Katrina shook New Orleans to its knees.
No, that’s not right. Start again.
Katrina… How to say this? Hm… Well, it was rather devastating. New Orleans is still recovering in a sense to this day. Most of the old businesses are gone. Others have gotten back up on their feet. But what about the people during the storm? What was going through their minds? The Braxton clan stayed in a shelter the whole time. They stayed there for five before they knew the full extent of the damages.
I hope Grandpa Cal is okay. The resident center should be boarded up just fine, right? Maybe I should call and check one more time. I picked up my phone. My eyes dropped at the screen.
What? I thought I just charged this! How has the battery dropped down to fifty percent already? I stared on at the screen.
“Hey babe,” I said as I nudged DL on the arm. My husband looked over at me.
“What?” he asked.
“Look,” I said as I showed him my phone. At first, he didn’t seem to grasp what I was getting at.
“What am I looking at?” he asked.
“The battery,” I said.
“What about it?”
“It’s already fifty percent gone. I charged it last night.”
“When was the last time you used it?”
“This morning to check on Grandpa Cal.” I paused and looked at him. “Do you think I need a new phone?”
“Well, do you?”
I shrugged at that question. “I’m not really sure yet.”
“If not, then no.”
I made a face at him. “You don’t make sense at times, you know?”
In truth, I had my mind elsewhere at the moment. I didn’t see Chris or Marla anywhere in the shelter. I do not like them alone together. Here is why.
I believe there is something wrong with my wife’s son. Something happened to him in Texas that turned him out to be this way. We don’t really know and Courtney doesn’t know how to tackle the problem. Whatever happened to him in Texas has driven him to abuse Marla when they are alone. I noticed that she never looks comfort around that boy. Her smiles looked faked sometimes. Marla also seemed to crawl away from the boys in her class.
I sought out to find out the source of the problem.
Back in January, I took her out on a drive through the back roads. Nothing special, just some time with her alone. She looked so bored staring out the windshield for the longest time. I pulled up to an intersection.
“How is school going?” I asked her.
“Good,” she said with a shrug.
“Anyone giving you any grief at school?”
I paced myself for the next question. I didn’t want to startle the girl. I began to pull away as I normally would for the speed limit.
“You know, Marla,” I spoke up. “If anything is ever bothering you, don’t be afraid to tell me.” She looked at me with the strangest look on her face.
“Okay…” she said. “What brought this up?”
“I just want to be able to help you if you’re in trouble with anything,” I confessed. Marla turned to the window.
“What if you can’t help me?” she asked.
“Then, I will still be there for you,” I said. She balled her hands into fists on her pale lap.
“Well…” she mumbled there. “There is a problem I have.” That’s when she broke down and told me all of the things that her older cousin did her. It was all I could do to keep from veering off the road in shock and disgust.
He said he would talk to him about it. Part of me wishes that I hadn’t said anything. But, I just had to say something. I don’t like keeping secrets too often. This one I hate keeping the worst.
I don’t understand why Chris likes me so much. I mean, why me? Why not somebody his own age? I don’t want a boyfriend. I just want to be alone. But right, that’s not really going to work, is it?
I looked around the packed shelter. So this is what happens when we have a bad hurricane? I don’t see Chris anywhere. Good for me, maybe? Yet knowing him, he’s probably off somewhere drinking. I don’t know how, but he manages to sneak in alcohol somehow. Remembering makes me think of how he tries to…
I grabbed onto my arms tightly as I shut my eyes. Why did I have to bring that up in my head?
“Are you okay, hon?” I heard someone ask over my head. I look up to see a lady in a nurse’s uniform. I blinked at her with a blank stare.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I’m a volunteer nurse at the shelter,” she said. It took me a moment to understand what she said.
“Oh,” I said. I shook my head. “I’m fine,” I lied. “I’m just a little cold.”
“Do you need a blanket?” she said. I shook my head.
“I’ll be fine,” I said.
“Well, where are your parents?” this nurse asked. I tilted my head at her.
“Huh?” I asked.
“Where is your family?” she asked me this time. It took my brain a moment to catch up with her words. They finally made sense to me.
“Oh,” I said as I looked around. “They’re here somewhere, I guess.”
“Are you lost?” she asked.
“I might be…” I mumbled.
“I’ll take you back to them,” the nurse offered. I kept my thoughts to myself. After all, she is trying to be nice to me. I lowered my shoulders.
“Okay,” I said. We went off to find Courtney and D.L. in the crowds.
My belly, it hurts. I need another drink. I reached into my backpack for my flask. In a few seconds, I came into success. I drew out my metal flask and twisted open the cap. I put the sweet comfort medicine to my lips.
I opened my eyes and tilted it over. Empty. Damn it! It donned on me that Isaac took away most of my liquor before we left to go to the shelter.
“We need to drink water,” he told me. “What if the power goes out and water runs short.” Yeah, but I need to drink. Without it, I start to lose my mind. My hands began to shake after so long.
Marla! Marla! She’s the only person that keeps me grounded. Our other cousins don’t understand that. I love her! I love her more than anything else in this world. I keep trying to show her my love every chance that I get.
