Happy birthday Kharisma Rayne! It's her birthday and we're all celebrating! Best of all, you get a shot at all the presents including a Kindle Fire!
Rain came down again on Saturday, summer showers drenching everything and left behind puddles. Grounded because of the weather, Guy showed up before she even thought about heading out to the airfield. He rapped at the front door and Angel, tidying up the house on her mother’s say-so, opened it to find him in his shirt sleeves, soaked.
“It’s raining pitchforks out here!” he groused as she let him in. “Can I get a cup of java?”
“You bet you can,” Angel said, offering him a smile and a towel. “I just put on a fresh pot. I thought maybe you’d come by since we can’t fly.”
He rubbed his hair dry but his shirt dripped so she hollered at Frank.
“Whatcha want?” he said, emerging from the small back bedroom where he slept. “Oh, hi, Guy. I didn’t know you were here.”
Angel cleared her throat and tapped an impatient foot. “Do you got a clean shirt Guy can borrow till that one dries?”
“Yeah, I’ll get one since it’s for him,” her brother said, in a teasing tone. “I like Guy.”
“Just lay off and get the shirt,” Angel said. “Come on in the kitchen. The coffee should be about ready by now. You want something to eat?”
He nodded, “Yeah, I’m running empty but I don’t want to be any trouble.”
She snorted. “Says you! Is eggs and toast okay?”
“It’s great,” he said as he sat down at the table and took the cup of black coffee she handed him. “Do you mind if I strip out of this shirt or will it shock the kid?”
As the lard melted in the skillet, she nodded, “Go ahead, if it’s wet.”
From the bedroom, both heard Frank holler, “I ain’t no kid!”
They both laughed at that.
She served Guy breakfast in his A-shirt, feeling very daring. She liked the way he looked in it at the kitchen table, just like he belonged there and she decided she could wake up to this every morning just fine. Both Guy and Frank cleaned their plates and her brother, who said nothing about Guy’s lack of proper clothing, headed off to his delivery job, leaving them alone. If her mother ever found out, she’d be angry and if the neighbors knew, they’d be shocked but Angel didn’t care. Such polite niceties were old-fashioned in her book and besides, there wasn’t anything they might do they hadn’t already done.
Guy sat sipping his third cup of coffee, his galluses hanging down, so after she finished the dishes, Angel slipped behind him and put her hands on his shoulders. She ran one hand through his hair, ruffling his curls.
“That feels nice,” he said, and added, “Scratch my back, would you? Just watch over on the right. I think I got a piece of shrapnel coming up.”
Delighted he felt the same comfortable intimacy she did and shared the sense this was their house, a safe place, Angel raked her nails up and down over his back. His burn scars stood out, sharp and obvious, the white ridged flesh stark against the unblemished part of his skin. She rolled up his A-shirt the rest of the way to find the place where one sharp edge of a tiny scrap of metal poked through the skin. She knew better than to touch it.
“I see it,” she said, “I wish I could just pull it out for you. Maybe I could put some drawing salve on it.”
He grunted but not in an unpleasant way. “It’s all right. Just scratch a little more.”
She obliged him and after a few minutes she put her head down on his shoulder. Angel enjoyed the feel of his solid flesh beneath her and rested there for a few more moments, savoring it. She inhaled the fresh clean scent of the soap he washed up with and the bay rum he must have splashed on after shaving.
“Whatcha doing, doll?” he asked, his voice thick with contentment.
“I’m just thinking.”
“I was thinking how much I love you,” she said, without any attempt to be coy. “You know?”
“Yeah.” His voice softened until it sounded like velvet to her ears. “I do know, Angel, because I love you too. Come sit on my lap, baby girl.”
Guy scooted back the chair to make room and she came around to settle down on his lap. His arms encircled her and she relaxed into them, letting him hold her. He could’ve kissed her but he held back and she didn’t mind. The embrace made her feel good within, almost holy and it reminded her of the way she felt right before Communion if she paid attention during Mass. It warmed her and yet it sent shivers of anticipation down her spine along with a sense of belonging. Maybe he felt the same, she didn’t know for sure but he liked it. That much she couldn’t doubt at all.
When he did get around to kissing her, it tasted sweet, his lips warmed by the coffee and she responded, her body charging to his touch. Angel savored the feel of his mouth over hers, his roaming tongue darting into her mouth, and started feeling a now familiar prickling rush of something imminent in the air. Just when she got into the mood, Guy drew back.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“I ain’t going to do it in your ma’s kitchen,” he said, his tone light but she could tell he meant it. “That wouldn’t be right and on her birthday to boot. We need to skedaddle anyway. We got stuff to do.”
“Like what?” She knew they couldn’t fly so she wondered what he had in mind.
“You said you’d bake your ma a cake, right?”
“Yeah, I did, so?”
“So I thought we could do one better and make her an entire dinner, really put on the Ritz. What do you think?”
Angel thought it was just about the most sentimental and kind thing she’d ever heard but she teased him instead of saying so. “I think you’re sweet on my mama.”
