Kim was now a dark soul. How that could happen to a twelve-year-old, I’ll never know. She was a loving child until her father lost his job at the factory he had worked at since leaving high school.
I chose to leave for the service, choosing the Air Force over making envelopes, packing bacon, soldering condenser coils, or any number of other dead-end manufacturing jobs available.
I don’t even know if the two events were related, I mean the job loss and the personality change Kim underwent. They did happen roughly at the same time, though. He was laid off, then the plant closed and moved everything to Mexico, except the workers. The next time I saw that beautiful little girl I knew and lovingly remembered, she was different. Cold, distant.
I was Kim’s uncle. The last time I saw her was last year at a family reunion. She was dark, gloomy, sad, and generally ... Did I say dark? The year before that, she was a cute little munchkin. A bouncing little girl in pastel blouses and shorts and bobby socks and Keds and all things young and feminine. My older brother was actually her step-father, but adopted her at the age of eight, when her biological father gave up parental rights so he could give up child support payments. Not much of a trade, but that’s the real world.
Last week my brother and his wife of 8 years, Kim’s mother, were killed in a car accident. Yes, yet another in the long stream of drunk drivers plowing through a red light on a Friday night. It was a lucky coincidence, from what I understand. The roles could have been reversed. Gary and Suzy could just as easily have been the cause and perpetrators instead of being the victims. They had been out drinking, too. Thankfully, as DOS, dead on the scene, victims of a high speed red-light T-Bone accident, caught on camera, their BAC, or blood alcohol content wasn’t measured, or recorded, during the short autopsies. A grim reminder for Kim. It happened the day before her fourteenth birthday.
I picked Kim up from the foster home with the Child Protective Service agent beside me. The foster parents were all too gleeful to let her get back to her life, somewhere else. In private, in the kitchen, they told me she wasn’t happy there, but that they didn’t see her being happy anywhere. When I approached Kim, arms outreached, she reached out as well, and she smiled. The foster mother looked at me, and shrugged, smiling. She had just told me there had been no smiles, no happiness projected. Kim and I met in a hug. Sharing grief, yes, but I felt her relax into my arms. She must’ve felt, and in my view certainly was, safe, melting into me.
“Hi Uncle Charlie. Thank you for coming to get me. Can we go home now? I hate this place. This town.” She looked at the foster mother and said, “Not you, Ma’am. I’m sorry I sounded like that. I have so many bad memories, I just want my uncle to take me away far away from this ... Just far away from here and let me start over. Please understand. I thank you for feeding me and putting a roof over my head. I’ve been terrible company. Thank you for everything you did, and everything you tried to do.” She turned and walked out the door.
“Mr. Carlson, that was the first smile that girl has shown anyone in a year. I’ve been a case worker for friends of hers, and known her, and others of her friends, for that long, and more, and even when she was in your brother’s home she’s been despondent, negative, and withdrawn. You walk in and she smiles. I hope you can bring her back. I hear she used to be a wonderful happy child.”
“Yes, Ma’am, she was. She’s still in there. I’ll get her out. I’ll get her back. Thank you both. If it’s OK, we’ll leave on that journey to a fresh start right now.”
We could leave town right then, as the funeral had been on Wednesday. I felt terrible about missing it, but I couldn’t travel that far, that fast. I didn’t find out about the accident until Monday, and it was all I could do to get my equipment back home, then hit the road to be here this morning. I knew I wouldn’t make the funeral in time when the tire on the plane gave out, damaging the wheel and putting it in the shop, so I decided to drive. I like driving and hadn’t driven anywhere cross country for a long time. It would also give me time to think on the way there and get to know Kim on the way back. It did help. I had all kinds of recordings of silly brainstorms on my phone now. Maybe one would pan out.
When I got back to my truck, she was up in the front seat, buckled in, looking straight ahead. Her little bag was in the back seat. I watched her for several seconds. She wasn’t looking at anything specific, I could tell. She was in a trance, reflecting, hopefully not on something dark. We could start over, hopefully leaving the darkness behind. It sounds like that’s what she wanted.
“Uncle Charlie, please don’t go back to the house. There’s nothing there that I want.”
“Are you sure, sweetie, we’re quite a ways from home, and I have nothing at the house for a young lady.”
