CRASH, p.5Pepper Pace
“You can put the bed back together. The rails are over there.” She pointed to the metal rails in another corner. And there is furniture. Feel free to…set it up as you like.” She shrugged.
“Sophie…I don’t know what to say.” His eyes felt like they were beginning to sting and he couldn’t believe that he was going to cry in front of her.
She had a sad look on her face as well. After a moment she led him to the washing machine and dryer. “Come on. I’ll show you how to work this thing so that you can wash your clothes.”
The washing machine was running in the background and Lucas had just put together the bed. Despite the fact that he’d insisted on doing it himself, Sophie had still helped him move the boxes and clutter to one half of the room.
“The doctor told you not to lift anything heavy for a week,” she chided when he made to move a box of Christmas decorations that could not have weighed more than 15 pounds. “If you want to watch television you’ll have to come upstairs. This one is broken,” she said, pointing to an old fashioned floor model TV that was encased in wood. Lucas’ grandparents had one almost exactly like it. You pushed it around on wheels. Only the Incredible Hulk would ever be able to lift it.
Now she was upstairs preparing dinner. He had dusted off a dresser that used to be in her bedroom. The drawers still smelled faintly of her perfume. He placed his toothbrush and toothpaste there, his comb and brush, a small mirror, and some other items that he had taken with him from his grandparent’s house. Once his clothes came out of the dryer he folded them and placed them away neatly in the drawers.
He found an old office chair on wheels to sit down in. He needed to rest. In a few days he should be back to normal, but today had tired him out. He picked up the books that Sophie had written and examined the covers. The paperbacks had those covers that contained cheesy looking models in orchestrated embraces, but he couldn’t help but to smile when he saw her name printed boldly across the bottom of each book; Sophie Baxter. He put the books down and went upstairs to see if he could help with anything. The kitchen was empty but a pot of chili simmered on the stove. It smelled delicious and even though he’d eaten a huge lunch, his stomach still groaned.
He left the kitchen and headed for the small hall. Sophie was in her office talking on the phone. He stopped and made to turn, but she waved him forward.
“Look, Candace, I need to jump off the phone. Yeah, my assistant is here…Yes, I have an assistant now.” Sophia chuckled. “I’m sure you’ll talk to him soon enough. Yeah, he’ll be fielding messages for me. Lucas. Enough of that!”
Lucas felt his brow rise. Enough of what? He looked around the room, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible.
“Just be patient, you’ll get it in about a month. Thanks for calling.” She hung up and stood, stretching her tall thick form and then taking a moment to shake out her arms. “That was Candace,” she said to him. “She’s my agent.” She grimaced. “I don’t much care for talking to Candace…so that will definitely be one of your duties.”
“Oh sure. Um…can I ask why you don’t like talking to her?”
Sophia shrugged. “It’s probably not her fault. I suppose it’s an agent’s job to prepare your work for mainstream audiences. I guess I need to accept that if I want to be successful, then I’ll need to be a clone.”
Lucas did not understand what she was talking about.
“Sorry, the reason that I don’t much care for Candace is that she converts my strong, black, female characters into Bella Swans and I’m not trying to write an African American version of Twilight.”
He nodded in sudden understanding. “Sure, Sophie, anything you need. I’ll be glad to field her calls.”
“Cool.” She turned to the laptop. Her desktop was visible. “I want you to use this laptop. I’m going to pull out my desktop computer.” His brow went up in confusion. “I’m going to need you to gather my messages from email, and my blogs. I don’t have a huge following but I do like to keep up. I try to get to the blog once a week and my emails daily.” She gave him instructions on compiling the messages into a list for her in date order and separated by accounts. The printed information would go into the inbox which she would soon create to be placed on her desk.
She set him up as a moderator and got him various passwords which she placed on his Guest Account desktop. He then helped her set up the old desktop computer even though he wasn’t very technical minded. His grandparents had no use for the internet and he only used it while in school. But he knew enough to get along.
They had dinner late in the evening and spent a long time talking; mostly about things that Lucas would need to know about being her assistant; not to disturb her while she was writing unless it was very important, and how to keep everything running smoothly for her.
“What do you like to eat, Sophie?”
“Everything. I’m a foodie.”
