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Part Four

(Part One), (Part Two), (Part Three), (Part Five),

(Part Six), (Part Seven), (Part Eight), (Part Nine), (Part Ten),

(Part Eleven), (Part Twelve)

Ginny Good, A Mostly True Story:

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Chapter Fourteen

The bubbles had mostly turned to nothing but dirty dishwater by the time she finished rinsing the last of the silverware and putting it into the dishwasher to dry. Giselle felt cool air evaporating the moisture between her legs. She hooked the big toe of her right foot into the crotch of her pajama bottoms, scooped them off the linoleum, flipped them up, grabbed them out of the air, shook them out and put them back on again. The white flannel was soft against her skin. She felt all warm and fuzzy and loved, somehow, inside and out. She felt at home, like she knew who she was once and for all—not her father's little girl, not her mother's burden, not anyone's wife or child or teacher or student. She was Giselle and Giselle only and only Giselle. Wow. She didn't know how to think of it any more clearly than that.

It was a feeling she'd had intimations of on and off since...oh my gosh...since forever, the feeling she got sometimes walking into her grandmother's house or into her parents' house...her house, the house she'd lived in since she was born, the house she'd grown up in. She felt safe, protected, familiar, at ease, like she belonged there. Nobody had to like each other or love each other, they belonged to each other, plain and simple. Nothing bad could happen. Her father wouldn't let anything bad happen. He'd been in the United States Marines. Giselle sang the song in her head:

"From the halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli,
We will fight our country's battles,
In the air on land and sea."

He had a "Semper Fi" tattoo on his right arm, the globe, the anchor, the whole shebang. It was his home. His castle. He was the king. Her mother was his queen. Giselle was his princess. His castle had been unassailable—there were moats and drawbridges and a 12-gauge shotgun in the hall closet—and now, like magic, Giselle had her own castle. She was the king and the queen and the princess all at once. It had nothing to do with anyone but her. She was on her own, by herself, content—with the man of her dreams waiting for her to come to bed.

As she was watching the last of the water swirl down the drain, Giselle found herself almost laughing out loud. She'd washed dishes. Ha! Her kitchen sink sparkled! She squeezed out the last of the water from the sponge, wiped the counter, tossed the sponge behind the faucet, felt tears come to her eyes and put a clenched fist up to her lips to keep from making an idiot of herself, to keep from squealing with peals of glee—anyone whose head had always hurt and didn't anymore would have understood. Her mother might still hate her, her father might still go to his grave too scared of his wife's shadow to show his only kid any affection, her ex-husband might be doing whatever he was doing with Gloria Weitzman, bin Laden and the warriors of Islam might be slamming into buildings, blowing up pipelines, polluting water, making anthrax by the boatload, whatever, but it wasn't her fault. Nothing was her fault.

"...Come up to bed when you're done, my love."

His words sang in her ears, in her heart, through her whole self. She'd had fun making dinner. She'd had fun doing the dishes. Wow. Had she ever. Yikes!

"My love."

She was his love. He was hers. They were each other's. How it had happened, she did not know and did not care. It was the happiest day ever in her life.

Giselle brushed her teeth. Then she flossed and brushed her teeth again and rinsed her mouth with warm water. She was taking her total time. She looked into the mirror. She wasn't wearing make-up; nothing, no lipstick—a little eyeliner left over from the day before, that was it. She was glad she wasn't wearing make-up. She was who she was?like Popeye. Ha! She bent over the sink, then flung her head back and her hair hung down in bouncy ringlets around her big mischievous eyes, her tiny nose, her small mouth. She gritted her teeth and scrunched up her forehead and tried to look ugly, but couldn't. She was pretty. She couldn't look ugly if she tried.

She turned out the bathroom light and went into her bedroom, still wearing the white flannel pajamas that smelled like cedar. Standing by the foot of her big oak bed, Giselle felt ceremonial, somehow, like she was about to cross a threshold she'd never crossed before. All the little girl dreams she'd had of a wedding night, of a honeymoon—something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue—came bubbling up inside her. It felt like the marriage ceremony had already taken place in front of the kitchen sink, and now they were on their honeymoon. Yeah, it was probably a little ass-backwards, but Giselle didn't care. Little girl dreams of a white wedding dress and rice came to her from God only knew where?dearly beloved, tossing the bridal bouquet, hoping Mimi Crenshaw was there to catch it, speeding off with tin cans tied to the back of the car, a cedar hope chest, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

"I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall love thee better after death."

She wanted to savor the moments, to let them soak into her so she could remember them the rest of her life, so she could remember them forever. How shy she felt, all of a sudden! That was absurd, of course. Hadn't the guy already come up behind her, pulled off her pants, bent her over the kitchen sink and fucked the fuck out of her? What was there to be shy about now? She wasn't sure, but she was shy all the same. There was no moon. The moon must have been behind a cloud. There was a hint of moonlight but no moon. What stars she could see through the big bay window didn't make a dent in the dark night of winter in northern Illinois.

Giselle Winters then began unbuttoning the top of her flannel pajamas. She touched her gold cross on its light, almost gossamer, gold chain. She felt the cross flutter against the indentation between her clavicles and unbuttoned the first few buttons. Her hands were inept. She could simply have pulled the pajamas off over her head but chose not to do that. She unbuttoned the buttons one at a time until there were no more buttons left to unbutton. Abraham was nothing more than a black shadow among black shadows, but she felt like he was watching her. His eyes had no doubt become more accustomed to the dark than hers. He'd been up there awhile, waiting for her. He hadn't said anything. She hadn't said anything.

She removed the top of her pajamas, folded it neatly and laid it over the back of the chair in front of her mirrored vanity table. The moon came, then, out from behind a cloud and the room was bathed in dim, reflected light from the sun shining on the other side of the world. She was nervous and self-conscious and embarrassed, but glad, too, all at the same time. She wanted him to see her naked in the moonlight. She knew she was pretty; she knew she had nice tits and a long, lithe, supple body from the top of her head clear down to the tips of her toes. As she was taking off her pajama bottoms, her foot got caught in one of the legs and she had to hop around on one foot to avoid falling flat on her ass, but imagined Abraham was probably smiling the whole time. When she finally got them off without falling, Giselle tossed her pajama bottoms onto the back of the chair and crept under the covers.

Abraham was naked. She was naked. They didn't talk, they touched. That was it. Touched and touched. Tentatively. Less tentatively. He was shy, too. It was as new to him as it was to her. They were as new to each other, as shy and shaky with one another, as they were to each other, as they were with each other. Reciprocity was the key. They were as reciprocal as two people could be. He kissed her cheek, a little peck here and there. He kissed her forehead, kissed her chin, her throat, touched the gold cross around her neck with the tip his tongue. She kissed his hair. They held each other. Touched each other everywhere. Felt each other. Fucked a little. Kissed and fucked and touched each other some more, touched and kissed and fucked and didn't fuck and listened to each other and touched each other and didn't talk.

She found herself on top of him. She arched her back and felt the bones in her pelvis pop. She threw her thick hair backwards and forwards. Her hair hung down around their faces. They kissed each other with their tongues and with their teeth under a cascade of her curly, mahogany hair while she fucked him and he fucked her. It went on and on, slowly, less slowly, however they wanted, whatever they wanted. She found herself beneath him, beside him, in front of him. She felt herself come all over him; once when she least expected it, almost right away, then again with his head between her legs and once more when they weren't doing much more than just laying there together, barely even touching each other. She let out a little moan. Her eyes got big. She didn't know how the heck that happened, either.

