Gerard enjoys the surprise Ayasha created just for him.
“Wow.” He whispered. “Just...wow.”
She was watching his reaction closely as he grew nearer.
He looked up at the small twinkling lights. “I didn’t think there was electricity up here.”
She giggled, “Battery operated lights. Supposed to look like fireflies.”
“They do.” He nodded as his eyes fell to the fire.
She explained quickly feeling slightly silly. “I just heard in your voice this morning how you have such great memories of camping so I wanted…”
“You wanted to give me a camping experience.” He said softly. “This is great.” The ‘campfire’ was actually a small grill she’d filled with twigs then lit.
“See?” She pointed. “I set the grill on bricks. Good thing no one can see in because I’m sure they’d think my attic was on fire.”
He continued to look around the attic. Not only were there strings of “firefly’ lights, she had a small child’s pretend lantern and sleeping bags near the ‘campfire’. She’s also stacked more small kindling for the fire nearby. From where he stood, with the doors open wide to expose the night sky it truly resembled a campsite. “Ayasha, this is incredible.”
“Well, it was the best I could do.” She said softly. “Since you can’t go outside, I wanted to bring the outside in to you.”
“And you have.” He was deeply touched by her efforts. “I fuckin’ love this.”
She smiled as some of her nervousness wore off. She’d been so afraid he’d look at all of this and think she’d lost her mind.
“We have our own campfire…” he suddenly grew silent a moment. “Is that coming from outside?” He asked realizing he was hearing what sounded like a babbling brook.
She giggled then pointed to a CD player. “Sounds of the great outdoors. It’s on continues loop. A stream complete with critters of the night.”
“I love it.” He smiled. “This really is like being outdoors. Just look at the stars.” He said in awe finally noticing the sky beyond the doors.
“I was afraid earlier it was going to be a stormy night but the weather cleared up.”
“I don’t know how to thank you for this.” He said turning to look at her.
She smiled, “I just wanted you to be happy.”
It was so hard not to pull her into his arms. “I am happy.” He whispered. “Very happy.”
She nodded, “Good. So I was thinking we could have a camp out. I mean I don’t have to work tomorrow so we can stay up late around our campfire. Uh, we can even sleep up here.” She pointed to the sleeping bags.
Gerard grinned, “I like that idea.” He bent down. “Good, I see these can be zipped together.”
Even though she’d been sleeping almost every night with the man the idea of zipping the bags together caused her heart to race. “Uh, yes. They do.” She was feeling nervous again. “I need to add more wood.” She actually needed to do something with her hands that were shaking.
Gerard lowered himself onto one of the sleeping bags near the fire. “You even have marshmallows.” He said catching sight of the bag.
She sighed, “I know you won’t eat one but it still seemed wrong to have a campfire without them.”
He watched as she threw a few more stick into the fire. “I’ll roast them for you.” His voice lowered, “And I really like the idea of watching you eat them.”
Ayasha giggled, “You just want to see me with a gooey mess on my face.”
“I’d like to lick that gooey mess off your lips.” He said unable to stop himself.
Her eyes grew wide.
Gerard smiled, “Come. Sit by me.”
She lowered herself down, sitting in a crossed leg position. Immediately she began to part her hair and as Gerard watched she skillfully braided it securing each end with coated rubber bands taken from her wrist. When she was done she looked over to see he was smiling. “What?”
He shook his head, “Uh, nothing.”
“Oh.” She said realizing the reason for his smile. “Yes, the Indian is sitting Indian style.”
He hoped she wasn’t offended. “No, you’re sitting Native American style. And to be honest I’m really smiling because I like to watch you braid your hair. You do it so quickly.”
“Years of practice.”
“Your hair is beautiful.” He longed to touch it, to feel it.
She sighed, “It used to be a lot longer but I didn’t start growing it out again until a few years ago.”
“It was short?” He tilted is head trying to imagine her with short hair.
Ayasha spoke while looking into the fire. “I chopped it all off when I ran away. Kept it short for a long time.”
He believed he understood why, “You were running away from everything including yourself.”
She gave him a shocked look. Slowly she spoke. “I suppose that’s true. I just felt like I wasn’t part of any world, not Cherokee, not white.”
