Two Heroic Young Women are Grievously Wounded During a Horrific Tragedy

(Andy Morris, NFL football player, and Natalie Sanchez, computer programmer, have fallen in love. In this brief vignette from a longer scene, Natalie tells Andy about a searing episode in her life.)

“See this.” Natalie lifted her hair on the left side to show Andy a three-inch long gouge-like scar in her skull just above her left ear.

“Doctors said it came within a few millimeters from my brain, bruised it anyway. I had amnesia a while. And here,” she lifted her right arm to show a small round scar inside her right armpit. “I must’ve had my arm up ready to smash him with the bar. It was small going in, but big going out, knocked me onto my back.” Natalie turned and pointed to a large, ragged, circular, puckered scar beyond the back of her armpit.

Andy could see some of the stitch marks. “I was gonna ask you how you got that.”

Natalie continued, “Gia picked up the bar; he whipped her face with the gun, must have been empty, and she beat his head in on the sidewalk. I woke up in the hospital with tubes in me. My parents told us not to resist, give up the money. We never knew what happened, why he started shooting. Maybe they couldn’t get the register open fast enough.”

Natalie wept. Andy, with a tear rolling down both cheeks, held her, rocked her and said, “It’s okay, Baby, you’re safe. You were a blessing to them, now me. Was there anyone to help you and Gia?”

“My parents had no relatives north. They came across the border alone, Matamoras into Brownsville, Texas, my father said. Two kids in love, maybe eighteen, looking for a better life to raise a family. Worked their way north for a few years, ended up in D.C. Saved every penny to buy the bodega. Found me. Funny, I was browner than them, probably more African blood.”

“That’s okay with me,” Andy said.

Natalie smiled. “I always wondered where I came from. Was it Puerto Rican cheerleader knocked up by black football star?”

Looking innocent, Andy said, “I can’t imagine a thing like that.”

“I’m sure it’s a stretch. Just to finish the story, Mac and Julia came on, helped with my parents’ burial. I couldn’t get out of the hospital to go. They had legal connections in Washington and got Gia through the hearing. Can you believe it, a hearing? Did you know the deceased prior to the incident, that kind of thing. Called it self-defense, justifiable homicide, something. One early headline said ‘White Girl Beats Black Man to Death.’ He wasn’t even black; a white junkie with a long record of holdups and violence, weapons charges, prison time, who got what he deserved, even though I hated it for Gia.

“After I got out of the hospital, Mac and Julia put me into rehab, then physical therapy for my wrecked side. Got Gia’s face fixed, plastic surgery. She took, I think, fifteen stitches from the gun, broke her cheekbone. She has a small scar you’d only see if you were looking for it. Mac and Julia helped sell the bodega and the apartment upstairs. I don’t know what we would have done without them.”

“Did you know them before?” Andy asked.

“Gia and her Granny Agnes, Julia’s her sister, used to go to L.A. every year for a vacation. Then, during high school, spring break, they had me out, too. We’d go out at least twice a year during college. Mac and Julia would fly in to D.C., too, for visits. Gia and I always planned to live in L.A. someday.

“Mac and Julia even got us into counseling to help forget. Gia didn’t remember killing the guy, maybe had a concussion from the pistol to her face, and I didn’t see it. Guess she thought he killed me, too, when I went down, went crazy. A therapist used hypnotism on us to help handle seeing my parents after they were shot. It still hurt, but much less than before. I guess I’m talking too much, how about more on your life?”

“Later,” Andy said. “I want to hear about you.”

“I haven’t talked about this for a long time. Must be I needed to vent to you. I love you.”

“I love you, too, I want to know everything. So you went to college. Where did you go and where did you live?”

“George Washington University right in D.C. We had so many AP courses in high school we entered on partial academic scholarships as second-semester freshman. Gia’s Granny Agnes, a marvelous woman, took me in and we day commuted.”

“How did you support yourselves, pay tuition?”

“We had money from the sale of the apartment and bodega. Also coded for small companies, redesigned software. Gia’s a techie, too, also a talented comic and singer. Worked around town, mostly clubs, private parties, bar mitzvahs, anything we could get. She wouldn’t take any job unless they put me in the show and paid me, most did. We used a couple of guys from school, electric guitar, drums on bigger gigs. We were underage so one of the guys, James, the drummer, was some kind of counterfeiter. He made us fake ID’s so the clubs would hire us.”

“What did you do?” Andy asked.

“Bongos, maracas, guitar, decoration, straight lines.”

“You did comedy?”

“I’m sure you noticed, Gia likes to goof around, have fun. She did impressions, stand up, improv. I helped with the skits.”

“I could never go up on a stage.”

“It’s not hard, especially when you need the money. Like they say, ‘Know your lines, don’t bump into the furniture.’ I’d give the crowd takes, like, ‘What am I doing up here with this loony woman?’ What do you mean not get up on a stage? Football’s not a stage?”

“I don’t have to talk, except trash. So how long did this go on?”

“Year and a half, two. We finally were making enough from freelance software work so we could give it up. We had it, though, pressure from drunks, owners who thought sleeping with them was part of the contract, guys trying to climb onto the bandstand when Gia sang blistering rock or a torchy song. The creeps thought it was for them, which I guess is the idea. We never separated in a club. If one of us had to pee, the other stood outside the stall.”

“If Granny Agnes was so strict, how come she let you go to the clubs?”

“Oh, God, she never knew. There would have been hell to pay. She thought we were doing the software work, evening classes, studying. One of the lab women at GWU let us stash our short skirts and heels in a storeroom.

“Granny Agnes died in the summer following our, uh, yes, junior year. We heard her breathing hard in the night and went in. She was already unconscious, died in our arms a few seconds later. She was a fine woman and we grieved. Gia cried for a long time and then was okay. It was the second grandmother she had to bury. Mac and Julia came in again and handled the arrangements, the will. Granny left everything to Gia.

“For some reason there was a stipulation that the house must be sold. It was a small place, cozy, but not worth too much, not in the best section of D.C. It helped us to get through college, though. We always pooled our money, like from the bodega sale. So we rented a small apartment closer to campus. Loaded up, went days, nights, summers finished in two-and-a-half years and got jobs in a big software company. Julia and Mac had us out for vacations a few times a year. After two years at the company we asked for transfers out here, and here we are, with two weeks off before we start.”

“You want me for a relative?” Andy asked.

“What do you want to be, a brother?”

“I am a brother.”

Natalie laughed and asked, “Cousin?”

“Does husband count as a relative?”

She kissed him. “I’m so much in love with you.”

Andy took Natalie in his arms. “Mama, you ain’t never gettin’ away from me.”

(This brief vignette was excerpted from a longer scene in the contemporary novel Larceny of Love.)