Abraham only came once, while he had her on her hands and knees. He was kissing her shoulders, biting the back of her neck, squeezing her tits, pinching her nipples, moving his hands everywhere, holding her by her narrow hips, pulling her onto him and onto him and onto him, over and over and over...and, oh my gosh, did he ever come when he came. Once he started, Giselle didn't think he was going to stop. She felt him gush into her, felt him and felt him, again and again, while he moaned and made noises she'd never heard while she was moaning and making noises she'd never heard. She couldn't help it. He couldn't help it.

If ever she was going to get knocked up, she was going to get knocked up then. She wanted his kid in her. That was what it felt like they were doing, that he was making them a child and she was letting him, like that was what they both wanted. Giselle had never in her wildest dreams felt anything like what he was doing with her. She couldn't have described it in a million years. Making love? Whoa. Yes. It was more than that, though, it was like what they were doing had some greater purpose, like they were intentionally making something new in her, starting from scratch, creating a new kid on the block, making a child. Their love child. Ha!

He did stop coming eventually, of course, and eventually he rolled over onto his back and Giselle snuggled her head onto his shoulder and squirmed her arms and legs and belly and chest along the side of his body until they fit together perfectly. Then she pulled the cotton sheet and the comforter over them, first with her foot, then with her hand, and finally said the only word she'd said since she'd gotten into bed.

"Wow," she said.

"You can say that again." Abraham kissed the top of her head.

"Wow," Giselle said again.

Abraham kissed the top of her head again. That was it. She conked.

Chapter Fifteen

She's in a jungle. It's hot. It's humid. She's hiding under fronds of jungle ferns and the broad waxy leaves of philodendrons. Howler monkeys and macaws are whooping it up in the canopy of palm trees and thick vines. Soldiers are after her. She's barely breathing. Her heart's beating like crazy. She sees the boots and shoes and sometimes sandals of the soldiers slogging through the moist black dirt path that winds through the jungle. The soldiers are carrying bolt-action rifles and speaking Arabic. There are belts of long bullets crisscrossing the shirts of their makeshift uniforms. Some are more ragged than others. They look like Mujahideen, grizzled, dark, angular; like Taliban, like al-Quida. They keep jogging past, talking among themselves as they slog along. What they're talking about is her. How they want to find her. Why she can understand Arabic is a mystery.

After the soldiers are completely out of sight, a man with shoulder-length blond hair, soft, bright, eerie blue eyes and an amber beard ambles slowly past where she's still hiding. He's wearing a shimmering white robe. The tips of his first two fingers are touched to the tips of his thumbs as if he's holding an invisible cup of tea in each hand, as if he's blessing things along either side of the path as he walks through the jungle. He looks like he's supposed to be Jesus. He's beautiful, too beautiful, too good to be true, almost a caricature—the sort of Jesus she might have seen on the cover of a Watchtower Magazine. His feet are bare. He has a suntan. His mouth is slightly open. Moist black dirt oozes between his toes.

The monkeys and the macaws stop all their howling and squawking when the long-haired, blond, blue-eyed man walks by. The whole jungle shuts up. There's no sound but the soft squishing of his bare feet in moist dirt. He has wildflowers in his hair; daisies and bachelor buttons. She feels an urge to follow him but hears faint, jingling noises coming from the same direction he came from and stays hidden.

The jingling sound is coming from strings of bells around the neck and around the ankles of an extraordinarily pregnant black woman dancing naked toward Giser down the fertile black path. The woman's so pregnant her belly's about to burst. Her breasts are swollen. Her breasts jiggle up and down and from side to side as she dances closer and closer to where Gazelle's hiding. She looks familiar, somehow—like Oprah Winfrey, maybe, if Oprah Winfrey ever managed to get herself naked and pregnant and danced down a path in a jungle. The black woman jiggles and jingles as she dances past, then keeps on dancing and jingling and jiggling, down the black dirt.

Giselle comes out from the philodendrons then, and follows behind the woman at a discreet distance. The woman comes to the edge of a beautiful blue lagoon surrounded with juicy ferns and dripping orchids, then, without missing a beat, she dances right on out into the water. When it gets too deep, she begins to swim. She swims as if she were still dancing. When she gets halfway across, she stops swimming and lets her momentum carry her toward the opposite shore. The water becomes glassy, placid, still again.

Then, erupting silently up from the depths of the calm lagoon, a bright blue fish leaps into the air and bites the pregnant woman into two pieces with the sharp shark-like teeth in its jaw and the woman sinks into a frothy whirlpool of bubbles and blood. The woman doesn't make a sound. A small green fish leaps from the gore that was the pregnant woman's swollen belly and follows behind the blue fish and the blue fish and the baby green fish swim away together, diving and surfacing again, in and out of the clear water, like dolphins...

Chapter Sixteen

The dream woke her up just before dawn. Giselle opened her eyes long enough to prove to herself that she had been dreaming and that she was no longer dreaming, long enough to notice the darkness of the gray sky before dawn, but not long enough to notice anything else. She went back to sleep.

The next thing Giselle knew Abraham was gone and it was a clear, bright, sunny Sunday morning. She heard the shower massage going full blast in the bathroom. She smelled coffee cooking. She stretched. She pulled the sheet and the comforter up to her chin. She yawned. She wiggled her toes and felt a film of dried-up come between her thighs. She smiled. She wanted to kiss herself on the mouth, but that was impossible, of course, so she hugged her arms around the comforter and squeezed it as hard as she could, instead.

The water stopped running. Then she heard the shower door slide open, heard Abraham's bare feet on the bathroom floor, pictured him drying himself. Then she heard him brushing his teeth with her toothbrush. It had to have been her toothbrush; he didn't seem to have brought a lot of luggage with him. As best she could make out, he'd showed up naked as a jaybird, then had put on the Levi's and sweatshirt she'd tossed into the laundry room. She didn't let anyone use her toothbrush. She'd never let anyone use her toothbrush. She hated the idea of someone else using her toothbrush. Ew. Cooties. Things had changed. Abraham could do whatever the fuck he wanted to do—with her, with her toothbrush, with all that she had—anything.

"That was then. This is now." Ha! She remembered Ray Blovits saying that—the kid Darrell kept claiming gave him so much trouble.

"Mrs. Winters, Ray is undressing me with his eyes."

Crack me up, Giselle thought.

"Mrs. Winters, Ray is staring directly at my testicles."

She'd always had something of a schoolgirl crush on Ray Blovits. He was a quick-witted, quasi-Leonardo DiCaprio kind of kid, as unpredictable and charming and smart as he was incorrigible. Giselle made fun of him to show him she had a crush on him. She called him Rayon and Ray Gun and Sting Ray and Death Ray and Cosmic Ray and Raylene and, "My little ray of sunshine."

When he wasn't mercilessly teasing poor, durable Darrell, Ray was usually zonked out in his chair. Well, it depended what drugs he'd been doing; on speed he teased Darrell and flirted with cheerleaders to piss off the jocks, when he'd smoked too much dope he put his head down on his desk and fell fast asleep and when he was drunk he generally didn't show up at all.

