The Monday Night Flight Club
"Take flight, and do not fear the night"
Chief Gage Jackson looked at the rusty handcuffs in the shoebox and noted the shiny marks of the cutters still evident after four years. These were the marks that resulted when he had to cut off the handcuffs to free the girl from the flagpole. The rest of the evidence box held some paperwork from fruitless investigations to find her mother and the perpetrator who left the girl cuffed to the pole naked. It remained the one case he never solved. While that weighed heavily on him, he was not reviewing this case for that reason. He was reminiscing about the blessing in his life that victim had become. Only fourteen at the time, she had brought joy and happiness wherever she went.
He put the cuffs back in the shoebox, and the shoebox into the evidence box and returned it to the shelf. Tomorrow he would give away the bride, and there would be no trace of the tragedy that brought her to Pristine Springs, Arkansas.
The Chief started to reach for a cigarette then remembered he quit. Ironically, it had been because of this victim. He wanted to live long enough to find the lowlife that abused her. Smoking had been his long time coping method for years: now he put his hands together and cracked his knuckles creating a resounding popping sound. He always liked the part in the movie where the tough guy did that before he tore into someone to get justice. Mentally he also noted that it was a habit of long standing when he had misgivings.
Presley Lynn Powers was only eighteen now and had been in foster care the last four years. Her ‘Prince Charming’ had appeared and while seeming perfect in every way, Gage knew life was not usually that easy. One thing he did know was that he pitied anyone that ever hurt her again. Gage never had children: until Presley came into his life. With one look, and one softly spoken sentence with a southern accent that dripped with honey and pecan pie, she embraced his heart forever. Tomorrow he would give her away to the man she was pinning her future and dreams on. No one knew how conflicted the Chief was about losing ‘his daughter’. The daughter not of his blood, but of his spirit. The girl for whom the saying “flagpole moment” came to life and remained the measure he took of every life event since.
Presley stretched her long arms above her head as she felt the soft stroking of fingers on her cheek. She was on her way back from a deep sleep and her eyes fluttered open to see the sparkles of the sun firing onto her ceiling. The sun shot through prisms of cut glass on the line of dental floss hung on her window. The shimmering rainbows were jumping excitedly across the ceiling, as the soft breeze of summer caught them gently and caused them to sway.
She turned to seek the owner of the fingers, as she had no expectation of anyone being on the bed with her. This was her wedding day and she had every moment planned to the hundredth of each second of time. This was the day her Prince Charming would drive her off into the sunset in the brand new white convertible he had purchased just for her use, after the wedding.
Without her contacts in, she could only see the blurry image beside her. The face was not far from hers. She could see the white of the teeth, which projected a big smile. The fingers were still stroking her cheek and she deferred to the attention before lecturing the uninvited visitor.
“Chase Daniel Grant, what are you doing in my bed? In fact in my room? Momma Bets will scob your nob if she catches you in here. You better ski daddle.”
Aww, Presley. She won’t care and she won’t catch me anyway. I was careful when I sneaked in.”
“Just the same, you know the rules. Rules are in place for a reason. You don’t want to get in trouble, and you don’t want to get Momma Bets in trouble. You need to learn that right now. She’s your lifeline, boy. Don’t you forget it.”
“I just had to see you. You’re getting married today.”
Smiling she rolled back onto her pillow to watch the prism rainbows dance on the ceiling. She took a moment before continuing the conversation. “Yes, today I am marrying Bristol Lee Booth. I’m going to have my own home, and have a real family and everything.”
“Don’t do it, Presley. Wait for me. In eight years, I’ll be eighteen and I’ll marry you and take care of you. Don’t do it. He’s not good enough for you.”
Now Presley reached for her glasses and looked at the earnest face of her young admirer. She noted the stubborn set of his jaw and his unrelenting stare with his intense blue eyes. “Shame on you, Chase. You don’t even know Bristol. He is wonderful. When he proposed he took me up in a hot air balloon and gave me roses and champagne.
“See” challenged Chase. “He was giving you alcohol and you weren’t even eighteen yet,”
“Well, almost. It wasn’t like he was trying to get me drunk. He’s really respectful and he was just following the tradition of the hot air flights. It’s supposed to happen with champagne and some grassy soil placed on your head to celebrate the safe return to earth. You need to wait til you are older and know what you’re talking about before you go around giving opinions.,” she continued in a parental tone. “You should also learn not to speak ill of folks. You’ll learn all that important stuff from Momma Bets if you just give her a chance. You’re new here at Momma’s, but she’ll teach you all you need to be happy in life if you let her.”
“Don’t be mad, Presley. I just want you to wait for me. In eight years, you’ll only be twenty-six. That’s not so long to wait.”