“I’ll survive. I’m pretty much ... What do they call it? Low maintenance. Yeah, I’m low maintenance.”
“OK, it’s your call. I’m here to help you and rescue you, not make your life worse, if that was even possible.”
“Oh, it would be possible. It could be week before last. That was worse.” She squeaked and threw her hands up over her mouth. “Oh, God, I’m sorry, Uncle Charlie. I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t ... I didn’t want them gone. I wanted me gone. I just couldn’t be who they wanted me to me. Never mind. And never mind my stuff. I don’t want any of it. The clothes don’t fit and there’s nothing important there I need. I’d rather do without and begin again. The people at the church are taking everything. The will leaves everything to them, anyway. I’m sure the lawyer told you all that. Anyway, I have a couple hundred dollars for clothes and stuff, but I just need to go. I need to leave this God forsaken place. This town is hell. My birth certificate and some copies of the death certificates are in my bag. I really don’t need anything else.”
“Kim, baby, I’m glad you have those. That makes one less stop we need to make. This is going to sound strange to you, but when you were about nine, and you were teasing me about not having a girlfriend ... Do you remember doing that, sweetie?” She grinned and nodded, looking away quickly, blushing. “You said that if I needed one, you could do it. You said that you would be my girlfriend. Well, I realized then that someone needed to look out for you. I was maybe a little selfish, and unthinking, toward your parents when I did it, looking out for your future without their knowing it, but I took out life insurance policies on your mother, your step father, and your uncle, so that if anything happened to us, you would be all right. I know it’s terrible, and the unthinkable happened, but you’ll be OK. You can buy new clothes if you like. Let’s go home.”
“Thank you. I already feel better,” she said as we left town, headed west on the highway. “Uncle Charlie, why didn’t you come around more?”
“Little one, I didn’t like my brother very much. We never got along. There is a lot of history there. It was way before he met your mother. I guess it actually started when I was a bit younger than you. Maybe someday, when you’re a little older we’ll talk about it. But, let’s just say I felt like he lorded over me as a child and then he seemed jealous and never recovered from my success when I achieved it. He was an ogre as a young man, and a jealous, mean person later. I still don’t see what your mother saw in him.”
“Herself. She was a lot like him. When they joined this church a couple years ago and gave up their old friends, things changed. As bad as they were, they weren’t the same any more. It got worse. Did you notice that the last couple years?”
“Not really, sweetie. If my relationship with my brother had gotten any worse ... Well, it would be hard for that to happen. Hey, baby doll, we’ll need to stop for lunch pretty soon. Anything you’d like in particular?”
“Anything is fine,” she said. I looked at her, questioning that. “Really. I’ve done without for so long, I don’t know what I’d like.”
“What the heck’s that mean, Kim? They weren’t starving you, evidently. I mean you look healthy. Very healthy.” She snickered at that.
“Bread, lunchmeat, ramens, granola bars. No, I wasn’t starving, but I didn’t have anything to make any decent meals with either. They spent all their time, effort and money on that damned church. Then, when he ... when Gary started looking at me like he did, and hugging on me all the time,” she visibly shivered, “and mom would pull me into her lap and rub on my legs and stuff, yuchhhh. It was weird. I didn’t like them doing that. I wore heavy clothes. Like this.” She indicated what she was wearing. “Baggy black jeans with black sweatshirts. Heavy black socks and high-tops. Never mind. I’m blabbering, and I want to forget all of it. I know this. I never want to wear black again, or sweats. I wore it ... I wore these clothes because of them. I wore it to hide. I’ll never let anyone touch me like that again, either. Not unless I want them to. Oh, Jeez, I hope Bethany is OK. Her parents were in it, too. We talked. They all creeped us both out.”
“Wow, pumpkin, that’s a lot to take in. I wish I would have known you were in this situation earlier. I don’t know what I could have done, but maybe something. Anything. I’m sorry I let you down, sweetie.”
“You didn’t. It’s not like I called and asked for help or anything. I never thought about that. Not something I thought my first boyfriend,” she giggled, “could come fix, I guess. Now that I find that you and Gary didn’t get along, probably even more so.”