Giselle had had to sit in on a meeting with him, his mother, Mrs. Blovits (whose first name was Diane, but Giselle somehow couldn't get used to thinking of her as anyone but Mrs. Blovits), and Sally Turnbull, the diminutive, blond, blue-eyed, newly-married ditz of the known universe and beyond, a.k.a. the school's sorry excuse for a guidance counselor.

"Your mother has signed an authorization for us to take urine samples and to have them tested for drugs and alcohol at our discretion." Sally seemed quite taken with herself that she'd used the word "discretion" in a complete sentence, that she knew what it meant and that she'd pronounced it right, too. How she got to be a guidance counselor, Giselle never knew.

"Give me all the pee tests you want," Ray had said, spitting the words out. "I aced every pee test I ever took."

"It's Algebra tests you have trouble with," Giselle had said.

"That was then. This is now," Ray said."

"So, you gonna pass the next one?" Giselle asked.

"What am I, some fortune teller?" Ray shot her a sullen smile.

The trouble with Sally was that she was convinced Ray had an attention deficit disorder. The trouble with Sally was that she was stupid.

Ray was picking imaginary lint off his ripped up pink Harvard sweatshirt and squirming in his chair—obviously as a result of the methamphetamine surging through the adolescent capillaries in his brain. Giselle and his mother knew the kid just did too many drugs. Sally didn't agree, but went along with the idea of random testing because Giselle and Ray's mother had already talked to Big Dog. The meeting was a formality. Sally was always the last to know what her meetings were about.

She'd done her master's thesis on some obscure aspect of attention deficit disorders and thought all the kids had ADD. She had no idea she just bored the living crap out of them. Giselle knew. Ray knew. Ray's mother knew. Big Dog knew. The four of them had been through all this...several times. They understood each other. They trusted each other. Giselle and Mrs. Blovits exchanged a quick, conspiratorial glance. He was a handful, sure, but neither Giselle nor his mother wanted him any other way.

"I have the authorization on file," Sally said. "It may be exercised when any of your teachers suspect you've taken drugs or alcohol. Is that understood?"

"Drugs or alcohol? Or drugs and alcohol?" Ray asked.

Giselle cracked up. The counselor wasn't amused. After a minute or so, Giselle pretended like she wasn't amused either.

On their way to Mrs. Blovits' old plum-colored Volvo in the parking lot, the three of them ragged on Sally Turnbull awhile, then Giselle had said, "Hey, Ray, how about this? Your mother has signed an authorization for me to kick your ass the next time you screw up. How about that?"

Ray and his mother smiled at each other. There was never any mention of a Mr. Blovits. It didn't seem to be a sore subject; there just didn't seem to be a necessity for a Mr. Blovits. Ray and his mother had each other.

"He'll either screw up or he won't," Mrs. Blovits said.

Her voice was as delicate and ethereal as the rest of her. She had long, straight, strawberry blonde hair and bangs like Mia Farrow. Her big green eyes were full of wonder and acceptance—resignation, maybe, with a little world weariness thrown in to show she was human, after all, that her feet actually touched the ground when she walked. She moved across the parking lot like dandelion fuzz floating in the still air of a spring day—not even floating, really, more like just suspended there. Giselle was jealous, but she admired Ray's mother too much for that to matter. She was the kind of mother Giselle would have wanted to be.

Mrs. Blovits looked at her son, then, and said, "Mrs. Winters has my permission to do whatever she thinks best."

"Cool," Ray said.

"Thanks," Giselle said to his mother. She'd felt like they should have touched each other somehow or other. Shaken hands, maybe. Shit. She didn't know.

When she heard the bathroom door open, Giselle turned over onto her stomach, pulled the covers over her head and pretended to be still sleeping. Abraham got on top of her, covered her whole body with his whole body. He wasn't heavy. Maybe he was partly propped on his elbows.

"Hey, you know what I want to do?" he asked.

"Mmmm." Giselle made a noise somewhere in between a growl and a purr, then squirmed deeper into the bed under the down comforter.

"You're not asleep," he said.

"How do you know what I am?"

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man."

Giselle groaned. "Are you going to knock it off with that? Ever?"

"Are you going to answer my question?"

"Okay, okay. No. I don't know what you want to do."

"Go to a mall," she heard him say. He sounded like about a nine-year-old wanting to go to Disneyland.

She turned over onto her back, pushed herself up against a pile of pillows propped against the oak headboard, looked right in his eyes, and asked, "A mall? Why in God's name would you want to go to a mall?"

"A big mall," Abraham said. His eyes were crinkled at the corners, all twinkly and wide awake. He was looking adoringly at her, adoringly and sort of sheepishly, too. She couldn't tell what he had to be sheepish about, but it wouldn't have mattered if she could. She melted. His hair still wet from the shower. His beard was damp. He was beautiful. "What's the biggest mall around?" he asked.

"Um...Woodfield, I guess. It's in Schaumburg, an hour's drive or so."

"Is it toward Chicago?"

"That direction, yeah. A little north, maybe, northwest."

"What stores do they have?"

"Zillions. Nordstrom. Lord & Taylor. Marshall Fields."

"Is there a Walden's Books?"

"I think so." She squinted slightly.

"It's important," he said.

Giselle thought a second, then said, "Yeah. I'm positive. They do. For sure. No shit. I've bought books there."

"Do they have escalators?" Abraham wrinkled his forehead.

"Everywhere. Hundreds. It's escalator heaven."

"Okay. That's where I want to go. Wear something extra sexy."

"Why?" Giselle frowned.

"So I can, like, you know, check you out. Wear the highest heels you have, as stiletto as they get. I want you nine feet tall. And the shortest skirt. Something clingy. Sheer stockings. Lacy little silk panties. Lots of glamour-puss makeup, pouty lips, long black eyelashes." Abraham batted his eyelashes and pursed his pretty lips to show her the look he was going for.

"You're weird."

"I'm the Mayonnaise Man," he crooned.

"Okay, okay, shhh." Giselle put the palm of her hand up to Abraham's mouth. He touched his tongue to the tip of one of her fingers. She felt her heart flutter and said, "I could wear my lynx jacket, I suppose."

"Perfect. Get all dolled up. I need to use the phone."

"Should we have breakfast, first? I have eggs."

"I know. We used one last night. You're going to have a baby."

"I am?"



"You're beautiful, Giselle. I've waited for you all my life."

"So are you. So have I," she said.

He put his arms around her. She put his arms around him. They buried each other's faces into each other's faces and laughed and felt themselves laugh. Then he got up onto his knees and just looked adoringly at her some more.

"Hey, if you need different clothes," Giselle said. "Ted left some stuff in the closet in the other bedroom. Shoes and things. A sweatshirt."

"Who's Ted?"

"Nobody," Giselle said.

He kissed her lips, kissed her eyes, then got up and went out of the bedroom. He had a cute butt. What the hell kind of rose had she come up smelling like? Maybe more lightning bolts should come crashing through her skull. If this was what was going to come of it, hell yes, bring 'em on, bleeding hearts, lightning bolts, hearts, flowers, the works.

Giselle took a shower and carefully put on more girlie makeup than she'd worn since she and Mimi used to sneak into Mrs. Crenshaw's makeup drawer and paint themselves up like a couple clowns in the circus. When she'd put the final touches on her glamour puss makeup job, she dabbed a few drops of L'Air du Temps behind each ear, on the insides of her wrists, the crooks of her arms, under her breasts and in her belly button, then got dressed in a daze, thinking all the while that he had made a baby inside her. She just knew it. She'd felt it.

