(Photo by Sean Hudgins)
Forced to choose among Mountain Dew, Pepsi, and coffee at 7 AM, I take coffee—out the door with me and, after two swallows, pour it on the ground. How do people drink that?
Jeff shrugged off our talk in the car as too bizarre to consider. He gave me a big hug with about seven pummels on the back when I stepped inside to get my drink and said I had to go. I’m almost sure he wasn’t taking any irritation out on me with those thumps. Emily had found the restroom; I didn’t wait for that “goodbye.”
Another of Jeff’s strengths is his ability to let go, rather than gnaw problems he can’t fix. “Uncle Pete says, ‘Kicking the tires won’t move a dead car.’” Jeff just shrugs and uses some expletives, smiles and uses a few more, and then he’s done with it.
I’m not Jeff. Before I leave the parking lot I’m chomping this bone for all it’s worth, sucking the marrow out, though not exactly the way Thoreau suggests. I’ve got about two hours, driving at legal speed in sober daylight, repeating and reframing questions with no answers. Some sound like they must have originated from fever dreams.
There is no way that Emily-she-must-have-a-last-name could know about Trinket. I’m not even playing the “How Is That Possible?” game, because it ISN’T. The end.
Except I’m not Jeff and can’t just leave it there.
God, how about you help me do that? This once?
When I come through the door, Mom looks up at me from her chair. Her eyes are too big.
“Is he home?” Dad calls.
“Did you just hear him?” Mom answers, still watching me.
He walks in, ready to return fire, then sees me.
“You look bad. Go to bed.” her
“Was Jeff hurt?”
“He’s fine. The car’s going to–”
“Like I give a damn about his car. Go to bed.”
Thus ends a touching moment with Dad. I’ll take it.
When I open my eyes, it’s dark. I’m in bed. But I didn’t go to bed. What happened to Sat—oh. I didn’t dream Jeff’s “rescue.” Or Emily. Yesterday felt like sleepwalking. Now that I’ve slept, it’s real.
Three o’clock Sunday morning. How useful. I just took a sixteen-hour nap. I needed to get in some work hours at the school, but even I’m not going to run there at this hour…am I?
Guin’s probably a little unhappy that she never heard from me. I’m not going to call her now…though again, I’m tempted. Dump it on her right now to see what she makes of it. Do I leave out the Emily-flirting–with–me part, or whatever the heck that was? I didn’t do anything wrong, but I feel guilty.
Isn’t that for Catholics? I don’t get the benefits of believing in God, but I get the drawbacks?
Okay, let’s try this:
God, if you’re there, explain to me how Emily could have known about Trinket, or even known that there’s some “she.” And don’t tell me Emily guessed. That wasn’t a horoscope. She knew what she was talking about. I gave no hints, dropped no clues, didn’t let any stupid words slip out—I was exhausted, but not babbling. She just added it up that I reversed my position on the violin player being alive when I found out it was—is!—her uncle? But two plus two doesn’t equal “I felt bad therefore I also have someone, a female, ‘missing.’”
Not that Trinket’s missing, exactly. But neither is Emily’s uncle. They’re just gone right now.
And since you’re going to answer me from up there, tell me this: Is what Emily ‘thinks’ right? Is Trinket okay?
“Paxton. Paxton? There’s some breakfast, if you want to get up now.”
From my bed, I can see my mother standing outside my doorway, peering in. This might be stranger than the dream that wasn’t one. Does she really mean she made breakfast?
I slept four more hours. Wow.
When I get to the kitchen, there are scrambled eggs and toast on a plate. I’m famished. I think I just went twenty-four hours without food.
My mother is standing in the far corner of the kitchen, done cooking but still here, pinching at the skin on her neck with her left thumb and forefinger.
“Thank you for breakfast. Mom.”
“You’re welcome.” She says it stiffly, like you might to a stranger in a grocery store who’s asked for something off the shelf in front of you. Shouldn’t that stranger have just waited for you to move?
She lives here. I mean, of course she does, but it’s her home and she lives in it like this. No, usually more distant. I never think about how we relate from her point of view—am I supposed to, when I’m her child? I just figure it’s her fault because she chooses to be like this when she’s supposed to be a mom.
Maybe it’s time for me to stop being the child.
“This was really nice of you.” I say, between bites. I’m going to wish there was more, but I don’t want to seem discontent in the slightest.
“There’s more,” she says.
I know this sounds pathetic, but I choke up for a second.
“Thanks,” I say, really meaning it.
She flicks the rest of the eggs on my plate with her spatula, drops the pan into the sink—literally—and flees. The spatula bounces out and lands on the floor. She’s gone before it stops.
