First Three Chapters

The first three chapters of The Fulton Parks Scholarship Fund:

Chapter 1 – Living Backwards

I’m sitting in my car in front of the Post Oak Savings and Loan.  Exhausted from being up all night, my eyes burned from lack of sleep.  The cut on my forehead ached and the skin around my left eye was tinged blue and green.  My stomach growled ferociously from lack of food.   I had the windows open and although it wasn’t even nine o’clock yet, the air was already steamy.  Spring is non-existent in Houston.   Heavy gray winter clouds are suddenly replaced by a rush of thick white-hot clouds from the Gulf of Mexico, and then it’s like a sauna everywhere.

The savings and loan was in one of those gleaming black-mirrored buildings right off the freeway.  I had been parked there since the sun came up.  If a security guard had been watching he’d probably think I was casing the joint, so to pass the time I pretended that I was a bank robber gutting up for one last job before turning over a new leaf and escaping to South America.  As I continued fantasizing, the parking lot began to fill up and sharply at nine I got out of my car and went inside the cool air of the lobby.  The squeak of my Adidas on the marble floor made a hellacious sound.  A geriatric guard eyed me, but without much vigor.  I looked presentable enough, clean jeans and the least wrinkled t-shirt I could find, but my hair was crusty from ocean water and I hadn’t showered in a couple of days.  My beat up face must have made me look like a prizefighter, and not a very good one.

The receptionist, an eager young woman, regaled me with reasons why I should open an account and was summarily disappointed when I told her I just wanted to get inside a safe deposit box.  Deflated, she asked to see some identification.  I gave her my driver’s license, which she scrutinized for an interminable amount of time.  Shifting my weight from one foot to the other, I tried my best to avoid any look of criminal intent; despite my prior fantasies.  Suddenly I felt a wave of nausea creep over me, like I could heave all over her desk.  My face was sweaty and I was sure I looked green.

Finally, she said, “Looks like somebody just turned nineteen.”

For a moment I wondered who she was talking about, but then snapped, “Yes, ma’am, I had a birthday a few days ago.”

She called the octogenarian guard over and he ushered me to the safe deposit box room, where he fumbled with about a jillion keys until he found the right one.

Inside, it was like a mini-mausoleum with little rows of metal boxes.

The guard asked, “What’s your number?”

I couldn’t hear very well because I think I had gotten whacked in the ear at some point.  I thought he said, ‘Does your thumb hurt?’ so I said, “What?”

“Your box number, what is it?”  He seemed pretty peeved.

“1242.”

He pointed to a row and hovered around giving me the old fish-eye until I found the box.  Now it was my turn to fumble with the key. I stuck it in the lock, but I felt dizzy.  I thought I was going to pass out.  I wanted to leave, maybe I really didn’t want to know what was inside, but I hurriedly took the box and the guard pointed to a room marked “Private.”  Inside there were no windows, just bad fluorescent lighting and furnishings made out of faux-wood and pleather.  After shutting the door, I collapsed into one of chairs.  My stomach seized up like a vise.  Maybe I would wait a few minutes and then leave without opening the box, but it sat on the table, daring me to open it.

My mind was flooded with memories, racing through my mind in a blur of images, all of it making me sad and even more tired.  One crappy memory led into another even crappier memory.  It was like pulling out one thread in a sweater and before you know it, the whole thing unravels, then you’ve just got one ungodly mess on your hands.  I don’t want to tell you my whole life-damn-story, but I guess I have to tell you about this past year when everything started to come apart.

Chapter 2  –  The Big House

People should never name their kid after anyone, especially a dead guy.  The deceased is usually some big shot who made a butt load of money or won a medal in a war for doing something they should have done anyway.  They may not have been all that great, but they’re dead, so people can lie to themselves all they want.  By the time you get around to Number Three or Four, you’re bound to be an anti-climax, a bitter reminder of unrealized potential that people invariably feel the need to tell you about as often as possible.  My name is Fulton J. Parks, IV.  I come from a long line of big shots and then there’s me.

