It was Tatia’s 12th birthday, and as her fantasy date with Eric began, she saw a few cracks in his slick veneer. A shower of gifts and unfamiliar attention soon overcame her doubts, and she was caught up in the dream.
For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 9. Chapter 10 will be posted on Thursday.
CHAPTER 9: BIRTHDAY DREAMS
Tatia woke up and stretched, trying to hold onto the dream that was fading away as the sun slipped over her windowsill and threw a bright ray across the foot of her bed. For the second time in the week since camp she had dreamed about sitting and talking with Jesse instead of her usual dreams of death and loneliness. She thought about pulling the sheet up over her head and trying to return to that happy place, but suddenly, she remembered what day it was. It was Saturday, June 30, and she was twelve years old today. Not only that, it was the day of her first real date.
She jumped out of bed, pulled on a pair of shorts and a tank top, and went to work. She completed her chores before anyone else in the house was awake, and then, she started on Josie’s chores. Her plan was to be sure everyone’s work was done so Josie would have no excuse to keep her home for the evening. As far as Josie knew, today was a normal Saturday except that Tatia had been invited to a birthday party. She was sure her records included her date of birth, but she was also sure that Josie didn’t know or care that the birthday was hers. She was also sure that Josie didn’t need to know that the party was for two, her and Eric. The plan was for Tatia to meet Eric in front of the library around 5:00 pm. That would leave plenty of time for Eric to spring all his surprises before Tatia’s 10:00 pm curfew.
Motivated as she was, Tatia worked quickly and efficiently. Still, the time dragged, and she thought 5:00 pm would never come. Finally, though, all the chores were done, the kids were bathed, fed, and settled in front of their favorite movie. She took a quick shower, carefully curled her hair, and dressed in jeans and the pink T-shirt Eric had given her. He had told her not to worry about what she wore, because his gift to her would be a new outfit he had chosen especially for her. She hoped it would be as pretty as the dresses she had worn at camp. He had also promised her a real dinner date at a nice restaurant. She hoped she would know which fork to use.
When she arrived at the library, she was excited and relieved to see the red Corvette in the lot and Eric leaning against the trunk.
Based on her life experience, she was afraid he wouldn’t show up, and she would end up hiding in a gas station restroom until it was time to go home. She shouldn’t have worried, though. He was there, just like he said, and she just knew tonight would be the best night of her life.
As she approached the car, he straightened up and greeted her with a brotherly hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Happy Birthday, sweetheart. You look beautiful.”
“Thanks. You look great, too.”
He was wearing black slacks, a black shirt, and highly polished black loafers. To Tatia, he looked simply elegant. In a move she had seen only on TV and in the movies, he offered her his arm.
“Your carriage awaits, Miss.”
Giggling, she took his arm as he escorted her around the car, opened the door, and handed her into her seat.
“We’re going to dinner in Cameron so we won’t run into anyone you know. The last thing I want is to cause you problems at home.”
“You’re always so good to me.”
He smiled and patted her hand. “I rented a room close to the restaurant so you can change before dinner and then back into your jeans before you go home. We’ll have to figure out a way for you to take the dress home later.”
“It sounds like you have everything planned perfectly.”
He laughed. “I read a lot of magazines.”
Tatia smiled and thought that Eric must be the most perfect man in the world. She couldn’t remember any fancy hotels in Cameron, but she had only been there once or twice. She tried to imagine where he had rented a room as they entered the city limits. There were lots of motels on the south side of town, some that were fairly nice, at least according to the ads on TV. Some, though, were not so nice, with names that were not meant to be remembered, as if the owners were ashamed of the dirty, run-down conditions of their businesses. She was shaken when Eric pulled into one of these. It was painted a sickly yellow color with a stripe of lime green around the middle like a wide belt that held the building together. The windows in one section were boarded up, and the rest were too dirty to see inside. She turned her head toward the window, hoping Eric wouldn’t see the distress on her face. She didn’t want to embarrass him if this was all he could afford after paying for everything else.
She tried to put a smile on her face as he came around and opened the car door, again offering his arm and escorting her to a door that sported a tarnished number “12”.Some of her doubts weakened as she wondered if he had asked for this room in honor of her birthday. Then, when he opened it, her remaining misgivings disappeared.
