LEGEND OF THE PROTECTORS
BY: SARAH JENSEN
“In ages past, our old ones were the storytellers. This was the way things were passed along to the generations that followed. For this reason the aged people made it a point to remember every detail so they could relate it at a later time. They were the word and picture carriers making history and spiritual values alive and important. In recent times, we have made our old ones think they are not so important. We spoof their stories and make them feel foolish. The truth is that we are ignorant of what is precious and how to 'a da li he li tse di'--appreciate age….”
A Cherokee Feast of Days- Daily
Meditations, Joyce Sequichie Hifler
1. NEW BEGINNINGS
The smell of Pine Sol almost knocked me on my butt. The house smelled like a nursing home. Not quite like death, but like it might come at any moment. Maybe the Grim Reaper lurked in the woods surrounding the small grey house.
My new home.
“I can’t believe this is happening.” I took a deep breath and followed my grandpa, Paw-pa, inside without saying another word. After two days in the car with him, I had nothing left to say.
The living room was much smaller than I’d remembered. My grandparents’ faded wedding portrait still hung over the television. My parents’ picture sat on top of the oversized 1950’s TV. I turned it over as I walked past.
“I’ve got the first room ready for you, honey,” Paw-pa said. It had been my grandparents’. Paw-pa missed Grandma so much that he couldn’t sleep in there after she died. I cringed when I opened the door. The walls were a putrid pink. White eyelet curtains decorated the small window with a full size bed sitting directly under it. I wanted to vomit. To think I liked this when I was ten. My taste had changed drastically in seven years.
I dropped my stuff on the bed and went to the cramped bathroom for linens to make up the couch for my best friend Stacy's dad, Brian. It was the least I could do, since he’d shared the drive with me all the way from California. He was on the phone with his wife. I sat at the kitchen table, hoping to talk to Stacy when he finished.
Brian hung up and sat beside me. He rested his hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, honey.” He frowned at me. “Stacy’s out. She won’t be back until late.”
“Of course she is.” I slumped in the chair. Stacy was hanging out with our friends, while I was stuck in this stupid town all alone. “This really sucks. Why did I have to move here? Why couldn’t I just stay with you guys?” Tears trickled down my face.
“Honey, we went over this before the funeral. Your parents wanted you with your grandfather. They thought it would be best if you lived here. He’s your family.”
“You’re family, too. I’ve known you my whole life. I don’t even know him. He’s just some old blind man that I haven’t seen since I was ten. Why is he the only family left?”
“Samantha, you aren’t the only one hurting here. He lost his only child.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t have to pick up and move half-way across the country. I didn’t even have time to say goodbye to my friends. Hell, I probably forgot something important.” I scooted the chair out hard, scraping the floor. “I’m the one who lost my parents.” I ran to my ugly room and slammed the door. I hadn’t seen my grandpa in six years, and only talked to him on holidays and my birthday. How could my parents think throwing me to the wolves like this would help me? I wanted to go home.
Sunday morning I glanced around Paw-pa’s favorite diner, taking it all in. Old wagon wheels and lanterns adorned the walls, and the concrete floor was stained to resemble stone.
“I’ve got things set up to help you out, Don,” Brian said to Paw-pa.
I didn’t look at him or Paw-pa. Not that either noticed.
“Thank you, Brian, but I think we’ll be fine without it.”
Four men at the counter joked obnoxiously loud, oblivious of others in the room. Before their deafening laughter got any more out of hand, a man, well over six feet, rose and sauntered over to them. Wow, he’s beautiful. My heart beat a little faster. He wore a tan deputy’s uniform. His black hair, short in the back, a little longer on top, produced a hint of curls. His dark muscles, visible beneath the short sleeves of his shirt, sent my heart into a frenzy.
I twirled my hair around my fingers and smiled. He didn’t seem to notice me at all.
“Sam, pay attention. This concerns you,” Brian grumbled. I hated when he did that, I wasn’t five.
My eyes were glued to the hottie in uniform. The men smiled and quieted down. He returned to his booth where another officer sat.
“What?” I still didn’t look at Brian.
“Don’t snarl at me, young lady. We all have adjustments to make. Don’t take your frustrations out on us.”
I bit my lip and smiled in an attempt to be pleasant. He was right after all, it’s not like he or Paw-pa were responsible for what happened. “Sorry. I’ll try to behave.”
