All warnings, disclaimer, thanks, and so forth can be found in the first couple installments. No need for redundant redundancy. Should anyone get a hankerin to communicate on this here story (eeep!) for any reason, feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Their first stop was McDonalds. At Resas insistence. It appeared she was on the wrong side of starving and needed to eat as soon as they got safely outside the perimeters of East LA. They chose McDonalds for three reasons. First and foremost, it was cheap and given their present economic condition, cheap was good. No. Cheap was crucial. Second, McDonalds was the first fast-food restaurant they happened upon which worked almost as strongly its favor. And third, Resa liked McDonalds. Which became readily apparent.
Resa ordered a Double Quarter Pounder Value Meal, chocolate milk shake (both super sized), with an additional helping of a large Chicken McNuggets and rapidly consumed the food with a practiced technique that emphasized an economy of motion. It was an impressive sight. While driving, Jennifer managed to sneak peeks at the former gang leader as she put away, oh, about 1000 calories with the confidence of one who had long possessed a phenomenal metabolism. And one glance at Resas amazing body confirmed she did indeed have a phenomenal metabolism because there was nothing extra hanging around anywhere on that woman.
And I would know, Jennifer thought with self-directed amusement, then tried to suppress the blush that threatened to reappear as she recalled the first moment when shed walked into the guest quarters living room to see Resa half-clad. She was flummoxed; it was the best word she could think of. Utterly, unequivocally, undeniably flummoxed. And she probably looked like a village idiot staring at the dark-haired woman with her mouth agape and her eyes wide as saucers but there was nothing she could do. It was like being blind-sided. Who knew she looked like that? To be sure shed seen enough of Resas body to reason she was probably in good shape but this was well beyond good; this was spectacular. This was the kind of body that stopped folks in the streets and made them go, damn! This was the kind of body that, under different circumstances, would grace the covers of magazines. This was not the kind of body gang leaders, reformed or otherwise, had...well, as far as she could suppose but then again what did she know? Perhaps they all looked like Sports Illustrated Models...She grinned to herself. Um, no...not likely...
Resa caught her expression "What?" she challenged lightly as she plopped another McNugget in her mouth.
Jennifer felt herself blush and quickly covered. "And people say I eat a lot," she teased and was ridiculously pleased when she saw blue eyes twinkle in return.
"Its proportional. I have a half a foot on you and probably twenty pounds at least."
"Yeah, but where do you keep it?"
A saucy grin. "Well, now, thats for me to know..." The words trailed off and she plopped in the last McNugget.
But Jennifer finished the sentence in her head...And for me to find out. The potential implication of which was not lost on her. She met hooded blue eyes that were watching her closely and felt her throat constrict even as her pulse started to hammer. Oh, boy...
Jennifer quickly focused her attention forward and reached over to turn on the radio.
Given the car the Sisters of the Sacred Heart had loaned them was a 1970 Oldsmobile (albeit in excellent condition, since it was probably used only a few times each year) her choice of station was restricted to the AM dial. But that worked out fine. Of course, the car didnt have the modern convenience of the search feature, which meant she had to twist the dial as she hunted for something to listen to that was non-sports related...
"Let me," Resa said softly.
Jennifer watched with interest as long, graceful fingers assumed control of the dial and decided that the woman by her side had surprisingly beautiful hands. A couple moments later and the dulcet tones of Ella Fitzgerald singing Fascinating Rhythm pushed through the natural AM static to fill the car with rich, almost seductive sound.
Resa sat back and closed her eyes as the music rolled over them both in a pleasurable wave and Jennifer risked another glance at her companion. She looked content, like a sated cat after a meal who wanted nothing more than to curl up to take a quick nap, and Jennifer thought this was the most at ease she had ever seen the woman. Certainly when Resa had been asleep two nights ago she had been in too much pain to relax completely and Jennifer had been the first to crash last night, both times, so that eliminated the chance to sneak a peak. Now that she did have the opportunity, however brief, she couldnt help marveling at how young Resa appeared. Once the tension was removed from her strong features and the years of experience no longer radiated from her eyes, she looked remarkably closer to Jennifers own age than her actual 27 years. And undeniably beautiful.
She turned off LaBrea Avenue onto the Westbound 10 entrance ramp and eased the boat of a car into the swiftly moving traffic with the ease of a practiced Angeleno. Their destination, she determined, was to be the beach.
It was generally understood that Los Angeles wasnt so much a city as a series of subdivisions strewn about with little to no discernible sense of order, where homes of the very rich often bordered gang-infested neighborhoods. Many well-to-do residents sought the illusion of security by moving as close to the beaches as humanly possible only to find dubious pocket communities waiting for them there, too, as the gang-bangers presence had in recent years seeped into the Venice area and homeless people flocked to Santa Monica. The key was being able to know which areas were safe and which ones were in the no-fly zone.
The Palisades Park that ran adjacent to the steep, crumbling cliffs that overlooked the Pacific Coast Highway and the vast ocean itself was, for the most part, safe. At least during the day. At night, despite being well lighted, it ultimately became about as secure as most city parks, perhaps slightly more so due to the upscale nature of its surrounding Santa Monica community. But no matter what, it was still one of Jennifers favorite places in all of greater LA and she often found herself drawn there when in need of a good, contemplative retreat. Especially at the glorious time of sunset where the view became everything that outsiders associated with the city.
Often she would sit on one of the many park benches and quietly watch as the sun faded into the ocean and each passing jogger or elderly gossiper became more and more of a dark purple shadow cast in relief against the fiery orange rays. And she would somehow feel connected to something greater, invariably rejuvenated and alive. By either unconscious decision or mere happenstance, she had always gone there alone but this time she decided to make an exception.
This time she wanted to share it with Resa.
She wanted the former gang leader to know something of her life and her world before...She paused and frowned. Before what?...Silently she mulled over the question. Before... before... But after a moment she realized she had no answer, only a vague sense of approaching eventuality that she could neither define nor disregard and it frankly troubled her. Suddenly it was very important that she share a part of herself with Resa, as if deep down she recognized on some unconscious level that time was running out...
She exited the freeway onto 4th Street and in the back of her mind she noted how the incoming wall of thick clouds was already obscuring the sun that had moments earlier been so prominent in the area theyd just left.
She was in the middle of thinking it was a shame they wouldnt be able to get a good view of the ocean when a faint noise over the song on the radio caught her attention and she paused to listen. After a few beats she realized with more than passing incredulity that it was the soft sound of humming...coming from none other than the seemingly asleep Resa Gustavez. For a moment she just held her breath as the sounds of the radio and the woman to her right gently blended together into a rich melody that left Jennifer utterly rapt. There were, in her estimation, few things as beautiful as a gifted human voice raised in song and it did not take long to realize that Resas was indeed a gifted voice. In fact it was excellent. So much so it gave Jennifer chills. Then, slowly, without opening her eyes and barely stirring, Resa began to sing. Softly at first, almost as an extension to her humming, but with each passing note, her voice grew stronger and more assured and Jennifer was impossibly entranced. The song was one she vaguely recognized as being entitled "At Last" and though she felt as if she had heard it a hundred different times, she couldnt quite place the recorded singer. Etta James, perhaps? No matter. At this moment, her only interest was the voice at her side...
I found a dream...that I could speak to...
...a dream that I...can call my own...
I found a thrill...to press my...cheek to...
A thrill that Ive...never known...
Oh...You smiled, you smiled...and then the spell was cast...
And here we are...in heaven...and you are mine...
As the final notes faded away, Jennifer realized the car was stationary and that she had apparently at some point in the past few minutes succeeded in parking it in an open meter in front of the Palisades Park.
She didnt remember a thing.
She glanced over at her companion and found her in mid-stretch, long arms extended over her head and a quirky grin upon her lips.
"I love that song," Resa murmured happily as she slowly opened her eyes and glanced over at Jennifer with a look that brought back the memory of the school photograph and the young girl with the ingenuous smile...such a breath-taking, heart stopping smile. And at the moment it was directed at her.
Jennifer swallowed hard and turned off the cars engine. "You have a beautiful voice," she said after a moment and wondered at this new ripple of uncharacteristic shyness that befell her.
Blue eyes held their teasing gleam. "Yeah? Maybe Ill go off to be a singer after I take up acting and modeling, eh?"
"Dont forget seamstress," Jennifer reminded as she opened her door.
"Oh, Im saving that for my retirement years," Resa rejoined and gathered the remains of her fast food excursion off the front seat before exiting her side, locking the doors behind her.
