Crystal clear, p.1
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       Crystal Clear, p.1

           Beverly Jenkins
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Crystal Clear


  Copyright

  This ebook is licensed to you for your personal enjoyment only.

  This ebook may not be sold, shared, or given away.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the writer’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Crystal Clear

  Copyright © 2017 by Beverly Jenkins

  Ebook ISBN: 9781641970075

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  No part of this work may be used, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without prior permission in writing from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

  NYLA Publishing

  350 7th Avenue, Suite 2003, NY 10001, New York.

  http://www.nyliterary.com

  CHAPTER ONE

  Crystal couldn’t take it anymore. If she had to stay in Henry Adams Kansas one more minute she’d explode. Yeah, it was great being seventeen and having a big beautiful bedroom, wearing the best clothes and flying around in a white jet, but she missed the life she’d led in Dallas before being adopted by Ms. Bernadine Brown and she wanted it back.

  She dragged her largest suitcase out of the closet. Handling it brought back memories of the places she’d visited with her new mom, like Spain, Italy, LA and the off the chain times they’d shared, but pampered Henry Adams living was turning her into someone she wasn’t sure she knew how to be or wanted to be. The old Crystal was up on the latest dances, street slang and which clubs had the best-looking guys. Present day Crystal was clueless on all that. Old Crystal loved burgers and hot salty fries. The new one ate salmon, salads with balsamic vinaigrette and five grain bread.

  Deciding the big case wasn’t the best choice for a girl needing to travel light, she opted for her back pack instead. For now, all she needed was one or two changes of clothing, a few toiletries and her hair stuff and she’d be good. Once she got to Dallas, she’d have her best friend Kiki put her up until she found a waitressing job. With money in her pocket she’d be able to afford a place of her own and start her new life. Opening her dresser drawers, she took out a couple of cute tops, some socks and underwear. She’d just stuffed the items in the backpack when she noticed ten-year-old Zoey Garland watching her from the doorway. So much for leaving town without anyone knowing. “Hey, Zoe.” Zoey lived two doors down, and like Crystal, was one of the foster kids brought to Henry Adams by Ms. Bernadine Brown.

  “Where’re you going?”

  “Away. And I need you to keep it to yourself.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I don’t want anybody trying to change my mind.”

  Zoey eyed her for a moment. “Don’t you like us anymore?”

  The sincerity fed Crystal’s inner guilt and she gritted out, “I just have to go, okay? Stop asking a million questions.”

  “Okay,” she whispered.

  The sadness on the small face made Crystal wish she’d been nicer. Never in her life had she expected to love a little white girl like a sister, but they had a bond tight as blood. Leaving this way was going to cause a lot of hurt all the way around, but she didn’t want to deal with that now.

  “Are you ever coming back?”

  Crystal crossed to her low-slung dresser with its big mirror. Sticking her flat iron and other hair stuff into the now bulging pack, she shook her head. Zoey was reflected in the mirror and Crystal did her best to ignore the sheen of tears in her eyes. “I’ll call when I get where I’m going. Promise.”

  When Zoey ran across the room, arms spread wide, Crystal grabbed her up and held on tight. She tried to pretend she wasn’t crying too, but the tears ran down her cheeks unchecked. “It’s now your job to keep Amari and the rest of the knuckleheads in line. Okay?”

  “Please stay here.”

  Crystal stepped back. “I gotta go, or I’m going to lose my mind. I love Ms. Bernadine and everybody, but you remember how it was on the street?” She was looking forward to the freedom, the fun and hanging with her friends.

  “All I remember is having no place to live and my mom stealing food so I could eat.”

  “It isn’t going to be like that. I have friends where I’m going, I’ll be fine, and like I said, I’ll call. And you have to promise you won’t tell.”

  Zoey’s lips tightened.

  “Promise me, Zo.”

  After a few moments, she acquiesced, albeit reluctantly. “Okay.”

  Crystal knew Zoey would tell eventually– she was a little kid, but Crystal planned to be well on her way to Dallas by the time that happened.

  Zoey wiped at her tears with her hands. “Are you going to walk?”

  “No.” Crystal glanced around her room. The sadness that grabbed her from having to leave her art supplies, along with the rest of the wonderful things that defined her life in Henry Adams was almost overwhelming. Equally painful was the sight of the easels holding the two finished paintings of the triptych she’d been working on a for an upcoming art competition in LA. That the project would never be finished added its weight to the turmoil churning inside, but she shook it off and focused on Dallas. “I have someone driving me to the highway. Then I’ll hitch.”

  “That’s dangerous!”

  Crystal sighed. Zoey had way more adult in her than any other little kid she knew. “I’ll be fine.”

  “No, you won’t!”

  Crystal eyed her. “Go home.”

  It was Friday night and everyone in town was over at the rec center watching the movies. Why Zoey wasn’t there, Crys didn’t know and didn’t have time to hear the reason. She was centered on leaving, and the sooner she did, the sooner she’d feel better.

  Zoey watched silently.

  “What?” Crystal demanded.

