We look back an hour at a time.
Those days we spent living on a dime.
The times when innocence was all we had.
Times when all we wanted was a dad.
From: The Aching – Anah Rose 2014
Magnolia, Arizona 1995
March was the time the crops went out in the Marcher Farm at the base of the incline into Magnolia, between the hours of 7:30 and 3:30 the small town was quiet as sin, the children trapped in their classrooms on the hill Magnolia Schools System sat on, and separate from the town itself. It was a cold drizzly day in the mining town and rainy day schedule for the student's life went on as usual. The MCJROTC room open for a lunch and gathering of students. Close closed cliques were easily formed in such small towns and the ostracizing of one or another led to pain and torture of the person tossed out, such was life for one poor girl, Angel High, and this is where we find her on the 35 year old school's grounds:
Angel sat on the cement wall outside the lobby doors to the school's girl's gymnasium. March rain fell in a cool drizzle on a sad little girl dressed in a set of military fatigues, her frizzy red hair pulling out of its braid. Glad for the rain the pudgy girl sniffed back her tears. She was alone nibbling on a sandwich outside because the sight of friends groups only made her even sadder. She didn't fit in with the other kids in the MCJROTC. She didn't fit in anywhere. School was a lonely, ugly place and Angel only seemingly tried to fit in to the hubbub.
She heard the door near her squeak open and Halex Adler stepped out into the rain, his cover tight on his head and he let the bathroom pass hang from his pocket, his hair kept in a crew cut he leaned toward her, "Hey Angel, whatcha up to?" His hand reaching out to cup her chin bringing her eyes up to meet his as Rosa Lopez popped out the door,"Pudge crying again Halex?" She grabbed his arm and walked with him to the bathroom as Angel sniffled again, finished her soggy sandwich and went back inside for class.
Halex spun Rosa around. Slamming her back up against the gym doors as they closed on them, "Quit talking to her like that, you and your little bitches. She has done nothing to you," never had he ever felt like hitting a girl and he gave the pass to her and went to find Angel. Finding her inside, head in a calculus book.
"Angel? Can I talk to you?" His voice already a warm rumble in her ear, his minty breath moving her hair against her ear and Angel lifted her head, her plain unmade face looking at him quietly. Chewing on her lip she finally answered, "Sure I guess." Angel got up and moved to the back of the room. Halex leaned a hand on the display case behind her, "Don't let Rosa and her friends get to you. She only pushes you so far for two reasons. First, you let her and second, she has to hurt you to feel better about herself."
She looked at him with cold green eyes. "Why do you care now when you let her say stuff like that to me, and now you're blaming it on me," Her voice was sad and filled with hurt as the Sergeant nodded to them to go outside. She got up slapping her cover back on her head and dipped back out in the rain. She was suddenly angry and shoved him back so hard he had to take a step back his head colliding with the chin-up bar, "damn it Angel that hurt." She walked back to her spot on the lonely wall holding back the dirt and gravel.
Halex followed her, "I never let anyone get away with treating you like anything. You just don't see it." His hand closed on her shoulder as he turned her around to face him, "I tell them all off. I swear." Angels lip trembled and he pulled her close.
"Always never means just when I feel like it ...," Halex pulled her into a fierce hug and her heart picked up extra beats as the hug brought her a breath from his warm lips, and for a second she thought he was going to kiss her and her eyes slid closed a moment as she got used to the feel of him pressed against her body, he was solid and strong as she did so. His breath minty and inviting,
"Halex?" She breathed a shallow breath and looked up at him.
He looked down into her eyes pushing her back, "We can't do this Angel, your special, and you're going places." He swept lose hairs up into her cover, "you are going further than most of these idiots here. You're putting Magnolia in the rearview mirror and never looking back." He kissed her cheek softly and cupped her chin again, lifting her downward glance up into his eyes again a serious look on his face, "go to prom with me. Mom will get you a dress. A pretty one in your favorite color. Flowers... everything."
Angel just stared at him dumbfounded and stuttered her answer, "I-I can't I'm on the committee for the dinner and dance. I'll be there but you'll find me by the punch bowl." She was suddenly very confused and panicked her heart gave a sudden drop into her stomach and catapulted to wedge in her throat and she did what she did best at the time, she ran. She ran into the metal building that housed their ROTC unit, grabbed her bag and ran back out and up the hill, across the English classrooms and went to sit in the band room waiting for band to start, quietly plucking out a song on the piano to calm her nerves. The Band Director, Mr. Scott, heard her plucking out the song and opened the door flicking on the light as he looked at her, "What happened now Angel?" She was like a daughter to him, someone had to guide her, and Lord knew her mother didn't.
