Baby Girl–Chapter Four–Meet The Neighbors

by

Meet The Neighbors

It had been another hot, sweltering day on The Lake and neither Elliot or I had found work.  Granted, Elliot was the only one looking.  I would stay back and keep an eye on our camp and gear.  We had no money.  We had no food.  The burger satiation was long gone and the rations truck had not returned.

“What are we going to do?”  Asked Elliot.

“I don’t know, I am completely out of ideas, Elliot.” I said and sat contemplating the fire I had built up from scavenged ply wood.  It had a particular green chemical, almost chlorinated smell to it.  The wood had obviously been treated, but I figured as long as I was down wind from it, we would be alright.  The flames wicked over the wood and would frequently change colors.  It was almost like being on acid.

Elliot sighed, “I just have to find work.  I just do.  If I can find work then we can get the fuck out of here.  I’m beginning to get creeped out around this place.”

I nodded, but did not add anything to the conversation.  I was too busy enjoying the last draws of nicotine I assumed I was going to be getting in some time.  Maybe now was the time to quit.  I drew down on the cigarette, brushing off the stray crumbs of tobacco and saw a silver Honda Accord approaching our camp.  It slowed, and its occupants clearly took Elliot and I in, but I could not see what they looked like, all I saw was the carnival colored fire light reflected on the car.

The Honda eased into the “front yard” of the abandoned hooch next to our site and two men hopped out of the vehicle.  Their voices sounded rowdy and slightly intoxicated.  I could not hear what they were saying to each other, but they appeared to be in high spirits.  One of the men was stocky, about my height, with shaggy blonde hair and a thick brush of a mustache–it would have made Tom Selleck jealous.  The second man appeared about the same age, but much scrappier; his hair was dishwater brown mixed with dirty blonde and his profile was distinctly like that of a weasel.

“Hey there, neighbors,” called a voice from beyond the circle of fire light.  “How y’all doin’?  Care if my buddy and I join your fire?”

“Sure, said Elliot gesturing toward the fire, come on over.”

The two men ambled over, between the two of them they carried a red Coleman cooler with a white flip-top lid.  They set it down opposite Elliot and myself.

“My name’s Billy, and this here is Leon,” his eyes glittered a wild sapphire blue and his grin was wide and toothy undeneath the thick mustache.

“Hey there, I’m Elliot and this is Carmen.”

“Hi,” I said and smiled.  Billy’s smile widened and he looked me up and down appreciatively.  I felt a blush blowing over my skin.  I looked at Elliot and wished he would look at me the same way this strange man was.

“Y’all want anything to drink?”  Billy asked flipping open the top of the cooler.  He fished in it for a moment and came up with a Budweiser which he tossed to Leon.  Leon caught it, cracked it, slurped the foam off the top and sighed in contentment.

“That hit’s the god-damn spot,” Leon said as he took another pull off the beer and sat down on an over turned milk crate.

“Sure, I’ll take a beer,” I said and smiled.  Elliot looked at me and raised his eyebrows.

“You got any soda?”  He asked.

“Ah, yup, got some Sprite in here,” said Billy.  “But are you sure there sailor, nothing says Friday night like a Bud.”

Elliot paused and looked at me.  I shrugged, pulled back the tab and popped open the beer.  “What the fuck, yeah, I’ll have a Bud too,” Elliot said.

Billy chuckled, “there ya go big guy.”  He handed a beer off to Elliot.

I sipped from mine.  I did not really care for beer, but it was cold and it was not 7-Up.

“Where y’all from?”  Billy asked settling down on to the only empty milk crate left.  He stretched his feet toward the fire and sighed contentedly as he drank a long pull from the beer.

“Wisconsin,” said Elliot.

“Well, sheeeit, what the fuck you two babies doin’ down here,” asked Leon.

“We were looking for work with one of the cruise lines, but nothing’s been turning up,” replied Elliot.  He was very cautiously drinking the beer.

“Y’all too young to get work on them ships,” said Billy.