We stopped at a Taco Bell. I just couldn’t imagine trying to get someone to decide what fast food they like to eat until they’d had a couple tacos and some beans and cheese. We got her some of those cinnamon things, too, then hit the bathroom, then got on the road. She seemed ecstatic about the choice. OK! We started with a favorite restaurant. I’m skeptical. I’ll bet the next one would be her new favorite.
I got to thinking about some of the things she had said. Some of the things we’d been talking about today. I wish I had 3 more inches, 30 more pounds, and a brother to beat the shit out of. Too little, too late. Literally. He didn’t treat this angel any better than he treated his little brother. I hope he does better where he’s at than he did here, I really do. I’m sure that’d make our parents feel better, God rest their souls, too.
It was getting late, so I told her we were going to stop at the next decent motel I could find. I was looking for a decent place to stay. Coming up on Flagstaff, I handed Kim my phone. “You any good with these things?”
“No, but what do you need?”
“Tap on the chrome logo, the red yellow and green ring, then type in Marriott Flagstaff, with two ‘r’s and two ‘t’s.”
“Silly, there’s no R in Flagstaff!” That got us both laughing. She went on, “There’s a couple. Springhill and Courtyard.”
“Tap on the Springhill, then on the phone number. It’ll call them. We want two kings, adjoining.”
“I’ll try. Oh, Hello. I need a room. Two rooms. Kings? Adjunct...” I interrupted her.
“Two Kings, adjoining. (pause.) Yes, ma’am. (Pause.) Charles Carlson. (Pause.) He’s actually driving, and according to that last sign only about 30 miles from there. Can you look it up by his name? He travels a lot, he’s probably got one of those frequent stay accounts or something.”
I cracked up. I had a new personal assistant and didn’t even know it. This kid was bright.
“Yes, Ma’am. Like I said, about 30 miles. A little less now. (Pause.) Thirty to forty minutes? About that, probably. Oh, here, he handed me a card with a number on it. (Pause.) Yes Ma’am, it’s 22237844. (Pause.) Yes, Charles Carlson. (Pause.) Platinum Elite room, only one, a King. (Pause.) OK, I’ll ask. Uncle Charlie, there’s a sports thing going on and they have exactly one room left that they save for a platinum traveler, which is obviously you. Is that going to be OK?”
“We’ll take it. It’ll be crowded, but we’ll be fine, won’t we?”
“Yeah, we well be. I’m sure of it. Ma’am, yes, we’ll take it. He’s wanting to dock this boat.” Giggles. I was so happy she was able to laugh. Totally different than back there in Barstow. “Thank you.” She looked at the phone.
“Go ahead and tap the red phone circle at the bottom. That will hang it up. Thank you, sweet pea, you did wonderful.”
“Thanks. That was fun.”
“I’m glad you thought so. I need to get you one, so we can stay in touch. I travel quite a bit, and when you can’t be with me, I’ll need to be able to talk to you. We’ll have to work something out, but you’re old enough to be by yourself with a little supervision. At least I hope you are.”
“You’re buying me a phone?” I nodded. “Uncle Charlie, I’ll do everything I can to be good and make you happy you came to get me. I promise. Whatever you need me to do.”
“I need you to be my niece and grow up big and strong and tall and make me proud of you. Prouder. I’m already proud of you.”
“Uncle Charlie, you’re funny. You know I’ll never be tall. My mother was short, and my real father wasn’t very tall either. Not like you and Gary. I doubt I’ll ever be over five feet two. And I don’t want to be big and strong. I want to be pretty.”
“Good, then. You’ve met all of your life’s goals. You’re already short and very, very pretty. We’re here, doll. Grab your bag and we’ll check in. We’ll get farther tomorrow.” She met me at the front of the truck and I put my arm around her shoulder, hugging her to me, and walking into the hotel.
We checked in and went up to the room. It was actually a suite, so if Kim wanted, she could sleep on the sofa. It might even be a pull out. I hated sofas and sleepers, and it wasn’t going to be me. Not that I was being a jerk, but a 14-year-old girl at four eleven and ninety-five, maybe only ninety, would handle it easier than a six two, two fifteen, guy. And I didn’t want the back ache that might happen. Nope! Her choice. It was a king. Lots of real estate.
