A Different Blue Page 21

I began to shake my head, denying her story, denying her the ability to take him away from me in the way she seemed intent on doing. But she persisted, and I listened helplessly.

“He said you just watched him, and you gobbled up the french fries he offered. Your mother came back eventually. Jimmy said he was sure she'd be angry that he was sitting there with you. But he said she seemed nervous and kind of jittery and surprised more than anything.

“The next morning, he found you inside his truck. He said the handle on the passenger side was busted and he couldn't lock it, making it easy for her to get in. The windows had been rolled down a few inches, and you were laying there on the front seat. Luckily, it was fairly early in the morning when he found you. Jimmy said it was hot and your mother was a fool for leaving you inside the cab of a truck, even with the windows cracked. But maybe she was wasted or strung out. You had a backpack stuffed with a few clothes and the little doll he'd carved. Why she left you there, he didn't know. Maybe she thought he'd be nice to you. Maybe there was no one else and she was desperate. But she obviously followed him and at some point in the night left you there. He went back to the truck stop where he had first seen you and your mother. But she wasn't there, and he was afraid to ask questions, not wantin' to draw attention to himself.

“So the damn fool kept you. He shoulda gone to the police the first thing. After a few days, the cops showed up and asked the truck stop manager some questions. The manager was a friend of Jimmy's so Jimmy asked what the hub bub was about. Apparently the body of a woman had been found at a local hotel. They printed up some pictures from her driver's license and had left one there with the manager to put up at the truck-stop. One of those 'if-you-have-any-information-call-this-number flyers' the police sometimes put out. It was your mother. When Jimmy saw that, it scared him to death, and he moved on and took you with him. I don't know why he didn't just leave you there or go to the police. But he didn't. He didn't trust the police. Probably thought he'd be blamed for something he had nothin' to do with. He didn't even know your name. He said you just kept saying Blue, Blue, Blue. So that's what he called you. It kinda stuck, I guess.

“As far as I know, no one ever came looking for you. Your face wasn't on a milk carton, or nothin'. Three years ago when Jimmy turned up missing, I thought I was done for. I knew somebody was gonna figure out you weren't his, and they'd throw me in jail for not tellin' on him. So I just told them you were his daughter, far as I knew. They didn't press too hard. Jimmy didn't have a record or nothin' – and you said he was your father. It's why I took you in. I felt like I had to keep my eye on you for his sake, and for my own. And you've been a good girl. I expect you to keep on bein' a good girl. No more shit like you pulled tonight. Last thing I need is a kid endin' up dead on my watch.”

Over the next few months, Donnie would come over when Cheryl was at work. He was always nice to me. He always offered comfort. A caress, a brief touch, crumbs for the hungry little bird. Cheryl dumped him eventually, maybe sensing that he liked me a little too much. And I was relieved, recognizing that his attentions weren't entirely appropriate. But I'd learned something from Donnie. I'd learned that there was comfort to be had for a pretty girl. Physical comfort, comfort that might be fleeting but that would fill me up temporarily and take away my loneliness.

Joan of Arc said sacrificing who you are and living without belief was a fate worse than death. I had lived on hope for three years. Hope that Jimmy would come back for me. That night, hope died, as did my sense of self. I didn't sacrifice who I was, not exactly. It was ripped from me. Jimmy's little blackbird died a slow and painful death. In her place I built a gaudy, colorful, blue bird. A loud, obnoxious peacock with bright feathers, who dressed to call attention to her beauty at every moment, and craved affection. But it was all just a bright disguise.

Chapter Seven

Gloria Olivares, Manny and Gracie's mom, was never home. It wasn't because she was a bad mother. It wasn't because she didn't love her kids. It was because providing for them meant working non-stop. The woman was bone thin and 5'0 if she stood on her tiptoes, and day in, day out, she put in 18-hour days. She was a maid at the same hotel where Cheryl was a dealer, but she also worked as a housekeeper for a wealthier family in Boulder City. I didn't know if she was legally in the U.S. or if she had more family still in Mexico. She had a brother, Sal, who had supplied me with wood a time or two, but Manny and Gracie never spoke of a father, and there certainly wasn't money coming in from another source.

Gloria took her responsibility for her kids very seriously. They were clean, they were fed, and they were warm, but her options were limited, and she had had to leave them alone a lot. It wasn't as big a deal now that they were teenagers, but Manny said he had been babysitting Gracie since he was five years old. Maybe that was the reason Manny considered himself mama to his younger sister, even though they were only two years apart. Maybe that was the reason Graciela's transformation had Manny as jittery as a crack addict in need of a fix.

Gracie's insolence and attitude had Manny pacing the floor and demanding she come out of her room when I brought dinner over on Christmas Eve. Bev had sent home a little of everything from the cafe, and normally Manny would have been in heaven. But Gracie claimed she wasn't hungry and declared she didn't want to “eat with a slut.” Graciela had been downright nasty to me since Brandon had shown up at my house over a month before. Unfortunately, the less interest Brandon showed, the more aggressive and determined Gracie became.

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