“Well, doesn’t matter, it turns out that we would have had to apply at the head offices which, for whatever reason, are located back in the Midwest,” Elliot said and drank a little deeper from the beer.  He wiped the back of his arm across his mouth and quietly belched.

“How old are you two?” Asked Billy.

“I’m nineteen,” I piped up.

“And a mighty fine nineteen at that,” Billy said and smiled across the fire at me.  I felt my blush coming back.

“You just turned nineteen,” said Elliot with some contempt.

“So, what of it, Elliot, you’re only seventeen.”  I said and tossed my hair and crossed and uncrossed my legs.

“Jaysus H. Christ on a raft!”  Leon exclaimed.  “You too are way too fuckin’ young to be down here, ain’t I just said that?”

“Damn straight,” said Billy.

“Well, we can take care of ourselves,” I said a little self-consciously.  I had finished my beer pretty quick, it was so cold it just sailed right down my throat, and was fiddling with the can.

“You want another beer?”  Billy asked me.

“Yo, pardner,” said Leon as he crumpled up his empty and tossed it toward the Lake.  “Don’t forget about me.”

“Sure, sure, here, Leon.” Billy chucked a beer to him and then turned back toward me.  “And for the lady?”

“Ok.”  I planned on drinking this one much slower.  The two men made me nervous and the beer was a riot in my empty stomach.  But the alcohol was fuzzing out the protestations of my gut and I felt sassy, it was something to be getting Billy’s attention.  He tossed me another and I deftly caught it.

“Nice catch!” Billy grinned at me then flicked his eyes to Elliot who was still nursing his beer.  “So you two boyfriend-girlfriend?”

I froze up.  The can of beer was half-way to my mouth and I almost dropped it.  I shot Elliot a look.

“Yeah, you could say that,” Elliot said after a brief pause.

“Hmmm, said Billy.  Y’all seem more like brother and sister to me, but that’s cool.  That’s cool.  You know, Elliot, you got one fine old lady sittin’ next too you, you better watch her close down here.  There’s lots of predators and the like who would be very interested in your woman.”

“Uh huh,” agreed Leon, “she’s a damn fine lookin’ girl.”

I was flattered by the compliments but uneasy about the amount of attention that was suddenly being paid to me, regardless that it was complimentary.

“I can handle myself,” I said.

“I’m sure you can, Baby Girl, I’m sure you can.”  Billy said.  His tongue poked out the corner of his mouth, flicking away a bit of foam couaght on the bottom edge of his mustache.  He smiled at me and winked.

“Hey kid, he said, looking over at Elliot, “you ready for another yet?”

Elliot tipped back the beer and I watched him drain the rest of it, a small trickle sloshed out the side of his mouth.

“Whoa, easy there, said Billy.  You don’t fuck with the King of Beers, don’t be wasting any of that sweet nectar down your chin now.”

“Sorry,” said Elliot and belched again, this time not doing anything to disguise it.

Leon cackled, “boy ain’t nobody ever show you how to drink a beer?”

“Nope,” he replied in a serious flat toned voice.  “I’ve never drank a beer before.”

I looked at him dumb founded.  I had smoked pot with Elliot and my ex-boyfriend John.  How could some one have smoked pot and not drank a beer?  I failed to remember that I had tried LSD prior to having my first drink.

“You two really are babies,” said Billy in wonderment.  “Y’all should really go on back home.  Leon, these kids should go on back home.  They ain’t got no idea what kinda shit can go down around here, do they?”

“Nope,” Leon nodded his head sagely.  “All sorts of crazy ass shit go down here.  You kids don’t need to see it, it ain’t good.”

Billy went to the cooler and got himself another beer.  He stood contemplating the night sky.  “I know I’m gonna hear a bell ring when you two get home, and you know, that means an angel’s got its wings.”

“We’re not going home.”  I said defiantly.

“Dang,” said Leon, shaking his head.  “You are one stubborn girl, ain’t choo?”

“I’m not stubborn, I just know that we are supposed to be here.”

Billy, cocked his head at me, “that so?”

