There were plenty of cute girls at Red Cloud High School, but none of them were as pretty as Cindy Blackbird. The problem was she lived all the way in Los Angeles, and I was on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I met her when I was thirteen at the annual Los Angeles Pow Wow. I had just finished grass dancing, and she gave me a bottle of water. I kept it for years after.
“Geez, Nimo, would you just ask her out already?” John David said. We were at Big Bat’s, eating hot dogs and French fries.
“What if she doesn’t like me?” I said. Girls at school weren’t into me. Most of them told me that right to my face.
“She’s coming up here right?” he asked. “Surprise her with something nice.”
“Like what?” I shrugged.
“Nimo, I’m gay, I don’t know how to woo the ladies,” he said, and I couldn’t help but laugh. John David and his boyfriend Ignacio were fresh in their relationship, and
I admit I was a little jealous. John David was good looking and Ignacio was too, so they could get any girl at school if they were straight. I was a straight guy, but girls probably wished I was gay so I’d quit asking them out.
“Remember to use a condom if you two get it on,” John David said, and winked at me. “If you need any, me and Ignacio got a bunch we can let you use.” I stuck my tongue out in disgust. As much as I thought about sex, I always got uneasy when someone else talked about it.
“I’m not gonna try that with her,” I said, even though I had thought about doing it with Cindy ever since I hit puberty. “She’ll think I’m a jerk.”
“Having sex doesn’t make you a jerk, Nimo,” John David said and got out his wallet to pay for his food. “If you really like the person and they really like you, it’s fun.” I figured he meant what he said. John David wasn’t one who talked about feelings much.
Cindy arrived in South Dakota for Christmas vacation. She was Apache, White Mountain to be exact. When I saw her walking towards me at the Rapid City Regional Airport, I wanted to hide because, as Ate would say it, I built a teepee in my pants.
“Quick Nimo, think about Ray Firebird naked,” Ate whispered in my ear. His advice solved the problem faster than I thought.
“You really like this girl, huh?” Ate asked, and I nodded. I had saved most of my money to fly Cindy up to Pine Ridge because I couldn’t keep waiting for the Los Angeles Pow Wow. She was too pretty to wait for.
“Nimo!” Cindy said when she finally reached me. She swung her arms around me, and I looked at Ate with sweat drizzling down my forehead. Ray Firebird naked, he mouthed. Ray Firebird in a thong.
We started the two hour drive to Pine Ridge right after Cindy got the rest of her luggage. Ate drove us, and I sat in the backseat with Cindy. She told me a guy at her high school asked her out the week before, but she turned him down. I asked her why and she said he smelled funny, so I took a deep breath to smell myself.
“What about you, Nimo? Has anyone asked you out?”
“Me?” I said. “No, I’ve been too busy with football and stuff.” Ate stared at me through the rearview mirror, so I changed my answer to “And I work part time, so I only wanna date someone special,” which still sounded dumb to me.
“That’s so sweet,” Cindy said and Ate gave me a thumbs up. I didn’t know exactly how I’d date Cindy since she was living in Los Angeles. But if she wanted to be my girlfriend, I was willing to hitchhike.
When Ate pulled up to our house, I saw John David and Ignacio parked in our driveway. I walked Cindy inside since it was at least below 10 degrees or so, and then I went back out to see what my buddies wanted.
“We wanna meet her,” Ignacio said.
“C’mon guys, can’t you wait?” I said.
“No,” John David answered. “We need to embarrass you because that’s what friends do.” I told John David and Ignacio to go away, but they both started making loud kissing noises at me, so I gave in and said they could come inside. Since it was dark, they held hands as they walked to the door. Most of the rez didn’t know they were a couple, not even Ignacio’s parents.
At dinner, I sat next to Cindy with my legs shaking. I hadn’t seen her in over nine months, so being around her was making me crazy.
“So Cindy, how’s the City of Angels?” Ate asked as he scooped more mashed potatoes for himself.
“Same stuff,” Cindy said. “My dad just opened up a print shop near the airport.”
“How fancy,” Ina said. “Did you know Nimo likes to write? Maybe he can print some stuff out at your dad’s shop.” I got up from the table to get more juice, but then John David started telling Cindy about how I had a short story published in the school newspaper and how much everybody liked it. Cindy asked me if she could read it, and I said I didn’t have any extra copies of the paper.
“I have tons in my truck,” John David said. “If you want more, you should make some copies with Cindy at her dad’s shop.”
“Hey John David, I think I left something in your truck,” I said, and he followed me out to the driveway. We stood at his truck, shivering.
“I’m dying in there, man,” I said to him. “I can’t even look at her, I keep getting nervous or a hard on whenever I do.”
“Contain yourself, Nimo,” he said.
“Hey, what made you have a crush on Ignacio? How did he win you over?”
“Uh,” John David said. “He’s freaking hot, and I wanted to hit it.”
“So, you want me to go back in there and say, ‘hi Cindy, I wanna hit it’?” I asked, which made John David almost fall over from laughing. He said he’d give me twenty dollars if I actually did, but I begged him to give me a serious answer.
“Okay,” he went on after he got the last of his laughs out. “When Ignacio took me out on our first date, we had to pick up some groceries for his parents, so we went to Sioux Nation and while we were in the aisles, he called me his husband and we pretended we were married. That was the best grocery shopping trip ever.”
Cindy was only going to be in Pine Ridge for a week, so I had to ask her out quick. I took her to Big Bat’s for hot dogs and drinks, but then she reminded me she didn’t eat meat. She fell in love with animals after reading Charlotte’s Web in 3rd grade. “You can have mine,” she said, but I still felt like a jerk. Cindy always told me she liked animals, and I almost tried to feed her one. We sat down by the window, watching people pump gas into their cars. Cindy said she liked my shirt, so I looked down at it and saw it was only my plaid button down.
“I’ve had this old thing for a long time,” I said.
“It makes you look nice,” she said. “Where do you work again?” I told her I worked with my Ate at Sitting Bull College as a facility technician assistant, or as I would say, a handyman. Ate became the head of facilities when I was in 4th grade. Cindy was a year younger than me, but she was old enough to work, except she didn’t have to since her dad was rich. I wasn’t as poor as I used to be, but compared to her, I was nothing.
After Big Bat’s, we went over to Sioux Nation to get some bread and eggs. We saw John David and Ignacio by the juice, but they didn’t see us right away. They were whispering to each other, like they usually did in public. Ignacio spotted me and Cindy and I could tell John David had been blushing since his cheeks were red.
“So have you asked her yet?” Ignacio whispered to me while Cindy and John David talked about the best kind of orange juice.
“I forgot she doesn’t eat meat, and I just took her out for some hot dogs at Big Bat’s, so I’m gonna wait until she doesn’t think I’m an asshole.”
“Lighten up,” Ignacio said. “She might like you back.”
“I’ve never had a girlfriend before,” I shrugged.
“Me either but I don’t let it bother me,” he said with a smile on his face. When John David was done with his orange juice speech, I took Cindy over to the candy aisle and asked her to pick out her favorite type. She picked up a bag of gummy worms.
“I know you like these a lot,” she said. “And I like them too.”
“Yeah, I sure do like,” I said. “Uh, gummy worms.”
Before dinner, I sat by the fireplace with Ate, watching him carve a cane for Mrs. Yellow Fire’s mother in law. Cindy and Ina were in the kitchen, making dinner. I asked Ate how he got Ina to like him when they were first dating.
“Oh Nimo,” he said. “I’m still trying to get my special lady to like me.”
“Special lady? Who is she?” Ina asked as she walked into the living room.
“My lover, Scarlett Blue Bird, she says hi,” Ate answered.
“That’s so sweet of her,” Ina said. “Lawrence Red Horse says hi to you too.”
After dinner, I asked Cindy if she felt like having dessert. She said my Ina hadn’t made any, but I told her I’d make her whatever she wanted. So she said ice cream with cookie pieces and marshmallows sounded good. There was plenty of ice cream and marshmallows, but the only cookies I found were Ate’s ‘Super FiberMan’ cookies.
“Why I can’t have those cookies?” Cindy asked me when I served her dessert.
“You don’t need those, you have a beautiful digestive system,” I said, wishing I had kept my dumb mouth shut.
“I do?” she said with a laugh. “Have you seen it?”
“No, but the rest of you is beautiful, so I’m guessing all of your organs are beautiful too,” I said. Cindy told me I was a sweet guy and then she went to the bathroom to get ready for bed. While she washed up, I checked the guest bedroom. I straightened out the blankets, fluffed the pillows, and left a note for her on the nightstand.
Goodnight Cindy. Get your unneeded beauty sleep. Nimo.
Cindy was a heavier sleeper than me and my parents, so she was still dreaming when we all got up at seven the next morning. Ate was outside, shoveling snow off the driveway, and Ina was in the kitchen, making hot chocolate. She asked me to help her, so I went over to the pot and stirred the hot chocolate while she fried some eggs.
“Ina,” I asked her through the sizzles. “How did you and Ate get together?”
“He followed me home and your grandparents said I could keep him.”
“C’mon Ina,” I sighed. Ina reached over and gave me a kiss on my forehead.
“You know how I used to be a fancy shawl dancer, right?” she went on. “So, at the ’83 Sioux Plains Pow Wow, I was doing my usual routine, and I hurt my ankle. I went to sit by the food stands and Ate was there, wiping the tables. He was so cute, Nimo.”
“So you liked Ate ‘cause he was cute?” I said. If being cute was the only way to get a girl, I figured I’d quit.
“No,” Ina said as she turned the eggs over. “Before one of our dates, I got the flu, so I called him to cancel. He woke me up from my nap a few hours later and he got me orange juice, soup, vitamins, and a teddy bear. Then we started making out and your grandparents yelled at us, but that’s when I knew Ate was worth it.”
“All right Josie, the driveway’s clear,” Ate said when he walked into the kitchen, shivering. “You’d do a way better job getting rid of snow. You’re so hot, you can just stand outside for a minute and it’d all melt.”
“Oh Jay Eagle, I’ve already caused enough global warming,” Ina said. Ate put his arms around her and held her until the eggs were ready. Ate and Ina had made their eighteenth wedding anniversary last June. There were still times when I’d catch them flirting with each other and blushing.
In the afternoon, I took Cindy to John David’s house. He needed help wrapping gifts for poor kids. After all the toys were ready to go, I helped him load them up in his truck. He was taking them to the Temple of God’s Love, the church Ignacio’s parents opened a couple months earlier.
“The toy distribution’s at seven,” he said as we finished loading. “Ignacio said his parents are looking for someone to play Santa and I said you’d do it.”
“I can’t do that, what if I screw it up?” I said.
“Nimo, you sit in a chair, listen to the kids whine, and hand them a gift.”
“Why can’t you do it then?”
“Because you’re,” John David said. “Uh, more Santa shaped than I am.” At first I wanted to punch him, but he was right. So I said I’d be Santa and Cindy offered to be Mrs. Claus when I told her about it. We got in my car and followed John David to the Temple of God’s Love. During the drive, she was telling me about the crazy dream she had the night before. She said we were in my car, and we were going somewhere on the rez and for the whole time, I held her hand.
“Like this?” I asked, and took her hand in mine when we came to a red light.
“Yeah,” Cindy said. “And you told me I was pretty.” She held my hand tighter. She didn’t let go until we parked at the church.
After a couple hours of setting up the church to look like a Christmas village and fitting into the Santa outfit, I sat in a chair with Cindy by my side, waiting for the kids to come. For the most part, the kids were nice, but some of them tried to pull my beard off. When the event was finally over, Cindy asked if I could get her something for Christmas. I nodded, and she sat in my lap.
“Okay Santa,” she said. “I’d like a boyfriend this year.”
“I’m fresh out of those, sorry,” I said, and she pulled my beard.
“Okay, what kind of boyfriend do you want? Tall? Handsome?”
“Nimo,” Cindy said and placed her head on my chest. “I really like you. I like you more than I like gummy worms.”
“Oh,” I said. “Guess I’ll have to wrap myself up then.” Cindy laughed, and she got the torn wrapping paper pieces the kids left behind from their gifts to wrap me up. She even put a bow on my forehead.
“You’re so beautiful,” I told her, because she was.
When it was time for Cindy to head back to Los Angeles, Ate drove her to the Rapid City Regional Airport and I sat in the backseat with her, holding her hand. I walked with her through the lobby, but soon it was time to her to board her plane home.
“I guess I’ll see you for the LA Pow Wow, right?” Cindy asked. I told her I’d try to go to Los Angeles a little sooner than that. I didn’t know if our long distance relationship could work, but if she liked me the way I liked her, I thought we’d make it.
“Thanks for a nice vacation, Nimo,” she said, and hugged me. She inched her head up to my right cheek and she kissed me, so I kissed her back. Then she gave me one last big hug and walked away to her terminal.
“Goodbyes always suck, son,” Ate said on our way to Pine Ridge. “You’ll see her soon. I used to drive 40 miles from Sioux Plains to visit Ina on the rez, so I couldn’t take her out as much as I wanted.”
“LA’s more than 40 miles away,” I said.
“Nimo, you’re getting older,” he went on. “And within a couple years or so, you’re gonna fall in love the way I fell in love with Ina. Just remember one thing.”
“Ate, not the sex talk again,” I groaned and slouched in my seat.
“It’s a little piece of advice my tunkasila told me when I was dating Ina,” Ate said. “If you feel a little warmth in your heart instead of your pants, that’s love.”