Family
Part 3
When I pulled up in front of our house in Bisbee, there was nobody home. It was the middle of the afternoon and Lynn was at the shop. I'd loaded my stuff in the car and driven from L.A. when I couldn't stand to be there any more. I'd looked through some old records at the station when Ed was done taking my statement, and then went to the newspaper office and looked through the old issues that matched the years in the police records. There was a lot more to my family than Murchison had told me. It was bigger and uglier, and I don't know if I even found out all there was to find out. I stopped looking; I didn't want to know any more. Walking in the house, with the flowers, and the pictures on the wall, and the pretty little things here and there, like Lynn's fingerprints everywhere, was like walking into sunlight from a dark room. I took a shower that didn't make me feel any cleaner, and laid down on the bed. Guess I fell asleep. When I woke up, the room was dark, but Lynn was next to me. I reached out and pulled her close. "I'm sorry, baby, if you're asleep---" And then I was moving her gown out of the way, finding my place between her legs, pushing myself into her. I needed to be inside her, needed to lose myself there. I wanted her sweetness to wash over me, clean away the taint that water couldn't touch, make me somebody else besides who I am. Afterwards, I mumbled, "Sorry," in her ear. She giggled. "I was asleep, but it's OK. Lots worse ways to wake up than that." "Dammit, I'm a selfish bastard. I can't seem to help it." "Oh, honey, if you're selfish, then I guess I'm just as guilty. We're a greedy pair…… greedy ……" My baby knows kissing better than anybody I ever met, and I've taken lessons from some pros. Lynn's got 'em all beat. I coulda kissed her the rest of the night, but she had other ideas. "Let's see if your big fella's done with his nap," she whispered. He wasn't, but she knew how to wake him up. He likes her kisses as much as I do.
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Lynn was still sleeping when I brought the stuff in from the car. I put the box and the pile of papers in a corner out of the way. And tried to forget about them. The papers I'd taken out of the bureau drawer were just the regular things: the bill of sale for the car, the deed for the cemetery plot where we put Mabel, the deed to the ground the house sat on, that kind of thing. And a bankbook. I didn't think too much about that 'til I looked inside. $12,000 and change. Who woulda thought the Bitch had that kinda money? And then I realized it was me who had that kinda money. Not because I inherited it, but because it was my name on the first page, not Mabel's. Shit.
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The Rev was sitting out on the porch when I drove up later that day. He was still pretty weak, but usually cheerful. His sister hadn't warmed up to me yet, but the Rev said not to worry, she would. Right. It's always been hard for me to talk about important stuff. I never know how to say what I'm thinking so anybody else will understand. So I didn't say much right away. The Rev just let me sit for a while. "I can see that something's bothering you," he said finally. I took the ring box out of my pocket and put it on the table. He opened it and looked at the ring inside. "Very nice. Aren't you supposed to wait until she says yes to tell me about it?" "I'm thinkin' about taking it back. I'm thinkin' I should move back to L.A." He was silent for a long time. "Bud….you love Lynn. Don't you?" "I've got a little money. I was thinkin' of buying the house for her, so she'd never have to worry about that. She's real happy here." "Bud….." "Yeah…..I do……You know some things about me, Rev." "Yes." "You don't know the half of it…..I think she deserves to be happy." "She looks happy to me. She loves you." "Yeah, well, my mother was in love, too, when she married my old man. You know how that turned out." "I don't think you're very much like your father, Bud." "Don't you?" I took a breath and let it out. "I went to my aunt's funeral." He nodded. "Met one of my relatives. Heard about the others. We're an interesting bunch, us Whites. All pretty much cut from the same cloth. Even Mabel. She was probably the best of a bad bunch, at least she never went to jail…..but still, nobody I'd want Lynn to know." "You're your own person, son." "Anyway, it got me remembering things….stuff I haven't thought about in years. Stuff that makes me feel…...I don't know how it makes me feel. Bad. Dirty, maybe." I stood up. "I don't think it's fair to bring Lynn into a family like mine. Into a life like mine." I closed up the ring box and put it back in my pocket. "She deserves better." "Bud…don't make any decisions right away. Think about it some more." I nodded. "Yeah, I'm still thinking. Thanks, Rev." "Don't sell yourself short, son." I waved as I walked down the sidewalk to the car. Not sure what I thought I'd accomplish by telling the Rev; I never take any of his advice. I guess I just wanted somebody else to know what I was thinking. In case I can't manage to explain it to Lynn right.