“So what if I am?”
“Then maybe I’m jealous.”
“You don’t need to be, kid. I do like your ma, though. So what’s her favorite thing in the world to eat?”
She had to think about that ‘cause Mama usually bought what was cheap or on sale, then made something that tasted good from what she got.“I think she likes a big, fat roast chicken and dumplings.”
“If I buy the fixings, can you cook it?”
Angel looked straight into his eyes. “I can cook anything, mister. I’ve been cooking since I was about eight, I think. Don’t let the flapper look fool you.”
“Is that banana oil or do you mean it?”
“It’s the truth!” She didn’t know if she should be mad or proud.
Guy shifted her onto one knee and bussed her hard, quick.
“Then tell me why you never cooked me anything?”
“What do you call the toast and eggs you ate, flyboy?”
Guy smiled until the corners of both eyes crinkled with mirth. “Breakfast.”
Angel giggled. She might not be able to name it but she got their banter offered an outlet for their sexual tension. In any other location, they’d have been locked in the most intimate embrace possible but their teasing vented the heat radiating between them.
“All right, all right,” she said when she could breathe again. “So we’re having a big supper party for Mama and you’re buying the goods?”
“That’s about the size of it. Get a list made and we’ll go do some grocery buying.”
By the time she found a stub of a pencil and a scrap of paper, then made a list, Guy’s shirt dried so he changed out of her brother's. Outside the rain slacked before it stopped altogether. As they got into his old car, the sun peaked through some clouds with radiant beauty and Angel saw a glimmer of color streaking the sky.
“Hey, look!” she exclaimed. “It’s a rainbow.”
He nodded. “It’s a promise things will just keep getting better.”
“Have things been so bad?” she asked, curious.
Guy turned to her with everything he felt written in his face. “They were right up till the day I met you.”
She scooted across the seat so she could sit close to him and they were off.
First they went downtown and did a bunch of window shopping. Guy pretended he was a millionaire and could buy anything she wanted. Angel pointed at a real flapper dress, an evening number in stark black fancied up with hundreds of jet beads and then at a brilliant red dress with a skirt with a hemline way above the knee of the mannequin. She also pretended to choose a cabinet Victrola from a music store window, multiple pairs of shoes, and three diamond rings in the jewelers’ windows. After their fantasy moments, they went to the stores where they could really buy a few trinkets, United’s, Woolworth’s, and Kresge’s.
At Kresge’s, all the girls gathered around Angel and her ace, chattering like a bunch of squirrels quarrelling over acorns. Guy bought a bluebird figurine for Angel’s mother, a packet of hair nets, and a crimson lipstick for his girl. Then they wandered off to Townsend, Wyatt, and Wall, the swanky department store but they headed down to the bargain basement where Guy insisted on buying a pretty scarf as another birthday gift for her mama.
By the time they finished their real and pretend shopping Angel complained she was hungry. Guy took her over to the John Joseph Café on Edmond Street for a quarter hamburger apiece and a nickel soda. After, they hoofed it back to where he parked the car and drove up back to the neighborhood, to Prospect Market on Prospect Avenue, just blocks from Angel’s house.
“You sure you don’t want to go to Crabb’s on Second?” he asked, “That’s where I usually trade.”
She shook her head. “No, they know me here. I’ve been coming here to buy my candy and get stuff for Mama since I was tiny.”
Inside, the clerk greeted her by name.
“Hey, Lorraine, what can I get you today?’
“I got a list,” she said and handed it over. “Today’s my Mama’s birthday and we’re putting on the Ritz.”
He whistled, low and sharp. “Yeah, I’d say you are. Let me get it all put together for you.”
When they came out, both carried bundles of the groceries and he drove Angel back to Poulin Street, even helped her put most of it away.
She donned one of her mother’s old aprons to start the cake and once it was in the oven, she joined Guy in the small front room where he sprawled in the old Morris chair, eyes shut. At first she thought he might be asleep so she moved with silent steps across the rug but he wasn’t. Before he knew she was in the room, he lifted his open right hand and brought it down over his face.
Guy opened his eyes in response. “Yeah, Angel?”
“What’s the matter?”
A faint smile flirted with his lips before fading away. “Aw, nothing. I’m just tired. I don’t get much sleep.”
She hadn’t noticed before but he looked weary and worn. “Why don’t you sneak a little shut-eye? There’s hours until time to pick up Mama and before Frank will be here. I’ll be cooking for awhile and I’ll be quiet.”
His eyes sparkled with appreciation and something more, relief, she thought, maybe mingled with trepidation. “Promise you won’t give me the bum’s rush for sleeping?”
“Cross my heart and hope to die, I won’t,” she said, moving in close enough to put a light kiss on his forehead. “You look beat. Go ahead, take a nap.”
“Thanks, doll,” he said.
“Don’t mention it,” she sassed and sashayed back into the kitchen.
