Chapter 25 - Ursula
The benefit of working in a grocery store was that the busy time never died, turning the clock faster for me. Amongst broccolis and cauliflowers, I packed the celeries in plastic bags and checked if the bell peppers needed re-stocking.
"No, I have to take off early today. Another side gig at Jake's, so I won't take a lunch," I said.
"You should loosen up, chica," said John, walking behind me closely. My thin body felt inferior to his beach ball physique, and my silence fueled his confidence.
"You work so hard," John said.
He crept up behind me and touched my waist from behind and it made me uncomfortable again. I stepped a couple of feet apart to the right and he noticed how I walked away from him.
"Hey, I'm still a man, honey," said John.
"I thought you were gay," I said.
"Gay, straight, don't matter. Why does it matter?" he said. "You look good right now."
"I'm reporting you," I told him, walking to the front of the store to find the Store Manager.
"Baby, I'm the manager. Who are you looking for?" John said, laughing at me. "They won't believe you. You're a wreck."
I walked up to customer service and asked the girls behind the counter for the district manager's phone number.
The sexual harassment has been going on for the past year and this time, I will file a report because I couldn't handle John's advances any longer.
"Hey, what you doing, chica?" asked John, looking at me filling out the paper work for a meeting with the Human Resources while asking the customer service for the number for the district manager.
"I'm not putting up with your abuse. I'm telling the district manager," I said. "This is my job, Scott. You're not professional."
"You little bitch! You gonna get something from me!" said John. He cursed in another language that customers in the store couldn't help but to look at him.
"You have to be careful. He's your manager and he has a lawyer," said one of the customer service girls. "He's been here for over twenty years."
"It's just a complaint. They can talk to him," I told the customer service girls. "I don't have to keep it a secret anymore."
From afar, I heard him talk into his cell phone, "Hi honey, I have a favor to ask from you," John said.
I didn't care. It was about survival.
Chapter 26 - Angelina
I slid onto the passenger side and Samantha leaned over. "Okay, here's the deal. Ursula. That's who we're meeting today. We have a couple of days with no school. I called the grocery stores all around St. Vrain Valley, and I found her in Lafayette, and they said she's working today," said Samantha, making a three point turn to go back to the main road from my apartment complex parking lot.
"So..., she knows we're coming?" I asked, hoping inside my heart that Samantha and I weren't about to stalk a victim of violence, because it was a federal crime with intent to harm.
"No, but we're still going to meet her. We'll just introduce ourselves to her. Then we'll have to tell her about Melody," said Samantha. "We have to tell her what happened with you, and how we suspect Merrick and his boys did this to you."
"She's not going to talk to us," I replied. "We have to ask her about Merrick. Straight up."
"That's even worse!" said Samantha. "Break it down easy…"
"We have to tell her we know what happened with her and Merrick from the school nurse," I said.
We approached the entrance to Highway 287 and Samantha drove slowly.
"So we have to be honest, I agree. But, we can't just show up and tell someone that we know about her rape," said Samantha.
"Okay, well, we have to tell her about me first then. Just to tell her that we don't mean any harm, but we need her help," I said.
"Okay, I don't know if that's going to work, but I really want to meet her and tell her that we've been getting attacked at school," said Samantha.
The drive is smooth and there was no traffic on the way there. Highway 287 usually had cars driving up and down the highway, but there was no one in the highway this afternoon.
"Here is the plaza, we make a left here," said Samantha.
"How many grocery stores are there?" asks Angelina.
"Three, but we're going on the one with the Chinese restaurant in the plaza," said Samantha. "Hong Kong Palace."
As soon as we found a parking spot, we walked into grocery store, and Samantha approached the customer service counter.
"Hi, I'm one of Ursula's friends. We're here to just visit her. Do you know where she is?" I asked the customer service clerk.
"She's in the dairy and produce section. She should be there," said the customer service clerk.
"Thanks," said Samantha.
We walked to the produce section and in front of them stood a petite girl with short black hair with green and pink streaks in her hair, stocking eggplants on to the vegetable shelves. Her fair skin made her complexion almost gaunt and gothic. She wore the store uniform, a blue t-shirt with black pants and a black apron. She had black nail polish on her fingernails and a pair of skeleton earrings.
"I thought you said she was Filipino?" whispered Samantha. "She looks Latina." I shrugged my shoulders and Samantha was quiet for a minute, debating whether or not to approach the girl who might be Ursula. The petite girl turned around, as her red eyes looked swollen from crying. We both wanted to speak but were too nervous.
"Does it matter? She's one of us," I said. Samantha held my shoulder and we stood behind Ursula, as she lowly turned towards us.
"Hi, is there anything I can help you with?" she asked, softly. "Kale is not here yet. We still have them in the back. Just let me know and I'll get it for you." She lifted the carrots plastic bin and placed them to the side of her waist against the produce display.