“Thank you. That’s better.” He took my hand and told me what I’d need for school, and something about a file box at Paw-pa’s house.
I looked back to Officer Hotness and Brian seemed to give up talking to me. He paid our bill and I almost tripped over Paw-pa as I tried to walk out seductively, shaking my hips with a slight exaggeration. Okay, not completely graceful. But maybe Tahlequah wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Around five that evening, Brian called me out to the living room.
“There’s also the matter of the bank account I set up for you. It’s at the First National Bank of Tahlequah. You have to go in and sign papers. Take your license and birth certificate with you.
“I’m sending Don money each month to help out. I’ve put a little in your account, if you need more, call me and we’ll talk about it. Remember, you can always call me if you need anything—anything at all.”
“Yes, Sir,” I whispered.
I loved him like a second dad and I knew that he loved me. Why couldn’t my parents have seen that? Why did they have to send me out here? I realized if I wanted to be mad, it should be at my parents. They were the ones who died and left me with some blind man I didn’t know.
“Now, I have one favor to ask of you,” Brian said. “Will you please call us, or e-mail us at least once a week to let us know how you’re doing?”
I nodded, unable to speak.
“Thank you, honey. I’m going to have to leave soon. I need to reach the airport before seven. Your grandfather’s friend will be here in a few minutes to pick me up and drive me to Tulsa.”
“I love all of you so much. Thanks. Sorry I was such a butt.” My fingertips barely touched as I hugged the ex-linebacker.
“I understand, Samantha, but try to tone it down. Your grandpa’s suffered just as much as you have.”
I nodded and took the file box to my room. Just as I came back to the living room, someone knocked. Brian opened the front door.
There he stood. The smokin’ hot deputy from the diner. I almost passed out. He was a friend of Paw-pa’s?
“I’m Andrew. I’ll be taking you to the airport.” He extended his hand, shaking Brian’s.
Brian grabbed his bag, turned to me and smiled. “I love you kiddo.”
“I love you, too.” I smiled, despite the pain in my heart.
He turned around and walked to where Paw-pa stood in the kitchen doorway and placed his hand on Paw-pa’s shoulder.
“Don, I’ve got to go.”
Paw-pa held out his hand and waited for Brian to take it. “Thank you for all that your family has done for Sam. And thanks for being such a great friend to Hannah and Adam. I know they really loved your family.”
A tear fell when Paw-pa said my parents’ names. As I wiped my eyes, I noticed Andrew watching me. I blushed and looked away.
Brian pulled the door behind him and I turned and ambled back to my bedroom.
Weightless and strikingly fast, I bolted through the deep woods. Hunger—unquenchable. The tent was a welcome sight. My hands before me were cold. Steel. They sliced through the nylon like a hot knife in butter, making no sound. A man and woman slept, backs to each other. She’s too large, his liver will be healthier, I thought.
With the same amount of effort it would take to drag a doll across the floor, I pulled him from the tent. Then the scene shifted and a thick fog, similar to the smog of L.A., choked me. I fumbled around in the dark, and smacked into tree after tree, fighting my way out of that dreary forest.
I floated through the treetops. Snarls and growls twisted up to me, intensifying with each passing second. Out of nowhere, something jumped up, nipping my feet. I tried to scream, but only a silent gasp left my lips.
Lifting my legs, I swam with all my might. My arms flapped to keep me from falling back toward the ground—to the beast that wanted to eat me. I swam harder, not knowing if it would be enough.
My heart pumped erratically. I could barely breathe. My lungs felt full of water instead of air. I gasped in desperation while my muscles tightened in my chest. About to give way to the fear—a light came and brought with it air and a steely guitar music I’d never heard before.
I relaxed my arms and floated toward the brilliant blue glow. Suddenly, wrapped in the bright light, I felt a strong yearning to be held by Officer Andrew.
I sat up in bed, my stomach knotted. I was very awake now. Why would I even think of him? What did it mean? Taking a deep breath, I tried to clear the jumbled thoughts created by that nightmare. My clock blinked six-thirty. I forced myself up, so needing to shower, and lumbered to the bathroom. My muscles relaxed under the flow of warm water.
I dried off and combed out my waist length auburn hair and blew it dry. Dressed in my favorite capri’s and a short sleeved, hot pink shirt, I studied myself in the mirror. Satisfied, I left the bathroom.