It wasn’t that late yet, so I asked if she was hungry. “I don’t have to be. It’s up to you, Uncle Charlie.” Jeez, I didn’t believe this. I sat on the bed and called her in to me. She approached a little hesitantly.
I held my arms out and wrapped her up as tight as I could. I couldn’t tell if she was scared of me, or the future, or the past, or what was happening. “Kim, baby, please don’t be afraid of me. Please. Look, we need to talk, and get this all out in the open. I need to know what you were thinking when you hesitated to come over to me. Were you ... Did somebody ... Have you been molested?”
She nodded, but said, “A little.”
“Kim, I know this is going to be tough, but we need to clear the air so that we’re aware of what we’re dealing with. OK?” She nodded. “Alrighty then. Are you hungry?” She was hesitant to answer. “There are two answers to that questions, maybe three. Yes, no, or ‘I could eat’.” She giggled. When I heard the giggle, I wrapped her up again. “That’s my girlfriend. Come on, I’m going to feed you at that Red Lobster across the street. Anything you can’t eat?”
My face dropped. I was looking forward to a good mix of ocean going novelties and a salty baked potato.
She saw that my face dropped and squealed. “I’m so sorry, Uncle Charlie. I’m sorry. I was kidding. I have no idea if I’m allergic to anything. I thought I’d say that ‘cause they’d have seafood. Just my silliness. I need to work on that. I haven’t been able to joke around with anyone, and you just ... You were there. I’m so sorry.”
She hugged me and kissed my chest. I held her close, she kissed my chest again. Then I pulled her head up against me and just held her for a minute.
“It’s fine, sweetie. There’s a time and a place for everything, and I guess it was my time and place to get my leg pulled. No harm, no foul. Let’s go eat.”
She looked up, squeezed one more time, and nodded. We walked across the highway, it was only a block, maybe two, and I didn’t see any reason to get back in the truck. She looked pretty healthy. Very healthy, actually. At the restaurant there wasn’t a line or anything, so I asked to be seated in the bar area, back in a corner. It was definitely not crowded, but there was enough noise that we could talk and no one would listen in. Hopefully. We ordered and things started coming. In between I asked her again. “You said, ‘A little’. Were you molested, and is that why you’re afraid of me?”
“It’s not that easy, Uncle Charlie. Yes, I was, a little, and no, I’m not afraid of you. I’m not afraid of you molesting me. I’m more ... I’m afraid ... Oh, God ... I’m afraid you won’t love me anymore.” She was heaving her shoulders a little with her crying, and I was afraid I’d draw a crowd, so I went to her side of the booth and hugged her to my side.
“Sweetheart, number one, you’re right. I’m not a person you need to be afraid of bothering you, molesting you, hurting you. But, regardless of what you may worry about me thinking of you, I love you and, believe it or not, I always have. With all my heart. You were a little girl when your mother married my brother, but I remember the wedding and this little red-haired girl that looked at me with a little freckly smile, and I ... I fell in love with her. She was special. Do you remember the dance, standing on my feet? There always has been, and always will be, a very special place in my heart for my favorite niece. One other thing, baby girl. You can drop the ‘Uncle’ if you want. You’re not a baby, even if I call you one, and it’s just wasted syllables. Just call me Charlie, for now.” She seemed OK, so I disconnected and went back to my side of the table.
“OK, uhmmmm, Charlie. Charlie. That sounds weird. Maybe not weird. Different. OK. Here it is. A little. Your brother, my step father, my mother’s husband, started to touch me places that ... Please don’t get mad at me ... Charlie. He touched me places that didn’t feel bad, but I didn’t want him to. I didn’t want him to be the one to touch me there. I call that, ‘a little’. My mother didn’t stop him. She would do stuff, too, I think to make me want Gary to touch me, but that wasn’t happening. She’d rub my back or my legs, or kiss me and stuff. It was weird. Anyway, a little. I started dressing in baggy clothes, black mostly. I found them at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Everyone thought I was going goth. I was just trying to put lots of cloth between me and them. No piercings, no tattoos, no weird stockings, or high heeled boots. Just cloth, in layers, to protect me. Uhmm, Charlie, one other thing.” I looked at her and raised my eyebrows. “I’m your only niece.” Again with the beautiful giggle.