His chromosomes and her chromosomes were mingling with each other, knitting their genes together in one of her fallopian tubes, busily, mindlessly replicating themselves, neither her nor him, a whole new person already—her little pushed up nose or his fleshy, flat nose, which would it be? They both had big brown eyes, but the kid's hair would be even curlier than hers. Too curly! Tall, yeah. Dark, for sure. A girl? A boy? Twins? Holy shit. Giselle was reeling. She felt drunk, giddy, bursting with excitement at the prospect of what all was going on in an egg still too small to see. She was complete, fulfilled, head to foot, alive with new life.

So he wanted her to get dolled up, huh? She slung skirts on hangers along the wooden bar in her closet until she found the short, cotton jersey, taupe skirt she'd bought on an impulse right after her divorce but hadn't had the gumption, yet, to wear in public, then pulled out a black silk blouse to go with it. She chose not to wear a bra. The silk was delicate against her nipples. Her tits weren't so huge that she'd look immodest or indecent, but she knew she had nice tits. He'd be able to tell she wasn't wearing a bra, sure, but it had sounded like that was the look he was going for.

She slipped her feet into individual sheer, black, thigh-high stockings and pulled them tightly up the length of her long skinny legs, then put on the prettiest, laciest, silkiest little pair of skimpy underwear could find in her cedar underwear drawer. He wanted her in high-heels, too; okay, he'd get her in high-heels. Giselle still had the black, five-inch Gucci's that always made Dennis complain that he had to carry a god damn step stool with him wherever they went if he ever wanted to kiss her. Abraham wouldn't have any trouble in that department. They were a perfect fit. Ha! She was dressed to kill. She straightened her skirt in the full length mirror on the back of her bedroom door and thought, hm, not bad for a thirty-seven year-old, Polish-Irish math teacher from Rockford, Illinois.

Abraham was on the phone in the parlor. He looked her up and down and made an okay sign with the thumb and index finger of his right hand.

"Hang on a second." He covered the phone and told Giselle, "Hey, go get the car started, okay? I'll be out in a minute."

"Who are you talking to?"

"My mother," he said.

"You have a mother?" Giselle laughed. "The Mayonnaise Lady?"

Abraham looked irritated.

"Is it okay if I get a coat?" she said.

"Sure." He kept his hand over the receiver.

Giselle took her lynx jacket out of the hall closet again, and thought of her conversation with Tom Riley. Kind of a lot had happened since then. She slipped into the jacket, walked past Abraham and out the front door, hoping he'd be so smitten by the scent of her perfume and the lavender and vanilla in her hair that he'd hang up on whoever it was—mother, father, sister, brother, anyone, everyone.

The Firebird had warmed up by the time Abraham got in. The heater was going full blast. The frost on the windows melted. She turned on the windshield wipers. The back window defrosted itself. She loved her white Firebird. She wouldn't trade it for any other car in the world.

"Hey, where's Byron," Abraham asked on the way out of town.

"South of here." She pointed. "The other direction. Why?"

"Do you know anything about the nuclear power plant there?"

"Yeah. Big Dog's worried shitless terrorists are going to blow the fucker up. She's got all kinds of contingency plans. They have a lot to do with the way the wind's blowing. She sends out an e-mail every morning, giving us the latest wind direction and velocity. We humor her."

"Who's Big Dog?"

"Dr. Neisner?the principal at my school."

"She'd make a good sniper."

"What makes you think so?"

"Attention to detail. When you fire a high-powered rifle, you adjust for wind. A target at a thousand meters you'll miss completely in a five mile an hour wind."

"So, have you done a lot of snipering?"

"I've done a lot of all sorts of things," Abraham said.

"I bet," Giselle said.

He put his hand on her knee. She turned the heater down, then took off her jacket. He tried to help her with it, but she got it off all right on her own and tossed it into the back seat. Abraham inched his hand up her skirt. She squirmed down a bit in the black leather bucket seat, spread her legs apart, propped her left foot against the floorboard, reached over and put her hand in his lap. They didn't talk much.

They rolled along through the gentle prairie landscape, fiddling with each other when they felt like it. She unzipped his pants and played with his dick now and then. Let it Bleed was in the CD player. He slipped a finger under the hem at the side of her sheer black panties while Mick Jagger was singing:

"Yeah, we all need someone we can cream on
And if you want to, well you can cream on me."

After she had pulled the Firebird into the gigantic, multilevel parking lot, Giselle adjusted her skirt. Abraham zipped up his pants. He had on the same Levi's from the night before but was wearing Ted's brown sweatshirt with a mustard colored duck on it. He was wearing a pair of blue and white Asics Ted had left there too.

"Park anywhere," Abraham said.

"Hey, thanks, man." She rolled her eyes.

Chapter Seventeen

The Woodfield Shopping Center in Schaumburg, Illinois is the closest thing to a microcosm of America as you might ever want to get—a hundred and forty sprawling acres all done up in three levels of cement, sheet rock, carpet, tile, chrome, insulation, infrastructure and pizzazz; a million square feet of occupied space leased out at whatever price the traffic will bear. It's the middle of the Midwest, the heart of the heartland, the geographic, demographic, socioeconomic hub of commerce and industry for metropolitan Chicago. Everything that's right and wrong with the whole gosh darn country can be found at the Woodfield Mall. It's the epitome of prudence and ostentation, of patriotic pride and nihilistic negligence; a melding of optimism, pessimism, pluralism and pure don't-give-a-shitism—an eclectic expanse of commercialism where everyone tolerates everyone else to the greater glory of the almighty dollar. It's the place at the end of the day where working men and women go to eat, to shop, to gawk, to give their kids something to do; a place that reeks of perfume, of aftershave, Clearasil and pepperoni pizza, the place where TV commercials come to life, where Chicagoland comes to play, where the carnivores of the economy devour their prey. The Woodfield Mall has it all—McDonald's, Starbucks, Sears, JC Penney, a movie multiplex, popcorn, peanuts, Cracker Jacks, Crate & Barrel, Mikasa, Fossil, Kay Jewelers, Imaginarium, you name it, local, national and international everything—Abercrombie & Fitch to Z-Gallerie—the Ben & Jerry's of shopping centers.

After she got the car parked and put the keys into the tasteful black leather handbag that went with her silk blouse and the rest of the outfit she'd picked out to put on, Giselle reached for her lynx jacket in the back seat.

"You don't need it," Abraham said.

It wasn't far to the Lord & Taylor entrance and inside it would be warm as toast. Giselle felt like she'd do anything he asked her to do. How that had happened, she did not know. If she'd done anything Dennis had asked her to do, she'd still be married. She was, according to Dennis, the most stubborn, the snippiest, most obstinate chick ever. Obstinate, my ass, she'd said.

"Walk ahead of me," Abraham crooned as they were going through the door into the store. He said it in that low, gravely, Mayonnaise Man voice he'd used on her over the phone that first night.

"Why?" Giselle frowned and screwed up her little mouth.

He ignored her. "Pretend like you're all on your own. See if you can find us a McDonald's. I want to get me an all-American Egg McMuffin." He'd lapsed into a drawl. He did that sometimes, Giselle had noticed.

"It's too late," she said. "They stop serving breakfast at 10:30."

"What time is it?"

"A little past noon."