As she washed the hen and plopped it into the roasting pan, she listened. When she heard his breathing shift into a slower, easy rhythm she knew he must’ve drifted off and soon after she grinned to hear faint snoring. She seasoned the bird with sage, thyme, salt, pepper, and onion. After adding water to the pan, she covered it with the lid. In a saucepan, she used some of the fat she trimmed, the neck, and other giblets to start a broth. By the time she had that started, she pulled the cake from the oven, holding her breath so it wouldn’t fall. She put it to cool and stuck her head into the front room.
Guy snored just a bit, head down so she retreated back to the kitchen. Angel adjusted the oven and after checking the clock, put the hen in to roast. She washed up the few additional dirty dishes, keeping as quiet as she could. After that she had just started to sift some powdered sugar to make icing, when Guy yelled.
His outcry startled her into dropping the sifter into the bowl which almost slid off the kitchen table but she caught it. As soon as she moved it to a safer position, she hurried into the living room but he remained asleep. She watched as he twitched, his face contorting with what looked like pain, and then he yelled,
“Boche bastard, try that on again! I’m bringing this bird around and I’m mad now! Say your prayers and get ready to meet the Devil ‘cause you’re going to hell! Shit, shit, shit. There’s fifteen more coming my way. Damned if I’m not screwed.”
His hands moved as if they controlled a joystick and she realized he dreamt about the war. His body mimicked his mind’s memories as they replayed in his mind with what must be horror. Angel wasn’t sure if she should wake him or not. As she deliberated, his agitation increased and he mumbled more. Without any warning, he shot to his feet and shrieked as if he must be in agony.
“Cock sucker!” he shouted, his voice hoarse and thick. “Fuck you, they got me!”
Angel’s mouth drooped with shock. His coarse language included things she’d never heard before out loud, just whispered in the school yard but her stunned surprise faded in her sweeping concern for him. Just as she realized he must be reliving the moment when his plane got shot down, he collapsed in a heap onto the floor. The impact awakened him with a jolt and as he trembled, the same way he had the day in the hangar when the thunder spooked him, he looked up at her, upset. Anger and something close to terror warred across his face.
He wasn’t really awake, though, something she didn’t realize until he said, “Go away, bitch, go back to Valhalla empty handed ‘cause you’re not taking me with you. Get away from me!”
“Guy, it’s me,” she cried. “its Angel!”
“Valkyrie cunt!” Guy shouted. “Go on, go!”
He drew back his arm and made a fist as if he meant to strike out. Fear clawed inside her chest but her desire to help him come back to reality overrode caution.
Angel dropped to her knees beside him, alarmed and a little afraid. “Wake up, Guy. It’s me, Angel, your Angel. I’m your girl. Hey, Guy, it’s okay. You just had a bad dream. Come on, snap out of it.”
Just when she thought she might not get through to her, he blinked twice, shuddered and looked into her face with full recognition.
“Jesus, Angel, I’m sorry,” he said, his voice low. “You must think I’m a total nutcase, huh?”
She stroked his cheek. “No, Guy, I think you’re an ace who gets nightmares about bad things that happened. My cousin Ed fought in the trenches over there and he does, too. Aunt Bessie told me so. Want some coffee or something?”
He shook his head. “I got what I need right here.”
Guy pulled a pint bottle from one of his pockets and uncapped it. The rank smell of the bootleg whiskey roared into her nose, potent and so strong she thought she might cough. He knocked back a long shot of it and sighed, eyes closed. “There, that’ll help in a minute.”
As he sat there, spread-legged on the floor, he passed his hand over his face just like he had before he went to sleep. Then he buried his face in his hands for a moment.
“Sweetheart,” she said, using the endearment for the first time. “What’s wrong? Are you sick?”
He nodded, still shuddering. “I’m alright, just got a headache. I almost always do after a nightmare like that. I had a headache for a month after I crashed from the concussion and that was on top of everything else.”
Angel offered him a hand up, he accepted it, and came to his feet.
“Come on into the kitchen with me,” she said. “I’ll get you some aspirin and then I’ll finish icing Mama’s cake.”
Guy followed her back and sat down on a kitchen chair turned backwards. While she frosted the two-layer yellow cake with chocolate frosting, he nipped from his bottle. Once the cake rested on a plate over on the kitchen counter, she peeked at the chicken and then came around behind him.
Angel put her hands on his shoulders. He was so tense his body felt as hard as wood beneath her fingers and she began to rub the taut muscles with slow, gentle circular movements. He sighed and made a small sound almost a groan but not quite. Taking it as agreement, she continued, using her thumbs to work some of the stress away and allowing her hands to ease the tightness. Sometimes she did this for her mother when she came home weary and longer ago, she recalled doing it for her daddy. As she rubbed his shoulders and neck, she began Guy began to relax and after more than a half hour, hands numb, she felt his flesh softened beneath her ministrations. He exhaled, hard.
She felt his nod. “That helped a lot, Angel. My head’s almost quit hurting too. I’m sorry about earlier, the things I said and did.”“You don’t have to be,” she told him, her voice soft and quiet. “Is that why you don’t sleep much, the nightmares?”