Fiction: “Almost Like Children” by Erika T. Wurth

Cary was a small town Indian girl. Her eyes were wide, black and slanted. Her hair long and orangey brown. Years ago her mother had come to Idaho Springs to be with her father, but she was gone. Cary’s mother was Chickasaw and nobody knew anything about her, not even Cary’s father.

Sam, however, lived up in the mountains, past Cary’s home in Idaho Springs in between Evergreen and Idaho Springs. Sam had dark hair and skin and eyes. Sam’s father had come to the mountains to be with Sam’s mother but had left, and then finally ended up in prison, years ago.

Sam’s mother, a beautiful woman with red hair and amber-colored eyes, drank quietly at night in her house, listening to the wind outside.

Unlike Cary’s father, Sam’s mother loved to talk about Sam’s father, who was Ute. Sam’s father became more beautiful, fascinating and wonderful with every story.

That is, until Ian came along.

Ian was a white guy who Sam’s mother, Jennifer, met in a new age workshop. Ian thought that it was cool that Jennifer had been married to an Indian, and had a son that was half Indian. They talked a lot about Indians, and about healing in the coffee shop near Evergreen Lake until one day, Ian took Jennifer’s hand and shaking, told her that he loved her.

Ian moved in the next week.

Sam thought Ian was okay. Ian, however, thought Sam was fascinating.

Ian was from New Jersey, and he had heard about Indians his entire life, walked the streets that were named after Indians, though Sam was the only one Ian had ever known personally. After Ian had been living with Sam and his mother for a year, he began to try to talk to Sam about being Indian on a warm spring day. Ian sat staring out the window for a long time before coming downstairs.

 

“So, Sam, I mean, don’t you feel that there’s something more, you know, of the universe about you?” Ian asked, sitting on a chair that was set next to the sofa that Sam was laying in, who was watching The Simpsons and laughing wildly every few minutes.

Sam was a nice boy, quiet. But Sam was also sixteen, and the last thing he wanted to talk about was the universe inside himself with a hippie named Ian from New Jersey. Even if that hippie was making his mother happy.

So Sam adjusted his lanky body further into the couch, turned his head to Ian and smiled. “Sure,” he said and Ian nodded.

Ian felt that Sam’s near silence was also part of his heritage … but it frustrated him. He felt that if he could gain more of Sam’s trust then maybe Sam would open up. He knew that the wisdom that he was yearning for was somewhere inside Sam, somewhere buried.

Ian sat staring at Sam until Sam thought he was going to freak out. He could feel Ian’s eyes on the back of his head and as much as he was enjoying watching The Simpsons, he was about the “have to” go up and work on his homework. Finally, Ian broke the silence.

“Have you ever thought about growing your hair long?” Ian asked.

“Well, I did in junior high, when I was kinda going through a punk stage and I wanted to have a mohawk, but Mom was against it. The mohawk, I mean, not the long hair, she likes my hair long but I like it short. It’s easier to play ball this way.” Sam took some Doritos from a bowl that was balancing on his belly and started to crunch away on about five of them at once.

“Uh, yeah …” Ian said, sighing. He was silent for a moment and then looked back at Sam.

“You know Sam, we could take a trip to your reservation. I think that’s important.”

“Oh, yeah, I been there, to meet my grandma and we had some ceremonies and I met all my cousins. They taught me how to say, ‘Screw you Whitey!’ or something like that in Ute.”

Sam turned to Ian who was looking at Sam with a sour expression on his face.

“Wanna know how to say it? I mean, unless it offends you or something.”

Ian had not anticipated this. Jennifer had never talked about visiting the reservation before. “Uh, no thanks.”

Ian looked down at his hands for a few minutes and then at the television.

“You know Sam, TV really is garbage for your brain.”

“Yeah, I know but I’m getting good grades so I figure if my brain’s getting enough, you know, brain spinach then it deserves some Twinkie time. Know what I mean? I mean, I can’t really be enriching myself twenty-four hours a day. Plus, seriously, this show is a damn riot. You gotta give something a chance before you say it sucks.”

“I guess that’s true …” Ian said, sighing and feeling defeat. “I think though that I’m gonna go for a hike.”

