Yoharie: Love Back (part two)
“I’ve kind of adopted this place.”
And, she said, if Val was in the mood to just look here and there, they might shop on for a couple of things. “Sometimes, I get a bad feeling about Dad. Like if he had a crisis, and then in the hospital he never woke up. And we hadn’t got to say another word to him. Morbid…you think? But just Father’s Day, anyhow, whether he wants a gift or not, because it gives us a reason to sit and talk. Remember how much he loved that foot massager?”
They stood peering through the glass outside a Brookstone, at Oakbrook.
That gadget, maybe the only real hit, an offering Val and Giarma had bought together…
Picked out together.
At another Brookstone, another mall. He had dropped out of school that year, and solved the problem of his mother by going to live with his sister. Christmas, and they were meeting Dawn for the first time.
“And, wow, if we can do anything for her… She’s so nice on the phone! But she’s always there, so we can’t ask. We don’t know what size she wears. I almost think we ought to pay her something.”
Giarma’s conscience. What was she going to pay Dawn, twenty dollars? She’d put Dad’s machine, for turning tapes into DVDs, on her credit card. That was one generous gift, alleged from both. “Oh! Maybe…”
A round table, draped in a red cloth and tinsel garlands. “Since she’s a caretaker, Val. Giver.”
“You’re supposed to say caregiver, I think.”
“Oh, fuck that.”
Yes, they had never topped the pleasure their father got from Dawn’s being looked after, thought of… Would it make Sasha laugh, this Christmas story of everyone afraid everyone else was mad at them?
He hadn’t wanted to go. “You kids have the chance to do something with your lives. You grab hold of that…don’t be like me.” And if Dad’s telephone talk could sound mind-melded out of daytime TV, he might also want Val’s principal to cancel the deal.
Joanne, the custodial parent, without fuss had signed him out. “Sure, who cares? Keep with your sister. Learn from your mistakes. But your old room is not your flophouse, just know that.”
But, all that niceness. He had felt leery of Dawn…her stacks of celebrity struggle books on the coffee table… He was sure there was a lot of pep talk in her.
She said only, “Val…”, inviting. His cringe looked heartfelt, no doubt. Dawn turned back to plating her M&M cookies. “You’re okay here.”
She said this a few minutes after, and it was too much. He grabbed two cookies, going, despite raccoon eyes, half-shaved head, and a neighborhood he didn’t know, outside for a walk.
Speaking of neighborhoods. Sasha was in a new job, early shift clerking at a Hampton Inn. Val, first and naturally, had inquired at Plenty House, Donk telling him, “No, your boyfriend’s gone. Cut out, no forwarding address. Ha, ha.”
Or not ha ha…in real terms, just an insert here of his air-sucking laugh. Val took a moment to compose a cold retort, and Donk caught him on a change of tack. “I don’t like you coming in here like that…”
Well, it won’t happen again.
Enjoy your shit life, and your shit job, and all the free shit food…and…
“But I can’t discriminate.” A lot of singsong coloring discriminate. “Keep the face paint neat and wear a hairnet. I got parttime, weekends…that means Friday and Monday too, if I need to call you…”
“Show up, you little fucker.”
He was sitting in his car, waiting for a sight of Sasha. Rehired somehow. Back at the old hog trough…if he showed up. His intelligence had come from Batista, who rang up tickets at the front desk, and sold scones.
It seemed not wholly probable Sasha would leave by the guest entrance, but the odds made a puzzle…there must be a back door, side doors…Sasha might even own a car now. The hotel seemed not to have employee parking. Maybe the shopping center across the highway…
Anxiety for his friend at this. Lights, yes, but sprinting four lanes twice a day? Sprinting, though. That couldn’t be pictured. Sauntering. Sasha was doomed. And the feeling was giddy, not sad. Exhilaration at their laughing together over this.
Val checked his face in the rearview mirror. He accidentally touched the horn. He threw a skittish eye around the parking lot. He thought…an irrelevant thought…that Donk said boyfriend but he didn’t believe it. If he believed it, he’d have recoiled in horror. Who knew what he believed?
The sun at Val’s left shaded over. The shade moved side to side, and someone knuckled the window. Val pushed the button the wrong way. The right way, and nothing happened. The right way harder, and Sasha opened the door on his own initiative.
“Val! You got my message.”
“Message? No. But…what?”
“I’m kidding. I’ll get in. If you’re gonna drive me home.”
“Could we sit and talk?”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)