"Ursula?" said Samantha.
"Yes? Have we met before?" said Ursula. "I'm sorry, I'm just not good with faces. Do I know you?"
"Well, we know you. My name is Samantha...Samantha Markowitz. This is Angelina Lee. We go to Silver Creek High," said Samantha.
Ursula immediately turned around upon hearing "Silver Creek High School," to keep on working and replied, "I don't talk to strangers. Please go if you don't have anything to buy here. I can call security." She puts the rest of the eggplants from the cart onto the produce shelf as she began to clean up.
"Ursula, we need your help. Angelina here...," said Samantha. "Angelina was..."
"I was raped, by multiple people," I just said and without remorse, I told her, "I think Merrick did it."
Ursula stopped for a minute and looked to Angelina as her hands shook and her eyes too timid to look at me. She looked back down to her produce cart and said, "What does this have anything to do with me? I haven't been to Silver Creek in two years."
"But we know Merrick, and ...," said Samantha. "Merrick, is uh..."
"I think he had something to do with the rape that happened to me," I said to Ursula. "I'm the rape victim and we think he's a serial rapist."
"Why don't you go to the cops? Why are you getting me involved? I can press charges you know," said Ursula, looking down on her cart, so afraid to look at our faces. Ursula was very slim and as her body tenses up, she froze on the spot mannequin still.
"I just heard from someone that something happened to you. When you were going out with Merrick," said Samantha. "We heard you were raped in the locker room."
"That's a lie!" said Ursula, almost too loud for her own good. The rumor exasperated her as she gasped suddenly and closed her mouth with her hands and began to cry.
"Ursula, I was drugged. I don't know if Merrick really raped me, but he was at the party. I was one of Melody's girls in her squad. Merrick's sister," I said.
"Who told you about me?" asked Ursula, whispering.
"The School Nurse told us, and she said that you've changed, and dropped out," said Samantha, with earnest intentions.
"Maria?" asked Ursula.
"Yes, she didn't say anything else and she said she didn't really know what went on, so she didn't report. She told me you cried so hard that she was worried about you," I said. "We were attacked by Melody's friends. Or at least we think they're Melody's friends."
"The girl from Longmont High? She always calls them," said Ursula. "They know each other from business. She works at her dad's restaurant."
"Ursula, we know you were raped. We need your help, because Angel is really going through a rough time," said Samantha, pleading her.
"I'm sure I'll get a diagnosis with rape trauma, PTSD and I don't know what else. I had to go to the ER because I was bleeding," I said, with just a fraction of dignity because I found myself telling stories to strangers.
"Bleeding? He was that rough on you?" Ursula looked at me then her eyes meandered on her produce cart again. Her black eyeliner bleeding from the corner of her eyes. I knew anyone won't be ready for an interrogation about rape that no one was supposed to know about, especially at work.
"Ursula, we're no harm. We just need to talk to you," said Samantha. "We promise to do no harm, but we got hurt too."
Before Samantha could finish her sentence, Ursula's supervisor, walked out from behind the swing double doors to the side of the produce section, approaching us. "Girl, did you get it done yet?" He said with a high pitched voice almost musical but annoyingly demeaning.
"Yeah, I'm on it," she answered, putting down the carrots and hurrying with the lettuce and bell peppers.
"Girl, we need you near the front now. Get on with this, hurry up!" he demanded walking away with a champion swag and his nose up in the air. "Get the dairy put up and get to the front of the store, pronto chica!"
"I'll be there in a minute," said Ursula, servile to his demands. "I'll have to talk to you ladies later."
Samantha paced with her and whispered, "Can we meet you another time? Please?"
"Corner of 120th and Federal," said Ursula, "This Saturday. 10 am. Sharp."
"Got it, we'll see you there," said Samantha, letting Ursula walked to the dairy section on her own.
I couldn't hold my tears any longer, and began to cry near the refrigerator.
"Let's go home for now," I said to Samantha. We quickly walk out of the grocery store and drove back to Silver Creek.
Chapter 27 - Ichabod
The smell of romance made me giggle as I put on my blue shirt and khaki shorts. I looked at the clock and it was nearly three in the afternoon. I overslept this morning but my mental health brimmed radiance on my face. I found Angelina's number from the admin office because her name was written in the principal's visitor's log.
"Hi, is this Angelina? This is Ichabod," I said, after she picked up.
"Ichabod, how are you?" said Angelina. I could feel her broad smile over the phone.
"Hey, what are you doing today?" asks Ichabod.
"I'm with Samantha, we just met a friend here in Lafayette, but we're driving home. It was an early afternoon appointment. Why?" said Angelina.
