Home > Taming Cross(3)

Taming Cross(3)
Author: Ella James

She shakes her head, then turns on her heel and marches into the bathroom.

For the next few minutes, I stand by the door, feeling helpless and heartless and frustrated. I consider knocking, but I can hear her sniffing and I wonder if she'd rather have her privacy. I rub my neck, which is still aching.

I'm mulling that one over when I hear the door creak, and Suri steps out, looking calm and gathered. I reach for her hand, touching it for a moment before she draws away.

“Suri, I'm really fucking sorry.”

She holds up both hands. “I know, Cross. And it will be okay. I still want to go with you tonight, just as a friend. You really shouldn't have to face the firing squad alone.”

I shouldn't face the firing squad at all, but I’ve got things to settle with my dad. “I appreciate it. You'll never know how much. But I think it would be better if you just go home tonight. We'll talk tomorrow.”

I can see the moment that her eyes go cold. The moment that I lose a friend—just as surely as I lost Lizzy to Hunter. “Okay.” Her lips press flat. “Whatever you want.”

She walks briskly from the room, and I can't think of anything to stop her.

 

 

2

 

 

Merri

 

 

IF YOU'VE NEVER eaten ant eggs, you haven't lived. You think I'm kidding. They taste...buttery. Buttery and crunchy and almost the texture of a boiled peanut. For not the first time, as I sit at one of the ragged picnic tables inside our little cafeteria, I think about Alec, the self-styled food critic who wrote columns for my college's newspaper. His favorite word to use in conversation was 'copious'. He broke his leg junior year, and for weeks afterward, Alec was laid up in his king-sized love nest, reviewing take-out food. Copious amounts of pepperoni pizza and greasy burgers. I smile a little at the memory. Like so many things from my past, it seems light years away from day-to-day life at St. Catherine's Clinic for Sick and Needy Children.

It's a weird place. Most of the time I'm here, taking care of children in this poverty-stricken Mexican neighborhood, nothing else exists. That includes memories.

I finish my rice and chicken, topped with the ant eggs that were a gift from Señora Maria, the mother of a little boy with cystic fibrosis. Victor's family has more money than most we see, which is probably the only reason he's alive today, at five. He had a rough winter, with a long hospitalization during which I couldn't give him any of his favorite back rubs.

Those are the worst times, I think as I walk my empty bowl over to a row of garbage cans with tubs for dirty dishes on the top. The times when the kids stop coming here for one reason or another, and I can't go visit them. Some of the nuns do house calls, but I can't. I can't ever leave St. Catherine's Clinic.

A lot of times, it’s not so bad. The building is short but wide, with several different areas, so when I pass from, say, the clinic quadrant into the living quarters, I feel like I’m going somewhere. But I’m not. When I think of how long it’s been since I felt the sun on my skin, since I cranked up the music as I sped down an empty highway, since I browsed the internet or read a book I chose for myself or got my hair done at a salon…I kind of want to scream. Okay, I do scream. Sometimes at night, I scream into my pillow. Then I remind myself I’m lucky. My story could have had a harsher ending. Actually, it probably should have. This life I have here, with the sisters, with the kids—it’s a fairy tale, compared to what could have been.

I place my metal spork and bowl in a bin atop the nearest trash can and glance up at the clock on the wall over the self-serve bar, where cheap grub rests in brassy bowls that are either kept cold on ice or hot on electric plates. It's almost four o'clock, which means I have one more client before the day winds down and I prepare for evening prayers. I glance at one of the narrow, vertical windows that line one side of the room, wondering how hot it is outside right now. Wishing I could smell the sun-steamed grass.

I don't peer out the windows or even step close to them. Instead, I head into the dingy, one-stall bathroom with its meager supply of toilet paper and take the three squares allotted for each use. When I first took refuge at the clinic—which is located in the same building as St. Catherine’s Convent, just inside the city limits of Guadalupe Victoria—I was appalled by the scarcity of supplies, but after more than half a year, I've learned how to make it work. As I do my business, I wonder how many squares I'd allow myself to use for a 'number one' if I were to make it back into the States. Maybe four, I decide. Anything more than that would probably feel wasteful. I wash my hands, and as I dry them on a rough rag, I tell myself to be thankful for what I have. Even if I never make it back to my home country, I have a good life here.

You can’t be grateful and bitter at the same time. That’s what Sister Mary Carolina always tells us. So what am I grateful for? I stare at myself in the mirror, ticking things off inside my head. I’ve been blessed to learn massage therapy from Sister Mary. I’ve been able to make a difference in the lives of children. And, almost more importantly, I’m accepted here. Cherished, even. Which is so much more than I expected when I arrived.

I feel more peaceful as I step back into the empty cafeteria, already looking forward to my session with little Alexandria Perez, a one-year-old with a severe case of congenital torticollis. I'm passing by the garbage cans, glancing toward the windows, when I see a mirage from my past: Juan and Emanuel, looking so much older than the 11- and 12-year-olds they were last time I saw them. What the heck are they doing here?

I don't get to ask.

Light engulfs the room, and a sonic boom throws me back toward the wall.

 

 

3

 

 

Cross

 

 

WITHOUT SURI’S LAND Rover, I'll have to ride one of my motorcycles. No big deal, I tell myself as I unlock the heavy metal door between the showroom and the garage. I've been putting it off, yeah, but once I'm straddling one of my favorite hybrid bikes, it'll feel like old times. Has to. I've been riding since I was fifteen. Haven't owned a car in four years, since I dropped out of Cal at 19 and sold my Beamer to buy a 1963 BSA Rocket Gold Star Spitfire Scrambler.

I step from the glossy urban expanse of the showroom into the dingier garage, inhaling the familiar scent of oil and gasoline, then turn around to lock the door between the garage and the showroom. I set the alarm for the whole place, giving myself a generous eight minutes to be out the garage doors on the back of the building, and I jiggle my key ring until I find the electronic key to the security system I keep for my favorite Cross Hybrid, the first prototype of my custom Anomaly job, with an electric motor that kicks in on longer stretches.

She's a beauty. Started out as a 1974 Kawasaki H2 B 750 Mach IV MK4, but I’ve changed her a lot. Gave her steel frame a sea blue and black paint job, emblazing my “CH” symbol on the tank. Added a slightly roomier, gel-filled seat, so both Lizzy and I could fit on it in a bind. Put on some Sunrim 6000 series aluminum rims with Dunlop Arrowmax tires. And of course, I re-worked her insides for the special motor.

I bought her two years ago off a 70-something-year-old collector in Laguna Beach. My plan was to sell her at one of the shows I do each quarter—in either New York or L.A.—but once I rode my renovated Mach, I knew I couldn't part with her.

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