Home > Open Season(3)

Open Season(3)
Author: Linda Howard

America was unbelievably huge, Carmela thought, for them to have traveled for days and still be a long way from Los Angeles!

But late at night on the second day, they finally stopped. When Mitchell opened the back of the camper and let them out, they could barely walk from having been cooped up for so long. He had parked in front of a long trailer, Carmela looked around, searching for anything that would indicate a city, but they still seemed to be far from any such thing. Stars twinkled overhead, and the night was alive with insect chirps and birdcalls. He unlocked the trailer door and led them inside, and all four girls sighed at the luxury. There was furniture, and the most amazing kitchen with appliances they had no idea how to work, and a bathroom such as they hadn’t imagined in their dreams. Mitchell told them they were all to take a bath, and he gave them each a loose, light-weight dress that was pulled on over the head. The dresses were theirs, he said.

They were amazed at such kindness, and thrilled by their new dresses. Carmela smoothed her hand over the fabric, which was smooth and light. Her dress was white with little red flowers all over it, and she thought it was beautiful.

They took baths in water that sprayed out of the wall, and used soap that smelled like perfume. There was special soap for their hair, liquid soap that foamed into mountains of suds. And brushes for their teeth! By the time Carmela left the bathroom, having waited until last because the other girls seemed at the end of their strength, she was cleaner than she had ever been in her life. She had been so enthralled by the richness of the soap that she had bathed twice, and washed her hair twice. Warm water stopped coming out of the spray—there was just cold water now—but she didn’t care. It felt so good to be clean again.

She was barefoot, and she had no underthings to wear because they were all so dirty, but she pulled on her clean new dress and twisted her damp hair into a knot at the back of her neck. Looking in the mirror, she saw a pretty girl with smooth brown skin, lustrous dark eyes, and a full red mouth, much different from the bedraggled creature who had looked back at her before.

The other girls were already asleep in the bedroom, snuggled under the covers, the air so cold that goose bumps raised on her arms. She went into the living room to tell Mitchell good night and thank him for all he had done for them. A television was on, and he was watching a game of American baseball. He looked up and smiled at her, and indicated two glasses filled with ice and a dark liquid, on the table beside him. “I fixed you something to drink,” he said, or that was what she thought he said because his Spanish really wasn’t very good. He picked up his own glass and sipped from it. “Coca-Cola.”

Ah, that she understood! She took the glass he indicated and drank down the cold, sweet, biting cola. She loved the way it felt on the back of her throat. Mitchell indicated she should sit, so she did, but on the other end of the sofa the way her mother had taught her. She was very tired, but she would sit with him for a few minutes to be polite, and in truth she was grateful to him. He was a nice man, she thought, and he had sweet, faintly sad brown eyes.

He gave her some salty nuts to eat, and suddenly that was just what she wanted, as if her body needed to replace the salt she had lost during the first part of the trip. Then she needed more Coca-Cola, and he got up and fixed another one for her. It felt strange, to have a man bringing things to her, but perhaps that was the way things were in America. Perhaps it was the men who waited on the women. If so, she only regretted she hadn’t come sooner!

Her fatigue grew greater. She yawned, then apologized to him, but he only laughed and said it was okay. She couldn’t keep her eyes open, or her head up. Several times her head bobbed forward and she would jerk it up, but then her neck muscles just wouldn’t work anymore and instead of lifting her head, she felt herself sliding sideways. Mitchell was there, helping her to lie down, settling her head on the cushion and stretching out her legs. He was still touching her legs, she thought dimly, and she tried to tell him to stop, but her tongue wouldn’t form the words. And he was touching her between her legs, where she had never let anyone touch her.

No, she thought.

And then the blackness came, and she thought no more.

ONE

"Daisy! Breakfast is ready!”

Her mother’s voice yodeled up the stairwell, the intonation exactly the same as it had been since Daisy was in first grade and had to be cajoled into getting out of bed.

Instead of getting up, Daisy Ann Minor continued to lie in bed, listening to the sound of steady rain pounding on the roof and dripping from the eaves. It was the morning of her thirty-fourth birthday, and she didn’t want to get up. A gray mood as dreary as the rain pressed down on her. She was thirty-four years old, and there was nothing about this particular day to which she looked forward with anticipation.

The rain wasn’t even a thunderstorm, which she enjoyed, with all the drama and sound effects. Nope, it was just rain, steady and miserable. The dreary day mirrored her mood. As she lay in bed watching the raindrops slide down her bedroom window, the unavoidable reality of her birthday settled on her like a wet quilt, heavy and clammy. She had been good all her life, and what had it gotten her? Nothing.

She had to face the facts, and they weren’t pretty.

She was thirty-four, had never been married, never even been engaged. She had never had a hot love affair—or even a tepid one. A brief fling in college, done mainly because everyone else was doing it and she hadn’t wanted to be an oddball, didn’t even qualify as a relationship. She lived with her mother and aunt, both widowed. The last date she’d had was on September 13, 1993, with Aunt Joella’s best friend’s nephew, Wally—because he hadn’t had a date since at least 1988. What a hot date that had been, the hopeless going on a mercy date with the pitiful. To her intense relief, he hadn’t even tried to kiss her. It had been the most boring evening of her life.

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