“Cool,” Sam said and stuffed more chips into his mouth.

Ian walked upstairs, tied his long blond hair back and put on his hiking boots. Walking out the door, he glanced over at Sam, sitting on the couch. He couldn’t complain. Sam was a good kid, never made any trouble and they had never had any you’re-not-my-Dad problems. He smiled at Sam on the way out.

Ian sighed again as he closed the door and scratched a bit at his light beard.

Sometimes, he wished he could be more of a father to Sam. He knew though that he’d never be more than the guy who slept in the bedroom next to Sam’s, as far as Sam was concerned. And what frustrated and intrigued Ian was that Sam was, for all of his seemingly open nature, like a dark black box. A locked one.

Sam sighed with relief as he heard the door click. He liked Ian but all that weird shit about being Indian freaked him out. He hated when his mother would start in on it, as devoted as he was to her, and now there were two of them insisting on the infinite mysteries of his Indianess. Sam didn’t get it. Why was being Indian any different than being black? Or Mexican? His cousins would talk about how the whites near their reservation would treat them, sometimes with violence, and as much as Sam feared that, something inside of him thought that the honesty of it would’ve been preferable.

 

Cary’s father, Jim, lived alone with Cary, in a small, sad house. It was white and the paint simply sagged off of the walls outside. It was always dark inside of the house, her father sitting in front of the TV with the lights off.

Cary’s father was a small white man, slightly fat, with kind blue eyes and beautiful long hands, the hands of an artist, though the only art that Jim had once had was with cars. He had been a mechanic and Cary remembered when his hands had always been black and rough. Now they were perpetually holding the remote, his wife’s old pendleton around his waist and over his shoulders.

“Hey, Daddy,” Cary said, setting her backpack down.

“Hey baby,” he said and looked up for a kiss. Cary bent down and pecked his cheek. “School was …?” he started to ask and then drifted. He stared dreamily at the TV and smiled, pulling his blanket further around him.

“All right,” Cary said, walking into the kitchen. She came back with a granola bar and sat on the couch. She split the bar down the middle and handed half of it to her father, who took it without looking away from the TV. She stared at him as he chewed slowly, the blue light of the television reflecting off of his eyes, bathing his face. Cary was good to her father, she cleaned for him, cooked and rarely talked back. Mainly because there was no point in doing so. But at school, Cary was wild.

 

“Hey … you … mothafuckas!” Cary yelled out the window, laughing and darting her head back quickly before anyone could see. Her friends laughed wildly and Vanessa passed her a can of Pepsi that was filled with vodka.

“You’re crazy, Cary,” Jeannie said and laughed. “Pass me the Pepsi.”

“This Pepsi rules,” Cary said.

“Yeah, man this is the best Pepsi I ever had,” Jeannie said and they all laughed.

“We’re totally gonna get caught ditching,” Jeannie said. Jeannie pulled her tiny white hands through her hair and laughed nervously. Jeannie always had to be convinced to ditch, to drink, to do anything. Vanessa thought she was a pussy.

“You pussy,” Vanessa said.

“Aw, gross, don’ call me that!” Jeannie said.

“Whatever, PUSSY!” Vanessa said and she and Cary laughed. Jeannie rolled her eyes and took another drink out of the Pepsi can.

The bell rang and all three girls leaned against the wall, to see who would come streaming out the doors. A few seconds later, the hallways were filled with teenagers. The girls knew most everyone, waved to a few. A girl named Margaritte, an Indian girl, walked by alone. She saw Cary and quickly ducked her head.

“WOLF WOLF WOLF!” Cary barked at Margaritte, and Margaritte walked by as quickly as she could, Vanessa and Jeannie laughing.

“Why do you hate her so much?” Jeannie asked.

“Whatever.” Vanessa said, “Let’s go smoke.”

“Really, why?”

Cary turned to Jeannie. “Because she’s so weak.”

 

Sam was, at that moment, coming out of band. He played the French horn and although he had little talent he enjoyed the instrument and he enjoyed band.

Sam waved to his friends and walked toward his next class, which was Spanish. He had had a hard time at first convincing the teacher that he wasn’t Mexican.