Jennifer deposited four quarters in the meter, giving them hours of time, and Resa deposited her trash in the wastebasket before following the college student across the emerald green grass to the curving pathway. For a moment they walked in companionable silence, both comfortable with the contemplation of their own thoughts and the newfound ease in their relationship. It was something wholly unexpected and yet mutually appreciated. The taste of friendship.
Jennifer noted the wind had started to pick up and the clouds looked heavy but she wasnt concerned. Theyd hang out in the serenity of the park if or until it started to rain, then drive off to somewhere else. Whatever the case, they would make it up as they went along and Jennifer decided there was a certain delight in the freedom of not having a plan, in playing everything by ear. It was a liberty she enjoyed.
Ahhh, that word again...Enjoy.
She hadnt used it much in the past two years of her academic studies. Rather her time was often not her own, each day crammed with either classes or intervals set aside for the study of said classes or internships or the general preparation for her future. It didnt allow much opportunity for moments such as this...moments to simply enjoy. For the first time she realized how much she missed them, how hard shed been on herself and how thankful she was for this much needed break...even if it was one that came in such a circuitous fashion.
"You have that look on your face again," Resa murmured even as she cast her eyes out over the gray ocean, hands shoved deep into the front pockets of her jeans.
"The one where youre laughing at something in your head."
"Oooooh, that look."
The corner of Resas mouth quirked up in amusement and she leaned in to nudge Jennifers shoulder. "Soooo?" she prompted amicably.
The college student smiled. "Sooooo, what?" She lightly nudged her back and reveled in this feeling of happiness she was experiencing.
"What are ya thinkin?"
She kicked a nearby pebble. "Well, believe it or not, Im thinking about how glad I am that I didnt blow off Father Hector."
"Yeah?" Resa sounded pleased.
The older woman nodded, the satisfied smile still holding fast to her features and Jennifer felt a twinge of impatience in her silence.
"Feel free at any point to say youre glad I didnt blow him off too," she said and Resas smile widened.
"Ill do that," she said with an impishness that was new and becoming.
Jennifer just shook her head and tried to contain the crooked grin of her own.
"Youre incorrigible," she proclaimed with mock severity.
"Ive been called worse."
To this Resa just nudged her even harder and both women laughed.
The direction of their strolling took them closer to the cement railing that stretched along the miles of the park and provided a semblance of a barrier to the cliffs overlooking the highway. Without a moments hesitation, Jennifer hopped up to sit atop the wide railing and hooked the tips of her shoes between the space of the two lower rungs. Shed done it numerous times before and thought nothing of her actions...until the sudden appearance of Resas grip upon the back waistband of her jeans startled her.
"Wha--?" She twisted around and looked down a bit to find anxious blue eyes at about her shoulder level.
"You could fall," Resa said, clearly disturbed by the younger womans position.
Jennifer glanced at the stretch of earth laid out before her. "Theres easily five feet of ground in front of me if I lose my balance, which I wont," she pointed out even as she let her left hand fall lightly upon Resas upper back...for stability.
She felt the womans other hand come up in contact with her abdomen to provide further steadiness and it took all her effort not to respond to the touch. "No, you wont," Resa said with supreme assurance and Jennifer felt a flush go over her face as she unconsciously reacted to the unexpected warmth of the other womans nearness.
Resa glanced around, craning her neck as if trying to take it all in. "You come here a lot?" she asked then closed her eyes as the cool wind gusted full in her face, lifting her ebony hair back in dramatic fashion. Jennifer watched in fascination, thinking she looked a bit like something out of an Impressionists painting...
...then somehow dragged her eyes away and glanced out at the white capped waves. "When I can," she answered, her fingers toying with a small strand of coal black hair. "I love it here. Ive always loved being near the ocean. I think its a big part of what drew me to LA from the landlocked Mid West."
"So it wasnt just the glamour of Hollywood," Resa teased.
The younger woman shuddered in revulsion. "Not even close."
"What? No screenplays in your future? No lunches with smarmy agents and producers?"
"Not if I can help it. All I want to be is a journalist, to write about whats real and honest, without compromise."
Resa grinned indulgently. "Spoken like a true idealist."
The younger woman stiffened and drew herself up. "Youre mocking me."
Pale eyes regarded her with sincerity. "Not at all...I just think youre very young. As you get older youll realize that things are rarely black and white...and that its how we deal with the shades of gray that make us who we are."
Jennifer was about to argue with her but then reconsidered. If there was one thing the past three days had taught her was how little she knew about the world outside the perimeters of her sheltered existence. And Resa had surely seen more than she ever would, had experienced more than she ever wanted to consider. There was wisdom in her words born of untold pain and that Jennifer had to respect.
"Maybe," she conceded. "I just know I dont care for fiction. Theres no truth in it."
The dark-haired woman shrugged. "Whos to say? Fiction is in the eye of the beholder and truth is sometimes easier for people to digest when they think its all part of a story, when they think it is fiction. You could write about everything that happened since you met Father Hector but change the names and present it as fiction and it would still carry more honesty than what you read about in the papers or see on the news. That crap presented as truth." Her upper lip curled in disgust. "I know I learned more about how people think from authors like Hemmingway and Faulkner and Austen --"
"Austen?" Jennifer interrupted, incredulous.
"You read Jane Austen?"
"Not recently. I finished them all a while ago." Resa frowned. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Because youre a reformed ruthless gang leader." She made little quote motions with her fingers. "Youre not supposed to sew and read Jane Austen and be drop-dead gorgeous. It doesnt fit."
A slight grin. "I sound made up?"
"Then pretend I am and write about me like that."
Jennifer blinked in shock and felt her chest constrict. Holy shit. . she didnt...did she just...?
"Yes, I just gave you permission to write about me," Resa confirmed the unspoken question, then frowned, a little uncertain. "That is, if youre still interested."
Jennifers eyes widened. "Of course Im still interested."
She relaxed. "Okay, then. All you have to do is change the names and muddy some of the specifics and you have your story and everyone will think its fiction."
"But I mean are--are you sure?"
"Yes," she said confidently.
Jennifer frowned, shaking her head. "I dont understand. What made you change your mind?"
Blue eyes met hers, crystal clear and unequivocal. "I trust you."
And Jennifer felt the breath go out of her lungs. It was the last thing she expected to hear from the former gang leader and it left her stunned. For a long moment they just stared at each other, the air between them charged and intense. Far more intense than Jennifer could have ever anticipated as she realized in that moment just how far theyd come over the past three days...and the potential for how far they could go...
Then the first plump raindrop splashed against Jennifers cheek.
She jumped back in surprise and felt Resas hold on her tighten. The heavens chose that particular moment to open up and seconds later both women found themselves drenched.
Resa jerked her head in the direction of the Oldsmobile. "Back to the car," she shouted above the din of the downpour then helped Jennifer slide around and hop to the ground.
They ran as fast as they could through the rain, leaping over puddles that had already formed and Jennifer was amazed at how hard it was coming down. This was the sort of cloudburst one expected more from her homestate than from sunny Southern California.
As they neared the car, Jennifer quickly patted down her the front pockets of her jeans...then frowned and reached around to the back pockets...and officially started to panic.
Resa glanced back. "What?"
Jennifer dug her hands deep into the front of her jeans and searched frantically, but in vain. Dread hit her hard.
"Oh, shit!" She smacked one palm against her soaking wet forehead.
The younger woman met her eyes over the roof of the car. "Do you ever have one of those moments when you just realize youve done something incredibly asinine and you cant figure out how it happened because its so commonplace and youre normally so careful that you probably wouldnt even believe youd done it were the evidence of your stupidity not staring you in the face?"
A wet, dark brow arched. "No."
Jennifer stared at her a beat, then wiped the moisture from her face. "Uh-huh, yeah, well for those of us who are mortal, these things happen more often than wed like...now, for instance."
Jennifer cringed. "I locked the keys in the car."
Resa gave her a long look. "Not funny."
"Not meant to be."
Resas jaw shifted to one side and Jennifer realized she was annoyed. And why shouldnt she be? After all, Jennifer was also annoyed with herself. Hell, she was pissed. Of all times to pull such an absolute bonehead move...what had she been thinking? Then she remembered exactly what shed been thinking and chewed her lower lip. Oh, yeah...that...
The former gang leader took a step back from the Oldsmobile and eyed it with what could only be described as professional regard.
"Breaking the windows outta the question," she mused, then pursed her lips in contemplation. "Actually, this is such an old car all we really need is a good, old-fashioned coat hanger," she said, then inspected her surroundings. "Question is, where can we find one around here?"