"Halex asked me to the prom and I told him no," She hiccupped as her tears subsided and she turned to the man beside her. All her life she had been in his music classes, he was a role model to her and she bucked up and tried to stop shaking, "I don't know what to do. I thought for sure he'd already asked one of his girlfriends? Why me?" Mr. Scott sat down on the extra chair and closed the lid over the keys.
"It's been my experience throughout the years that there are these guys that have a following of girls behind him, pretty, airheads as you call them.. But what he's after is the smart girl in the shadows. Go tell him yes, you will feel a hundred times better. I won't mark you tardy. Hurry up and get going before he does ask one of those girls." Her eyes brightened, "You really think so?" He nodded and watched her stand up and leave and he walked out of the band room and down the hall to the auditorium.
She left her bag running for the science wing. Halex would be heading to or be in, Mr. Davidson's Chemistry's class sitting at the front, stretched out in a dramatic slouch, but the bell hadn't rung yet and she opened the door when she got to it, shivering as she looked inside and walked up to his slouched form, tripping over his feet from the front of the lab table. "Yes," She told him staring at him and ignoring the rest of the class.
Halex looked at her, his dark brown eyes narrowed on her and he sat up, "Yes what?" He covered her cold hands with his and rubbed them to warm them up, "Yes you'll go?" A smile covered his stern, smile covered face and he pat her hands after warming them, "This is good news. Thank you for saying yes."
Angel nodded her frizzy red head, Mr. Davidson was in the back of the class setting up at the projector where he lay a typed page on glass and smiled, "Miss. High, as I recall you tested out of this class and I'm about to begin, why don't you head on out and you two can continue your life numbing conversation after school."
Angel blushed, her cheeks turning a fiery red almost as red as her hair as he shoved her off, "Meet me at my truck when you get out of English, mom has a lot to plan for in a few short days. I expect it will include a drive into the outlet malls. Now go get or Mr. Scott will be tearing your head off." Her blush flooded down her neck and across her chest as she fumbled to apologize and Halex kept his eyes narrowed on her as a couple of the boys in the back started teasing her and he sighed throwing a wadded up paper ball at the closest one, "Shut up you! She's a good kid." He turned back around after getting some ribbing from Mike Playhe and Mr. Davidson cleared his throat, "If some of you may not have noticed we have a test today." Halex groaned, put away his book and workbook and sat up looking at Sara who just smiled and shook her head, "You are full of surprises Mr. Adler." Halex just grinned and got out a pencil watching Angel run across the Math wing and back up toward the auditorium and to the band room in the corner.
Angel gave Mr. Scott a thumbs up as she pulled out her trombone and climbed up next to her fellow first chair and started to warm up. Her hands were still ice cold, yet warm where Halex touched them and she didn't understand why. Her heart did a little flip flop and then calmed down as they started to play their concert pieces in the auditorium. She was bursting to tell her band buddy about what had transpired while Mr. Scott worked on the woodwinds part to the Marry Poppins piece and she had to do it and turned to Jason and smiled,
"Halex Adler asked me to the prom." Jason's brow lifted as he watched her, "Thee Halex Adler?" She nodded and frowned when his brow did not lower.
"Come on Jason its good news isn't it?" Jason shifted and set a hand on a shoulder.
"There are lots of reasons he could have done it for a number of reasons Angel.. But then again it is his Senior Prom." He cleaned out the spit valve on his horn and looked at her. "I just don't want to see your heart broken. Promise me you'll be careful and not read more into it then there is there."
She nodded at him as he talked, "Thank you for sharing, I never thought of that stuff, but then Halex has never seemed the type to do anything with me because he feels sorry." Her good mood plummeted to a mass of nerves for the afternoon but she kept her word.
The rest of the day her classes went smoothly, no one bugged her, not even Rosa, and she got her books for homework and headed out to the parking lot and waited by Halex's truck, usually she walked home to see first if her mother was home first, If she was she crossed the street and headed down to Yoli and Gregor Adler's house where Halex lived with his two sisters. She was welcome there above all else, since the day Halex talked her into his truck after a very rough day when her drunken mother had locked her out of the house in a pair of shorts and a tank top in forty degree weather.