“Do you want to talk about the years between leaving the reservation and ending up here?” He asked watching her closely trying to gauge her body language.
“No.” She answered immediately but then suddenly she seemed to change her mind. “I spent a lot of years drifting from place to place, figured that’s how I’d spend my whole life. I did a lot of stupid things, got into trouble. When things got too bad, I’d move on. Three years ago when I came to Colorado I never intended to stay here.”
Gerard could tell by watching her she was remembering her past. “Why did you?”
“Maybe I was just tired of running.” She whispered. For several minutes she went back to staring at the fire. “I was walking around downtown here in Old Colorado City. I’d been staying down in Manitou but the night before the police had run me off. I’d been sleeping in the park and they realized I was a vagrant. Anyway, I walked by this antique store and spotting something in the window that made me stop. It was a beautiful turquoise squash blossom necklace.” She shook her head, “I mean I still don’t know why that necklace caught my attention. It’s beautiful but Native American jewelry is so popular here you see it everywhere.”
“But that one caught your eye?”
She nodded, “Oh yes. Before I could rethink my decision I went into the shop to take a closer look. But as soon as I did the woman who was working there rushed over. I’m sure she figured I was going to steal something.”
Ayasha smiled sadly, “Gerard, I was a vagrant. I looked bad and I knew it. Hell, I hadn’t showered in days. I honestly don’t blame her for thinking that. I explained I just wanted to look at the necklace because I thought it was so beautiful. So she agreed but kept a close eye on me.”
Again she grew silent and he knew she was recalling that day. “So what happened?” He finally asked.
“I was about to leave when the owner of the store walked over. He’d been watching. He started telling me about the necklace and the Navaho woman who’d created it. I started to feel bad because it sounded like he actually thought I might be interested in buying it which of course I couldn’t. I thanked him and started to leave when he asked me if I was interested in a job. At first I said no. I mean I couldn’t imagine anyone actually asking me if I wanted a job. I certainly didn’t look like someone you’d hire. I told him I was just passing through. But he didn’t give up. Then I grew almost angry. I thought he had something else in mind.” Suddenly her mouth snapped shut.
Gerard spoke softly, “Because you’d dealt with a lot of men like that.”
This was something she couldn’t discuss. “But when I started to leave again he surprised me by telling me he was sure I was part Cherokee. I was so shocked. No one before had ever guessed my heritage. The woman who was working at the store had moved away leaving us alone. I mean I just stood there staring at him. I don’t know I guess there was just something in his eyes that made me want to trust him. So when he told me it was almost time for the store to close and again said he’d like to discuss giving me a job over dinner I agreed.” She sighed, “And I was really hungry.”
“I’m guessing that man is who you work for now?”
Ayasha nodded, “Yes, that was Tom. We had dinner in a little restaurant just down the block from the store. He never asked me about my past. He just explained that he was going to be needing someone in the store because the woman I’d seen earlier was quitting. I did explain to him I had no experience working in a store but he said that didn’t matter, that I’d learn. God, I wanted to accept his offer and to be honest that shocked me. I’d convinced myself I’d be a drifter until I died and there I was wanting to stay and have an actual job.”
“And you did.”
“I almost didn’t. I thanked him again but told him he should find someone else. I wasn’t who he was looking for.”
“But he didn’t agree.”
“No, Tom didn’t agree. He told me he’d lived his life trusting his gut instinct. And that instinct was telling him I was the right person. I guess I was so shocked that a complete stranger was willing to trust me I didn’t know how to react. Still I wanted to be honest with him. I told him I didn’t have any place to stay. I didn’t even have a form of identification. No one in their right mind would give me a job.”
“How’d he take that?”
She laughed, “I really wish you could meet Tom. Once he gets something in his head…after dinner he took me back to the shop and showed me a little apartment that was over the business. He told me I could stay there. Then he told me in the morning he’d take me to the Social Security office and get me my card so I’d have ID.” She paused, “And then he left saying he’d see me bright and early in the morning.”
Gerard reached out to touch her arm. “And you didn’t run.”