I kissed her every day. My arms ache to hold her. I want to play with her hair. I want to protect her. I want to be her first. I refuse to let any other boy have her. So what if I’m five years older than her? My love does see age or blood. I just love Marla because she is my angel. I even plan to marry her one day. I get so mad when I see other boys flirting with her. I won’t allow them near her. I won’t!
I grab onto my wrists to stop my hands from shaking. Calm down. No one’s going to take Marla away from you. Not even Lucas or Uncle Ike. You can’t them. Just calm down. I took in a deep breath. Right… To help me do so, I ran cold water over my wrists and hands. Once I felt better, I took a breath and cut off the water.
That’s when all of the power went out. Oh shit…
Pitch black. Crowded. My family’s all scattered out. Chris could be plotting God knows what to do to Marla. Not much I can do at this very second. First, I need a light. I reached into my backpack and felt around. I smiled when I found the flashlight I use for fishing and camping. Step one down. I pulled it out and turned it on. Perfectly working in this situation. Lucky I changed the batteries yesterday. Being a hunter/fisher has its perks. I scanned the whole shelter with my light.
“Get that light out of my eyes!” I heard in a loud hiss. I looked and saw Billie Jean squinting at me.
“Whoops. Sorry,” I said. I pulled the light out of her eyes. Bill blinked for a little bit.
“Careful where you point that thing, man!” she said.
“My bad,” I said. That reminded me. “Hey, have you seen anyone else here?”
Bill thought about that for a moment. “Hm… I saw Luke and May near the fire exit. Then, Chris went into the bathroom. Marla went off by herself.”
“Was she with Chris?”
“Nope. I don’t think so.”
I breathed out a bit. “Good.”
Bill gave me an odd look. “Oh come on, he’s not likely to do anything at this moment.”
“I mean, you around you. Too many people here. It’s too dark. And I bet he’s having some withdrawals right about now.”
I took all of that into consideration and nodded. “True…”
“I mean he wouldn’t be that stupid to try something, would he?” We both paused at that question. We looked at each other for the longest time.
“I’m going to go look for them,” I said.
“Got a spare light?” Bill asked.
“Sure, hang on,” I said. I reached into my backpack and pulled out a spare flashlight.
Ike and I spilt up to find baby Meme. We do not trust Chris around her. Everyone in our family knows that he’s just sick in the head. On top of that he’s a drunk too? Gross!
The storm outside is making hard to tell day from night right now. Who the hell cares? We’ve got to find Meme before Chris gets a hold of her. People like him just need to be shot.
I paused when I heard a shuffle in the darkness.
“Who’s there?” I whispered.
“It’s only me,” a familiar voice whispered. I lifted my flashlight some. A dark hand shielded an equally black face.
“Oh, it’s you,” I said. Luke raised an eyebrow at me.
“Why you say it like that?” he asked.
“Asleep with mom. What are you doing?”
“Looking for Meme and Chris.”
Luke automatically got quiet from there. “I’m coming with you.”
“He’s looking as well.”
We widened our search in the room there alone.
I walked past some old people asleep on the floor in sleeping bags. Some of them looked like bagged up corpses. Nothing like the loud, sharp-tongued Grandpa Cal who we all shared a strong kinship with. Okay, we’re all related by blood at the most. Not everyone in our family is that close. Best example? My aunt, Winston.
Shortly after Rachel and Liz were born, Winston ran off with a struggling musician to New York. She took all of the cash in the house, hopped on the back of his motorbike in the early morning hours, and rode off, never to be heard from again. She almost sent mom and Uncle Vince blank postcards around Christmas time. Uncle Earl, her husband, (they never got divorced), still hasn’t gotten over it. He wouldn’t even raise Marla himself when she first came down from New York to New Orleans when she was a baby.
“She is not my child!” he yelled. Courtney ended up taking her in herself. Funny thing is that Aunt Winston still has a fair relationship with mom and Uncle Vince, but she and Grandpa Cal fight like two enemies in war. Yet, I think she does care about the family in a sense. What sense, I can’t think about that now.
I have to find Marla right now before Ike and I have to beat up Chris for even thinking about touching her.
I sat between Liz and Daddy while I watched Bill, Ike, Luke look around for Marla. I couldn’t help but to sneer to myself. What’s so simple about her anyway? Ever since she first came to New Orleans, Marla’s been nothing but trouble. Daddy doesn’t want to remember that he failed with Mama. So, that’s why she’s banned from the house. I would’ve done the same thing myself. But Liz…
I shook my head to myself.
Elizabeth Nicola James. Such a forgiving soul. Took her a couple of years, but she gladly accepted Marla as her sister. I won’t. I can’t. Sorry, but I’m a daddy’s girl. Marla is ruining our family. Now she’s seduced that sicko into hitting on her all the time. I won’t be surprised if she ends up pregnant by him before she gets into high school! Serve her right!
But every time I think that, I start to feel disgusted with myself. Marla’s just a kid. She doesn’t deserve anything that he’s doing to her. No, no, no.
I looked around for a working clock in the room. When can we all go home so I play on my Mac?, I thought. I looked to see Ike and Marla looking for D.L. and Courtney as I assumed. Good, at least they won’t have to worry about her for now….
…Until Chris gets back. I sighed to myself. Oh boy…
Rain Day, Dream Away