Chapter 14 E.W.
The entire day had led up to this moment. Slow and painful, Manny had went through the monotonous steps of his internship. The wake up call, the eucalyptus infused shower, the not as good as Aunt El’s french toast, the judging hazel eyes of Mrs. Lemon, the quiet dark ride out on the town with Hines and finally the drop off back to room 314. Manny was disappointed to hear Louise on the line this morning when he answered. Raele was off this morning so he didn’t even get to have their morning chat. He was anticipating telling her what had went down at Coast. Getting her opinion in the whole matter. He didn’t want to call Brandon, because the embarrassment of it all hadn’t quite wore off. He didn’t want to call Aunt El because he didn’t want to accidentally get over emotional and have her buzzing up here in the Jetta with her attitude on one hundred. Raele would have been the perfect one to run it by because for one, she could be objective and two, she could give some insight from a woman’s point of view. Hopefully, she’d be in when he got back. For now, Manny could finally push Khia to the back of his mind. The gravel snap, cracking, and popping under the tires told Manny where he was. The limo slowed to a stop. Manny grabbed the small bag sitting in the seat next to him. As he stepped away from the limo, he told Ritz not to go to far.
“I got it, Sir. I’ll be right up the road.” Ritz responded. The sound of the limo pulling away, taking with it the only light in the warehouse’s parking lot, made Manny’s stomach grow tense.
What am I doing? Manny thought. His back teeth clenched tight together.
Manny touched on the bulge in his right pocket for reassurance. The loaded weapon that was supposed to make him feel safe only made him feel more like he was making the wrong decision.
A car door shut just loud enough to be heard by him. The hungry young man from the other day slowly walked from around the back of the building and peeked around the edge of the warehouse walls with frightened eyes. When he saw Manny his face grew kind.
“I’m happy you came back,” The man said he removed one of his hands from out of his pocket and offered it to Manny in a handshake.
“So, you living out her?” Manny asked shaking the poor man’s hand.
“Basically,” He said back.
“I’m going to get to all that. You bring anything to eat?”
Manny handed him the bag in his hand. He had ordered extra at dinner tonight, just in case.
A smile planted itself smack dab across the man’s face. He went to pull his left hand out of his pocket, then quickly shoved it back down. He took the bag with his right hand.
“Thank you, bro,” He said. “Come back here. Follow me.”
They walked together not speaking but not silent. The plastic bag of food hit at the side of the man’s leg as he led the way back to his home away from home. To Manny’s surprise when the guy opened the door to the old car, its interior lights came on.
“If I keep the door open I have light, but not too long. I have to preserve what is left of the battery,” he said.
“That’s good,” Manny responded, feeling thankful for all his aunt had provided for him.
He sat in the car with one leg hanging out mimicking the man.
Hungrily, the guy sifted through the bag. He smiled widely when he saw the thick chunk of meatloaf on top of the double serving of mashed potatoes.
“My favorite,” He exclaimed. He used his dirty hands to grab up all the French style green beans and shove them into his mouth. Slightly embarrassed he looked over at Manny.
“Pardon me. I haven’t eaten at all today,” the man said, licking at his hand. His other hand was under the plate that was sitting on his lap.
Manny looked away. Feeling that it would impolite to watch. “There’s a fork in the bag,“ Manny said. “Those garlic mashed potatoes are the bomb, “ He added smiling.
“I know. I used to order this meal all the time during my internship,” The guy said. He looked to see Manny’s face and then pulled the plastic fork from the bag. He ate slower, now. Waiting for a response.
“You’re last year’s intern? The one Raele told me went missing. Elijah, right?” Manny said, knowing more than asking. The man nodded then smiled.
“Raele still there? She’s cool. Fine too,” Elijah said. Manny nodded in agreement to all Elijah had said but his expression told that he was a bit worried. Now, knowing that he was sitting next a missing persons.
“Close the door,” Elijah said. Manny listened. Elijah closed the door on the driver’s side, as well. The car went pitch black and the people caught inside became shadows. Out of the shadow came sound.
“My name is Elijah Washington. Last summer, I was in your shoes. Broke, looking for a way out. I thought the Westerlynne Internship was the way to go. Crazy thing is, I never applied for it. Someone reached out to me, first. I should have know then something wasn’t right.”