Paw-pa sat at the kitchen table, sipping a glass of orange juice. “Does it always take you that long to get ready each morning?”
I looked at the clock on the wall; it was seven-forty. “Not usually, but I wanted to look good my first day of school.” I opened a cabinet. “You want some breakfast?”
Paw-pa hit the button on the radio, which announced the time. “No, Cara will be here in about twenty minutes. She cooks and cleans the house. If you’d like to wait, I’m sure she would be happy to fix you something as well.”
“I can fix breakfast and clean. You don’t have to pay someone to come in anymore. If I’m gonna be here, I might as well be useful.”
“Don’t be silly, honey. I enjoy her company. Besides, she’s come here since I lost my sight. She doesn’t just cook and clean, she takes me places, reads to me, and keeps me company. She’s really helped me over the past five years. I don’t know if I’d have made it without her.”
“I understand that, but I can—”
“How about we decide later when Cara and I can discuss it.” He got up from the table and went to the living room.
I wanted to scream. Or pull out my hair. I’m not five. I hate being here. I hate you for making me be here.
The morning news floated in from the living room. “Another mysterious murder…Man dragged from tent early this morning and sliced in two while wife slept.” I didn’t hear anymore. Didn’t that happen yesterday? But I hadn’t watched the news yesterday, so how could I have heard about the attack?
Freaky déjà vu. I ate a bowl of cereal and washed my dishes. Since I didn’t know where to go, I needed to leave for school early. And I had promised Brian that I’d be nice, so I calmed down and went to the living room. “Paw-pa, do you have any idea where I might find this new school of mine?”
After his directions, I grabbed my bag and headed to my Honda CR-V. I drove the five miles into Tahlequah and looked around. “Freak. What street did Paw-pa say to take?” I crawled through town, searching for some sign of the high school. Crap, I’d be late.
Even though every road looked a little different than the one before, with so many trees and old buildings, I was lost in this stupid town. Inching my way down a road, I saw red and blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror. “Great. What now?”
I pulled over, threw the car into park, and placed my hands on the steering wheel. I inhaled, trying to calm down, and looked up at the officer.
It was him—the hot deputy.
I stared with my mouth slightly open.
Smiling, he signaled for me to roll down my window.
Hitting the button, my eyes never left him. Wow. He looks even better up close. His eyes were the most amazing shade of golden hazel I’d ever seen.
“Was I doing something wrong?” I stammered. I rolled my eyes, couldn’t even think clearly.
His smile widened. “No. But you look like you’re lost.”
“Are you headed to Tahlequah High?”
I nodded again. Get a grip. He’s gonna think you’re a complete idiot. Speak—say something. “You can take me there.” My cheeks reddened. Maybe it wouldn’t be so noticeable because of my dark Cherokee skin.
He laughed. “You can follow me.” Turning, he shook his head and went back to his cruiser.
I followed him to the school. He waved as he drove away. Still laughing.
You’re a moron, Sam.
I found a place to park and got out. My nerves started to unravel as I stood there staring at all the buildings. I inhaled slowly. Now, to find the office. I walked to the nearest building and opened the door.
Painfully aware of myself, I started down the hall. Three boys stood in a doorway talking. They looked up as I passed. Everyone stared. Or at least it felt like they did. My cheeks warmed. I kept walking, looking over each door, hoping for a sign that would read Office.
A cluster of kids stood by some lockers I approached. Even though I tried to avoid their gazes, the scrutiny in their eyes made my scalp tingle—and not in a good way.
“Hey—are you lost?” a boy called. “Do you need the office?”
He turned back to the group. “I’ll catch y’all later.”
The short bleached blonde girl beside him glared.
“I’m Keith.” He held out his hand.
I shook it, quickly letting go. “I’m Sam.”
A brilliant white grin spread across his tanned face as he started walking. We’d only gone about fifty yards when he stopped. “Well—here we are. The office.”
“Thanks. Appreciate it.”
He raised an eyebrow and nodded, smiling. For some reason he came off as full of himself. So I tried not to notice his emerald green eyes when he shook his sandy blond hair out of them. He was a few inches taller than me—I’m five-ten—and since the only other boys I’d noticed so far were shorter than me…. Let’s just say, I sometimes hated my height.
I went inside.
“May I help you?” the lady behind the counter asked.