A Land Far, Far AwaybytheMaven©
Part 3 in the Black's Magic series
"Don't you dare hang up on me, April."
Daniel tried to keep his eyes on the road as the female beside him gripped her cell phone more tightly, holding it directly in front of her face, screaming into the mouthpiece, hot flashes of anger lighting her violet eyes. He knew it wasn't funny, and he tried not to laugh, but the way her nose wrinkled and her forehead creased . . . she looked like a little kid in the middle of throwing a gigantic tantrum.
It was as if part of him wanted to smile politely, pat her on top of the head and say "Yes, dear. Whatever it takes to make you happy." The other part of him wanted to double over in laughter and ask her if she was serious? You're 32 years old; you can't be acting like this.
But . . . since her anger was directed at one of her employees and not him, he felt it was best to keep his mouth shut, his eyes forward, one hand on the wheel and one hand on the gear shift.
A low growl escaped from the back of her throat. "You sit there, and you listen. I made the schedule before I left, and everyone agreed to it. I also made it abundantly clear that I was going to be 300 miles away from town this weekend, and if ya'll were expecting me to show up in physical form at any time during the next two days, you were SOL. So, do not fuck with me, April."
He listened in mild fascination as the female on the other end of the line continued to chatter away, attempting to present her case, as Mecca's grip continued to tighten on the phone, both her disdain and aggravation growing. Given two more minutes, he was certain she'd snap the phone in half.
Mecca huffed loudly then pressed the phone directly against her mouth, enunciating each syllable of each word with deadly intent. "You will show up for your scheduled shift. You will show up on time. You will not leave early. And if you call me again with more of your whiny bullshit before I show up at the restaurant Monday morning , I'll make sure you only work one shift each week for the next three months, and if you don't show up for 'em, you're fired."
At that, she flipped the phone closed and stuffed it into her hobo bag, a deep scowl marring her normally tranquil features. She re-tightened the blue flowery bandana on top of her head, safely securing it beneath a cascade of light brown curls, then folded her arms across her chest and sank further down into her seat. "Fucking bitch."
Hearing her curse, he finally felt comfortable enough to turn to face her. The tense moment between the two females had passed, and he, now, felt free enough to converse with his traveling companion. "What was that about?"
She sighed heavily, uncrossing her arms, bringing her right hand up to massage both sides of her temple simultaneously. "April is this 19-year-old whiny bitch that I hired purely out of desperation. She just got married, and her husband's out of work and blah-blah-blah, but I was down to two waiters, and if I didn't hire somebody, I was gonna have to do it. And I absolutely, positively despise the front of the house. I'll play hostess if I have to, I'll bus a table if things get too busy, and if a guest wants something simple like water, coffee, tea, sugar or a refill, it's no big deal. But as for working an entire shift as a waitress, I'd rather shoot myself.
"So, April comes in, and I have my doubts, but . . . you gotta do what you gotta do. So, she trains, then she starts workin' on her own, and she's pretty okay. You know, she's young, she's quick and she's very accurate with her orders. But she has all these personal issues that interfere with her job performance: all this bullshit with her husband, her mother, her car, the phone company . . . but I just tell her, you know, 'You gotta handle that stuff on your own time.' I mean, I do what I can when I can because everybody has a life outside of work, and I try to accommodate that, but she's taking it to extremes, and . . ."
She shook her head, then rolled it to the left then to the right, trying to relieve her growing tension, he assumed. She placed her right hand over her left shoulder then began to rub. "Technically, I could use another waiter on staff, but business really isn't gonna pick up for another month or two, and the wait staff doesn't make that much to begin with, so I figure: minimum staff, maximum hours. It cuts down on my labor costs, and it increases their paychecks so . . ."
Daniel feigned a yawn, covering his mouth and closing his eyes, beginning to snore.
Mecca sighed. "I know it's boring, but this is the shit I have to deal with every day and . . ." She rolled her eyes, leaning her head back against the top of the seat. "Shouldn't have brought my fucking cell phone with me."
He elbowed her lightly in the side. "Told ya."