I nodded my head affirmatively.

“Now, let me get this straight, you’re supposed to be here, this Lake, here?”  Billy shook his head, “girl are you crazy?”

“No.”  I said quietly and drank my beer.

“She stubborn hoss,” said Leon.

“Shut up,” I said to Leon.

“Ooooh, you hear that, she ain’t stubborn, Leon, she’s sasssy!” Billy said and slapped his knee, “I like a girl that’s sassy.”

I stopped talking, what was I doing?

“Well, well, so you got everything here you need?”  Billy asked.  “I mean, I’m lookin’ around and I ain’t seein’ no kitchen, or bathroom, y’all had a shower any time in the last week?”

“No,” said Elliot.

“A shower, that would be nice,” I agreed.  “But a shower is not worth going back to Wisconsin for.”

“Well, you don’t have to go to Wisconsin to take a shower, we got access to a shower, y’all want a shower, eh?”  Billy looked up at Leon and Leon shook his head no.

“Yes,” said Elliot, “awfully good, but what we really need is a job, got one of those too?”

“Boy’s got bigger balls than I thought, Leon,” Billy said with a dark chuckle.

“I mean, I won’t turn down a shower, a shower would be nice, but a job, well, I really need to get a job.”  Elliot said, blushing deeply.  I could not see the color of his face in the firelight, but I could hear the blush in his voice.

“I could take ‘em back over to Mike’s place,” said Billy glancing again to Leon.

“Nope, uh uh, dude, I ain’t gonna go back over to Homestead, we just got done with work, man, it’s time to party!”

“You party,” said Billy.

“What, without my running mate, man, no way,” said Leon.

“Listen here, Leon, these kids’ way in over their heads.  I’m gonna take ‘em over to Mike’s place, get them a shower and see if I can convince them to go home.”  Billy said.  Then he tipped back his beer, drained it and tossed the empty toward the Lake.

“Come on, follow me,” Billy said getting up and going to his car.

“You ain’t really gonna leave me here are you?”  Asked Leon.

“Dude, I’ll leave the beers with you, you go holler atcha girl ‘cross the way and we’ll be back before you probably will.” Billy said.

I had gotten up quickly and felt all the blood rush to my head, I was definitely intoxicated.  It had only taken two beers, but those two beers were on an empty stomach.  Elliot followed my lead and also swayed a bit, but steadied himself quickly.  He had only one under his belt, I figured he could drive, or maybe we would be riding with Billy.  Although that was not perhaps the best idea.

“How far away is it?”  Elliot asked.  “I don’t have that much gas in my car.”

“Just around the corner from here, maybe a half mile down the road,” said Billy.

“I think we can make that,” Elliot said, but he sounded uncertain.

“No, I’ll drive y’all over,  Let’s go.”  Billy said and rambled over to the silver Honda next to the little grey hooch.

Elliot looked at me, I nodded affirmatively.  “Hang on a sec, let me get my bath stuff.”  I said and dashed toward the tent.

“Just like a girl,” said Billy grinning.  “They got to have their ‘bath stuff’.  You need anything there Elliot?”

“Nah, just running water and maybe some soap” said Elliot.

“We got that covered.”  Said Billy and he got into the Honda and started it up.

I ran quickly back, waved to Leon and Elliot and I climbed into the car.  The drive to the house was quick, less than five minutes and we were there.  Billy lit up a cigarette and had just finished it when we got to the house.  It was in a gated community.  The car slowed down to five miles an hour to navigate around the many speed bumps that were scattered throughout the housing units.

“Where are we?” Asked Elliot.

“This here is Coral Gables, this is where my boss Mike lives, but he ain’t livin’ in his house right yet, he’s living in an RV trailer out in front of his place.  His house got pretty damn wasted by the hurricane.  Leon and I been helpin’ him get it back together.” Billy said as he angled the Honda into a parking space next to a very large maroon rv who’s generator was humming loudly.  It was running air conditioning and the flicker of a television set could be seen through the blinds in the middle of the trailer.