“You didn’t do the essay and all that shit?” Manny asked slightly jealous. He had dedicated his entire childhood to get to where he was.
“Nope, I had heard about the internship. Who hasn’t? My grades in high school were always mediocre. Nothing impressive. So, I didn’t apply for it when the opportunity came around. Still, I’m not sure how they found me.” Elijah said.
“What happened? Why did you run away?”
“Is that the story? I ran away? I didn’t run away? I was fucking held hostage!”
“By people in Westerlynne?” Manny asked.
“No, by the Borgella!” Elijah said. Although Elijah couldn’t see it, Manny was wide eyed and more than bit freaked out. He was trying to remember Hines’ story. Trying to run it all back to see where Elijah fit in. If Hines had purposefully left him out.
“Did Hines know?”Manny asked. A part of him feeling sick to the stomach because he knew the answer.
“Hell yeah, he knows,” Elijah said. His black silhouette moved angrily.
“I’m asking because he’s in some deep shit with them right now. Maybe ya’ll could help each other. Raele told me, the word is you went missing. So, maybe Hines just assumed you ran off or…”
“He knows! Hines doesn’t assume shit. He’s a fucking detective for God’s sake,” Elijah’s shout was combined with fear and anger. The sound ringing in Manny’s ears and the emotions permeating his very soul.
“I was naive like you at first, too. Wanted to believe the internship was a gift from above but soon enough I learned it was a fucking curse from the pits of hell! You need to pack up, go home, and get you and your family as far away from Westerlynne as you can,” Elijah said. His hand grabbing Manny by his shirt sleeve. It was too dark to be sure but Manny imagined Elijah was getting the greasy remains of his supper all over his plaid Trukfit button up.
“Man, get off me. Calm down,” Manny yelled, pulling back his arm and brushing away Elijah’s hand. The silhouette stared back at Manny. It’s eyes, barely visible by moonlight, shone an iridescent hue of violet.
“Now, I don’t know what went down with you and Hines. What kind of relationship ya’ll had…” Manny continued, taking center stage. He was getting tired of the doubt this homeless man was casting on his plan. Now that Manny thought back on everything, how he came to know all he knew. The package on the porch, the fingers in the foyer, the death threat that had landed at the base of the steps, there was really no room for Hines to lie. All he did was fill Manny in on the details. Maybe Elijah wasn’t so lucky. Maybe he had to come to learn about the Borgella the hard way. As unfortunate as that was it wasn’t Manny’s problem. As a matter of fact, he had his own fucking problems. It was time to push he bullshit aside, the fear and the doubt along with it. It was time to man up and set the record straight.
“… but I know Hines has been upfront with me. He was pretty much forced into telling me the truth so, I know everything. Everything!”
“Did he tell you about me? Did he mention me?” Elijah asked haughtily like he knew the answer already.
“What’s so important about you. Look. I understand. You got fucked over and I’m sorry about that but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to me. We are not the same.”
Elijah looked down at his plate. Manny watched him knowing there was a lot left unsaid. The man’s problems ran deep and although Manny couldn’t get involved, he still felt sorry for him. He reached in his pocket and pulled out two hundred dollars.
“Here,” Manny offered.
Elijah hesitated. He wished he could be petty. Act too mad and refuse the money but he wasn’t sure where his next meal was coming from. He gave in and took the folded dollars from Manny. He shook his head in the dark.
“You’ll see,” he said. You’ll be back.”
“I doubt it. I hope shit turns around for you, bro,” Manny’s said. With that he exited the dilapidated automobile. Walked to the front of the building and waited for his limo.
Back at the hotel, Raele wiped down tables in the lobby with a damp cloth. When she saw Manny walking in he bright face lit up even more.
“Hi, Emmanuel” She said grinning. Quickly, she noticed the bad mood he was wearing, on his face, in his walk and all about his shoulders. She frowned, “Aww. What’s up?”
Manny looked up. Raele had her hair parted in the middle and it sleekly fell down and framed both sides of her face. Manny smiled.
“I see you finally got that wig busted.” He played. He walked over to where she was cleaning and took a seat on the couch.
“Yep,” Raele replied whipping her hair from side to side like she was in a Dr. Miracles commercial. They shared a laugh.