She slapped his shoulder in response, then sank further down into her seat, drawing in a deep breath, then pushing it out, allowing her eyes to drift partially closed. "This management gig just isn't all that it's cracked up to be. It's more money, but it's a lot more work and tons of headaches. After a year, you'd think things would've calmed down, and I would've just settled into a groove, but . . . anytime things start to get settled, somebody comes and rocks the boat and half my staff goes out the door." She turned her head to face him, still keeping it in contact with the headrest. "And I'm this close to it happening again. And April is at the core of it."
Daniel shrugged, pushing back the sleeves of his windbreaker, then resumed steering the car. "So fire her."
She threw her hands up in the air, directing her face forward again. "Fuck it. This is supposed to be my weekend away from everything. I am completely pushing everything about work out of my mind, and I'm just gonna focus on you, me and all these trees."
Daniel sighed inwardly as she smiled for the first time since she'd hung up with the April-girl. The phone had rung almost the instant they'd finished packing up his car and she'd sat down in the passenger seat. For the next 67 minutes, he was forced to listen to one side of a phone conversation, clearly going nowhere.
After 15 minutes he was ready to grab hold of the phone and pitch it out of the window, but instead of thanking him for saving her from 40 more minutes of bitching, whining and talking in circles, he knew Mecca just would've cussed him for interfering and tossing her $300 phone along the highway. Not that he couldn't afford to buy her a new one 100 times over, but, for her, it would've been the principle of the thing. Modern women didn't want to be rescued from the dragon or the tower or their wicked stepmothers; they wanted to be commended for being able to hold their own for so long.
Which he had no problem doing . . . as long as he didn't have to see their suffering for himself.
Mecca stretched her arms out in front of her, then folded them behind her head, a slight smile gracing her stubborn mouth.
She was clearly beginning to get out of her foul mood, but to insure she completely got it out of her system, he reached over, turned on the CD player, pushed a key sequence of buttons, then there it was: the music to soothe the savage beast.
"What the hell is this?" she laughed.
As the folksy pop music began to fill the car, what little resentment still hung in the air dissipated, and he felt her genuinely begin to relax. Her limbs lost their stiffness, the tension lines faded from her face, and her spine collapsed into itself, her entire body going completely slack in the car seat.
"You sly dog," she shook her head, then turned towards him, a thoughtful smile etched across her face. "What the hell is this."
He shrugged, knowing full well what she meant. "I believe they call it 'music.'"
"You hate the Beatles."
He shrugged again. "Hate is a strong word. Would I be listening to them if you weren't in the car? No. But, do I feel like gouging my ears out because the sound is so unpleasant? No."
She rolled her eyes at him.
"I told ya. I'm just not a soft rock kinda guy. I need music with an edge or something with some meaning."
She rolled her eyes again, shaking her head. "Whatever."
A few minutes passed in silence, the scenery whizzing by as they drove farther and farther away from home and the familiar, and steadily approached the new and uncertain. Of course, they had directions to their destination; it was simply the fact that neither of them had ever been there before. They were going on a recommendation from a friend of a friend.
They'd both decided they wanted to get out of town, and neither of them had any interest in gambling, site-seeing or pub crawling, so instead of going into one of the surrounding cities, they decided to retreat further into the country. They were going to go hiking, they were going to set up camp, and they were . . . just going to enjoy being around each other. No TV, no land lines, no impatient customers, meddling family members or cock-blocking friends.
He turned to face her. "What?"
She nodded her head towards his hand that was rhythmically tapping against the steering wheel in time to the ending measures of "Hey Jude." Not only that, he caught himself nodding along to the beat of the song. He quickly stopped, giving her a sheepish grin.
"Catchy, isn't it?" she smiled.
"It's kinda hard not to sing along when the words are so easy. And they've got quite a little jam session going on."
"I always knew you were a hippie way down deep inside."
He scoffed. "No one's taking my guns."
She reached over and patted the top of his head. "Yes, dear."
He waved her hand away. "Cut it out."
From "Hey Jude," the CD transitioned into "Let It Be."