I probably screwed that up. But it was something while it lasted.
I go to work immediately after breakfast so I can get in as many hours as possible, although it’s a slow jog with my stomach full of eggs and my head full of…I won’t say. Guin’s going to be at brunch with her parents until noon, so in four hours I’ll call her from the payphone.
I’m working as hard as I know how, as hard as if Phil were standing next to me. He’s not. He left me a a long list and a gently-phrased reminder that, while he’s sure I had something important to do yesterday instead of work, getting all these tasks done is also, and perhaps equally, important. I’m not quoting verbatim.
I wish he were here today, not for advice, or help with work, but because talking to him, or listening to him talk, or just having him tower over me might yank my thoughts out of the track they keep spinning around. Over and over. And over.
There is no way that Emily knows anything about Trinket, and if she did somehow have a glimmer of something, she already told me. I’ve heard it all. There is no reason to go back and talk to Emily. No reason in the world. It’s a bad idea on so many levels I can’t even start to list them all, and how would I get back to God-forsaken Culver? “Hey, Jeff, glad you got your car out of that river and back safely home. You mind if I borrow it to drive back up there and see your girlfriend? What, you come along? No, thanks, I want to go by myself.” Or I could repeat my request to borrow Dad’s car, because lightning often strikes the same place twice and he’s likely to be reasonable twice in a row, even though I can’t explain why I need to go this time. Or (this is my favorite), I could ask Guin if she could take one of her folks’ cars so I could borrow it from her.
Going with her actually makes a lot of sense, though, right? I mean, if I’m going back to see Emily, I should take Guin along. She’s the only one who knows about Trinket, it would keep my visit from looking weird to Jeff, we’d have all that time to talk...
So why am I rejecting this idea?
The last, most obvious, and so-vile-I-can’t-even-say-it reason to take Guin: maybe the issue is more than whether things look weird. (I didn’t say it.)
Here’s what makes sense to me when I say it in the empty hallway:
“Emily has been through something—some things—kind of like what I have, and it would be–‘nice’ isn’t the word…not ‘helpful’–a relief, it would be a relief to talk to someone who gets it. I don’t think that’s bad to want.”
Even in the privacy of my own brain, I’m not allowing for the possibility that something might happen, because that’s not why I want to go. It isn’t. And it’s not that I don’t want Guinevere to come along because she would prevent that possibility. (I’d like to say this as a positive, but “preventing that possibility is why I do want Guinevere to come along” says something different. Different and more like what I should say.) There’s also the chance that Emily would say something—awkward? unfortunate? graphically inappropriate?—to me in front of Guinevere, or to Guinevere about me, and I know I’m not making that up.
These thoughts make cleaning the bathrooms a manic exercise. I’m scrubbing the toilet so hard I’m spraying my legs and I don’t even care. My head says, you’re not going to do this; it’s not worth risking your relationship.
My gut, or somewhere down there, says, If you had a car, you probably would.
I call Guin.
“Hi, you have reached the Kintons. Thank you for calling. Please do leave a message at the beep. Have a great day.” It feels like a long time since I’ve heard Gretchen Kinton’s voice.
“Hey, Guin. Sorry I never called yesterday. It was an extremely, um, unusual day. I’m working, so I’ll call you again later, okay? Bye.”
That didn’t accomplish anything, of course. But I feel a little better. Less like I’m scheming something that isn’t cheating on her, but…
But what, Kingsley?
Next lap, here we go. It’s 10:15 AM. I’m going nuts.
I finally decide to rearrange Phil’s prioritized task list and promote a “sometime when we’re not busy” job to the top. The storage room adjacent to our locker room has a pile of old-style desks made of wood and steel—and maybe iron and granite, as heavy as they are. They’re strategically between a one- and two-man carrying job. Of course, Phil could carry two, except that they’re so wide and awkward you have to jockey them through a normal doorway.
Sometime, our principal told Phil that we should “clean those up and donate them.” It was a passing comment, probably more of a “wouldn’t it be nice if…” than a serious work instruction for the school and its custodial staff.
There are forty desks, they weigh about 110 pounds each, and they’re jumbled in a room whose only purposes, so far as I know, are to 1) serve as torture chamber for seniors who mean to get serious about freshman “orientation” (i.e. hazing), and 2) store these antiquated desks. I can’t clean them unless I can get at them, so I have to move each one out into the middle of the locker room, scrub it down, chip off the old gum, sand off any major rust, and then haul it back, since we haven’t yet arranged anywhere to donate them or someone desperate enough to take them.
