“Scar, I’m going over to Kayla’s after work. Wanna join me? Give me a call.” I found this note on the dining room table when I got up in the morning. No apology, no nothing. In a way, I was glad as the note was something Matt would normally write to me. I had to be at Julia’s at one, and we had to be at Mom’s at six. It would be cutting it short, and I wondered if we should go to Kayla’s after. Then I remembered that we’d have Banana, so it wouldn’t be a good idea to be out after eight or nine. Damn. I called Matt.
“Matt Reynolds.” Matt’s professional voice was much different from his normal one, and I almost didn’t recognize it.
“Hey, it’s me. We have to be at my mom’s at six. I have to be at Julia’s at one. I’ll be bringing Banana with me, which means we can’t go to Kayla’s after Mom’s.”
“We’re going to your mother’s?” Matt sounded puzzled, even though I had mentioned it to him last night.
“Yes, I told you when you got home. Right before you hit on me the first time. Can you get out of work by, say, four?” I knew the gang would have a fit if I left that early, but some things superseded work.
“No can do. I have a meeting with a juvie at four-thirty.” Matt sounded frustrated, as he should. “Shit. What about tomorrow? It’s Saturday.”
“Sure. Let’s do it early.” I hesitated before adding, “I have a date with Martinez at eight.” I waited for the fallout, but it didn’t come.
“Does that mean you’re kicking me out of the apartment again,” Matt teased, all earlier signs of a snit gone.
“No, I’m going to his place this time. He’s cooking for me.”
“As it should be.”
I felt better as I hung up the phone. Matt seemed to be ok with my situation. I puttered around the apartment, cleaning it because I was in the mood. Then, I hauled out the envelope of Kayla’s things and looked it over again. Nothing struck me more than it had before, and I realized it was time to turn it over to the police. I still had time to make copies before I went to Julia’s, so I did. I planned on giving the originals to Martinez tomorrow night, but after I got laid. I had a hunch he wasn’t going to react well to me having withheld them, and I wanted to at least make sure I had him once before the relationship was over.
By the time I left for Julia’s, I was in a pretty good mood. Not great because too much shit had happened, but better than I’d felt in a few days. Well, except for the few short hours Martinez and I spent together. I felt even better then. I hummed as I drove, glad that I had a reprieved from the darkness of the past week. I knew that I’d plunge into it again very soon, but I didn’t feel guilty for shunting it to the side. Instead, I thought about Martinez and what a good kisser he was. I remembered how he’d listened as I talked, focusing on me rather than what he was going to say in response. I had to be careful to concentrate on driving because my thoughts kept wanting to drift to Martinez.
“Scar, late as usual,” Julia said, reaching out to hug me. “How can it be that you’re always the last one here?”
“Good luck?” I asked brightly, pulling back. I looked at her with a critical eye, noticing that she looked as if she hadn’t slept in weeks. Probably hadn’t since talking to Peter, but I wished she would. She was going to need to keep her strength up when she visited him.
“How was your date?” Julia said, brushing her hair from her face. With a start, I realized she wasn’t wearing any makeup, and she was in jeans and a t-shirt. Julia never dressed down, not even when it was just us. I knew she must be in dire straits to not even make an effort.
“Good, until he had to leave.” I gave her the shorthand version, not wanting to bog her down.
“Auntie!” A speeding bullet hurtled at my legs, nearly knocking me over. “I get to see Uncle Matt and your mommy!” Banana beamed up at me, her chubby face glowing in anticipation. “Look, I’m all packed!” She held out a Raggedy Ann backpack which looked as if it was stuffed past the point of practicality.
“Did you do that all by yourself?” I asked in admiration.
“Mommy helped,” Banana admitted. “But I did most of it.”
“Raggedy Ann, Julia? How retro of you.”
“I wasn’t going to give her a Bratz backpack or, God forbid, a Barbie one.” Julia scowled, then smoothed out her lips when she saw Banana glancing at her.
“I love Raggedy Ann,” Banana said, hugging her backpack. “I wish I had yarn for hair.”
The rest of the afternoon whizzed by. Banana became increasingly gloomy as the time passed, however, probably because of her mother leaving. We didn’t get much work down as we had to spend chunks of time placating Banana and reassuring Julia that everything was going to be ok. It didn’t help that Bobby was being an asshole about it, but the rest of us shouted him down. By four-thirty, we were ready to call it off. I waited for Banana to say good-bye to Julia, and I told Julia to call me if she needed anything. I also told her not to worry about Banana, but I knew that she would, anyway. All mothers worried about their children when they had to separate from them for more than a day—it was in their genes. At least Banana didn’t start crying when we left. We made it to my apartment in record time.
“Hey, Banana,” Matt said, scooping Banana up in his arms. “How goes it, sport?”
“Hi, Uncle Matt,” Banana said, squeezing him hard around the neck. “My daddy’s really sick, so Mommy had to go see him. That’s why I’m here.”
“I know,” Matt said softly, his face twisting in pain. “It’s pretty tough, huh? Will some ice cream help?”
“We’re going to my mother’s,” I said reproachfully. She would have enough food to feed an army, and I didn’t want Banana to spoil her appetite. “Tell you what, Banana. If you can wait, we’ll go to the market and see if we can find you banana ice cream after going to my mother’s. How about that?”
“Ok!” Banana shouted, still holding onto Matt. I needed to talk to him alone, but I didn’t want to shunt Banana off just yet. “Uncle Matt, will you read to me before we go?”
