The cacophony of squeaking shoes and bouncing basketballs filled the gymnasium as I tried to block Victor’s path. He was a young boy Hispanic boy, about eight, maybe nine years. He had brown eyes and equally brown hair, short and buzz-cut. We had asked permission to use the gymnasium at Storm Creek Day Care Center, where I was supervising Victor. In one quick motion he twisted his torso around me and ran right up to the basket. Swish! The orange basketball slid right into the hoop.
“I got one! Ha ha!” Victor teased as the ball crashed back down to the ground.
I shook my head. “I let you get that one.” I enjoyed moments like this. I was supervising Vic in order to complete my volunteer hours for my Spanish class. I had been paired up with Victor for almost a month now. My hours were nearly filled up and it was my last week. It kind of hurt me to have to leave him. We had grown so much fonder of each other over the weeks. When we first started, he would barely even speak with me. But it was as if I had unlocked a door in his heart.
Suddenly, we heard a whistle. I looked over at the gym door, where the noise was coming from and saw a young, pretty woman, who looked like she was only slightly older than my age, probably twenty-three. She was carrying a small leather purse, her hair wrought in curls, and she was wearing a small amount of lipstick. She smiled at me and said, “Hi, Ty.”
“Hi, Cecilia,” was my reply. Cecilia was Victor’s mom. She looked especially beautiful today. It seemed that she had grown to like me better just as Victor had. She was unsure of me at first (barely even spoke to me when we first met, almost didn’t shake my hand), but in the recent weeks, she said hi to me more whenever she came to pick Victor up, which wasn’t every day, but enough that we would see each other a lot. We even got into the habit of talking about what the two of us guys had done for the day. I had always admired Cecilia’s struggle as a single mom. Vic told me his father and Cecilia don’t get along.
Cecilia said hi to us and then walked over to Victor. “Ready to go, Victor?”
“Aw, c’mon, mamá, I was beating him in basketball.”
“ ‘C’mon, mamá’”, she mimicked jestingly, grabbing his hand. “You two can play again tomorrow. ¡Venga!”
Just then, a young man walked through the door. He was a Caucasian man, close to my and Cecilia’s age range, with a black beard and a five o’clock shadow. He wore blue jeans and a black T-shirt with “CAN”T STOP ME!” plastered on it in big white letters. When Cecilia saw him, her face flushed out with fear. I knew who he was, and what was coming.
“Hey, Vic, my man!” he said, taking a step towards him.
Victor cheered gleefully. He tried to run to his father, but Cecilia grabbed him to prevent him from escaping.
“No, Victor, I’m picking you up, today, remember?” She looked at the man. “What are you doing here? It’s my turn to pick him up; you have no business being here.”
“I just wanted to see my son. A father has the right to do that, am I right?” I had a quivering feeling in my chest as I listened to them argue. I felt like I should just run out of the gym and out of the building. I wanted to, but I couldn’t move. My feet felt like they were bolted to the gym floor.
“Not without my permission,” replied Cecilia.
“Oh, you’re breaking my heart, Cecilia. Come on, Victor. Give your dad a hug.”
Cecilia tugged Victor again. “No, Victor. Stay here. Please, Charles, just…you need to go, okay?”
“Why should I? You’re not the boss of me,” answered Charles. He looked over at me. It felt as though he pierced a thousand poison needles through me.
“Please, Charles, please leave!” Cecilia yelled, panicked. Charles looked away from me at her. “You can see Victor on Saturday, okay? Please, just leave.”
He took a few steps toward her. “How come you’re being so bitter towards me? You know I still love you, right? You’re my Mexican queen.” He touched her shoulders, as if he were going to pull her towards him and bite her head off.
She jerked herself out of his grip. “Don’t touch me, gringo!” She sounded like she could burst into tears at any moment. “You’re nothing but a filthy drunk! That’s what you’ve always been!” At the back of my brain a voice was screaming at me; get out of here, Ty. Forget about her. Get out of here and save yourself. But I stood right where I was.
“I’m trying, though, aren’t I?” He tried to caress her face, but she ducked his hand once again.
“Trying isn’t enough. I can’t trust you. I’ve trusted you way too many times. I give you second chance after second chance. Second chances you don’t deserve. You’re never gonna learn!” Victor had his face buried in the back of his mother’s right knee. I guess his mother and father argued like this constantly.