The room was alight with scented candles, and spread out on the bed was the most beautiful dress she had ever seen. Instead of little-girl pink, it was a black satin, strapless dress under a lace overlay with a scooped neckline and elbow-length sleeves. The flared skirt looked like it would hit her about mid-thigh, and there were just enough sequins scattered across it to give off a nice shimmer when she walked. On the floor, a pair of silver sandals with kitten heels sparkled in the candlelight. The ensemble was the perfect combination of elegance and innocence so she would look grown-up without looking like she was playing dress up.
She picked up the dress, held it against herself, and twirled around the room a couple of times.
“You like it?” asked Eric.
“Oh, yes!” she gushed, running over and hugging him around the waist. “It’s perfect.”
“Careful,” he said, pushing her away gently. “You don’t want to get it all wrinkled before you even try it on. Now, I know a blonde in a black dress can be a little tricky, so I asked Cindy to help you put on a little make-up – just enough so you don’t look washed out. I hope you don’t mind.”
She did mind a little bit. He had never said anything about her looking washed out before. In fact, he usually said she had such natural beauty that she didn’t need make-up. Still, he was working so hard to make it a really special evening, and she didn’t want to do anything to spoil it. “Sure, that would be okay, I guess. But I don’t have any make-up or anything.”
“That’s okay. I had her pick up some stuff when she bought the dress.”
Tatia felt another little twinge. She bought the dress? He had made her think he had picked out everything himself. She busied herself with straightening out the dress on the bed so he wouldn’t see the disappointment on her face. She heard him open the door to a connecting room.
“Hey, Cindy!” he yelled. “Get your butt in here with that make-up, and don’t be all day about it.”
Tatia couldn’t believe the harsh edge in his voice. She had never heard him speak any way other than gently – except when he found out she was going to camp. Before she could really think about it, she heard a female voice coming from the next room.
“Keep your shirt on. I’m coming.”
Eric met Cindy at the door and put his face down within inches of hers. “What did you say?” he hissed between clenched teeth.
Tatia glanced around and saw the fear in Cindy’s eyes. She looked down quickly before he looked in her direction.
“I-I-I said sure, Eric. Right away,” Cindy stammered.
“That’s what I thought you said.”
Cindy edged by Eric, keeping her eyes down to avoid his glare. She hurried over to Tatia and picked up the dress. “Come on, honey. Let’s go in the bathroom where there’s more light.”
Tatia picked up the shoes and followed Cindy. Just before she reached the bathroom, she looked back toward the connecting door where she caught a glimpse of Eric in the other room, pacing and smoking a cigarette. She had never seen him smoke before.
Cindy was a dark-haired girl in her late teens. She had olive skin, hazel eyes, and ample curves barely covered by a red silk kimono. She set to work with a small collection of tubes and bottles. The brush across her cheeks reminded Tatia of Jesse’s paint-filled brushes the week before, and for a few seconds, she almost wished she was back at camp. Then, she looked at the dress and thought of dinner with Eric. I need to chill out, she thought. After all, everybody has a bad moment now and then.
Cindy was putting the finishing touches on her lipstick when Eric approached the bathroom. “Hey, gorgeous. Are you almost ready?”
Tatia saw a flash of resentment in Cindy’s eyes, but she stifled it and answered with a smile in her voice. “Almost done. Give us a couple more minutes and we’ll call you in for the big reveal.”
“Okay, but don’t take too long. We don’t want to miss our reservations.”
Tatia was relieved to hear the gentleness back in his voice, and her heart skipped a beat as her excitement returned. “Do I look okay?” she asked shyly.
“Oh, honey, you look good enough to…Well, let’s just say you look beautiful. I think I’ll just sweep all those blonde curls up off your neck in a clip, and we’ll be ready for the dress.”
Within five minutes, Tatia was dressed, perfumed, and standing in front of Eric, waiting for his reaction. It was everything she had hoped for. He whistled appreciatively, took her hand and twirled her around before pulling her into his arms and dancing around the room with her – all this while telling her again and again how beautiful, gorgeous, and stunning she looked.
“The only thing missing is – this!” he said as he dramatically pulled a small velvet box out of his pocket. He opened it to reveal a silver heart-shaped locket with a tiny diamond in the center.
Tatia gasped, and reached out a shaking finger to touch the sparkling gem as if to reassure herself that it was real. “Oh, Eric. I can’t believe this is all for me.”
“Believe it,” he said, taking the locket out of the box. “Now turn around so I can put this on you, and let’s go eat dinner.”
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