This work is hard enough, plus it requires intense self-control to keep from cursing these useless old monsters every time I crack my shin on one or slam my elbow trying to get one through the doorways so I can work on it.
Two hours pass much quicker this way, and I have cleaned six—no, partly cleaned, because I realized they need new industrial gray paint to cover their heavy metal. I even sand down parts of the wooden desktops to remove the more prominent graffiti, but now they need a new stain finish. I am not mentioning to Phil that I tried to start this. Good thing I’m working frantically, because I’ll need to make up for two hours that will look like I haven’t done anything.
It’s 12:23 when I emerge, dripping sweat, my back torqued, but a little closer to sane.
She picks up on the first ring.
What the hell was I thinking? Spell broken.
“Hi, Paxton. I heard you helped Jeff rescue his car yesterday.”
“How did you hear that? We were the only ones who…”
“It’s a small town, Paxton.”
“I know, but still. That’s absurd. Who did Jeff tell?”
“I think his dad told, actually. But it made you look good. For whatever that’s worth.”
“I’m glad you’re not mad.”
“Honey, rescue your best friend, I won’t be mad. Start rescuing damsels in distress, we might have to talk. Especially if they’re scantily clad and insist on repaying you.”
I’m sweaty and smell foul and am covered with dirt and sawdust and cobwebs and grease.
“Do you want to come see me here?”
“Phil’s taking the day off, and none of the teachers are showing up on a Sunday afternoon.”
“You want me to wear work clothes?”
“Sure. That might be smart. Hey, is there any chance you could drive?”
I’m strategizing how I’ll describe this whole thing slowly, throughout the hours we’re together. Emily is…different, not bad except that she scares me to death—no, she’s actually beautiful.
Then Guin tap-taps on the plexiglass of the front door like she’s afraid the wrong person will hear. I pull her inside, we kiss—a few times—and everything that happened yesterday cascades out of me.
“So ‘damsels in distress’ was a fine choice of words,” she says. Her self-satisfied grin doesn’t sit well, since it’s more justified than she knows.
“She’s Jeff’s damsel. I just chauffeured them.”
“Yes, but Jeff didn’t rescue her. And she thought you were cute. She’s right, by the way.” Guin winks at me. Not exactly jealous. I told her everything that happened; I didn’t tell her everything I thought.
“She knew about Trinket.”
“Paxton, my love, I know you want that to mean something—how could you not?—but she was just playing with you. She happened to hit a nerve.”
“No. She was manipulating before, but not when we talked about missing people. Then she was serious.”
“Or maybe then she was conning you but you didn’t recognize it. I don’t know about the self-doubts over your seething, dormant racism, but I do know how girls can play guys. I’ve been one for a while, remember, and I’ve seen our kind at work. I think she was making sure she had Jeff on the hook. You think he really likes her?”
“He does. He didn’t even blink about his car.”
She shakes her head. I see this going the wrong direction and I don’t think it’s going to turn around.
“Guin, I want to go back and talk to her.”
“You’re kidding.” We’re still intertwined, since I started the second I could breathe again. Now she disentangles and steps back to look at me. “You want me to review that thing about ‘helping damsels’ again?”
“Guinevere, I think she might get it a little bit, what it’s like. Having someone gone.”
“Maybe. But that’s not why you want to go, is it? You aren’t just hoping to talk to someone who can relate, right? Truthfully? You want to believe she knows something. Paxton, I don’t even pretend to get how this has been for you with Amethyst, but I’m not letting you set yourself up. She got lucky. It was a male or a female; she had a fifty-fifty chance. Paxton, I love you—look at me!—I love you and we’re going to find your sister or she’s going to find us. This won’t help.”
I open my mouth to agree or argue, or both. Instead, I start crying. You’ve got to be kidding me! She steps toward me and slides one arm around my back, but I spin away and stalk down the hall.
“Get your ass back here!”
I freeze. For two seconds, I’m stunned. That’s all it takes her. By the time she gets to me, I’m laughing. Only a touch hysterical.
“I beg your pardon?”
She doesn’t want to laugh, tries to clench her jaw, but it’s too late. So she’s choking and contorting her face as she starts rebuking me.
“Listen, I want to make this clear right now: I’m not marrying your parents or their relationship. That stuff about six people in the marriage bed, I’ll have no part of that. We’re going to do whatever it takes to separate or, or, or exorcise them. If you need to cry, then cry. But don’t be stomping off from me like you’re two. You’re older than your father; don’t act like him.”
