I fanned myself in front of my mirror, wishing I could stop perspiring. Flop sweats wouldn’t help my foundation to stay in place. Hand shaking, I tried applying mascara. When it comes to beauty, I take after my late father. I have wide-set eyes like a doll’s, pale skin, thin blonde hair and dark blue eyes. In fact, I really look nothing like my mother. In a way, that’s a blessing. I can easily fade into the background in moments where she’s the center of attention.
“Sunny, are you almost ready?”
Speak of the devil. I blotted my face dry again. “I’ll be right out, Mom.” I closed my eyes a took a deep breath, preparing my cheeriest demeanor for what was to come.
“Hurry up, we can’t be late for the meeting.”
“I know,” I groaned. Once again, her job was on the line.
“I’ll be waiting in the car.
On the way out the door I kissed my finger and touched a photo of my father for luck. “I hope you’re watching over us, you were always the one to get her out of trouble.”
My father gave me my nickname. Mom wanted to call me Sam, but I was born in June under the light of a sunrise. Daddy used to tell me stories about the way the light glittered off of my eyes when he first held me in his arms. I had been crying, as all babies do. When the doctor handed me to my mother I cried so hard they thought I was going into cardiac arrest. But then my daddy took me into his strong arms. And I opened my big blue eyes.
My biological father James Foster had been a high school principal who’d risen through the ranks of the school board before his mysterious disappearance. Most friends and family assumed he found out about mom’s affairs and finally found the courage to leave her. Others such as my grandparents knew in their hearts my mother murdered their son, but there was no way to prove it. They went to their graves cursing the name Elena Desilva.
I took a seat in the gray minivan. The sliding door closed automatically. “Are we picking up Austin?”
My mother was checking her lipstick. “Sweetie, that’s a silly question. Can you imagine what that would look like to the panel? His father’s driving him. ”
I buckled up and tried not to get ratty about her focus on her make-up, where most women would’ve—should’ve—been crapping themselves with fear over the tribunal outcome. But mom didn’t do fear.
For most of my life I thought my mother was simply a healer: a white witch living her life as a high school biology teacher. By the time I started high school she was in her thirties, but could easily pass for younger. Five-foot-nine, stunningly beautiful with piercing green eyes, porcelain skin, Elena had the body of a lingerie model even though she never worked out and survived completely on fast food and left-over Chinese take-out. She was a horrible cook but ironically a master at developing spells and potions for healing, health and vitality. When, of course, she wasn’t having affairs with her most attractive students, the latest being Austin Lopez.
In our small truck-stop town of Beloit, everything is reasonably close. Getting to the school took only around ten minutes. My mother pulled into a parking space under the shade of a cherry tree. I suddenly heard the car unlock. The driver’s side door swung open and Austin appeared.
“Hey Mamacita.” He climbed on to my mother’s lap, straddling her. She wore a knee length skirt, but that didn’t stop him. His hands moved up her thighs. “No panties,” he whispered as he licked her earlobe. He moved his hands to his zipper.
I got out of the minivan and slammed the sliding door shut, knowing how much that annoyed my mother. I started to make my way to the entrance of the school. God, I hated Austin.
At just eighteen, his cat-like, seductive grin made him look way older, and irresistible, too, combined with dark brown eyes, sexy high cheekbones, and jet black hair that fell just past his ears. His long legs and lean muscular body made him a star on the track team. This of course led to him becoming the joke of the school: “Why does Mexico never medal in Olympic Track and Field? All of their greatest athletes made it past the border.” But no one could deny Austin’s talent. He’d transferred to Beloit over the summer of 2017, during the start of President Trump’s reign of terror on immigrants, kicking out all the bad hombres in his campaign to make America great again. Austin wasn’t an immigrant, but that didn’t make his life any easier especially in the Midwest.
I still have no idea how the relationship started, only that Austin was not like the others. He wasn’t in a trance, following my mother around like a puppy, desperate to hump her leg. In those relationships, my mother held all the power. She used those sex-obsessed teenage boys as her playthings. Dozens of jocks would kiss her, touch her, and then receive an invitation to go all the way. They would of course share the news with their friends, which was why the entire school (faculty and all) knew about her special hobby. The principal was just waiting for a chance to catch my mother in the act. But none of her victims lived to tell the tale- one by one they all just disappeared. The police were called a few times but my mom was very good at getting rid of any evidence such as clothing and other personal belongings.