The morning I was supposed to leave for college in Houston, I lay on my bed for a really long time looking straight up.  I was staring at this little hairline crack in the plaster that cut a diagonal course across the stark white ceiling.  A few years ago, it was just this very small crevice near the window and now it snaked past the light fixture and ran all the way towards the door.  It was like a road map of my life, so I lay there thinking that I was going to miss it.  Not my room or the house, just that stupid crack.

If my father had seen it, he would have a guy over here in about an hour to fix it, so it would be perfect again.  But I tried to take in all of the room’s imperfections, to secure it in my mind, like the squeak of the pine floor or the desk drawer that always stuck, take it all in like it would be my last time.   Sometimes I can get sentimental as hell, even though there isn’t a bunch of great stuff to remember.  Every once in a while, though, there is a random moment that you’ll want to recall it, like a reference point that places you somewhere and says ‘I was here.’

I had just graduated from high school, Mt. Olive Military Academy, Class of ‘79.  Well, actually if you really want to know the truth, I barely graduated, but it’s not like I’m a moron or anything.  I’ve just never been all that jazzed about school, which is mainly about drumming the spontaneity right out of you.  After graduation I was all set to make my own plans, but things happen and people get involved.  Whatever you do, don’t ever tell anybody your plans – you’ll just wind up disappointing them, and yourself.

My father had sentenced me to four years at an institution of higher learning.  Brill University had a student body comprised mostly of National Merit Finalists and valedictorians, a very big deal.  You were supposed to just about have a stroke if they let you in, but with my grades, I’m sure my father had promised them a new library or something.  After Brill I was supposed to go onto an equally prestigious law school, so I could take my rightful place at my father’s law firm, already conveniently named Parks and Parks.  I would make a pile of dough and work until rigor mortis set in, but not before providing a couple of heirs, preferably male.

The only thing I really wanted to do was move to Brazil.  I had never been there before, but it seemed like a cool place.  I would go with my girlfriend, Wil Potter (Wil is short for Wilhemina).   I had the place all picked out, a tiny fishing village on the Ceara coast, all palm trees and sand dunes.   We could live right on the beach and wake up to pearl blue water every morning, riding horses and fishing all day.  I figured out you could drive all the way down through Mexico and Central America, and I had a couple of hundred dollars saved up from my allowance and a savings bond my grandmother had given me when I turned sixteen.

My plan hit a snag when I couldn’t find Wil.  After my graduation party she just sort of disappeared and finally I went over to her house and asked her sister Maddie.  She told me that Wil had gotten a job as a courier and was traveling.  Wil was kind of wild like that – she always has been, but I guess opposites attract.

Anyway, my father would have a conniption if he thought I wasn’t going to college.  When I had mentioned it to him, he blew up and said, “You’re going to college; we all have to do things we don’t want to do, that’s what being an adult is about.  Don’t you think that I’d like to play eighteen holes every morning and then sit on my can the rest of the day?  You need to get your head out of the clouds and that’s final.”  My father was good at deciding what everyone should do.  Maybe he really believed that crap himself, but then he’s a lawyer and they are great at making up their own versions of the truth.

All my classmates at Mt. Olive were excited about college.  At graduation they were going around slapping each other on the back like they had just found gold nuggets in their cereal.  I saw my graduation from high school as more like getting sprung from an extended incarceration.  But everyone seemed to think I should be happy as hell about this next rite of passage.  Even all my older relatives were telling me I should be having the time of my life.  I sure as hell hoped the ‘time of my life’ hadn’t already come and I missed it.  Or maybe it was like fifteen minutes of fame, fleeting and in retrospect, wholly unsatisfying.

I got up off the bed and looked out the window, past the mammoth pecan tree and the gazebo, to the muddied waters of the San Antonio River that ran through our backyard.  Turning from the window, I took one last look around and closed the bedroom door behind me.  I realized how much I wasn’t looking forward to saying goodbye to my aunt.  I was worried about leaving her because she hadn’t been doing all that great, but my aunt was glad that I was going to away to college.  She told me it was my chance to escape the “vortex of darkness,” – that’s what she called my family.