“Chase I’m not mad. In fact, I think it’s sweet that you care, but I love Bristol and he loves me. He’s proved it over and over. He’s ready to settle down and he wants to share his life and all his success with me. Try to understand. You’ve only been here a few days. You don’t really even know me. You’ll meet some nice girls when you start school and you’ll have to beat them off with a stick.”
“I want you.”
Presley reached her long arms over and pulled Chase against her. “I hope Bristol is half the devoted fan you are. If I ever need a champion, I’ll find you. Deal?”
“Deal. But don’t just say that because I’m a kid. Mean it, Presley. Don’t forget about me and don’t think I don’t know what I want. I’m a lot older than my age. Everyone says so. They say I would never have survived if I wasn’t; and if I wasn’t really smart.”
“I’m sorry we won’t get to know each other better, but believe me, Momma Bets will see to it you have a good life. She took me in as a foster child too, and took care of me like I was one of her own.”
“Chase, child, what are you doing in here? “ Momma Bets was standing with her hands fluttering with a waving motion as though to “shoo” him out of the room. “And what are you doing with Presley. Get out of that bed right now. You better go review the rules, young man. You can never enter someone else’s private space without my permission. I do not remember you asking, and I don’t remember giving you permission, so get moving now.”
“Momma Bets, I was just proposing. I told her she didn’t have to marry that guy. If she’ll just wait, she can marry me in eight years.”
Momma Bets looked at the serious and determined face of the fair-haired boy with the huge blue eyes. His skinny little frame was mostly skin and bones. She knew the oversized t- shirt covered many bruises and scars, but she believed this young man was a survivor. He’d already shown no one was going to put him in a box or lock him in a room and not get punished for it.
Momma thought Presley could actually do well waiting for Chase. Her man Bristol was a little too smooth and a little to ingratiating for Momma Bets tastes. She had a gut feeling about him, and wished she had something concrete to present to Presley. But right now the worst thing she could say about him is that he wasn’t letting Presley have a chance to grow up and be on her own. He was handing her life on a silver platter, and she would not have the chance to find out the strong woman she had become while in foster care at Momma Bets.
“Run along Chase. I need some time with Presley. This is her big day and we don’t want to have anything mess it up. Now, you go on and try on those clothes I put on your bed. We don’t want any rag a muffins at the wedding. We’re Presley’s family and we need to do her proud,”
Chase gave Presley one last look that was only tinged a little with the potential of rebellion. He dropped his head and shook it slowly as he left the room. “People never listen to me because they think I’m a kid.” Looking back up at Momma Bets, he added.” It’s not about the years, it’s about how you’ve lived ‘em and how good your word is.” He continued out the door.
“Now that child reminds me a lot of you when you first got here young lady. Lots of spunk, and just a little need for some firm guidance. But, I wouldn’t say his idea was all that off base. There is still time to postpone this for a while. Experience a little life.”
“Momma, I will be fine. I don’t think if I searched for another hundred years, I could find anyone as sweet and caring as Bristol. There’s nothing he won’t do for me and he really tells me over and over how much he loves me. I wouldn’t risk losing him to someone else while I comparison shopped.”
Momma laughed and her big belly shook. “Well, put that way, honey. It doesn’t sound so bad. I just wish we had more time for you two to get to know each other. He’s not from here so we don’t know his family. I guess I just hope what you see is what you get. You know what I mean, don’t you honey?
“Come lie down with me, Momma. Let’s have one more of our talks. Do you realize you haven’t told me about the birds and the bees?”
“Lord, girl. I thought you were gonna explain ‘em to me.”
“Oh Momma. You’re so funny. The truth is I guess I don’t count being molested as the real birds and the bees. I keep thinking, this is going to be different. It keeps me from worrying about it. Bristol knows my history, and he says I don’t have to worry. He says it’s nothing like that when you love each other. I guess I’m just trusting him to show me the way at this point. I didn’t have any say in my situation.”
“Presley girl, you are wise beyond your years. Your have definitely been stronger and come through your challenges better than I would have. I think you know how special you are to me, but the truth is you’re special to everyone. You bring laughter into the world for everyone. And your voice. You sing like an angel. I think you have a lot of potential in this world for happiness. You already make everyone around you happy.”
Presley looked into the face of her Momma Bets. Momma weighed three hundred pounds so the fat folds around her eyes made them almost slits. Her mouth always seemed to pout as the fat tissue supported her lips to an upturned direction, and the lower lip jutted out further than the upper one. Her twinkling blue eyes, red cheeks and pale skin were overpowered by peroxide blonde hair. The look belied the fact that once she had been “a looker,” as Momma Bets called it.
