Between the Books: Volume Seventeen
|Volume Seventeen - Carlos' Dilemma|
|During||Newly moved into the house in Arizona…|
|Location||At the house in Arizona...|
|Between the Books Navigation|
He was done. Through. There were no words. Carlos stalked down the hallway back to the bedroom where all the un-married male Guardians slept, found his jeans, a t-shirt, and his Tims, and yanked them on hard. He was out. Period. Forget trying to go back to sleep. The vibrations still lingering in the bathroom and bouncing off the tiles were making the hair stand up on his arms. He’d brush his teeth in the yard and keep moving. Could take a leak in the woods; who needed a house? Solitude was calling his name.
And to think, Damali had the nerve to go back into the all-female bedroom with the other women and hide out there, like anybody cared if they got busy! Berkfield was grown, knew the deal. This was crazy, made no kinda sense, whatsoever.
Carlos stomped down the hall, not worried about waking people. What did it matter, anyway, if the whole house got up? He angrily got his toothbrush, some toothpaste, and a razor, and headed toward the kitchen to leave by way of the back door. He wasn’t trying to pass the bedroom where Damali was hold-up; he didn’t trust himself not to open the door and totally lose his pride by outright begging her in front of anybody in there. No. Especially with ‘Nita and Inez in there.
That’s all they needed to see was him trying to cop a plea. Juanita would be snarling while Inez had a shit-eating grin on her face, and Krissy’s eyes would widen like a doe caught in the headlights. Knowing Damali, she’d be so embarrassed she’d hurl a lamp at him, and then it would be on… all chances of mid-day nooky killed all because he lost his mind and went in there trying to talk Damali’s draws off in fronta her girls. Uh uh. He was smoother than that. And what was that crazy dream of hers about, anyway?
He didn’t get it? Carlos kept walking. Get out of the house, man, before you do something really stupid, he told himself. But Damali had said herself that she’d dreamt about making love, and was still wet as hell from it, and didn’t want to? He’d picked up the scent the moment he got close to her in the hall. That lit his fuse, fired him up real good. What was there to discuss? Talk? Shit. About what? Actions spoke louder than words, any day, any night! How did women just roll like that, he wondered? Just hit a mental switch and be out of the mood? Yeah, if they’d been called to battle stations—okay. He could see that. But anything short of a call to arms, from a man’s perspective, once the time bomb was activated, there was only one recourse. That sucker had to detonate on impact, had to blow. Period. Basic. What was the problem?
“Want some coffee?” Berkfield muttered as Carlos entered the kitchen.
“Hell no,” Carlos grumbled and kept walking.
“Okay…” Berkfield said, holding the pot mid-air as Carlos passed him and slammed open the back door with a loud bang.
Following Carlos onto the porch in his old striped robe and beat-up leather slippers, Berkfield brought two mugs and the pot outside with a smile, watching Carlos cross the field brushing his teeth.
“Hold up,” Berkfield shouted. “Two-by-two detail at all times, Marlene and ‘Bazz said.”
Berkfield hustled down the steps behind Carlos sloshing coffee when Carlos simply raised his middle finger without turning around. It took a moment for Berkfield’s short strides to catch up with Carlos’s long, angry lope, but eventually both men were side-by-side.
“You look like you’ve got a case of the rabies, Rivera,” Berkfield said, slightly out of breath.
Carlos spit and wiped away toothpaste with the back of his forearm. “I do! I’m foaming at the fucking mouth—so why don’t you go back in the house, where it’s safe?”
Berkfield grinned and poured Carlos a mug of black coffee, handing it to him as they walked, and then poured one for himself.
“Why are you following me?” Carlos stopped walking and looked at Berkfield hard.
Berkfield glimpsed the razor in Carlos’s hand. “You ain’t thinking of committing Hari-kari are you?”
“I’m gonna shave,” Carlos muttered and began walking again.
“Most folks I know use a mirror over the bathroom sink… you ain’t having reflection issues again, are ya, pal?” Berkfield chuckled and tried to keep up with Carlos’s increasing pace.
“Yeah, well, I don’t need a mirror—right about through here. I was thinking of slitting my own throat, anyway. Been that kinda morning.”
“Aw, c’mon, man,” Berkfield said, rounding Carlos to get him to slow down. “I’m just messing with ya.”
“I ain’t in the frame, aw’ight,” Carlos said, looking at Berkfield’s flushed face. “My nerves can’t handle it.”
“Look, okay, I’m sorry,” Berkfield said, and then glanced around. “Had I known… ya know?”
Carlos briefly closed his eyes. “You knew?”
