Once you're awake there are other needs...
by Lainie Lee
Terrence Cook, the night shift clerk at Seven-Ups Lodge in Oakland had checked in the tall, black sergeant who had registered as Cheryl Jones for two days and paid in advance. After occupation taxes, it came to $14.47, but the soldier had given Terrence a twenty and told him to keep it and not tell anyone about the woman.
"Just let her sleep it off," he'd said.
Terrence had stood at the window with the lights in the office off so he could see out without being seen. He'd watched the sergeant carry a limp, white female form into the room and come back out entirely too quickly to have engaged in any hanky or panky.
Terrence had waited for the very black man to leave and then had used his passkey to check on the occupant left behind. He'd stood there in the dark long enough to be sure that the woman was breathing, deep, slow breaths that did sound like drunken but ladylike snores. Satisfied that at least he hadn't been party to some homicide, he had left.
"You never can tell," he told himself. He was black, too, though a shade of red oak instead of the nearly blue color of the sergeant. Being black, especially in this particular part of Oakland, was not remarkable but a black man parking a white woman in a motel room in the middle of the night had some implications. It might be 1971 and the West Coast, but some things could still be dangerous.
Like the area around the Seven-Ups, industrial low-rent. Terrence personally knew of heroin shooting galleries, illicit bars, and clandestine bordellos within five blocks of the motel. Hell, a woman who usually signed in as Mary Stanebrace used one of the rooms in the back row as her occasional crib.
At seven that morning, before Sergeant Polk returned with clothing for the woman, the day shift clerk, Anna Watson arrived. Terrence Cook had gone to his own room in the back of the motel (the rent was paid as part of the job), eaten breakfast with his fourteen-year-old son, Clarence, and gone to bed. At three that afternoon, he woke up. He couldn't get the thought of Cheryl Jones out of his head.
He knew his son would be going to a baseball game; the boy had a good eye at the plate and a decent glove in the outfield; he wouldn’t be home till after dark unless Terrence went after him. The sun went down after nine o’clock in Oakland during July, so Terrence had time to consider things. Like some very disturbing dreams.
He’d been dreaming of a lush white body, and he couldn't think of a reason why this was so; he'd barely glimpsed the woman, once while she was being carried across the parking lot and once in a darkened motel room. White women generally didn’t interest him, at least not viscerally, though he could appreciate a beautiful female body of almost any sort. But the image of Cheryl Jones had haunted his sleep with erotic tension.
Apparently, he'd been thinking about it all the while he slept. His mental machinery had balked at any sensible explanation. He couldn't believe that a black U.S. Army sergeant would be pimping a white woman in a motel in South Oakland. And he didn't want to believe that little more than a pair of glances had triggered something approaching obsession in him.
He checked with Anna on the desk to see if she had made the required 11 a.m. wake up call. “Ah called,” said Anna. “She didn’t sound awake and Ah ain’t seen hide nor hair of her.” Anna was from some little town in East Texas near Nagadoches and sounded like the rural south. She was black, too, but had a missing white husband and a mixed race son going to the local community college, staying out of the draft with his momma’s help.
Mannie Pablo, a young Filipino, would have the evening shift, starting at 4:30, and would probably be swotting the books for his own college courses.
Terry dithered a bit about going out and running errands, but he couldn’t stand to think that the mystery woman might leave without his ever getting to see her in daylight. He settled himself into the tiny lounge where the motel served weak coffee and day-old Danish in the mornings. His excuse was that the TV there was bigger than the one in his room. He munched on stale afternoon pastry and watched out the window to see if the woman came in or out of her room. He made up little fantasies about what she would be wearing and what he would say to her… and where they would make love.
His son would be home from school a bit after five; he would wait that long for Cheryl Jones to make an appearance.
* * *
She could only cry so long she discovered, but somehow did feel better when she stopped. It was as if the tears had washed away anxiety and confusion. And maybe memory, too. “What was Ah cryin’ about?” She couldn’t remember and after only a moment, it didn’t seem important.
Feeling thirst, she wandered into the bathroom and discovered two full glasses of water sitting on the counter beside the sink. She drank both of them, smiling at herself in the mirror, without wondering at all who had filled them or why they were sitting there still full.
She leaned toward the mirror, a dreamy expression on her face. “When did Ah get to be so good lookin’?” she asked herself and giggled. Again, she lifted one breast after the other. “Ah’ve got some titties,” she said. “They’re pretty, but Ah don’t remember having titties … before …?” Before what, she wondered. Before she woke up….
She looked at herself in the mirror again. “Ah look like someone Ah ought to know … and don’t that sound stupid?” She did look as if someone should know who she was, that sort of charisma a movie star has.
Her stomach suddenly growled, distracting her, and she realized she had been hungry for quite some time. “Ah’m starvin’!” she complained.
A quick check of the room revealed no food in the place, just the package of clothing lying on the other bed, along with the purse, the grooming kit and … the money on the top of the chest of drawers.