“Come on, let’s go,” said Billy and he popped out of the car and headed up the steps to the large pink stucco house in front of the trailer.  It was dark, but there was a lot of moon light.

I grabbed my bag and followed Billy and Elliot up the stairs and into the house which was dark and smelled of water damage.

“Careful now, there ain’t no light that works in here yet.”  Billy said and opened the front door.

Elliot and I followed him into the maw of the house.  Billy walked briskly a head of us and rapidly climbed a staircase to the right of the front door.  He led us up the stairs, then down a long hall way, and into a room that must have been the master bedroom.

“Shower’s in there,” said Billy pointing to a door.

“Lady’s first,” said Elliot.

“Thanks,” I said and walked into the bathroom.  Fortunately there was a window there that let in the moon light.  I could see well enough to maneuver my way around.  I quickly stripped down, self-conscious, even with the door shut and grateful for the dark.  I could hear Billy and Elliot talking as I got into the large bathtub and reached for the water faucet.

“Ah, fuck!f”  I said under my breath.  It was cold.  There was no running hot water here.  Of course there wasn’t, there was no electricity, how could there be.  I was briefly mad at Billy for allowing us to believe that there would be hot running water here.  But I was grateful for running water and I braced myself and got in.  My goose bumps made it difficult to shave, but I did none the less.  Who knew when I would get access to a shower again.

I shivered mightily and climbed out once I had finished my legs.  I did not have a towel, nor did Elliot.  I shook as much water off my body as I could.  I brushed down the sides of my arms and my legs to get off the excess water.  Sighing I climbed back into my dress which clung to me.  Well, there was an upside, at least I looked sexy in my dress.

I opened the door and walked out into the room.  Billy and Elliot were sitting on a couple of wood chairs next to the window on the far wall.

“Well, that was mighty quick for a girl,” said Billy with a big grin.

“There wasn’t any hot water,” I said.  I tried to keep my voice as neutral as possible.  I did not want to look this gift horse in the mouth, but Elliot should at least get a head’s up.

“Well, shoot!”  Billy said, “I ain’t even thought about that, sorry Baby Girl.”

“It’s alright,” I said demurely.  I stood standing in the middle of the room.

“Come here, sit down, Elliot go on and hop in there, at least it’s running water.”

“Anything is better than washing up in that Lake,” Elliot said and went into the bathroom, handing off the half-finished cigarette that Billy must have given him.

Billy did not say anything as I sat down on the vacant chair Elliot had just been using.  He shook another smoke out from his pack and lit it from the one he was finishing.  I enjoyed the last few drags from the one Elliot had given me, then I pulled my brush out from my bag and started going through my hair.  It would snarl up really badly if I did not brush out the tangles before it dried.  Billy watched me do this and smiled.

“You have some pretty hair.”

“Thanks,” I said.  I could feel the blush creeping back in and I lowered my head to avoid looking at him watching me.

The sound of water came on and off quickly from the bathroom and Elliot emerged less than five minutes later.

“Damn, you both are quick,” said Billy getting up.

“Well, I figure you don’t want to be kept waiting on us,” Elliot said.  His hair hung in wet heavy ringlets around his face and his glasses had a few droplets of water on them.  He pulled them off and rubbed the lenses down with his t-shirt hem.

“Ain’t no skin off my nose, like I said to Leon, I wanted to help you kids out.  A shower and maybe some convincin’ talk about gettin’ you back home,” Billy said standing up and flicking the cigarette butt in his hand out the back window.

“We can’t go home, we don’t have any money to leave the Lake,” I said quietly and put my brush back into my bag.

“Ah ha.  Kinda what I thought,” Billy said.  “But you should get home anyway, angel’s be needed their wings, and I know an angel’s gonna get a pair when you guys get back to Wisconsin.”

“We need jobs,” said Elliot.

“Well, I’ll see what I can do about that,” Billy said.  “But for right now ain’t nothin’ happenin’ but us gettin’ back to my cooler and Leon at the Lake.  It’s Friday and it’s my weekend.”