He smiled and she thought that he looked even younger than she had originally thought. How would anyone possibly know that this kid was an adult? And how could a person that had been through the things that he had still be able to smile like that…
“What don’t you like to eat, then?”
She focused, trying not to let her thoughts drift away. “That’s a good question.” And she explained about being lactose intolerant and her food allergy to walnuts. She could absolutely live without ever eating squash or pumpkin. But other than that she was pretty open minded on the subject of food. “Uh…you do know how to cook, right?”
He nodded enthusiastically. He loved to cook. “It’s one of my favorite things to do. For the last few years I cooked for Pawpaw,” his expression dropped slightly.
“You miss him,” she said.
“Both of them,” Lucas sighed and stood. He gathered the dishes and carried them to the kitchen.
“Sophie do you want anything; coffee, more iced tea?”
“No.” She called out to him. “I think I’m going to write for a while.” She headed for her office. “And tomorrow we’ll need to go grocery shopping and look into getting your driver’s license replaced.” But that turned out not to be necessary because the next day they were contacted by the police who informed Lucas that they had located his wallet and that they had two suspects in custody.
Sophie didn’t know what to make of Lucas’ mood as they walked into the police station. She’d seen him fearful, she’d seen him shy, but she’d never seen him angry. But when he walked alongside of her as they were led to a waiting area, anger seemed to radiate from the tall quiet young man next to her.
He had dressed in jeans and a dark hoodie. It had rained so he had kept the hood up and between this and his long black hair, his face was mostly obscured. But she could see by the slash of his pursed lips and his tense posture that he was very angry though he didn’t say it.
They passed him his wallet and driver’s license separately. The wallet was empty but he went through each compartment using angry movements. He placed the license into its proper position and slipped the leather into his back pocket. He was asked to sign that he had received the items.
“Was there anything missing?” Sophie asked him.
“Social Security and library cards, ATM, pictures…” He shrugged. She turned to the detective that had just collected the signed document. “What about the missing items?”
“Unfortunately, they are probably trashed. We found this in a box of stolen objects in one of the suspect’s home. It looks like they have been targeting vagrant individuals for a long time. We caught a break when you reported it yesterday, and were able to collect your DNA. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in time to prevent the sexual assault of another victim; a teenage runaway. They seem to prefer young boys; and they probably thought that you were one.”
Lucas was staring at some object, not appearing to have even heard what the officer was saying.
“I’ll take you back.” He was led out of the wa
Lucas nodded once, his expression cold.
The officer opened the door and led them into a room that had two other officers; one uniformed the other wearing jeans and a t-shirt but with a badge clipped to his belt buckle.
One of the officers thanked Lucas for coming down but he barely acknowledged them. He just stared through the large glass at the empty, adjoining room. And then a door opened and the men were ushered inside.
Sophie saw Lucas stiffen suddenly but he didn’t make a sound and his expression didn’t change. She wanted to reach out and take his hand but didn’t want to invade his personal space.
The first detective turned to him. “Do any look familiar?”
“Two and five.” Lucas said without hesitation. We got your cherry…
The plain clothed detective pressed a button on an intercom. “Two step forward.” He had him turn to the left and then to the right. He did the same for five. Sophie watched these two animals; these two rapist of children and she wanted to break through the glass and strangle them, to rip their sex organs from their bodies! They were animals! Then she matched Lucas’ rage. She could barely breathe because of it.
“Are those the attackers?” The detective asked him.
“Yes.” We got your cherry, boy. We got your cherry!
“And you’re sure?” Lucas turned to him and looked him dead in the eye. “I have no doubt. Those were the men that assaulted me.” He was trembling now. “Are we done here?”
The officer’s looked at each other. One shrugged. “Yes. You can go. We’ll contact you if we-” But Lucas was already walking out of the room. Sophie followed him silently. When they got outside Lucas was gulping down big breaths of air.
“Do…do you need some time alone, Lucas?”
He nodded. “Thank you, Sophie. I do.” She watched him take a few steps down the street, ignoring the drizzling rain. But after that he turned around and returned to her. He gave her a guarded look. “We can leave. I don’t want to be here.”
She nodded and they climbed into the car. She didn’t drive back to the house, but to a coffee shop. He followed her inside wordlessly. At the counter she gave her order and looked at Lucas who said simply, “I’ll have the same.”