Jennifer sighed and cursed herself for her distraction. Oh, God, this sucked...where the hell are we going to get a coatha--...Then as she stopped and glanced around and realized their location... Hello? Of course!
"Follow me," she said with a smile and quickly turned to jog across the street.
She heard the splash of Resas footsteps behind her as the two women turned to sprint up Montana Avenue.
When speaking of safe areas in LA, it should be noted Montana Avenue would likely be on the top of anyones list. Located between Santa Monica and the infamous Brentwood, this street was known for its upscale shopping and trendy cafes, with most residents opting to sip their Starbucks half-caf/decaf lattés outside in order to better soak up the California rays through their Prada sunglasses with their perfectly groomed Labrador (typically named Maggie or Max) curled obediently at their feet. It was the type of neighborhood of which even Mrs. Logan she of the Perpetual Panic approved. It was, naturally, Jennifers hood and about as "far away" from East LA as one could conceive.
Somehow the downpour managed to come down even harder and visibility was further reduced. Despite the fact the rain was fairly warm, Jennifer knew it wouldnt take long for the shivering to set in. Man, how she hated to get caught the rain. It always looked so cool in movies but the reality was often a study in discomfort. The reality was there was no singin or dancin, no searching for a cat named Cat with George Peppard, and no last-second proposal by Hugh Grant. No. Rain just meant getting wet in unpleasant places. And blisters. Always blisters. Already she could feel the distinctly uncomfortable rub of her wet socks against her heel and she prayed she wouldnt end up with the darned annoying little vesicles even though she knew it was inevitable.
Moments later Jennifer turned off Montana Avenue onto the tree-lined and very residential 7th Street, conscious of Resa behind her.
"Where are we headed?" her companion called out above the storms tumult.
She pointed to a building. "My apartments just up ahead there and --" Resa suddenly slammed Jennifers body along the side of a nearby tree and covered it with her own. Jennifer was shocked. "What--"
"We cannot be here," Resa hissed in her ear and the younger woman was startled by how quickly the mood of camaraderie had vanished only to be replaced by one of instant alertness. Eyes darted about warily and Jennifer could feel the tension radiating off the hard body pressed against her own.
"The Vartans know where you live. Its too dangerous. You know that."
Jennifer felt like an idiot. In the wake of the ease of the past few hours the threat of the Vartans had miraculously faded into the background and shed instead thought only of the perfect place to get a hanger to extract them from their most recent predicament. It was careless and she knew it and more than anything she hated looking foolish in front of Resa.
"I forgot," she admitted sheepishly and blue eyes focused on her in disbelief.
"Jennifer, we dont have the luxury for you to forget. These men can be dangerous. Believe me."
Jennifer reached up to place her hands over Resas, her eyes entreating. "I do believe you, Resa. I swear. But you have to understand Im not programmed like that. This, all of this, is new to me. My first instinct in a situation isnt to look for the potential danger. It just isnt."
Resas eyes were hooded as she regarded the smaller woman and Jennifer could feel the walls start to go up again between them. "Yeah, well, hopefully it never will be," she said then sighed and raked her dark, wet bangs off her forehead, her expression unreadable. Which was the greatest consternation for Jennifer. Theyd come so far, she didnt want to jeopardize that...it was too important...at least to her.
"Im sorry," she said. "Please dont be mad."
She received a conciliatory look in return. "Dont worry about it," Resa murmured, with a little squeeze on the shoulder for emphasis that made Jennifer feel slightly better.
The younger woman wiped the rain off her face. "Do you see any sign of them?"
Resa eased around the side of the tree, careful to keep herself as hidden as possible. Her eyes searched the street that was, per usual, lined bumper to bumper with parked cars on each side. Her face scrunched in frustration.
"I cant see much of anything in this rain," she confessed, then considered. "Of course, neither can they." A beat then she glanced down at Jennifer. "Is your building secured?"
"Yes. You just need to know the code to get in."
"Is there a back entran--" The words broke off abruptly as Jennifer felt the body against hers stiffen in alarm.
Jennifer, her back still pressed to the tree, twisted at the waist to glance over her shoulder, fingers lightly braced against Resas jean-clad hips for balance, and followed the direction of the other womans stare.
A young Latino man, perhaps 20 at the most, had just emerged from the front door of her building and was making a mad-dash for a black Toyota pickup truck parked across the street. She heard the sound of the vehicle start and watched the Latino man duck into the pickup as it pulled away from the curb.
Resas hand pressed firmly against the side of her ribs and guided her to skirt around to the back of the tree, effectively keeping them hidden as the car passed their point on the street. Never had Jennifer seen her more on alert, her eyes searing with a ferocious concentration that left no room for doubt about what an effective fighter she once had been, and could be again at a moments notice. Her gaze never left the car until it was well out of sight.
"Was he a Vartan?" Jennifer asked.
"Yeah. Names Jorge but we called him Tres cuz he was the third Jorge in his family..." She frowned. "Question is, why did he leave in such a hurry?" Resa scanned the street then proclaimed after a beat, "We look clear for the moment...Cmon."
She pushed Jennifer around the tree and in the direction of her apartment. The younger woman sprinted across the street, conscious of the way in which Resa stayed a few steps behind as if to use her own body as a sort of shield...just in case. But it was unnecessary. They both made it up the front steps, to the door and Jennifer punched in the coded numbers on the keypad in a matter of seconds, then they were inside. Dripping and out of breath, but safely within the apartments entrance.
She felt Resas hand on her upper back, guiding her further into the lobby and away from the glass front door and a shiver went over her body that, in truth, had little to do with the chill from the rain.
"Jennifer!" A voice ahead of them declared and both women turned their attention on the rail-thin, white haired old woman in the loose, tropical print muumuu. It was none other than her nosy landlady, Mrs. Goldman in the (sagging) flesh.
"Boy am I glad to see you," Jennifer said and for once actually meant it but before she could continue Mrs. Goldman shuffled forward to interrupt.
"Oh my Gawd, you would not believe! This little pissant was just snooping around your place! The nerve! I saw him looking around your apartment as bold as they come and so I says to him, Hey, what are you doing? and he ignores me! Pretends not to hear! Like I wasnt just talking right to him in my loud voice! So I says to him, Hey, look, Bub, you just get yourself away from there before I call the cops! And that gets his attention, let me tell you! He says to me, Im just seein if my friend is home! all innocent like but I remember what you told me about how you got your purse stolen and that I should be on the lookout for suspicious characters so I dont believe a word of it! Not a word! So I says, Hey! Id know if you were a friend of that nice Jennifers and I never seen you before so you just go on! And he looks as if he wants to argue back (smart ass!) so I hold up my portable phone that my Lydia got me for my last birthday and I says, Im callin the cops on you! and I start to dial so he turns and hauls his keester back out the way he came faster than you can say Kalamazoo!" Mrs. Goldman finished and smiled widely, clearly proud of herself and expecting praise in return.
Which Jennifer obligingly, and genuinely, provided.
"I cannot thank you enough, Mrs. Goldman," she said with just the right amount of gratitude in her voice.
"Did I do good?" the old woman asked, unabashed in her milking.
"You did great."
"He wasnt a friend of yours then?"
"I knew it!" She leaned closer, her voice conspiratorial and Jennifer caught a whiff of Ben Gay. "You could see it in his eyes! Beady! Like a possum!" And it was then Mrs. Goldman seemed to notice Resa. "Who are you?" she asked bluntly.
"Oh, Im sorry," Jennifer said quickly. "Mrs. Goldman, this is Resa."
"Resa? What kind of name is that?"
"Its short for Theresa," the former gang leader supplied evenly.
Mrs. Goldmans eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You dont support that Castro bastard do ya?"
She nodded her approval. "Good! Man nearly got us killed back in 61! Which was before you were born but I remember it like it was yesterday! We were all this close to being atomic dust! Thank God for Kennedy, even if he couldnt keep it in his pants! Your people make great cigars, though! My Edgar used to smoke em like they were going outta style, which is what killed him, God rest his soul! Cancer! Everybody I know says I should sue the damn tobacco industry but I figure Edgar knew the damn things were no good for him and he didnt care so why should I blame the tobacco people? Folks nowadays act like anything goes wrong with em and wham! Lawsuit! Like its a damn lottery or something! Well I say a person oughta take responsibility for their actions, dont you agree? If you know somethings bad for you and you do it anyway and the bad thing happens to you, then what right do you got to blame anyone else, huh? None! Am I right?"