“Well… after the fact,” Berkfield admitted, making Carlos stare at him as he dropped his voice and spoke with a wide smile. “I ain’t got no special powers like the other guys, or nothing—but I’m a cop, and a guy… and you’d have to be brain-dead not to put two and two together.”
“Yeah, well, tell that to her,” Carlos muttered, and then jammed his toothbrush and the toothpaste into his back jeans pocket, took a sip of coffee, and set the mug on the ground with care. He then flipped open the straight edge razor and stared at it for a moment.
Berkfield backed up, laughing. “I was hoping you’d take it better than this… at least give a guy a fighting chance and wouldn’t cut him in his robe and slippers in the yard, mafia style—that’s cold, Rivera.”
Carlos smiled a half smile and began shaving in the blind, trying not to laugh at Berkfield’s ribbing. It was, indeed, truly ridiculous.
“Just be smart, though,” Berkfield said, now slurping his coffee, peering over his mug with a mischievous grin. “Don’t let on that I know—no matter what, or it’ll be a really long time before she’s… comfortable. Capice?”
“Please. Get serious, man,” Carlos said, dragging the blade under his chin.
“Been married a lotta years, brother,” Berkfield said, glancing back to the house. “I’ll let you in on a little secret, since I owe ya.” Berkfield waited patiently until Carlos let out a heavy breath and looked at him. “You ain’t all by yourself in this dilemma.”
Carlos just stared at him for a moment. “How you figure? You sleep with your wife every night. You and Shabazz got old-head waivers and special privileges that the rest of us—”
“If it’ll make you feel any better, Marjorie can’t relax in all this chaos, either,” Berkfield said, nursing his coffee. “Why you think me and ‘Bazz walk the floors when we’re supposed to be asleep? It ain’t insomnia, buddy. Nervous energy will do that to a man.”
“I feel you,” Carlos muttered, and began shaving again. “TMI, though. That’s your business.”
Berkfield let out a weary sigh. “It’s like when we’d go to her folks for the holidays.” Berkfield set the coffee pot down on the withered grass and shook his head, then rubbed his palm over his bald scalp. “Like, we’re married… have two kids—and we’d get to my parents’ house and she acts like Bobby and Krissy were born from Immaculate Conception. I don’t get it? I don’t claim to know the reason why. It’s like…” Berkfield opened his arms and walked in a circle sloshing his coffee. “Like one of the mysteries of the universe.”
Carlos nicked himself and drew blood. “You serious?”
“Yeah, man,” Berkfield said and took another loud slurp of coffee. “By the way, you’re bleeding.”
Carlos dabbed the cut and chuckled. “This ain’t nothing but a scrape.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot,” Berkfield said, smiling. “That’s akin to a vamp hicky.”
“Don’t remind me,” Carlos said, putting the razor to his jaw. “The real bleed-out happened when you cut my throat and knocked on that door, man. Hit a mental artery. There’s still probably a pool of blood on the bathroom floor—mine.” Carlos removed the razor from his half-shaven face and stared at Berkfield for answers. “You really think they’re all gonna be uptight for the whole time we have to be here… until the new compound is built?”
“Sad, but true,” Berkfield said, coming to land a supportive hand on Carlos’s shoulder. “Plus, the way I heard it is, the newbies have to learn whatever they’ve gotta learn, uncorrupted—not that I understand any of this metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. But, according to Marlene, uh, if I can speak frank, they’re tied to you Neteru guys’ energy, or somethin’ and uh… back at the motel, there was this ripple effect that got kinda outta hand. Marlene told Marj, she told me, you know how that goes.”
“I don’t even wanna talk about it.” Carlos started shaving again, now really pissed off. That was the last time he’d been able to get next to Damali… that one last, rock-the-house-till-the-early-dawn time. That break-your-back-or-die-trying state of oblivion. He remembered it like it was yesterday, but sadly it wasn’t. It had been one of those baby, you got me talking in tongues out of my mind kinda times, that was oh sooo good he practically shuddered while he was shaving. Somebody slap him.
“I feel your pain, but, it caused a problem, ya know?” Berkfield took a purposeful sip of coffee.
“I’m trying to concentrate so I don’t nick myself again,” Carlos said in a low warning. He ignored Berkfield and looked up as he resumed shaving and then briefly closed his eyes while he worked the razor over his Adam’s apple. Heaven be merciful, the motel incident was weeks ago. The memory was still white-hot in his mind. Just thinking about it was messing him up.
“Yeah, but the sound traveled, buddy—to the point where the tactical guys, who are young and single, caught most of the fall-out.”