He walked through the hallways, his face forward, his eyes distant, when he spotted Vanessa, Cary, and Jeannie leaning against the wall. Vanessa was always yelling at somebody even if that somebody was a teacher and Sam stayed clear of her. In all honesty, he feared her. Once, she had taken a shine to Sam. She would walk up to him, rubbing her hands over her massive stomach and try to make conversation. Sam would nod and act clueless and he’d hoped that eventually she’d lose interest. She did.

Jeannie, he knew almost nothing about, except that she had once been a shy girl, a good girl who had played next to him in band and now she hung with Cary and Vanessa. He saw her laughing at something Vanessa was saying, and pulling her hands through her long stringy dirty blonde hair.

Cary made him curious. He knew nothing about her except that she was a bad girl, she was funny and like Sam, she was Indian. This made him wonder. He wondered if she got the same stupid questions that Sam got. If she had connections to her reservation as Sam did. He wondered about Cary because of all of those things. But, what made him wonder about Cary the most was that he found her to be absolutely beautiful with her long dark eyes, thick orange hair and jeans that were tattered almost beyond recognition.

 

“Vanessa, have you heard about that party that Greg’s having?”

“Yeah, what of it?” Vanessa asked, smoothing frosty pink lipstick over her lips in the mirror. She and Jeannie were in the restroom by the gym, killing time. Cary had left them to go smoke up in the parking lot with two girls, Julia and Treena.

“Well, are you gonna go?” Jeannie asked.

“Yep. You?”

“I’ll go if you go.”

“Well I just said I was going, Jesus.”

“Yeah … cool.”

“Man, I just hate school,” Vanessa said, putting the lipstick back into her purse, and looking deeply into the mirror. “It ain’t gonna prepare me for nothing. When I’m done, I’m gonna go work for my Dad as a secretary. He wants me to finish high school, though, cause he did and he runs a Jiffy Lube. Though he hadda go to mechanic school for that.”

“Yeah …” Jeannie said. “I think I wanna go to college.”

“What the hell for? I heard that you don’t have any more chance of getting a job after college than if you just got your high school degree.”

“I don’t know. I guess … I just feel like I wanna learn more. Plus, my parents can’t get me jobs and … my Mom went to college, so she kinda thinks that’s important. Besides, it sounds fun. Leave here, meet new people and stuff.”

“I guess,” Vanessa said, and patted her tightly permed hair, “If that’s what you’re into. So, anyway, you see Mike lately?”

Jeannie sighed. Vanessa had a crush on a new guy every week and she would pump her friends about whether they thought that he liked Vanessa until she either got one of them to call and ask or gave up and moved on.

“Um, nope.”

“But you have Science with him, so you had to have seen him!” Vanessa said, turning to Jeannie and breathing angrily through her nose.

“Uh, yeah, I forgot.”

“You FORGOT? How could you FORGET when you see him almost every fucking day?”

Jeannie looked down nervously. When Vanessa got going like this, it usually ended pretty messy. “Sorry Vanessa, it’s just that I don’t like, notice him the way you do?”

“WHAT?” Vanessa was furious now. “What are you saying? That he knows I like him? That I’m all crazy or some shit over him? BULL fucking SHIT!”

“Vanessa …” Jeannie said, backing away towards the door.

Just then, Amy, the girl with Down syndrome came in. People made fun of Amy on a nearly daily basis and Amy’s usual response was to projectile spit at the offender.

She was out of breath and slammed the door. Vanessa and Jeannie stared. Amy walked over to the sink like she didn’t see either of them, pulled a handful of paper towels out of the dispenser and started to quietly wet them down. When she finished, she walked back towards the door, the towels dripping.

Jeannie thought that she would just walk out holding the wet paper towels, both of them left to wonder what purpose the girl had in mind for them. Instead, Amy cracked open the door. Just a hair.

Then, there was noise. The voices of girls. And Amy threw the door open, tossed the wet towels out the door and then slammed the door shut, laughing wildly. They could hear the angry wailing noises of the girls outside.