"Cant disagree," Resa said and Jennifer could detect a hint of amusement in her expression.
Jennifer sniffled and Mrs. Goldman took a good look at them.
"Youre wet! Dont you know its raining out? Animals are practically pairing off! You should have sense enough to come in out of the storm! Youll catch your death! Look at you! Already sniffling! You should get some warm clothes on!"
"Well, thats the plan," Jennifer quickly interjected when Mrs. Goldman paused to breathe and sniffled again.
"Whats stopping you?"
"Um, well, I dont have the keys to my apartment and"
"Good gravy! Of course you dont have the keys! Your purse was stolen! That reminds me Im going to have to change your locks! I hate that! But what can you do, huh?" Mrs. Goldman reached into a pocket on the front of her colorfully tacky frock and withdrew an enormous ring that held a wad of keys. "Keys, keys, keys! Bane of my existence! But Im a landlady so I gotta have my keys!" In less than two seconds she located one silver key in particular out of the dozens of others that were virtually indistinguishable and held it up. "Vi-o-la!" She turned abruptly and practically scurried off down a partially covered hallway.
Jennifer glanced over at Resa and gave her a weak What are ya gonna do? grin, then followed.
Jennifers apartment building had only twenty units situated on two levels around a kidney shaped pool and was at least fifteen years old, giving it slightly more character than most of the just-put-up complexes in the area. During the 1994 earthquake, it had apparently been one of the few buildings to survive relatively unscathed, a point of pride with Mrs. Goldman when showing the unit to Jennifer a year earlier. In the end it was the size of the individual unit and the proximity to the beach that sold Jennifer on this complex and other than enduring the occasional quirks of her eccentric landlady the place was ideal. Even Mrs. Goldman had grown on her...eventually. Im like mold spores, the elderly lady told her once. Everyone thinks Im annoying then whamo! One day someone discovers I can make penicillin and everyones grateful Im around!
On this particular day, Jennifer decided as she entered her apartment that Mrs. Goldman was indeed penicillin.
Resa stepped over the threshold of Jennifers apartment and quickly took in the décor. Clearly an effort had been made to fix this place up, make it comfortable and it was unquestionably nice. Very nice. The ambiance held just the sort of warmth shed expect Jennifers home to exude, the walls having been painted a pale yellow that reflected the younger womans innate sense of cheer. The hardwood floors were a surprise since most complexes built after the 60s insisted on carpet and Resas senses detected the faint scent of a floral potpourri in the air. Her furniture was in excellent taste, straight out of designer catalogues with the right amount of knickknacks distributed about to create a distinctive personality. There was a plush, rust colored sofa and several plants were situated throughout. All in all classy and unique. Just like its tenant.
"Pretty, huh?" Mrs. Goldman prompted for the landlady had waltzed in ahead of the other two women and stood in the center of the living room as if her presence was perfectly acceptable.
"Very," Resa agreed, her attention on Jennifer as she retreated into the back of the apartment.
"Shes worked her little rear end off to get this place as good as this! I tell all the other renters they should check out her place to get tips on what to do! A coat of paintll work wonders! And curtains! Never underestimate the value of curtains!"
"Ill keep that in mind," Resa murmured, counting the seconds until Jennifers return.
"You decorate your place?"
Oh goody. Questions.
"Its not really my thing."
"You should try it!"
"Perhaps I will."
"Have you known Jennifer a long time?"
"Not really? What does that mean?"
"It means, I havent known her that long."
"Three days?" Mrs. Goldman looked her over suspiciously. "So youre not even friends?"
Resa glanced down at the woman and thought, Well thats a loaded question...then felt distinctly relieved as Jennifer reappeared with two fluffy white towels in hand.
"Okay, here we go," the blonde said then tossed a towel to the former gang leader and turned an ever so charming smile to her landlady. "Thank you so much for everything, Mrs. Goldman. Youve been invaluable."
"You want me to call the cops on that punk kid? Because I will, in a heartbeat!" She held up her portable phone as if to prove her readiness.
"I dont doubt it. But, no, thats not necessary. Thank you though."
Resa rubbed the towel against her wet hair and watched as Jennifer, with subtle firmness, maneuvered the older lady out the front door without making it look as if she was doing so. It was truly admirable. Had it been up to Resa, shed have said something more blunt, like "Goodbye" or "Haul ass, grandma." Or, more likely, never have allowed the older woman inside in the first place.
"Ill be in my apartment if you need me! If you hear the TV real loud that means Im watching Wheel of Fortune and youll just have to knock a little louder!"
"Dont hesitate to call if that twerp comes back!"
"I wont though I bet you scared him away."
"Darned right I did! Hell think twice about coming back here! And Ill get your locks changed by tomorrow morning!"
"Excellent. Thank you."
Mrs. Goldman glanced around Jennifer to look at Resa. "You too!"
Resa gave a wan smile.
Then the loquacious Mrs. Goldman finally made it out the door and Jennifer shut it behind her. Locked it. And glanced back at Resa with an exaggerated sigh of relief.
"Too bad she wasnt in a chatty mood," she quipped dryly, leaning against the door and sniffling again.
Resa frowned. "Are you getting sick?" she asked, surprised by the protective instinct that caught hold of her.
But Jennifer shook her head and rubbed her nose a little. "No. I just get the sniffles in the rain." She brushed the towel over her face then glanced up at Resa and back at herself with a smile. "Boy are we a couple of drowned rats," she said with a giggle and Resa found herself smiling in return. Not, she was discovering, an uncommon reaction to the younger woman who somehow made her smile more in the past three days than she had in the past three months total. If not longer. But there was just something about the way her light green eyes lit up and shined that touched Resa, slipped past all of her defenses with disarming ease.
Jennifer pushed away from the door to move further into the room. "Follow me," she said as she brushed past Resa and headed to the back of the apartment.
The former gang leader watched after her for a moment, aware of the sudden upswing in her pulse and working commendably to calm it before she followed down the hallway after her escort. She quickly counted four doors, which likely meant this was at least a two-bedroom apartment. Not cheap. In fact, there was little about this whole place that didnt emanate a certain level of wealth and Resa wondered for the first time whether her compadre was actually rich or at least very well off. Shed assumed the college student had some money of which to speak -- the Land Rover alone was a significant investment -- but now it occurred to her that she might be a level above that...and then some. She wasnt certain how that made her feel.
Resa entered the room Jennifer had ducked into but paused only a foot inside the doorway. Her eyes made an efficient sweep of the space, noting its impressive size and the beautiful, cherry wood furniture set that was clearly antique. The walls had also been painted but were here a variation of forest and avocado green with cream trim that created an instantly warm and relaxing environment. The atmosphere was definitely feminine without being too girly which was perfectly in keeping with Jennifer herself.
Resas glance fell upon Jennifer who was standing before a well-crafted chest of drawers in which she was clearly searching for something. A moment later she withdrew a large, steel gray sweatshirt then tossed it on the bed along side a pair of white socks and a white T-shirt. She then pulled out a pair of black cut-off sweat pants that were obviously too big for her and held them up to the former gang leader as if to compare them to Resa then chewed her lower lip.
"I think thesell work. Chris is about your size." She squinted at her as if to make sure.
Resa ignored the curious little emotion that she felt rousing inside her breast at the mention of the name. "Chris?" she asked smoothly.
"Yeah, my middle brother. He left them here last time he visited and I keep forgetting to mail them back home." She tossed them to Resa who caught the pants without altering her gaze from the blonde. "The sweatshirt, however, belongs to my oldest brother, Jason and I pretty much just stole that from him two Christmases ago when I forgot how cold it gets in Kansas and had to borrow half my wardrobe so I didnt freeze my butt off. Which is another reason I came to Los Angeles -- warmer winters." There was that smile again and Resa, as if on cue, immediately mirrored it. "But my brothers loss is your gain. Let me know if these dont fit."
With that she grabbed a couple other items out of the drawer and headed past Resa into the adjoining bathroom, closing the door behind her to give her privacy while she changed.
The raven haired woman stood a couple beats and realized, to her surprise, that despite the inherent awkwardness of the situation in which she now found herself, she in fact felt completely at ease. A remarkable idea for one who guarded her privacy as closely as she.
She knew they should not be here. Jennifers apartment was off limits and sighting Tres only emphasized the danger their presence courted...but, when the moment had arisen on that rainy street, when she should have directed Jennifer back to the safety of the car, another temptation reared its head and that had overruled all rational objections.
Quite simply, she wanted to see Jennifers place.
