Chapter 15: Steal It, Beg It or Borrow It Somewhere
The wait for nightfall was torture. All day long, Evangeline sensed another presence at her back. The hairs on her neck stood at attention. Shivers coursed up and down her spine. Several times, she jumped and turned to face the unseen eyes. Each time she came up empty. There was no one there but the wind. As blustery breezes blew even that mocked her. Singing in juke joints had never been her goal. Maybe her easy treaty with RJ Gannon to sing at Black Bottom was making a play on her conscience, forcing her to take notice of her actions.
Conscience be damned. She needed the money. And her best friend deserved better than to slave in a whorehouse. With the money earned at the nightclub, she and Keesha could move on to better things. Perhaps the right words at the right time would convince Keesha that a move across the Atlantic wasn't such a bad idea.
As a majestic array of pink, orange and yellow colored the sky beautifying another sunset, Evangeline shook the last dregs of apprehension from her shoulders. She was brand new to Port Charles. Nothing followed her there. She had no worries and nothing to fear, as long as she kept her heart closed and her eyes on the ultimate prize of moving on.
She dressed for her night's performance. Bright colors made her skin glow and her eyes shine. A vibrant purple number with feathers made her feel light and easy as a bird. She slid on silk hose, slinky heals and glittering jewels. Then, she headed to the kitchen where Keesha was heating a comb to touch up Evangeline's curling neckline.
"Now, don't get too close. My scalp is sensitive to heat." She draped a towel around her shoulders and sat on the chair closest to the stove.
Keesha laughed. An edgy undertone caused Evangeline to give her a hard look.
"I mean it. You know what? Never mind. I can wear my hair down and no one will ever know."
"You'll know," Keesha said, her expression slowly sobering, "and all night long, you'll touch it. You won't sing nearly as pretty worrying about the naps on your head."
"My hair is not nappy--"
"--just a little unruly!" The friends chimed in unison and burst into a fit of giggles.
After the laughter died, Keesha wiped tears from her eyes and said, "I won't burn you. You can check my ears and my neck. You won't find a scar anywhere. I know what I'm doing, but if you're scared…"
"I'm not scared," Evangeline denied. "Okay, okay. I am scared, but it's just a little. Mama was heavy handed with a pressing comb."
"I remember. I'll just touch it up a little bit." Keesha unscrewed a small jar of hair grease. She parted Evangeline's hair and applied the lard to a small section. "Singing at a hot juke joint you should expect your hair to nap up. You can't be tender headed, girl. Or you can go ahead and get one of those konks."
"That's worse than pressing!" Evangeline gripped the edges of the towel. "And the burn digs deep under your skin. I'll take my chances with you and the comb first."
"Well, be still because I'm not responsible if you jump."
Evangeline mentally recited every song she knew and made up words to the ones she didn't. A few minutes later, the torture ended and Keesha handed her two mirrors so she could check the front and back. What Evangeline saw set her mind at ease.
"Thanks, girl." Her fingers smoothed the slick, hot tresses along her neck and shoulders. "You could have your own place."
"Maybe one day." Keesha began cleaning up. Then, Skye called for her.
"You'd better see what she wants. I'll take this stuff to your room before I go."
"I don't want you walking by yourself," Keesha said as she headed to the hall. "Wait for me or call a cab."
"I don't want to waste money on a cab. I know my way there."
"Or call RJ and have one of his boys to pick you up," Keesha said. "Three choices. Choose one."
"Yes'm, Miss Ward!"
After Keesha left, Evangeline placed the pressing comb on the counter to cool off. She wrapped her comb and the jar of hair grease in the towel and took them to Keesha's room. When she returned, she found the back door open and a crate of hooch just inside the kitchen. Curiosity flooded her senses. Common sense overrode all tendencies to investigate. She backed into the hallway and right into a hard, male body. Warm hands gripped her shoulders, steadying her.
"Excuse me," murmured a voice at her ear.
She turned and met the stare of coffee brown eyes and an intriguing wide smile. The man's skin was the color of butterscotch and his voice was velvety smooth. He was handsome and from the cocky tilt of his head, she knew he knew it. She stepped free of his grasp and pointed over her shoulder at the illegal bottles and jugs.
"Did you bring that?"
Shrugging, he stuffed bills in his pocket and sauntered to the crate. He carried it into the pantry and returned. Leaning casually against the wall, he locked eyes on her. "You're new. Are you one of Skye's girls?"
Her eyebrow arched. "I'm nobody's girl. Don't worry about me. You better get out of here before the law comes calling."