"I want you to meet my aunt, Leona. Do you think you can ask Samantha to drop you off at a place near Longmont?" I said.
Angelina asked Samantha and I could hear Samantha said, "Sure. What's it called?"
"Elves Tavern," says Ichabod on the phone.
Angelina tells Samantha, "Elves Tavern."
"Oh, I know where that is. I used to go there for scones with my mom. We'll be there in twenty minutes," Samantha said.
"Great. I work there," I said, overhearing Samantha's response. I grimaced a little because bashful, new romances and friendships brought peculiarity inside my chest that made my arm hairs rise. I cupped the cell phone for a moment and breathed in.
"How sweet of you to invite us, Ike," said Angelina.
"My aunt Leona owns it and I've known her all of my life, so it's a cushy job," said Ichabod. A part of me was happy I had access to all the teas, lattes and desserts for free.
"We'll be so happy to meet her," said Angelina. "We'll be there soon."
"Okay, see you there," I answered and hung up the phone.
The rain came and went with the swift wind breezing through from time to time. This will be the first time I invited anyone into Elves Tavern, Leona's teahouse. It was a converted old cottage turned into a family friendly teahouse with a swing bench on the front porch. The front garden had large patio umbrellas with tables and chairs underneath, surrounded by Knock-Out roses and white hyndrangeas.
"This is the place," I said to Angelina and Samantha, when they arrived. There was plenty parking near the sidewalk.
"It's so cute inside. There is a theme to every floor. The first floor has a fireplace and a backyard behind the house. The kitchen is the tea bar. You'll like it," said Samantha, stepping on the welcome mat with a rounded edge and picture of a sunflower.
"Wow, this looks exquisite," said Angelina, marveling over the budding roses at the front yard.
"Yeah, it's one of the little unique novelties of Longmont that everyone loves in the neighborhood. I'm surprised you haven't been here," said Samantha.
"Collin and I always go to Sacred Grounds in Silver Creek," said Angelina.
"We love Sacred Grounds," I said.
"I like that place too, but this place is just so fun," said Samantha, pressing the locked car alarm doors to her car.
"Welcome and thanks for coming girls," I said, opening the doors.
"This place is your family's place?" asked Samantha.
"Well, my adopted aunt, Leona. She's inside, you'll meet her," I said. My eyes met Angelina's and smiled from just the beautiful sight of her. Archangel Michael stood near the porch and told me, "Closer your eyes and utter my name when you need me," he said. He nodded and effervesced into the wind.
"I love it, you look great," said Angelina, rubbing the top of my head with her hands.
"Thanks, I needed a change," I said, happy that she liked my buzzed haircut.
Angelina's feather shaped eyes, and her soft and small pink lips with a slight shimmer of lip-gloss made me feel giddish inside. She was perfect in all of her natural beauty, enchanting as a rose. I just wanted to hold her, but instead I fidgeted and ended up shaking her hand.
Michael in all of his ghostly apparition entered my body and I lost control of my arms and wrapped Angeline inside my chest. I felt his spirit and I had to step back suddenly and fidgetted him out! I was so embarrased as I saw Michael walked out of my body and strolled about the garden whistling.
I felt my face red and angry, and said, "Gosh, sorry. I just wanted a small hug. Ended up being a big one," I joked, trying to lighten the awkwardness.
"I needed a big hug, Ike," said Angelina, smiling.
Samantha chuckled. She smacked my arm and points to the tea tavern, signaling to him that she wanted to go inside and looked around.
"Oh yeah," I said, suddenly aware I almost spaced out. "So why Broomfield this morning?"
"A friend, maybe a lead to what happened with me," said Angelina. She looked towards me, and asked, "Will you introduce me to your lovely aunt?"
"Yes, come in, please," said I said, leading them further inside the teahouse.
The hard wood floor looked polished, with four small tables each with two chairs near the living room and a brown leather couch near the fireplace. Large paintings of winged large male and female fairiesand elves with exquisite bodices graced the bright cream walls.
"This place is really amazing. I use to come here for tea parties with my mom," said Samantha, scanning the first floor of Elves Tavern.
The kitchen was the tea and coffee bar, with coffee cakes baking in the oven. A vase of fresh peonies were next to the sink, with cupcakes on a plate covered with a mash food covering on the other side. There was a marbled island in the middle of the kitchen with more desserts of muffins, scones, bagels, and brownies. The smell of cinnamon lingered in the room.
"Always smells yummy in here," said Samantha, her senses noticing the sweet aroma.
There were two medium sized round tables in the dining area, with four chairs to each table. Rows of shelves were to the back of the dining room with the lowest row of bath salts, raw rosemaries, lavenders, fresh mint and ginger roots, all in jars. The second shelf held smaller containers of ointments as well as herbs for the apothecary, and the higher shelves were full of small stock glass jars of loose-leaf teas.