“So that’s it, huh?” Charles replied, taking a step back and nodding to himself. He sounded very annoyed this time. “You think you’re paying for my mistakes, is that it? You ungrateful little….I oughta strangle you right this instant. I bust my back to make it so we can be a family again, and this…”
Cecilia gave out a sarcastic laugh. “Family?!? We were never familia to begin with! Don’t fucking talk to me about familia, there is no familia!”
Charles was furious now. He clenched his fists and lumbered towards Cecilia.
“Don’t touch her!” I shouted. Both Charles and Cecilia turned their heads toward me.
“Ty, don’t be foolish! Please, stay out of this, I beg you!” Cecilia cried. She sounded worried, as if I had painted a new target on myself for Charles.
Charles walked up to me. “What, you think you’re better than me? You think you can tell me what to do now that you’re seeing my girl?” He was in my face now. I was sorry I ever spoke.
“Charles!” The sound of her voice broke the awkward silence. “Ty isn’t my boyfriend! Please, Ty, let me handle this.”
Charles stood there dumbfounded for a couple seconds, then said, “Whatever,” and started out towards the gym door. He turned back towards me and said “Have fun putting up with her. The bitch can be a real handful sometimes.” Then to Victor. “See you Saturday, okay, sport?”
“Okay, papá,” the boy replied, smiling faintly at his father from behind Cecilia’s leg. After Charles was out of sight, Cecilia fell to the ground in tears. I wanted to go over by her and say something to her, but I couldn’t think of anything to say that would help her. He’s such a bastard, that Charles, I thought to myself, clenching my fists so hard that I could have given myself calluses. And yet the kid still talks to him like he’s human?
It was Thursday night, and I was working on homework at the kitchen table when the doorbell rang. Outside a heavy rain was pouring down. I heard the rumble of thunder. The lamplight above my head and textbooks gave off an eerie calm; the light cast pitch black shadows of my hand and head onto the paper whenever I lowered my hand down to write.
“Lindsay!” I called for my sister. “Get the door, will ya? I’m doing homework!”
About fifteen seconds later, I heard Lindsay call for me. Annoyed, I dropped my pen onto the notebook and walked clumsily to the front door. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Cecilia standing there, her hair and skin soaked and dripping, her thin green jacket glistening with rain. Behind her, Victor peeked out from behind her leg. He had a yellow raincoat on, making him drier than his mom.
“This woman says she’s here to see you,” said Lindsay. She was standing next to the open door with her arms crossed.
“C-cecilia?” I stuttered. “What happened? What are you doing here?”
Cecilia rushed toward me and threw her arms around me. I felt the dampness of her body. “I’m scared, Ty,” she whimpered, breathing heavily. “Scared for my life. I didn’t know where else to go.”
“Why? What happened?” I walked Cecilia over to the living room and sat her down on the couch. Lindsay and Victor followed. After taking a few deep breaths, coupled with a few sobs, Cecilia spit out her story:
The phone had rung while she was giving Victor a bath. It was Charles. He sounded drunk and started to make threats to Cecilia. He must have suspected that she was leaving him for me. He said he was coming over to “teach her a lesson about being respectful”. She was in a severe state of shock after he hung up. Shock turned to fear, and before she knew it, she was drying Victor off, throwing a suitcase of clothes together, and rushing out her front door. She had looked up my address in a phone book at a local gas station and driven here.
“You’re the only one I can turn to, Ty,” she exhaled when she was finished. “I mean, Charles has done crazy shit before, but nothing like this. He sounded like he was actually going to kill me.”
I was trembling just as hard as she was. I collected myself and put my arms around her. I held her close to me, the same way a mother holds a child while comforting him after he’s had a horrible nightmare.
“It’s okay,” I tried to assure her. “You can stay here with us. You’re safe now.”
“No, no, he’ll find us, Ty; he’ll find out where you live and he’ll come and try to kill you. I have to leave. Me and Victor have to get far away from here as soon as possible.”
I didn’t say anything for a couple of seconds. Without waiting to see if she was calmed down, I asked her if she wanted something to eat. I went into the kitchen and got a bag of pizza rolls from the freezer, and poured the contents onto a steel baking sheet. Lindsay came into the kitchen just as I was putting the sheet into the oven, and asked me what I was going to do.
“About what?” I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about.
“About her.” Lindsay pointed through the doorway back into the living room. “You aren’t seriously thinking about going with her, are you?”