All that would have sounded a lot worse if she hadn’t been whiffling and trying pathetically to keep a straight face. I’m just gone by now, whether laughing or crying. Jeff would tell me I’m such a girl; I don’t even want to know what Dad would say.
I guess that’s the point Guin’s making.
We’re halfway to Culver when it hits me. I kind of pfff a breath or two. Guin’s driving, and she glances away from the road at me. She knows without a word.
I say it, anyway.
“This is stupid, isn’t it?”
“Do you want to turn around?”
At least a minute passes. The landscape here looks just like at home: breathing life, crops starting, everything fertile. I had assumed our whole state looked like this (except the cities, of course). Now that I know what to look for, I’m trying to see where it starts to turn.
“Nope, I don’t. Two reasons: I want you to know you did everything you could, even chasing a crazy lead, so that later you don’t wonder,” she nods, then tilts her head toward me so that her chin grazes her right shoulder and her hair falls toward me. She rolls her eyes up to look at me, then keeps her head close while looking out over the steering wheel. “I also want to meet this chica for myself.”
“You know why.” She moves her beautiful head back away from me, but takes my hand and folds her fingers into mine, then presses our hands into my thigh.
She cannot read me that well. No way.
Dang, I am in trouble.
We don’t know how to find Emily. I thought about calling Jeff, but since Emily made it clear she didn’t want him to drop her off, I doubt he knows any more about where she lives than I do. And even though this will weird him out, I’d rather explain it afterward than before. Who said, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission?” They were right.
First stop is the Texaco station.
We stand in line at the mini-mart. Emily said the guy who works there is “Henry.” And Emily’s name is “Emily.” That’s all I’ve got.
Okay, I could have asked Jeff her last name. But we’re here now.
Here, this idea seems ridiculous.
“Whatcha need?” the man asks. He’s a smaller, paler version of Phil: huge round shoulders, dark brown skin, eyes sunk into cheeks that must weigh five pounds each. I wonder how his face would look without those massive cheeks? Probably still scary. He has a snake tattoo on his neck, maybe homemade, and he looks as if he tried to shave without aid of a mirror or light. Or a sharp blade. Stubble might look better than criss-cross patches. I’m not telling Henry that.
“We’re looking for a girl–”
“We just need to talk to her.”
He gives no answer, just blinks. The folds close over his eyes, then let them out again. I’ll bet his eyes would close without eyelids. Get a grip, Paxton.
“Her name is Emily. We were just here with her yesterday. I mean, my friend Jeff and I were.”
He’s staring me down.
“Do you know an Emily or where she lives?”
“I don’t know where she lives. That’s why I’m asking you.”
“If you don’t know her, why would I tell you?”
“I just met her. I’d really like to talk to her again.”
I look at Guin. She gives me a tiny shrug.
“It’s about my family.”
He looks me up and down, then smirks.
“You don’t look to me like you got native in you.”
“No, not like that. I’m hoping she knows somebody.”
“Well, you don’t know anybody, or you wouldn’t have to ask me where Emily lives. Next time you see her, ask her yourself.” He turns away and starts to arrange some magazines in a wooden rack behind the counter, the kind that come in plastic to veil their covers.
Guin leans into me.
“We could just go out to the Reservation and see if we can find someone more willing…” she says.
My insides feel like soup and I’d really like to walk out and drive back home with Guin and…
“Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Paxton. This is Guinevere. You’re Henry, right?” I stick my hand out to him.
He rotates his huge neck and scowls at me. We had his friendly face before.
“You got any idea how stupid it is walking in here, calling me by my name, asking for a girl you obviously know nothing about. Yeah, little lady, why don’t you just show up out there and start asking around for Emily. I bet people love to see you.” His scowl turns to a leer. Maybe I get to die here defending Guin’s honor?
“I do know Emily. She told me about her uncle.”
His expression blanks out like he’s just sat down for poker.
“No, she didn’t.”
“She did. He plays the violin and travels everywhere. I—I’m hoping that…”
I’m stuck, both on what might work and what I’m willing to say. No one knows where her uncle is, so I can’t say he’s going to help me find someone, and how messed up to tell Henry, of all people, about my sister?
He’s turned all the way back toward me and is pressing against the counter. From here I can see the shape of each grease and oil stain on his service shirt. He’s maybe an inch taller than me, but easily twice as broad. Henry smells different than Guin.
“I’m looking for someone, and Emily might be able to help me. We don’t…we’re not going to do anything to her.”
He snorts. “Yeah, I can see that. Although this one and Emily might have a nice catfight. Can you fight, little girl?”
“Nope. I can play the violin.”
“You better keep an eye on her,” Henry says to me, gesturing toward Guin with his head, “Violin players like to disappear.”
