By now we had decided that the climax/crisis of the story -- where everything turned to the worse or the better -- was going to be a kegger and drug party. Clearly Itzy and Che in combination would get into big trouble, maybe legal and maybe medical. Heather was her same old dumb self, never catching on, so she wouldn’t even make it to the party.
It was a problem to know how Che’s old grandfather would act. Heather’s parents just wouldn’t know, but would the old man intercede, try to stop Che? We decided that the old time way was more to let people find out for themselves and then help afterwards, if that were possible. They were accepting of danger and felt that even if someone died, though it was a bad loss, it was inevitable in some way. They wouldn’t try to work magic, knowing that sometimes that just makes the price higher.
We still couldn’t decide whether Heather would get pregnant or not. But we did pick up another thread: suicide. The suicide rate on reservations is very high, so we tried to show what state of mind would make a promising young woman like Heather resort to those thoughts. Self-pity, self-hate, and no sense of any world out beyond her own famliar world. No one to listen, even though there are people all over the place.
After that first sweat, Che felt different. He thought, "Maybe I am a new person and now everything will be okay-- or at least better."
He didn't say anything to his grandfather. For that matter, his grandfather didn't say much to him, either. His grandfather often just sat in an old kitchen chair outside the door of the shack, basking in the sun and seeming asleep unless there was something worth watching. Che did what seemed to have to be done, though much of what his grandfather thought was important-- like airing the bedding every day-- didn't strike Che as necessary. The two of them fell into a kind of routine. For a long time it felt good, kind of healing.
But then Che began to get restless. He wondered what his old buddies were doing-- well, actually, he KNEW what they were doing: the same thing as always: raising hell. Their whole lives revolved around getting money somehow, getting booze, getting into beat-up old cars, and getting drunk as fast and as completely as possible. Then they waited until they stopped aching and their stomachs could tolerate food again, so they could start all over again. They got thin and jumpy and didn't care about much of anything. Sometimes there simply was no money to get, and then they seemed to slow down and become a little healthier. But soon they got restless again, just as Che was getting restless now. After living fast and on the edge, everything else just seemed kind of dumb. What was the point of it anyway?
In one of those moods, Che thought of Heather. He hadn't seen her for a while and there was a part of him that wanted her to see him now that he had gained a little weight and sat through several head-clearing sweats. There was enough water and firewood stashed around the cabin to last a while. The old grandfather seemed to be sleeping in his chair. Che didn't see one eye open slightly when the boy left, but the old man didn't call out or move. He just observed.
The trailer was getting hot in the sun and Itsy had gone off somewhere, something she rarely did. Heather was feeling the heat, but she was glad to have the trailer to herself, since her mother was working at the Bingo Parlor. She sprawled on her mother's bed in shorts, half-watching a soap opera. It wasn't one she usually saw, so she really didn't know what the characters were doing, but there was rarely much of anything surprising. It seemed that the young blonde girl thought she might be pregnant and she was glad, because she figured that meant that her boyfriend would marry her and they would live happily ever after. "I'll bet," thought Heather sceptically.
Then she heard Che's voice calling softly at the open front door. In her rush up the narrow hallway, she bounced off the walls and laughed at herself.
"What's so funny?" asked Che, coming in. "Where's your old lady?"
"Everybody's gone. Just me is home."
"Watchin' TV. Want some ice tea?" Heather hadn't forgotten what she had learned when Che came to call that first time, but she thought she knew him better now and could trust him more. Still, ice tea would be about right, wouldn't it? With sugar and lemon?
"I don't care." Che thought maybe he'd better take it easy with this kid. She really was pretty young. "I don't see no television set."
"Oh, it's back in the bedroom."
"What's on?" He started down the hall. Heather hadn't realized that telling him where the TV was would sound like an invitation to go there, but then she thought, why not? What's wrong with watching television? It's just a soap. The sun is shining. It's not like necking in a movie, for instance.
Che was already sprawled on the bed, looking very strange in a place she was used to seeing only her parents. He had turned the volume up, and now there were two men on the screen, evidently plotting something. Heather climbed onto the bed beside him, feeling self-conscious. They watched quietly as the endless stories unwound among the equally endless commercials. Heather began to relax. After a while, Che seemed to be asleep. He rolled onto his stomach.
She could not resist laying her hand on his back. Almost without thinking she began to gently rub. Che took this as invitation and rested a hand cautiously on her leg. When she didn't pull away, he began to stroke her soft skin.