There was a side bar at the end of the kitchen with stools for more seating. Leona was sitting on a stool with a pad of paper in her hand, talking on the phone with a family who needed the whole house for a birthday party in the near future.
"We will see you in August," said Leona to her customer on the phone. She hung up and walked over to Samantha and Angelina. Leona was beautiful, now in her late forties, with long black and caramel hair, large dark brown eyes, soft silky skin and small full lips.
"Hi, I'm Leona, pleased to meet you," Leona said, offering a handshake to Angelina. She almost glided on the floor with her pink flowing tiered skirt and a small white t-shirt that perfectly shapes her petite athletic body.
"Angelina Lee, but you can call me Angel," said Angelina, in awe by how attractive Leona was.
"Divine name, for a gorgeous girl. Ichabod tells me great things about you," said Leona, reaching for Angelina's right hand and holding it for a few seconds, feeling her spirit.
"Oh, wow," Angelina smiled and looked to me. "Is she always like this?"
"Loving, inside and out," said Leona with a gentle voice, both of her hands surrounding both sides of Angelina's cheeks. "You are a gift, sweetie. Don't forget it."
"Leona, let's have a tour of the house," I told her.
"Definitely. So, this is my house, and I renovated it. It's now a tea or coffee house, but we specialize in teas, deserts and tinctures for our apothecary," said Leona, with one hand on the marble counters. "We have tea parties here, especially for the little ones. I just love having parents and their little kids here."
"My mom took me to a tea party here once," said Samantha.
"Oh really? What is your last name, sweetie?" said Leona, offering a handshake to Samantha.
"Markowitz, but you can call me Sam," Samantha said, shaking Leona's hand.
"Samantha's my best friend, Leona. She's the best thing that ever happened to me since middle school," said Angelina, holding Samantha by her shoulders.
"I can tell you both have a great friendship," said Leona. She smiled and looked at Ichabod who towered over all of them.
"This one must be new to you girls. I hope he's made a good impression. We try to teach him everything we know. Me and his mom, Jenni," said Leona of me and my Mom.
"Oh, I'm good. They know I'm good," I said. "I hope Samantha approves."
Samantha winked at Ichabod and said, "Well, I am so sorry but I have to go. I have to meet my parents at five in the evening. I will catch you guys later?"
"What? How am I going to get home?" asked Angelina, in a bit of a panic seeing how she lost her ride home in a few minutes.
"Oh, Ike can take you home. He brought his car here," said Leona, calmly.
I was glad Samantha was letting me take some time with Angelina alone. Angelina timidly turned to me and asked, "May I catch a ride from you, Ike?"
"Pleasure," I answered, as I felt my eyes and lips smiling brightly in unison. I finally get to be alone with you, I thought.
Leona held Samantha's hands and said to her, "I am so pleased to meet my nephew's friends. Please come again, Sam. I would be so happy to see you here."
"I will bring my mom here next time, Leona. I think you met her once before," said Samantha, giving her a hug.
Leona walked Samantha over to the door, leaving Ichabod and Angelina alone in the kitchen.
"Wanna see the rest of the house?" I nudged Angelina.
"Yes. This place is sweet," said Angelina, looking up to the ceiling and the beautiful paintings of magical creatures on the walls.
We walked upstairs and the walls next to the stairway were full of drawings of children's hand paintings in hand made frames, up to the top of the ceiling over the stairs. Little fairy dolls hung down from the ceiling in mid-air, and the ceiling of the tavern was a painting of the sky with clouds of glittery light blue paint glimmering from afar.
"Who did the art work?" asked Angelina. "Reminds me of a little kindergarten somewhat."
"Leona did. I helped a little bit, but I was really little," I said. "The upstairs is the other seating area, but the rooms are the little tea party places. This place is originally a four-bedroom house, so it's pretty spacious."
A large indoor balcony has three little tables upstairs, each with two chairs and more paintings of flowers and fairies on the wall. There was a hallway leading to different tea party rooms with small five inches fairies dolls, hanging on each door knob.
"So here is the first room," I said, opening the door to the girl's party room.
The room was charming bedroom turned tea party haven, with a paisley print couch at the end of the room and a large wooden trunk of old vintage play clothes next to the cheval mirror to the side. There was a tall coat rack with old hats and feather boas of all colors. The walls were one continuous painting of male and female fairies flying in the clouds with tea cups nailed on and pressed flowers in frames. On the other side of the room, near the door, was a round wooden table with four chairs and a silver platter with porcelain white cups and saucers.
"This room is so cute," said Angelina, touching the ceramics on the cupboards above a small sink.
"Yeah, I came to the tavern when I was really little and had a tea party with my mom in the next room," said Ichabod. "I was seven back then. Let's go there."