I came down the stairs in The Big House.  It’s the house I grew up in.  We called it that ostensibly to differentiate from the smaller house out at the ranch that my family owned, but I always thought because of its resemblance to a prison.  The whole place was oppressive, like the heavy brocade curtains that hung on the windows.  My Grandma Tilly had ruled the place like a warden, always watching behind the tinted glasses she wore on account of her glaucoma.  She had me and my little brother Randall terrified when she’d point her gnarled arthritic finger at us.

I walked past the framed pictures of all the Parks clan; the first Fulton, the one who started all this madness, stared back at me.  He had come over from England in 1890 and eventually made his way out to Texas.  He became a wildcatter in the oil fields, got rich and then married into even more money when he wed an heiress to brewing company fortune.  Fulton II was the first Parks to go to college and then even went to law school.  Unfortunately, he graduated in 1929 – the year of the Great Depression, but he made out ok when, in addition to starting the Parks & Parks Law Firm, he also took advantage of Prohibition and became one of the most successful bootleggers in Texas.

By that time he had already married and they had popped out a few kids including the original Fulton III.  All hopes for the future were pinned on him.  He was handsome, excelled at school and sports and in December 1941 was all set to become a hero defending his country in WWII.  However, the night before he shipped out he met an untimely death when he was killed in a knife fight over a girl.  Not missing a beat, old Fulton II just made another Fulton III – my father, who actually goes by Jay – apparently because his mother (my Grandma Tilly) couldn’t bear to call him Fulton and called him by our collective middle initial “J.”

The new and improved Fulton III came with a bonus in the form of a twin sister named Francine, but was mostly overlooked by Fulton II as a mere oversight.  You’ve never met two people more unalike than Jay, my father, and my Aunt Francine.  She told me once that they were actually close when they were children, but now could barely stand to be in the same room together.   She was a more adventurous spirit, but plagued with mental demons.  For as long as I could remember Aunt Francine had always lived out at the small ranch near the Missions, but my father sold the ranch after my grandmother died, and so she had come to live in the carriage house in back of The Big House.  My father said it was a business decision.  Business decision my ass.  But Aunt Francine would still do things her own way and that drove my father crazy.  She changed the oil in her station wagon – right in the driveway, loved jazz and listened to Mingus and Coltrane, even older stuff like Bix Beiderbecke, and she’d shop at re-sale shops for her clothes.

That morning I found her making The Last Breakfast in the white-tiled kitchen.  She wasn’t usually given to such mawkish outpourings, but I knew she would want to mark the occasion in some way and I knew we would be alone because my father was playing golf.  My aunt was enveloped in a haze of flour dust.  Every inch of counter space was covered with biscuit-lined cookie sheets and bowls filled with more dough.  My aunt’s tiny frame was dwarfed by the chaos in the enormous kitchen and it made her seem even more bird-like.  Her penny loafers shuffled on the powdery tiled floor and she was wearing her usual black knit pants and cardigan sweater under her apron.  In spite of the summer temperatures and heat in the kitchen, she had on a pink cashmere sweater.  It was one of her re-sale shop finds, which she thought was just fine even if it had a few moth holes.   A pair of camouflage-colored field binoculars hung around her neck.

She stared at a book propped up against some canisters and then looked out the window with the binoculars, back and forth, window, book, window, book.   I stepped closer and noticed it was not a cookbook, but a book of poetry, Dorothy Parker I think.  That’s when I smelled smoke and turned to see a cloud billowing out of the old Chambers stove.

“Aunt Francine, something’s burning.”

She turned to me with a perplexed expression on her face.  Her pale blue eyes loomed large behind her black horn-rimmed glasses and then she remembered the biscuits.  Quickly, she took the charred remains out of the stove and put in another batch.  Without missing a beat she said, “I just spotted a couple of cactus wrens.  They’re really rare for this part of Texas.”

Opening a window, I used a kitchen towel to try and clear the smoky air.  “I’m sorry I missed that,” although I wouldn’t know a cactus wren from a Dr. Seuss star-bellied sneech.  I knew my aunt was given to embellishments of the truth.  Not lies, really, just her own version of reality.

She caught my skepticism and said, “You don’t believe me, do you?  Here look, I think they’re still there,” handing me the binoculars that were sticky with biscuit dough.

