When they drove over to his Uncle Logan’s two days later, Lewis wondered what she’d think of his dad’s side of the family. He often visited his uncle while hanging out with Wylie and Ed. Uncle Logan, his father’s younger brother, had been the one who took him and Denise for long walks when he’d visit, and shown Lewis his first karate kata. He grew up thinking of Logan as the epitome of cool.
The roving bachelor had become the caretaker to Lewis’ three cousins by his Aunt Layla, who’d died crossing the road on a foggy Fourth of July night. He’d just spent the day with Denise, Martin, and Cheryl, his girlfriend, at Six Flags, not long after they’d started going out. She was the real reason he’d decided not to go back to the university, but that hadn’t saved their relationship. The kids moved in with Logan later that year, with some help from Lewis’ dad, who often shouldered the fortunes of his wayward siblings. Ryan, the oldest of Layla’s children who they often called simply “Bubba”, was legally blind and had certain learning disabilities, but was rather shrewd in his own fashion. Jack was capable of sounding like a genius one minute and befuddling you the next. Sister Morisa was gentle and shy, though she didn’t hesitate to yell to Jack to finish rinsing the dishes. Logan gave them chores and kept them in new clothes and saw to it they made it to school and got medical attention, while working now at the local car wash. He remained a perpetual teenager in his own way. He’d enjoyed Lewis visiting with his friends and going for rides, rock music blaring. He liked meeting the girls Lewis worked with, too, and inviting them to party.
He liked Gina. She was coming out of her shell more now, with her winsome charm on display. Blind Ryan heard a girl enter the duplex apartment and shuffled in to meet her and get one of the free hugs she doled out so readily, like the rest of her family. He talked to her for a few minutes, then tried to parlay his blindness into an opportunity to feel her up. She figured his game out quickly enough. Couldn’t blame him for trying, really, she thought. Logan encouraged him to leave her be, and sat them down in front of a Jackie Chan movie, talking through half of it. He remembered Lewis had planned on leaving town. He wasn’t sure how Gina fit into the picture. She was befriending Morisa, who told her about her favorite doll in a painfully sweet way. He figured Lewis would only bring over a girl who was “cool” so he invited them to the backyard to smoke a bowl by the creek.
Lewis wasn’t exactly sure where she fit in, either, and Gina avoided thinking about his plan to leave. She was finally rewarded for living in the moment, as she’d tried to do before with mixed-to-poor results. While Logan’s neighbor came over to talk, Lewis took Gina upstairs for a few moments’ privacy. They laid back on a bare mattress in his uncle’s room; it was laundry day.
Without a lot of forethought, Lewis sat up on one arm and asked Gina, point blank:
“Gina…what would you think of going West with me when I leave?”
“Yes!” she replied instantly. Her own lack of reservations would only startle her, later, as the consequences of such a move sank in when she was alone. What would her family think? There was just nothing else in her world but Lewis. They kissed, and laughed, and he asked if she was sure. He’d put forth no plan…no case for giving up the life she knew. Without these or any promises at all, she simply agreed to leave with him, and soon. For now, it was their secret---not by agreement. It just..was.
Downstairs, after commenting on Chan’s leap onto a moving bus, Jack, with his thick sideburns and longish brown hair, began to talk about how Asian culture had become part of American culture after World War II. “You think a lot of G.I.’s stationed in Japan brought home things they picked up from living over there?” he said.
“Yah, but Jackie Chan’s Chinese,” Logan pointed out, propping up his bare feet on the center table.
“I know that!” said Jack. “I’m just saying something about history. You know how big the Japanese army is, in modern times?”
“You know how many soldiers they have now?”
“How…big?” said Logan with a sigh.
“They don’t have one!” he said, smiling. “Did you know that? They agreed not to have one again after they surrendered to America.” He loved military history and armies. “A lot of people don’t know about that. They don’t realize it, but China’s got one of the biggest armies in the world.”
“Shut up, Jack” said Morisa.
“Don’t tell me to shut up,” he snapped.
“Then please be quiet so Lewis and his girlfriend can watch the movie, then.”
“I just know Lewis likes to talk about smart things, too. He’s almost as smart as me!”
“I keep trying,” Lewis said, with a half smile. Gina hugged up to him, her head resting on his shoulder.
