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Fiction Friendship Mystery

          “The Bow From Before”

The smell of orange blossoms allowed me to plant my RV in the tame and friendly Floral & Orange EcoVillage—just outside of Naples, Florida—a little over a year ago. It wasn’t a mystery as to why I was drawn into the scent of oranges; I think anyone would be. But how I got here is still unknown.

It is September, 2019. I live in an intentional RV community. It’s a “we live simple!” or maybe a “we are the earth!” type of theme. I go along with it; as I make organic soap and candles in the cabin-makeshift structures, or maybe I’ll do the fulfillment orders. Either way; I’m happy to have my patch of land, my one meal a day, and $200 a month stipend. I could never have this lifestyle if I lived outside of here.

I know I’m on the run, and I’m not alone. Very few people here at Floral & Orange are NOT running from something or somewhere: disappointing relationships, failed finances, the law. But at least they can name their troubles. My friend Daniel says they just want to move forward. Like an arrow; they want to fly in one direction. 

“We can never go back, Regina. So don’t let your past consume you so much,” he suggests.

I get that, but something is blocking the use of my bow. If my bow is not working, how can my arrow fly? If I can’t remember my past, how can I make improvements?  The future feels static and small, despite the beautiful Florida sunsets, the sweet smells of a forever summer.

Daniel is fascinated by my inability to recall my time before Floral & Orange. He spends extra time on my Tarot, goes through different arrangements and spreads, trying to help me with my memory. All for free! He has never seen or heard of a person who can function in society, be pleasant to hang with, but has had her blocks of personal history kicked out from underneath her.

No, I don’t have a substance abuse problem, nor am I a heavy drinker. Was I at one time?

“It’s hard to say,” says Daniel, as he shuffles the cards. He cuts the deck carefully with his left hand. It’s always the left. “I can tell you this much, Regina. You are from the Midwest, as evidenced by your accent.  You went to college. You were probably raised in a middle-class family.”

His dark eyes interpret the cards. He shakes his head, as if in disbelief. “Your situation is so unusual. And your cards…Are you blocking me?” he asks. “I mean, talk to most people here. We are all disillusioned, not wanting to talk about our past, but we still know it.”

I quickly glance at the cards: the Fool, Eight of Cups, The Tower. I don’t want to know the order, but I think the Tower is in the far left; in the past. 

That’s not good.

I’m going to ignore the cards for now.

“So—you remember all of fourth grade, your third job, and your junior prom?” I ask, knowing there is no way everyone remembers all of it. I know our brains dump out information over time, especially when we disconnect from that environment.

He chuckles. “Of course I don’t remember details. But I remember who I was friends with and who my teacher was. But not my third job.”

I touch the soft, worn cards. These symbols are both familiar and ancient. Perhaps the meaning is ageless, but I cannot interpret them.

“You are moving away from here in three months.” I blurt out. “Out of fear.”

He laughs. “What? I’m never leaving here, plus—who would help you with your past?”

But soon, he stops laughing. He asks me how I saw what I saw. I told him I saw nothing; it’s something I know. Like I know how to make coffee, like he knows how to make soap.

“But, what do you use? Crystals, energy?”

I shrug my shoulders. “I have no tools,” I say. “And what’s worse…I don’t even want this ability. I’d rather know my past.”

“How long have you known I was leaving?” he asks quietly.

 “Just now. But the more time we spend together, the more I can tell you.”

We are sitting at his table, outside the trailer. A most glorious sunset has slipped by us. Soon, it will get cold, and the night will end in his bed. We are both staring at each other. 

“I think you’ve been cursed,” he says softly.

 “Or…maybe it was a spell.” I whisper.

Being without human closeness, for what seems to be a lifetime, has had a permanent effect.  The warmth of his hands, and the intensity of his eyes throw off whatever sanctuary I forced upon myself.

At the free-minded, open Floral & Orange, love is a loose and passing concept. It can last a night or a lifetime. No jealousy—or you can leave. Since I have been here, no one has asked what I thought of this policy. Leave it to the most handsome one—mostly interested in my foresight—to ask me if I wanted to test it.

                       ***

For the past two months, Daniel and I have arranged to work the same shifts. We are around each other a lot. It helps him with my past, and it helps me with his future. He is troubled by my reluctance to use a cell phone, as I am bored by his obsession with his laptop. It’s a funny thing to work through, but to protect myself, I will not use a phone. He tells me that I most likely have broken the law. It doesn’t stop him from wanting to be around me.

It is insanely hot in our work-cabin, despite fans, open windows, and ice water. Why it’s a candle-making day, only heaven knows, but Daniel says they get purchased mostly in the Fall, and so—now is the time to get the stock up. I get the molds, the aromatherapy checklists out. He starts melting paraffin in large batches. We both have plastic gloves up to our elbows. Classic rock is the background, familiar, and reminds me of be driven in a sedan of sorts. Daniel says that classic rock has always been popular in the Midwest.