"Are you serious?"

"I've never been more serious about anything in my life," Giselle said. The words echoed in her head. Wow, was that ever true, she thought.

"Oh, man," Abraham said. "I had my heart set on an Egg McMuffin. I was going to put mustard on it. I had it all pictured. Coffee. Half-and-half. Some of them little potato puffs with lots of salt and pepper and catsup. Shucks."

"Catsup? You sound like a hick sometimes, you know that?" Giselle asked.

"Yep. I am a hick. Proud of it, too. I lived all my life on a mountain top in Tennessee."

"Hey, do you know the Davy Crockett song?" Giselle asked.

"Sure," Abraham said. Then in the middle of one of the carpeted aisles in Lord & Taylor, between two display cases containing shelf after shelf of expensive jewelry, he stopped and sang it to her, the whole first stanza:

"Born on a mountain top in Tennessee,
Greenest state in the land of the free,
Raised in the woods so's he knew ev'ry tree,
Kilt him a b'ar when he was only three.
Davy, Davy Crockett,
King of the wild frontier!"

"You're weird," Giselle said.

"I'm the...," he started to say.

Giselle covered his mouth with her hand and felt his mouth smile, saw his eyes laughing at her. A man with a monocle like he might have come from a Monopoly game carefully steered his wife around Abraham and Giselle.

"Okay, let's get it together. McDonald's is out. Now what?" she asked.

"You pick," Abraham said when she took her hand away from his mouth. "Anywhere's fine."

He was proud to be a hick. He was proud of himself, period. He'd been proud of himself since the first time she'd heard his voice on the phone. It seemed to Giselle that his confidence had rubbed off on her, somehow. She was proud to be a hick's chick. She liked being with him in public like that. He wasn't all that at ease. She was. She was a mall rat from way back. He wasn't. She could tell. He seemed edgy, on the alert, somehow—paranoid, maybe. She couldn't put her finger on it.

"Why do you want me to walk ahead of you?" she asked.

"So I can look at your ass," he said.

Oh, so you like looking at my ass, do you? Well, we'll just see about that, Giselle thought as she was leaving Lord & Taylor and entering the main rotunda of the mall. She exaggerated the sway of her hips, then remembered how short her skirt was and looked for the nearest escalator. Follow along behind me, honey. Sure. Be my guest. Look at my ass all you want. Get yourself an eyeful. She'd show him—and anyone else who might want to take a gander up her clingy taupe skirt. She didn't care. She had no shame, no sense of modesty or embarrassment anymore; she was his whore, his slut. She'd do anything he wanted her to do.

When she stepped onto the escalator, Giselle leaned her right forearm onto the railing, put her left foot on the next step up, then glanced over her shoulder and saw Abraham looking up her skirt from ten or fifteen stairs below. The man standing next to Abraham was also looking up her skirt, however. Damn. He was a big, gruff looking guy, an off duty police officer, maybe, with greasy, slicked-back black hair and a beer gut under a red and black hunting jacket. Giselle felt her face flush.

Then the two men, Abraham and the slick-haired guy, turned toward each other and started talking to one another. Giselle couldn't hear them but imagined they were saying lascivious things about her, making rude remarks, talking guy talk. She stepped up to the next step and squeezed her legs together. That motherfucker, she thought.

She found an empty table at Starbucks, and sat down. After a minute or so, Abraham came along and sat across from her. He was even better looking in the flattering light of the interior of the mall than he had been the night before—high cheekbones, big brown eyes; dark, curly hair with the same flashes of red glinting in it. He touched his wispy beard with his long fingers. She wanted to kiss him.

"What were you and that guy saying?" Giselle checked to make sure the hunting jacket guy wasn't standing around somewhere, still gawking at her.

"He mentioned under his breath that I might want to 'get a load of that babe's butt,' then glanced up at you." Abraham smiled fondly.

"What'd you say?"

"Yep. Nice. Then we talked sports. The Bulls. Michael Jordan. How the Wizards kicked Chicago's ass last night."

"Why do you want guys looking up my skirt?"

"I like looking up your skirt. I don't care what other guys do."

Wow, he was a cocky fucker, Giselle thought.

"You want to get something to eat here?" Abraham asked.

"Sure. Get me one of those croissant sandwich things. And a cappuccino."

"I need some money. Or just give me a credit card," he said.

She pulled out her Visa and handed it over, then watched him standing in line. He was still fidgety, moving from one of Ted's blue and white Asics to the other. She didn't have the slightest hesitation about giving him her credit card. How whacked was that? She didn't care. She was happy. Her head didn't hurt.

They ate their sandwiches and drank their coffees without saying much. They watched different crowds of people bustling about, up and down all three levels of the mall, on stairs, on escalators, in elevators. The place was packed. What the hell was it anyway? Valentine's Day? That would be appropriate, but she wasn't sure it was true. Her head was in a total tizzy. She found herself smiling for no reason.

A little girl in long brown pigtails across the atrium had a big blue "Happy Birthday" balloon on a ribbon around her wrist. She was picking at the ends of the bow, pulling at them. The ribbon came untied. The balloon floated gently away from her. She ran after it until her mother caught her by the hand and pulled her in the opposite direction. The little girl was stretching toward the balloon. Her mother was stretching toward the little girl. They were locked like that in what looked to be a never-ending struggle. The balloon wafted higher and higher and further and further away in the huge open space of the interior of the mall. The little girl floated along behind her mother. Giselle laughed to herself until tears came into her eyes. She felt goofy. Giddy. Like a kid again:

"I'm wild again, Beguiled again
A simpering, whimpering child again
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered..."

"You want to hear the stupidest thing?" she asked when the coffee in their paper cups was just about gone and the tears in her eyes had all but dried.

"Sure," Abraham said, looking directly at her.

"I have fallen completely in love with you."

"I know." His eyelids closed and opened again, almost drowsily.

"Do you really think I might be pregnant?"

"Yep. I know you're pregnant," he said solemnly.

"I'm glad," she said. "I want to be. I wanted to be last night. I had a dream about this pregnant black woman who looked sort of like Oprah Winfrey..."

"What?" Abraham scowled across the table. It was the first time she'd ever seen him surprised by anything. He didn't ever seem to get surprised.

"I had this weirdo dream..." She started to tell him more.

"What about Oprah, though?" he asked, slightly impatiently.

"Nothing. The woman in the dream looked a little like Oprah Winfrey, that's all. Who knows how stuff gets in dreams? Not me. I was in this steamy jungle and this black woman who sort of reminded me of Oprah danced past where I was hiding in the bushes. Then she waded out into this lake and got bit in two by a big blue fish and a baby green fish came out of the black woman's belly and swam along behind the blue fish."

"Whoa," Abraham said. "That's intense."

"Are you?" she asked.

"Are I what?"


"Glad about what?" Abraham narrowed his eyes.

"That I'm going to have a baby."

"Yep," he said. Then he smiled and seemed to relax again.

"Is this nuts?" Giselle asked.


"It's really not, is it? I know that. Holy smokes." She bit her lower lip.

"Hey, do me a favor and just stay here for awhile, will you?" he said.

"Sure. Why?"

"I want to wander around. Check stuff out. Check you out from different angles, near and far, above and below. See what you're like when I'm not around."

"Okey-dokey," she said.

"I won't be long."

"Be as long as you want."