She carried her girth in such a strong fashion that you didn’t dare argue with her when she wanted to get up on a ladder and do her own painting, or change a bulb. Her obsessive, compulsive nature required her to keep an immaculate house and everything in order. She balanced her checkbook to the penny, and if it wasn’t, she would stay up all night until she found it.
“Momma Bets, you’re the best thing ever happened in my life.”
“No girl, I’m not the best. Your dear mother was the best. She brought you into this world. She tried hard I’m sure. She just wasn’t a strong woman. She couldn’t protect you, but now Momma Bets has taught you to be strong. You wouldn’t make the mistakes your momma did. You just be true to yourself girl. You’ll find your way. Just don’t ever forget your Momma Bets.”
“I won’t Momma. If you ever think I am or you ever need me, just let me know. I owe you my life. Literally, I owe you my future. I promise you right now, I will never forget the lessons I learned here, and I will never let you down. I’m going to be your clone, for better or worse.”
“Now I know you’re talking trash, girl. I better not see your skinny butt filling no three hundred pound jeans.” She playfully slapped at Presley.
“Momma, just have faith in me. No matter what happens or what you hear in my life. You know that no matter what, I’ll be out there making you proud.”
“That would be really good, Presley. But do it for yourself, not me.”
“Sing with me, Momma.”
Chase sat outside Presley’s room on the floor and let the wall support his back. His hands wrapped around his legs and his face rested on his knees. This was a position he knew well. Hours upon hours, he had spent in that dark closet listening to the sounds of fighting between his parents. Now he listened to a new sound. The melodic harmony of Presley and Momma Bets as they sang. The lyrics of old black gospel songs learned from Momma Bets foster family, wafted through the transom above Presley’s door.
Chase considered the charm of the open transom above the bedroom door newly enhanced as it served as a listening device. He thought about the words Presley had said to him and cherished each one. On her advice, he would give his new foster mom, Momma Bets a chance. Since Presley loved her but was leaving, maybe he’d just look after her. Presley would like that.
The small church sanctuary was filled with the neighbors and friends of the small community of Pristine Springs, Arkansas. They had come out to support their adopted daughter, Presley. She had come into their lives dramatically only four years before. The local police chief had been driving through town when he saw something moving at the base of the flagpole in the city square. His investigation had shocked him, and eventually the community when the word about his find got out. It started Presley’s life there with suspicion and uncertainty.
Now, people were watching the beautiful bride glide down the aisle on the police chief’s arm. No one would ever believe she could be the naked and muddy figure that cowered against the ground trying to hide her body with the mere width of the flagpole. Hand cuffed and ankles bound with duct tape, the abused young woman had been a shocking sight, but a revelation of dignity. The bride that now walked on the arm of the police chief toward her husband to be, had captured the chief’s heart the moment her eyes electrified his, and her words melted his heart.“I beg your pardon, sir. I am unable to present myself to you. Could you lend me your jacket if you’re wearing one”.
Gage Jackson had been an officer of the law for ten years when he encountered Presley for the first time. He had tried to speak gently to her as he felt the mere sound of a man’s voice might startle and even terrify her. He had been unprepared for her soft, southern voice and the respect and control which was evident. He took off his jacket and covered her as he spoke reassurances to her. He avoided completely asking her for an accounting of her plight. He only talked of the process to get her free and somewhere out of the public view. The rescue was more complicated by the fact the handcuffs, which were secured around the pole, were rusted and had been hit with a hammer in order to make them harder to remove. The perpetrator meant to make it difficult to free her and it took time to get the right tool. Gage had secured a blanket from the trunk of his squad car and made her as comfortable as possible. She seemed to look toward him rather than at him.
“I’m so sorry sir; I am unable to see you. Without my glasses, I can’t see much of anything and I have no idea where they are. He said he threw them as hard as he could so I would never see them again.”
“He?” Gage had queried.
“Yes sir, my step-dad. Lester Paul. At least he called himself that. I don’t think he ever married my mother. I believe they just lived together.”
The events that were revealed after the cuffs were removed and she was taken to the small local hospital, told a sordid story of a single mother who had lived desperately for the need of a man in her life. Her mother had turned her head when her boyfriend had started fondling and molesting her daughter. Finally, the night before Presley was left at the flagpole, Lester had penetrated her. Presley threatened to tell her teacher when she went to school. He slapped her around and raped her repeatedly. He then threw her in the trunk of the car. Lester and her mother had driven for hours. Presley actually had no idea where she was or where they were.
The investigation of her case was futile, as she seemed to have an ever-changing paper trail for her schools. The records had been falsified at the three schools that Presley could remember attending, and no one had ever seen Lester: only her mother Melanie. After her release from the hospital for traumatic injuries from rape and treatment of gonorrhea, Presley was sent to live with Momma Bets. Mal nourished and still in a painful recovery phase, she arrived smiling and graciously greeted Momma Bets.