“Hey, can I sit next to …what was your name? Gina?” asked Ryan.
“They don’t have any room,” Morisa said. She promptly sat down at her cousin’s other side. Jack balanced on one arm of the couch, himself, and Logan asked Ryan to just sit next to him. He instead wondered out to the back yard.
“This is the prettiest girlfriend you ever had, Little Lewis,” said Jack. He was a junior, so to distinguish him from his father, they called him Little Lewis.
“Thank you, Jack.” He had to admit…she was absolutely his girlfriend, at that.
“Of course,” Jack continued, “I don’t know if I met any of the rest of them. Unless you were going out with that April girl who lived across from Aunt Celey. Now she was pretty hot, huh?”
“I remember that girl,” said Logan. He’d actually come on to her several times with no success. She had a model’s face and long blond hair.
“Uhm, yah, we went out one time,” said Lewis. “She liked this book of poems I copied off and passed around at the end of my senior year, on Field Day.”
Logan asked if Ed and Wylie were doing anything these days, and Lewis realized his once-constant companions may have had no idea he was leaving town. Much less, that he was taking a girl with him. Ed’s mom Sandra was his only contact in Colorado, in Denver. He would have to say hello.
“You really want to come with me?” he asked, as they pulled away from Logan’s. “Wow.”
“I do,” she said. “I knew you had these plans, anyway…”
“It’s only about halfway presentable as a ‘plan,’ I’ll admit,” he said. “I really was going to take my meager savings and wing it. You know, find work in the simplest way when I arrived, take whatever I could get. Maybe depend on Salvation Army and the kindness of strangers, in exchange for whatever I could do in exchange, to stay above water. I planned to take my guitar and a suitcase, basically.”
He stopped talking at the red light---her Topaz ran very smoothly, thanks to her father’s close care--- and looked her in the eyes. Those lovely brown eyes, so full of care, beneath deep eyebrows that knit together with concentration, almost comically….now they were wide open, receptive, as he prepared for the green light. “Are you really ready for that?” Suddenly he felt just a little guilty about inviting her along. “I can’t deny, it’s a great adventure, but it may not be easy at all. It’s not that I want to talk you out of it, because I love your company.” The light changed.
“I love your company, too,” she said, touching his hand on the gear shift. “I have a little money saved, too. Whatever’s mine, is yours.”
His heart warmed; a sense of comfort entered the middle of his being as he felt her small hand, with its child-like fingers. “Thanks, darlin’. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
He scowled, concentrating with one raised eyebrow. “I may need to do something to make a little more for the road. I meant to be gone this week. I wouldn’t feel right plucking you from your family nest with no way to fend for you. I’ve always just walked in and gotten whatever job I found from talking to the manager, but I have no guarantees…”
“Baby,” she replied, “life has no guarantees. My family taught me to fend for myself, and I’m a hard worker, too. I never thought about this before, I admit, but…I love your company, too. I think I would miss you more than anything now.” She wondered if it was too much pressure to say, but she reassured herself, he had just invited her to come along. Obviously, if he were true---and she tended to trust first until there was evidence otherwise, and in his case, trust was abundantly won---then he wanted her with him as much as she wanted to be with her. “I would be more afraid of life without you, in a way, than any life with you.”
“I don’t necessarily have to go,” he said dubiously. With her now to consider, too, he felt pained by selfishness.
“I won’t ask you to change your mind, Lewis,” she said, patting his shoulder. “I thought it was a beautiful idea. I won’t ask you to do this to yourself! You know it was your heart’s desire.”
“I think…you are my heart’s desire, too.”
“Then my sweet man,” she said, kissing his cheek, “my Mom has this saying she made, about her and Dad, she used to tell us girls now and then. She says you should be with the person you’d want to be with more in bad times than anyone else in good times.”
“That’s really wise,” he said, smiling. Then he glanced to her again. “And that’s how you feel about me.”
“Yes, I do.”
“It’s really sudden, you know.”
“Isn’t it, though?”
“This is by far the most exciting thing to happen to me, ever,” he said, with growing glee. “I think I would be overjoyed to have you along. I just feel I can trust you, with my very life!” He met her eyes in the rear view mirror. “You’re just so…good! I believe in you.” She looked demurely.
He drove on in a very comfortable, natural silence.
“I love you, Gina.”
“I love you, too, Lewis.”