  She shook her head and replied quietly, “Nothing. I’m going home. Bye, Crystal.”

  “Bye, Zoey.” Throat thick with emotion, she watched Zoey and her green tennis shoes leave the room.

  In the silence that followed, she dashed at her tears, took one last look around her beautiful bedroom, pulled on the navy-blue leather jacket she’d gotten for her birthday in LA last year and shrugged on the backpack. Downstairs, she took a moment to tape the short note she’d written to Ms. Bernadine to the front door and closed it softly behind her.

  It was dark, but she spotted Zoey standing on her porch under the light. Crystal shook her head at the girl’s persistence and got in the waiting car. “Hey Thad.”

  “Hey, Crys. Ready for your adventure?”

  “Yep.” Thad Jeffries was in her weekend art class. He liked her a lot, and she’d made sure to cultivate the relationship. They’d gone out a few times and he was really nice. When she told him a few days ago that she had her mom’s permission to backpack across the country and needed a ride to the highway, he’d been more than happy to help her out. She knew taking advantage of him wasn’t right, but she couldn’t’ve gotten anyone else’s support on something like this, so she’d used the gullible country boy instead.

  He pulled away from curb. “This is pretty exciting, Crys.”

  She fastened her seat belt. “Yeah, it is.” She knew Zoey was watching but she refused to let it add to her already churning emotions.

  “Wish my parents would let me do something like this, but they’re way too stiff. Your mom’s pretty special.”

  “Yes, she is.” And leaving this way would break her heart. Crys set that aside and concentrated instead on the dark countryside.

  “Do you know where you want to be dropped off?”

  “The south exit should be good.”

/>   “You got it.”

  And so, twenty minutes later, Crystal gave Thad a quick peck on the cheek and opened the passenger side door. “Thanks, Thad.”

  “No problem. Be careful and have fun.” With a wave goodbye, he headed back towards town.

  Alone, Crystal began walking along the shoulder of Highway 183 with her thumb out and her hopes high.

  She walked south for over an hour. Cars and semis whizzed by but no one stopped. A couple of times she had to jump out of the way of trucks that flew by too close, their horns blaring as their wheels churned up gravel that pelted her legs and arms. Each incident left her heart pounding but she kept moving. Her teacher, Mr. James said during the early seventies kids hitchhiked all over the country. When she began formulating her plan to run away, she’d taken that information to heart, but this was so not the seventies and it was night time. She had to be careful accepting a ride.

  Not that she got any invitations. The longer she walked the heavier the backpack felt. The straps were cutting into her shoulders and her feet were beginning to hurt, too. She’d opted to wear her new, cinnamon suede boots, knowing they’d impress her Dallas friends, but she should’ve chosen more comfortable footwear. There was also the danger that the police might ride down on her, so she stuck to the edge of the dark highway as best she could and told herself going back to Dallas was still a good idea.

  A check of the illuminated dial on her pricey watch showed she’d been walking close to two hours. Had Zoey already alerted Ms. Bernadine? Once again, guilt flooded her with the knowledge of how hurt her mom would be. She’d given Crystal everything, most importantly a home filled with love and had her heart set upon sending her adopted daughter off to college when the time came. However, the part of Crystal that was running away kept refusing to see the value in such an experience, even as the other parts wailed at the prospect of the devastating loss.

  Telling herself she’d made the right decision, she buried logic and kept walking. A semi blew by, then slowed to a stop. Because she’d been so deep in thought, she hadn’t seen the driver’s face. When the truck’s flashers came on, she supposed the person behind the wheel was waiting for her to catch up. She was really tired of walking, but she didn’t want to get in a truck with some crazy. The horn blared, sounding extra loud in the darkness. Her decision made, she ran and prayed this was the right move.

  The door opened. To her surprise a thin, glasses wearing Black woman stared down from the driver’s seat. “You want a ride?”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “Where you headed?”

  “South.”

  “Get in.”

  After Crystal complied, the lady trucker maneuvered the big eighteen-wheeler back onto the highway. “Your mama know you out here in the middle of the night?”

  Crystal lied flippantly, “Yeah.”

  “Liar.”

  She froze. “How do you know?”

  “Because you’re wearing nice clothes and you called me ma’am, which means somebody raised you well.”

  Crystal didn’t respond.

  “Running away?”

  Silence.

  “Makes me no never mind. Just be glad the Good Lord sent me to pick you up and not some crazy rapist who’d leave you half naked and sprawled in a ditch somewhere.”

  Crystal’s eyes widened.

  The woman turned her way and the wavering lights of the cab played over her sternly set features. “What? You didn’t think that could happen?”

  “I thought about it, yes.”

  “But not to you, right?”

  Crystal squirmed.

  The woman shook her head as if Crystal were dumb and dumber. “Name’s Alma by the way. What do you want to be called?”

  “Lynn.”

  “Where south you heading, Lynn?” She didn’t bother hiding her skeptical tone.

  “Dallas.”

  “That’s my destination, too. After that, you’re on your own.”

  Crystal whispered, “Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  Tired and grateful, even though Alma reminded her of Henry Adam’s matriarch Tamar July, Crystal closed her eyes. Two breaths later she was asleep.