“Won’t happen again, obviously, you’ll see to that.” Carlos began dragging the dry razor against his face in angry strokes and nicked himself again. “Damn!”
“I gotta be honest, not to bust your stones, or anything,” Berkfield said calmly. “Just an observation. However, you two practically brought the house down back at the motel, not that I don’t understand young love and passion—even though it’s more like a distant memory for me, in my case—not to digress. But, speaking as a Dad with a hormonal, teenage daughter… even if I did know you were in the bathroom this morning, I still probably would’ve knocked on the door—because if something ripples through the house like it did in the motel, in these close quarters… and gets Krissy’s head all twisted up, and given that my daughter is already walking around here looking at J.L. with googly eyes—”
“I know, I know, I know,” Carlos muttered, now staring at the house as he tried to continue shaving.
“Here,” Berkfield said, handing Carlos a rumpled up, linty, half-used handkerchief from his robe pocket. “You look like a cutter. Staunch that shit, man. You’re giving me the willies.”
Carlos grabbed the handkerchief that seemed more like a dirty rag and mopped where he was bleeding.
“You don’t have to worry, man. Damali won’t even go off-site with me after that. So squash the noise. Krissy won’t hear anything she ain’t supposed to,” Carlos finally muttered, still trying to figure out how to get to Damali alone.
“Good. Your word as your bond?” Berkfield said, extending his hand.
“Aw… man… c’mon,” Carlos said, looking at Berkfield’s hand.
“That’s my daughter, she’s underage, and she doesn’t need to hear you two in the throes at her age—ever again.” Berkfield looked at him hard. “I don’t want Krissy getting any romantic ideas.”
Carlos begrudgingly transferred the razor to his left palm and shook Berkfield’s hand. “Aw’ight. Whateva. You don’t have to worry. Besides, as it stands, Damali says with newbies in the house, and an ever-present threat, we have to be on twenty-four seven in case the house comes under siege.”
Berkfield chuckled and shook his head, and simply sipped his coffee when Carlos released his hand. “Spoken like a true mother-of-the-house. Kids first, man second… better get used to it, hombre. That’s how it goes once you have kids. When you become a dad, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.”
“You ain’t making me feel better,” Carlos said, flipping the razor closed.
“But it’s the truth.” Berkfield stooped down with a grunt and handed Carlos his mug. “Peace. Drink your coffee. Can I tell you how many nights little feet ran down the hall, terrified from a nightmare?” He raised an eyebrow like a huge elf and leaned in to whisper to Carlos. “I know where you’re at, buddy, and won’t hold what happened in the motel against you. There were nights when I didn’t even hear my own kids,” Berkfield confided, edging closer to Carlos and glancing around. “It’s like women have this supersonic hearing or radar, screw special powers. I don’t expect you to really get what I’m talking about; it’s the kind of thing you have to personally experience before it completely sinks in. So, like I said, I’m not casting aspersions, just asking you to be a little more discreet, should you find yourself in a situation—and an echoing bathroom ain’t a good place for that to happen. Women can hear better than men.”
Carlos let out a heavy breath, wishing he could still vanish at will. “What are you talking about, man? Can’t nobody who ain’t a vamp or a werewolf hear better than Mike. If something did go down, Krissy wouldn’t have—”
“Women know things and can hear,” Berkfield insisted, dropping his voice and glancing around as though his wife might be eavesdropping from a hundred yards away. “I’d be in a situation, let’s say… and Marj would hear a kid wake up. Actually hear the little bugger from way down the hall.” Berkfield stepped back. “How the hell do they do that, I ask you?”
Carlos looked at Berkfield, then sent his gaze towards the house.
“I’m not lying,” Berkfield pressed on. “And kids have got the worst freakin’ timing on the planet… an anniversary, your wife’s birthday; it’s like the little crumb-snatchers sense when you’re trying to…” Berkfield glanced back to the house and then returned his line of vision to Carlos. “I love my kids, don’t get me wrong. But sheesh! It’s like they’ve claimed her body, ‘cause they came from it, ya know? Like I’m an invader to their territory.”
“What?” Carlos said, the concept making him indignant. It was beyond comprehension. Nobody laid claim to his woman’s body but him, and he definitely didn’t appreciate an outsider blocking his shot. “This you have got to break down for me, Berkfield, ‘cause I think you’re getting like Rider and spiking your morning coffee. Little kids invading your territory, that’s just natural mother-love. You’d better grip up and—”
“Think about it,” Berkfield said with a defeated shrug. He watched Carlos take a careful sip of coffee and then spoke slowly. “Bobby and Krissy took over my wife’s body for almost a year each, being in there and all, then it took like six weeks each birth for my wife—their mother—to heal, then they took over her boobs for another year while she fed ‘em each, so that’s two more years. Mind you, while her boobs were in their service, they looked fantastic, but I wasn’t allowed near ‘em. Then they took all her time and attention. Then, after all that, for years, they’d run down the hall in the middle of the night… so help me Christ, there were nights when I was ready to go out to the local store to get a pack of cigarettes and never come back.”