I looked out at the branches of the oak tree spread wide like big leafy arms.  For her sake, I wanted like hell to see those cactus wrens.  She got a bigger kick out of birds than most people get from money, but all I saw were clumps of Spanish moss hanging from the tree’s limbs.  I told her, “I think I saw them.”

Turning her attention back to the mess on the counters, her glasses slid down the bridge of her nose and wisps of chestnut hair trailed down her neck.  With already enough biscuits to feed all the soldiers at Fort Hood, she readied yet another batch for the oven.

“Why don’t you go sit in the dining room?  I’ll bring your breakfast in there,” she said.

Reluctantly, I went to the cavernous dining room which only fueled my growing melancholy.  I sat at the head of a gigantic mahogany table that sat about thirty people comfortably.  My grandfather had it shipped all the way from the Philippines and it had huge carved legs as big as tree trunks.  A four-tiered Italian crystal chandelier loomed above the table.  As a child, my father had insisted that we eat dinner together every night in the unwieldy, gothic room.  He would say, “Dammit, we’re a family and families should eat together, whether we like it or not.”  So there we would be:  my father and mother, me and my brother Randall and Grandma Tilly using the good china and sterling silver flatware sitting in excruciating, stony silence.  No family chatter, just the sound of chewing and the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner.

Fulton II had bought the house back in 1932.  He snagged The Big House from some rich German immigrant.  It was a huge three-story stone fortress built in the late 1880’s, mainly English Perpendicular architecture, but with some Texas Gothic thrown in for good measure.  Situated right on the banks of the San Antonio River in the King Williams District, it was about as inviting as a museum.  All the rooms were filled with stuffy antiques and objects d’art that you weren’t supposed to touch or even breathe on for that matter:  stuffy Victorian sofas, Turkish rugs and Limoges vases.   It even had an open terrace on the third floor that looked out over the river.

Saved from gloomy memories, my aunt came in bearing bacon, eggs, cheese grits and of course, a platter of steaming biscuits with white gravy speckled with flecks of black pepper.  I wasn’t hungry, but I cleared my plate as Aunt Francine quietly watched me and smoked a cigarette, her leg fidgeting up and down.   She was careful to blow her smoke away from me.  We were both lost in our own thoughts and I ate in silence, which the room seemed to demand, but finally said, “Hey do you remember when you taught me how to drive?  Her face lit up,

“Yes, I put you behind the wheel of the Country Squire station wagon,” she said.

“In the cemetery and I was nervous as all get out, but you told me I couldn’t hurt anyone.”

She said, “That’s right.”  I glanced over to see her lift her coffee cup and take a sip, noticing that her nails were bitten to the quick.  “You were a good driver, even if you were only twelve,” but her thoughts clouded over and she suddenly said, “You should be going.  It’s getting late,” as she stood up and cleared the table.

“It’s only ten-thirty.  I’m not catching the bus until noon,” I protested.

She didn’t mention that I was relegated to taking the bus to Houston because I had totaled my graduation present, a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am.  The car and I ran afoul of a telephone pole.

My aunt said, “There’ll be traffic, so you’d better hurry,” disappearing into the kitchen.

Aunt Francine, it’s Saturday, remember?” I yelled.  “Besides I can’t leave until Dad gets here, he’s supposed to take me to the bus station?”

She came back in the room, “Oh, right.”  Lighting yet another cigarette, her leg still going a mile a minute when she sat down.

At that moment, as if on cue, I heard the front door bang open.  It was my father with Astrid, my step-mother.  They were back from their early round of golf at the Alamo Heights Country Club.  My father played at six o’clock every Saturday morning.  The day that his first-born son was leaving for college would be no exception.  If golf was a religion, my father was a Jehovah’s Witness.  He gave money to it, proselytized for it, even spoke in tongues about it and now he had converted Astrid, but since she was a girl she wasn’t actually allowed to play with him; she just hung out around the putting green.

He was dressed in his ridiculous golf attire:  salmon-colored shirt and matching pants, his red-faced sunburn even matched too, he had his ever-present unlit cigar in his mouth like the plank of a ship.  My father, although highly excitable, exuded a cold indifference to most things except money and golf, but looked like he never broke a sweat.   He played the part of high-powered attorney to a tee.

