A Different Blue Page 8

“In fact,” Manny huffed, “I don't think any of Brandon's friends like me, either. And I am so nice!” Manny seemed genuinely befuddled.

“Do you think Brandon likes me, Manny?” Gracie pondered dreamily.

Manny and I ignored her. I decided it might be time to give Manny a little advice.

“I think maybe the guys are confused about how to treat you, Manny. You're a guy but you hang out exclusively with girls, you wear fingernail polish and eyeliner, and you carry a purse . . .”

“It's a slouchy bag!”

“Fine! How many guys carry slouchy bags in rainbow colors?”

“It's just a backpack with flare!”

“Okay. Fine. Forget the backpack. You openly remark on how hot this or that guy is . . . including freaking Wilson, yet in the very next breath you are flirting with the head cheerleader. Are you g*y? Are you straight? What?”

Manny seemed stunned that I would just come out and ask, and he stared at me with his mouth agape.

“I'm Manny!” Manny shot back, folding his arms. “That's what I am. I'm Manny! I don't know why I can't compliment a cute guy and a cute girl! Everybody needs positive reinforcement, Blue. It wouldn't hurt you to give some every once in a while!”

I banged my head against the steering wheel, frustrated by my obvious inability to communicate, wondering if maybe he was the only one in high school who wasn't afraid to be himself. Maybe it was the rest of us who needed to figure ourselves out.

“You're right, Manny. And believe me, I wouldn't change a hair on your head. I was just trying to explain why some people might have trouble relating.”

“You mean why some people might have trouble accepting,” Manny sulked, looking out his window.

“Yeah. That too,” I sighed and started up my truck. Manny forgave me about ten seconds into the ride and chattered the rest of the way home. Manny couldn't stay angry unless, of course, someone messed with Graciela. Then all reason left him and his mother joked that he became a raging chihuahua. I'd only seen it happen a few times, but it was enough to make me never want a chihuahua. Apparently, since I'd only pointed out his flaws, I was immediately forgiven and back in his good graces with barely a snarl.

When I got home the heat inside the apartment felt like the bowels of hell. It didn't smell very good either. Stale cigarettes and spilled beer mixed with 90 degree October heat wasn't a pleasant combination. The door to Cheryl's room was shut. I wondered at her ability to sleep in the heat and sighed as I emptied the ashtrays and wiped up the beer spilled on the coffee table. Cheryl obviously had company. A pair of men's jeans lay in a crumpled pile and Cheryl's black bra and work shirt were tossed alongside them. Nice. The sooner I got out of there, the better. I stripped my jeans off and pulled on a pair of cut-off sweats and a tank-top, pulling my hair up in a sloppy ponytail. Shoving my feet into flip-flops, I left the apartment ten minutes after I had arrived.

I rented a storage unit behind the complex for fifty bucks a month. It had lights and power, and it was my own little workshop. It had a couple of work tables fashioned from sawhorses and long sheets of plywood. I had a large dremel, various sizes of mallets and chisels, files and grinders, and an oscillating fan that moved the hot air and sawdust around in lazy circles. Projects in various stages, from a discard pile to completed pieces of twisting, gleaming art decorated the perimeter of the space. I had found a thick, gnarled branch of Mesquite on my travels the day before, and I was eager to see what it looked like under the layers of thorny bark that I had yet to strip off. Most people who worked with wood liked to use soft woods because they were easy to carve and whittle, easy to shape into their own creation. Nobody carved with mesquite or mountain mahogany or juniper. The wood was too hard. The ranchers out west considered mesquite a weed. You couldn't use a sharp knife to shape it, that was for sure. I had to use a big chisel and a mallet to strip off the bark. When the wood was laid bare, I would usually spend a great deal of time just looking at it before I did anything. I had learned that from Jimmy.

Jimmy Echohawk had been a quiet man, quiet to the point of not talking for days at a time. It was amazing that I had any language skills at all when I came to live with Cheryl. Thank you, PBS. When I was two years old, my mother – at least we assume it was her – left me in the front seat of his truck and drove away. I didn't remember my mother at all, beyond a vague memory of dark hair and a blue blanket. Jimmy was a Pawnee Indian and had very little that he called his own. He had an old pickup truck and a camp trailer that he pulled along behind it, and that's where we lived. We never stayed in one place for very long, and we never had company, except for each other. He said he had family on a reservation in Oklahoma, but I never met any of them. He taught me how to carve, and the skill had saved me, both financially, and emotionally, many times. I lost myself in it now, working until the early hours of morning when I knew Cheryl would be gone to work, along with her mystery man, and the apartment would be empty.

Chapter Three

“When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he knew what it would mean.” Mr. Wilson was looking at us all somberly, as if Julius Caesar was his homey and he had just crossed the Rubics Cube yesterday. I sighed and tossed back my hair, slouching even further into my seat.

“It was considered treason to bring a standing army into Italy proper. The senators in Rome were intimidated by Caesar's power and his popularity. They wanted to control him, see, and it was fine if he was winning battles for Rome, conquering the Celtic and Germanic tribes, but they didn't want him to become too rich or too popular, and that was exactly what was happening. Add to that Julius Caesar's own political ambitions, and you have a recipe for disaster . . . or the very least, civil war.”

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