Again she was shocked he understood. “No, I didn’t run. For the first time in my life I didn’t run. I remember standing there in that little apartment for the longest time after he left feeling so confused. I didn’t want to trust his kindness but damn it, I wanted to trust. It was overwhelming. Finally I decided I’d take a shower, get some sleep and I told myself I’d be gone before he got there in the morning.”
Gerard smiled, “But you were there in the morning.”
She sighed, “Yes, I was there. Dressed in the best outfit I owned, which wasn’t much, waiting. Tom got me my ID then we came back to the shop and he put me to work. He even gave me my first weeks pay in advance so I could buy myself some new clothes.” She smiled, “Well, not new clothes exactly. I bought them at a thrift store but they were new to me.”
“You see?” Gerard said softly, “Trusting him was the right thing to do.”
“Yes, it was. And I’ve tried my best to be a good employee for him. I do that in appreciation for all he’s done for me. But now…” She shook her head. “Now, my past is catching up with me.”
“Because you’re afraid Kyle will tell Tom what he knows.”
She nodded, “Tom has been the closest thing to a father I’ve ever known. The things I’ve done… I am ashamed. And I never want to see the disappointment I’d see in Tom’s eyes if he knew.”
“Ayasha, from what you’ve told me I think you’re wrong. Just think about it, Tom never asked you about your past and I think that’s because to him it doesn’t matter. His gut told him to trust you and it was right.”
She suddenly sat up straighter. “Hey, we’re supposed to be having fun, not being serious.”
As happy as he was she had been opening up about her past he nodded, “Yep, you’re right. But one more question. What about the necklace?”
She giggled, “Oh, the necklace. It’s still in the shop. It’s so beautiful and I got to wear it the other day. There was this woman who came in to look at it. I was so glad she didn’t buy it. She didn’t appreciate its beauty. Anyway after she left Tom put it on me and told me to wear it so customers could see how beautiful it is.”
“I bet it looked beautiful because it was around your neck.” He said softly.
Ayasha laughed, “It would look beautiful around anyone’s neck.”
He loved her laugh, “Even mine?”
“Oh yes.” She giggled, “I can just imagine that. Let’s see though we’d have to braid your hair, make you look like a Brave.”
“Uh, don’t think I could pass as a Native American.” He grinned.
She titled her head to study him. “Actually with that black hair you’d look like those models they try to pass off as Native American’s on the covers of romance novels.”
“You’re saying if I had long braids I could be on a romance cover?’
It felt so good to be happy Ayasha nodded, “Oh yes. Let’s be honest most of those covers have men who definitely aren’t Native Americans. But they put them in a loin cloth, bare their chests and put their hair in braids. Then suddenly they are Native American Braves out to sweep the white woman off her feet.”
He scooted a bit closer, “So if I was on a cover would I be able to sweep you off your feet?”
Suddenly her smile faded, “I’m not a white woman. I’m not Native American.”
“Ayasha, you are both. I don’t understand why you struggle so much with this.”
“Because I feel I don’t belong to either world.’ She admitted the added in a whisperer. “And I just want to feel like I belong somewhere.”
He wanted desperately to understand. “I think you try to fit in more with the Cherokee part.”
She nodded, “Yes, because of grandmother and because I know nothing of my father.”
“But you know for sure he was white?” He asked wondering once again how she knew that because by looking at her she appeared all Native American.
She glanced away. “Yes, I know for sure.”
Still he persisted. “Because your mother said he was?”
“Damn it.” She muttered. “Why can’t we just have a conversation about nothing? Why does it keep getting serious?”
He just wanted to see her smile again. “Okay, I agree. This is a campout, damn it. We’re here for the fun. No more serious discussions. But I do want to ask a favor.
She turned to him. “What?”
“Well, when we went camping we’d tell stories around the campfire. I always wanted to tell ghost stories but Ma wouldn’t let me because I’d scary Mikey.” Saying his brother’s name immediately brought a look on sadness to his face.
Ayasha understood so she spoke quickly. “So what kind of stories did you tell?”
He leaned back on his arms trying to remember those wonderful times. “Well Grandma told one that me and Mikey both loved. It was actually a story from a book but there was something about her telling it from memory that made it better.”
“So tell me.” Asha smiled.
Gerard shook his head. “It’s just a stupid kid’s story.” Again he looked so sad. “I should have read to book to Bandit. I don’t know why I didn’t find a copy of it.”