To see where the college senior ate and slept and lived, at least once.
And they were so close...
Thus shed done something completely foreign to her she had acted on impulse without regard to the potential consequences for no other reason than she wanted to. It was rash and foolish and most unlike her. Always she had been the studied one, ruthless and calculated. Whim was for the insignificant and weak. Or so shed thought. But now she found herself engaged in the exact type of action shed once decried...and she found, much to her chagrin, she rather liked it.
But she also knew her actions would mean theyd have to be doubly on alert when they left for the danger they were in was very real and not to be taken lightly.
She untucked her shirt and stripped out of her soaking clothes, mildly aware that, for a moment, she was practically naked in the bedroom of a woman who was technically little more than a stranger.
But she knew better. Jennifer was no stranger to her; she never had been. Not even when they first met. Not from the moment her eyes fell upon the blonde head as it came bobbing out of the Land Rover in the middle of the impossibly cratered parking lot and strode with unwavering determination into the heart of Palos darkened bar. No, not even then.
And certainly not now...
She slipped on Chris cut-offs and tied the drawstring then pulled over the T-shirt and sweatshirt. She heard the muffled start of a hairdryer within the bathroom and used the opportunity to glance around. She wasnt surprised by the display of books, just by their sheer abundance. Books were piled up in every conceivable nook and cranny, frequently two deep, and it gave the place a refreshingly scholastic air. There was no doubt an academic of some nature lived here. She glanced at some of the titles and found a few surprises (The Science of God, The Whole Shebang, Many Lives, Many Masters, People of the Lie) amongst the staples (Nabokov, Shakespeare, Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, A.S. Bryant, Frank McCourt, Wharton, Toole, Salinger, Hemmingway, Hardy and Austen). The last one brought a smile.
Her eyes fell on one of the many picture frames scattered about and she moved to the bedside table to get a closer look.
It was a simple shot of a laughing Jennifer on a white sandy beach with a tow-headed little girl and boy piling on top of her like puppies in a litter but its was the sheer normalcy of the scene that gave Resa pause. This was Jennifer -- a normal girl. Joyful, healthy, good-hearted. Beautiful inside and out. The kind of person who, under routine circumstances wouldnt look twice at someone of Resas ilk...But a voice inside her knew that was unfair. Jennifer wasnt like that; she didnt prejudge. Resas eyes traveled over the image of the younger womans laughing face, alight from an inner radiance that few possessed and thought, No. She isnt like that...Shes like no one Ive ever known... . .I can trust her....
It was a word Resa had barely used in her life but she had used it today.
And shed meant it.
Now that had been a helluva surprise, even to Resa. She hadnt realized she was going to suggest Jennifer should write about her until the words were sailing past her lips and it was only after shed said them she realized it was a decision shed unconsciously come to not long after theyd arrived in the guest apartment of the convent. And it was a decision born out of trust. Trust for a young woman whom she had only just met and about whom she knew relatively little but felt a confidence in nonetheless. A decision that she instantly knew to be the correct one and from which there was no turning back. Not that she wanted to. Who would have thought this little blonde girl with the motor-mouth that she met only three days ago would be someone in whom she would end up placing unqualified trust for the first time in her life?
She set the picture down, turned to sit on the edge of the Queen-sized bed and slipped on the pair of white ankle socks Jennifer had left out for her then laid back across the width of the bed with a sigh so deep it got her blood tingling. What a glorious sensation it was to relax! She couldnt recall the last time shed felt this at ease and she could well understand how someone as innocent as Jennifer could forget about the horrors of the Vartans...if only for a little while.
The hairdryer shut off and moments later there was a knock on the door.
"All clear," Resa called out in answer.
The bathroom door opened and Jennifer emerged...
. . and Resas whole body tensed up from top to toe.
The younger woman was also clad in a pair of cut-off sweat pants though hers were a soft grayish-white and came to her mid-thigh revealing a significant amount of surprisingly tanned and finely sculpted leg. Her brick red T-shirt had some surf insignia written on both long sleeves and deliberately came up quite short at the waist to give more than a tantalizing glimpse of her midriff. It was an outfit that was slapdash and sporty and, on her taut body, carelessly sexy.
Resa closed her eyes and counted to ten then released her breath and was about to count to ten again when she felt the mattress beneath her sag at the presence of additional weight. She opened her eyes and saw Jennifer seated cross-legged at the top of the bed, leaning her back against the wooden headboard and smiling at her and she realized then and there that she could count to ten for eternity and it would still do no good. There were some things that were just basic and her response to this pair of light green eyes was one of them.
So she shifted her gaze to something ostensibly safer.
"Who are they?" she asked, nodding to the photograph shed been studying earlier.
Jennifer glanced over at the picture on the end table and smiled bigger.
"Thats my niece Katelyn and my nephew Richard, also known as Katie Girl and Little Ricky. Shes six and hell turn four this upcoming May 9th."
"Theyre beautiful children."
Jennifer beamed. "Arent they? See, I can say that cause Im just their aunt. Theres nooooo prejudice involved here."
"Clearly," Resa replied with a lopsided grin and she noticed the ends of Jennifers unbound blonde hair were still wet, giving her a marvelously tousled aura.
Jennifer flopped onto her stomach and retrieved a picture frame from the other bedside table. She rolled onto her back to lie parallel to Resa and held up the picture frame for her inspection.
"Heres a shot of the whole Scooby gang from when we went to Belize this last Christmas," she said angling it so Resa could see.
It was another photograph of Jennifer on the same sandy beach but this time there were three additional children in the heap. She pointed to each little head as she described.
"Thats Katie again and Rickys right here...Theyre my brother Eriks kids. Right here are Jasons two, George, and Audrey. Theyre twins."
Resa pointed to the only dark-headed child in the mix. "And that one?"
Green eyes softened. "Thats my little man, Skyler. Hes Chris son and the oldest of the brood." She sighed and a trace of sadness befell her. "Skylers mom died last year and hes taken it pretty hard but fortunately Chris is a great Dad. Hes working so hard to make sure Skyler knows how much his Mom loved him."
"How did she die?" Resa asked softly, her eyes missing nothing.
Jennifers lips twisted. "Car accident. Frannie was on her way to pick up Skyler from a Cub Scout Meeting when she was hit by a drunk driver." She heaved another sigh that spoke volumes. "Its all so commonplace it sometimes seems like a cliché...except its real. And Frannie isnt coming home."
The younger womans sadness was almost palpable and Resa turned to prop herself up on her right side to better face her companion. Without thinking she reached out to stroke Jennifers arm in an effort to soothe her pain.
"You must miss her very much," she murmured.
"Yeah," she said in a voice thick with quiet sorrow. "We all do. She was a good person. Kind and sweet...Her death was the first real tragedy in my family and it shook us all. But mostly were worried about Skyler. Hes incredibly sensitive, more so than the rest of the kids...I think its partly because hes half American Indian. Choctaw. While the others are all so darned white. Makes him stand out and standing out can be hard when youre young."
Resa understood and agreed. As a young child her blue eyes and height had been qualities that had helped to set her apart from the rest of the neighborhood Latino kids and it sometimes made things difficult. But as life does so love its little ironies, the same pair of blue eyes and impressive height that had once been her bane, as an adult, were often pointed to as her most striking features. So she knew something of what it was like to be singled out and could empathize with this young boy whom she did not know. But he had something that Resa never did the love of his family, his entire family and that would make all the difference.
"You must be a wonderful aunt," she said, slowing the motion of her hand until just her thumb played with the crisp cotton fabric of the other womans sleeve.
Jennifer cocked her head to glance up at Resa. "I love them," she said simply. "I find it fascinating to watch these little bitty blobs of cells mature into very distinct individuals with hopes and dreams and vivid personalities all their own. Its the most basic aspect of being human and yet each time it happens Im amazed, you know?"
Resa swallowed and felt the slow build of pressure form within her chest. "Yeah," she said after a moment. "I know."
"Do you ever want to have kids?" Jennifer asked.
And Resas heart stilled.
It was an innocent enough question and yet...
She rolled onto her back and stared sightlessly at the ceiling for a very long time. Through her peripheral vision she knew Jennifer had propped herself up on her side and was watching her closely as if she could sense her inner turmoil.
"What?" the younger woman whispered and she felt the warmth of her hand as the younger woman laid it gently upon her upper arm.