Then Henry pulls a stubby pencil like they use at mini-golf from under the counter and draws me a map. His fingers seem too chunky even to hold something that small, much less draw with it, but when he hands me the old envelope, he’s got landmarks and houses and trees and a dog on a chain. There’s a dog in his map. It’s like a cartoon world.
“I don’t want the police showing up, asking me what I told you and why you disappeared,” he pauses and eyes me, “wouldn’t be the first time. Okay, follow this exactly, don’t take any wrong turns, don’t go sightseeing, and if anyone stops you, tell them Henry sent you with a message for Emily.”
I nod, then look up at him and wait.
“There is no message, dumb shit. You need a reason to be there. Unless you want to tell them you’re missionaries.”
“No, this’ll be great. Thank you.”
“Yeah. I’m gonna ask Emily, so she better enjoy your visit. Otherwise, you won’t want to come back into my store. You probably won’t want to, anyway.” He looks over at Guin. “But she–”
“Okaythanksbye,” I say, pulling Guin’s hand before he can finish his thought.
We’re out the door and unlocking the car when she says, “You handled that well. I’m thinking you better drive. In case someone wants to talk to us or tries… It’d be better.”
We drive through town, Guin taking it all in while I replay the encounter with Henry. How much of his warning was posturing? Lacking any point of reference, I hope it was a bluff but am treating it as a caution from on high until I find out otherwise. When I’d pictured talking with Emily, we were sitting in my car (alone) somewhere like the road where Jeff’s took its plunge. Stupid.
I think I also imagined that she would be hanging around the gas station, or maybe I’d just run into her at the casino. Ditto.
Henry’s map leads us straight there.
The Reservation doesn’t look much worse than some parts of the town to me, but it has less. A few rusted-out cars sit under scraggly trees or next to the road but without wheels. Houses have mismatched parts, random boards sticking out unpainted, clear plastic covering windows, and front porches with gaping holes and chairs arranged around the perimeter, as if a little thing like that wouldn’t keep people from sitting there. If the houses in town are big and broken down, these look like they were constructed from the pieces that have fallen off. The roads are packed dirt, deeply rutted. What happens in thunderstorms?
Everyone stares at us. Mothers with babies attached to their fronts, grandmothers with sunken mouths also carrying babies, teenage boys walking with teenage girls, dressed in jeans and t-shirts like we are, every single person watches our car move past. I drive slow enough to keep the dirt from enshrouding them, which gives them more time to study us. Nobody waves or smiles or nods, but no one looks threatening or even that curious (including the dog on the chain, which is some kind of Pit Bull/German Shepherd mix, like in Henry’s picture). They just gaze, apparently indifferent, then go back to their lives. Our presence has nothing to do with this place.
Emily’s home sits last on a dead-end offshoot from the main road. “Cul-de-sac” doesn’t fit. It looks a little nicer than the others to me, but maybe that’s wishful thinking. There’s no porch to cave in, and the windows have their glass panes intact. It retains a hint of greenish-blue paint, but not from this decade, and the roof doesn’t quite sit straight, no matter how you tilt your head.
As we get out, I realize Guin and I haven’t spoken since we entered the Reservation. She comes around and takes my hand—squeezing hard enough to gouge me with her class ring—and we walk up to the front door. I lift my other hand to knock, then notice the door stands open six inches. I check swing and knock on the door frame.
“What?” a woman’s voice demands, “Brina, I told you I’m not going today!”
“Um,” I say.
The door swings in hard, wwssshhh, and we’re staring at a woman. She wears a faded dress of some coarse material that might have been red. She has her mouth pinched closed and lines run from its corners downward. Keep it up and your face will freeze that way, Mom used to say before Trinket left. Mom was right. But the scowl doesn’t hide that this woman is as beautiful as Gretchen Kinton. Or was. She has long, dark braids past the middle of her back. Her eyes have the same gold flecks as Emily’s. She has cheekbones set so high and cut so sharply that she looks haughty, even here, even with dark circles under both eyes and her dress covered with yellow grit that looks like cornmeal.
Guinevere breaks the silence.
“We’re sorry to intrude. Is Emily home?”
“I thought the missionaries didn’t come ‘til Thursday.”
“We’re not missionaries,” Guin says, shaking her head. “We’re, um, friends. I mean, Paxton is, and I’m his…fiancé.”
“We talked to Henry. He told us how to get here.”
The woman stares at us another moment, then steps back.
“Do you want to come in?” she asks.
The house has a kitchen/living area the size of my bedroom or smaller, and what look like curtained–off sections that might pass for walls and separate “rooms.” I see one inside door.