Astrid had only been married to my father for about a year and everyone thought she was beautiful, but behind the bleached blonde hair and expensive clothes, she had a distinctly embryonic look, like her features weren’t fully formed.  Her eyes had a look of perpetual surprise and she had the insatiable appetite of a consummate social climber.

Territorial as usual, she entered the room and said, “Do I smell smoke in here?”  Both Aunt Francine and I shook our heads no.  As my father regaled us with his triumph on the green, Astrid made a beeline for the kitchen and said, “Did you all burn something in here?”  Opening the kitchen, she caught sight of the mess and stopped in her tracks.  She let the door swing close and fell into a nearby chair, remaining silent so as not to interrupt my father’s description of his shot on the ninth fairway.  Aunt Francine and I exchanged glances and tried not to laugh.

My father, oblivious, finished his story, then came and put his mammoth hands on my shoulders.  “Let’s hope this is a fresh start for you, Fulton.”

“I did take a shower this morning,” I said.

“Now that’s what I mean.  I’m trying to be serious and you act like a wise-cracking teenager.”

“I am a teenager.”

“Fulton, you’ve been given opportunities most boys would give their right nut for and you keep pissing them away.”  This was my father’s idea of a confidence-building pep talk.    He continued, “I sent you to one of the best military high schools in the country and you barely limped out of there like a three-legged dog. “ Boy, he was just getting revved up.  More from dear old dad:  “I gave you a brand new car for graduation and you totaled it within a week,” then Astrid looked over at me with a disgusted look, like she had just caught me trying on her clothes.

The unfortunate incident with the car had actually occurred when I had leaned down to grab one of my eight-track tapes that fell onto the floorboard of the car and the next thing I knew I had crashed into a goddamn telephone pole.  When the police arrived they seemed to think I had been drinking and hauled me in on a D.W.I. – a mortifying embarrassment for my big attorney father, not to mention for Astrid as well, who had an unholy concern for what other people think.

She wouldn’t come out of the house for several days and kept searching the San Antonio Light for any mention of my deleterious behavior, while fretting over her social standing at the country club.  I’m the one that had to cool my heels in jail overnight with a cut across my nose and two black eyes that made me look like a demented owl, not to mention having to keep watch all night so no one would try to get wise with me.   When my father finally sprung me, he wouldn’t shut up about my foul, evil deed and acted like I should have gotten the electric chair.  I ended up with deferred adjudication, which meant if I kept my nose clean it would all be wiped off my record, but as punishment my father had not replaced my wheels, so I had to go to Houston sans car.

My father was about to launch into another story of one of my transgressions when Aunt Francine said, “Jay, can you stop dredging up the past?”

“Well, someone has got to think about his past or it’ll just be history,” without the slightest hint of irony.

“Exactly,” she said. “Fulton needs to get on the road.”

My father said, “I know Francine, I’m taking him to the bus station.”

Astrid said, “Can’t Francine drive him, Jay?  I mean what if someone sees you at the bus station,” like riding the bus ranked right up there with having the clap or something.

In the midst of this debate, I grabbed my knapsack and they all trailed after me.  I picked up my duffel bag and a Samsonite suitcase in the kitchen and made my escape outside.  It was a typical San Antonio summer morning, about a hundred degrees and the air was so dry it seemed to crackle, but I could finally breathe again.  My little brother Randall was out back near the carriage house.  He had finished washing my aunt’s car, a classic 1964 Lincoln Continental convertible, just about the coolest car ever.  It was like a baby blue cloud with its white leather upholstery and convertible top.  The vehicle also housed a V-8 engine: a three hundred and twenty-five horsepower chunk of machinery, crafted with the precision of a Swiss watch.  Inside it was all chrome and wood, and power everything.

Randall, who was a year younger than me, still looked like such a kid, but he was tons more responsible.  We didn’t even look like each other.  He had my father’s green eyes, his freckled tanned face and both tended towards the beefy side.  With my light olive complexion, dark hair and reedy frame, I looked more like my mother.  This was a constant source of irritation to my father that his first-born son bore little resemblance to him.