Resa had to make a decision. It was one thing to ruminate on the newfound trust she felt for this person at her side but it was another to give in to it. To reveal this part of herself that she kept closed off from the world. The prospect was terrifying; it left her vulnerable and exposed to a profound degree and she paused a moment to gage her own inner reaction to the idea...only to recognize its inevitability.
She drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly before saying, "I have a child." She heard Jennifer gasp and turned her head to meet the other womans searching eyes. "A boy."
Jennifers hand unconsciously gripped Resas sweatshirt and her visible concern was something that deeply affected the former gang leader.
"What happened?" she asked.
The pain is excruciating.
To Resa Gustavez who has been shot, stabbed, and in more fights than she can recall, nothing compares with the torture of childbirth. This is a whole new level of agony and she hates every fucking moment of it.
"Push!" Tony shouts to her from the foot of the operating table, his voice and manner intense.
She takes a deep breath and once again pushes with all her might in an effort to expel the child from her body. She can feel it move within her and there is a tiny corner of clarity in her mind somehow separate from all the pain that registers how remarkable it is to have this other living creature within her struggling to get out. But then, just as quickly, that corner closes off and she wants nothing more than to be rid of it as soon as possible.
Sweat rolls off her neck and soaks her pale yellow gown and she feels her hair stick to the side of her cheek. She wishes there could be someone to wipe clean her face but knows that is impossible. No one can know what is happening. No one can know anything at all.
"Once more. I can see the head." She hears an excited lilt to Tonys voice and feels a pang of optimism. Over. It is almost over.
She pushes one more time, harder than she has pushed before, and suddenly the pressure is gone. Like that. The baby slides out from within her and she nearly faints from the shock of relief. She breathes in sharp, quick gasps as she struggles to remain conscious and falls back onto the operating table.
For a moment she is too disoriented to recognize anything beyond the momentary numbness of her mind and body and she revels in the tranquillity of the surrounding silence. Then from deep within her an instinct she has never even remotely understood but is as old as time pushes to the surface and she suddenly realizes the silence is not right. She should have heard the babys cry by now.
Fear seizes her, fear for a child she does not want and she braces herself to a sitting position.
"Tony?" she calls out, her voice ragged and spent.
Tony stands with his back to her, looking down at something in his hands.
Panic sets in. "Tony, whats wrong?" she asks and winces as her dry throat constricts painfully.
He does not respond and she feels a mothers terror grip her heart a moment before the first, faint sound reaches her desperate ears. For a fraction of a second her mind mistakes it for the mewling of a kitten then the noise increases tenfold into that of a primal and robust newborn scream.
And every muscle in her body relaxes as Tony turns to face her, in his arms the shrieking infant wrapped in a soft white blanket. She can see one tiny fist trembling in fury peek out and it makes her smile. A fighter from the beginning. How fitting.
She is told "Its a boy," and she nods. She must not know any more than this. Not its weight, its length, whether the fingers and toes are where they are supposed to be. Nothing. By all rights she should not even be informed of its gender but this is one fact she feels she must know.
And even still, with as little knowledge as she has, it is with unexpectedly mixed emotions that she watches as Tony turns to walk out of the room, the crying baby cradled in his arms...
Jennifer could hear the patter of rain as it hit her windowpane and was vaguely aware the storm outside had yet to let up. Inside the room there was a thick silence.
Resa lay on her side facing her, so close the younger woman could see the echo of sadness that laid behind eyes that were turned to a painful past. Jennifer wanted nothing more than to be able to alleviate the other womans grief but she was powerless. These events had transpired years ago; to be there for her in the here and now, to listen and support was all she could do.
Jennifer tucked her arm beneath her head. "Where was Alfons in all this?" she asked, her tone soft for she was loath to jar the other woman from her reflection.
"In prison. The police had managed to nail him on some trumped up charge." Her laugh was caustic. "As much as hed done and they couldnt even get him for a legitimate reason."
"What did they arrest him for?"
"Uh-huh. Just like Hoffa."
"How long was he in prison?"
"Two years." Her gaze roamed over the younger womans face. "Two years during which I controlled everything about the Vartans...and grew to love the power, to need it."
Jennifer was increasingly accustomed to Resas blunt honesty when it came to discussing her history. She recognized the former gang leaders determination to remove any potential romantic veneer to her past actions and she appreciated the candor. But she wasnt about to let that scare her away.
"How old were you at the time?"
Dark blonde brows arched. "Must have been a lot of power for a twenty year old to wield."
"Too much," she quietly agreed.
There was a long moment of silence during which Jennifer was sure a thousand different horrors from long ago floated over her companions mind.
"I must admit Im a little surprised you didnt...well, opt..."
"For an abortion?" Resa finished knowingly.
"Yeah. I mean, having a baby in the middle of...everything must have been hard."
"Nearly impossible...I wouldnt have done it at all if it hadnt been for Martin."
Jennifer frowned inquisitively. "Whos Martin?"
"The babys father."
The downtown restaurant is discreet. The lighting is dark, moody, and, if one so desires, seductive. The prevalence of alcoves allows for privacy from prying eyes and it is the reason she chooses to transact her business here. That, and of course the excellent Peking Duck they have on the menu.
She has come here to cement an alliance between the Vartans and El Moralez gangs and she feels comfortable that the situation is in hand. It is understood that El Moralez are Puerto Rican and have no interest in treading on the Vartan turf...but Resa has wondered if more could be made of their mutual respect. A union of a sorts. Certainly she knows there is money to be made but there is also opportunity. By having them on her side she will have even greater control over the area and thus greater power. And she does like her power.
The man across the table from her is Martin Olazando and he is, by all accounts, the man to go to when dealing with El Moralez. He is also clearly attracted to her. This is nothing new. Men have long made their desire for her well known but in this one she sees a potential advantage. It would make their alliance complete.
And besides, she thinks as her eyes travel the sharp planes of his face, he is undeniably sexy.
She slowly reaches across the table to lightly run a finger over his knuckles, never breaking contact from his cinnamon brown eyes.
"When will Julio return from Mexico City?" she asks in a deliberately seductive voice and she revels in the manner in which his eyes travel over her. But he remains in complete control and she finds she likes this. Most men around her do not and that is always their downfall.
"Thursday," he replies and she hears a distinct rolling in the way he pronounces his rs. She finds she likes this as well.
"Where will you keep the cargo?" She slips off her shoe and runs her foot along his leg. The response is instant. His eyes, already fairly dilated, go black and she can hear the elevation in his breathing. But still he does not make a move in her direction.
"Public storage?" she repeats, greatly surprised.
He nods. "My cousin owns a couple units and we move the stuff so fast there isnt time to get busted." She laughs at the outrageous simplicity of it all and he watches her closely a moment before reaching out to run the side of his hand across her cheek. "You have a beautiful smile," he says with a sweetness that catches her by surprise.
She stills for she recognizes his expression and though she finds him intriguing there are certain things she cannot allow.
"Dont fall in love with me," she warns with a brutal frankness designed to squelch any feelings he may have brewing but to this Martin merely smiles.
"Is that what Im doing?" he asks even as he leans across the table towards her.
"Yes," she replies, her eyes never leaving his. "Its a mistake."
"Really? And whys that?" he murmurs, his lips inches from her own.
She reaches her hand to cup the back of his head. "Because I will never love you in return." With that she pulls him to her and captures his mouth with her own.
"Lust pretty much defined our relationship," Resa explained and reached down for Jennifers hand. "At least for me."
"And for Martin?" The younger womans voice was barely above a whisper.
Resa sighed. "Martin...was a romantic," she said softly. "It was always his
"So, he fell in love with you?"
Resas eyes dropped down to where their hands were joined palm to palm and
marveled at how much bigger hers was compared to Jennifers. But there was vitality in the younger womans grasp that was as undeniable as it was intriguing and it was from there that Resa drew her strength.
Jennifer shifted her hand a fraction of an inch and laced their fingers together in a
warm embrace. "And did you fall in love with him?" she asked quietly.
Resa slowly raised her eyes to meet a piercing green gaze. "Ive never been in
love," she admitted.
"Never?" She sounded surprised.
Resa shook her head. "I used to think it was because I was too strong for it...now
I know I wasnt strong enough...It was something Martin couldnt understand...You see, somewhere along the line he decided hed had enough of living under a constant threat. He wanted out of the gang life and he wanted to take me with him..." She lightly squeezed Jennifers hand and reveled in the answering pressure. "...especially when he found out I was pregnant..."
Martin is distraught.