Tatiana stays close to us. She wants to enter into our conversation. She has noticed—like everyone else in the village—that we are spending a lot of time together. Daniel is reading my Tarot every night. Finally; my cards are getting more consistent. Not improving in a positive way, but more predictable. This can only help. “When you are hiding, your cards will conflict with each other,” he mentions.

Tatiana huffs. I wish she would go.

“What are you seeing?” I ask. 

When we first met, I didn’t want to know. I wasn’t ready to hear anything. The cards, despite their artistic beauty, set me on edge then. And though I’d don’t want to admit it, they still make me uncomfortable. I’d rather hear what he has to say now, in the open day; instead of later tonight when we are with the cards.

“You want to hear this, here? Around candles and other people?” he asks, confused. He puts one of the heavy pots down. 

“She doesn’t want to know where she was before, so don’t tell her!” Tatiana yells into our two-way conversation. 

“Before…what?” I ask. But Tatiana shakes her head. She turns her back to me. “Tatiana!” I demand.

“My shift is up,” she declares. There is more she will say. But not in front of Daniel.

I get engrossed in my work and carefully titrate the vanilla and orange oils. It has to be perfect. They can only sit for three hours. At least, this is how it’s done in our candle cabin. I don’t even notice when Daniel leaves.

 Finally, Tatiana sits down in front of me. She folds her hands. I look up from my work.

“I knew you. From before.” She says quietly. “From Cross Gardens.”

I am sure the blankness is all over my face. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out.

“I was leaving The Gardens as you were coming in. You were there a week before I left,” she added.

I nod my head. What else can I say? Can I argue? Cross Gardens. Sounds familiar, but nothing comes up. No image.

“Thank you, Tatiana.” I can barely get my words out.

I don’t know if I will share this with Daniel later. But it’s a part of my past, and if I trust him, I need to share it.

                      ***

He has made a wonderful beef and onion BBQ stew, which he likes to serve with brown rice and vegetables. He serves it at night, when the heat breaks and the sun is down. This is when it tastes the best. He is burning candles that he made last year, lemon soy and ginger. For the first time in so long, I feel cared for, if not somewhat loved.

His trailer is smaller than mine, and older; but updated. The flooring has been replaced with soft, light-gray wood boards. The counter and table are made of blonde natural wood. He flips down a table top that is often kept up during the day. 

Dinner isn’t quite ready. He pulls out the Tarot deck, but I shake my head. “Are you okay?” he asks.

“Tell me about the pattern, you said the cards are getting consistent. Tell me what you have already seen.” I don’t want to tell him about Tatiana just yet and I don’t want a new reading.

He gets two beers out. His hair falls in his face, and he shakes his head. “Are you ready to hear it?” he asks, his voice drops and his reluctance is obvious. “This is going to be hard to hear, which is why I tried distracting you at work. I didn’t want Tatiana hearing us. Besides—she is a gossip.”

Is she? Then why are you living with her in the next year?

I say nothing. I let him talk. I try to get a static-filled picture out of my head, as Tatiana sits where I sit now, and I am in an empty room. He makes her this same wonderful stew while I eat a hotdog. But I have to turn this picture over. I can’t look at it. 

“Your readings…it’s all ruin and abandonment. The past, and the present. Something you built up has been ruined. Someone you loved abandoned you, or you did it to him. Or her. You are still stuck in this abandonment cycle. Your future plays out as the Fool or the Devil.”

“The Devil?” I croak. 

He turns to me. “Why would the Devil card bother you? And not the Fool, when they are both terrible?” he asks. “You were raised in a Christian household.”

“Perhaps, but can you please explain?” I ask, well aware of the desperate sound in my voice. Normally, I would reach for his hand, out of instinct—comfort. Instead, his hands stroke my hair. I freeze. “Whatever you have done, it must have been really bad,” he says it with an understanding, but the meaning doesn’t match his tone. I move away from his hands.

“Call your sister,” I say, standing up, but my knees are going weak. 

“Don’t, Regina. You are finally getting ready to hear your truth, and you are running yet again.” I try again to stand, but I fall down into my seat. But there is something wrong with his sister.

“Do it, call her.” I regain my strength, and I stand back up. He looks at his phone. “She’s called me four times,” he says to himself. 

“I know. She’s upset about something.”

“Alright, hang on.” he says.

There is very little privacy in a trailer. He’d have to go inside his bathroom if he wanted to talk to her alone. And I would still hear everything. He turns his back, and then I know. He is dropping his voice down low.

When I stand up this time, my knees don’t buckle, my legs carry me to the door. “We’ll talk later,” I call out. He nods his head, and keeps several paces behind me. 

His sister is yelling something to him. He listens, but doesn’t respond back. When I get out onto his deck, I hear his lock turn.

I go very still. We don’t live in the safest area; did he lock his door out of habit? I slowly walk towards my trailer. 