“And therefore, my favorite. Kim, darling, why would you think I wouldn’t love you because of this?”
She looked at me, then looked at her salad, and mumbled, “Because I wanted it to be you.” The tears started rolling again. Back to the other side of the table. I put my arm around her and drew her in close. As quietly as she could, she heaved and cried and told me that ever since she was touched the first time, and it felt good, she wanted it to be me that made her feel good. Not them. Me. She read about sex and touching and fondling and masturbation and fingers and toes and the more she read, the more clothes she put on hoping she could hide until I came back to visit. To talk to her. To make her feel normal. She was planning on coming completely clean that summer and asking me to take her with me, even if she had to report her parents to do it.
Our conversation, once the crying and tears slowed down, solved two problems for me. Number one, I no longer felt guilty about disliking the shit out of my sibling. Number two, I no longer had a guilty feeling about having a little crush on my niece. It was a bidirectional, reciprocal, crush. But, I had to remember, my main goal was to get her back home, in and through school with an education, and with an intact mind. So far, I was swinging at a lot of strikes, and missing.
It also solved two problems for her. Number one, she was no longer being groped by an asshole and his assholette. They were dead. Number two, she was with her life long, as short as it was, love. Me. Neat. No ... Oh, shit. A million thoughts, pure and impure, raced through my mind. This was going to be interesting. To say the least.
She calmed a bit, so we ate, and continued to talk. She wanted to know about home, so I told her about the property and where it was on a hill overlooking a pretty ravine with a creek running through it and down into the Mississippi River. We were only about a mile from the river across the flood plain, but up on a high hill that will never see the brunt of any “hundred years” flooding. She was questioning the thought of living in the country, but I told her there would be neighbors within a few miles, and if she found friends around anywhere, she could always ride one of the 4-wheelers to go see them. I also told her that we’d make sure to get her anywhere she needed to be, one way or the other. She seemed happy with that.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel. Not far from the restaurant, I felt her shoulder bump my elbow, and her hand reach for mine to hold it. She looked up at me at the same time, and I just couldn’t do anything other than grasp her hand while looking into those needy, loving, troubled, and beautiful bright green eyes. Kim was a very pretty girl. Her perky nose, freckles, full little lips, and those eyes, just made for a wondrous little face. Hard to look away from. But I had to so that we could cross the street without getting flattened by a rogue vehicle. We held hands all the way up to the room.
“Kim, honey, do you need anything from the store or anything. There has to be a Walmart or something around here somewhere.”
“No, Unc ... No, Charlie. I’m fine. We can wait until we get to your house, or if you’re in the country, and it’s easier, maybe we can stop somewhere tomorrow? I’d just get some personal bathroom stuff, maybe some ... Uh, girl stuff, and some panties or something. I have a couple pairs of shorts and t-shirts for the trip. I’m OK for now, but I may need some other things? Girl things? In a few days. Closer to a week, I think.”
“Oh, your aunt coming to visit?”
“My aunt?” she asked.
“Yeah, your Aunt Flo?” She tilted her head, questioning. “Your period?”
“OH, OH, yes. Aunt Flow. Oh, Gross!!! Yes, my period. Can we pretend like that conversation never happened? Please?!?!?”
“No. I’m your mother and your father now. And your Uncle. I have lots of jobs, don’t I? We need to be able to talk about things. I have to get used to it, too, you know. When you need some Aleve or Advil for pain, you should let me know if it’s because of your breasts aching from growing, or cramps from your period, or maybe just a headache. Believe it or not, it’s important for me to know. Just like you would have told your mother, if you would have trusted her with that information. Sounds to me like you wouldn’t have. Anyway, we need to be able to talk to each other.”
“OK. If you insist. Charlie, I need some tampons, some mini pads, and a small pack of period pads so that...” I interrupted her.
“Got it. No need to go overboard with it, but I will ask, do you normally have problems with your periods? Pain, cramps, all the things that make guys happy they aren’t girls??”
“No, not normally, but I can be irregular. Charlie, do you think you could get me put on the pill or something. That’s supposed to even them out and make them easier to live with.”