Randall’s car washing paraphernalia was neatly tucked away in a bucket and he was carefully coiling the hose in a perfect circle.  He looked up and gave me a wave.  His strawberry blonde hair was matted down with sweat and his face crimson from the heat, although it was usually blotchy from some angst-producing situation, real or imagined.  He worried about everything, including me.

Aunt Francine turned and handed me the keys to her car.  Speechless, all I could do was stare at the car, open-mouthed, as it sat gleaming in the driveway.  Randall hit a button and the top disappeared into the trunk.  The car’s white leather was pristine, as was the wood-grain dash.  It even had suicide doors that opened from the center.

“You can’t be serious,” I said.

My father said, “She better not be,”

“I never kid about vehicles,” my aunt said.

She did have the utmost respect for cars and knew all about them.  Hell, she could change her own sparkplugs and even recondition a carburetor.  The car had been left to her by her Uncle Gus and he’s the one that taught her how to fix cars.

“Thank you, Aunt Francine,” I said, “but I can’t take your car.”

“You’re right about that,” my father said as he grabbed the keys out of my hand and gave them back to my aunt.  “You have no business giving him your car, Francine.”

“It’s mine to give.”  She took the keys out of his hand and pressed them back in my hand.  “It’s about the only thing around here that is mine.  I’ve already signed the title over to him.”

Randall chimed in, “She even put in an eight-track tape deck.  And it’s got a full tank of gas, but you may need to fill it up again before you get to Houston.”  My father stared him down and he quietly trailed off.  “You know how you always run out of gas.”

I was still in disbelief.   “Aunt Francine, are you sure you trust me with the Continental?”

“I know you’ll take care of it, but it’s just a car,” she said.

My father was getting even more red-faced than Randall, but had been reduced to minor admonishments.  “You’d better go straight to Houston,” as he wiped down one of the doors with his one hundred percent cotton handkerchief, checking for door dings.  “And watch where you park the car.”

Aunt Francine smiled and lit her fiftieth cigarette of the day.  She was still wearing the flour-covered apron and binoculars.

My father put his handkerchief away and said, “I want you to call me the minute you get to Brill.”   He came towards me and leaned forward like he was going to hug me.  I think I might have even leaned in towards him a little too, but then he took my hand in his usual death grip and shook it vigorously.  Astrid stood nearby stiff-backed, melting in the heat.  She gave me one of those limp-fingered handshakes that girls do.

Aunt Francine crushed her cigarette with the toe of her loafer as I bent way down to hug her.  I felt the soft brush of her cashmere sweater and caught a hint of Shalimar, her favorite perfume.  For the first time I stopped hugging first.  I extended my hand to Randall, but then quickly pulled it away and ran it through my hair, just this corny thing we had always done in lieu of a hug, but he always fell for it.

He said, “Do your best and stay out of trouble.”

“Yes, ‘Dad’,” I said, mocking him, but in a good-natured way.

He whispered in my ear, “Don’t make things harder than they have to be.”  Randall, the philosopher, wise beyond his years.

“Don’t worry.  Clean slate.”

I sank into the driver’s seat, the leather upholstery hugging me and started the car.  All four hundred and thirty cubic inches of the mammoth engine roared.  Looking at my family standing in the driveway of The Big House, I suddenly felt like I was going to start bawling any second, so I backed out as quickly as I could, practically taking out some shrubs on the side of the house.  My father shouted something, but Aunt Francine waved me on.  Once safely out in the street, I looked back at them as they walked en masse out to the front yard, like survivors from some disaster, waving goodbye to the person they had entrusted to go for help.   Their desperate confidence in me, although touching, was not merited in the least.  I watched as they got smaller and smaller and I couldn’t see them anymore.

