CHAPTER 65

I have no clear idea how long I walked the levee. I know I walked out of Tyrone Freedman’s trailer, but I don’t remember what or whether I said anything to Jasmine at the time. Camilla’s death blew the center out of me like a ton of lead shot through a paper bag, and I walked the two-tracked gravel path atop the levee down to the striped metal barrier across the road padlocked to a metal post set in concrete.

I stood for a moment.

Humidity smothered my face as the sun burned it. Sweat dripped everywhere. Around me, the land wobbled and swayed, warped by undead water rising from the soil to haunt the Delta with another day of mildew and humidity which would eventually give life to more thunderstorms.

Horseflies bit at my bare legs, and mosquitoes heavy with someone else’s blood blanketed me. My hands moved with a frantic palsy that barely interrupted their bloodlust. Finally, I set off at a dead run toward Tyrone’s trailer, leaving the insects behind; guilt, anger, and sorrow paced me relentlessly.

It took me almost fifteen minutes to reach Tyrone’s cabin, meaning I had walked two, maybe two and a half miles. As I stumbled down the steep levee bank, I heard the syncopated, guitar-slapping rhythm of Robert Johnson’s “Preaching Blues, Up Jumped the Devil” coming from the trailer.

The lyrics reached out for me and I followed them. Despite the heat, the front door was open and I walked in.

“Jasmine?” I called, and when I got no answer, I closed the door.

The desperate urgency of this song set it apart from Johnson’s usual cool nasality. So much of Johnson’s work moved me to introspection with its sanguine acknowledgment of the evil dogging our lives. But “Preaching Blues” always ripped at me like a scream. I stood at the window and parted the curtains, hoping to catch a glimpse of Jasmine walking back from the SUV.

Johnson’s frantic raw emotions cut right through to my own as I listened to the familiar lyrics. The blues behind blues music ate people like heart disease. Hopelessness was the ultimate hell.

When Johnson finished, his vice and guitar trailed off like the last notes of rain after a storm. Then the silence filled with the surf of my heart and the distant drone of a crop duster. A moment later the floor creaked behind me, followed by Jasmine’s fragrance, spicy, earthy, welcome, warm.

“How did you know?” When I turned around, her gaze froze me in place. The wisteria hues of her eyes seemed limitless in their depth and beauty. “The music, I mean?”

In the background, Johnson began “Love in Vain” and my ear recognized this was the same Hellhound on My Trail CD from Indigo Recordings I had left in the rental truck.

“I don’t know,” Jasmine said. “I just knew when I saw it next to Tyrone’s stereo.” Jasmine and I moved toward each other and embraced in the middle of the living room.

“You okay?”

“Yes,” I lied. “No. No, I’m not. Camilla in the middle of all this is… “

“Too much?”

“No,” I said truthfully. “But damned close.”

She put her head on my shoulder I folded her in my arms and basked in her comfort for a time that stretched comfortably beyond the moment. So much death, so much loss. I wanted the moment to last.

Then, as if a switch had been thrown somewhere far beyond thought and decisions, we held each other tighter, somewhere between desperation and love. The sensuous press of her breasts instantly aroused me. When Jasmine thrust her hips against me, a seismic passion sucker-punched me with feelings forgotten in the past six years.

Then everything fast-forwarded. Suddenly we were naked from the waist up and hastening with the rest. Jasmine’s elegant abundance of curves beneath the soft, burnished luminosity of her skin stunned me and banished every thought beyond this remarkable moment to a distant and irrelevant horizon.

Then alarms sounded in my head.

Pure, undiluted passion-whether from lust, hate, anger, or fear-terrified me. I’d seen it leave battlefields littered with the bodies of innocent people and derail young lives with unwanted children. Prison cells held legions of basically decent people who’d let passion dump their lives into an endless pit of regret.

As a teenager I ran with a rough crowd, always ready with fists, a phallus, and fast cars. But over the course of less than a year, they all fell by the wayside, snared by police, parents, and unplanned parenthood.

Through their mistakes, I realized that unbridled passion could generate an irresistible black hole of unsatisfied regret from which there was no escape. I feared the way it blinded us to consequences and erased everything but the singular urge for release. It was the devil’s deal where we traded the future for a blinding spasm of release that always left us hungrier than ever

Urgent warnings gripped my heart as Jasmine’s hands made their way across my chest and down my belly. As I bent low to kiss her, she slipped her right hand down the front of my partly unzipped shorts. With an effort much like that needed to awaken from particularly horrific nightmares, I struggled back.

Jasmine was startled, astounded. I stood back from her, burning with regret like a death in the family. Perplexity sifted across her face.

“What’s wrong?” she said finally. Her voice was husky and tempting.

I wanted to say I needed her more than I had words to express.

“Is it me?” Her face gave me a look of dismay. Then she crossed her arms to hide her breasts.

My heart fell. “No. It’s definitely not you.”

I wanted to say it was all too common for two people in danger to misinterpret the hormones of fear circulating in their veins for those of love. There was also the issue of Camilla’s body, not yet cold.

“So what’s the problem?”

I wanted to say the looks and comments from her uncle and the black LAPD detective made me second-guess my own motivations. I also wanted to express unspeakable things like AIDS, condoms, and whether we really wanted to do this without a commitment, marriage whether in the eyes of God or the law. But for reasons I don’t understand, I didn’t say any of it.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “I do so much like you.” My voice broke. I cleared my throat. “Jasmine, I… I more than like you.” I looked at her eyes, her face, and I connected with the most valuable words I knew. “I love you.”

The confusion swirled in her eyes.

“Oh, Brad. I love you too.” She gave her head a little shake. “But why-“

There were all those things I wanted to say. In the end, I lacked the courage and she began to cry. I stepped forward to give her a hug. When she turned away, it broke my heart.

As she dressed with her back turned toward me, I pulled on my shirt and zipped up my shorts. I prayed for her hurt to go away and hoped this hadn’t jinxed our relationship. My brain told me any relationship unable to survive the intelligent exercise of good judgment would not last, but my heart disagreed.

After what seemed like the passing of geological time, Jasmine turned and wiped the remains of a tear from her right cheek. When her face offered me her trademark enigmatic smile, I knew it was going to be all right. She accepted my hug this time and gave me one in return.

“That was a smart move,” she said. “Damn you. One of these days, you’ll tell me about it.” It wasn’t a question.

“Uh-huh,” Jasmine said. “Yes, you will. And you know what? I believe you love me. Otherwise you wouldn’t have done that. And I love you too.”

Fatigue rushed into the calm moment, filling the vacuum left by passion and leaving us desperate for rest. We extended the sofa bed in Tyrone Freedman’s makeshift living room. I set the alarm on my watch and we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

Contents