With Austin, she was drawn to him as much as he was drawn to her. And I know for a fact that they had sex several times on campus without Austin vanishing. I can remember the first time she brought him to our house.
I had been waiting by the minivan as they left the school together, unable to keep their hands off each other. Austin looked sexy in a leather jacket and denim jeans, with designer sunglasses hiding his eyes. Judging by how he’d dressed when he’d first transferred, my mom had to be buying him clothes.
Mom opened the door, for Austin and only Austin. I figured she was so eager to get him into bed she would have easily left without me. So, I felt the need to make my presence known and clambered quickly into the seats behind. “Hi, you’re Austin, right? I’m Sunny.”
“Hey." As mom got in the driver's seat, he moved forward and kissed her neck.
I shook my head. “Mom, at least get out of the parking lot first. This is how you got in trouble last time."
"My apologies," Austin said in his smooth California accent. He leaned back in his seat with his arms stretched out, as if the minivan was the most luxurious vehicle he’d ever been in.
When we got home, they immediately started making out. She put the car into park and moments later Austin threw open the front door, grabbing her in his arms. I should have gone around to the side door of our two-bed home, but stupidly thought, with my slender frame, that I could squeeze past them before any clothes came off. I wasn’t fast enough; as they tumbled into the living room, I could already see him unzipping his jeans. He wore no underwear, so I unfortunately caught sight of just how ready he was for her.
For long seconds I just couldn’t look away as mom lowered his jeans, reveling in his chiseled hips and thighs. She used her mouth and hands, reaching between his legs to pleasure him in ways I didn’t want to think about.
“You’re so good to me,” Austin moaned, stripping off his jacket and white t-shirt, revealing even more of his body. He caught my eye then, inviting me to watch or even join in.
“No thanks,” I muttered. “Gold-digging cougar-chasers are just not my type!”
He still wasn’t my type. Hostilities had ceased a little, but as far as I was concerned, he was just trouble. Just ten minutes now until the tribunal started. I headed for the Principal’s office where the meeting would be held and gazed up at the high ceiling of the atrium as I made my way there. The roof was a series of glass panels bathing the interior in natural light. “Are you there, Daddy? If you are, could you maybe give me a sign?”
I passed into the shadows of the corridors and made my own way to the office. Mom and Austin could follow at their own pace, for all I cared. I was a little too mad to speak to her, which my dad would’ve gently told me off for.
He was a good man who’d stayed in a loveless marriage. He knew Elena was a sex addict, but didn’t care; she was an uncanny beauty, a wild, free-spirited science major who also loved art and poetry. The story, as he’d always told it, was that he’d gotten my mother pregnant the first time they made love. But to him that was a blessing. He wanted her, he loved her.
He told me that ever since the day I was born, he knew he was put on this earth to love me. He was kind and encouraging and took comfort in the fact he would always have my love. My father slept on the sofa while he rose in rank to the school board, all to protect his wife. He bought her a house with a yard twice the size of all the others on the block. His dream was to build her a garden. He wanted her to find a way to be happy.
Slouched over in a metal chair I started to cry. “I miss you Daddy.” The tears fell hard, focusing the air from my lungs. But the harder I cried the better I felt. I was crying out the anger and pain of the past eighteen years.
“Are you ok?” asked a deep masculine voice. With his thick Spanish accent I assumed he was a janitor.
“Yeah,” I said, as I rifled through my pocket for a tissue. “My mom has a meeting with the principal.” And I had no tissues.
“I’m sure it can’t be that bad,” he said with a chuckle. “I was young once. One day you will be able to put this all in your rearview mirror.”
“God I hope so,” I said, blotting my tears with my hand.
“Here, take these.” he handed my some McDonald’s napkins.
“Thank you,” I said softly. It felt nice to have someone to talk to, even if he was just a janitor. “I’m Samantha, but my friends call me Sunny.”
“Sunny, I like that. Is it because you sparkle like the beauty of a sunrise?”
“What did you say?” I asked as I blotted my eyes.