“Damn… since you put it that way,” Carlos said slurping his coffee, no sarcasm in his tone. “I ain’t mad.”
“Brother, lemme tell you,” Berkfield said with a sigh. “Me and Marj had ‘em the moment we got married, ‘cause we wanted a family—couldn’t wait. But as much as I love my kids, hindsight being twenty-twenty, let this old boy give you some sound advice. Wait. Stay footloose and fancy free with your sweetheart for as long as you can. Work the kinks out, have some fun, party, go out as a couple, get to really know each other while you’re just a twosome, even if you do get hitched, and then… only then, ya hear me, go in for the life sentence.”
“Life sentence?” Carlos said in a reverent tone, studying Berkfield’s eyes to be sure he wasn’t pulling his leg. “Like, okay, eighteen to twenty years is—”
“Forever,” Berkfield said flatly, squaring his shoulders. “Eighteen to twenty is a myth, my man. Superstition. Lies. They never leave.” He nodded as Carlos’s jaw went slack. “Yep. And your wife will always worry herself sick about them. They can always call Mom in the middle of the night. Can always make your wife wring her hands. Can always get under her skin or make her stop whatever she’s doing when she gets one of those weird, female, Mommy psychic, woman-hunches about something being wrong with one of ‘em, even if your kids have moved halfway around the world!”
Berkfield began pacing, spilling coffee onto the grass as he gestured wildly with his hands, clearly distraught. “Doesn’t matter. You’re in it for life, buddy. Once they’re here, everything you once took for granted, like freedom to just lie in bed all day and all night with your wife in your arms, stops. Forget about romping through the house buck naked—a kid could put a key in the door at any time, dragging along half the school. And if they do, she will stop whatever she’s doing to make cookies and brownies for them, will feed the masses as they raid your refrigerator and tell you that, its far better that they be in your house than somewhere unknown in the streets, that I swear to you.”
“Oh, shit…” Carlos stared at Berkfield, thinking about how he and his brother and sister and friends had once overrun his mother’s house. No matter what they asked, his mother was there. The image of her perpetually standing at the stove, in the kitchen, cleaning, working, bringing more food into the house to feed ravenous males made him shiver and take a deep sip from his mug. Then the way she’d worry about them all… forever. But until now, he’d never really thought about his mother as a sexual being—he couldn’t. It wasn’t done. She was La Madonna.
“Uhmmm hmmm, no win situation for us guys,” Berkfield said, watching Carlos’s _expression as he paced. “Scary, ain’t it? And you can’t argue with female logic, either—because, Heaven forbid, if something happens to one of your kids who were out in the street, it’s ball game. Over. And if they’re out there, there’s no rest for the weary… you have to be ready to get your gun at the drop of a hat, drive to find a kid in distress, ever the soldier on call to collect your wife’s child, her baby, from the clutches of danger—you think this Guardian bullshit is stressful… aw, man, you wait, Rivera. So your wife, naturally, won’t relax. Ever. Her ear is always tuned to who could be walking through the house.”
Berkfield stopped pacing and looked at Carlos hard. “Oh, did I mention, when they’re toddlers, that’s the easy part. Babies are the best, since they’re crib-bound. The little ones can’t figure it out, don’t get why Dad is breathing hard and walking in a circle and hollering when they bust into the bedroom, or why Mom looks like she’s seen a ghost with the sheets yanked up to her chin. Little kids are clueless and doze back off to sleep with a drink of water and a lullaby—but teenagers are like vampires, man. They know.”
Carlos tossed back a healthy slurp from his mug like it was a shot of Tequila. Berkfield’s gaze narrowed as he stared off in the distance toward the house and spoke through his teeth.
“They never sleep, Carlos, except during the damned day! All night long, the music, the phones are going, and your wife is like… like… stiff as a board if you try to touch her and then she pushes you off her, ‘cause the kids might hear. Shit!” Berkfield returned his hot glare to Carlos. “And you’re bellyaching about a missed opportunity in the john? Gimme a break. It’s murder, what a married man with kids goes through. You just got a short-term sentence. Consider it a sample. Like you used to say, first hit’s on me. You’ll live.”