I see someone in my trailer, with flashlights. There are angry voices. There are more than one, perhaps as many as three people. Why would anyone be in my trailer? My feet will me to move forward, and despite my fear, I progress.

As I get closer, the flashlights disappear. The voices fade. It is pitch-black, with the smallest amount of lighting from the street light in the distance. I hear a car speed off, I’m not sure from what direction. 

My trailer is unlocked, but that’s normal, as I have nothing to steal. I only keep it locked when I sleep in here. I step inside, and everything appears to be as it should. But it’s not normal. 

A part of me becomes very sad, and I sit at the semi-round table in the front of the trailer. Daniel isn’t coming over later. No more stews; no more Tarot. I have bigger problems that I must face.

It’s time. But I’m still upset by it.

I wash my face, and I put some moisturizer on. I get into clean clothes.

I leave the door unlocked.

I lay down on my bed, hands folded over. And I wait.

Soon—they will come, and I will not argue.

I close my eyes, but not for sleep.

                      ***

We cannot help but be connected.

No matter how we forget, or where we hide. Our past is ours to drag behind us, no matter what we forge or create.

They came into the bedroom and asked me to come with them. They sat me down at the table in my kitchen, and showed me pictures of what they said was my husband, our three kids, and two dogs. They showed me Shield-Avery Financial, a business I had embezzled $400,000.00 over five years ago. In a complete panic, my husband had told me to leave, take the RV, and go hide in the Smokey Mountains at our summer cabin. So I took the RV, and I went and hid.

But I chose another hideout altogether. My eyes water at the pictures. My good husband didn’t ask for any of this, and my two girls have probably dropped out of their sports. My son is no longer interested in guitar.

I shove the pictures away.

When I met Daniel, I let my guard down. I was tired of being alone, tired of forgetting. Excited about his new relationship, Daniel must have told his sister about me. His sister must have been alarmed upon hearing about some new girl who wouldn’t own up to her past, someone with a truly broken bow. He probably shared one of our pictures with her. One picture is all it would take.

And Tatiana? Perhaps she and Daniel spoke after all.

They tell me I’ve been missing for over two years. I will be reunited with my family, but I will have to face prison. I already know what they mean, and I know that I end up in an empty room. They mention that the money was recovered, and that it gained interest in where I put it. They ask me financial questions that I have no ability to answer.

“Don’t worry,” says the plain clothes police officer. “You’re not going to do that much time, especially since the money was never spent. Do you have any questions? You’ve hardly spoken.”

I know about the hearings, the prison cell. I know about the hate my family will have of me. How I will never be able to go home. Not in any real sense, anyway. 

“I want to say good-bye to Daniel. I want to thank him.”

 The officer looks at me oddly, he thinks I’m going to hurt Daniel. He thinks I am trying to trick everyone.

“Sienna White. You are under arrest for the embezzlement of funds from Shield-Avery Financial. You have the right to remain silent. What you say can and will be used against you…”

Dear Sienna, 1/20/20

 I know what I did was wrong. You trusted me, and I betrayed you. You helped me…and all I did was create a path for your capture. My self-righteous sister and I are no longer speaking. 

I have moved away from the Village. I am working as a restaurant manager at a local bar, and it’s going well. Tatiana was with me for a few months, but she left. I’m just being honest. If I had things my way, you’d be here with me.

Who knew that my Regina was once a top gun at Shields-Avery?

I heard you have a family. I just wonder if you have a family to go back to.

              your Tarot reader-friend,

                       Daniel

Dear Daniel, 2/20/20

 I know what I did was wrong. Don’t be mad at your sister. It wasn’t her fault. 

I am piecing together a little more of my former self, but honestly—it’s very hard. Do I have a home filled with kids and dogs and a husband to go back to? No. Do I have relationships that I need to heal? Yes. So that is a priority. Last I heard, I’m out in 18 months. 

Even so, I have you to thank. I wanted to say this the night I got arrested, but…I needed to get arrested. Remember the broken bow? I can’t move my arrow forward if I’m always fixing the bow. You were the first person I talked to since I ran away. If it weren’t for you trying to help me, I would still be running. And my family? They would still be suffering. 

I miss you. I can tell you that no one will pick me up at the prison when my time here is done. I would never turn away your friendship.

 One day, my arrow will shoot straight again.

             Until then, be good to yourself.

                          love, Regina

I never heard from Daniel after that letter.

But wherever he is, I hope he is helping others if it makes him happy.

And without the drama that I brought.

I no longer think of my time before the Floral & Orange, for it does me no good to sit in wonderment. Instead, I get my kids on the week-ends, and we go camping, hiking, and sight-seeing here in the Midwest.

But it’s not in the old RV.

It’s in a mother-approved SUV. It sleeps all four of us and has plenty of room for camping gear.

But the best part?

The new archery set. Whoever sent it to me did not leave a return address.

I like thinking it was from Daniel.

October 10, 2020 01:23

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