“It’s nice to meet you, Sunny. I am Jahil Lopez, Austin’s father.”
“Jahil Lopez…” I murmured. I was embarrassed, repeating it and then falling silent, but the words slid off my tongue like silk. He was a massive man, six-foot-two with skin the color of coffee with cream, thick muscular arms and handsome, masculine features. His black hair was just long enough to caress his neck. When he ran his fingers through it, I could see a few ribbons of grey, matching the color running through his facial hair. His most stunning feature was his eyes. From a distance they would look black, but up close they were the color of dark chocolate: stunning, mysterious eyes that pierced through to the soul.
Jahil used his cane to lower himself down on the chair beside me, struggling to put weight on his left leg. When he finally managed to sit, his face is visibly flushed with discomfort. He shot me a smile as if to say, ‘Nothing to see here.’
But my mind was racing: What happened to his leg? The man appeared to be in a horrible amount of pain.
Austin and Elena appeared. We were all ushered into the office. As Jahil stood up to shake hands with the Principal and the school board representatives, a ripple of red energy went up his leg, then though his left arm. He stood strong as if no longer in pain, leaving his cane by the chair. I stared at Austin, then at my mom, and then at the officials. Nobody seemed to have registered it.
Austin pulled me close. “Remember the plan.”
I sighed. “Unfortunately, I do.”
As Jahil and my mother took their seats, I saw the red energy appear again. I looked at Austin: I couldn’t be the only one seeing this.
He and Elena had come up with a plan ahead of time; Austin was dating me. That was why we all left school together, and why he was always at my house.
Principal Meyers started the questioning. The tall African-American woman stared down my mother. “Ms Desilva how would address the allegations that you have been engaging in a sexual relationship with Austin Lopez?”
My mother sighed. “Austin is a sweet boy, who has been though a lot of turmoil. I believe any witnesses who came forward were viewing our interactions outside of proper context.”
Austin was humming the Itsy Bitsy Spider, walking his fingers up my thigh. I swatted his hand, seriously regretting not wearing jeans. He leaned over and licked my earlobe. “You know what they say about girls who wear yoga pants? They’re asking for it.”
“Shut up,” I whispered.
“What was that Ms Foster?” Principal Meyers always disliked me by virtue of association. But there was one instance where she landed solidly on the wrong end of a decision.
I smiled, directing my response to the members of the school board. “I was just thinking about my first boyfriend, Tony Keller. He was the victim of physical abuse at the hands of his father. Principal Meyers referred to it as a domestic issue and threatened to fire my mother if she went to the police.”
Principal Meyers knew exactly the incident I was referring to. “I fail to see what that has to do with this current situation.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing- she wasn’t even going to deny it? I stood up, looking her in the eyes. “You sided with a man who beat his wife and child! You told my mother that if she went to the police you would support his father’s account!” Tony was an athlete; his father claimed the injuries were sports related.
I reached for Austin’s hand. As I closed my eyes, in my mind I was holding Tony’s hand. The hand I held on the playground in elementary school. “Austin and his father are not in a good situation financially and have not been in the state long enough to qualify for aid.” It wasn’t a lie; my mother had told me Austin was homeless, squatting in an abandoned farmhouse outside of town. “I just feel like my mother’s efforts to help the boys I date, people I deeply care about, always seem to result in her job being threatened.”
The school board representatives were glaring at Principal Meyers. The woman shifted in her chair, her hands fidgeting with a pen. “Mr. Jahil Lopez, can you testify to the nature of your son’s relationship?”
Jahil looked at me and nodded. “Young love, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Principal Meyers sighed. “You’re all free to go.” She stood up and held the door open. “Elena.”
My mother turned around. “Yes, Erica?”
The woman proceeded to do the thing where you point at your eyes then point at the other person. My mother responded with a discreet middle finger.
Jahil once again transferred the red energy from his leg to his arm so he could stand. Once he made it back to his cane, he transferred the energy back.
My mother strutted out victoriously. As she held her hand up to Jahil for a high-five, he laughed. “You have a beautiful energy, Ms Desilva.”
“I could say the same about you, Jahil. And, like I told you before, call me Elena.”
To see him walking so slowly was breaking my heart. “Are you okay?”