“Amy you stupid RETARD!” Vanessa yelled and walked over to Amy. Amy laughed for another second, but when she saw Vanessa coming, she immediately started to cry.

“NO!” Amy said. She had reason to fear Vanessa. Vanessa had worked with the special ed kids a year ago and had confessed to Jeannie how much she hated them, that she was afraid of them and what she sometimes did to discipline them.

“NO!” Amy yelled again and cringed, but Vanessa just put a stronghold on Amy’s arm and dragged her out the door. Jeannie followed, past the girls who’d been hit with the towels, all the way to the principle’s office. Jeannie was just glad that Vanessa’s anger had been redirected and that she was off the hook.

 

Greg was a white guy, a jock. Greg drank to die and there was a party at his wrecked, gray house nearly every weekend. His parents were usually in town, getting drunk until the bars closed and after that, moving on to wherever else the party was. Generally they stumbled in way after dawn. Sometimes, they were gone for days. Sometimes they would party with Greg and whoever else happened to be there when they got home.

His house was big and dirty and up on Fall River Road where there was no one to complain about the noise. Everybody except the really nerdy nerds went to Greg’s parties. Kegs were in every corner and bottle after bottle of cheap, hard liquor crowded the filthy yellow speckled kitchen counters. Cary and Vanessa always went to the parties but for Jeannie, it would be the first time. Sam knew Greg from playing football. Sam thought Greg was an idiot but he told Sam the craziest stories. Stories about things that Sam would never do and he loved them. They had talked earlier that week and Greg had told Sam that he should come and Sam said he would. He told Greg that he was ready to party but secretly, he was going because he knew that Cary would be there.

 

“But, Mom, Greg is a cool guy. I just wanna spend the night, you know, watch some movies and stuff.”

“I know what boys your age do all night. All they do is drink and smoke up and I can only pray that you guys aren’t inviting girls. God, Sam, do you have condoms? Because I could give you condoms, you know, I have plenty.” Jennifer and Sam stood in the kitchen, a cup of coffee in Jennifer’s hands. Sam was leaning against the countertop.

“OH my GOD Mom,” Sam said and rolled his eyes.

“What? Oh, Christ, well, you know I have condoms I mean, that can’t be a big secret.”

“Gross, Mom.”

“No, it’s not. It’s not gross at all.”

Ian sat upstairs, listening, trying not to listen and attempting to write a poem and failing. He found the whole conversation funny. He remembered similar conversations with his own mother. Well, not that his mother ever used the word condom. At least, not around him.

“Whatever Mom. Look, it’s no big deal. Can I go or not?”

His mother stared at Sam. She looked at her only child and thought about how precious he was to her, how much she loved him and how much she had loved his father. She knew that if she didn’t let him make small risks now, he would make much bigger ones later and that she would just have to cross her fingers and hope.

“Okay,” she said and Sam walked across the kitchen floor to hug her.

“Oh, Sam,” she said, her arms around her child.

 

By eight o’clock that night, Sam was stinking, crazy, wretched drunk. He was more drunk than he’d ever been in his life, which, in all honesty wasn’t saying much, as this was probably the fourth time in his life that he had ever consumed alcohol. His mother was convinced that because Sam was Indian, and because his father had been an alcoholic, that the minute alcohol touched Sam’s lips, he would become an instant alcoholic. Sam actually feared that himself. But not enough to not drink. The first time he’d had alcohol, with a bunch of guys from the team at his friend Jean’s house, he had prayed all the way to the house, prayed as his hands reached for the bottle, prayed hardest during that first long drink. And it must have worked because Sam found being drunk fun, but not particularly mind-blowing.

But tonight, he was nervous. He couldn’t help but look at the door every five minutes to see if Cary would come through it, finally. Though he had no idea what he’d do if she did. He’d come early because he didn’t want his mother to see any evidence of what was really going to go on that evening. She had dropped him off looking angry and suspicious and Sam had said, “GOD MOM, don’t worry. It’s not like you’re dropping me off at the Army reserve.” She had just looked at him as he opened the long, flat arm of the Subaru door and said, “No, it’s worse.”