She put her hand back in her lap, pulling at a loose thread at the end of her faded blue jean cutoffs, then brushed off some imaginary dust from her white cotton caftan. She'd kicked off her shoes the instant she'd sat down and tossed them in the back: a pair of brown, well-worn Doc Marten Maryjanes.
He couldn't help but marvel at how clean she looked, despite the unseasonal heat and stickiness of the day, and today she smelled like fresh-washed linen and vanilla. He inhaled deeply, allowing the scents of her to wash over him.
"I haven't done anything like this in years, but I'm so looking forward to it. Mountains, trees, trails . . ."
"Streams," he added.
"Fuck that. I'm not going anywhere near the water."
"I brought fishing poles."
"I don't have a fishing license."
Daniel shrugged. "Neither do I. How many people do you think are honestly arrested for fishing without a license?"
"I don't know, and I don't wanna find out."
"You're seriously not gonna fish?"
"No," she laughed. "I am an upright, law-abiding citizen, and I don't need any hassles from some uptight forest ranger on a power trip. You ever seen the movie Crash where the cop feels up this guy's wife just because he can? And I don't mean just tits and ass, he stuck his fingers up in there."
He flipped his visor down, attempting to obscure the growing brightness of the sun and the glare across the windshield. "As if I'd let that happen. I'd cold-cock his ass and throw his body in the river."
"Yeah, I could see that happening."
"Seriously. You don't touch another man's cock. You don't touch another man's gun. You don't touch another man's car. And you certainly don't touch another man's woman."
"Is that right?"
"You best believe it. Violate any one of those four rules, and you ain't a man."
"What do they do? Snip off your balls and make you wear 'em as a bowtie."
"Fuck that. You're as good as dead. If the other guy you're dealing with is an honorable man, that is. If he's a dickless piece of shit, it doesn't matter what anybody does to him."
"So I guess this is the latest incarnation of chivalry. A cock is still a cock, no matter when or where. A gun is a modern-day equivalent of a sword. Your car is your trusty steed. And your 'woman' is your lusty wench."
Daniel laughed. "Why's she gotta be a 'lusty wench?' Why can't she be a 'virtuous maiden?'"
"In 2008?" she laughed. "You do realize there's a law in this country called 'the age of consent.' Most women over the age of consent have already given their consent at least half a dozen times before an 'honorable man' manages to make his way to her."
"Well, if they just would've waited . . ."
Mecca scoffed. "As if 'honorable men' don't dip their wicks every now and then. C'mon, now, don't kid a kidder. You weren't a virgin when I met you."
As if on cue, the song switched from "Let It Be" to "Don't Let Me Down." Nobody ever loved me like she loved me . . .
"No, but . . . the intent was there."
Something unreadable flashed across her face, then was quickly consumed by an amused/bemused expression that made him feel oddly embarrassed.
"You mean you honestly thought you were gonna marry the first woman you slept with."
He shrugged, noncommittally. "It's hard to remember. Was a long time ago."
"I bet," she said. "What were you sixteen? Seventeen? Fourteen?"
"Nineteen," he said somberly.
"Details. Was she older than you? Younger than you? Short? Tall? Skinny? Fat? Black? White? What was she, Daniel? This first woman you were ready to dedicate the rest of your life to?"
"Older. Short. Ridiculously thin and ghostly pale. Thick, wavy hair, dark brown eyes. A thrift store junkie. Just a really laid back kind of girl. She was never without a pair of combat boots and this completely ratty knapsack that just had . . . everything in it."
"And did this tubeful of wonderful have a name?"
He didn't mean to smile as big as he did. He certainly had no intention of offending the female currently riding beside him, but he couldn't help it. Even after all this time there was just something about her that made him feel warm all over. Better than fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, Mom's apple pie or homemade buttermilk biscuits . . . something about her always said "home."
"Susanna," he finally said.
Mecca laughed. "Like that folk song? Oh Susanna, don't you cry for me. I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee . . ."
"Yeah," he nodded. "But she would've knocked you into next week if she'd heard you sing that."
Her laughter continued. "I swear. I just can't imagine that. I mean, no offense to you or to them but, I just can't see you with some scrawny, little white girl."