Chapter 3  –  Remember the Alamo

Now that I had wheels, Houston was the last place I wanted to go.  I knew if I didn’t, my father would send out an A.P.B. for me, but at least I could give myself some free time before checking into prison.  I would go to try and find Wil one last time.  This involved having to go to Wil’s house, although she didn’t live there anymore.  Her stupid step-father had kicked her out when she was sixteen.   Wil’s mother, Angie, had lousy taste in men.  Her first husband, Wil’s real father, had been a mean drunk and would come home and beat the hell out of anyone who got in his way.  Luckily he had taken a powder when Wil was only ten years old.  By that time, there were seven kids younger than her and her mother was desperate for a new husband.  She picked a real winner in Darrell Potter.

At first he seemed every bit the outstanding citizen.  He didn’t have a drinking problem, sold aluminum siding and married Angie and adopted all eight of her fatherless children, but Darrell was a pervert and had tried to get wise with Wil.  She had to fend off his unwanted advances and started sneaking out at night, but the bastard kicked her out and Angie let him.  She had lived with her friend Zita for a while and then her aunt and uncle, but she couldn’t even finish high school.

Driving past Woodlawn Lake towards Wil’s house, I started to get anxious.  The park was swarming with families and guys chucking footballs in the heat.   Two blocks away amongst some little one story houses, I found the Potter’s red brick house with the aluminum awnings (Darrell sold those too).  I parked and knocked on the front door.  Thank God, one of her sisters answered the door.   Jeannie, who was fourteen, told me that Wil was back in town and she was staying at the Alamo Motel over on Fredericksburg.  I thanked her and waved goodbye.

I met Wil when I was five years old.  Her uncle Hector was the caretaker at the ranch and he used to let them come and play there sometimes.  The first time I saw her she was behind the horse barn lighting little mounds of Spanish moss on fire.   She had asked me, “Do you want to play?” to which I had replied:  “I’m not allowed to play with matches,” and she said, “Oh, that’s too bad,” and went back to lighting the moss.  Her red cowboy boots up in the air behind her as she lay on her stomach.  I don’t know about love at first sight, but I think that’s when I fell in love with her and I had been defenseless to her charms since then.  My father thought she was a bad influence and didn’t like that she was related to caretaker, but I was smitten.

After that I would see her occasionally on the weekends at the ranch, but in the summer my mother would take Randall and me out to spend days riding horses.  We would pretend like we were fur-trappers who had to track game along the river and fight off Indians.  Once we even got to camp out and Aunt Francine told ghost stories by a campfire.  When I got shipped off to Mt. Olive it was harder to see Wil, but one time I left school and hitched all the way back to San Antonio.   I caught a lot of flak from my father but I didn’t care.

The Alamo Motel was a supposed a mockup of the monument to Texas history, but was more of a monumental dump.  The sign out front was missing an “e,” so it read “Weekly Rat s.”  The stucco had been painted a nauseating pink color years ago, but now was cracked and peeling.

I spied her friend Zita; she was talking to some guy without a shirt leaning against his Camaro.  He had his windows down and the stereo was blaring Nazareth singing “Feel Like Making Love.”  How original.  I parked and approached them but Zita seemed mesmerized by this guy and didn’t even see me.   She was fawning all over him, like he was a god or something, even though he seemed like a great big fat jerk.  Girls are funny that way.

Wil was lying on a chaise by the pool, only it didn’t have any water in it except for some brackish muck on the bottom.  She seemed wholly unfazed by the non-scenic quality of it all and had on these big sunglasses and one of those floppy hats you can buy in Mexico for a buck.  She was facing the pool, so she couldn’t see me.  I stepped quietly towards her from behind, then tapped her on the left shoulder and swung around to her right side.   When she realized it was me she screamed (girls are funny about that too) and jumped up, hugging me around the neck.  We kissed right there and hugged for a minute more.  Her hair smelled of Herbal Essence.

“Fulton!  How did you find me?” she said in a voice that sounded like she just eaten milk and cookies.

“Your sister told me.”

“I just got back last night.  It’s so good to see you. I thought you’d be gone off to college by now.”

“Not quite, I’ve been looking for you.”

“I got this job and I kind of have to go out of town a lot.  I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

“That’s ok, but now that you’re here we can leave.”

“Leave?”

“You know I told you about us going to Brazil, it’ll be great.  We can live on the beach and ride horses and…”

“Fulton, I can’t go with you.”  She sat back on the chaise.