She began to fret as the track team began running their warm-up laps, the drizzle had stopped but threatened to restart anytime and she fixed her cover, her gym bag with a set of sweat pants and a tee-shirt and extra underthings was tucked under one arm and she fidgeted until she finally saw him coming up the center walkway talking with Mike and Sara and he nodded toward her and they headed over to say hi as he waved the specially ordered tickets toward her and Mike settled against the truck staring at her. "So the mighty midget do they even make dresses in your size?" Halex punched him in the arm and she blushed again, that bright warming red as she tucked her head down, "Dunno we'll see."
Halex opened the cab so the girls could get in where it was warm. Sara smiled, "So we're gonna share a table with you two, if that's all right, for the dinner and the dance. Halex didn't know what you would prefer, the chicken or the steak so he put you down for steak, medium." Angel smiled, "I would have taken either but steak is good. Yoli makes it once in a while. So you two aren't afraid of a Carrie remake?."
Sara nodded. "You should really cut your hair and up do it. I could come help Yoli with it Saturday afternoon. It would look so pretty shoulder length, maybe a little longer, my big sister is a beautician she's taught me a lot."
Angel shifted, "I've never cut my hair except an inch every couple of months... and its so frizzy it's horrible." Angel admitted to her as Halex climbed in finally and Mike jumped in the back for his ride home. He shifted the truck into reverse and pulled out from his spot by the gym and headed up to the highway and headed down the hill into the mining town cookie cutter houses and pulled up, up the street to drop of Mike and Sara and then turned down to go down to the 300 block of Essex and pulled up in front of his house and helped her out and they walked up the drive and called out as they stepped inside, "MOM! We're home."
Halex handed her bag to her and shoed her off to the bathroom to change, a few minutes later she came out and tossed her bag into the guest room and padded through their living room to where Yoli was finishing up with her sewing as she smiled and looked from Halex to Angel, "Go get something to eat Halex I want to talk to Angel."
Angel smiled and he vanished as Yoli pat her hand, "He told me you said yes to the dance. I am happy for you. We will go into town tomorrow and get your dress and shoes and things for your hair." She smiled her soft warm felt grin. Yoli was a kind hearted woman that always had an air about her that made Angel think of the Russian Gypsy. Maybe it was Yoli's long lustrous black hair without a speck of silver to mark her years. Maybe it was the way she seemed to float when she walked or how she raised her family. Angel could never figure it out, but the woman held her attention with those dark, dark eyes framed by long, long lashes.
"I'm truly happy for you... you know Angel I foresaw this the first time he brought you home like a sad, bullied puppy when he found you. You blossom in my son's heart. That is the sweetest part of it all. You are an Angel. I'm making casserole tonight. Made enough for you, saw your mom's car in the driveway on my way to the store."
Angel smiled and looked down, "Thank you Mrs. Adler." She smiled, "I'm going to go study I have an English test tomorrow on Macbeth."
Yoli had sent her off with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk and she settled in at the desk in the guest room that served as her safety home away from home. She could hear Halex talking on the phone to his dad, they'd be having dinner with him tomorrow night which put a happy tone in Halex's voice when he hung up he came into the guest room and climbed up in the bed watching her. She tried to ignore him and read on the study guide but instead she found herself looking at him from the corner of her eye and she blushed again giving up and shoving him over. "Why did you ask me to prom?"
Halex chuckled, "I asked you because you are a beautiful, intellectually brilliant woman who deserves to be a part of her senior year rite of passage, not pouring punch to her peers." He leaned on his elbow and looked up at her, "You do realize how pretty you are don't you?" He smiled and brushed frizz out of her hair, now that the monster was released he couldn't help but laugh a little.
Angel huffed and sighed as she watched him, "In your eyes only." She pulled back her obnoxious curls and put them in a ponytail which only resulted in it looking like a red powder puff.
"In my eyes always." He kissed her cheek, "Always beautiful despite the physical flaws you are an amazing woman and I hope I get to see you go places."
"Thanks. I think." She smiled softly. "You're pretty good yourself." She laughed and held out the study guide, "Want to quiz me." The conversation made her nervous and she didn't understand why as she shook the guide until he took it from her and looked down at it. He'd forgotten she was in AP English.