Giselle sat there. And sat there. For what seemed like ages. She poured the rest of Abraham's coffee into her cup and remembered the whole night last night, the lightning bolt, the heart, the guy on her sofa, the quiche, doing dishes—doing dishes she remembered exquisitely—brushing her teeth, getting into bed, then all the sex stuff, him coming inside her. She squirmed in her chair and wondered how he could possibly know how one of his wiggly little tadpole critters might have made out? It was over by then, she knew, one way or the other—another of the long line of eggs her body had produced every month since she'd turned thirteen had been sitting like some kind of queen on a throne, waiting for a proper suitor. Prince Charming. Mr. Right. If anyone could come up with the perfect sperm for her picky, prickly, royal pain-in-the-ass egg, Abraham could. Wow, had he ever fucked her. Her persnickety little ovum was either doing its happy little knocked-up dance or it wasn't.

The odds weren't good, no, but they weren't all that bad, either. How the hell else could there be almost seven billion people populating such a paltry little planet in the middle of nowhere? Look at them! They were everywhere, all around her, coming and going, big ones and little ones, black and white, Asian, Arab, Mexican, young and old, smart and not so smart, pretty and not so pretty, fat, skinny, short, tall, rich, poor...Holy Jumped-Up Moses in the Bulrushes! Her father used to say that.

Why the hell Abraham thought she was pregnant, she did not know. There was so much she didn't know. Did guys know something she didn't? Did they feel something? She'd never heard of such a thing. Or maybe Abraham knew something other guys don't know. Who the fuck was he, anyway? This cocky father of the kid—if indeed there was a kid—growing inside her? He'd lived his whole life on a mountain top in Tennessee. Who lives their whole life on a mountain top in Tennessee? The Mayonnaise Man. Gimme a fucking break, Giselle thought.

The seat of the chair was round. Its legs weren't sturdy. All the tables were taken. She felt guilty for lingering so long, but Abraham's cup was still in its place. People would take that to mean that he'd be right back. What he was up to, she did not know. She got a glimpse of him once, way over on the other side of the crowded second level of the mall, standing by Waldenbooks, talking to some big black Mr. T. looking guy in an expensive looking gray suit and an Armani tie. The black guy glanced over at Giselle for a fraction of a second, then leaned his shoulder against the tiled entrance to the bookstore and he and Abraham went back to talking. People got in the way. When she could see again, they were both gone.

Then she got another glimpse of him down on the lower level, bouncing along in poor Ted's old running shoes. Abraham came up behind one of the smartly dressed security guards, said something briefly to the guy, touched his shoulder, then bounded off again. He was like a kid, skipping. He'd start and stop and seem to change his mind, then take off again like the guy in The Song of Songs:

"...behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains,
skipping upon the hills."

She could almost hear Abraham's sneakers squeak. Leaping upon the mountains, my ass. Giselle laughed at herself. Something strange was going on in her brain. She knew things she didn't know she knew. She knew things she knew she didn't know. She couldn't figure it out. "The song of songs, which is Solomon's..." Where the hell had that come from? Dennis, maybe. He used to read to her, poems and such, to woo her so they could screw. She hadn't needed to be wooed. She'd liked to screw, woo or no woo.

She thought for a second that she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a little dog that looked exactly like the Taco Bell Chihuahua. He was poking his head out from behind the corner of the dark wood of the Starbucks concession stand. Then she distinctly heard the Taco Bell Chihuahua say, "Drop the Chalupa."

"Can I clear this up?"

Giselle was startled. Nerves in her arms and shoulders contracted the muscles to which they were attached. She looked up at a young, gentle-eyed Mexican kid reaching to take Abraham's empty cup from the table.

"He's coming back," Giselle said.

"Sorry." The kid was embarrassed.

"Hey, can you guys have tips?" she asked. Then, before he could answer, Giselle quickly took a twenty-dollar bill out of her wallet and handed it to him. She had scads of money. She didn't know how much exactly, but she liked having plenty of cash. The Mexican kid's eyes lit up, then he acted suspicious.

"For real?" He held the bill as if she could have it back.

"For total real, man," Giselle said. "For more real than either one of us will ever know." She felt like she was going to cry again. The kid looked furtively around, then jammed the twenty into the pocket of his black Big Ben jeans and split before she had another chance to change her mind.

What she and Abraham were going to do with each other, Giselle did not have the slightest clue. She hoped she was pregnant. She wanted to be. She felt like she was, but, so, now what? Would they get married? Would he be her husband? She his wife? Live together? Eat, sleep, laugh, grow old together, day by day? She didn't know. She didn't care. He could dump her ass right then and there; that very minute; he could simply never come back to the table and that would be that. She'd sit there until the mall closed, until they escorted her out the Lord & Taylor's exit and into the parking structure, then she'd drive back to Rockford and have his kid in peace. She'd raise him as best she could. Or her. A boy or a girl, it wouldn't matter, she'd love the little fucker with all her heart.

Across the atrium, one level down, she saw a woman who looked exactly like her grandmother going into one of those shops that sell nothing but candy. Her silver-gray hair was all done up in a bun, just the way Mame's always was, and she was wearing a flower print dress, light blue, with bunches of tiny pink and white flowers, just the sort of dress Mame would have worn to the Woodfield Mall.

"What the fuck," Giselle mouthed the words. Mame was dead. She knew that. She'd been to the funeral. She'd seen her in her casket. She'd hung around until the grave diggers lowered it down into the hole in the ground and covered it with dirt. They'd used a small backhoe. Giselle had been the only one left—just her and the grave diggers. She'd told them the monkey joke. She was going to tell them the chicken joke, but it was long and they were busy. It couldn't have been Mame.

"Miss me?" Abraham asked.

"Terribly," Giselle looked up at him, sort of sticking out his pelvis with his thumbs hooked into the belt loops of his Levi's. Her Levi's. Their Levi's. Ha!

"Are we done here?"

"Sure. What'cha been up to?"

"Scampering around like a god damn jackrabbit. I love this place. It's like America, man. Like from sea to shining sea, you know? I feel like Woody Guthrie."

"You want to do anything special?" she asked.

"Whatever you want," he said. "What time is it?"

Giselle looked at her watch and said, "A little before three."

"Explore," he said. His eyes grew wide.

Giselle got up. They explored. He put his arm around her, briefly, held her hand sometimes, but mainly they just wandered the wide aisles of the Woodfield Mall, looking into store windows, watching people, being happy. Happy, happy, happy. She'd never been so happy. Something horrible had to happen. She knew that for a fact, but...hey, "Gather ye rosebuds while you may." Her father used to say that too. Her father used to say all sorts of whacko stuff. She loved her father. Giselle wanted to cry again. Her emotions were bubbling up in her like French fries thrown into a vat of boiling oil. Now she wanted popcorn. Where could she get popcorn? The movies. He didn't want to go to the movies. No popcorn. Okay. Giselle couldn't keep up with her thoughts, her sensations, her cravings. She felt exposed, raw, sensitive as a new born baby fresh out of her mother's womb, only right this time, quick...all pink and pretty...rosy as the dawn of a new day, crying her eyes out, gurgling her ass off, all snuggled up against her mother's warm breasts.

In one of the store windows there were two people dressed up like chickens. "Hey, hey, check it out," she said to Abraham. "It's the chicken wife and the chicken husband. Looks like she's getting set to make him some chicken soup. Ha!"