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I went out into the desert. Sat in the car. Got really hot. I think I fell asleep for a while. At least, it seemed like I was really sweaty all of a sudden, and the sun was a lot lower than I thought it should be. Dammit. Lynn would be worrying about where I was. It was almost dark by the time I got home. I could smell supper when I walked in the door. Lynn wasn't in the kitchen, or the living room. She was sitting in the bedroom. She had pictures from Aunt Mabel's box spread out all around her on the bed, and the papers weren't in a neat pile any more. "Hi, baby," she said and smiled. "I got curious about what you brought back with you. You don't mind that I went ahead and looked, do you?" I didn't know what to say. I did mind. I didn't want her looking at my fucking family; it felt to me like somebody's pain was smeared all over every one of those photos. Not a single decent one in the bunch-sadistic bitches and bastards, all of 'em. Good thing most of 'em were dead. I wanted to tell her to wash her hands. Her smile faded. "I'm….sorry…..I shouldn't have looked before you had a chance to….." I started to gather them up. Put 'em all back in the box and burn 'em, maybe. "Wait…..here's one I thought you might ……want to see…..it's you, look, it has your name on the back." She held it right in front of me. I had no choice but to look. If she hadn't done that, I would have burned it with the rest. I was a baby. My mother was standing in front of some sort of bush, holding me and smiling at the camera. My father was standing a few steps away, smoking a cigarette and looking irritated. I took the picture out of her hand and looked at it until it got blurry. Then I handed it back to her and went outside. She let me sit by myself for a while before she came out. I've always said she was a smart woman, probably smarter than I deserve. By the time she came out and sat down beside me on the step, I was calmer. "I've never had any pictures of my mother," I said. She took my arm and rested her head on my shoulder. "I know." After a minute, she said, "You haven't told me anything that happened at the funeral." "I'm the heir," I said.
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- I didn't tell her much. I told her a little about Mabel, and Ronnie, and the house, not nearly everything. I didn't tell her anything about the money, or my family history. I didn't want it to touch her. I didn't mean to tell her about the shoot-out, but I was stupid enough to tell her I'd been kissed by an extremely young raven-haired beauty, and then the rest came out. She giggled when I told her about "Thooth." "Why do you think I wanted to bring you back here to Bisbee? Less competition-I know all the women in L.A. probably just fall all over each other to get to you." I snorted. "Yeah." "Well, if they don't, it's because they don't know what I know about you." "There might be a couple that know what you know……" I said. "Depends what you know." I kissed her; then I kissed her again. Then before you know it, the next coupla hours were shot to hell. I never did get around to telling her I was leaving her.
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I took my clothes with me for once when I left Mabel's house that day. She came to the door when I started down the street. I think she was speechless up to that point. "You're still my responsibility, Wendell White. I don't shirk my responsibilities." I turned to look back at her. "You'll have to come back, you know. You can't live on the streets forever." I just kept walking. "Wendell!" A couple weeks later, I was shivering on a street corner, trying to find a way to wedge myself into a doorway so I could sleep without falling over onto the cement. Hadn't done too well that day, pretty hungry, but sleepy too. A prostitute was leaning against the lamppost. We were ignoring each other. Business was slow here tonight, I expected her to leave for busier intersections pretty soon. I shut my eyes. I mighta slept a little bit. "Hi, Bucky." I opened my eyes and she was leaning over me. "Nothing goin' on here, Bucky, I'm thinking about going home and having some soup and hitting the sack." "OK……" "You wanna come with me? Marlene makes a great beef stew….My roommate…..There'll be plenty." "Uh, I don't know..…." She flopped down on the sidewalk next to me and started digging through her bag. She pulled out a half a chocolate bar, broke it into pieces and held out some in my direction. When I didn't take it right away, she said, "Hey, it's OK, it's not poisoned or anything. Have some. What could it hurt?" So I took it. It was wonderful. I couldn't remember the last time I had chocolate. We sat for a while after the chocolate was gone. She looked like most of the other prostitutes I saw walking around at night. Brown hair, average figure, average face, average everything. Nothing special. I couldn't even tell if I'd seen her before. "So-my butt's getting cold sitting here. You wanna come back to my place?" The problem was, I knew going home with strangers could be chancy. I knew a coupla kids who'd disappeared, and I hadn't even been here that long. On the other hand, I could use a big bowl of soup right about now. Frankly, I was still kinda riding high over facing down the Bitch and winning (that's how I looked at it, anyway-hey, I was just thirteen, OK?), and I felt like there wasn't too much I couldn't handle. So I went. Her apartment was small and you had to step over drunks to get to the door, but otherwise it looked OK to me. I could smell the stew when I walked in. Smelled so much better than anything I'd had at Mabel's. Another girl with dark