He nodded. “It’s just my leg.” Jahil activated the red energy, again transferring some of the pain to the opposite arm so he could walk easier. “I have good days and bad days.”
I nodded back. Was I seriously the only one who could see what he was doing to himself?
My mother touched his arm, her glowing white energy seeping into his skin. “Would you like to go out to dinner, the four of us, my treat?”
He smiled at her. "That is very kind of you, Elena.”
"You and Austin can meet up with us at Applebee's, unless you prefer Mexican food?"
Austin laughed. "Nah, Mamacita, we're Colombian."
Elena took a step back, frowning. "Really? I'm sorry. I thought…”
Austin and Jahil burst out laughing—even I was laughing. Austin loved to confuse people; on his first day, he’d told our homeroom class his mother was Honduran, his father was from Mexico and he himself had been born in Napa Valley, California.
“Just messing with you Chica,” Austin murmured, moving in closer, his lips dangerously close to mom’s eager mouth.
I shoved past him. “Keep it in your pants until we're off school grounds!”
Jahil’s truck had been parked only a few spaces away from Elena’s vehicle. He grinned as we walked together, leaving the other two behind. “My Austin has a unique sense of humor.”
I rolled my eyes. “Unique is one word for it. I take it he doesn’t get that from you?”
Jahil pursed his lips as he struggled to find the right words. “It is how you say… ‘coping-mechanism’. My wife‘s words, not mine.”
Austin passed us, his arm around Elena's waist. "Can I ride with you, Mami?"
I seriously wanted to punch my “boyfriend” in the face. “Could you stop talking like a Mexican stereotype?”
I leaned up against Jahil’s truck, wanting to drive with him in his battered red pick-up and get to know him. Everything about him was alluring. But I figured that would be inappropriate. So I rode with my mother and Austin. We had to wait a few minutes at the restaurant for him to catch up. I got out of the minivan and caught the breeze. It was a warm October day. The leaves fell from the trees, preparing for the cruel Midwestern winter.
Jahil pulled over and took a moment to climb down. He was struggling with his cane. Suddenly he collapsed forward gripping his chest as he coughed a deep congested cough.
“Let me help you,” I offered, allowing him to put his weight on my shoulder. I was surprised that Austin was not coming to his father’s aid.
Jahil took a moment to catch his breath. “Aren't you precious?” His hand caressed my face, his rough callused fingers felt warm and comforting.
Austin and my mom went in ahead of us as I helped him to the restaurant. I pulled out the chair for him and helped him comfortably position his leg.
He smiled at me. “Thank you, Sunny. You have such a beautiful heart.”
“No problem.” I hoped I wasn’t blushing. His smile was not like Austin’s smile. Jahil smiled sweetly, like someone who was truly grateful for every day and every moment of happiness. I didn’t ask if he had pain medicine. I assumed if there was any Austin would have offered to assist him or at least brought him some water. I took a seat next to my mother at the square table, finding myself placed me directly across from Jahil.
“I bet he cleans up real nice,” my mother said, loud enough for Jahil to hear.
"Are you for real, Mom?" I whispered. Jahil didn’t need to be cleaned up. His rugged, appearance was absolutely breath-taking.
She licked her lips. “Don't act like you don't see it; those eyes, those lips, and you what they say about men with big hands.”
Jahil blushed as he nervously shook my mother’s hand. “I can't thank you enough for all you've done for my son.”
Elena held his hand with a kind, compassionate smile. It was clear why he went along with her plan. He and Austin had so little. If my mother wanted to date his son, to care for him, to give him food, clothing, even sex…then Jahil was okay with that. He was more open-minded than me. I couldn’t get away from the fact that her ‘care’ included cigarettes and free access to her vagina. I still found the openness of their relationship disturbing.
Elena ordered three appetizers, four entrees, and three desserts. “So, what brought you and your son to Wisconsin?”
Austin put down his fork, covering his eyes as if he was about to cry. Elena was taken aback. “I’m so sorry—we don’t have to discuss anything if it’s too personal.”
“It is fine,” Jahil said softly. “You are friends.” He swallowed. “I’ve been very sick for a long time. I believe the doctor in Illinois diagnosed me with…” He gripped his head as he visibly struggled.