"Ain't nobody calling the law on me," he said, chuckling. "Folks call me Woody. Maybe one day you'll find out why. What's your name?"
"Puddin' Tain. Ask me again--"
"And you'll tell me the same." He ran his tongue over his teeth. "I like that and maybe I like you a little bit, too. Nah, you ain't one of Skye's 'women.' You're too together for that. I'll be seeing you, Puddin'." He tipped his hat and moved to the door.
"That's Miss Tain to you!" She called to his retreating back. His laughter sounded over the slamming screen door.
- - -
Skye asked Keesha to prepare a late night supper. Considering everything Skye had done for her, Keesha couldn't refuse. She hated sending Evangeline to Black Bottom alone but she had no choice. Her friend's stubborn need for independence worried Keesha. Port Charles was nothing like Llanview, Pennsylvania. Unseemly things hid in the dark of night and waited in shadows to pounce on unsuspecting travelers. Keesha knew that for fact because that was how she and Jason came to be.
A dark night. A dangerous man. A lone woman.
Wasn't that always how it went?
After a conversation that threatened to become heated, Evangeline finally agreed to call a cab. Jamal pulled to the curb in one of Mike Corbin's old trucks. His cousin hopped out and came to the door.
Keesha's eyebrows rose in amazement. She never expected to see Jason Morgan's latest squeeze at the back door of the Chandler Home for Women. Anxiety heightened the younger woman's eyes, which darted from Keesha to Evangeline.
"My cousin is waiting for you," Dawn said. "He'll take you to Black Bottom and can pick you up to bring you back."
"Thanks." Evangeline grabbed her wrap and purse. "Are you riding with us?"
She shook her head. "There's not enough room. I'll wait for him to come back and get me."
Keesha walked Evangeline to the door. "Leave them wanting more."
"That's the only way to do it." Evangeline added in a whisper, "Isn't she Jason's new girl?"
Evangeline patted her shoulder. "Be careful."
Keesha watched from the door as Jamal helped Evangeline inside the car. He seemed courteous and even a little awed by her friend's beauty. It was funny how Evangeline had always had that effect on the opposite sex.
As the twin headlights faded into the night, Keesha closed the back door and faced her unexpected guest. The girl looked tortured by indecision but even that couldn't negate her bravery of facing her man's former lover. Regardless of what Dawn Jensen wanted, Keesha had to admit the kid had guts.
"Okay, it's just the two of us and I have a lot of work to do--"
"Maybe I can help?" Dawn interrupted to offer. "I'm good at ironing. Not so good at mopping."
"Who's good at that? I hate mopping." Keesha pulled out a chair and pointed. "Sit and while we talk, you can help me peel potatoes."
After they were settled, Keesha said, "Don't take all night to say what's on your mind. Driving from Maywood in that contraption Corbin uses to drive around coloreds will not take Jamal 'til morning. He'll be back before you know it."
"I wanted to talk about Jason."
Keesha gave her a hard look. "It's over with him and me. If you came here to start something--"
"No! It's not that. I came to ask you… Well, I wanted to know…"
The young woman's brows drew together in a worried frown. "How did you get away from him? How did you leave him without getting hurt?"
Keesha's chest tightened at the fearful undercurrent in Dawn's voice. She remembered that fear well and how feeling it made her hate a part of herself. At this point was it too late for Dawn? Could she escape unscathed because Keesha sure as hell hadn't?
Confusion marked the other woman's features. "There was no talk of him hurting you."
"He never hit me, but there are more ways than that to injure someone." Keesha pressed her balled fist to her heart. "Some of this is gone. Maybe it's my fault because I wouldn't listen. Maybe it's his fault because he wanted more than I could give. I don't know. Are you serious about getting away from him?"
A hint of uncertainty flickered in her eyes. "I think so--"
"You have to be sure," Keesha said. "He's good. Without knowing it, he can draw you in like a moth to a flame. Before you know it, the fire consumes you. The heat of the fire can feel real good…but when the fire dies, you're left colder than Spoon Lake when it ices over. But that's how it was for me. Maybe he'll be different with you."
Dawn shook her head. "He just wants me. To have me. To own me. And I almost let him. I didn't listen, too. I don't see a way to fix it."
"I don't know what to tell you," Keesha said. "I wish I could help…"
"You have. You're here and you're whole. I think you're wrong about your heart," Dawn said softly. "It's still there, big and full."
Flashes of moments with Stone came to mind. The memory of his smile warmed Keesha's heart. She nodded once. Maybe Dawn was right.