red hair I figured must be the roommate was standing at the stove stirring an enormous pot. In her underwear. She looked over her shoulder and giggled. "LaDonna, you shoulda warned me! Now he's gonna think I'm loose!" But she didn't stop what she was doing to go put clothes on. "Don't pay any attention to her," LaDonna said. "She's a screwball. And as far as being loose….well, hell…...Come on in, honey. She's probably just drunk. Don't worry about it. She can still cook when she's drunk. Honest." She sat me down at the table, and ruffled my hair as she went past. At the stove, the two of them whispered and giggled, and Marlene sneaked looks at me when she thought I wasn't looking. "I don't know, LaDonna, where'd you get this one? Are you sure?" "Am I ever wrong?" "Yes! How 'bout that one with the switchblade? Huh? That wasn't fun at all." "Nah, I been watching this one for a couple days. He's OK. He's just a little shy, that's all. You can fix that. You're good with the shy ones." "That's true………He is kinda cute." "And I am so sick of fat, stinky, and bald that I could just puke. And Benny's gonna be gone for a while. It'll be fine." Marlene reached up in the cupboard for a bowl. I could almost see something interesting. I was beginning to think maybe I should leave, though. They both sounded like screwballs to me. But then there was that wonderful smell to consider. And then LaDonna brought the bowl over to me and set it down. "Here you go, sweetheart. If that ain't enough, just sing out. Got plenty more." She sat in another chair, and took her shoes off. Then she reached up under her dress, and started taking her stockings off. I had the spoon half way to my mouth-and it stayed there while I watched the first stocking come off. She glanced at me. "I ain't embarrassing you, am I, Bucky? You know, this apartment is so small, we just get used to-" "What you talking about, LaDonna? He looks like a man of the world to me. He ain't gonna be embarrassed by a little thing like a stocking." Marlene put her bowl on the table and sat down, almost right next to me. In her underwear. "You ain't embarrassed, are you, sweetheart?" "Uh…..no, 'course not." Marlene giggled. I couldn't help but notice how certain parts of her jiggled when she did that. "Go put something on, Marly, so the boy can eat." Marlene leaned into me and looked right into my face. "Oh, I don't think we got a boy here, LaDonna." I was watching her mouth, and didn't notice where her hand was until her knuckles grazed the front of my trousers, which, by the way, were feeling almost too small by this time. "I think this big guy is all man….." LaDonna got up and smacked Marlene on the head. "You're gonna scare him off, ya slut. Let him eat." Marlene giggled again. She gave me a peck on the cheek, and then got up and put on a robe sort of thing, although it wasn't like anything I'd ever seen anybody wear before. It was all shimmery and had flowers and butterflies and things on it. I had to stop eating and watch when LaDonna took off her dress and put on another one of those robe things. "You done with that bowl, darling?" she asked. I'd been shoveling it in as fast as I could when I wasn't busy looking. She filled it up again for me. "You just look starved, you poor thing." I'll admit the situation was beyond me. LaDonna seemed determined to stuff as much food into me as she could; after the second bowl of stew, she produced a piece of apple pie, and I couldn't make myself turn it down. I was trying to decide what the hell these screwballs wanted and if they were dangerous, but after the pie, they gave me a beer, and then I couldn't seem to stay awake. I musta fallen asleep at the table, 'cause I woke up later in the bed, the sun just coming up, with Marlene on one side, and LaDonna on the other, both of them snoring to beat hell. I had my clothes on, they had on their robe-things, and it seemed like the strangest thing that had ever happened to me. I lay there and thought about it for a while. The three of us squeezed up in bed together was actually kinda cozy. And what was I worrying about? They'd fed me more food than I'd had in a week, I had a soft bed to sleep in instead of a doorway, and a couple of dishy broads to watch take their clothes off. And they were just girls after all; if they tried anything funny, I could handle them. I went back to sleep. The room was sunny when I woke up again, and the girls were whispering over my head. "Yeah, ok, you were right. You're always right." "Of course I am, did you see the size of his feet?" "You can't tell anything by feet, LaDonna, you know that. Feet are just….feet." "Then how come I'm always right? Huh? Oh, and you just watch it today. I told you, he's shy. If you scare him away, you can just find your own next time." Fingers ran down my cheek. "Good morning, Bucky. See, LaDonna, our sleepyhead's awake." I opened my eyes. "My name's not Bucky. It's Wendell." There was silence for a moment. Then Marlene breathed, "Wendell. You know what I like more than just about anything in the world, Wendell?" I shook my head. "I like a good-morning kiss. Then I'll feel like getting up and cooking breakfast. What would you like for breakfast, honey?" "Anything's fine with me. I ain't fussy." "Anything? Really? Mmmmm-" LaDonna smacked her on the arm. "Watch it." "Oh, all right….How 'bout that kiss, sweetheart? You know I like you an awful lot. I think you and me are gonna be just about the best friends there are." So I leaned over and kissed her. Her lips were softer than I expected. And then LaDonna said it wasn't fair if Marlene got a kiss and she didn't, so I kissed her, too. That whole day, they kept trying to feed