Like every tale of misadventure in Aliah’s life, this one started with her being paralyzed by guilt.
Would you like to donate to Hurricane Irma relief?
“Hon, just go ahead and press a button. It ain’t that serious.”
“You’re not in my head, Dray!”
She imagined her fiance rolling his eyes behind her. Didn’t make any of this easier.
Trips to the supermarket shouldn’t be this difficult, especially at the self-checkout with all the shopping completely done. But the last couple weeks had been nothing but a tug-of-war between her bleeding heart and her blood-drained wallet.
“I’ve already donated twice, right? You saw me?” she said, pleading for approval with her eyes. “I don’t need to give any more.”
Just as she was about to press NO, he had to open his mouth.
“Well, technically,” he said, accentuating his words the way he did when he was about to screw with her, “the last time was for Harvey recovery. This is for Irma.”
Her heart sank.
“And I’m sure next week it’ll be for Jose. These hurricanes really are on a tight schedule lately.”
She could tell Dray was enjoying this. He found her millennial anxiety of constantly needing to do more, help more, exhausting and hilarious in equal measure. He moved up behind her, his lips right up to her ear.
“Look at it. It’s mocking you. I need your money. You pitiful grad school money!”
“Dray, I swear to god, if you keep on…”
“It mocks me! It tasks me! It tasks me!” he started in his ridiculous Khan voice. He even unbuttoned his shirt for the full Ricardo Montalban effect.
Out of spite–to herself or to Dray or to the bank, she didn’t know–Aliah pressed YES. Deciding to not feel like a total weakling, she decided Dray would have to use his smart mouth in other ways to get back in her good graces.
But of course, the first thing she did at home was go online and express her anxiety. Her 2,432 friends on FB understood. She got 40 likes on Twitter. A bit relieved, she researched what else she could do. The solution seemed so simple, yet exotically satisfying.
“We’re going to BnB an aid worker,” she told Dray after a bout of lovemaking.
“You wanna say that again?” he replied, enough of his strength returned to be genuinely pissed.
“Don’t be salty, babe,” she said, pulling up the woman’s profile. “She’s heading to Texas and just needs a place to stay the night.”
“I don’t believe you, Liah.” His body dropped to the bed. “And when does this chick arrive?”
“Um…in a couple hours.”
His expression alone was payback for what had happened in the store.
Alternating between salty, sour, and bitter while they straightened their apartment, Dray suddenly became sugary sweet when Lynette finally arrived.
“Anything we can do to help,” he said, trying not to eye the half-black, half-Filipino beauty. Although in her mid-thirties, Lynette wore a tank top well, her toned body a tell-tale of the work she’d done in so many places.
“The floods after Katrina and Rita, the destruction in Wilma. Matthew. Dean. I’ve done aftermath relief to them all,” she said, on a first name basis with each catastrophe as if they were past lovers. “So many people need help, and it’s hard to consciously turn away.”
“Wow. I wish we could do more,” Dray said in full fanboy mode. Aliah side-eyed him, wanting to hit him with the tray of cookies.
“Hey, you’re doing plenty letting me stay here. A lot more than most, I tell ya.”
“You must be independently wealthy or something,” Aliah said, a bit envious herself.
“Ha! Or something. Sometimes you get by, by getting by.” A perfectly mysterious answer.
Aliah thought she would feel better by having Lynette there, but she sensed that supermarket anxiety return.
“You know, you could always come with me,” Lynette offered, specifically to Dray.
“Naw, we got work and…”
“Yes!” Aliah said, interrupting Dray, and surprising everyone in the room, including herself.
She got her grad advisor’s okay to take a week’s break. Dray just laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.
“You do you, babe.”
By the time they reached Texas, she felt pumped. “Look at you, girl. Not all heroes wear capes,” Lynette had told her, giving her daydreams of being a superhero anyway, of walking across No Man’s Land like Wonder Woman, of single-handly fixing power outages with her magical Giving Hands (copyright Aliah Comics).
To her slight disappointment, Lynette and her first assignment was pet rescue. “Hey, pets need heroes too.”
Their very last home of the day had once been a lovely single level ranch-style. That was before the flooding. Now, its beauty stood muted, its walls covered with leaves whose decay gave the impression of autumn. But make no mistake, it was rot.
Aliah’s gag reflex tried to betray her.
As she bent in a corner, a brown and white Shih Tzu crawled up to her leg.
“Hey, look what I found!” she told Lynette, proud.
Lynette examined it, a mischievous smile on her face. “Now this is more like it. This’ll fetch us a good $500.”
Lynette sighed at Aliah’s naivety. “Sometimes you got to get by to get by. This dog’s owner’s abandoned it. I’ll find it a good home and use the money for the relief effort.”
“So that’s how you afford to go all these places, huh?” Aliah said, petulant and proud of it.
As they rode, she imagined herself in the store again, her finger indecisive. Green button or red? Give or not?
“I’ll pay it,” she said, not looking in Lynette’s direction.
“The $500. I’ll pay you it, and find dog’s owners. After I do, I’ll find my own way back home.”
Lynette sighed. “Help yourself, hon.”
Dray was wrong. There was no such thing as giving too much.
Aliah felt a whole lot better.