings, but because part of me knew it was a bad idea. Just because I was stumbling through my life didn’t mean he had to…but then again, maybe it did. Maybe Pete wasn’t as put together as I had thought. His words, “I need you more than you realize,” created queasy and restless bubbles to form in my stomach.
But, regardless of my messy brain I typed back, of course, and hit send.
“Why Beyonce?” I asked Molly in hopes of pulling my thoughts away from Pete and running away.
“Because she’s awesome.” Molly licked the seal of the blunt, smiled at it, and muttered, “You’re perfect,” to it.
“Falling for that boy probably isn’t the best decision.” Malachi sweetly squeezed my ankles with his large hands.
“Yeah, I know.” I slunk into the sofa cushions a little more.
Smoke filled the room as Molly got the honey blunt started. She leaned over and passed it to me. Just as my fingertips grabbed the joint, there was a knock on the door.
Could that be Pete already? I wondered as Malachi grumbled sliding out from my legs and sauntered to the door.
A deep, throaty voice drenched in a New York accent said, “Got a deal on a dishwasher, gonna do it myself.”
I quickly stubbed the blunt out as Molly darted to open the windows. Malachi’s foot lined against the inside of the door preventing it from bursting open.
“You said Wednesday, I’ve got family here.” It turns out Malachi is a terrible liar.
“Family? What’s that smell?”
A large, round man pushed past Malachi. A thin patch of greasy hair cover the sides of his head. A large bushy mustache cover his upper lip, matching in thickness with hair on his partially exposed stomach.
“Is that marijuana I smell? A dog! These are friends not family! You’re done.” His eyes now fixed on the bags of clothes next to the sofa. He turned like a raptor toward Malachi, “Meet me at the office in ten,” he yelled, then was gone.
Malachi closed the door, his face drawn in defeat. “Gonna light that back up?” He asked.
“I’m so sorry.” I got up from sofa and handed him the blunt.
Malachi shrugged as he pulled silver zippo from his pants pocket. “He said Wednesday.”
I hung upside down on the sofa like I used to when I was younger when I was attempting to make important decisions like vanilla or chocolate. It was hard to ignore this nagging feeling telling me something wasn’t right. I hadn’t heard mom’s clear voice in an over a week but was starting to wonder if this was a quieter version of her.
“He’s been down there for over an hour,” Molly’s concerned voice interrupted the spiraling of my thoughts.
The door knob jiggled, followed by a swinging door. Lincoln’s slender frame stalked in with his shoulder raised. A self-pleased grin floated across his face. “I got us a pretty sweet place ladies.”
I twisted my body around and sat up.
Lincoln closed the door with his hip, “Yep! Four bedroom house a block from the boardwalk. The guy’s who house it is lives overseas right now and will be for awhile. My Buddy, Rex sells speakers and knows the guy. We can stay there rent free as long as we help him with the speakers.”
“Like the pyramid-scam speaker sales people?” Molly raised her eyebrows. “The one’s who case houses?”
“Sorta, but this more is legit and won’t get us jail time.” Lincoln’s didn’t even seem to believe himself.
“Well, it’s something. We can make it work,” I slid off the sofa and wrapped my arms around his waist. The small whisper that something was off was now screaming, but I chose to ignore it and focus on how good he smelled.
“I agree,” he leaned his mouth onto my head.
“You guys are in for it,” Molly said hanging off the chair holding her hand to her forehead.
I laughed but knew she was right.
Malachi pushed through the door; his eyes were wild. “Asshole.”
“What happened?” Molly asked her whole posture suddenly in an alert, upright position; all goofy was off her face.
Malachi turned to Lincoln, “Got room for one more?”
“Sure man,” Lincoln nodded without asking any questions. I’m sure a symptom of having so many of his own. “The least I can do. I say we hit the road tonight. Rex needs us to start working tomorrow afternoon.”
“New jobs?” Malachi pressed his lips together.
“Shady speaker peddlers,” Molly rolled her eyes. “Adventure time!” Everyone one of us shared a hint of uncertainty but didn’t say a thing about it. Trouble hung in the air as thick as fog.
“How about two more?” I pushed the words out quickly before I could break the promise I made to Pete.
Lincoln eyed me carefully, saying no was right on the tip of his tongue, but he then said, “Yeah, Pete can come.”
The moment the words were out of his mouth, I started tapping the buttons on my phone screen. We leave tonight. My stomach twisted into a nest of barbwire.
Pete immediately responded. I’ll be there in the hour.