I scoffed. “I never said anything about that.”
“Don’t give me that,” my sister teased. I tried to look away, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw that she was smiling. “You love her! You love her, and she loves you!”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Look, Ty, I’m a girl; I know these things. Suppose you do go with her; what would come of it? You have very little money, you have an obligation to college- not to mention to mom and dad- that you can’t just abandon on a whim. And besides, what about her psychotic boyfriend? You’ll be running from him pretty much the rest of your life!”
As she talked I knew she was right about everything. I couldn’t simply follow Cecilia out the door and along the highway to whatever random destination she was planning to go to. Still, I had to find some way to help her.
While I was standing there in my zone, contemplating what to do, Lindsay got my attention by announcing that the pizza rolls were ready. I dumped them from the baking sheet onto a large plate and carefully carried them into the living room. When I came into the room, Cecilia had Victor’s head in her lap, and she was stroking his hair, like you do with a cat.
“Thank you,” she commented modestly when I set the plate onto the table in front of her. She picked one off and bit it in half. I smiled at how cute the way she did it was. She just sat there chewing, the other half of the roll pinched between her thumb and pointer.
“Listen, Cecilia,” I started. I knew I needed to break the silence with something supportive. “If you’re serious about packing up and leaving, I want to help in anyway I can. I’ll give you some money or something.”
“Oh, you don’t need to do that, Ty,” commented Cecilia. She smiled shyly at me. “I don’t need you to give me anything. But if you could…I dunno, drive me and Victor to a hotel or something, I would be grateful.” I nodded in agreement. “Muchos gracias, Ty.” Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Lindsay raise her eyebrow and wink.
I wanted to find them a decent hotel for them to stay in, but Cecilia insisted, “No, any old hotel will be fine. We’d only spend one night in it anyway.” I settled on a motel about three and a half blocks from my house. The flickering neon sign, adorned with large letters spelling out COZY SLEEP INNS, greeted us as we pulled into the parking lot.
“Room for two, please,” Cecilia told the desk clerk in the lobby. She gave him her credit card. I wondered how long she’d be able to dig into the funds on that card. She truly was venturing out into hell and high water.
“Can he come in for a while to say goodbye to us?” Cecilia indicated me standing next to her. The clerk said it was okay, don’t worry about it. He gave her the key to the room, A-14.
Victor fell asleep on the easy chair next to the room window. He wasn’t hungry, since he had some of the pizza rolls before we left. There was a small pool on the other side of the parking lot across from the rooms. It was still raining, not as heavily as before, but still coming down pretty thick. I wondered if tomorrow morning it would be warm enough for Victor to go swimming. I bet he’d like to do that before he sets off with his mom.
“I’m thinking we’ll go to Indiana,” Cecilia’s voice interrupted my thoughts. I saw that she was sitting on the bed, with what appeared to be a road atlas spread open on the mattress. “We have family there: my stepbrother and his wife. He used to be a member of the SWAT team, so I don’t think even Charles will try to mess with him.” She looked up at me. Our eyes met, and I saw that for the first time in a while, she was actually calm and at ease.
“Ty, come sit with me.” I obeyed and was sitting on the bedside next to her. She leaned forward and pressed her lips against mine. As she pulled away I thought about how moist and smooth her lips were.
“Ty,” she whispered. “I want you to make love to me.”
My heart jumped a few beats like a fried MP3 Player. I felt like my lungs were being squeezed like a rubber duck. “W-what?”
“I need this, Ty,” Cecilia insisted. “If I give myself to you, my heart won’t be chained to Charles anymore.” When she noticed the look of uncertainty on my face, she continued. “Please, Ty, just do this for me. You don’t need to come with me, but I want you to do this for me so I can be free.”
I sat there, somewhat confused for a second. This came completely out of nowhere. I did like her, and figured she had some sort of feelings for me, but wasn’t this a little too sudden? I closed my eyes and tried to shake the doubt from my head as if it was a bunch of cobwebs. What’s there to think about? She loves me and I love her. I have to do this.
In just a few minutes I was lying on my back on the bed while Cecilia hovered over me. She swooped down and kissed me, but this time we kept our lips locked for a while longer. When we separated she lifted up her shirt, ducking out of it and tossing it aside at the foot of the bed. Outside the rain was beginning to die away, and the silver moon showed faintly through the thin clouds.