"Yep," he said. "Now if we can find you a monkey falling out of a tree, your life will be complete."

"My life's pretty complete right now," Giselle said and squeezed his hand.

"I'm glad," Abraham Lincoln said.

"Hey, what are all those people doing over there?" Giselle pointed toward the entrance to Waldenbooks.

"Got me. Some celebrity."

"Who? I want to go see," she said.

"Forget it. Too crowded," Abraham said in his usual, terse-ass way. Giselle was getting used to it by then, though. She was getting used to him, period.

"Who is it, though, do you know?" she asked.

"Nope. Some kind of book signing, maybe."

"Come on, I really want to see." Giselle grabbed the sleeve of his sweatshirt.

"What time is it?" Abraham asked.

Giselle looked at her watch again. "Quarter to four." He sure worried about the time a lot for a guy who grew up on a mountain top where they probably didn't even have clocks.

"Okay, listen. I want you to do something. Something important." He looked right into her eyes again. She always seemed to melt when he did that.

"All right," she said.

"Go get the car and wait for me by the freight entrance at Walden's Books."

"Are you serious? Why?"

He held up his hand like a crossing guard and said, "Giselle." Then he stopped, smiled, looked lovingly at her, touched her cheek.

"The freight entrance. Walden's. Sure." She nodded as if in a daze.

"Thanks." He moved his hand to the back of her neck.

"You'll find me?" she asked in a girlish voice and batted her eyelashes.

"Yes, dear." He kissed her forehead and was gone.

Chapter Eighteen

Giselle stopped at one of the kiosks that displayed the layout of the mall and tried to memorize the route she'd have to take to get from the parking lot by Lord & Taylor's to the back of Waldenbooks. Hey, it wasn't Walden's Books or Walden Books, it was Waldenbooks. Hm. She'd never known that before. Learn something new every day. She wished she had a pen. She would have drawn the directions on the palm of her hand. Something important, Abraham had said. She had a feeling of foreboding, like she was going to fuck up, somehow. Her heart beat faster. She didn't want to disappoint him, didn't want to let him down. It was the only thing he'd ever asked of her, really. She had to concentrate.

She closed her eyes for a minute, the way she used to when she had a headache, then realized she didn't have a headache. It kept amazing her that she didn't have a headache. She opened her eyes again and felt suddenly more aware of her surroundings—more alert, like a wild animal, a squirrel, a bird, listening, eyeing her surroundings, squinting, perking up her ears, the way Abraham had looked when they'd first come into the mall. She kept getting the feeling that he was going to come up behind her again, the way he'd come up to her while she'd been standing in front of the sink, doing dishes.

"Need help finding something?"

Giselle jumped, then glanced over her shoulder at the security guard and said, "No, no. I'm fine."

"I didn't mean to startle you," he said. The security guard's arms were folded across his chest. He was shifting his weight from side to side in a pair of black oxfords. He was also looking straight at the nipple of her left breast under her flimsy silk shirt. "What are you looking for?" he asked.

"I'm not looking for anything, okay?"

"How you ever going to find it, then?"

"Find what?"

"What you're looking for." The security guard cocked his head and smiled a smirky little smile as if he might have thought he was charming. She frowned. He was a chubby-faced kid, early twenties, with red cheeks, red ears, a buzz-cut and the five o'clock shadow of a heavy black beard.

"I'm Davis," he said, then paused like he thought that might be of some significance to Giselle. It wasn't. "I'm in grad school," the guy went on. "I'm not just a security guard. I've about finished my master's in nuclear engineering. I'll probably hire on over at Byron. Pays pretty good. I worked summers there full time already the past three years and I'm on call when they need me."

"What exactly are you talking about?" Giselle asked.

"Those are really high heels." He glanced toward Giselle's shoes. "I hate when tall girls wear flat shoes. If you've got it, flaunt it. That's what I say."

"Look, I'm kind of busy, all right?"

"I get off at five. So. You know. If you're not doing anything."

"Are you crazy?" she asked. "I'm obviously doing something, aren't I?"

"You mean looking at the map? I can tell you where everything is." He took an eager step toward her and the kiosk.

"I can find it myself, thanks."

The security guard stepped back and said, "Sure thing, ma'am. Sorry. Just doing my job. If you need anything, I'll be around."

"I'll be fine, thanks."

Giselle concentrated on the directions again. Should she have been flattered? Fuck, no. Could she blame the guy? Maybe not. Should she have been dressed up like some kind of a high-class hooker? Probably not. Nothing's ever anyone's fault. That seemed to about cover everything that needed covering.

Then she remembered her prayer. "God help me," she said to herself. Her mind cleared. Okay, she had it down. According to the layout on the kiosk, it didn't appear to be all that difficult to get where she needed to go. She made her way through Lord & Taylor's again, trying to keep the directions straight in her head. Had he been the same security guard she'd seen Abraham talking to? Maybe. She wasn't sure. She couldn't be bothered. She needed to concentrate.

It might not have appeared to be all that hard to get from where she was parked to the shipping entrance of Waldenbooks, but it was. Giselle took a wrong turn and ended up on one of the city streets, then drove back into the parking structure through another entrance. That got her all screwed up. Motherfuck. She had to make her way back through the parking lot to Lord & Taylor's again and start all over again. She got it right the next time and, eventually, wound up by a big steel door that had the name Waldenbooks stenciled across it in black letters. She pulled up as close to the door as she could get and kept the engine running.

Wait there, he'd said. Okay, here she was, waiting. And waiting. She checked the gas. It was fine. More than half a tank. She turned the heater up a notch. Damn. She'd done a lot of waiting already that day, first at Starbucks, now here. Giselle thought about turning on the CD player but decided she'd better not let herself get distracted. She sometimes got to listening to music and lost all track of everything. She looked at her watch. It was almost five; starting to get dark already.

Where had the time gone? Where the hell was he? What was he up to? She wished she'd brought a cup of coffee. She felt like she was on a stakeout. Didn't TV cops on stakeouts always have cold cups of coffee in their laps? She pictured the fat guy from Law & Order—hell, yes, he always had a cup of coffee, and usually a doughnut to go with it too. She could go for a doughnut.

There was a metallic tap on the driver's side window. It was the guy from the escalator, the greasy-haired guy with the beer gut and the red and black hunting jacket, tapping the glass with a small Swiss Army knife. Whoa. This was too weird. She could see his breath. Abraham may have sent him out to find her. He was motioning her to roll down the window. Maybe the hunting jacket guy was there all on his own, though. What had he said? "Get a load of that babe's butt?" Giselle reached back, got her jacket, put it in her lap, and rolled down the tinted window a crack—not far enough for him to get his hand through.

"Hi," she said.

"A little nippy," the guy said.

"What?" Giselle crinkled her nose and thought he might have said something crude, something about her tits, maybe.

"Cold." He pulled his jacket tighter around his noticeable girth.

"Yeah? So? It's Chicago. It's supposed to be cold."

The guy looked puzzled. Then his face softened. He smiled. "You don't know what's up, do you?"

"The sky? The sun, the moon and the stars? I don't know what you're talking about. What do you want?"

"Nothing, Miss. It's okay. As you were."

"As I were what?"

"As you were doing. Carry on."

"I wasn't doing anything. I'm just sitting here."