Carlos opened his mouth and then closed it. He took a shaky sip of his coffee and then tried to laugh it off. “C’mon, man. Be serious. It’s—”
“You like the night, right?” Berkfield said, tilting his head in a jaunty pose.
Carlos laughed. “Love it.”
“Thunderstorms, lightening, cosmic drama… romantic, right?”
Carlos laughed harder. “Go ‘head with that, Berkfield. Stop trippin’.”
“Oh, okay, stop tripping, the man says. Hmmm…. Toddlers and thunderstorms mean a little person in the bed clinging to your wife and whimpering with a Teddy bear between you.” Berkfield grinned as the smile slid from Carlos’s face. “Not so funny is it?”
Walking in a circle now, Carlos raked his fingers through his hair. “Damn…”
“Yep. And if you try to pry that baby barnacle away from her, your ass will be sleeping on the couch.”
“Shit…” Carlos whispered, as the vision danced through his mind.
“Fucked up, ain’t it?”
Carlos stared at Berkfield. “Very.”
“Then you’ll hear all about how you ain’t sensitive, yada, yada, yada, and will be cut-off until she’s done being offended by the fact that you had the gall and audacity to challenge your own flesh and blood’s rights to her.” Berkfield opened his arms again, slinging coffee, his eyes pained. “Like, she’ll tell you—‘how could you, Richard?’ Then go on and on and on and on, about how this little interloper is just a baby. And, although you know she’s making perfect sense and you’re being illogical, you still wanna holler at her and tell her, ‘just for one night, can’t I have my wife back?’ But, the wise man keeps his mouth shut. This I have learned over the years and through many a battle, son.”
“Man, how did we get on this fucked up subject?” Carlos tossed out his coffee and began walking in an aimless pattern across the field.
Berkfield hurried beside him. “Reality check kills the morning wood, don’t it?”
“Completely,” Carlos muttered.
“Glad to be of service. Figured it was the least I could do so you wouldn’t suffer,” Berkfield said smiling.
“Okay, guess I can go back inside and make breakfast, then. You look like you could use a minute or two alone to ponder your fate in broad daylight… now that the passion haze has lifted. So, see ya. Buck up, a few months will fly by before you know it.” Berkfield strolled away chuckling.
Carlos didn’t even turn around as Berkfield walked towards the house. A long solo walk down the dusty road was the only thing his nervous system could tolerate now. Sure, knowledge was power, but what he’d just heard today was a real bitch. He didn’t wanna know all that, truth be told. In fact, didn’t need to know all that. Actually, he’d been happier remaining pleasantly ignorant of everything Berkfield had said.
“Damn!” Carlos shouted as he trudged along, kicking gravel. But forewarned was forearmed. If this was a precursor to family life…
Naw. He needed to stop trippin’. There had to be more to the story than this—at least he hoped there was. But there was nothing in what Berkfield had said that seemed like a lie. Cold-blooded truth came out in the man’s words. Problem was, even with that valuable insight, he still wanted to be with Damali in the worst way. With her, a little bit was better than none at all… even if he would have to share her with family, kids, and even the world. He stopped walking after a few miles and looked back towards the house in despair.
“A few months?” he whispered quietly, imagining the Arizona wind was laughing at him as it whistled by.
There was no way in the world he’d last like that—Berkfield was obviously a better man than him. This was a nightmare… a travesty of cosmic justice. Damali being a few feet down the hallway… smelling fantastic, right through the freakin’ walls. Wearing a tank top, no bra, and poured into her jeans like they were skin paint. A body that was made by the Master of Heaven. And he couldn’t touch her? Then there’d be kids one day, and the sentence would drag on for eternity? Oh… shit…
Carlos shook his head, thinking about how she looked when the team worked out. Sweat making her skin glisten. Locks swinging. Gorgeous eyes burning with determination and filled with passion. That sassy walk… one hand on her hip, wooden practice blade in the other, giving commands in a way that made his stomach clench just to hear her voice. Her singing on the front steps, breaking beans with Marlene and ‘Nez… sending old ballads through the house to torture his mind. Then when she sat still and closed her eyes, meditating under the shade of a tree like a mystical yogi, and the serenity that graced her beautiful face… that same sated quality that overtook it like after they’d made real good love. Every time she got in the shower, his hands literally shook. This bullshit was gonna make him start drinking Jack Daniels in the porch with Rider.
“I’ll never make it,” Carlos said flatly, talking to himself and just shaking his head as he walked back toward the house. His coffee mug dangled loosely at his side in one hand with his razor held in a defeated grip in the other. Maybe he should have just nicked his jugular good and ended it all. “I, Carlos Rivera, will never make it. Not like this.”
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