“Hello. I’m Presley Lynn Powers, and I do house work, and cook and if you let me, I sing”.
The bride was now whispering to Gage as they walked down the aisle. “Doesn’t Momma look just perfect?”
Presley was beaming as she looked at her angel in disguise. Momma Bets was on the front row on the Bride’s side wearing her apricot shantung sheath with its three quarter length open jacket. The material shimmered in the glow of the lights and the stain glass windows as they bounced their soft blue and green hues off the silver thread woven through the fabric. The entire outfit had been a gift from Bristol and he had it delivered with shoes, hat and gloves. He told Momma Bets it was the least he could do in penance for taking her best girl from her.
Gage looked at Momma Bets who sat dabbing at her eyes and sniffling appreciatively at the beautiful transformation of the little church. Again, Bristol had assisted having flowers brought in from a florist in a nearby community. The large candles in the hurricane lamps lined the many windows that created both walls along the pews. It was an appropriate setting for her precious Presley. Soft, glowing, gentle and gorgeous. Momma Bets took a deep breath and prayed Presley would always have that kind of attention to detail in having her needs met.
Presley arrived at the front of the church and Gage was handing her off to Bristol when in a sudden break in tradition, Presley ran to Momma Bets. Presley clasped her long arms around the big figure who was shaking with emotion and kissed Momma’s large apple red cheeks as her strong young hands held either side of Momma’s face.
“Momma Bets, God gave me to you for a season, and you to me. Now I’m going to be married and go with Bristol. But, I will always have you in my heart, and no one and nothing can ever take that away from us. I love you.”
Bristol seemed relieved when she returned to him and slipped her arm around his waist. “I’m sorry Bristol. I just had to tell her. Now I’m ready to start my life with you.”
No one in the church would have missed that loving, and trusting look the young bride gave her new husband to be. If ever there was a picture of innocent commitment, it was on Presley’s face.
One guest, however, could only look on and try to contain his bitter feelings. People who have been victims often have a second sight, and see red flags that others miss. Chase had not missed the instantaneous look on Bristol’s face when Presley bolted to Momma Bets for one last good bye. It happened so fast that no one but Chase noted it. No one except for Bristol who looked directly at him and gave him a sardonic smile as if to say he knew Chase had seen his displeasure, but there was nothing that could be done about it now. For either of them.
The reception was sumptuous and plentiful. Momma had done her culinary magic and created an entire buffet of rich and memorable dishes. Bristol insisted on paying for the large and ornate wedding cake. With its smooth white icing and edible pearls, flowers, ribbons and doves, it was quite a sight. No one in that small community had ever seen anything like it. No one even noticed when one small eight-year-old guest never even tasted it.
At the closing toast of the reception, it was Bristol who took the spotlight, stole the show, and literally shut down the celebration.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. I thank you for your gracious support and for the hospitality you have shown a stranger in your community. I came here due to a business promotion and the results have been more than I could have ever expected or dreamed of. Not only did I get a beautiful and gentle young bride, I have just been promoted to international management level. At the conclusion of our honeymoon, I will take over the London branch management, which oversees all the European investments. We will quite literally be living in a refurbished castle in England. How’s that for fulfilling Presley’s dream of a White Knight in Shining Armor and Prince Charming?”
The stunned silence seemed deafening. The look of shock and disbelief on Presley’s face was only matched by the look on Momma Bets. Chase stood rooted to his spot and the look of anger on his young face was undisguised.
“Why, Bristol, congratulations on the job. You sure surprised all of us. Didn’t he Momma Bets?”Gage was trying to bring the group back to the moment. He knew it had been silent so long that it was almost a negative. He had not missed the look on Presley’s face, which conveyed she had no knowledge of this what so ever. He worried that she might have a knee jerk reaction knowing she would now be leaving Momma Bets for an undetermined amount of time; and in only a few minutes.
In the end, it was Momma Bets who saved the day, which should have surprised no one. “The will of God will not lead you, where the grace of God, cannot keep you. So saith our Lord. Amen”. Momma Bets had spoken calmly though tears had begun to stream down her face.
Gage had seen a shift in Presley’s face and probably her mind set when she heard Momma speak those words. She drew herself up to her full height, reached over and grasped Bristol’s hands, and looking only at him, she spoke. “From the book of Ruth; whether thou goest, I go. Whether thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God. “.
“Amen” was the verbal response of those present as Bristol took Presley in his arms and kissed her with a lingering kiss.
One small figure turned and walked out of the reception and headed toward home. Along the way, he began to run, and the more he ran, the more in control he felt. It would become a lifelong coping skill that would serve him well.