me. Marlene was one terrific cook. LaDonna always had her hands in my hair whenever she walked by me. Marlene giggled a lot, and ran her hands over my shoulders or down my arm whenever she got the chance. LaDonna washed the clothes I wasn't wearing. Before they went out for the evening to go to work, LaDonna laid out some food in case I got hungry while they were gone (like I wasn't stuffed already), and told me since they wouldn't be around for a while, I could take a bath. I got the hint. I was clean when they got home. There had to be something they wanted in return; I didn't have any idea what it was gonna be. The next day, I got a lotta hugs. Lots of strokes and caresses; some kisses. More food than I could eat. The third day, Marlene got a coupla chocolate bars out of the cupboard and asked me if I wanted some. I said sure, and she said it wasn't free, that I'd have to pay for it. I said I couldn't. "So I guess you'll have to keep it." "Wendell….oh, honey, don't be mad. I don't want money. You know what I like." It wasn't a question. I shook my head. She'd lost me. She giggled. "What do I like in the morning, better than anything? I like 'em other times, too." Oh. "Gonna play hard to get, huh? OK, you win. I'll buy kisses from you with my chocolate, how about that?" We worked it out. It got a little more complicated when she ran out of chocolate, but we came up with an alternative. That was when I discovered I liked kisses almost better than food. Not quite-I was thirteen, after all, and still growing-but almost. The fourth day we played Find the---well, I guess I don't need to go into any more details; I think you can see what was going on here. By the time they got around to coaxing me out of my clothes, I didn't need much coaxing. They never asked me my age, and I think they didn't realize how young I was. Over the next six or seven weeks, I learned more than any 13-year-old needs to know. It sounds incredible, I know. I swear it's the God's truth. I didn't question it too much at the time. Later, I realized I was just ….a diversion, a distraction. A big boy doll to play house with. A pet, maybe. Somebody who didn't order them around or beat them up. Who didn't expect more than they wanted to give. Somebody they could play the game with and win. And I wasn't the first; they obviously had a system worked out. But those weeks with the girls were as close to heaven as any randy 13-year-old who's big for his age is ever gonna get in this life. I think I grew a coupla inches while I stayed with the girls. My clothes started to feel tight all the time. I asked LaDonna to cut my hair short. (I don't know if you can imagine what it's like to have a woman with her fingers in your hair, and another one with her hands on another part of you at the same time…..gotta be one of the best things in the world.) They got me a razor and I started to shave. Not much there to worry about, really, but you know how it is when you're thirteen. You think you're ready to be a man. And I was. Although in our little "family", LaDonna was the adult, and Marly and I were the kids. In bed, LaDonna instructed me constantly-where, when, how much, how hard, how fast……She taught me how to do what men do. But Marly……I think I fell in love with Marly almost right away. When she was with me, she gave me her whole attention, her whole self. She never held anything back, never saved anything for later. She made me feel like I was the strongest, the bravest, the best lover, in the world. I wanted to take care of her. I wanted to stay with her forever. I wanted to be her man. It mighta been LaDonna who taught me how to be a man, but it was Marly who made me wanna be one.
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I had to smile. I hadn't thought about "Wendell sandwiches" in years. By the time their Benny came back and threw me out, I'd learned pretty much all that I needed to know for a long time. I may not be as good-looking as some, and nobody's ever accused me of being charming, but in the sack I know what I'm doing. And I know who to thank for that. I didn't realize at the time how lucky I was. They coulda sold me the first night. Boys that age probably brought a pretty good price even then. They coulda been psychos, they coulda done just about anything they wanted with me, no matter how tough I thought I was. I suppose I should be upset that they used me ('cause they did), but I can't be. If they took something away from me (and they did that, too), they gave me something worth having in return. I used to see them occasionally on the street, and they'd always wave and yell hi, till LaDonna got hit by a bus a couple years later, and Marly….. Marly's body washed up on the beach after I joined the PD. But that's another story. Lynn was laying on her side, with her head propped on her hand. "Whatcha thinking about?" I turned toward her and put my arm around her waist. "Nothing, baby. I think maybe I'm just feeling real lucky to be here with you." I said that….and I meant it. I did feel lucky to be there with her at that moment. But I also felt like a liar, like I was pretending. I thought for a while that maybe we could manage it. That's when I bought the ring. Wanted to get married and live happily ever after. Like normal people. You know? Woulda been nice. I was just dreaming. Too much shit under the bridge to ignore. And if I didn't want her to be tainted by it, I needed to get off my ass and take care of it. But dammit, I'm a selfish bastard. Or I wouldn't've been dragging it out like I was, wanting one more day, one more hour…… Selfish and cowardly……or I'd already have let her go.


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