She rushed from the lecture hall and into the restroom. She vomited as soon as she entered the bathroom stall, barely making it in time. Off and on for the previous couple of weeks she’d felt nausea, but not as bad as today.
She’d wondered if she was fighting the stomach virus that was being passed around Skylar’s play group. Thankfully, Skylar hadn’t yet caught it. Pregnancy had also crossed her mind, but she had stopped allowing herself to get excited and then disappointed when she wasn’t.
Her cycle was due in a couple of weeks. If she missed it, then she would take a pregnancy test. She wouldn’t say anything to Noah until she knew for sure because she didn’t want to raise his hopes again either. She returned to the lecture hall. After her classes were over, she went to Kaye’s and picked up Skylar. Then she went shopping at an organic grocery store to pick up a few things that she needed in order to cook dinner that night. Her family was coming over, and she was looking forward to it.
“Mommy, can we have chocolate chip cookies for dinner?”
“We can have them for dessert.”
Noah met them inside the store, and Sharlee put Skylar down to run and meet him.
“Are you okay, Babe?”
“Maybe we should cancel dinner tonight. Your family will understand.”
“No, I’m fine, Honey. Can you and Skylar go get some sea salt from the next aisle?”
Sharlee couldn’t be upset with him. She’d made the ice cream and cookies herself from scratch with natural ingredients. “You can take some home with you, and I’ll make you your favorite ice cream this weekend.”
Alissa’s cellphone rang, and Aidan answered it for her.
“Mom! It’s for you!”
“No, I haven’t heard from her for a few weeks, but that’s how it’s always been with Crystal. She likes her space.”
Angelo told her about Crystal’s relapse.
She spoke for a few more moments and then disconnected the call.
“It’s Crystal. She’s relapsed and using again. Angelo was stabbed when he went looking for her. I’m going to go find her. I told him I’d get there as soon as I can.”
“I’m going with you.”
“Honey, no offense, but you won’t fit in where I need to go. They’ll think you’re a “narc,” and I won’t get any information.”
He saw the indignant expression rise quickly in her eyes.
“I’m sorry. I used the wrong words. I don’t want you to go alone. You got hurt badly the last time you went looking for her in those type of places.”
“Dale, she’s my little sister. I know that she won’t listen to anyone else, not to Miki or Jamil either. I have to do whatever I can to get her to go to rehab.”
They had forgotten that Noah was there.
“What? I can’t ask you to do that Noah.”
Alissa made a quick decision. She knew that Crystal had a lot of respect and affection for Noah.
Dale was looking intently at Noah. He sensed a bit of excitement and anticipation in Noah.
“Noah, can I speak with you alone?”
“Noah, don’t take any unnecessary chances with Alissa’s safety nor with your own. Remember that you have a wife and daughter to return home to safely. Remember that you will need to be able to look Sharlee and Skylar in the eye when you come back home.”
Noah couldn’t help but feel a bit of irritation that Dale had felt the need to tell him that. He’d done a lot of work with Sarge at controlling his anger and his reactions. The martial arts classes had also helped. However, having a chance to use his street smarts and skills again felt good.
“I don’t intend to take Mom with me while I search for Crystal. I think it’s better if I search alone and then let Mom know after I find her. I’ll tell her after we arrive in town.”
Dale was relieved and told Noah that he thought that was a very good plan. Saying goodbye to Sharlee and Sky hadn’t been easy for Noah. He could tell that Sharlee had mixed emotions about him going. She’d hugged him and made him promise to come back to her and Skylar. He’d kissed her and promised. He told Skylar that he wasn’t sure how many “sleeps” he’d be gone, but that he would talk with her everyday.
After they arrived in Crystal’s town, Alissa went to Crystal’s apartment to see if she could find any clues as to where Crystal might be, and Noah went to the hospital to see Angelo. Angelo told him about the bar and the bouncers, but he wanted Noah to concentrate on finding Crystal. He wasn’t interested in having the bouncer arrested, and he’d refused to answer the police detective’s questions about the stabbing. He didn’t want to make it harder or more dangerous for Crystal. Noah had agreed.
“Mom, please don’t be upset, but I’m going out now to find Crystal. Angelo told me some places to check. I just think it will be easier this way. I’ll call you after I’ve found her, and then you can talk with her too.”
Noah told her he’d be careful, and then he headed for a barbershop. He didn’t want anyone recognizing him. He’d need a different haircut. He knew Sharlee would probably hate it. She loved running her fingers through his current style. He’d grow his hair back out if she didn’t like the new one.
After he left the barbershop, he put phase two of his plan in action. He went to the part of town where Angelo told him to search. All towns have a seedier side, and this was the seedier side of Crystal’s.