That door opens.
Emily walks out with a baby on her hip. She’s wearing jeans and a second-hand t-shirt. Unless she ran a ten kilometer St. Patrick’s Day race in 1981.
“Pax! I didn’t expect you! And this must be Guinevere.” She laughs like we’ve made her day. The woman turns away without comment and returns to her oven. She starts pounding a big lump of the yellow stuff.
Emily hoists the baby girl over one shoulder, studies each of us, similar to how her mother did—assuming it’s her mother—then turns away.
“Let me set Rosie down and I’ll be able to talk. I think she’s ready for her nap. If not, we’ll walk with her.” The girl’s brown eyes droop as she nuzzles against Emily’s collarbone. We watch them disappear back into the room.
Guinevere finds my hand again and we stand still, looking around without turning our heads. The woman in the kitchen area keeps thumping and takes no more notice of us. Minutes tick by.
When Emily comes back out, she’s changed into a white-ish blouse (Guin might call it “cream”) with half sleeves and a dark blue skirt that stops above her knee. They’re not immodest, but they play well to her advantages. Jeff would like them.
“Okay, she’s out. She’s a good sleeper. Mama, if she wakes up, please give her a bottle. I should be back before that, though.”
“Hmm,” the woman says, not looking up.
“Do you mind walking?” Emily asks, passing through the still–open front door, leading us out.store
“No, that’s great,” I say.
We return to the road, Emily pausing for a moment to appraise Guin’s mom’s new Honda Accord, then arching her eyebrows at me. I’m glad Guin didn’t drive Noel’s Audi.
Everyone we pass murmurs some greeting to Emily, which she returns. Several also glance at us, as if seeking introduction or explanation, but Emily walks on. We pass a tiny post office, a convenience store, a grocery that looks smaller than her house, and a squat brick school whose construction reminds me of the casino without neon signs.
Behind the school, she finds a path that leads away from the houses and into more of the scrubby, ankle-high plants I trampled on the slope down to Jeff’s car. We walk almost a mile and then I see what might be the same river, running through this part of the Reservation, though here it‘s more creek-size.
Emily walks about three steps in front of us the whole way without saying a word. Finally, when we get to the water, she looks in every direction, then gives us a quizzical smile, like she‘s missed a joke.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” she asks. “I’m pleased to meet you, Guinevere, and I’m glad to know Paxton didn’t invent you for his convenience. Also, congratulations on your upcoming wedding. When was the date again? I guess I haven’t yet received my invitation.” She smiles again. You would almost believe her sincere and gracious. Or, considering what Guin said earlier, maybe only I would.
“Emily, I’m sorry we just showed up like this. I hope you didn’t get in trouble for the whole thing yesterday.”
She tilts her head toward me and opens her eyes wide.
“Not exactly, no. Thank you for asking.”
“Okay, good.” I’m nervous, which makes no sense except that she’s playing this strange Miss Manners role. “Our visit has nothing to do with that or Jeff. It’s about your—well, kind of about your uncle, and mainly about what you said to me.”
“I wondered if it might. I’m glad to get to know you both better, of course, but you seemed a little more urgent than merely pursuing our friendship.”
Guinevere is not enjoying this. I can feel her simmering.
“I don’t get how you knew what you did, but the first thing I need to ask is: what do you know? About my situation, I mean.”
“Nothing!” She smiles as if I’d hoped for this answer.
“But you told me you think she’s okay.”
“I did,” she confirms.
“How can you know she’s okay if you don’t even know who I’m talking about?”
“I don’t know.”
“How did you even know there was somebody? Just how I reacted to your story?”
“No, it had nothing to do with that.”
“Then how did you…?”
She smiles identically, like she can’t wait for another round of circular questions. Then she shrugs and drops the whole act.
“I get things sometimes. I don’t know why. I think it’s probably God; I can’t control it and it doesn’t work on command or anything. I’ve no idea why God would pick me. I sure don’t live some holy life, at least not like your missionaries describe it.”
Guin glances away. Emily catches the look and smirks.
“Is it like that? Should God have picked you for his virgin messenger?”
“I didn’t say that, I’m just not sure He picked you.”
“I didn’t ask you to believe it. Come to think of it, I didn’t ask you for anything. Not to come here, not to judge me, not to drive your Daddy’s-Money Car in and stoop down for us.”
“We came here because Paxton hopes you can tell him something else about his sister.”
My sister. Hearing Trinket referred to as “his sister,” out loud, that sounds bizarre. I do have a sister. We hadn’t talked about whether one of us would tell Emily. Guinevere doesn’t even glance at me; she and Emily have locked eyes.