"I know, ma'am. Have a nice day," he said, then smiled a tightlipped, smug little smile like he was maybe trying to keep from giggling, gave her a tip of some imaginary cap he didn't have on, and lumbered away.

Giselle rolled her window back up, shook her head, screwed up her mouth, frowned. The guy seemed to be privy to some kind of inside joke. He made his way around the corner of one of the buildings and disappeared. Giselle suddenly got the unsettling feeling that Abraham had set her up somehow, that he'd maybe been pimping her out to different guys he'd been talking to on his sojourns around the mall. Like maybe she was supposed to turn tricks for him out in the parking lot. Like the security guard was probably going to show up pretty soon. He got off at five. Hm. And then the hunting jacket guy? Like, what? It wasn't his turn yet? When would it be that big black Mr. T. looking guy's turn? God only knew how many other guys there might have been.

Why else would he have had her get dressed up like a prostitute? He'd probably been having them check her out as she sat drinking the last of his coffee at Starbuck's, looking up her short skirt from the lower level. She forgot whether she'd had her legs crossed or not. Probably not. He still had her credit card too. She didn't care. He could have it. She'd whore herself out to whoever he wanted her to whore herself out to. She'd do anything. Whatever he wanted. What was he doing it for, though? Money? She had more money than she knew what to do with. All he had to do was ask. The whole two million, he could have it. Gladly. Sure. Here. Take it. If he wanted any more he'd have to wait 'til payday.

Maybe it wasn't the money, though. He didn't seem to give much of a fuck about money. Maybe he just wanted to watch her turn tricks. Maybe it would get him off somehow or other to see her sucking some other guy's dick. She didn't care. She'd suck any dick he wanted her to suck. Bring 'em on, line 'em up, what the fuck, fat guys, skinny guys, young, old, black, white, Asian, Mexicans, it didn't matter.

Just then, the back door of Waldenbooks opened. Abraham stuck his head out and waved. Thank fucking God. He was motioning to her. She rolled down the window on the passenger side of the car.

"Open the door." He pointed. "And pull the seat up. I'm bringing someone," he said, then ducked back into the building again. He said it as urgently as she'd ever heard him say anything.

Giselle got out of the car, left the engine running, opened the passenger side door and pushed the seat forward. She heard some kind of commotion going on behind her. She hurried around the front of the car, got back in the driver's seat and revved the engine to make sure it was still running.

"Everything's cool," she heard Abraham say in an agitated, whispery sort of way. "Come on, we've got to go. Now."

He came out then, behind a glamorous black woman in a pastel purple suit and a white blouse. Her hair was nicely styled, sort of puffed-up, but natural looking. She was walking as fast as she could in a pair of low black heels, moving her short arms back and forth at her sides like the flippers of a swimming sea turtle.

The woman shot a sparkly, warmhearted smile at Giselle, then pushed herself through the open door, brushed off the back seat, turned herself around, sat down...and immediately the interior of the car filled with the overpowering smell of too much makeup and expensive perfume. Giselle stared at the woman in her rearview mirror until the woman saw her staring—then Giselle quickly looked away.

Abraham hopped in the front seat, closed the door and said, "Drive."

Giselle sat there, not moving a muscle. Her heart was racing. She wasn't sure she could drive if she'd wanted to, and she didn't want to.

"Drive where?" she asked. It felt good to ask a question. Any question.

"Anywhere. Jesus. Just get us the hell out of here." Abraham raised his voice. He almost never raised his voice.

Giselle jammed the Firebird in gear and drove without thinking, back toward the exit she'd come in from.

"Don't turn the lights on yet," Abraham said. He was slouched down, looking behind them in the mirror on his side of the car.

After they'd gotten to the lower level of the parking structure and were on their way out one of the exits, Giselle was still trying to think of the next question she wanted to ask. She heard the slow whine of police sirens heading toward the mall.

"Okay, go ahead and turn the lights on now," Abraham said. "Drive naturally. Don't do anything out of the ordinary."

"Ha! No. By all means. Let's do nothing out of the ordinary!"

"I mean, just don't get cute. You're doing fine," he said.

Giselle felt her heart stop racing. She relaxed. She was soothed. God, his words found their way down inside her soul, somehow. She couldn't have explained it in a million years. A song came into her head:

"There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul."

She looked at the woman in the back seat again, and, this time, neither of them looked away when they saw each other. Giselle felt more sure of herself all of a sudden, it was her car, after all, she was in the driver's seat, and finally she just asked, flat-out, "Hey, are you supposed to be Oprah Winfrey?"

"I don't know if I'm supposed to be, but I am," the woman said.

Giselle's foot slipped off the gas pedal. The car lurched.

"Hey, hon," Abraham said. "Listen. Don't freak out or anything. It's kind of a long story. Oprah's my mother. Mom, this is Giselle."

She was glad she wasn't drinking that cup of coffee she'd wished she'd had because she would have spit it all over her CD player.

"Hi," the woman said.

"Oh, my gosh, are you..." She stopped. How she was going to finish the sentence, Giselle did not know. "?fucking nuts?" was the first thing that popped into her mind, but she thought better of it and chose not to say anything. Some things are best left unsaid?not many, no, but this was one of them. Besides, she couldn't have said anything more if she'd wanted to. Her mind had simply ceased to function for a second or two. There was that.

"Giselle what?" the woman who was supposedly Oprah asked.

"Winters," Giselle said with the straightest face she could manage to muster under the circumstances.

"Giselle Winters. What a pretty name," the woman said.

"Give mom your coat," Abraham said.

Giselle removed the lynx jacket from her lap and passed it to the woman in the back seat. Their hands touched. Static electricity passed between them. "Oprah's my mother." What the heck kind of idiot did he think she was?

"You should probably scrunch down, Ma. Cover your head," Abraham said.

"And smash my hair? I don't think so." She threw both hands at him like she was throwing a basketball. Her voice was deep, sonorous, lilting—it reverberated through the Firebird. She sounded like Oprah. Nobody could sound that much like Oprah Winfrey and not be Oprah Winfrey, Giselle thought, but, still...

"I have tinted windows," Giselle said. Then she burst into the biggest peal of nervous laughter she'd ever heard herself laugh in her life. She caught her breath after awhile, then said, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe I just said that."

The woman who looked like Oprah twinkled her big, twinkly brown eyes. Giselle looked at Abraham. He shrugged, smiled an apologetic smile, twinkled his own eyes a bit. There was definitely a resemblance, whether it was a family resemblance or not, Giselle had no way of knowing.

"Just get us home, hon. I'll explain along the way," Abraham said.

There were police cars heading in the direction they'd come from. Their lights were flashing, but all the sirens had stopped. Giselle found a sign to I-90 and followed it, shaking her head, smiling, looking into her rearview mirror, smiling again, shaking her head again.

So-called Oprah waved three fingers of her right hand at Giselle. It was getting pretty dark, but she could still see well enough to see that the woman sure looked like Oprah and sure sounded like Oprah, but she couldn't be Oprah. Could she? Nah. Something very strange was happening. Giselle did not know what it was. She couldn't do anything but shake her head and drive.

She made a left turn into the on ramp of I-90. Once she was on I-90, Giselle was practically back home, safe and sound in her house in the suburbs of Rockford, with her little dogs all around—snug as a bug in a rug. Her dad used to say that. Ha! She smiled. And shook her head. And kept driving.

Previous, Part Three

Next, Part Five


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Gerard Jones
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