The next room down the hallway looeds like a library. Covering the floor was a large red Moroccan rug with rows of bookshelves of old books all around the room. The round wooden table was towards the middle of the room with four wooden chairs. There were two leather high backed reading armchairs with ottomans in case the tea partier would like to read stories to each other. Another large oak cheval mirror was at the other side of the room with another large trunk, but with boys' jackets and tailcoats. A coat rack, with mens' scarfs, top hats, cowboy hats, button hats, Gatsby hats and fedoras were hanging on it, just for costumes fun.
"So this is the boy's tea room, I presume?" asked Angelina.
"Yes. The first one is for little kids, too. The next room is for older people," I said. "There is another room downstairs for a larger party, but that room is Japanese."
"This place is amazing," said Angelina, trying on a Gatsby Hat.
"I had a British Pop band party when I was in kindergarten in here. My mom and I dressed up and I was John Lennon," I said, putting on a fedora, but it was much too small.
"Was your mom Yoko Ono? or Ringo Star?" joked Angelina.
"Hah! Come…let's see the next room," I said, as I pulled her by her hand as we walked towards the end of the hallway with a reading bench underneath a round stained window.
"How old is this house?" asked Angelina.
"It's probably built in the 1940's but it's been renovated and everything is actually new. When Leona bought it, everything was perfect as it is. Nothing was broken, the plumbing was great, toilet was redone, and the walls were repainted," I said. "My mom and I used to live next door, when we lived with my dad. But my dad moved on. Leona lives close by us now."
We walk over to the next room and the door was different, made of a darker shade of wood than the floor and the door slid inside the wall. The room was bigger with a large round dining table in the middle of the room with six chairs. The table has carving on its sides and on the chairs. The walls has vintage flower wallpapers and small oil paintings of male and female fairies were all around the room.
"I love the decorations and paintings. They're so imaginative," said Angelina.
"Look at this side of the room," I said. To the right of the room was an old Victorian couch with two round side tables with battery operated oil lamps. Across it was a large flat screen television inside a large double door wooden armoire. Next to the armoire was a very large wooden trunk, with all types of board games inside.
"This is an adult play room," said Angelina.
"Yeah, this is my favorite room, but the boy's tea room comes close," I said. "I use the flat screen to watch movies after closing time. It's so awesome. We close at 10 pm every day and we get to have bonding times as a family sometimes so we would watch movies, like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight and even The Hunt for Red October."
"How long have you been working here?" asked Angelina.
"For a couple of years now, since I was 15, after I got my worker's permit," I said.
"How do you keep up with everything? Aren't you in track also? And the Fantasy Club, I heard about that," asked Angelina.
"I think if you love it, it all falls into place. One step at a time, mostly," I said. "Besides, I only work weekends. Plus, it gives the Fantasy Club a place to party."
Angelina looked as if she was in enchantment with the Elves Tavern, discovering every nook and looking inside the trunk for the types of board games ready for play. "Hey, let's see the rest of the house," I said, taking her hand.
I saw the corners of her lips lifted to a smile as I hoped her heart molded back into shape from its torn pieces. "
So....what's the occasion for inviting me?" asked Angelina.
"I wanted to know if you'd like to come more often," I said, looking down to the ground blushing crimson. "I mean, sometimes Leona is here, but most of the time, I'm here alone."
"To keep you company?" asked Angelina, looking into my eyes.
"If you're not doing anything," I said, sincerely. "Just let me know if you have things to do, and I'd understand."
"Well, I'm usually at cheerleading practice around this time," said Angelina, her hands on her back. "But, I'm not in cheer anymore, so I'd love to come and hang out."
"Yeah? You get free desserts and teas," I told her. "We just have to clean too, like mopping and doing some gardening to keep up the look of the place."
"Well, I'll have to take you up on that offer," said Angelina.
"You want to see the Japanese tea room?" I asked, jerking from excitement. "It's cool!"
"Yes!" said Angelina.
We walked downstairs to the back end of the house just before reaching the backyard. There was a larger guest room with a shoji (Japanese sliding door) before reaching the sunroom that led to the back garden.
"This is the Tatami Room," I said. "Leona is Chinese, but she loves Japanese tea rooms. She made one for her customers who wants to experience a cultural Asian tea ceremony."
"I've never seen anything like it," said Angelina, touching the Japanese tea set on the table inside one of the Tokonoma or Japanese tea-room alcove. Inside each alcove was a scroll of a Kabuki Dancer and outside of each alcove was a bamboo mat for shoes and slippers.
The walls had Japanese paintings and on the center floor table was a very large Bonzai tree with a Japanese cushion mats for customers to sit on.
"She added this room last year," I said. "This used to be a part of the sunroom, but Leona wants a cultural room. To add some flavor."