The police seldom ventured there, and it was like that Vegas expression, “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” He unobtrusively walked down the street soaking in the vibe. Instinct told him that Crystal had ties to the bar where Angelo was assaulted. This corner was close to that bar. It didn’t take him long to spot the dealers.
He watched them interact with their customers and with each other. Then he knew which one he should approach. This was the same way he’d met the members of the gang that he’d joined as a teen. The key to acceptance was respect. Respecting them led to them respecting him.
“So, Dawg, whatcha doin here in the hood?”
He headed down the street, and Noah followed him into a club. It was the one where Angelo had gone looking for Crystal. Noah didn’t see Crystal as Zeke knocked at a door and then led him into an office.
“I’m always looking for solid guys, but you’re going to have to prove yourself. I don’t let just anyone work here in the club. Do you have a problem with that?”
Luther led the way out into the club and signaled to one of the bouncers.
“You hold your own with him and you’re in.”
Noah stood facing Ralphie. Although Ralphie was a big guy, Noah wasn’t afraid. He was filled with adrenaline and keenly focused on Ralphie’s first move. The two men faced each other, sizing up one another.
Noah knew that Ralphie expected the stern expression in his eye to unnerve him, but instead Ralphie was surprised when Noah grinned at him. Noah felt good. He was enjoying himself. He was happy with his life with Sharlee, but that didn’t mean that he could not enjoy this time too.
He knew that big guys like Ralphie depended on using their brute strength to win fights, and Noah could easily use that against him. Especially now that he had martial arts skills. However, humiliating Ralphie and making him an enemy was not a part of Noah’s plan. So he let Ralphie slug him.
“You could have taken him at any time. Why didn’t you?”
“You got the job. Go to the restroom and get cleaned up. Ralphie will show you the ropes and give you a t-shirt. You start tonight. We open at 5:00.”
After the bar closed, Noah made his way back to Crystal’s place, keeping an eye out to make sure that he wasn’t followed. No one followed him, and so he knew that the group trusted him.
“Yeah, I’m fine, Mom. This was sort of an initiation. Crystal wasn’t there tonight, but she may be there tomorrow night. If not, then I’ll try to dig out some info. I have to be subtle so that they won’t be suspicious.”
Alissa looked at him doubtfully. For a while longer, she’d continue to trust that he knew what he was doing.
The next day when Noah went to the club, the dancers were practicing their routines. He was relieved when he saw Crystal come out from the back and out onto the stage. She hadn’t seen him yet. She started practicing on one of the poles.
Crystal looked over and saw Noah. He saw the shock and shame in her eyes. Then a look of anger. She started to march straight over to him until she saw Luther come out of his office. She veered over to the bar instead and asked for a drink.
“One other thing, Noah. She’s off limits.”
“That’s not the problem. She’s my “Baby Mama’s” aunt. If she narcs to my kid’s Mama about see’n me here, I won’t get to see my kid again, and it’ll be completely over for me and my girl. If I catch up the support, then my “Baby Mama” says she’ll give me another chance.”
If I don’t, she’s through with me, and I’m going to jail. If she finds out that this is what I’m doin to catch up, she’ll still be through with me. I need to talk to her aunt and ask her to keep her mouth shut.”
Noah agreed quickly. “Sure, no threats. She ain’t the type to take a threat anyway.”
Luther laughed. “Yeah, you know her alright.”
He went over to talk with the bartender, and Noah went over to Crystal.
Crystal looked over at Luther and then led Noah over to a table. It would be another hour before the bar opened to the public, and so she still had time to practice her dancing.
“I called the hospital, and they said that Angelo was stable and in good condition. Is he really okay?”
“Why don’t you go see for yourself?”
“What are you doing here, Noah?”
He told her the spiel that he had given Luther.
Crystal smiled for the first time since they sat down and then laughed.
“She’ll be glad to see you. Why don’t you come home with me and tell her.”
Crystal’s smile left. Noah could see that she wasn’t completely high, but she had taken something.
“Did Angelo ask you to come?”
“I didn’t expect that to happen to him, and I’m sorry that it did. For his own good, he needs to forget about me and to go on with his life. I’m where I want to be now.”
Noah was surprised when his phone rang and it was Sky. They had just recently given her a phone and it was programmed to only call him or Sharlee. However, she was not to make a call without their permission. Before he left home to search for Crystal, he and Sharlee had agreed that he would call them when it was the right time for him to call. So he knew that Sky was calling without permission from Sharlee.
“Take her call, Noah.”
Crystal watched Noah’s expressions as he spoke with them both. He was still a happily married man and father. She saw the warm glow in his eyes as he spoke with his family and thought about how Angelo had that glow when he looked at her.
Noah hung up the phone and explained the call. Crystal couldn’t help but laugh at Skylar’s antics.