"This is our chance," he tells her, his voice pleading. She looks away but he moves in front of her, his light brown eyes naked in their desperation. "Its a sign. You know it...You know it! Jesus Christ, Resa..." He grabs her face and brings it close to his own, reckless in his need to convince her. "We must get out of this before it kills us!"
But it is a mistake to touch her. She pulls her face away, grabs his thumb in a punishing grip and pulls it back against the natural curve of his hand. He cries out and drops to his knees. She squeezes harder but even as tears of pain from many a different level well up in his eyes he will not back down. "Its my child, too," he manages to say though his voice is wracked and nearly incoherent.
"Not for long," she replies with a snarl and is surprised at how the look of anguish that crosses his face does not bring greater satisfaction. They have been lovers for almost six months and she has often derived pleasure in their sadistic interaction but always as a precursor to a vigorous bout of sex. This is different. This is serious and she knows they will not be making love after it is over. Indeed they will likely not make love ever again.
She abruptly releases his hand with a shove and strides toward the front door of his downtown loft, determined to leave, to never see him again. Then the ragged sounds of his breathing reach her ears, his pain so great she can almost taste it, and an inexplicable emotion causes her to slow down and to look back.
He is kneeling in the middle of the living room, bathed in a pool of white sunlight from the floor to ceiling windows, his head hung in utter defeat. She pauses. He is such a strong man, physically and emotionally, that to look upon him thus is disquieting. But, more significantly to her, it brings no pleasure.
"Arent you going to try to stop me?" she asks, deliberately taunting him more in an effort to stir up some antagonism within her own heart than in the desire to hurt him further.
Slowly he raises red-rimmed eyes to meet her own and he shakes his head. "No," he says simply but not without emotion and his refusal to fight infuriates her. It is unlike him and she feels manipulated, something she detests.
Her grip on the doorknob tightens. "It is my body, Martin, and my choice and I will make it as I see fit!"
He does not break his eyes from hers and there is a lack of accusation in their depths she finds disturbing. "Yes. It is your choice," he agrees. "But not just about the baby...its much more than that. Its about staying here and dying a little more each day or coming with me to find a better way and believe me, Resa, any way is better than this. This child could mean a whole new life, for you and for me...How I wish you could see that." He does not bother to wipe the tears from his cheeks and every ounce of her wants to loath him for his overt sentimentality but the calm certainty in his eyes will not allow for this.
And deep down, it terrifies her.
"Youre a fool." Her eyes rake him over and her lip curls contemptuously. "I told you not to fall in love with me."
Unexpectedly he laughs, though more out of bitterness than any sense of genuine amusement. "Yes, you did..." He drags himself to his feet and turns his back to her, broad shoulders slumped. "And I fucked up... " He shakes his head at his own perceived stupidity. "I fell in love with the woman you could be..." He glances back at her. ". . and ignored the woman you are...My sincere apologies." He smiles, his lips twisted with sorrow and regret. "Vaya con Dios, my darling," he says lightly, then he salutes her in a gesture that is both self-mocking and tragically final before he turns his back on her forever...
"It was the last time I ever saw him..." Resa said with a sigh, her head now resting on the bed and close enough that Jennifer basked in the heat of her body that seemed to reach out and hold her in an embrace all its own.
She removed her hand from where it was tucked beneath her head and reached over to gently stroke Resas dark mane, threading her fingers through the ebony hair in a decidedly luxurious manner. The former gang leaders eyes closed momentarily at the touch and tightened her hold on Jennifers other hand.
"What became of him?" the younger woman asked.
Resa ran her thumb over the pad of Jennifers palm, studying her actions as if they held some deeper meaning but the college student suspected she was, in truth, merely biding time to gain better control of her emotions.
"He died," she said at last, confirming what Jennifer already suspected. There was a long pause before the she added darkly, "Because of me."
Tony does not know how to perform an abortion so she has been forced to go to a free clinic. She finds the waiting area is not what she expects though she is uncertain as to the nature of her expectations. Perhaps something less officious and more sinister. But instead it is neat and impersonal and appropriately clinical. A nearby table even has a few outdated copies of People Magazine along side the usual pamphlets pertaining to birth control and contagious diseases.
Resa ignores these and instead opts to wait with only her thoughts to pass the time. It is a crucial decision, for her thoughts naturally turn to Martin and his expression as she walked out the door only last week. Why does it agitate her so? Why has she been unable to purge it from her mind as easily as she has been able to reject others? Is it more of what he said? The sense of remonstration in his words? Always it is she who does the rejecting and though she is the one who has walked out on him she cannot help but feel a sting in his response.
I fell in love with the woman you could be...and ignored the woman you are...
Her jaw tightens at this memory and her fists clench until the nails digging into her palms draw blood. What did he know? she inwardly fumes. Because he wants out, I have to suffer? Well, fuck him. Fuck him! Fuck him!!
She repeats it like a mantra, drawing her anger around her like a protective cloak...and still she finds no fortification from the voice as yet unspoken, lingering within her, just beneath the surface, ever present.
She senses someone coming at her and glances up to see a nurse approaching. The smile on the older womans face is pleasant but carefully devoid of cheer for she knows this is seldom a happy time in the lives of those who cross through the clinics doors. She opens her mouth to speak...
...and Resas cell phone goes off. The gang leader quickly holds up a hand to the nurse.
"Just a second," she commands and puts the phone to her ear. "Hello?" she says and before the caller even has a chance to do more than chuckle smoothly she feels every muscle in her body stiffen in recognition...
"It was Alfons," Resa explained, then smirked. "He always did have impeccable timing."
Jennifer frowned, confused. "But I thought he was in prison during all of this?"
Resa nodded. "He was. But you have to understand that prisons are some of the most corrupt places on earth and getting a cell phone is as easy as getting a vial of crack, if you have the right amount of money...and Alfons has always had the right amount of money."
"Hello, Resa," his voice purrs through the line and its mere timbre raises the hairs on the back of her neck.
"What do you want?" she instinctively challenges.
"So abrupt," he says, a soft chuckle underlying his words. "And after the great lengths Ive gone to help alleviate you of your latest...problem."
There is something in his tone that brings with it a sickening suspicion. "What do you mean?"
The smile is evident in his voice. "Lets just say today you have one less choice to worry your precious mind than you did yesterday. Feel free to thank me at your leisure."
Bile rises in her throat. "What have you done?" she whispers and the easy sound of laughter from the other end enrages her. "Goddammit, Alfons, what have you done?!"
The laughter stops and his voice becomes calm. "Ive eliminated a threat to something thats mine. Its what I do, Resa. You know that by now, better than anyone."
She closes her eyes and drapes her free hand over her face. "Why now?" she asks in a manner strangely composed. "I havent hidden him from you?"
"No. Nor should you. I dont expect you to be faithful while Im away. Lord knows, Im not..." His tone grows ominously low. "But I wont let you leave me, Resa. That, I will never allow. Do you understand?"
She is quiet a long moment before answering, "Yes."
"Good. And now you go ahead with your plan there; get done what needs to be done. I want no trace left of him, do I make myself clear?"
"Excellent! And with that, my love, I must go. Youd be surprised at how these long distance calls can add up. Its criminal." He chuckles again before deliberately adding, "Vaya con Dios, my darling." And then she hears the click of the line as it goes dead.
Slowly she folds the receiver back into the phone and replaces it inside the inner pocket of her jacket with a calculation that, for her, is telling. Alfons may have her activities monitored but she knows his reach only extends so far. He cannot see the expression that darkens her face at that moment for if he could he would recognize it as a one of menacing defiance.
She glances up at the nurse and carefully transforms her face into a pleasant mask. "Thanks," she says as she stands to leave. "But theres been a change of plans..."
Jennifers hand stilled its motion. The pale eyes that searched her own remained dry but she heard the regret and self-recrimination in her companions voice and that was enough to evoke heartfelt empathy.
"What happened to Martin?" she breathed the question, a part of her not certain if she wanted to truly know but her curiosity was overpowering.
Resa looked pained before she dropped her eyes and softly explained, "They found his body in the trunk of his car in the Angeles Mountains...bound, gagged...and burned beyond recognition. Theyre pretty sure the fire killed him, which meant he was alive in there. Alone. Terrified...And all because he loved me." Her last words were barely above a whisper.
"God..." Her heart radiated sorrow for a man she had never met and indeed would never know. It was all so horribly unjust, so horrific and grievous as to be beyond her comprehension and yet before her was living proof that it was all so very real. The woman who had witnessed and endured it all...and ultimately survived.