"Definitely a great addition. I love it," said Angelina, walking closer to the walls to see the Japanese art.
As they look around the room, a gentle breeze touched my neck and Michael appeared before me. Angelina was observing the paintings as Michael stood invisibly behind her.
"We have guests," said Leona, opening the door to the Tatami room, sensing Michael's presence. "I pray inside this room. I feel the spirit close to me."
"Leona," I said, nervously. "I was just showing Angelina around."
Leona looks directly into Michael's eyes as he smiled at her. "She hasn't changed," Michael said to me. "Still a Zalmunna."
Leona couldn't hear conversations between angels and messengers, because she had tried to take her own life and her divine powers was cast out of her. But, her talent for strong intuition and sensing the spirits as well as her gift of dreams were still well inside her soul. Leona's gifts were now her skills to heal and holistically restore others from suffering or ailments of any kind. Leona taught me to channel my mental health thoughts to meditations and prayers and to trust my gut intuitions with my body and if anything was irrational, we consult each other and use the Bible to combat negative thoughts and emotions.
"Is everything okay?" asked Leona. She looked directly at Michael, but decided to turn her eyes towards me.
Archangel Michael nodded to me, and I replied, "Yes, everything is fine."
Archangel Michael looked to Leona and his eyes moistened, and said,"She was dear to us, and she had the talents to speak to Raphael."
I was worried, as I saw tears in Michael's eyes, and asked him, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. I'm just loving these paintings," said Angelina, as she turns around.\
"Guard her mind," said Archangel Michael as he slowly disappeared from the room.
I replied, to Michael, "I will."
"Ichabod was talking to me, Angelina," said Leona. "What are you thinking, Ichabod?"
"I just want to make Angelina happy," I said, smiling at Angelina. "Leona, would it be okay for Angel to keep me company sometimes?"
"Of course. A good friend of yours is a good friend of mine," said Leona. "Angelina, Ichabod is going to make you the best fudge brownie and blueberry scones you'll ever taste."
"You bake all of the desserts, Ike?" asked Angelina.
"Sometimes, when we run out of the ones Leona makes," I answered.
"He's been my nephew since we met a decade ago in this very house. He's the only person in the block who would say hello. He was the only one who cared for me," said Leona, rubbing Ichabod shoulders.
"Leona was too shy to meet me, but I couldn't resist. She's my aunt," I said.
"Where do you live now, Leona?" asked Angelina.
"Nearby the Silvercreek hospital. Around the corner from it, actually," said Leona.
"We live close by. We just don't want to lose touch," I added.
"Why did you move?" asked Angelina.
"After Ichabod and his family left, I just felt so alone. I turned this house into a café. Do you like it?" asked Leona.
"I love it," said Angelina, looking around the stunning Japanese tea-room.
"But, how is school going for you both?" asked Leona, changing the subject.
"Angelina's being hurt at school," I said.
"Just some random bullying," said Angelina.
"Bullying is not random, sweetie. They never are," said Leona. Leona had a keen understanding of human nature, because she had to overcome so many layers of violence.
"I love your café," said Angelina, changing the subject. I took her hand to show her the little Japanese Rock Garden at the south end of the room. A large and thick black square box was on the floor full of sand up to about five inches deep with numerous rocks surrounding it.
"This was added in, to be a relaxing game for anyone," I said. I took the long wooden rake at the end of the room on a wooden stand. "This life size Japanese Rock Garden, is a Zen Buddhism tool. You can use this rake is to draw anything on the sand." I drew a row of lines with the wooden rake on the sand.
"You can drink tea and play in the garden. That's the whole point of it. Relaxation for our customers," said Leona.
"This is cool. I've never known about this game before," said Angelina, kneeling beside the sand box and pushing her hands deep into the granules.
"It's a therapy garden," said Leona. She lifted one of the small rocks from the sand and placed it on top of a larger one. "You can create your rock sculptures and sink into the deep healing peace it concocts inside your mind." She smiled at Angelina and reached to her to give her a hug. "Ichabod, I'll leave you in charge till closing time. Angel you can help him if you can stay," she said.
"Sure, I'd love to," said Angelina.
"It is so great to meet you, Angel. I'm happy Ichabod finally brings some of his friends over to meet me. I was getting worried that he was becoming a hermit," said Leona, jokingly.
Angelina smiled, and said, "I think he's fun. He's very social to us. Thank you for having me, Leona."
"Okay. I'm off," said Leona as she walked outside of the Tatami room to grab her purse and keys. "If you need me, call or text me, Ichabod."
"Will do," I replied. The door closed and I turned to Angelina. "Let's make some tea. What do you feel like? Green, Jasmine… or Rose tea?" I led her to the kitchen by her shoulders.