“Yeah, Sharlee made her sit in the naughty corner as punishment. She’s usually obedient, but occasionally she does get stubborn. That naughty corner seems to really work though. She hates sitting there.”
“I can do that, but I can’t speak for Mom.”
Crystal raised her eyebrows. “What! Alissa is here?”
“I don’t want to see her.”
“Yeah, she was.”
Noah glanced around and saw that Luther was looking over at them. He knew that they couldn’t talk for much longer.
“In some ways my life was easier when it was just me that I had to take care of, but there’s no way that I would come back to this now that I’ve found Sharlee. Making her and Skylar happy makes me happy, and I feel like I finally have the life that I want. I never want to lose my relationship with Sharlee. Definitely not for this kind of life. You were happy too Crystal. How deep are you in?”
“I’m renting a room here. It’s a lot cheaper than living at my place. My apartment is going into foreclosure. I had to use my money to buy my “dust.” I’ve gone through most of my savings now, which is why I asked Luther to let me start dancing.”
Noah told her straight out. “Well, you do know that you stink at dancing don’t you?”
Crystal nodded. “Yeah, I know.”
Crystal didn’t answer, but he knew that she did know that too.
“Angelo caught up the mortgage on your place, and Mom is there now. What do you want me to tell her?”
“You’d better keep that promise, or I won’t be able to keep her away from this part of town. She’s just as stubborn as you are especially when it comes to the people she loves. So whether you want it to be so or not, Crystal, what you do effects the people who love you. Will you need help getting out of here to see Mom?”
Noah looked at her silently. He wondered how long she would be able to keep her spunk if she stayed here. He hoped that Mom would be able to convince her to go into rehab.
“I’ll be there. You can tell Luther that I’ll keep your secret. I won’t tell your “Baby Mama” so long as you don’t tell her about me dancing.”
Noah grinned. “Deal!”
Crystal went to her place the following day just as she promised she would. Noah left the room to give them some privacy.
Alissa looked at Crystal sadly. She could see that Crystal was high. Her appearance had not yet deteriorated from the drug use, but it would probably happen soon.
“Crystal I can’t do that. You’re my only sister. You’re special to me. Please don’t go back. Please let me help you.”
“That won’t ever be true. Life doesn’t work that way, little Sis. You’ll have to worry about when you’re going to get your next “hit.” You’ll have to worry about how you’re going to eat, or where you’re going to sleep. That is unless you get a pimp to take care of you. Even then, you’ll have to worry about meeting your quota of “Johns.” Or maybe he’ll keep you for his “private stock.” Then you’ll have to please him whether you want to do it or not. So even if you go back or if you stay with me, other people will be in your life. At least if you go to rehab, you will be able to decide what role they will play in your life.”
“It’s because of me that he got hurt. It’s better for him to just stay away from me.”
“I’ll call and tell him that I’m taking you to rehab, and that you’re alright. You don’t have to see him until you want to see him.”
Crystal had brought a backpack with her that contained all of the belongings that she’d had at the club. Alissa let her take a shower and change and then Alissa, Crystal and Noah caught a flight to an excellent rehab facility in another state. Alissa didn’t want to give her a chance to change her mind.
The counselors at the rehab center advised Crystal that it would be better for her not to return to her town to live. It would be too easy to relapse. So she sold her loft and moved in with Miki and Jamil. Angelo had come to see her and told her that he was still committed to her. He was willing to wait as long as she needed to decide what she wanted to do.
Alissa suggested that Crystal try freelancing as a graphic design artist. Then she could slowly rebuild her business reputation. Crystal took Alissa’s suggestion, and it felt good to be working again.
She started back talking with Angelo regularly, and he had come to see her several times. The fact that he still wanted to be with her despite everything that she had put him through removed the last bit of reservations that she’d had about Angelo.
During his last visit, Crystal had told him again that she loved him, and Angelo was happy that their relationship was strong again. He was making plans to move because he knew that Crystal couldn’t return to their town.
Chris’ counselors had also told him that it would be unwise to live in the same town when he had finished treatment. He had apologized to Crystal and to Angelo about lying when he’d told Angelo that Crystal had caused him to begin using drugs again. They had both accepted his apology.
So the band was relocating. They just needed to decide on a definite place to move. Angelo, Crystal and his bandmates were trying to decide on the best place. Freelancing meant that Crystal could work from anyplace she wanted. However, she didn’t want to stay in Santa Fe permanently. She loved her family, but she still wanted to live in a bigger city.
Crystal had smiled because it was true. She was healthy and happy again. She had friends and family who had proven how much they loved her. She was especially thankful that she had such a wonderful sister as Alissa who refused to give up on her no matter what, no matter how hard Crystal had tried to push her away!
I hope this chapter wasn’t too long. Thanks for sticking with the story! ❤