“Hey, you’ll still do that.” She said softly reaching out to touch his cheek gently. “But for now you’ll have to tell me the story from memory.”
He sighed, “Are you sure?”
“Very sure.” She too leaned back on her arms to get comfortable.
“Okay but only if you promise you’ll tell me a story your grandma told you, cause I’m sure she told you lots of stories.”
Ayasha nodded slowly. “Yes, Cherokee stories. And okay, I will but you first.”
Gerard thought a moment then started. “Once there was a big round cook who lived with a long thin cat.” When he saw Ayasha smile he laughed, “Hey, I didn’t write this and to be honest I always thought that cook obviously should have shared more food with the cat too.”
She nodded. “Agreed.”
“Anyway, one morning the big round cook made a pancake while the long thin cat watched. As it was sizzling in the pan it smelled so good that some hungry boys who were playing down the road ran in to watch. They were all standing around watching the pancake as it cooked when suddenly the big, round pancake gave a little hop, then a little jump. It landed on the floor and began to roll.” He paused. “Uh, the pancake had a face. The illustrations in the book were really pretty cute.”
Ayasha loved the sound of his voice as he was telling the story. “Go on.”
Gerard found himself suddenly happy to continue. “Stop, Pancake, stop cried the big round cook. But the pancake rolled through the doorway and out into the street with everyone chasing it.” He grinned, “But the thin cat just stayed behind licking the batter out of the bowl.”
“Bet that was a cute illustration.” Ayasha guessed.
He nodded, “Yeah. So anyway down the street the pancake rolled until it met an old woman.” Much to Ayasha’s surprise he suddenly spoke in a high pitched voice to mimic the old woman. “Stop, pancake, stop.”
Gerard smiled once again in his own voice he continued. “Oh, no said the pancake. The big round cook and the six hungry boys can’t stop me and you can’t stop me.”
“Sassy pancake.” Ayasha said getting into the story.
He nodded. “So the pancake kept rolling. Pretty soon it came upon a mother hen and her seven hungry baby chicks.”
“Wow, everyone in this story is hungry.”
Gerard grinned. “Yep.” Again he used another voice for the mother hen. “Stop, pancake stop.” Then changing back to his regular voice he continued. “Oh no said the pancake. The big round cook and the six hungry boys can’t stop me. The old woman can’t stop me and you can’t stop me.” He paused. “Shit, I can’t believe I still remember this story so well.”
“That’s because it’s a good memory from childhood.” Ayasha said softly. “But keep going, please. I have to know what happens to that pancake.”
“Okay well at his point we have the big round cook, the six hungry boys, the old woman, the mother hen and her seven hungry chicks all chasing the pancake. Soon the pancake met a pig.”
“Oh, no.” Ayasha worried. “This can’t be good.”
Gerard laughed. Using yet another voice for the pig he continued. “Well, well, friend pancake. Why do you roll so fast on this warm day?” In his normal voice he said the pancakes lines. “Can’t you see? A big round cook, six hungry boys, an old lady, a hen and her seven hungry chicks are chasing me. They want to eat me.”
Ayasha giggled, “A dilemma for sure.”
He nodded then continued in the voice he’d given the pig. “They do? Well I’ll help you get away. Keep rolling and I’ll run along beside you.”
“Oh, no. The pancake was trusting the pig?”
Gerard nodded. “Before long they came across a wide river. What shall we do, asked the pancake. I can’t swim.”
“Poor pancake.” Ayasha sighed.
In the pig’s voice Gerard continued, “Don’t worry. I can swim. Just hop on my nose and I will take care of you.”
Ayasha shook her head. “Not good.”
“Oh thank you said the pancake. And up on the pig’s nose he jumped. The pig gave a happy little grunt. Then he opened his mouth very, very wide.”
“Oh no.” Ayasha whispered.
Gerard paused with a very happy grin. “This was me and Mikey’s favorite part.” He waited a moment then finished his story. “Snap, Snap, gobble, gobble. And that was the end of the runaway pancake.”
Ayasha clapped her hands. “Oh, what a cute story. I can see why you guys loved it.”