Instinctively, Jennifer drew Resa to her and she felt the other womans body slide next to her own with exquisite ease. The dark head pressed against her, cheek to shoulder and strong arms wrapped around her waist. For a moment neither said a word, they just cherished the closeness and consolation derived from the other. It superseded anything either had ever known.
Jennifer cupped the back of Resas head and let her hand trail the length of the black tresses down her back, then back again in a repeated motion. In the span of a heartbeat she received a hundred different impressions. The dampness of her hair, the tangy, sensuous smell of her skin, the caged power in the arms that held her tight. It was nearly overwhelming.
She heard Resa inhale an uneven breath then slowly release it and nestle her
face deeper into Jennifers shoulder. Beneath the younger womans hands she felt hard muscles start to relax and unwind.
"You know," Resa murmured, her voice faintly muffled. "Change is a funny thing."
"How so?" Jennifer prompted softly.
"The way it happens so gradually you dont even notice it. Until one day you stop and look back on your life...and realize youre a different person than you once were." Resas fingers toyed with the ends of Jennifers hair and the younger woman could feel the vibrations of her speech against her chest; it was an intensely intimate experience. "My change began with Martin, even though I didnt recognize it at the time," Resa continued, almost languidly. "He wasnt enough to affect me on his own... but he sparked a chain of events that, in hindsight, make everything that followed seem somehow..." She paused as if searching for the right word.
"Destined?" Jennifer supplied and she felt Resa nod against her.
"Yes..." she breathed. "Destined..."
...it is with unexpectedly mixed emotions that she watches as Tony turns to walk out of the room, the crying baby cradled in his arms...
But suddenly she reaches out to him.
"Wait!" she orders and he stops to look back. Their eyes meet and despite knowing that it is the absolute worst thing she can possibly do in this given situation she says, "Bring him here."
His brown eyes register surprise and no little hesitation but he is still quite aware who is boss. He walks slowly to the bed and her gaze falls from his to the shaking bundle in his arms with a hunger that she has never before experienced. With each step a little more becomes visible to her until Tony has stopped by her side and she looks down at the child she has just born.
He is very pink. Red even as blood pushes against his vivid skin and makes the tufts of his dark hair stand out all the more. He does not look like she thought he would, far more misshapen and alien. She frowns, perplexed.
"Whats wrong with his head?" she asks as she barely stops herself from reaching out to touch him.
"Nothing," Tony reassures her. "It gets smushed in the birth canal and ends up lookin all pointy but thats natural. Everythingll shift around and hell have a regular shaped head in no time."
"You sure?" she asks and leans in to get a closer look. "I dont want these people to back out because hes defective."
Tony laughs at this. "Not gonna happen. They want him something fierce."
She nods, distracted by the tiny bundle. "Good," she says and moves to a better sitting position. The infants screams are deafening and yet, to her amazement, they do not bother her. Always she has hated the sound of a baby crying, likening it to nails on a chalkboard but it is not so with this one. Instead his cries reach out to her like invisible waves to seep into her very being and before even she is aware of what she is doing, she has taken the newborn from a startled Tonys arms.
He is so light, she thinks then bounces him ever so slightly to test his weight. And so warm against her chest, much warmer than her own temperature. She can tell this even through his blanket.
"Does he have a fever?" she asks.
"All babies are on the hot side," Tony tells her and she is relieved. But after a moment she hears him softly say, "Resa..." and she knows what he is about to tell her so she chooses not to acknowledge that he has spoken at all.
"Resa..." he says again, more insistent, and she closes her eyes a moment before raising them to meet his own. She knows her look is one of defiance. "The priest is waiting," he says.
"Let him," is her reply as she attempts to wiggle her pinkie finger into the tiny fist. His fingernails are so tiny. Just little specs. And yet his grip is strong.
Tony is concerned. "Youre just makin this harder on yourself," he tells her.
She knows he is right but she cannot release her hold on the child -- her child -- at least not yet. Instead she leans down and lightly presses her lips to his head, silently amazed by the indescribable softness of his skin.
After a long moment, she hears the sound of motion at the front of the room, glances up...and pauses at what she sees. Or rather who. For in the doorway stands a man, very tall and very handsome, watching her with intuitive blue eyes and whose manner of dress defines his calling as that of a priest. She is curious and does not look away, a part of her instinctively sensing this is somehow an important moment in her life.
Tony follows her gaze and says. "Hello, Padre."
The man smiles warmly. "Good morning, Dr. Marcus," he replies then turns his blue eyes back to those of the gang leader. "And hello, Ms. Gustavez."
She tips her head to one side. "Do I know you?" she asks, her manner, as always, direct.
"No. But Ive heard a great deal about you." He moves to stand by her bedside and looks down at her from an imposing height, though his presence does not intimidate. "My name is Father Hector Kulvane," he says by way of introduction and extends his hand in greeting.
She hesitates. Looks from the tall man to Tony and then down at the hand before her. It is with a degree of indefinable uncertainty that she finally slips her hand into his and feels the strength in his grip. He shakes it with care then draws away and glances at the baby still in her arms.
"Hes beautiful," the priest comments and his eyes crinkle as he smiles. "Feisty little guy."
"Who are the people getting him?" she asks abruptly, pulling him closer to her chest.
"Resa, you know we cant"Tony starts but Father Hector politely holds up a hand before addressing her question with inherent honesty.
"Theyre an older couple who havent been able to have children. Theyve been looking forward to this for a long time and theyre very excited."
Resa swallows hard and is startled by the tension she feels in her chest that she attempts to ignore. "Theyre good people?" she continues, her voice low and rough.
Father Hector nods, his eyes ever alert. "The very best." And then he does something surprising. He reaches out and brushes the lock of hair that had earlier been bothering her from her cheek and tucks it behind her ear. She meets his eyes, bewildered...but not annoyed. He watches her as if he can sense the growing conflict within her. "Are you sure this is what you want?" he asks quietly and his rich voice has a surprisingly powerful affect on her. It is like a dagger to her chest.
"Theres no other way," she says emotionally, her eyes brimming with tears that she obstinately holds at bay. "What kind of life could I give him?"
"You can change your life; its not too late," he says and she stiffens, Martins last words to her echoing in her ears. An icy wave of resentment washes over her. She will hear none of this priests platitudes or pep talks. They hold no meaning for her and instead serve to ignite a surge of hostility within her breast. She looks away, closes her eyes and with every ounce of strength she possesses she pushes away the emotional onslaught that has taken hold of her. The eyes that open again to meet Father Hectors are now cold and devoid of pathos.
"I dont want to change my life," she says defiantly and hands the baby to Tony who quickly accepts and takes the child from the room. Resa steels herself not to look after the retreating figure, not to feel anything at all. Rather she stares at the priest before her.
His expression is one of supreme compassion, as if he can see into her very soul and it prompts her to repeat, "I dont want to change my life," with even greater passion.
He smiles a gentle, knowing smile. "And I dont believe you," he says. She tenses at the reply and he folds his hands behind his back. "Youre a smart person, Resa Gustavez and theres goodness in you yet. I dont know what demons drive you but one of these days youre going to regain control. When that day comes..." He gives her a meaningful look. "And I do mean when... just know, if you need someone to talk with, you can come find me."
With that he turns to walk out of the room, leaving her to watch after him.
Resas body was lying heavily across her chest and Jennifer felt that the muscles of her back had totally relaxed beneath her touch. By the steady rhythm of her breathing Jennifer could tell she was either asleep or fast approaching sleep and the younger woman had no intention of moving her. Instead she slowly reached behind her to grab a pillow from the top of the bed, taking great care not to disturb the slumbering woman atop her and as gently as possible eased it beneath her own head for support. She adjusted her body a bit for comfort and Resa stirred at the motion but rather than awaken,
she pressed closer to Jennifer, unconsciously hugging her arms around the college students waist and then sighed deeply, contentedly.
She pulled Resa nearer, ever so slightly and closed her own eyes as she silently marveled at the bond that had developed between them. When exactly it had happened, she did not know, but develop it most certainly had and she treasured it with every fiber of her being.
Resa had said that change was a funny thing and she was inclined to agree. It didnt happen in an instant (even though at times it might seem as if it did) but rather as a result of a series of baby steps that build over time to create an entire journey. Jennifer reflected on what she knew of Resas life and realized that if at any moment something had been different, one simple, seemingly inconsequential deviation -- say, if Alfons hadnt called Resa when he did and unwittingly stopped her plans for the abortion -- she might never have met the former gang leader, might never have known her friendship...and that, she determined as she drifted into a peaceful sleep of her own, would have been a real tragedy...
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