Greg had greeted Sam at the door with a bottle of Bud barely concealed behind his back. He looked over at Sam’s mother in the car, yelled, “HEEEY MOM!” asked Sam if she was “doing anybody,” and then waved to her as she drove off. Sam just laughed nervously and set his bag down at the door. Greg laughed wildly and shoved a bottle of bud towards Sam’s hands and said, “Time to get you deee-runk!”

“But it’s five o’clock!” Sam said, instantly regretting it.

Greg looked down at Sam. “You kidding? Or are you just a pussy?”

As an answer, Sam yanked the bottle of Bud out of Greg’s hands, and popped the top off by placing the bottle at the edge of the countertop, putting his right hand over the cap and whacking downward. The cap flew off and the beer started to foam. Sam shoved the bottle in his mouth and started gulping for dear life as Greg cheered. Three hours and five beers later, people started to show up, many of them carrying kegs.

“WOOOOO HOOOOOOO, YEAH! SHIT YEAH!” Greg yelled. He had had two beers to every one of Sam’s and was smashed. He was Wooo Hoooing at five women who were coming through the door carrying a keg. Two of them Sam recognized—Treena and Julia. Julia was Indian, Treena, Mexican. They hung out together constantly and people got them confused all the time, especially the teachers. Which was hilarious, as Treena outweighed Julia by about seventy pounds. And was around a half a foot shorter. The other three Sam recognized only vaguely, had seen their white faces before, their tightly permed and frosted hair and their heavily made-up faces looking as determined as soldiers and just as tired as they walked through the sagging white doorway. A couple of the girls had mullets, though, and Sam had never seen any soldiers with mullets … at least not in uniform.

“Women who bring beer, man!” Greg yelled, “I like it.”

“Shut the hell up, Greg,” Julia said and Greg laughed. “Feisty!”

Sam was excited. He had seen Cary hang out with Julia and Treena. They were like a little Indian-Mexican trinity. Sam’s heart felt like a knife inside his chest.

He decided to sit down with some of his friends from the team. He really liked Alex and Mack, both of them wanted to go to college and they would talk about that after school at Alex’s house. Alex was really smart and funny. His real name was Alejandro, but he went by Alex. Mack was a cool dude. Quiet, unlike Alex and really thoughtful. Sometimes they would sit around and talk about football and women, but mainly they talked about what they were going to do once they got out of school. There were a couple of guys from the team, friends of Greg’s and they were sitting over in a corner telling stories and cackling loudly. At the end of every story, Greg would crack his beer into the storyteller’s and yell, “Yeah, Bro!” Alex thought Greg was hilarious.

“Dude, seriously, I think that guy must have had a whole keg,” Alex said.

“Just about,” Sam said and they all laughed quietly.

“You’re not really that far behind though,” Alex said to Sam and Sam nodded. “You can’t be all that far behind me,” Sam said.

“Hey, man, this is my chance to chill, I mean, I don’t have to babysit any of my brothers or sisters tonight and I’m gonna live it up.” Alex looked over at Mack. “So should you man. You’ve been nursing that one beer all night.”

“Yeah,” Mack said and smiled. Sam knew that Mack didn’t drink because his mother had died from driving drunk. He had confessed that when they had been sitting in the Derby one time, late at night.

Sam looked again at the door. No Cary. He was beginning to feel like he wasn’t going to see her tonight.

“Either of you guys know a girl named Cary?” he asked.

“Yeah, man, kinda cute, Indian girl with big orange hair?” Alex said.

“She’s Indian?” Mack asked.

Both Alex and Sam looked at Mack. “Well, yeah, what’d you think she was?” Alex said.

“Well, white, I guess,” Mack said, looking uncomfortable.

Alex and Sam looked at each other.

“Well, maybe I thought she was Italian or something.”

“Weird,” Alex said. “What’d you think we were?”

“I don’t know … I met you guys so long ago. And like, now I know, so but, I guess now that you say it, Cary is kinda Indian-looking,” Mack said.

“Yeah. Well, anyway,” Alex said, “She’s over there by the keg. Why? You wanna get it on with her or something?”