“Sure, sweetie. We’ll get you to the doctor when we get home and we’ll get that taken care of. OK, so, a major feminine products run sometime tomorrow!!” She giggled and nodded. I smiled. Hopefully she would correlate those two things and do the first to keep the second happening. Her happiness was now my first priority. I pulled out a book and sat up on the bed reading.
A few minutes later, I heard, “Charlie, do you have a computer or anything with you?”
“Yeah, sweetheart. In the bag over there. You good with a tablet? An iPad? I have one of those, and a Surface in there if you like. What are you looking for?” I was just laying back on the bed reading the book I had with me.
“Oh, a Walmart along the way. We had both types of tablets that we used in school.” She played with the iPad for a while, then the Surface. That’s nice, being able to use the computer without the popups coming up and bothering me all the time.”
“Your computer had popups bothering you? You had a computer at home, I take it?”
“Yeah, an older one. Belongs to the church now. I guess there’s no problem telling you about it. We’re gone. They’re gone. There were always sex things popping up on it. I had to do a report for social studies, geography, whatever, and I had to look up Ibiza. You know, in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a part of Spain.” I rolled my hand to tell her to go on. I knew of Ibiza. Very much so. “Anyway, a bunch of sex windows popped up,” she giggled, “with all sorts of people doing sex things, and a few nudist things. I guess Ibiza has nudist beaches and stuff, so when I looked up Ibiza, they started popping up all over the place. I guess you could say I’ve seen a lot of sex on the computer. Seems it was always there. My mother just said to look at what I wanted, then close them and do my work. I really think they wanted me to get interested in it so I wouldn’t avoid them. It’s weird, though. It made me feel ... It made me feel bad, I guess. I didn’t want them to think about me like that. I wanted someone else to do that.” Quietly, just above a whisper, she continued, “I wanted my boyfriend to do that.”
“Oh. You OK now, you think, honey?” I was pretty sure she meant me, but you never know. Maybe, if I was lucky she was talking about some future young man who would be her knight in shining armor.
“Absolutely. I’m fine. Amarillo. It’s right off the interstate. We’ll be on 40 through Texas going to Missouri, right?” I nodded. She didn’t seem to look up. Maybe she heard my head rattle and took that as a yes. And maybe she just has really good peripheral vision. I’m hoping for the latter. But with the thoughts of her, and thinking of what she may be thinking, maybe it was the former and my brain is breaking loose a little.
“Kim, sweetheart, if you need to talk about anything, please remember, I’m your mom, dad, uncle, and if you want, within limits, I want to be your friend. I still have to raise you, but I’d like to think we can be friends while I do that.”
“Charlie. We can and we will be. I want that, too.” She powered the tablets down, then put them back into the bag’s pockets, just like she found them, then climbed up on the bed and laid her head on my thigh. She put her hand on my leg, just by her face, took in a deep breath and shuddered. It scared me a little. I thought she was going to start crying again. “Charlie, can you just hold me a while. I haven’t had a cuddle that I wanted in a long time. I’d sure like one now.”
I laid my book down and took her under her arms, picking her up and placing her in my lap. When I grabbed her, I got a little “Eeeeep” from her. She must’ve been surprised that I’d just grab her like that and pull her close to me. I did, and I’m glad. The smile she had was gorgeous. I’m pretty sure I didn’t touch her inappropriately, as my thumbs were on her back, and my fingers were just on the sides of her chest, maybe the softness was the edges of her breasts. I don’t know. I wrapped her up tight and kissed her on the forehead. She wrapped her arms around one of mine and hugged me tightly. I just rocked her like that for about 5 minutes, then heard her purring. I kept her there, with the news on quietly for about an hour, then laid her down. Going to the other side of the bed, I pulled down the covers, reached over for her and lifted her over to her side of the bed. She didn’t seem awake, but a small smile touched her lips when I slid my hands under her. She had her shoes off, so I just covered her up, kissed her nose, and went back to my side of that big king. I thought to myself, ‘You know, Charlie, you could get used to this.’ She’s lovable. Lights off and TV on timer, I laid there on my left side and looked at her. So innocent. Why did that jerkoff of a brother of mine treat her that way? She said something about the church and another friend. I think I’ll try to get some more information about all this tomorrow.