She hadn’t opened the purse, so all she found was the single fifty dollar bill Sergeant Polk had put under the other items. She blinked several times, peering at the bill. “Ah oughtta have enough to get some breakfast somewheres,” she said, giggling again. The face of the man on the bill meant no more to her as far as a name did than the face she had seen in the mirror.
Holding the money clenched in her fist, she looked around for the door but stopped herself. “Ah better get dressed,” she said. It almost seemed silly to wear clothing, to cover up such a beautiful body. But some remnant of… caution, perhaps?… warned her to conceal herself before leaving the sanctuary of the room.
The clothing on the bed must belong to her, why else would it be there, but it didn’t look at all familiar. She stared at the bra, then at the package of panties. She shrugged, realizing she had no idea of how to put the bra on. Getting the panties out of their package proved to be a problem, too. She pulled this way and that on the plastic then two ways at once, and the wrapping came apart with the panties flying across the room. That made her laugh, but then she couldn’t find where the panties had landed and played for a moment with the remnant of the plastic bag.
Giving up on that, she picked up the simple shirt-style dress and decided that it must go over her head. “Like a t-shirt,” she said out loud. The thongs on their card lying on the floor beside the bed escaped her notice and the need for shoes did not occur to her. “No one’s going to know Ah’m not wearing undies,” she told herself. She looked in the mirror and ran the fingers of her left hand through her dark chestnut hair.
Clutching the money in her right, she glanced around again for a door to the outside just as someone knocked softly on it.
* * *
At a few minutes after four, Terrence Cook could wait no longer. He left the lounge of the motel and headed across the quiet parking lot where rain three days ago had left frozen rivers of sand that had not yet been disturbed much. He walked up to the door of Unit 7B, hardly hesitating at all. He didn’t want Anna on the front desk to think anything at all about what he was going to do.
He knocked softly and listened. Surprised, he heard a female voice call, “Come on in, sugah.”
He opened the door, and there she stood, wearing a pale blue dress with white printed decorations. She had the same sort of lush figure as Raquel Welch and the same dark mahogany hair, too, but tousled as if she had just gotten out of bed. Her bright blue eyes looked back at him from the smoothest, most innocent-looking face he had ever seen on anyone over the age of four. Terrence had an instant hard-on.
“Ah’m starvin’,” said the woman. “Kin we go get somethin’ to eat?” For a tall woman, she had a surprisingly light, clear, almost childish, soprano and a soft, sensual Louisiana drawl.
“Sh-sure,” he stammered. He tried to look away, the raw sex appeal she exuded felt like a physical force. “Uh, you want to comb your hair and,” he noticed her bare feet, “put on some shoes?” If he took her to a restaurant looking like she did at the moment… Well, he didn’t want to have to do that.
She pouted. “Ah don’t got no shoes,” she said. She ran her fingers through her nearly waist-length hair, “Nor no comb neither,” she added. “And Ah’m pow’ful hungry.”
Oh, lord, thought Terrence. Does she know what she’s doing to me? “Uh, you can’t go to a restaurant without shoes….”
“Ah’ve got money,” she said. She took the money out and waved it, then dropped it on the floor. “Oops,” she giggled and bent to pick up the fifty. The open neck of her dress top showed clearly that she wore no bra.
Terrence stared. Visible only for a moment before her hair swung forward around her face and upper body, the creamy globes came at him like two fast pitches, low and inside but definitely in the strike zone. Involuntarily, he stepped back.
While bent over, she noticed the purse on the bed and picked it up, managing to upend it and spill its contents, across the bed; more money, a tube of lipstick, and some cheap jewelry still on cards. She looked up at him and laughed. “I’m so clumsy,” she said. “Am I still drunk?”
“Wait right there!” Terrence said, backing up again, feeling for the doorway behind him. “I’ll go get you some food.” He bolted out the door, locking it behind him again. If she’s doing all that on purpose, she should be in movies, he told himself. And if she’s doing it by accident, she should be locked up, for her own protection — and mine!
He stopped himself from running; someone might see, but he hurried around the end of the building toward his apartment on the back row. A raging internal debate made him fumble with his own keys, but he got them out and made it inside. Minutes later, he emerged carrying a sack containing two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. He made a stop at the soda machine and bought a Coca Cola and an Orange Crush and added them to the bag before hurrying on to the door of 7B.
He didn’t knock this time but stepped right on in, waving the bag of sandwiches in front of him like a shield.
Cheryl Jones stood right where he had left her and in almost the same position, half bent over the bed. She beamed at him. “I smell peanut butter,” she cooed.
Terrence took a sandwich out of the bag and handed it to her. “Here,” he said when she merely stared at it for a moment.
She handed him the fifty with one hand and took the sandwich with the other. “I love peanut butter,” she said, smiling at him.
Terrence didn’t think he had heard anything so sexy in his life.
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