Sam’s heart skipped a beat. She was here? Why hadn’t he noticed her coming in? Probably because he was freaking drunk, that was why. He looked over at the keg, and sure enough, she was there, standing with her friends Treena and Julia and of course, Vanessa. She was wearing her usual torn-up jeans and a Jack Daniels T-shirt, both tight. She was tall and beautiful and so … so … Indian. She was laughing, and she looked like she was having the best time in the fucking world, helping somebody do a keg stand.

“Uh-oh, somebody’s in looove,” Alex said and Sam whispered, “Quiet!”

“Somebody’s really, really in love,” Alex said and laughed, beer going up his nose. Sam looked at Alex who looked back guiltily as he wiped beer off of his face with the sleeve of his blue shirt. Alex was also laughing and looking guilty. “Sorry, man,” Mack said, “It’s just that Alex can say things really, um, really funny sometimes and …”

“It’s cool,” Sam said and looked back at Cary. He watched her while and Alex and Mack talked about practice. She seemed so herself, he thought, like she’s not self-conscious at all … like nothing inhibits her. She’s so pure.

“Dude, just go talk to her,” Alex said, “Quick, while the rest of the chick posse is busy talking about what pigs men are in the bathroom.”

Sam glanced over nervously. Cary was standing by the keg, looking around, her beer in her hand and her eyes slitted.

“Christ, I’ll go with you,” Alex said, rolling his eyes.

Suddenly Sam had an epiphany. He was drunk. He was really stinking, fucking drunk. He could do anything and it wouldn’t matter. He stood up and slowly, pushing past bodies, moved over to stand by her.

She looked at him as he stopped and stood by the keg. He said nothing. She looked back over at the keg.

She looked over at him again, and this time, cocked an eyebrow expectantly. His heart completely stopped. It was like when he was eight, and he had been walking through the mountains with his dog, a little black lab named Jonnie, and he had stopped because he heard something. He had looked up into the mountains and not ten feet away, there was a mountain lion. Sam knew to walk away, he knew a boy had been killed by a mountain lion not two years before, but it was beautiful and somehow Sam didn’t fear it. He had stood marveling at the mountain lion for over five minutes before it simply walked away into the woods.

She stared at him. Looked him up and down. He said nothing.

“You wanna beer or what or do you wanna just keep staring at my tits?” she said.

“Um, uh, a beer. I mean, not that I was, I like your shirt.”

“Kay,” she said, pulling a cup off of the pile on the couch and filling it with beer.

“Where’d you get it?”

“Sturgis,” she said and walked off. “Ain’t like I’m the beer bitch,” she said mumbling.

He walked back over to his friends, who were both laughing. “Shut up.”

 

Sam spent the rest of the night on the couch with Mack and Alex, talking about random things, mainly about Alex’s girlfriend.

“I don’t know man, I just can’t get it out of my head that she’s cheating on me.”

Sam and Mack had heard this many times before. Mack knew it was true, because not only had he seen her with other guys, once he had been one of the other guys.

“Why do you say that?” Sam asked.

“I don’t know, I love her man, but she just I don’t know … it’s like, we had sex when we was both fourteen and like, she just seemed weird after that. Like she’s never got time for me.”

“Well, her family’s weird, they’re really religious and they don’t like her going out and stuff,” Sam said, “Or whatever, that’s what I heard.” Sam at least suspected what Mack already knew, he just didn’t have the heart to tell Alex. And he knew that he didn’t want to hear it anyway. Probably wouldn’t hear it.

“Yeah but before she would just jump out her window and now she’s always like, ‘I got homework to do.’ What’s up with that?”

“I don’t know, man …” Sam said and looked over at Cary. She was standing with her friends. They seemed to be having a really serious conversation. Vanessa was pointing her pink painted fingernail into Jeannie’s chest over and over and Jeannie was looking like she was about to pee down her leg.

At that point, Sam realized that he was about to pass out.

“Guys, I’m like really fucking drunk,” he said.

They both turned to him. “Yeah, so are we. At least, I am.” Alex said.

“No, like I’m really drunk.”

“OH, man are you gonna puke? Dude, get away.” And Alex scooted further down the couch.

“No, I don’t think so.”

Sam was, however, beginning to feel like it was a really good idea to go try and talk to Cary again. He knew if he just said the right combination of words, that she would fall for him, would love him.