“So why you walking around here looking all brokenhearted? Looking like a lost puppy?” She asked. Her question reminded Manny of his original problem that he had wanted to run by Raele. Now was perfect. The hotel traffic slowed down at night. It wasn’t the kind of place people left the club and ran to for a quickie. It was quiet. There wasn’t a guest in sight. Raele sat down next to Manny on the couch.
“I took Khia out on a date,”
“Khia Jameson? Little Miss Rich Bitch?” Raele asked. She looked a little shocked but she refrained from saying what she was thinking.
“Okay, so what? She got all boujie on you?” Raele asked.
“No. It ain’t that. I invited my homeboy, Brandon. She invited her girl…”
“Domnique.” Raele stated.
“How you know?” Manny asked.
“They’re best friends. One goes, the other follows,” Raele said. “I don’t really know them, know them but I’ve ran into them a few times here and there during my employment here.”
Manny nodded. He went on.
“So we all out. We went to Coast. Downtown. Everybody was good, at first. Me and Khia hit the floor, and danced a little bit. Then we went outside. We kissed or whatever.”
Raele looked to the TV and fidgeted with the rag in her hand to hide the disappointment in her demeanor that wasn’t supposed to be there. Manny didn’t notice. He was remembering. Remembering the taste of the cherry gloss that had stained his lips for the night. Remembering floating in a cloud and then watching it turn into a storm. His eyes fell down and then back up to meet Raeles.
“When we walked back into the joint, Brandon and Dominique were beefing,”Manny said, shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head.
“That’s what I’m saying. I don’t even know,” Manny said.
“That’s it? What the hell that got to do with you and Khia?” Raele looked confused.
“That’s my boy. We grew up together. Dominique was talking real wreck-less,” Manny said.
“That’s a whole grown man and a whole grown woman, Emmanuel,” Raele said. She pursed her lips like she was disappointed.
“I couldn’t let her talk to my dude that way,” Manny went on.
“So, what did you do,” Raele asked.
“I basically said fuck ‘em. Sided with my boy and we bounced,” Manny said.
“You left them there?” Raele asked, getting a little loud and dramatic.
“Dominique said she ain’t want ride in the car with B’ so she called an Uber,” Manny answered.
“That’s fucked up, Emmanuel. I’d get my big brother to whoop your ass if you did some shit like that to me,” Raele said.
“I wouldn’t do that to you. You wouldn’t have been acting all corny like that,” Manny said.
Raele swallowed away the moment that could have grown from his last comment.
“So why you hanging out with them if you think she’s corny?” Raele asked.
“I didn’t say she was corny, I said they were acting corny.” Manny said. “I really like Khia. She’s cool as shit. She was looking too good that night, too,” Manny said softly, He bit his bottom lip and closed his eyes.
“You’re feeling her, huh?” Raele asked, offering up a soft smile. She was a sucker for true love and in love with romance.
Manny nodded. His eyes couldn’t hide what was in his heart.
“Then let your boy and Dominique work out there problems by themselves. This ain’t high school no more. There was no need for you to take sides. Call Khia up and apologize because you were wrong. If that kiss was as good as you acting she’ll accept your apology.” Raele laughed but deep down she was trying her hardest to keep from sneaking a peak at Manny’s lips and those deep dimples but she knew she was right because she knew that kiss was bomb and she knew Khia’s sheltered prissy ass was more than a little bit turned out.
Manny smiled too.
“You’re right. You’re right. That’s why I ran it by you. I knew you would tell me truth.” Manny grabbed Raele’s small frame and pulled it next to him. He embraced her and then messed up her perfect hair with his hand.
“Boy, I will fuck you up,” Raele screamed. She stood up swatting flies that weren’t there. Manny laughed. He stood up and used his hand to smooth out the hairs he had gotten out of place.
“Okay, you good,” Manny assured her.
“I better be,” Raele said. She went back to wiping off the tables. “So all this went down tonight,” Raele asked.
“Nah, that was last night,” Manny responded.
“So, why you coming in all late tonight, then? Where you been?” she questioned.
Manny thought back on Elijah. He figured he’d better not say too much about that, yet. He wasn’t sure how to play that hand.
“I just went out for ride to clear my head,” Manny said.
Copyright © 2017 by Aja Brown Crowder