Emily takes a step toward Guin. The sister news didn’t soften Emily’s mood.
…this one and Emily might have a nice catfight.
Expletive. Warning, not bluff.
“So you want to sniff at me and you want me to help your boyfriend?”
“I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you, except what you’ve said and what Paxton told me. I get that you don’t like me, but I’m not what you see, either. We’ll leave right now if you want, but if there’s any way you can, please help him, even just to tell him again that she’s okay. She ran away ten years ago. Everybody else thinks she’s dead. But she told Paxton she’d come back.”
Then Guinevere does something stupid: she lays her hand on Emily’s bare forearm. Emily is breathing so hard I can hear each exhale. I’ve never broken up a fight before. How do you? Just force yourself in between? I’m not going to grab Emily. Anywhere.
“What’s her name?” Emily asks. She’s still huffing, still mutilating Guinevere with her eyes, but she’s talking to me.
“But you don’t call her that, do you?”
Ice down my back.
“I got ‘Trinket is okay.’ Tall, dark-haired girl. Big hips. Smiling. I don’t know where she is or what she’s doing.”
I can’t think or breathe or move. If they fought now, I’d have to watch.
Guin turns to me, her hand still on Emily’s arm.
“Jeff doesn’t know, does he?” Then she faces Emily again. “How could you know that?”
“I told you. I never ask for it, it just comes. That’s how I know my uncle is still playing. I saw it.”
“What’s that mean? They just feel like my own thoughts, the same way I imagine or picture anything. Except sometimes they don’t fit. You know why I told you the story about my uncle. But while I was telling it, I got this. You said your family was screwed up, so I thought she might connect with something.”
“But how did you know she was missing? You didn’t ‘get’ that?” Guin asks.
“I put together Paxton’s reaction to my story with ‘she’s okay.’ If he knew where she was, he would know if she was okay or not. Right?”
“I guess so,” Guinevere says. She takes her hand off Emily’s arm and sidles my way but doesn’t touch me.
“Thank you, Emily,” I say when my tongue works again.
Emily nods. The fight’s out of her now. She looks smaller.
“I’ve had these all my life. I used to just ignore them, thought I was making things up like kids do. When they’d tell about imaginary friends, I figured it was the same. You want to know the ironic thing? It’s when the missionaries came around and left a Bible that I started to think I might have…something different. It happens to the people in there all the time.”
She starts walking back and we follow. Now Guin holds my hand, very gently. She keeps glancing at me. After I saw that kid have a seizure, I studied about them. From what I’ve read, that’s how I feel, cold and hot and not quite on the ground with some current buzzing through where my brain used to live.
“People around here hate those missionaries. They bring food and sing songs and play with the kids and tell us about this God who loves us so much. Then they jump back into their big vans and drive away. They don’t live like this. Everybody says their book is just a white people’s trick to subdue us and keep us in a stupor, like a tranquilizer—as if most of our people don’t do enough of that for themselves. But I’ve read some of it. Have you?”
We shrug and nod a little.
“Some,” Guin says.
“I wonder if the van drivers have. It says God is pissed at the people who have too much and keep it all for themselves. That’s in there a bunch of times. The parts I’ve seen would make our people more angry, not less. But some of it I don’t understand, and I guess people pick and choose, right?”
“I guess so,” I say.
“Or maybe they’re trying to keep God from being angry at them.”
“Aren’t they just trying to help?” Guin asks.
Emily eyes her, then studies the house we’re passing, where two toddlers are playing with a dried up can of paint, then turns back to Guin. They’re never going to be friends.
“So Jeff doesn’t know about your sister?” Emily asks.
“She made me swear not to tell anybody.”
“Except your girlfriend and me.”
I shouldn’t, but I say it: “Guin’s my fiancé.” Then, as a make-up, I add, “Jeff really likes you.”
“That’s nice,” Emily says.
Guinevere clamps my hand but keeps her face neutral.
“How old is Rosie?” Guin asks.
“She‘s my sister’s baby,” Emily answers.
We’re back to her road now. Part of me wants to stay and ask more about her uncle and talk about Trinket with the two people in the world I can, mismatched as they are, and maybe Emily will get another message. But I know it won’t work that way (as much as I understand how “it” works, which is nada). The rest of me wants to drive while the getting is good and we’re all civil.
Emily walks us straight to the car.
“By the way, how did you find my house? Folks here aren’t big on giving directions,” she says.
“Henry at the gas station told us.”
She raises her eyebrows and inclines her head, as she might to a child trying to get away with a stupid fib.