“Why not?” I asked.

She looked at me and said, “I told you I’m trying to get enough money to get a place for me and my sisters and brothers.”

“We can send for them when we get settled.”

“Fulton, how are we going to make a living down in Brazil?  We don’t even speak Portuguese?”

“I’m learning.”  She shook her head and crossed her legs Indian style.  She was barefoot and her toes were painted in orange nail polish.  I sat down on the chaise next to hers.

“Fulton, you know if I didn’t have to get them out of the house, I would go with you.  I love you and I love you for asking me.”

“But you won’t go?”

“Not right now.”  Dejected, I looked over at the brown water at the bottom of the pool.  A dry wind was blowing around empty wrappers and crushed soda cups.

Wil asked, “Can you really drive all the way to Brazil?”

“Yes, you can.”

She came over and sat beside me on my chaise.  “We’ll go, but we have to wait; besides you’re going to college.”

“I don’t have to go.”

“Right, I’m sure your father would love that.”

“How long?” I asked.  “How long do you think before we can go?”

“It will take a while, but I’m working as much as I can.  I have to get them out of there.”  She stood up and looked down at the pool.

“What exactly is your job?” I asked.

She turned around and said, “Fulton, don’t start worrying about me.  Zita and I are couriers.”

“Exactly what are you and Zita delivering?”

“Well, we don’t open the packages!”

“It sounds dangerous, I mean traveling to Mexico and all.”

“I’ll be ok.  You don’t have to take care of me.”

“It doesn’t sound like its safe.”

“Look, I’m doing the best I can!” then she started crying all over the place.  Man, you can pop off and all of sudden girls are crying like nobody’s business.  I tried to make her feel better, but she wouldn’t stop crying.  I felt like a jerk.

“Wil, I’m sorry, honest.”  I tried to hug her, but at first she didn’t want me too.

Finally she said, “Fulton, this is on me.  My mother’s no help.  I’m the only one that’s looking out for my sisters and brothers.”

“I know, I’m sorry for giving you a hard time.  I want to help you.”

“Then I can’t just leave.  I have to work and earn some money.”

I grabbed the top of the chain-link fence and looked across the zooming traffic on Fredericksburg and felt sick.  I knew that there was nothing I could really do, except wish I could drive her and sisters and brothers to Brazil.  That wasn’t going to happen and I hated Darrell Potter, but I hated myself more.

“You know I could get some guys and go beat the crap out of Darrell.”

“And have you wind up going to jail?  No way, Fulton.  I’ll handle this.”

“I just wish I could do something.”

“I know you do and that means a lot to me.”

I took her in my arms and said, “I was made to love you.”   It was a play on the line from that Stevie Wonder song “I Was Made To Love Her” that was popular when we were growing up.  Running my fingers through her hair, I locked on those brown eyes of hers.

“Will you stay in touch with me?”  I asked.  She nodded yes.

“And Zita’s ok, she really is.”  Now I saw her mugging down with that shirtless guy.  Zita may have been ok, but she hung around with a sketchy crowd, and the truth is I had never really liked her, but I didn’t say anything.

“So where are you going?” Wil asked

“Prison.”

“What?”   She looked perplexed.

“Brill in Houston.”

“I’m sure it won’t be that bad.”

“Yeah, it’s better than a sharp stick in the eye.”  She smiled and we started walking towards the entrance to the pool and that’s when she saw the Continental.

“Isn’t that your aunt’s car?”

“She gave it to me.”

“What happened to the Trans Am?”

“It’s a long story.”  We arrived at the car and I lingered not wanting to leave yet, but Zita had finished her make out session and was calling to Wil.

She said, “I’d better go.”  We looked at one another for a moment.  “I love you, Fulton; and all your crazy ideas.”

We kissed, and then before she was out of my arms, I had already started to miss her.  I got into the car, leaving her at that crumby motel with the pool that had no water.  As I left the parking lot, I thought this was turning out to be more of a rotten day than I imagined, and I hadn’t even gotten out of San Antonio yet.  Before I left I knew, I had to say goodbye to my mother, but I hated going to the cemetery.

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