“Rheumatic fever,” Austin added. “Shortly after mom died.”
That explained the chest pain. But it didn’t explain why Austin didn’t rush to his father’s aide.
Jahil nodded. “My body is in a great deal of pain. But due to the nature of work and travel, I’ve not been able to seek proper treatment.” Jahil blinked as if struggling to maintain focus. “I also suffered a very bad brain injury, unrelated to the fever.”
The way his eyes looked at he spoke was terrifying. It was as if he could see something no one else could. He looked around, his body trembling. This had to be PTSD. He had been in an accident or perhaps attacked. His wording was strange; most people would’ve said head injury. I could imagine someone taking a bat to his head, or worse. Austin had mentioned his father being in the country illegally, so if he’d been the victim of a brutal attack, he would have no recourse, especially in the Midwest. But to say “brain injury” implied a proper medical diagnosis, such as a stroke. Unless he was so crippled he simply had little control over his body. I glanced at Austin, who looked away.
No matter how inappropriate I was about to sound, I felt the curious need to ask. “How are you able to work?”
Elena put her hands to her mouth. “Really, Sunny?”
Austin shook his head. “How is that any of your business?”
“I was just wondering.” My face burned. I no longer felt so daring. Luckily the awkwardness was interrupted by the waitress bringing a tray of waters.
Jahil took a sip of water, pausing for a moment as he struggled to swallow. “Where I currently work, my supervisor is a very understanding man. I work in the stock room. I can work on cars. I can take plenty of breaks and work at my own pace. But that’s not your question. You want to know how I am able to work, drive, or do anything other than lay on my back waiting for death.” He immediately finished off the rest of the water.
Jahil didn’t seem offended, but his answer made me feel awkward. I met his eyes, mortified. “I guess. I’m sorry. Forget I said anything.”
Jahil laughed but not out of joy. “I draw power from my own life force,” he said in a manner similar to someone admitting to eating their own flesh to avoid starvation.
“Oh, um ok.” I appeared to be the only person at the table who found this revelation even the slightest bit shocking.
Jahil blinked tears from his eyes.
I offered him my water just to be kind, but actually I was looking for an excuse to touch his hand. “I’ve never been to California,” I said, trying to change the subject. To look into Jahil’s eyes was hypnotic. As he blinked, I saw beautiful sparkles of gold. I knew I had to be blushing but I didn’t care. “Austin says he was born in Napa, I heard it’s really beautiful.”
Jahil smiled, the warmth of it melting my heart. “It is beautiful.”
My hand became joined to his, caressing his rough fingers as I bit my lip. I gently traced over every finger as he released the cup. His hands felt cold, his muscles stiff. I could feel him trembling in pain. With his hand in mine, I started to stroke his palm like a fortune teller. I could feel every healed fracture, every scar. This wasn’t like me, being so intimate. But I could tell he didn’t mind.
“This is the first time, since the death of my wife,” Jahil spoke softly as he kissed my fingertips, “I have felt a woman’s touch.”
My heart was racing. My brain was telling me to pull my hand away. This man was literally old enough to be my father. But my heart could not. Jahil was enchanting, and to hear him call me a woman made my heart nearly flutter out of my chest. And he was weak, like a wounded animal; he needed a friend.
Jahil released my hand. “I’m sorry. I meant no disrespect.” He looked down at the table as if embarrassed by his choice of words. I knew I had to say something.
“My mother’s a healer—maybe you could come back to our house and she could take a look at your leg?”
Austin’s father nodded in agreement. “I would be most grateful for whatever help you are able to offer.”
As he smiled, my eyes were drawn to his mouth, his lips. What would it be like to kiss that mouth? First I would gently nibble on his lower lip. Then as his mouth opened, I would feel the warmth of his breath, his tongue…
Austin waved his hand in my face. “Hey, earth to Sunny.”
Oh my god, what was I thinking?
“That’s a wonderful idea, sweetie,” my mom said, getting up. “Perhaps you can even assist me.”
“Sure, I guess.”
“Great, I’ll ask for some to-go boxes.” She made sure to pass by Austin’s ear, licking it seductively. “And while I’m healing your daddy, you get to watch.”
Ew, but maybe worth it?