Itsy came back to the trailer cursing under her breath. In this two-bit little dusty town she couldn't find anything she was used to buying. Even the colors of nail polish were dumb. She picked up a couple of magazines and a six-pack of pop-- that was about all there was that she could use. How was she going to get to a town with a real store?
When she stopped in the tiny kitchen to set down her pop, the television seemed louder than usual. She smelled something different, too, kind of a musky smell. Hair oil or something. When she stood still and looked around, it came to her that she was hearing a rhythmic... what? Was the old man here and getting it on in the back bedroom? Surely they would have shut the door. There was no pickup parked out front.
Through the open front door, she could see Heather's mother down the street, headed home. "Oh, no!" It suddenly dawned on her what was really happening. "I thought that kid was too young and dumb!"
Pounding down the hall, she burst into the bedroom and saw that she had been right. That Che boy was right on top of Heather. "Here comes your mom, Heather! Pull up your shorts!"
By the time Heather's mother came into the trailer, all three young people were decorously arranged at the foot of the bed, innocently watching Sesame Street. Only Heather looked a little bit flushed and stunned, but her mother--in her annoyance-- didn't notice. "Didn't anyone start supper?" demanded her mother. Three sets of amazed eyes stared at her. Supper? What a strange thought.
"Oh, the hell with it. It's too hot to cook anyway." She went into Buddy's room and threw herself on the bed. The walls of the trailer were so thin it was easy to tell what anyone was doing.
Itsy slapped Che on the shoulder. "Well, pard, it was nice you could stop by, but I guess it's time for the party to end. We'll walk you to the door, won't we, Heather."
Che wasn't entirely steady on his feet, but he managed to get out gracefully. Heather leaned helplessly in the door frame with tears welling up in her eyes. Itsy opened a couple of cans of pop. "Guess this didn't warm up too much." Heather didn't seem to be registering. "HEY! WAKE UP!" She put the can in Heather's hand. "Let's go for a walk."
Itsy sort of liked being the stage manager. These dumb kids didn't know anything. She hustled Heather on out the door and down the road to a clump of trees where they could sit in shade.
"Boy, I don't know why I don't come out here more often. It's a lot nicer than being inside when it's this hot." Itsy was amused that Heather was such a zombie. "So, okay, kid. Your first time or something?" She could see by Heather's face that it certainly was.
"What if I get pregnant?" whispered Heather.
"Geez, you're dumb."
"What if my dad finds out?"
"So how's he gonna find out? I'm not gonna tell him. I'm not a rat."
"So how'd you like it?" Itsy looked sideways as she tipped up her pop can.
"I don't know." And that was the truth. Heather hardly knew what had happened to her. It seemed to her that she had tried to resist, but had she? And what did it mean? Had she started it? Invited it? She just didn't know anything that would help her sort out her feelings and there was no one she could ask for help. This Itsy was protecting her, she knew that, but she didn't know why or what she would owe Itsy in return. And she didn't like the slightly mocking tone of her voice. She gulped some pop and burped, getting pop up her nose.
Itsy laughed and laughed. "Dumb kid!"
Che didn't come around for a few days. He felt a little sheepish. It never occurred to him that Heather might need a little reassurance. Some of his buddies had run into him on the street and he knew there was a kegger in the planning. He wanted to go, felt he needed to go. When he did show up at the trailer, only Itsy was there.
"I was gonna invite Heather to a kegger," he said, just having thought of it that minute.
"Yeah? Well, don't take a little green kid like that to a kegger. She wouldn't know what to do. She don't even hardly drink. Why don't you take me instead?"
Che shrugged. He didn't really care very much who he took so long as he got there. He was afraid of getting in too deep with Heather anyway-- what if she fell in love with him, or thought she did?
"When is it?" demanded Itsy.
"If we're going to hook a ride, I spose we ought to get to my friend's house now."
"Just let me get a jacket and my purse." She briefly considered writing a note to say where she went, but she could hardly tell the truth. The roof would blow off the trailer when her dad got home that night. He might even come looking.
The two set off together. Heather, who had been in the bathroom setting her hair, then holding her breath to hear the conversation once she heard Che's voice, came into the hallway and stood looking out the window at their disappearing backs. The tears rolled down her cheeks. She wished she would just die quietly. It was clear that no one in the whole world would care, not even her dad.
And that was the first time she thought of suicide, but not the last.