Then the alarm went off and something was very wrong. My chest was wet and ... There was a little pixie drooling on my left nipple. WEARING NOTHING BUT A BRA AND PANTIES!!! Oh Crap. Too late now. Damn, she’s got a nice body. Much, much more developed than I thought. The sweatshirt and baggy jeans did exactly what she wanted. It hid her beautiful, and quite substantial for her age, bust, her little hourglass waist, and nice hips. Beautiful long legs, too. My niece is a looker. CHUCK, STOP!!!!
I shook her a little to get her attention. She looked up at me and smiled, then felt the spittle on her cheek and my chest. “OH MY GOD, NO!! NOT NOW!!! Charlie, stay there, I’ll get a towel.”
I grabbed her and wrapped her up again. “Baby, stop. It’s fine. You just drooled in your sleep a little. No problem. Stop worrying.” I rocked her for a bit, and wiped my chest and her face with the edge of a pillow case. “It’s fine, baby, let it go.” She relaxed a little, then apologized again and pushed away a little.
“I’m sorry, Charlie. I gotta go pee. I’ll be right back.” She jumped up and scurried to the bathroom. I sat up and waited for her. Sorry, I’m an ass, but I wanted to see her again. Damn she’s pretty. She came back out, not in the least worried about me seeing her. I just stared. “You OK, Charlie? Here’s a wet washrag for your chest. I’m so sorry. I thought I had quit doing that.”
“Baby cakes, you can drool on me anytime you want. What’s with the naked little girl running around the room, though? I thought you were trying to hide yourself.”
She looked down. “Not from you, Charlie. You’re the one I’ve been saving myself for.” It was subdued, but I heard every word. The tone of voice, the way she said it, the inflection sent a chill straight down my spine. Oh, my Lord. “Charlie, will you cuddle me before we leave? I know we have to shower and get on the road.”
“Yes, Kim, come here.” I was in just my boxers, but I took her into my lap, which along with my legs was covered by the sheet, set her there, and just held her and rocked her gently. She was looking up at me with those beautiful eyes. “Baby, I need to know what you’re thinking. You know I’m a little older than you, and I’m your uncle, and it’s something we need to talk about.”
“I know, but Charlie, I’ve loved you since I was a little girl. I’ve never thought about anyone else. Even when bad things were happening, and I should have been pulling back into a little ball and rolling away, I thought of you coming to save me. Before they died, Charlie. Even before they turned into preverts. I’ve always thought it would be you that came to take me away.”
I chuckled. “Kim, baby, they were perverts.”
“I know, Charlie. I just wanted to see you smile.”
“You little ... You little heathen!!” I rolled her over and smacked her bottom twice, very softly so she’d know she was being smacked with playful love and not spanked out of anger or discipline
“OWeeee, child abuse, call 911! OWeeeee. You have 30 minutes to stop before I call the police!!!”
We both laughed at that, then I hugged her, telling her, “Sweetie, we have two days in the truck to talk. Let’s do that, and figure out where we’re headed.”
“OK, Charlie. You’re probably marginally freaked out right now, but please, don’t do anything rash. I love you so much, and I’d die if you came to save me and then I lost you.”
“Honey, regardless, that’s not going to happen. Remember, baby doll. I. Love. You. Too.” Each word followed by a kiss on her nose. We showered, separately, her first, then when I was in there with the water running over my head, I played back what she said. ‘You’re probably marginally freaked out.’ ‘Don’t do anything rash.’ This is not a child with a fantasy. Those are fairly mature words, thoughts, coming from a young lady. I decided then, as I was washing my otherwise dirty little self, that I was going to let her plead her case. God, I hope I didn’t wind up in jail.
I came out with a towel around me, got my clothes and went back in. She was wearing a light tight t-shirt and a pair of cotton spandex short shorts with a pair of sandals. I got dressed and came back out.
I asked, and she said a friend gave them to her, hoping they’d fit. They almost did. Almost. The t-shirt was about two sizes too small, or it fit just perfectly, depending on your taste in clothing ... and women. The shorts looked painted on. Yes, I was impressed. Kim was a beautiful young lady. I guess I should be thankful it was summer, early summer at that, so that the heavy clothes weren’t really needed.