“Well, not such a great story for the pancake. But the illustrations in the book make it better, I think.”
“Now I really want to find a copy of that book.” Ayasha admitted.
Gerard laughed, “I’ve made you want to read a kids book.”
“You have.” She smiled.
“Okay, now it’s your turn.” He stood. “But first I have to add more wood to our campfire.
Ayasha watched as he threw more sticks into the fire. When he was done he sat back down. “Okay, tell me a story.”
She thought a moment. “Okay this is a Cherokee legend grandmother told me when I was very young.” She began telling the story in the Cherokee language. Much to her surprise Gerard didn’t complain. “Hey, you’re supposed to tell me to speak in English.”
He smiled “But I love to hear you speak in Cherokee. It’s a beautiful language. I love the way it rolls off your tongue.”
As much as his words warmed her heart she shook her head. “Maybe but you don’t understand it. So here is the story in English. It is about a spider and the sun.” She took a deep breath. “In the beginning of time there was only darkness and people kept running into each other. Fox said that people on the other side of the world had plenty of light but were too greedy to share it. Possum went over there to steal a little piece of the light. He found the Sun hanging in a tree, lighting everything up. So he took a very tiny piece of the Sun and hid it in the fur of his tail. The heat burned the fur off his tail. That is why possums have bald tails. Buzzard tried next. He tried to hide a piece of the Sun in his feathers of his head. But the sun burned those feathers. That is why buzzards have bald heads. Grandmother Spider tried next. She made a clay bowl. Then she spun a web.” Ayasha paused to explain. “The web was the Milky Way” When Gerard nodded she continued. “The web stretched across the sky reaching the other side of the world. She snatched up the whole sun in the clay bowl and took it back to our side of the world.”
Gerard thought a minute after she’d stopped speaking then said. “I love how the Cherokee incorporate the animals of our world into their stories. I really want to remember this story. I want to share it with Bandit.”
Ayasha was pleased. “I think it would be wonderful for you to tell the story to Bandit. The Cherokee people have great respect for our earth. Respect that I think sadly has been lost.”
“I agree.” He said softly looking into her eyes. “But why do you say the Cherokee people, why don’t you say, my people?” When she glanced down he added, “Ayasha they are your people. You are Cherokee, you should be proud of that.”
“I am half Cherokee.” She whispered.
“The best half, I think.” Fearing she would be upset if the conversation became too personal he leaned over and grabbed the bag of marshmallows. “And now it’s time for roasting.”
She was glad he’d changed the subject. “You need a long stick.” She stood and went over to the pile of twigs. “This one.” She said choosing a long thin branch.
“Perfect.” Gerard took it from her. “Okay now to get it ready.” He placed the tip in the fire. Once the bark was burned away he opened the bag and placed a marshmallow on the end.
Ayasha watched with a smile on her face. Gerard seemed happy and that was all that was important to her.
As he held the stick over the fire he spoke without looking at her. “This is the best damn campout I’ve ever been on.”
“I’m not sure if best is right but the most unique should sum it up.”
Gerard nodded, “Yeah, okay, unique. If someone had told me I’d be trapped between life and death enjoying an inside campout I’d have said they were fuckin’ insane. But that’s what I’m doing.” He glanced over at her. “Enjoying it with a woman who’s touched my heart.”
As much as her mind told her not to admit the truth her heart would not be silenced, “I feel the same way. You’ve touched my heart.” She said softly.
Gerard smiled as he turned his attention back to the roasting marshmallow. “Okay, it’s done I think.” He lifted the stick from above the fire then extended it toward her. “Be careful, it’s hot.”
Ayasha carefully slid the treat off the stick.
Gerard watched as she took a small bite.
“Yum.” She took another small bite. “This is perfect.”
His eyes grew wide watching her slip the remainder of the marshmallow between her lips. As he’d hoped a bit of the sticky substance remained. Setting the stick down he then moved closer to her. “Now for my treat.” He whispered.
Ayasha held her breath as his lips neared hers. When his tongue darted out to lick the marshmallow off her lips she couldn’t silence the soft moan.
That moan was music to his ears. Pulling her into his arms he continued to run his tongue over her lips wishing with every fiber of his being he could taste their sweetness while reminding himself the night was still young.