“Of course, Banana.” Matt brought Banana to the living room while I slipped into my bedroom. I needed a few minutes to myself, and this was the perfect time to take a break. I laid down on my bed, setting the alarm for twenty minutes. The minute I closed my eyes, however, images started coming to my mind.
“…not working…to do?” A fuzzy gray shape with a fuzzy, unfamiliar voice whispered. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, but I had a feeling it was the person I’d dubbed Captor Number One.
“…to think…Kayla kidnapped….” This voice was definitely male, and there was something familiar about it. Something about the cadence, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. To my absolute horror, I heard muffled crying in the background. It was Danny! I breathed deeply and tried to focus in on him.
“Danny, can you hear me?” I asked silently, over and over. My point of view shifted until I was in a closet again. This time, the smell of urine and feces was pervasive. The poor boy had been in that closet for almost a week, and I didn’t think the captors had cleaned it in that time. Danny was curled up in a corner of the closet, his hands holding his pig. It made me irrationally happy that he’d managed to hold on to his pig, but I knew we had to get him out of there. “Danny, love, can you hear me?”
“Auntie?” Danny lifted his head slightly, but he didn’t say anything out loud. What a good boy, not giving himself away. “Please…scared…glitter…uncle jimmy…get me!” The connection snapped, no matter what I did to sustain it. I was back out with the captors again, and I got a better view this time. Number One was of indeterminate height and slim. I had a feeling it was a female, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. Number Two was taller than Number One but just as slim. Definitely male. This time, however, the hair was dark brown. He’d been wearing a wig last time. I stifled a gasp. It was Digger. Uncle Jimmy. Fucking made sense. Shimmer. Glitter. One of the dancer. It was Digger and one of the dancers. Fucking made more sense.
“Wake up, Auntie! Uncle Matt, she’s not waking up!” I heard voices that didn’t belong to the captors, and I frowned. I wanted to concentrate more on them to see if I could place where they were, but somebody was shaking me. Hard.
“What?” I barked, my eyes flying open. To my consternation, Matt and Banana were staring down at me. “Oh, baby. I’m sorry.” I gathered Banana into my arms and hugged her. I seemed to be scaring her far too often these days. I had to tell Matt not to let her into my bedroom, but not now. “What time is it?”
“Five-thirty,” Matt said, his voice tense. I knew that he knew I’d had a vision, but I also knew he wouldn’t mention it in front of Banana. His eyes told me he wanted the full story later. I knew I should call Martinez, but I’d do it after supper.
“Well, we should be going, then. Mom hates it when I’m late.” I let go of Banana who didn’t seem worse for the wear. She chattered about the books Matt had read to her, slipping her hand in his. For a minute, I wondered what it’d be like to have a rug-rat of my own, but I knew that I made a much better auntie than mother. I didn’t have the patience or the selflessness to mother, and it was a good thing I recognized that.
Matt drove us as I didn’t like to drive. I’d do it if necessary, but preferred to be driven. We had to take my car, however, as it’s the one with the car seat. Neither of us felt like transferring the seat, so we just left it the way it was. Banana sang Christmas tunes all the way to my mother’s house, even though it was only May. Matt and I joined in, glad to be doing something cheerful for once. It’s amazing how a child can bring such joy, especially when you knew that you only had her for a short period of time. The way Banana recovered from her downs was inspirational—I hoped her sunny nature would serve her well in the days to come.
“Matt! Banana! Scarlett!” My mother threw open the door and hugged each of us in turn. My father was hovering behind her, beaming an avuncular smile. He was one of the nicest men you’d ever meet, but he faded next to my mother—and he wouldn’t have it any other way. My mother was only five-feet tall and not even a hundred pounds, but she packed more personality per inch than anyone else I’d met. My mother hustled Banana into the dining room with my father hot on their trail. I pulled Matt behind and filled him in on what I’d seen.
“You’re shitting me,” Matt said quietly, standing stock-still. “Digger and one of the girls. I’ll kill him.” Matt clenched his hands into fists. Matt was a pacifist, but he also had a temper. “Let’s go have us a little talk with him later, ok?”
“Matt, come on,” I said, keeping my voice low. I knew that if we went to visit Digger, Matt would do something he’d later regret. “I’m going to tell Martinez about it after dinner, and he’ll take care of it.”
“I never thought of you as a woman who let a man do her dirty work,” Matt snarled, his eyes turning cold.
“This is a job for the cops,” I said, my own eyes frosting over. “It has nothing to do with punking out.”
“Matt! Scarlett! Come eat!” My mother materialized, her hands on her hips. I knew she wouldn’t take no for an answer, so Matt and I dropped our argument. We both knew it was next to useless to continue in front of my parents, so we did our best to zip it.
“Everything looks wonderful Mrs. Hsu,” Matt said enthusiastically as he eyed the table. True to my prediction, every square inch of the tablecloth was covered with a dish of some sort. I knew she’d probably made her famous sticky rice as well as dumplings and egg rolls. The only difference was, she’d make the skins from scratch. They tasted infinitely better that way, but took way too much time. She also made wintermelon soup which I didn’t like, but which Banana inhaled with gusto. Then there was regular rice as well as Chinese barbecued pork—which was my personal favorite. I sat down, pulled the platter towards me and dumped half its content onto my plate. My mother laughed because I did this every time she made barbecued pork. It didn’t concern me because I knew she had more in the kitchen.