"What about chamomile? It makes me feel peaceful," said Angelina, leaning on the kitchen counter.
"I'll have some chamomile with you," I said.
The empty kettle was in close reach as I took it and filled it with water. I turned on the electrical stove and placed the kettle on top of the first stove top. I took the tea cups from the cupboard above her, taking my time. He took two tea cups and placed them on the counter. I took the honey in a large glass jar from the fridge and walked over to Angelina.
"Smell this honey," I said, opening the large jar of raw honey with clumps of honeycombs inside. "We bought this online from Seattle. A local bee farmer in Seattle made this for us."
As she tried to smell the honey, I pressed the cold glass jar of honey to her left cheek as she giggled.
"I want us to talk about everything," I told her, still pressing the jar of honey on her cheek. "Anything in your mind. Good. Bad. Scary. Anything. I want to hear you." He finally stopped pressing the jar on her cheek because she tried to lick my hand.
"Are you sure you won't be scared?" asked Angelina.
"I want you, to just...be. Don't care about what I think. Say anything," I told her, placing the honey jar on the counter and opening the cupboard next to the refrigerator to find the chamomile. "I want to be your friend. I don't care about the other stuff. The thing that happened."
"What if everything I talk about gets you upset or frustrated," asked Angelina.
"I'll tell you what I think but you have to be open minded . If I get frustrated, then we take a breather," I replied, as I found some chamomile. "Loose-leaf or tea bags?"
"Loose-leaf," said Angelina. I walked to the kitchen counter where Angelina stood and picked up two teapots to hold the loose-leaf teas.
"Can I tell you something, Ichabod?" asked Angelina.
I held the teapots in my hands and placed them behind her with Angelina in between them. Her cheeks flushed, and I stepped back.
"I'm not over Collin," said Angelina, warning me. Her eyes faced down and I sensed warm energy from her direction and sensed she was about to cry.
I walked to the kettle, turned the stove heat to high, to quicken the process for some tea, as I leaned back against the counter. "Sorry to put the moves on you. What do you still love about him?" I asked, softly. "I know you guys were together for a while."
"Two years," said Angelina.
"What broke it off?"
"The fight. He thought I'd be trouble to his life."
"You're not trouble. I think people are scared of beautiful and smart girls. They feel threatened, because they're destined or have the potential for success."
"I just wanted to be with him forever, but it didn't happen."
"You had plans."
"So did he. We were supposed to go to CU together and just be with each other and keep working until we graduate and find a job," said Angelina. "Then, maybe, we get engaged. I felt it inside my heart."
My eyes drooped to the ground, beset by silence from hearing the depth of her feelings towards Collin. The kettle whistled and I turned off the stove, and asked, "Do you think you can move on?"
"I just feel a great amount of loss. I still care for him and it hurts," said Angelina. "His parents...Collin told them about what happened with me. They felt it was time for us to separate because I got him in trouble."
"I don't think you brought him into anything. I think there is something else, but you just don't know," I said, with my frontal lobe playing scenes of Merrick's assault, and fear made the hairs on my arms rose up.
"What do you mean?" asks Angelina.
"Well, those people who came to our school to hurt you," I said. "How did they know you're still with Collin that morning? You never met them before, did you?"
"No, I didn't know who they were. I don't think they go to our school," said Angelina.
"I know they don't go to our school," I said. "They started it. It wasn't your fault."
"I didn't think Collin would get suspended," said Angelina. "We were in love, for two years. One suspension, and he broke it off."
"Okay, okay....here, let's have the tea first," I said, handing her the tea cups. I took the loose-leaf chamomile and a teaspoon to fill the strainer inside each teapots. "Let's sit near the front, so we can watch out for customer."
I walked with the two cups and two tea pots full of hot water,on a wooden serving tray, and she held a spoon in one hand and the glass jar of honey in the other.
"Did you think you hurt the relationship?" I asked, placing the serving tray on the table.
"Yes. It was my rape and I screwed it up by telling him what happened," said Angelina. "I shouldn't have gone to the party."
"You shouldn't have been there at all. That's what you're saying."
"Yes. I shouldn't have let them feed me test tube shots. I was careless."
"You have the right to privacy, safety, well being and personal boundaries. They crossed it. It's embarrassing to be drunk, I get it. But, to be attacked while you were drunk, it's called a crime, Angel. You need to know the truth."
"I could have prevented it. I was asking for it, I was vulnerable."
"Well...I guess if I was a rapist, I'd always jump out of the bushes in a dark alley so the women who gets raped can blame themselves for walking there. I mean, they should have known they were asking for it," I said. "Or better yet, I'll always rape the girls wearing skirts because it's their fault for wearing short skirts or maybe shorts...yeah...shorts. Or even the ones walking in the dark at parking lots. They're all asking for it."