  CHAPTER TWO

  When she awakened the next morning, it took her a moment to get her bearings. Alma glanced over. “Mornin’”

  “Good morning.” Crystal’s brain was foggy, and her body felt like she’d been turned into a pretzel. She’d never fallen asleep in the seat of a truck before and vowed never to again. “Where are we?”

  “Just outside Dallas.”

  “Already?”

  “Only a bit under eight hours from where I picked you up.”

  “Oh.” She peered out the window at the businesses and billboards lining the highway and the ton of cars speeding by in the outer lanes. Civilization!

  “Where do you want to be dropped off?”

  “Oak Cliff.”

  Oak Cliff was the “hood”, and in response to Alma’s disapproving face, Crystal replied firmly, “I know how to take care of myself.”

  “That why you sporting that big fancy watch?”

  Crys’s lips thinned. The lady trucker was right but Crys had had just about enough of Alma’s Tamar sounding self. She undid the watch and stuck it down into her back pack. The Crystal of old would’ve known better than to parade around wearing such an eye-popping piece of bling, but she’d been so intent upon showing off, being cautious hadn’t crossed her mind. Appalled at how far she’d fallen since living in NoWhereVille Henry Adams, it was yet another example of why she needed to leave the small town behind. She needed to resurrect her hard, old self, because on the streets of Oak Cliff she couldn’t afford to be stupid and soft unless she wanted to be prey in a place where two legged predators ruled.

  Later, after availing herself of Alma’s small, on board restroom, it was time to say goodbye. “Thanks for the ride,” she offered as Alma pulled the rig into the parking lot of a Walgreen’s.

  “You’re welcome. Good luck.”

  Crystal nodded and hopped down to the pavement. After watching the semi reenter the traffic, she set off on foot.

  The area was familiar even if some of the landmarks she’d known four years ago were gone: like the Korean nail shop, and the African American bookstore that were once in the now dilapidated looking strip mall she passed. The houses appeared to be more tired than she remembered. Many had plywood over the windows, a sign that they’d been abandoned. There wasn’t much traffic, but it was way more than there’d ever been back in Henry Adams. Crossing the street garnered a few short beeps from some of the male drivers trying to hit on her. That hadn’t changed. She ignored them and kept walking.

  Hunger called, so her first stop was McDonald’s. She sat inside, and while downing the hamburgers she’d missed so much, did her best not to stare at the customers. It had been her hope to run across a familiar face, but everyone was a stranger. Her meal done, she dumped her trash and walked out. Across the street stood one of the big chain restaurants. Finding a job was a top priority. Since she was sure her waitressing experience at the Dog back home would be her golden ticket, she headed there.

  “We aren’t open yet,” an older woman called out from where she stood placing small plastic menus on some of the nearby tables. “Come back at eleven.”

  “I’m looking for a job and was wondering if I could fill out an application?”

  Her request caught the attention of the other wait staff personnel, but after giving her a cursory once over they resumed their duties.

  The woman walked over. “I’m the manager. Name’s Melody.” She resembled a crane with glasses. “How old are you?”

  “Eighteen,” came the lie.

  “Do you have any experience?”

  “Yes, ma’am. I’ve been a waitress for about a year.”

  “Where.”

  Crystal hesitated a beat. “Kansas City.”

  Melody assessed her silently. Crystal pra
yed the lie didn’t trip her up, and that her stylish but slightly rumpled appearance wouldn’t be held against her.

  “Okay. Let me get an application and I’ll give you an interview soon as you’re done. Had somebody quit yesterday, so I’ll need you to start asap.”

  “That would be great.”

  Upon Melody’s return, the ecstatic Crystal took the application, sat on the bench near the entrance and began filling it out. She penned her name on the top line but paused when the application asked for her address and Social Security number. Using her Henry Adams address was out, and she had no idea what her Social Security number was. The few times she’d needed it in the past, Ms. Bernadine either recited the digits or Crystal copied it directly from the card which was normally kept filed away with all their other important papers. Crystal scanned the rest of the application and saw it also asked for references. Were she still in Henry Adams that would be easy, but she wasn’t, and she’d told Melody she was from Kansas City. Sighing at this first setback, she glanced up to see the manager watching her. Crystal gave her a fake smile and decided a few more lies wouldn’t hurt. She put the name of her old high school in the slot that asked where she’d graduated. Made up an address for the restaurant she’d claimed to have worked in previously and wrote random numbers in the spot asking for her Social Security number. After making up names and addresses for the references, she placed her pen in her backpack and walked to the counter.

  Melody looked it over. “So, you graduated from Dallas Central last year?”

  “Yes, ma’am. I was going to go to college but – “

  “I thought you were from Kansas City.”

  She froze. “I – uh moved there right after I graduated.”

  “Uh huh.”

  Crystal fought to remain calm.

  “And this is your Social Security number?”

  She nodded.

  “Recite it for me because there’re too many numbers here.”

  She couldn’t remember what she’d written down.

  Melody waited.

 
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