We went to a diner for breakfast on the way out of town, and looking around at the other girls, women, ladies, she was dressed about the same. Was I that much out of touch? I hadn’t dated in years. I got shafted by a woman looking for money, a real gold digger, and haven’t been back to the watering hole since. There were a couple clubs, and I did have some lady friends, but not relationship material. They were nice enough people to understand that, and it went both ways. Two of the prettiest women I know, loved to dance, and go out with me, together, to have fun. Then they went home. Yes, one of ‘those’ relationships. Them was lebinese wimmin. I actually counted them as stop a bullet friends. The real ones. The kind you’d step in front of a bullet for. They wanted nothing from Chuck but Chuck, and I wanted nothing from them but Liz and Beth. Don’t ask. Not now. Later. But yes, Liz and Beth. Same middle initial, too. A. For Anne. One with an ‘e’ and one without. When they get married, one is going to have to do something, but what? Who knows?
In any case, I had no intimate relationships in progress. ‘Til now. But, I did tell myself to give it a chance. See what it was like. A courtship. I also decided the trip to Walmart would include some ... Not so tight clothes. Unless she really wanted them, and in that case, I’d suffer. For her. Tough job, but someone has to do it.
“Charlie, what’s wrong? Your mind, your eyes, your body language is telling me something I’m afraid I don’t want to hear.”
“No, darling baby. It’s not about you. Well, it is, but it isn’t. I need to be careful. You’re beautiful, by the way. You need to know that. Truly a work of art. You just turned fourteen and can and will turn heads. I’m not complaining, trust me. You are a feast for the eyes of an old, single, celibate, tired man...” she interrupted.
“You mean celibate, as in ... None... ? Ever... ?” Then I interrupted her.
“Oh, gosh, no, sweetie. I’m not ‘anti’, I’m just a lonely guy. Kim, how much do you really know about your old Uncle Charlie? I mean seriously. How much?”
“I know you’re my stepfather’s brother, and you’re handsome, and you have a nice truck, and nice clothes, and you never complain ‘cause some son of a bitch did this or that to you, and ... Come to think of it, I don’t know much about you at all, Charlie. I think we should talk.” She stuck out her hand to shake. “Hi, my name is Kim Carlson and I’d like to get to know you. I’m the adopted daughter of one Gary Carlson and the daughter of Suzi Carlson, formerly Suzi Chapman. I just turned fourteen a week ago. I’m going to be a freshman, or more hopefully a sophomore, at whatever school you try to get me in to. I’m ahead a grade where I was, and I can make it happen if I need to take tests to get there. Not bragging, but I could probably test out of everything in high school except social studies. I just haven’t read enough. How ‘bout you, mister? Yer awf’ly cute, and I need a boyfriend.”
“Well, Miss Kim, I’m thirty-five. I own a couple of businesses that keep me busy, and I like to travel. I’m single, never been married, and I’m looking for a girlfriend. I’ll be honest though, lil’ darlin’. Two days ago, I wasn’t. Kim, I attract the wrong kind of women. Do you really think I’m worth keeping, just the way you see me?”
“Yes. You’re kind, loving, warm, real, not a jackass or boisterous, don’t put people down or blame things on them. That’s not from the last two days, Charlie. I’ve been watching you for years. You’re different than all the other uncles, parents, whatever. If you get six guys together in Barstow, there are seven different companies or bosses dragging them down, keeping them from making it big, yada, yada. You just seem to do your thing without complaining. I’ve seen you get up and walk away from those conversations. You know they’re just blaming others for their own problems, made ... By them. Go figure. You and I both know, since I love you, and can’t do any better than you, in this world, or this lifetime, and we can’t get caught up in the whole 23andMe thing, there is no other choice but for me to pursue you until I wear you down and you accept me.” She broke into a sing song little girl voice, “I wanna be your girlfriend! I wanna be your girlfriend!” She laughed. “Think about it, Charlie. I’m not the ugliest girl to ever kiss you. Don’t look so shocked. Yes, I kissed you before I laid down on your chest. Yes, you kissed me back. I know it was stolen, but it’s mine now and I’m not giving it back.” She looked at me and smiled the smile of a truly happy girl. “Charlie Carlson, I love you.”
Thank God breakfast came and there weren’t a bunch of people listening.
“Baby, Kim, do you understand the age thing here?”