He stood up.

“Oh, man, he’s gonna puke his damn brains out,” Alex said and Mack laughed.

He walked over to Cary, watching Vanessa continue to point her fingernail into Jeannie’s chest. It was like he was swimming, swimming through this party, swimming through life, and if he could just get to Cary, he wouldn’t drown, it was like that …

“Hey,” he said and Vanessa continued with her routine and the rest of them ignored him.

“HEY,” he said a little louder. This time they all stopped and looked at him. He began to smile goofily first at one girl, then at the other. Vanessa looked at him suspiciously and then began to smile and run her hands over her stomach.

“Heeey,” she said.

“Cary, can I talk to you?”

She looked at him sharply. “What the hell for?”

“I jus wanted to tell you something.”

She ran one of her hands through her hair and eyed him cynically. “Um, Whatever, Football guy.” The girls around her roared.

“No, really, I wanna tell you something really important.”

“Whatever you wanna tell me, you can tell me in front of my friends, jock.”

He frowned. This wasn’t going so well.

“Well, okay.”

He took a deep breath. “It’s just that …” And then he vomited, right at her feet. The girls yelled and jumped back.

“AW, Fuck!” Vanessa yelled, “The little football guy barfed all over everything!” And they all started walking off.

“Wait,” Sam said, and looked at Cary. He grabbed her hand. She looked back. “Love … you,” he squeaked and she could see the shock on her face before he ran toward the bathroom.

He spent over three hours in the bathroom vomiting, Greg and his friends knocking occasionally, laughing, yelling “Hey BARF BOY! You gonna make it through the night?” at him through the door. Mack and Alex knocked before they went home and he told them that he was okay. He had been sitting, his head resting on the toilet seat and the nausea had began to pass when he heard a knock on the door.

“It’s … Cary.”

He felt initial shock pass through his body. And then, as sick as he was, he began to burn with humiliation.

“You wanna … let me in?”

“Okay,” he said weakly, and she opened the door and walked in.

He looked up.

“Oh, man,” she said. “Let me help.”

Together, they got him off of the floor and she sat him on the edge of the bathtub.

“I seen my friends like this plenty of times. Happens.” She looked down at him without smiling, her eyes like obsidian. Sam watched her, puzzled.

She turned the slightly rusty taps and let the bath run until it was full. Sam watched her and saw how long and delicate her fingers were, although the skin was rough.

“All right, man, I’m gonna go and you can get in.”

“Okay,” he whispered and she left.

He pulled his clothes off of his body and walked into the tub and sat down. It was pretty quiet outside, most everybody who was staying had passed out.

He sat for a long time in the tub, running the soap over his body and hair, thinking. When he was done, he dried off and put his clothes back on. He opened the door. It was almost dark and Cary was sitting on the couch.

“Come here,” she said and he walked over to her.

She pulled at his arms until he fell into the couch beside her. His heart began to race as she ran her hands through his hair. “Crazy boy,” she murmured and put her arms around him.

“Thank you,” Sam said. “I know you didn’t have to do that.”

“I wanted to. People have done it for me. My friends, until I stopped doing it.”

“Oh.”

Cary sighed deeply. “You know, tonight, they did something really shitty to David. You know David?” she said, continuing to run her hands through his hair.

“No,” he said, shaking.

“David …” She said, sighing again, “Is just a small town Indian fuckup. Just like me, cept I’m stronger.” Then she was silent.

“You got beautiful hair. Dark,” Cary said.

“Cary,” he said.

“Quiet,” She said. “You gotta be quiet. Even I know how to be quiet, sometimes.”

And Sam was quiet and then they lay down together with their arms wrapped around each other and then they slept deeply, deeply, almost as if they were children.

***

Erika T. Wurth’s  published works include a novel, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend and a collection of poetry, Indian Trains. Her collection of short stories, Buckskin Cocaine, and her collection of poetry, A Thousand Horses Out to Sea, are both forthcoming. She teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and has been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, such as Boulevard, Drunken Boat, and South Dakota Review. She is represented by Peter Steinberg. She is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver.

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