"Sure." He started reading off the questions and waiting for her answers until his mom called for dinner at six and she went out and sat down next to Halex's older sister Anastasia. Ana smiled at her and hugged her close. She really was the odd ball out in a family of lustrous women and men. They all had their mother's dark foreign eyes that made them all beautiful and here they were circling the wagons so that she could go to a dance that she was terrified of.
Two days later she was standing in Halex's kitchen, Yoli holding a pair of scissors as she eyed the mass that was Angel's hair and on the count of three she snipped off the thick heavy braid and threw away the mass she'd lobbed off and then Ana and her mother attacked the frizzy mess bringing it under control and bringing it into beauty, a little past her shoulders they had the curls sleek and beautiful then zipped her into her gown, a dark blue number with pale blue lace jacket, her shoes were silver and Yoli smiled at her while Ana did her makeup .
Soon Yoli was ready to present her to Halex who could only stare at her, "Angel..." He went silent again as he fumbled on the table with a smile coming up with an empty box.
"Hey." She smiled up at him as he held up the corsage and slid it onto her wrist, beautiful blue carnations to match her gown and she watched him worried something was wrong.
"Hey there yourself." Halex smiled and leaned in and kissed her cheek, "You cut your hair... You look amazing." He stood for the typical pictures from Yoli and soon they were off to the school and everyone stopped and stared, while they couldn't make her skinny they could make her beautiful in all other ways and people who teased her before had heart about her now. She was a beautiful sight as she took a deep breath and walked on his arm like Ana had shown her the night before. Her feet were sure steps and the gown moved with her steps and she got to the table where Mike and Sara stood up to get a better look and Sara smiled, "You're gorgeous. There's gonna be competition tonight."
"You think so?" Angel asked her as Halex sat her down and she brushed her drooping lose curls back a little. "Yoli and Ana went above and beyond." She admitted as she licked her lips, the lip gloss has a cherry taste and she took a sip of water. "I feel like a fish out of water to be honest."
"I would too. You're gorgeous though. Should get your pictures right away, we'll go with you and get a group photo too." Sara smiled and sipped her water then got up and let them over to the room they were using for the photos and they stood and posed, then the group pose and then they announced the dinner and plates were brought out according to table number and Angel grinned, "This looks great. Dinner and dancing, two new things to add to my list... I was supposed to be manning the punch bowl though." Sara gasped, "You would have come to your Senior Prom as food service?"
"Better than not coming at all I suppose seventy dollars a person was kind of steep for my nonexistent budget." Angel said as she talked with Sara over college acceptances and scholarship awards. She smiled as she ate some more potato, "I got a full ride to University of Arizona while everyone else here nearly choses Arizona State University. But it's for the medical program, I'm excited. Only Halex has known since I got the letter. I had all my college letters sent to his house and he was dancing the day it came in. He was crazy happy."
Sara chuckled as she cut another piece of chicken, "That's great, he always said you were going places and we'd all be sorry."
"He's a smart cookie. He's the one behind me pushing me up the hill though," Angel admitted as she took another drink of punch as the boys came back. Angel took the time to take in the decorations. The blue's and silvers of the waters, the green of the plants. It really was a night to remember and she sighed. This was the end to her and Halex, just as it began they had two months left and then catapulting into their college lives and she didn't know what else. Halex was set to go to the University of Arizona with her. He was taking the science route. Science pleased him and she sighed again as Mike took Sara out on the dance floor as Journey's "Open Arm's" started and she looked up at Halex who was holding out his hand and she smiled and took it with her petite hands and he slid out on the dance floor with her and pulled her close, her heels forgotten under the table and he encouraged her to stand on his feet and soon she was swaying like a pro. "Thank you Halex. For tonight. For everything." She smiled and rest her head over his chest, it felt right as his voice was just a rumble of deep tones as she rubbed her face against his chest, trying not to crush his boutonniere.
By the time the night was over Halex had taken a drive with her on a musical high and he kissed her softly. "I've been wanting to do that a long time." He smiled speaking of the soft kiss that stole their breath away. "Always means Always Angel. That will never change I promise."
She smiled and kissed his cheek, "You'll always be my best friend. We'll grow old together, Magnolia is set to be in both our rearview mirrors. Your mom says so at least. I hope it's true." She blushed softly and lay down on the bench seat of the truck and rest her head in his lap.