"That's not what I meant," said Angelina. She took a teaspoon full of honey and put it inside her teacup.
"If we all know the impending events, we all would be so happy and mistake free," I said. "Or we'd all become Superman. With telepathic powers, or we can know everyone's real intentions." My index fingers moving in a twisting motion over my head. "We should all fly like bees, too. The men can pollenate the women who were asking for it. The women can all be Amish bees, and churn butter all day!"
"I meant… I shouldn't have gone without Collin or let them feed me those drinks," said Angelina. "I should be more cautious or brought protection."
"You're saying the same things. You thought it was a foreseeable danger," I replied.
"Yes, it is," said Angelina.
"You should be a psychic," I said, licking my spoon with honey.
"I feel dumb," confessed Angelina. Her eyes are moist again.
"You're not dumb," I said. "I don't think you should always blame yourself for something that goes wrong. Especially for this tragedy. You knew Melody for a while, at least for two years, and you guys were having fun. I don't think anyone expects anything to happen to anyone at parties. You guys were already comfortable with each other. You thought the friendship was strong."
"Humans can't be trusted, and I should operate as if we have no safety net. Then I would be more careful," said Angelina, effusively defending her point of view. "I was too careless. I wish I can turn back time."
"I agree, humans can't be trusted. Yet, we do. We trust because we build relationships. The closer we are, the more trust we earn. Right?" I said, looking into her eyes, tenderly. "So, since you knew everyone there for at least part of the high school year, it was supposed to be safe. You just don't know they're also evil. You never met Merrick or his fraternity friends. You didn't have a magic 8 ball that told you, "It has been decided that you're shit out of luck tonight!"
I sipped my tea. "You're not a mind reader and you're innocent from blame. You're a bright girl, Angel. Also,…I think it was planned." I knew how vulnerable she was, and I just wanted to hug her, but I inhaled the scent of chamomile. "It was an accident, where you were left physically attacked. I never thought the 9/11 could happen to anyone, but terrorists killed a lot of people. They were murdered, and it wasn't their fault they all went to work that morning."
"I knew Melody for two years before this happened. I still think it's someone she knows, otherwise she wouldn't be so mad," said Angelina.
"I thought we agreed it was Merrick who was our suspect," I said, putting his cup on the table.
"Did Sam tell you this?" said Angelina, a little irritable about the "Merrick" theory.
"I had a feeling actually," I said.
"Well, we don't have proof, but it has to be one of the men at the party," said Angelina.
"I see. So, Melody was just mean to you because you reported to the police? And those people who came to our school to fight you, just wanted you to break up with Collin? Just because they're nosy?" I asked her, sarcastically.
"I still don't know how I was raped, because I was drugged. But I do feel Melody saw someone and didn't care about what happened," said Angelina.
"I think it is Merrick," I said, with assurance, and annoyance because I didn't want to tell her, otherwise, I was a delusional source.
"Why do you think it was Merrick?" asked Angelina.
"I think they wanted something out of you, and Merrick was there purposely to be introduced to you by Melody," I answered. "I think Melody wants Collin, and they were just waiting for the right time to attack."
"I don't know if that's true. Melody has been so sweet to us. I think she's mad because I reported the rape and now, she's implicated," said Angelina.
"You're defending her, I think you're trying to be nice, but it's not working," I said. "You have to remember that it was a crime. Do you want to be their victim forever?"
"I reported because I was bleeding. The hospital was convinced that I was raped," says Angelina.
"What do you think happened?" I asked, wondering where she was going with this conversation.
"I would rather not be a rape victim," says Angelina. "But, I know that I woke up with my shirt on backwards and my jeans pulled so high up my waist that my privates hurt. Then, I bled. But, I wished I didn't report, because now, Collin is gone!"
The cup of tea felt warm in my hands.
"Do you believe anyone could see a crime before it happened? It was a crime, Angelina. It wasn't something you can predict. No one wants to be a victim. I understand," says Ichabod, repeating his words, hoping that this time, she will sink every positive enforcements he is giving her. He sips his tea and says, "We would all feel safe, Angel. There would be no need for a government, or police, or alarms, or doors, or locks and keys. The whole society would be utopic, and the world would have no war. You're not dumb. They're just criminals."
"I still have to heal and really accept myself now. I'm happy to be here," said Angelina. "You're the first person besides Sam who really accepted me after what happened."
"I think you're beautiful," I confessed. "So pretty." The corners of my lips genuinely smiled.
Angelina smiled back kindly, and asked, "Are you flirting?"
"Yes," I said, locking my eyes on her and my cheeks burning reddish flesh like a hot campfire.
"Can we get to know each other more?" she asked.
"I would love to," I answered, and my heart ardently loving every bit of her.
To be continued. Just write.