“Thank you for the shower, Billy, it was really nice to clean up.” I said and caught myself about to curtsey.

“Ain’t nothin’, a lady’s got to bathe, ain’t she?”

Billy turned and walked out to the hallway.  Elliot and I quickly followed.

Leon was not at the camp when we got back.  And it had started to rain.  The fire had sizzled out and the site was dark.  Billy turned off the ignition to the car and hopped out.  He went over to the Coleman cooler that was sitting next to the fire and hauled it back to the car.

“Well, alright, you two, I’m gonna go catch up with Leon, here’s some beers for the road.”  He handed us each one as we got out of the car.

“Thanks, thanks for the beers and thanks for the shower, it was awesome, I really appreciated it.”  I said and smiled.  My smile disappeared when I turned back to our tent, it had blown over in the wind and rain.

“Shit, Elliot, look,” I said pointing out to the collapsed fabric.

“Ah, fuck, I so don’t want to deal with that right now,” Elliot said.

“You two get your asses out of the rain and sleep in my hooch,” Billy said pointing to the shack to the left of the Honda.

“We can’t do that,” I said.

“Baby girl, you can and you will.”  Bill said, “Now scoot in there before you get drenched.

“Thanks Billy,” Elliot said and ran toward the shelter.  I followed close on his heels, the icy beer can slipping through my fingers.  I dropped it and hastily bent full from the waist to pick it up.

Billy whistled softly under his breath, “night, night, Baby Girl, I’ll be sure to be seein’ you soon.”  He got in the Honda, revved it up and drove off.

“He say something to you,” Elliot asked as I ducked through the door.

“No, ah, good night, that’s all.”  I said and took a look around at the hooch.  It certainly was not the Hilton, but it was dry.  There was a bed platform made up of plywood raised up on milk crates and wood slats covered with some egg foam and a dirty looking plaid sleeping bag.

“Well, I guess this is it, nice to have had a shower, even if it was cold,” I said and cracked the beer open.  It foamed heavily and I licked it off the sides of the can.  Elliot cracked his and drank it down rather quickly.

“Whoa, hey there, Mister-I-Ain’t -Never-Had-A-Beer-Before, slow down, you’re gonna get the burps real bad from doing that.”

And on cue, Elliot belched.  “Ugh, I don’t feel so good.”  He stood suddenly and swerved toward the door.  He stumbled out into the rain and I could hear him vomiting alongside the hooch.   He came back in five minutes later, and it was hard to tell with the light, but I would say he looked pretty green.

“Here, I said, patting the dusty sleeping bag I was sitting on, lie down.”

Elliot sank down heavily and rolled up against the wall of the hooch and promptly passed out.  I finished my beer and placed the can on the floor of the shack.  The rain beat down and the wind picked up.  I had barely drifted off to sleep when I realized that the roof was beginning to leak.

“Ah fuck, really?”  I sat up and as I did the roof dropped in on us, drenching us completely.

“Shit!”  I hollered and stood up looking at the hole.  There was no way I could fix that.  I did not even know where to begin.  “Elliot, wake up, c’mon, we got to get out of here, we can sleep in the Datsun.”

Elliot groggily turned toward me and swung his legs over the side of the bed.  He stood up, swayed, grabbed my shoulder and steadied himself against me.  We staggered over to the Datsun in the down pour and climbed in.  Elliot curled up against the side of the driver’s door and fell right back into sleep.  I reached over and lowered down the seat so he was lying flat.  Then I grabbed a coat from the back seat and wrapped it around my body.  It had not seen any action since we had left northren Illinois.

I fell asleep to the wind shaking the Datsun and woke to the sun pouring through the windows.  The car windows were all steamed up from the heat we had generated through the night and the warmth of the tropical sun beaming through the windshield.  My head hurt, my body ached, my stomach was sour and empty.

“Oh my god, why do I feel so bad,” Elliot asked slowly sitting forward.

“Hang over, welcome to being a man,” I said and opened up the door to climb out of the steam box and into the bright unreality of another day on the Lake.

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