He shook his head. "Me either, but . . . it just kind of happened. And, technically, she wasn't entirely white. She was like . . . black, white, Filipino and . . . something else I can't remember. She was just . . . approachable, I guess. I had another shop before this one, down in Virginia: action figures, comic books, collector's cards and shit, and she used to come in about everyday. And she always had something funny to say or something weird she was looking for or . . . I dunno. She just kinda . . . stood out, but blended in. You know what I'm talkin' about?"
"Kinda like me?" she poked him in the ribs.
"Cut it out." He colored slightly then swatted her hand away. "But you know Jake, right?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "Your obnoxious, body-building cousin."
"Well, he came down for a visit, and she was in there, and after she did her usual schpiel and left, he was like 'She wants you.' And I was like, 'You're outta you're fucking mind.' And he just kept on and on. And he was down there for the entire weekend, and every time she came in, he'd just give me this look."
"I'm sure I can imagine that look. I've given it as well as received it a time or two. But when did you finally nail her?"
"Jesus, Mecca. A little sensitivity."
She scoffed. "Guys aren't sensitive about their first times. Unless you count the fact they generally don't wanna talk about it because they usually last like . . . less than a minute. And I can see how that would be somewhat . . . emasculating, but, I dunno. I think the more you know about a person, the closer you feel to them, the more you like them, the less you wanna hurt them, and the less likely you are to dick them over."
The beat of quiet between them was covered by the CD player. John Lennon seemed to be asking, if not downright begging for the favor of this female:
Don't let me down. Don't let me down.
It sounded real, raw, open and pained. If he had to pick a Beatles' song as one of his favorites, it would be this one. It had meaning.
And from the first time that she really done me,
Oh, she done me, she done me good
Though he tried to hide it, not wishing to freak her with some outrageous emotional declaration as he had done just a couple of months ago, he couldn't help smiling. He liked the sound of that. A lot. The not-wanting-to-hurt-him part. He'd gone through that so many times with so many females . . .
"Well," she said, "stop holding out on me."
Daniel cleared his throat, giving a sideways glance to the highway marker on the side of the road. He didn't want to miss their turn off. "Well, it was the last day Jake was supposed to be down there, and Susanna was in the shop looking at . . . something or another, and he looks at me, then he walks over to her, and he says, 'Me and my friend have this bet going on.'"
"I know, right? But, anyway, he says, 'I say you wanna fuck him, and he says no way.'"
Mecca laughed, her nose and forehead crinkling as she tossed her head back. "Awww, I bet you turned like 15 shades of red."
"At least," he admitted. "But she just looks him, puts whatever it was down and walks out."
"That doesn't sound like the beginning of a beautiful relationship to me."
"I didn't think so either. Which is why I picked up this box of staples I had on the counter and threw it at him." Daniel sighed. "But, he gets hungry and says he's gonna go out and grab some food, and I tell him to bring me something back. And while he's gone, she comes back in."
She raised an eyebrow at him.
"She comes up to the counter, and she's like 'Was that really one of your friends?' So, I was like, you know, that was my cousin; he's a dumbass. Don't pay any attention to him, and I'm really, really sorry.
"And she's like, 'Oh, it's no big deal. I'm just not used to being called out like that.'
"And I completely stopped breathing at that point. And she's like, 'I'm a private person. I like to keep things on the down low, and no one needs to know who's been sleeping in my bed except me and the person who has been sleeping in my bed.'"
"Did you soil your drawers when she said that?" she asked. "Leave a little wet spot in the front of your boxers?"
He squirmed a little in his seat. "Something like that."
"So, what happened?"
He shrugged again, a bare amount of color rising to his features as a smile spread across his face. "She asked if I had a girlfriend, I shook my head, no, and then she was like, 'Would you like one?'"
"Awww." she crooned. "First love."
This time it was he who rolled his eyes. "Fuck off."
"Nooo . . . That's actually kinda sweet."
Daniel shook his head. "It's stupid."
He shook his head again. "That . . . pretty much set the precedent for all my so-called romantic relationships."
He scoffed lightly. "Do you know I've never asked a girl out in my life? And I have no doubt that if none of them ever came up to me . . ."