“I told him we’d talked about your uncle. And that I hoped you could help me find someone.”
Resuming her initial behavior, Emily holds the car door open for Guin and nods in a courtly gesture. Full circle.
Then she turns back toward me and drops her facade. Man, she does that fast.
Oh. There’s something else to tell me! She was holding out, because of course she has to do it her way, when she’s ready–
“Henry is my cousin. You were talking about his dad.”
She looks me up and down one more time and shakes her head. I doubt we’re hugging goodbye, so I get in.
“Bye. Thank you, Emily. Thanks.” There should be more, but I don’t know what.
“Thanks a lot,” Guin says.
“Farewell, you two. Do stop by next time you’re in town, will you?” She gives me the smile that must have gotten Jeff’s notice to start all this, and even leans in my window a bit. Then she grins at Guinevere and she’s gone, back in the house, and we’re pulling away.
We’re silent again until we drive off the Reservation. I wave at a few young kids playing, who smile and wave back.
As the car’s front tires touch the highway, Guin turns to me. “Before we talk about any of the rest, I would bet you a hundred dollars—no, washing our first year’s dishes—that if you had come without me, she would have gone after you.”
“You mean beat me up?”
“No. And you will never, ever be alone with that female.”
“You mean, until you two start naming your babies after each other.”
“Exactly. Never until that happens.”
We drive for a while.
“Oh, my God,” Guin says.
“Maybe,” I say.
We start and stop conversation a bunch of times.
“I’m scared for Jeff. I don’t think he stands a chance against her,” Guin says.
“Plus, the girl who just helped me in a way no one else in the world could also just became more dangerous to me than anyone else in the world.”
“Yeah, I don’t imagine we want to introduce her to your parents.”
I can’t even think about that.
“She may have no interest in seeing him again. Do we just hope Jeff gets distracted and forgets, if he can’t contact her?” I don’t see this happening, but the alternatives suck.
“You mean, other than that we know where she lives?” Guinevere asks.
“Right. Exactly what I mean.”
“I think our best strategy might be to sit down with him, tell him everything, and try to convince him that she’s a really bad idea,” Guin says.
“That wouldn’t have worked on me,” I tell her.
“Because I’m not a bad idea,” she retorts, smacking my chest with the back of her hand.
“Do you think there’s any possibility she might not be so bad, like she’s just messed up by all that’s happened to her?” I ask.
“Uh, I think the second part. If you try telling me that she was nicer the other night when I wasn’t around, we’re going to have a talk.”
I shut up.
We’re about ten minutes from home when I can finally say it.
“She’s alive, Guin.”
“You knew that.”
“I did, but it’s different. You tell yourself so often, it’s like the words lose their meaning and become only sounds. When I really think hard about her and all the things that could have happened—seventeen, and she didn’t have… This is sort of proof. I mean, not definite proof, it’s crazy proof, but what kind of screwed–up God would give Emily whatever-her-name-is my sister’s name and picture and say that she’s okay if she’s not?”
“Yeah,” Guin agrees. Another long pause. When I’ve sprinted too long and lights start to flash behind my eyes, I feel exactly this way. I’m thinking a thousand things and can’t say any of them.
“Do you believe in God?” she asks.
“Today I do. Yeah. But I don’t get Him. Or it. At all.”
“Yeah,” Guin says.
We drives back to the high school. It’s 8:30.
“You want to just grab your stuff and go home?” she asks.
“No, I can’t let Phil down. I’ve gotta get this done.”
“Do you still have homework?”
I bark a laugh. “Yeah, you might say that. It’s been a weekend.”
“It was a pretty sneaky way to get out of wedding planning.”
“Ain’t I a genius?” I ask, getting out of the car.
“Wait. I’m still dressed for work. I don’t even have blood on my clothes. What can I do?”
“You need to get home. I don’t want to get you in trouble with your folks.”
“I think it’s time we started working on this together more, since we’re in it together. Remember?” She flashes her finger at me (the one that doesn’t yet have a ring on it).
“I’m pretty sure it’s considered unmanly, having my woman do my work.”
“I’m pretty sure you’d rather have me breathing in your ear than live up to that standard of manliness all by your lonesome.”
“How’d I get this lucky?”
“You haven’t gotten lucky yet,” she smirks. “I’m gonna call my parents from inside. Show me what to scrub.”
As we’re walking in, I get it.
“Your homework’s done?”
“What, did you think I paced the floor and chewed my nails while waiting for you to call yesterday? I didn’t even know then I had a vixen to worry about.”
Ten hours ago, you were going by yourself.