They sat in the corner of the comfortable, yet trendy café. There were actual armchairs here, with cozy seating areas instead of booths and tables. It reminded her of the bookstore and she used to like coming here to read back when she had time to do such things. A Nora Jones tune was playing softly and the place wasn’t overly crowded; all things she hoped would have a calming effect on the young man.
Lucas’ drink sat untouched on the table that separated their chairs; the one that was intended to mimic a side table. Sophie sipped at her frothy, hot liquid trying to think of what she could possibly say.
“What are you thinking?” She finally asked. What a stupid question! She leaned forward. “What happened to you doesn’t make you any less of a man. You don’t think that, do you?”
“I don’t think that.” He looked at her, but mostly because he felt like he had to. She was trying so hard and he didn’t want to be ungrateful. But he felt like he had just lost so much and it bothered him to have lost everything. He didn’t know how to explain that without her coming back with more ways to help him.
“Lucas…are you gay?”
He shrugged, not surprised at the question. “I don’t know.” He met her eyes so that she wouldn’t think that he was being flippant. But it was the truth; he didn’t know what he was. “I guess I’m bi. I don’t think I have a preference.” When Sophie didn’t answer, he straightened in his seat. “I only thought about girls when I was growing up. But when I went out on my own I felt something for some men.” He swept off his hood and suddenly looked like one of those Emo kids that she saw everywhere.
“As far as sex…I’ve only been with men; two men. But falling in love…I think I could fall in love with either.”
She nodded in understanding.
He suddenly looked at her earnestly. “I’ve been careful, always used protection. But what if…” His teeth clenched. “…what if they made me HIV positive?” He suddenly sank his head into his hands. “How did this happen to me!” Sophie saw tears splash the table. “Everything was just normal…and then it all went to shit and it won’t stop.”
Sophie reached out and gripped the hand that was buried in his hair. He looked up at her in anguish. “It would be my fucking luck to die of some fucking disease that I protected myself from!” Sophie placed her drink on the cocktail table between their chairs and she leaned forward and pulled him into her arms. He didn’t resist and finally broke down in sobs.
Some looked on and then averted their gaze. Sophie held him and soothed him with calming words. “It’s going to be alright. Nobody’s going to hurt you and it’s going to be alright.”
“You heard that guy; they’ve been doing this to vagrants…” He murmured. “They’ve not been protecting themselves…”
She stroked his hair and rocked him. There wasn’t much she could do but to soothe his tears. What he said was true; the odds did not seem to in his favor.
Lucas was quiet for the remainder of the evening and the next day. He was still helpful; retrieving Sophie’s messages, getting her mail, making the meals and cleaning the dishes. But he retreated to the basement to agonize as he waited for the results of the blood test.
On the third day Sophie came running down the stairs scaring Lucas who thought she’d lost her footing and was tumbling down the dangerously slanted stairs. He jumped up off the bed and met her at the bottom but then he saw that she was holding the phone tightly in her grip.
“It’s the hospital; they want to speak to you!”
He searched her eyes for any indication of what to expect. But she seemed just as lost as he was. He nervously took the phone from her hand.
“Hello, this is Dr. Daata’s office. Is this Lucas Reider?”
“Mr. Reider we were just calling to tell you that your test results were negative. Your paperwork will come to you by mail.”
Sophie was watching him expectantly and he stared at her as he spoke. “I’m not HIV positive?”
“You’re negative. And you are negative for any STD’s.”
“Thank you god!” He screamed. Then into the phone he lowered his voice. “Thank you Ma’ame!” She seemed pleased to have given him the good news and her voice had the hint of a smile.
“My pleasure, Mr. Reider.” Lucas disconnected and grabbed Sophie lifting her from her feet and swinging her around in a bear hug. She had no choice but to grip him and to hold on for dear life.
“Lucas! You’re not supposed to be lifting any heavy objects!”
He set her down lightly on her feet as if lifting her had been no effort at all. “Sophie! I’m clean.”
She touched his face. “Baby boy, you were never dirty,” she said it with so much conviction that he believed her.
Instead of the dinner that he had planned to cook, Sophie insisted on going out to celebrate. She took them to a steak place that served ribs and chops as well. She told him to order whatever he wanted so that they could take home leftovers.
CRASH by Pepper Pace / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes